Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Goodness, Glaucous. Me!

The last time I went to Hollingworth Lake near Rochdale was in November 2010 when Sarah and I did our first 'twitch' to see the now famous Pied-billed Grebe.  I had my first digital DSLR, a Nikon D90 and a Sigma 50-500mm lens, the Bigma as it was affectionately known in photographic circles. So today was the first time I had been back here in nearly eight years.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Crossbills at Howden Reservoir, Derbyshire

An afternoon trip over the Snake Pass via Glossop to the Hope Valley found me in Derbyshire looking for Parrot Crossbills today. On the way over the tops I saw Red Grouse and a Kestrel but what I was really looking for were recently sighted in a conifer plantation alongside the Howden Reservoir, north of the famous Derwent Reservoirs and Dams where the Dambusters' Lancaster Bombers aircraft famously tested their bouncing bombs during Word War II.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Revenge of the Hoodies!

A Hooded Crow had been seen in the fields bordering the Haydock Park Racecourse for a couple of weeks before Christmas 2017 and then the reports went quiet. I had previously stopped in a lay-by on the East Lancs Road to have a look for this bird but failed miserably, and with no further sighting reports I thought the bird had long since gone.

However this week the reports started again and it was being seen in a much more accessible place on a small heath on the other side of the racecourse.  And better still, this side is in Greater Manchester rather than Warrington or Merseyside.

Here's a couple of comparison shots with a Carrion Crow, with which it seems to have become very friendly.

Now you may have been wondering what on earth the title of this post meant - well, I took the photo below as the bird flew into the trees and into the light.  Except for the added text, the photo is exactly as shot straight out of the camera with no post-processing at all, not even cropping. Now many people might think that this is a poor photo, but I saw a sort of artistic quality in it and so decided to turn it into a mock film poster entitled 'Revenge of the Hoodies'.

Friday, 19 January 2018

It was Twite Cold at Knott End-on-Sea

I finally managed to get a decent Twite photograph today.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Do I Like That?

I've just been told that one of my Short-eared Owl photos from Lunt has been awarded 'Photo of the Week' on BirdGuides, one of the premier birding websites and home of BirdWatch magazine.

The news came through to me via this post from Paul Wilson on one of our Facebook group pages:

This is indeed an honour as, although I've had several 'notable' awards, I never thought I'd ever actually get the top award for the week. This is what it looked like on the BirdGuides web page:

And this is what Steve Young, the BirdGuides 'Photo of the Week' judge had to say:
There is no getting away from the fact that Short-eared Owl is one of the most popular species among bird photographers. Wherever they're seen regularly during the winter, there will be photographers and Martyn Jones is one of many that have visited Lancashire's Lunt Nature Reserve. 
This is a terrific shot, capturing the owl's wings on the downbeat, rather than on the easier 'upbeat and glide' pose that we see more often. The yellow eyes staring straight at the lens greatly enhances the image which is nicely exposed and composed, the owl being a good size in the frame, with sharpness across the image. 
Congratulations to Martyn who used a 500mm lens, plus a 1.4x converter to take his winning image, shooting at 1/1600th second at f6.3, ISO1250 
Steve Young
How could I not like that? 

Dipping on Dippers in Leigh

There have recently been several mentions of a pair of Dippers on Westleigh Brook in Leigh town centre, and so as this is very close to home and a pretty good bird for an urban post-industrial setting, I decided to have a look this afternoon.

Westleigh Brook runs along the back of the Parsonage Retail Park very close to some houses which,  judging by the new concrete wall flood defences, are prone to flooding by the brook in periods of very heavy rain.

Today the brook was flowing pretty quickly and looked much too deep to support Dippers, but I soon found a couple of places where it became shallower with just the sort of water depth in which they like to catch their food. There were also two bridges which allow the brook to run under Twist Lane, and we all know how much Dippers like bridge for nesting.  The first bird that I saw here however, was a Meadow Pipit rummaging in the bank.

I walked between the bridges and along the side of brook several times but after numerous scans I couldn't find the Dippers today. So what's the next best thing? Yes, of course, Grey Wagtails.

They seem to go together with Dippers like Peaches and Cream don't they?

Friday, 12 January 2018

A Return to Moses Gate

As I hadn't been to Moses Gate Country Park in Little Lever, Bolton for quite some time, I decided to call in on the way back from Elton Reservoir today.  The light was failing fast but I still managed to get a few shots.

'Time to Reflect' - this smart-looking winter plumaged Black-headed Gull was giving an almost perfect reflection on what I assume was ice. I wasn't sure which way up it should be!

 The 'Old Man of Moses Gate', a hunched Grey Heron, was there in his usual place.

It was nice to see a group of at least six Pochard over-wintering on the wildlife pool.  Here's one of the drakes.

And here's a redhead Goosander, probably a female, to finish off a rather gloomy set of shots.

The Great GM Mealy Redpoll Controversy

There's been a discussion raging in Greater Manchester (GM) for the last week or so about a little bird that's turned up at Elton Reservoir in Bury.  The bird is definitely a Redpoll, but is it the rare Common or Mealy Redpoll or just the more usual Lesser Redpoll we often get at this time of year?

I went twice to see this bird, the first time with no success and then today when I had good views of it for a decent length of time.  The bird is certainly bigger and paler than the other Redpolls which are present, although a couple of the other birds are quite pale too.

Unfortunately it was very difficult to get a photo of this bird when it wasn't on a Nyger feeder and the light was poor on both occasions that I visited Elton.  But hey, you get what you can, while you can.

It was also great to meet local birder Steve Higginbottom and the original finder the bird, along with Paul Wilson. Steve has provided and hung all the feeders at Elton and stocked them with food out of his own pocket.  We had a long chat about lots of things and on my second visit I made a small donation to the costs of the food - without the feeders being there we probably wouldn't have noticed this slightly different bird.  Well done Steve!

Opinions were certainly differing on a number of Facebook groups where I posted my photos with some strongly in favour of it being a Mealy Redpolls and others stating quite categorically that it was a Lesser Redpoll. A bit of research has told me that this species has only recently been split away from the Lesser Redpoll and the whole issue of whether it is actually a separate species is still being debated.

I asked for help in making a decision on the UK Bird Identification Facebook group and the well-known birder and rather controversial Lee Evans replied with the following two comments after seeing my photographs and video:
An apparent adult male MEALY REDPOLL in plumage but you have to beware of bleached male Lessers as spring advances. Mealy generally have more feathers about the tibia and cloaking on the nape but I don't see any of that here
 After seeing the video I posted (included below), Lee went on to say:
Definitely a male MEALY REDPOLL in this video. The nape feather cloaking is apparent in the image

No matter what you think of Lee, he does have a lot of experience and generally knows his stuff, so I thought I'd cracked it.  But the saga continues ...

I also emailed Chris Batty who is the Lancashire representative at Rare Bird Alert and a member of the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) for his thoughts too.

Here's his reply:
Hi Martyn,

Thank you for your email regarding the Redpoll at Elton Reservoir although I regret I haven’t seen the bird myself.

Looking at the photographs and video of this bird I would identify it as a Lesser Redpoll based on my experience of migrating Lesser Redpolls in Lancashire in spring that I have handled that closely resemble this bird – one such bird is attached. I have measured the wing lengths and tail lengths of the birds I have trapped for ringing and they consistently fall within the parameters of Lesser Redpoll and outside Mealy Redpoll. In the redpolls males are bigger than females, and males are paler-faced than females. I am not aware that a greater extent of red is a pro Mealy Redpoll character. 
In the Elton bird I think the absence of any white on the mantle away from the two central ‘stripes’ is a negative character for Mealy Redpoll. However, I’d be interested to be proved wrong and the most conclusive way for someone to do this would be for them to trap the bird and measure the wing and tail. If someone can do this then please do let me know the measurements.

All the best,

Chris Batty, RBA

P.S. Of course the revelation that the DNA off redpolls is indistinguishable across species limits strongly suggests that the birds themselves can’t distinguish between Lesser and Mealy
So, what do I think? Well it's certainly larger and paler than all the other Redpolls I've seen but it's probably just a variant of Lesser Redpoll. So unfortunately that's one life and year tick I'll need to rescind, unless the GM rarities Committee decide otherwise.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Lunt Meadows Finally Produces (Part 1)

Another trip to Lunt Meadows in Sefton today finally produced the sort of Short-eared Owl photograph that I am looking for.  Here's hoping there's more where these came from.

I also got a couple of shots of one of the resident Kestrels too.