Thursday, 28 March 2019


I decided to do the Black Grouse lek at World's End near Llangollen in North Wales today and I'm pleased to report that I wasn't disappointed.

Awoken by my wife who was coming in from a night out with her sisters, I couldn't get back to sleep and so got up at 2am and left at around 3am. I arrived in the dark at 4:15am and had the place to myself, which was great because I could choose the best spot to park.

For once the birds weren't present when I arrived and so I just had a quiet half hour or so before things started happening. Another birder arrived at around 5am by which time the birds were singing and calling and they were just about visible by their little white tail feathers running around in the dark. It was still way too dark for photos, so I just sat back with the window open, enjoying listening to their bubbling, gurgling noises and doing my best to see them through binoculars.

It really isn't worth trying to take photographs until the sun rises up from behind the hill because it is just too dark, but when it does the whole place comes alive.  There were at least 17 and possibly 19 males present but no females - this is all about showing off in front of your peers.  

Most lekking is just bluff as no birds seem to get hurt. They just run and jump at each other calling in a rasping voice, but seldom get to actually land a blow or peck their opponent.  A nice little move is when a bird turns away in a 360 degree motion and then lunges forward, but it's all show and not an effective fight move, more of a dance really.

Many, if not all, the birds flew away a couple of times but thankfully soon returned again to continuing lekking.  They really didn't like it when a Red Grouse mistakenly landed on the edge of the lek and soon saw it off. 

Going to watch a Black Grouse lek is so much more than just getting a few good photos, it's the whole experience. Getting up at silly o'clock, arriving in the dark to listen to their wonderful gurgling and rasping calls, watching their little white backsides run around in the dim light as the day dawns and then finally seeing them strut their stuff in the golden morning sunshine. 

If you've never done it, you really should. It's one of the UK's best wildlife spectacles and it's free!

The End!

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Spring Equinox Supermoon

Having failed miserably to get an acceptable photo of Astley Colliery with the supermoon in the background tonight, I've had to settle for just the moon on its own. Moonshots always look better with some foreground interest, like a building, mountain or E.T. riding a bike and full moons tend to look rather flat not having as much contrast as partial moons as there are no shadows.

But hey-ho, it's the last supermoon of 2019 (there have been two others already) and it's on the spring equinox. The combination of these two events won't happen again for another 11 years.

'A supermoon is a full moon that has reached the closest point to Earth in its monthly elliptical orbit around the planet. As such, supermoons can appear to be larger and brighter in the night sky.'

'March’s full moon is sometimes called the “worm moon,” because according to folklore tradition, it occurs at a time when the frosty ground is melting and earthworms start to emerge.'

Ain't the internet a wonderful thing!

Sing, Sing, Sing!

A few from Yarrow Valley Country Park in Chorley this week. The Dippers have moved downstream from their favourite place at the weir and there was no sign of the Kingfisher whilst I was there. But 'Billy' the boss Mute Swan cob was parading around scaring everything in his path.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Lifer and the Year Tick

I took Sarah out to North Wales today for a spot of lunch and we just happened to come across a lifer and a year tick for me :)

Our first stop was at Conwy RSPB to year tick the Grey Phalarope which had been present for the last couple of days.  I wasn't hoping for any great photos as they are tiny little birds, very active and often quite distant.  We found it quickly at the first screen without any problems, but our views were straight into the sun and the bird was distant as expected.

So after a couple of record shots, we decided to move on to the main target, which was a Ring-necked Duck on Llyn Bran, near Llyn Brenig.  There had been a lot of rain over the last couple of days and the morning news had shown extensive flooding in the Conwy Valley, so I asked a couple of people about the best route there, as the police had been turning people back to clear strewn braches and even abandoned cars.  As it happens, the most direct route from Conwy to Llyn Brenig though Llanwrst was fine, although many of the fields on either side of the road were still flooded and it wouldn't have taken much for the water to overflow on to the road in some places.

On arriving at Llyn Bran, another birder was present and he kindly put me on to the Ring-necked Duck and allowed me to use his scope -  it was so distant on the far side of the lake that I couldn't really make out the difference between it and the Tufted Ducks with which it was associating. I'd need to get nearer for even a record shot.  I moved the car up the road and tried the other side and as I did so, Alan and Ruth Davies were just pulling up with some other birders, and a little later Tony Pope arrived hobbling as he had just recently broken his toe, again!

We had a chat about what they'd seen in the area whilst viewing the Duck, all the while hoping it would come closer, but it never really did.  So I'll just have to be happy with these records shots for now.

Sarah and I then went on to the Llyn Brenig Visitor Centre for a late lunch consisting of 'Bacon and Brie Paninis' and a hot drink.   We finished off the day by spending some time at the Brenig feeders where I got some shots of this lovely male Brambling, male and female Siskins, a Goldfinch, a Coal Tit and male and female Chaffinches,

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Note to Self

I need to write up these recent trips:
  • Burton Mere and Parkgate - 15/3/19
  • Parkgate 11/3/19 - Kestrel and Buzzard

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Parkgate Owls Video Slideshow

What do you do when you've got hundreds of Owl photographs to show and can't choose between the best of them - put them all in a video slideshow of course! The sharpness is a little reduced, so don't stand too close :)

Best viewed full screen with the sound on (music by Vangelis, hope he doesn't mind).

Monday, 11 March 2019

And The Beat Goes On ...

The last few weeks have been remarkable at Parkgate on the Wirral, but somehow I had managed to miss out much of the action until today. The Owl-fest started around the time of the high tide when up to six Short-eared Owls had been reported, and then on sunny days over the next week some remarkable photos started appearing on social media.  Unfortunately, I was either working or had made other arrangements on the days with the best weather, and so I sat and seethed in front of my computer praying for another opportunity - today was going to be my best chance.

I'd been out on Monday of the previous week and I got some decent shots, but not the ones I really wanted. So this morning I set off quite early hoping to get some of the Owls hunting first thing, but traffic delays meant that I didn't arrive until around 8am and, worse still, it was very windy.  However the sun was shining and so I held out hope for the winds quietening down in the afternoon, which indeed they did. I parked at the Old Baths car park and set off along the coast towards the golf course with just my binoculars in search of Owls.

There were other bird photographers about including Paul Bennett who had ensconced himself on the saltmarsh up against the old harbour wall in the hope of an Owl landing on a stump eating a lizard right in front of him, - some chance of that happening twice as Neil McMurran had already won that race!

Later I met up with Kevin Evans-Jones and we chatted away putting the world to rights whilst patrolling the area from the car park to the golf course.  I even eventually got my camera bag out but it was just too windy for any birds to appear all morning and so not a shot was fired.  I did have a fleeting view of a Ringtail Hen Harrier flying away from me at one point.

But in truth, very little else happened until mid-afternoon and after Kevin left I went back to my car for some lunch - I even had a short snooze to give my watery eyes a rest from the fierce breeze.   I broke out the camera gear properly and began Owl-watching in earnest at around 1:30pm.  Apart from a lone Kestrel, the first raptor sightings occurred at 2:20pm with a Short-eared Owl hunting in front of the car park and they didn't really ever stop for long until 5:30pm, by which time it was getting quite dark.

There were at least four Short-eared Owls hunting from the Old Baths car park to the promenade with one or two close passes at times.  But probably the star of the show today was a Barn Owl which surprisingly appeared at around 3:30pm and came pretty close - I don't think I've ever seen one here before and certainly not that early.

It gave us some great views as it quartered the marsh from the car park to the promenade and at one point was involved in a bit of a spat with one of the Short-eared Owls.  Just handbags really, with nothing but a bit of talon-posing until they both flew off.

For the last part of the day I drove down to the promenade where one of the birds has been regularly seen perching on some driftwood branches out on the marsh.  I could see that lots of people had gathered there and were looking out at the marsh. Would this be the day to get the elusive perched shot?

Well, not from here, but two birds were flying incredibly close to the sea wall a little further along the promenade so walked towards them a got a shot of one bird on the ground - it's the closest I've got to the perched shot that I so desire.

During the course of the day, I met up with some old birding friends including Jeff Cohen, Meurig Garbutt, Mike Nesbitt, Paul Miller and James Arnold and gained a new one called Nikki Mays, so another great day birding on the Wirral.  One guy called Guido even asked me to email him some shots of the Short-eared versus Barn Owl confrontation - so I did.

Will I be going back again for that close perched shot which is still eluding me - probably!

Here's an experimental link to a video slideshow with music that I've put on Facebook:

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Serious Updatin' Needed (no 'g')

Well, I've had a busy few weeks since my last post and so this blog is in serious need of an update.  I'm working today so I can't do it now, but for all those people that I've invited to have a look here, I'll be updating it with information from the following trips over the next few days.
  • Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk (L.O.S. Winter Trip) - Feb 2019
So keep watching this space - please!

All comments gratefully received - Here's a shortie photo to be going on with ....

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Twice in Two Days at Elton Reservoir in Bury

I'd been meaning to go to Elton Reservoir in Bury for a while now, as there have been seven Scaup reported there and these are a good year tick for me. There was also the promise of Water Rail down the canal, so a few things to look out for.

However, the first day I went it rained constantly, so I just stayed in the car on the car park watching the feeders where two Bramblings were the highlight as well as the sheer numbers of Goldfinches and Greenfinches.
Credit must be given to Steven Higginbottom for funding and managing this wonderful resource largely off his own back. On the second day I added Willow Tit and Long-tailed Tit to my list from the first day where I had already seen two Jays, a Robin, several Reed Buntings, a pair of Bullfinches, two Blackbirds, a Dunnock, and many Woodpigeons, Magpies and Mallards around the feeders.

The next day I made a second visit and I managed to get a break in weather long enough to find the Scaup, although there were only six of them while I was there (2m + 4f). In addition, there were two drake Pochards and two pairs of Goldeneye on the reservoir, as well as lots of Tufted Ducks and Gull and several Grea Crested Grebes. I also had the usual very brief glimpse of a Water Rail as well as a Little Egret in a nearby field, but unfortunately no photos.