20 April, 2014

Easter Easterlies put paid to ringing activities

The wind has been stubbornly remaining in the east for much of April and that is not the best direction for mist-netting in my garden. The 'dip' is quite sheltered from even quite strong westerlies but even a hint of a breeze from the east isn't good. So I've had to make do when I can and though I've had a steady trickle of unringed Chaffinches and Goldfinches in the garden, I've only managed to trap a few but enough to know that they're not hanging around.

One of my Redpolls was controlled at Heysham this-morning which is rather nice having ringed and retrapped it twice here between Feb and just over a week ago on April 10th.

Otherwise it's been mothing time with one notable record of a Waved Umber - very scarce in Lancashire, recorded at only a handful of sites before.
Waved Umber
That and a couple of micros were new for the 10km square and good records for the upcoming Moth Atlas. Otherwise it's been the usual stuff - Common/Small/Powdered/Twin-spotted Quakers, Hebrew Characters and Clouded Drabs.

on Friday we had to drop my sister-in-law off at Manchester Airport so had a good excuse to meander back via Dovestone Reservoir above Mossley where a Two-barred Crossbill had been seen. We eventually found the right car-park and heard a few Siskins overhead. After about 10 minutes I heard a Crossbill call and found 'the' bird - a rather handsome first-year male - sitting on top of a larch where it stayed for around 15 minutes singing and feeding. Splendid - I didn't have my camera with me of course.

Yesterday, I had a walk up Langden Valley with my son, Peter, and had a couple of singing male Ring Ouzels, Stonechat, Peregrine and several Willow Warblers and Common Sandpipers. No sign of any Harriers though, nor Wheatears surprisingly. After that it was up to Stocks where Mark had found a Green-winged Teal (the North American cousin of our Teal). We got there, just, as my clutch started to fail. We saw the bird as well as some cracking male Siskins, a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers and 12 Pinkfeet (rather odd) before I headed back to see if we could get the car back home (which we did somehow!).

Today, there have been plenty of birds in the garden - more Siskins and Redpolls overhead - whilst a pair of Jays has taken up residence in the clough at the back of the house. Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Treecreeper have all been singing. At the Reservoir, a pair of Little Ringed Plovers have got territory and a couple of Common Sandpipiers are present too. Plenty of Swallows and Sand Martins there today along with my first House Martin of the year. Another week and we'll hopefully have a lot more migrants making landfall.

26 March, 2014

Redpoll Conundrum

Finch migration is well under way and so I've been trying to do as much ringing in the garden as time and weather allow. The wind has been a constant problem with mist-netting this winter - that and the very mild temperatures has meant that the birds have been able to find plenty of natural food and therefore less reliant on the feeders that attract them in.
Adult female Lesser Redpoll
Last week I had a chance on Wednesday morning and so I put a single 9 meter net up 'down the dip' and was rewarded with a host of new birds - first of all there were good numbers of Siskins moving through, so nine in the net on the first round was very fine! Then there were the Redpolls - many new expected Lessers but one Common (Meally) Redpoll that was clearly grey and larger than the rest of the Redpoll cohort but not by a long way. And then there were the Goldfinches and Bullfinches (19 different individuals trapped so far this winter). All in all, very satisfying but just a prelude to the weekend's highlights.
Male Siskin
The first Common Redpoll - Just short of 13g, 74 wing, 56 Tail
The first Common Redpoll
I decided to do the same thing on Saturday morning with showers forecast in the afternoon and a footy match to go to, it seemed to be a good opportunity. There weren't as many birds but the first one was another Common Redpoll - a much larger bird with bulging fat reserves, these continental cousins of the Lessers are quite scarce on this side of the country and their identification not all that straight-forward. However this bird was large and grey and fitted the bill perfectly.

2nd Common Redpoll
75.0 wing, 14.7g (Retrapped sunday 14.0 fat 3) tail 58 and fat 4
2nd Common Redpoll
I managed to get a steady stream of birds in the morning but then the rain started and so I went to put the net away - there was one bird in it, another Common Redpoll but this time even bigger and paler. I took photos of it as I had with the others, and then released it. It was only the next day that the penny dropped that it might have been something even rarer!

3rd Common Redpoll
77.0 wing 13.9g Tail 59 FAT 3
3rd Common Redpoll
3rd Common Redpoll (islandica? Coues's Arctic?)
Sunday was spent with mum in Southport but Mark had called to ask if he could come round and look for the Mealies. I left the key to the shed in a safe place for him and left it at that. Around lunchtime he texted that there were two Mealies still so I said to put the nets up and I'd see him in the afternoon.

To cut a long story short, we retrapped Mealy No. 2 and got field views of No. 3 looking distinctly paler than it did in the hand! It's got a white rump! An the Bill is looking more pointed and less hefty than the others.
Marks image of the pale 3rd Common Redpoll
We've now got the books out and sent images to a few people - Coues's Arctic was considered a possibility but it is very large for that species (though not out of range) and the rump is streaked faintly. We're leaning towards Pale Icelandic Redpoll as the nearest fit.

Anyway, I was out again for a couple of hours this morning and the first bird was another Common Redpoll.
Fourth Common Redpoll
Wing 74, Tail 56, Fat 4 weight 16g!
Lesser Redpoll

18 March, 2014

Time for a catch-up: Twitching Scotland!

I've been so busy over the past few months I've been neglecting to keep my blog up to date and so, after an interesting trip to Scotland this weekend, I decided it was about time I wrote something down.

You never know how useful this stuff can be but I have been contacted on several occasions with requests for help on certain areas I've visited. The most recent one was for the Cuban Grassquit site which was successfully relayed and the birds seen!

Not that this post will offer much of that of course. In the middle of last week, John Wright contacted me about the possibility of going for the American Herring Gull and possibly the American Coot which were both a fair way from home (for them and me!). The weather had been good and so we made plans. though the forecast took a turn for the worse AND the AHG was being rather difficult, we nevertheless decided to head off on Friday evening, stopping at my sister-in-law's place in Glasgow before heading towards Campbelltown on the Mull of Kintyre.

It's a long way. Just short of three hours and that's early on a Saturday morning with no traffic. The wind was picking up and it was rather drizzly but we made good progress with brief stops to look at some flocks of Geese. Campbelltown harbour held a few gulls but all were Herring Gulls. There were a few Black Guillemots and Eider along with a lone Guillemot and female Common Scoter. The American Herring Gull (our quarry in the area) had been elusive of late so we wasted no time in searching out the 'known' haunts. One spot near a school didn't have many gulls but there were lots of Greenland White-fronted Geese, Greylag Geese and a few Barnacle Geese.

Next it was off to the area near the airport where we found a HUGE flock of gulls - mainly Herring with a few Lesser Black-backs, Common and Black-headeds.And then there was the first of five Iceland Gulls (we had three first winters, one second winter and an adult during the day) but still no sign of the first-winter American. We tried another spot but again drew a blank. We toured the area again (with a brief stop for tea and bacon butties) but to no avail so after four hours we decided to head back up the peninsula to tick of the two Snow Geese before returning once again to the Mull.

We'd had a few 'candidate' birds but on a final look around the airport we bumped into a small flock in which was a good candidate - and another birder was watching. John lept out of the car and the gulls took flight to join the larger throng and the other birder confirmed that that was the bird - it had come into the harbour briefly where he'd picked it up before heading inland. We then managed to find it again and had several good views of it - not a classic perhaps as it was starting to moult and perhaps the reason we'd not picked it up earlier. The strong winds hadn't helped all day.

We headed north and stopped overnight in Oban, finding a rather nice B&B that accomodated our early start and at a very reasonable price (Raniven). We hadn't gone far when we noticed Black Guillemots sitting on the quayside - they were very approachable as around 20+ gathered for some courtship display on the jetties and in the harbour.
We eventually set off to Inverness - again just short of three hours on quiet roads. Just beyond was the winter abode of an American Coot on Loch Flemington and it was much more obliging than the gull though didn't want to come out into the open water where it was buffeted by the wind. However it gave us views one might expect of a Coot!
John had seen American Coot many years ago on one of the only other ones to make mainland landfall. The other one was a day visitor to Walney as we unsuccessfully twitched a Crag Martin at Swithland Reservoir in Leicestershire! ALl other birds have bee on the extremities of the country so this birds has been visited by many. In fact it was by fifth American British tick in a row - Killdeer, Buff-bellied Pipit, Myrtle Warbler, AHG and this.

Next stop was Speyside; we weren't going to climb the heights of the Cairngorms (or even take the Ski-lift) as was the original plan as there were winds of 90 mph on the tops so we satisfied ourselves with nice views of Crested Tits and Crossbills (Common ones) at Loch Garten before heading for home.

As we traveled down the A9, we wanted somewhere to stop off and have a break - a Ring-billed Gull just south of Perth seemed a good choice (in fact Hobson's choice), so we headed for Newburgh on the Tay estuary. the tide was high and there were no birds around but after an hour wandering up and down the front, some gulls started to appear and as if by magic, the RBG duly landed in front of us and took a penchant to M&S chocolate Chip Cookies.
We finally arrived home just before 10 pm - just a little knackered!

31 October, 2013

A short break in Nerja, Andalucia

It's half term, so now that Bernie had had all four inspections a school could get in the space of ten months (and be rated as outstanding in every one of them), it was necessary to get her away for a few days so that the temptation of dealing with the pile of stuff at school was put well out of reach. Neither of us are fans of hot weather and lolling around on a beach but we thought that a trip to Nerja on the Costa Del Sol at this time of year would be just the tonic. And so it has proven to be.

We hired a car from Malaga airport and got a small hotel in Nerja - Casa Mercedes in a quiet part of the town - from where we could just loll around or set out to see some of the area.

In birding terms, there's not a lot written about this place as most of the really good sites are in the west so I thought I'd make note of a couple of trips we've made (though travelling some distance.

From the hotel balcony, we've been visited by the commoner species such as Serin, Sardinian Warbler, Black Redstarts and Blackcaps that inhabit the scrubby area below the hotel. I've also heard Cetti's Warbler and had Chiffchaff and Crag Martins (which can be sen easily at the coast over the beaches). One evening of stronger winds  brought Cory's Shearwaters into the bay and a couple of Gannets are regularly offshore. There has been a steady passage of Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails each morning and I guess an influx of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes that the local's take exception to. Robin, Goldfinch and Yellow-legged Gull are all regular too, not to mention the evening flights of Starling spp coming to roost and Cattle Egrets, etc.
Bonelli's Eagle
Yesterday we took a trip up into the mountains at the Zaffaraya Pass. Birds were a little thin on the ground at first as a gusty wind kept a lot of things down but we eventually got good views of Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrushes and Thekla Larks as well as lots of Stonechats and Black Redstarts. Finches were commonplace - Green, Gold and Chaffinch with a trio of Rock Sparrows thrown in for good measure. Again, there were lots of Mipits, Chiffchaffs and Sardinian Warblers. There were no birds of prey until we 'd nearly completed our walk when a Bonelli's Eagle soared over the pass and a juvenile Hobby zipped through.

After that we made our way to the Laguna Fuenta de Piedra - a bit of a drive but we loved the quiet roads and scenery. Once there we scanned the hundreds, no, thousands of Greater Flamingoes out over the Laguna. A few juveniles were closer on some of the pools along with Marsh Harriers (lots!) and a ringtail Hen Harrier. Other birds included Black-winged Stilts, loads of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, lots of Little Grebes and the odd Black-necked. I was particularly happy to see 60 Cranes on one of the fields next to the lake, some of which trumpeted briefly. My day was made all the better when a small flock of Woodlarks landed nearby - just love their calls.

From there, it was getting late in the afternoon so we headed to Laguna Dolce to see what was there - lots of White-headed Ducks, Red Crested Pochard, loads of Coots and flocks of Little and Black-necked Grebes. It was all too much to fit in so we're heading back there tomorrow! A hoopoe flew up from the road and a Black-winged Kite sat on a telegraph pole as we made our way back to Nerja.

Today has been spent visiting the Alhambra in Granada. A magnificent site and well worth the trip.

21 October, 2013

Snow Bunting surprise

Yesterday was spent in the Hartlepool area again with the presence of a Western Bonelli's Warbler and a Pallid Swift enticing birders there. Last weekend, we were at Spurn on Saturday in the drizzle and rain and got to grips with several nice birds but no real megas. They all arrived the next day!

And then last week I had the amazing good fortune to jam in on a juvenile Bonxie on Rishton Reservoir before it headed off towards Preston. So it's been quite good for birds this past week.

Anyway, back to the latest birds....
Snow Bunting at Greatham Creek
Western Bonelli's Warbler - Harlepool
Western Bonelli's Warbler - Harlepool
Folks think this is a juvenile Pallid Swift - seemed a bit dark to me but I know very little about such things!
Pallid Swift (?)

28 September, 2013

"So-sweet" Yellow-broweds everywhere (on the east coast)

But none of them were confiding enough to get a picture.Yesterday, I indulged myself with a bit of east coast birding. Hartlepool is a favourite destination of mine as there's not only the gardens and bushes for passerine migrants but the sea and marshes of the Tees as well.

I headed for Borough Hall area where there were a few birders around, and probably more Yellow-browed Warblers than birders. They were calling from the tree tops - impossible to see in the poplars but occasionally great when they appeared in the Sycamores. They were accompanied by a single Chiffchaff and a Red-breasted Flycatcher which gave us the run around but I managed a couple of hastily taken images.
Red-breasted Flycatcher
What was really weird was that there weren't any other migrants around - I had a single Siskin and Wheatear and that was it!

A lunchtime seawatch over a flat calm sea produced a couple of male Velvet Scoters, Red-throated Diver and an adult Pomarine Skua that came out of the bay.

The news of four Glossy Ibises got me thinking of returning home via Horwich but instead I decided to have a look at Saltholme and Seaton Carew. Other than a YBW at the latter, there wasn't much about - an adult female Marsh Harrier seemed to be the most exciting thing to those in the hide.

So today, I cheked Rishton Reservoir - it's still dropping but nothing new is coming in - then emptied my moth trap in which I had a couple of new ones. Then it was off to Horwich for the Glossy Ibises which had thoughtfully stayed around - an incongruous sight on the edge of the West Pennine Moors.
Glossy Ibis - one of four juveniles at Horwich.
The moth trap is out again so hopefully I'll have a reasonable catch. Here are some of my recent goodies.
Butterbur - a local species

Juniper Carpet

Brown-spot Pinion - used to be common but now quite scarce.

Blair's Shoulder Knot
Red Underwing - as big as a large butterfly

07 September, 2013

Back to birdin'

The warm weather over the past few months has resulted in some excellent days for Butterflies and nights for Moths but as September dawns, the temperatures are starting to drop and so the moth trap wont be as busy. Having said that, I got yet another couple of new moths for the garden this week - Old Lady, which is a large butterfly sized moth, and Brindled Green. Peacock butterflies have been in abundance and on one day I had seven species of Butterfly in the garden including a migrant Painted Lady.
However, the end of August means migration - I should have headed east a couple of weeks ago when there was a plethera of Scandinavian migrants on the east coast but instead we tried to get some migrants trapped at Marks Farm and my garden. It wasn't to be unfortunately. The local finch and tit population is doing well as they devour the sunflower seeds - I have double figure counts for Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch every day at present - soon these will be augmented by birds from further afield with a bit of luck.

The local Swallows have had a few broods this year and there were around 120 over the reservoir yesterday afternoon.

Rishton Reservoir has been doing quite well recently. There were nine Shelduck on the west bank a couple of weeks ago and today, six Wigeon, three Teal and a Gadwall. The Black Swan is regular again along with four Mute Swans. Bernie and I took a walk around the canal last weekend and saw that the local Mute Swan youngsters were doing well.
Pair of Mute Swans with seven healthy looking youngsters
The water level is dropping fast and the sandy bank should be attracting waders but I've had very few - just a Dunlin this morning though Bill Aspin had a Green Sandpiper yesterday.

Hopefully it will be a fine night so I'll try again with the moth trap before doing some ringing with Mark.
Black Rustic
Old Lady
Pink-barred Sallow
Copper Underwing