Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Scaup at Pentre Mawr Park, Abergele

Pentre Mawr Park is a place where I use to go as a child, where I'd go down with my nan and get hissed by a swan because I wanted to stroke it... anyway, I like to see this as one of my little patches now and regularly Birdtrack the area. It has an excellent range of bird species present from herons, to waders, to ducks and passerines. A female Scaup was a cracking find on the pond along with 3 Tufted duck on the smaller of the two pools on Sunday.
Scaup at Pentre Mawr Park
Heading back there today it's amazing what a couple of days makes, No sign of either the Scaup or Turfties, 2 Gadwall had taken it's place and a Cormorant not really phased by the busy park went by its business. 15 Redwing were a surprise to feeding on the cricket ground. Spring's rapidly arriving though so can't see them sticking around that much longer...

Birding NE Wales

A few images of the Slavonian Grebe on Llay Pool (Wrexham). This bird seems to have been favouring of what seems to be an established flooded field. It seems to be home to a whole host of other duck, goose and wader species too but this was by far the best one!
Slavonian Grebe - Llay Pool
Notice it's bright red eye and stark contrasting winter plumage
The grebe came within feet of where we were sat down
Moving on from Llay, we decided to head up to Llandegla moors to go on a Grouse hunt... Against all advice, we decided to make this our second port of call.... Black Grouse in fact, it took what seemed like bloody hours to locate them and if it wasn't for my pro skills, we'd have gone home without them.
Was nice to see them in the end with up to and more than likely over 15 males present during the time there.
Record shot of Black Grouse

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Yellow Rumped Warbler in Durham

It's not often you get a chance to twitch an American warbler in the UK, so when a Yellow Rumped warbler was reported shortly after the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch in late January, I felt slightly gutted it wasn't twitchable. It was noted it hadn't been seen since until it was luckily looked for again and relocated. Locals put out feeders and was able to draw the bird in to an area of the housing estate that was easily accessible to birders had the bird stay and remain twitchable.
When the news broke, many fellow twichers managed to see the bird whereas, myself and Steff settled for a rather nice Ross's gull, knowing full well, we wouldn't get the chance to see this YRW for 6 days providing it stayed. Thinking it has obviously overwintered in this area since November at the latest, I had good thoughts and feeling that it would... and it did thankfully, although only for another day after until it hasn't been seen since.
We picked a dull, dismal day but in all honesty, the crowds and noise were limited giving us opportunities to get a good view and use the scope to easily follow the bird in the dense undergrowth. At times the bird showed very well and it kept coming back to its main feeding place on one of the coconuts. The yellow rump was clear and was also easy to pick up in flight when it darted through the dense growth. The bird was slightly bigger than expected and made its present known easily to other birds. It called occasionally and allowed a very brief record shot...
Can just about make out the bird on top of the coconut
We spent rather a long time looking for a couple of Waxwings that were reported the previous few days but there was no sign by the Saturday. We did manage a nice Willow Tit and a male Brambling too. Another great twitch... Thanks to Steff for driving :)

Monday, 10 February 2014

Ross's Gull at Leighton Moss

A casual day's birding with Steff Leese turned into another twitch and a new lifer for both of us. The aim of the day was to hopefully hunt down the Ring-Billed Gull that's been recently knocking about the docks in Crosby. On our way over we managed to get to the around about area but Steff's sense of direction was no better than her ID on Caspian Gulls so we ended up pulling over to try and work out where to go. On looking for more info we came across a report of an adult Ross's Gull literally an hour northwards at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. Without further ado, we turned round and headed in the direction for the reserve and with my directions this time, we ensured we got to the right place!!
The bird luckily was still present from public hide which was about a 400m walk down from the road where we'd parked. The bird was asleep on a small island in front of the hide. Although still at distance, the bird showed quite well through the scope.
Ross's Gull - Leighton Moss
About 20 minutes later, the bird showed better for a few seconds giving us a nice view of its pinkish underparts and light grey collar. It appeared very Little Gull-like in flight as it took off with its 'jumpy' flight. That was the last we and everyone else saw of it as it wasn't seen today (Monday).
Other birds included a cool Guillemot, well out of place, a female Long Tailed Duck, a handful of Snipe.
The Marsh Tits were also a nice edition and showed very well around the feeders.
Marsh Tit - Taken by Steff Leese
All in all, a very nice day and thanks to Steff for driving :) Hopefully next time I can find her a real Caspian Gull and if she's lucky, a Ring Billed too!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Buff-Bellied Pipit at Burton Marsh

It's taken me a rather long time to write anything about this bird because in all honesty, when I first saw it I was so unexpired, I forgot I saw it. What I haven't mentioned is, before I first saw this bird just before Christmas, I'd just been to the East coast to successfully twitch an Ivory Gull.
That was the day, news broke of the pipit on Burton Marsh... of all the things, a local mega rarity and one that I needed! There was a lot of talk of the bird looking good for the japonicus eastern race. After a lot of deliberation and some good shots, the bird is now considered to be the 'commoner' American race. Either way, I wasn't too bothered. I wanted to see the two birds at the Queen Mother Reservoir last winter in Berkshire but due to Christmas and awkward rules and regulations from the reservoir, I decided to leave it. Didn't think I'd get one back quite so soon. Anyway, back to the story, I got crap views of the BBP on that first day but tickable views.
It was only last week that I could be bothered to go back and I'm glad I did, and now I realised why I wanted to see the Berkshire birds. Yes, they're a pipit and some would say that they're dull and boring and to an extend they are, but when you get the time to get such good views and can happily walk away after having learnt and seeing the features first hand, you can't beat it!
Buff-Bellied Pipit
The Buff Bellied Pipit showed very well during our time at the site and enough to get some record shots.
Buff-Bellied Pipit 
After our time at the site, we quickly popped into Burton Mere Wetlands in time to see an over-wintering Little Stint and some Whooper Swans.
Earlier that day we took a trip to Richmond bank near Widnes the hope we would locate a Caspian Gull that has been reported a couple of times that week but didn't have any joy apart from 3 Iceland Gull in the mix! A good day and thanks to Zac Hinchcliffe for the company!
Iceland Gull (2nd Winter)

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2013 Highlights

2013 has been an odd year, although it has been a year of megas, a year of grip-backs and a year of twitches! The only drawback was these megas (or the majority) were even one-dayers or were restricted on islands. I wanted to equal or thereabouts on last year. Last year will go down in history as one of my favourite years: Cream-Coloured Courser, Little Swift, Western Sandpiper, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Roller, Common Yellowthroat, Alpine Swift.... and the list goes on.
These are my top 5 birds of 2013:
Number 1: Bridled Tern
This was an excellent twitch which could've gone either way, but due to it's rarity and beautiful contrasting appearance, this Tern was not to be missed. The bird turned up on the Farne Islands and gave many birders the run around being extremely unpredictable to where it turned up next. It favoured Inner Farne but occasionally came to the mainland to Cresswell Ponds for the birders who didn't fancy the boat fee!
On arrival, we realised we'd booked ourselves on a full Farne Islands tour which was great but who could relax when there was a mega bird to see. We eventually made it to Inner Farne on which we got off and scanned the tern species. Arctic, Common, Sandwich and Roseate were seen. Time was running out but after a further 2 hours, the bird finally flew in landing amongst the Sandwich Terns giving great views in the hot summer sunshine.
Bridled Tern - July 2013

Number 2: Ivory Gull
This is a beautiful gull and one that I didn't think I'd see too soon, but after a recent influx of Ivory Gulls into the north of the UK, it was only a matter of time before there was a twitchable mainland bird. That time came and a trip to the East coast was on the cards on the banks of the Humber at Patrington. The bird showed reasonably well in scope views when we first got there but within 10 minutes that got even better as it flew straight over our heads and landed in front of a group of birds feasting on a salmon steak that had been put out to prolong its stay.
Ivory Gull - December 2013
The first winter bird put on a great show for 10 minutes or so allowing great photo opportunities before leaving and going to see a Buff-Bellied Pipit in Cheshire (which frankly was quickly forgotten).
Number 3: White-Billed Diver
Another December twitch resulted in another great bird. A trip down for the first mainland twitchable Brunnich's Guillemot at Portland then led on to traveling an extra 2 hours West to Brixham Harbour where the Diver showed superbly. Often it would dive (obviously) and appear up randomly in a different area of the harbour. Luckily as I made my way around the harbour, the bird popped up in front of me 10 metres away, swinging around to digiscope the bird was at the speed of light but I managed at least 1 shot! Some guy tried to convince me that the bird that had just popped up was in fact a Cormorant until I showed him the pic... that ain't no Cormorant mate! Just look at that bill though! 

White-Billed Diver - December 2013
Number 4 - Western Orphean Warbler
This was a bird I fully regretting not going to see at Hartlepool Headland last year on a day I was off, although it was a good idea that I didn't as this year a bird turned up in Pembrokeshire and showed superbly opposed to last years bird.
This time a bird was feeding on apples and pears in a small garden in St. Brides. An overnight journey saw us turn up for just after dawn, followed by missing the bird, a 90 minute wait until the bird came back. It was great to see all it's features and a great bird for the list after a recent 31 year absent.

Western Orphean Warbler - November 2013

Number 5 - Dusky Thrush (or at least we hope it is)

Back in May, a Dusky Thrush was discovered in a small cemetery in Margate, Kent which caused a mass twitch entertaining birders for a couple of days. A huge question was put over it's identity, was it a Dusky? Neumann's? or hybrid? This is a bird that has been untwichable in Britain for 50 years. After waiting for news and the nightmare of traffic, we were watching this bird. A very interesting bird and a bird that is still considered to be Dusky Thrush although not confirmed or accepted yet.

Dusky Thrush - May 2013
An exceptional year also included other great birds such as Rock Thrush, Baikal Teal, Caspian Tern, Great Snipe, Wryneck, Brunnich's Guillemot, Pied Wheatear, Parrot and Two-Barred Crossbill, Night Heron, Stilt Sandpiper, Sardinian Warbler, Buff-Bellied Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, Ring-Billed Gull, Subalpine Warbler, Pacific Golden Plover, Cattle Egret and a few more!
Hopefully 2014 will bring just as much!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Parrot Crossbills concludes the Hatrick!

It's been a great year for Crossbills in the UK, Two-Barred Crossbills entered the UK in force back at the end of August followed by Parrot Crossbills during October. There's been small flocks gathering throughout the UK and the nearest was Nottinghamshire for me. These birds have been present for just over a month, but I haven't had time to go for them, I was planning on going next week but the opportunity came up on 28th December as Austin Morley kindly asked if I would like a lift there from the M56. With a beautiful day set to be weather-wise, I couldn't turn the opportunity done.
After horrendous traffic on the M62 and again on the A1, we eventually arrived on negative news that the birds hadn't been reported all day. As we made our way over to the site to where the birds have been reported from, we saw a crowd of people making their way onwards. Assuming they were on to something we caught them up but only to find out that the birds had been present but have flown off! They were eventually tracked down and we got good scope views enabling some digi-scoping attempts:
Male Parrot Crossbill - just look at that super-sized bill
Female Parrot Crossbill
Another great day in a lovely setting, my forth lifer in two days and then on our way back we caught a distant sight of a Great Grey Shrike which are always nice to see! Thanks to Austin for driving! 

Brunnich's Guillemot, White Billed Diver and Cirl Buntings

Brunnich's Guillemot is a mega bird and there's never been a mainland twitchable bird, so when this bird was reported at Porland Harbour last week, this caused an unpredicted seasonal mass twitch. Scott Reid, Liam Langley, Chris Bromley and myself set off early and made our way down to Portland for the Guillemot. 30 minutes from the site and after a nervous drive, the news came out that it was still present. On arrival, not many people knew anything, only a few people had heard it first thing and the weather was shocking with strong gales and driving bands of showers.
A further 2 hours passed with very little else until there was a sighting of what was thought to be the bird on the adjacent section of harbour. A quick mass panic and everyone one rushed over. All of a sudden the bird popped up in front of us and gave great views from then on in. A big relief as I was convinced a dip was on the cards.
We then moved on to our next site which was two hours west for a White-Billed Diver which on immediate arrival showed superbly in the harbour of Brixham. The main point which was amazing to see was the size of it's bill. The banana appearance of the bill was a huge feature and given it showing down to just 10 metres, I would call it as one of the birds of the year!
We finished off at Broadsands just down the road from the Diver with the Cirls. These are one of two of the last breeding birds that I needed to see in the UK. The birds showed very well coming down to a seeded area off the small car park. Again lovely to see. In all, a super day's birding with excellent company and thanks to Scott for driving us!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Ivory Gull at Patrington

December's usually renowned for being a dreadfully boring month in terms of twitching but this December's been particularly surprised, although, 2013 has... 2013 will be known for the year of the mega birds (not that I've seen anywhere near half of what I would've liked but I can't have it everyway). There's been a recent influx of Ivory gulls in the UK but none of which have stuck around to be widely twitched.
It was only a matter of time before one was eventually going to settle and stick around and luckily for me and quite a few others that when a bird turned up at Patrington Haven alongside the Humber, it hung around long enough for us to catch up with it!
On arrival, it was showing well from distance on the estuary, but within no time it flew straight over our heads and landed on land near the pumping station giving superb views. I don't think it would've stayed this long if people weren't putting down a lovely selection of fish! On the menu; salmon steaks, cod... you name it! So I don't think this bird will be going anywhere anytime soon, and nor would I if I was that Ivory Gull!
It was a cracking bird nevertheless and a bird I've wanted to see in a good while! Thanks to Mark Payne for driving! :)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Baikal Teal at Crossens Outer Marsh

There has bee great debate about this bird and who wouldn't speculate on a rare duck when turns up in the UK... A nice drake Baikal Teal was found amongst the hundreds of Teal and Wigeon at Crossens Outter Marsh. Consider that it could be a hybrid, it was soon ruled out and thought to be either a first winter bird or an adult. The speculation came about because the bird was missing a black tear drop under its eye. Birds are known to appear in the wild and it is reported that 6% of these drakes have this feature.
I ain't going to bore and go on about all these features and what it could be or not... to me, it appears to be okay to have this feature missing. Again, it could be a feature of an affect to moult so if it stays for the winter, we may learn a lot more about these birds.
Martin Garner covers the speculation in more details and can't see a reason to why it isn't genuine. The bird is spending a lot of its time with the wigeon which is another plus point as these birds breed in a similar area. For more please visit Martin's blog: http://birdingfrontiers.com/2013/12/07/baikal-teal-at-southport-first-winter-or-adult-male/
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