Sunday, 19 January 2020

Mud...And Not The Glorious Kind

It was a case of mid-week mud for me last week, and not mud of the glorious kind either! I was back at my wintering bird survey site in the west of the county, and I had to move my VP location by about ten metres because of the wet and muddy conditions under-foot. Lots of rain resulting in a high water table and many sets of sheep feet had poached the area where I usually stand. So, under 7 oktas cloud cover, with a stiff-ish SW wind I undertook another survey.

 My muddy VP location

Thrushes were still very much the order of the day, and they had switched from feeding on berries (they have cleaned the Hawthorns out) to feeding on the wet grassland. The higher water table was presumably bringing invertebrates to the surface, and there was rich pickings for them and the Starlings. More Redwings this week, 21, and a few more Fieldfares totalling 327!

As the morning progressed it went from 7 oktas cloud cover, as stated above, to clear, sunny skies. The blue skies and sunshine encouraged a good deal of activity from the local Buzzards, and I was treated to a display from at least six individual birds. Other raptors were a male and female each of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.

 Buzzard

The Sparrowhawk was a young male, and it whizzed past me close to my VP. I was first alerted to his presence by the flock of Meadow Pipits (52 of them) that lifted from the field in front of me. I then lost him from view behind the network of hedges, which he will have been using as cover to lay an ambush as he traversed the landscape. However, I could monitor his progress by the flocks of birds he was putting up; first a large flock of Starlings took to the air, relying on their numbers to try and confuse him, and then a smaller flock of Fieldfares 'chack-chacked' as they moved out of his way. You've got to love a Sparrowhawk, as they will provide the patient observer with no end of pleasure and entertainment!

After 268 Pink-footed Geese, a Grey Wagtail, a  Mistle Thrush, three Skylarks and a Song Thrush my survey ended, and it was time to head home.

Pink-footed Geese

Saturday, 11 January 2020

You Never Know What's Lurking In A Ditch

Yesterday morning I was back at one of my wintering bird survey sites in the west of Lancashire and it was a tad chilly under the leaden skies with a cool east-southeasterly wind. However, the skies later cleared and the sun came out. And it must have got warmer because I took my woolly hat off and replaced it with my baseball cap!

As of recent visits to this site Fieldfares have been the main species that I have recorded and this morning I had a cracking total of 282 of these Norse invaders. Interestingly, I only had seven Redwings and two continental Blackbirds.

Raptors were thin on the ground and were just represented by three Buzzards and two Kestrels. A flock, in fact a very small flock, of three Whooper Swans southwest was nice, with a few Pink-footed Geese over too, somewhere in the region of 524 birds mainly heading in a north-ish direction.

 Pink-footed Geese

I watched a Little Egret in the next field to where my vantage point (VP) was located. It walked along the boundary in front of a 'gappy' Hawthorn hedge and then disappeared in to a ditch. Now, I know this particular ditch quite well as I used to have to walk along it in previous surveys, and to say that it is uninteresting is an understatement, but not to a Little Egret obviously!

I never saw it emerge from the ditch the whole time that I was there, so it either popped out without me seeing it, or it was finding lots of food and was having its fill! It made me think that you never know what's lurking in a ditch, because I wondered how many other nondescript ditches have an unseen Little Egret wandering along them?!

I mentioned before how it warmed up during the morning and I noticed lots of dancing non-biting Midges around some of the Hawthorns. I decided to see whether I could photograph them or not, and I think the answer is probably not as you will see from the pictures below. Looking back on my attempts on the screen on the back of my camera they looked like flocks of birds, well perhaps squinting with your eyes half closed they did!

 Non-biting Midges above & below



Two warbler species in the hedge behind my VP was noteworthy, with a calling Goldcrest and Chiffchaff. The Chiffie was more interesting and was my first over-winterer this year. A distant flock of 52 Pintails heading south, and a fly-over Great Spotted Woodpecker later my survey finished.

The forecast is looking wet for tomorrow, and ringing is definitely out of the question, but I will keep checking just in case.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

A Wee Dander

On New Year's Day Gail and I took a wee dander down to the estuary. I love the word 'dander' which is a word from Ireland that means a gentle, meandering walk with no particular haste or purpose. The reason that I love it so much is because a favourite Uncle of mine, who sadly passed away some years ago now, used to use the word whenever he announced he was going out for a walk. He used to take my brother and me for a wee dander back home in Ireland, along the lanes around the village after dark, recount ghost stories and generally frighten us both to death, but we loved it! Oh to go for just one more wee dander with Uncle Tommy...

Gail and I don't celebrate New Year in any real way, it's just an arbitrary date decided upon for a relatively recent calendar. For us the real New Year, is the Solstice, when as you know the return of the Sun is cause for celebration. It certainly makes more sense to us anyway.

Whether you celebrate New Year or not, it was certainly a nice morning for a wee dander down to the estuary under sunny skies with a light southerly wind.

 The Wyre Estuary

The walk down to the estuary through the 'Hawthorn tunnel' yielded the expected garden/woodland birds; Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackbird (16 of them), Great Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Magpie, Cariron Crow, Fieldfare and Woodpigeon.

Once we reached the estuary we headed to the point passing by the pool on the way. No Kingfisher on the pool today sadly, but we did have two male Shovelers, eight Tufted Ducks, nine Coots, three Little Grebes and a pair of Mute Swans.

On the other side of the pool was a cracking dog Fox with his red coat looking resplendent in the morning sun. He looked around as though he didn't have a care in the world and slowly tip-toed off along the far bank of the pool. I always think that Foxes are very cat-like in their  movements and tip-toeing to me seems how they walk.

The telescope legs were extended at the point and we had a look on the estuary. The tide was just starting to turn and as it did it lifted, shuffled and gently tugged at the flocks of waders and wildfowl, causing the Lapwings, with a dash of Dunlin to lift, twisting and turning as they did so. I don't think the twisting and turning was all the work of the turning tide, as a couple of Sparrowhawks flew along the edge of the saltmarsh.

Counts out on the estuary included 135 Teal, 19 Redshanks, 239 Wigeons, 300 Lapwings, 71 Dunlins, ten Mallards, 17 Shelducks and two Little Egrets.

 Wigeon - above & (closer) below



Two Rock Pipits and thirty Pink-footed Geese later, we retraced our steps back past the pool and along the 'Hawthorn tunnel' back to the car.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Finches Of Gold

On Monday Alice and I had a ringing session at the feeding station in the Hodder Valley. I was a bit surprised that my car was frozen up when I headed out just after 7:00 am, as a frost wasn't forecast. At the site it was a glorious crisp morning, with clear skies, no wind and a touch of a ground frost.

From a birding perspective I haven't got much to report from amongst the trees, but there was a good number of Siskins around. They were constantly calling and moving around the tree tops in ones and twos, and then we had a group of about thirty or so. In total there was a good 50 plus, but they don't seem interested in our feeders as yet and seem to be sticking to natural food in the form of Birch and Alder catkins.

There was perhaps about a dozen Redwings moving about the woodland, and I registered the calls of at least two Fieldfares too. Other calling birds included Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Redpoll and Jay.

We ringed 39 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Great Tit - 1 (1)
Coal Tit - 4 (2)
Goldfinch - 13
Blue Tit - 11 (2)
Chaffinch - 5
Nuthatch - 1 (1)
Greenfinch - 1
Redwing - 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1
Blackbird - 1

It was a good total of Goldfinches, and they have obviously found the nyjer seed, and hopefully in a week or two the Siskins will have too!

Coal Tit

 Nuthatch

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Curiouser and Curiouser

I know that my Blog title isn't good English, but Alice's words from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass popped into my head when I had a Moorhen and a Shag in the same view through my bins on a dilapidated old wooden jetty in the middle of a river! How often can you say that you have had a Shag and a Moorhen in the same view? More on that later.

At weekend I was back in the northeast doing another of my wintering bird surveys on the Tweed estuary. I thought I wasn't going to get the survey in, because at first light it was foggy, but thankfully this soon lifted to reveal an overcast day with a light southwesterly wind.

It was a morning of quality, well for me anyway, rather than quantity and first up was a Red-throated Diver. It drifted past me on the incoming tide and it was nice to get good views of this cracking little diver, compared to the usual views I get when seawatching at the Obs!

One of the highlights, perhaps one of four highlights of the morning, were two Black-throated Divers in the estuary; a first calendar year bird and an adult. Unfortunately they were always at the opposite end of where I was in terms of my vantage points. I picked the first calendar year bird quite a way upstream from me, and then when I shifted to my second vantage point (VP), the 'Black-throat' was then a long way downstream of me. Frustrating!

The adult appeared just beyond the jetty with the Moorhen and the Shag and then disappeared! I didn't see it again all morning, so sadly no photographs.

The second highlight of the morning came in the form of a cracking Otter. I picked it up as it swam underneath an old pier, and I had brief but pleasing views, and I thought that would be it. However, when I had finished at my first VP and was heading to my second, I saw what looked like a disembodied head swimming along in the river. Scope back down, bins to eyes, and sure enough it was 'the' or another Otter. It slowly made it's way downstream, passing me at a distance, and it was continually diving, and at one stage it surfaced with what I think was a fish. It then carried on until out of sight, and I headed off to my other VP one happy bird surveyor!

I've posted below a series of shots of the Otter as it made its way past me. Unfortunately it was overcast with poor light, so the photos aren't brilliant, but it gives you a flavour of my 'Otterly' fantastic experience!








 

The third highlight of the morning involved the Moorhen and the Shag that I mentioned at the beginning of my post. Opposite where my second VP is located, stands a dilapidated wooden jetty/pier in the middle of the river. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the movement of a bird flying, and I swung round with my bins to see an awkwardly flying bird with short narrow wings, trailing its legs, that then pulled up and landed on the jetty. For a split second I couldn't compute what it was, and then I realised it was a Moorhen! What an earth was a Moorhen doing on an old jetty in the middle of a river?! It worked it's way along the jetty, looking for food, and when it go to the end of the jetty it stood next to a Shag that was on the jetty. So in one view through my bins, I had a Moorhen and a Shag together, two species that I doubt I will see together like that again. I raised my camera to take a photograph and the Moorhen dropped down to some of the structure underneath. It then worked it's way back to the end that it first landed on, flew back on top of the jetty and repeated the process! After several minutes it flew back to the shore.

Below are a few pictures of the Moorhen on the old jetty.




 Grey Heron; another jetty user

My fourth, and final, highlight of the morning was a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins, or to be precise Common Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus. They were some distance from me in the mouth of the river, but I was getting excellent views through my scope. I couldn't really tell how many there were because they kept going left to right and right to left, and all I can say is that the most I saw together was four! So all I can say is that there were at least four, and probably more.

As I said earlier it was a morning for quality and not quantity, so in addition to the above highlights all I can add is seven Shags, two Little Grebes (a bit of a surprise), two male Goldeneyes and two male Goosanders. It was a very enjoyable morning!

 Shag

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all Solstice Greetings, and I hope that you enjoy your mid-Winter, or indeed mid-Summer (depending on where in the world you are), festivities, however you celebrate!

The sun has returned and the days are getting longer...yippee!!!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Thrushes

I think I've probably said before, but there has been a good berry crop this year (and nuts), and the hedgerows are still full of Hawthorn berries, and consequently lots of thrushes. It's quite unusual for us in my neck of the woods to still have numbers of Fieldfares around. Redwings can generally be found all winter, but Fieldfares tend to pass through in late Autumn, then you get them again in late winter/early spring when they are on return passage, and can often be accompanying Starlings.

I think the glut of berries is holding them, and I guess it will be the same for other parts of the country, and it's providing an opportunity to enjoy these stonking thrushes all the more. I was at one of my winter bird survey sites in west Lancashire yesterday, and from my vantage point I recorded 239 Fieldfares and 92 Redwings.

 Fieldfare

 Redwing

I say recorded, but I really mean that I enjoyed them, I was immersed in them, I was dazzled by them, enthralled by them...and amazed by them. There aren't enough superlatives to describe the many facets of being 'with' thrushes. I say 'being' because they were all around me; whizzing over my head, calling nervously from hedgerows, plucking berries, flying around 'schacking' and 'tseeing' and vigorously probing the sheep pastures for soft-bodies prey items with Starlings.

The thrushes were most certainly the highlight of my afternoon under leaden skies with a cold southwesterly wind. Eventually I had to bring my survey to an earlier end than intended, as a band of rain moved through. I stuck it out until me, my maps and optics were sodden, and retreated to the relative comforts of my car.

A quick scan of my notebook reveals that I also had thirteen Chaffinches, a Skylark, a Jay, a continental male Blackbird, two Buzzards, six Curlews, seven Collared Doves and 136 Pink-footed Geese. But still it was the thrushes!

Friday, 6 December 2019

Frosty Mornings

Over the past week we've had a number of frosty mornings, which has lead to some glorious weather to be out and about in. I apologise for a lack of Blog postings (again) over the last week - ten days, but I have been a busy, busy boy! It's been outdoors/bird related so I can't complain too much, if at all!

I had my good friend George from Northumberland staying with me for a couple of days last week and on Friday morning we managed to get out for a couple of hours birding on the estuary. And guess what, it was a frosty morning. Walking down to the estuary we had a Kingfisher zip past us along the ditch that runs along the side of the path. After it had streaked past, leaving a smudge of aquamarine etched on our retinas, I thought the ditch isn't particularly great looking, but the Kingfisher knows what it's looking for more than I do.

We had a Fox that looked resplendent in the field to the north of the long hedgerow, with it's rusty coat reflecting the early morning rays of the sun and looking a fiery red, contrasting with the monochrome frost coating the grass with light reflecting crystals. 

Crossing the old railway line a number of Blackbirds and Redwings feasted on Hawthorn berries, and there was some more of that 'red and frost' contrast going on with the Redwings.

Out on the saltmarsh and estuary the usual suspects were there, with several Rock Pipits calling as we walked to the point to have a look through the waders and wildfowl. The bulk of these were Teal, Wigeon, Pink-footed Geese and Redshanks, but a Spotted Redshank out on the mud was a nice addition for the notebook.

 Redshanks

The tide was running in, so we headed round to the quay to see if there were any Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the last remaining mud before the tide covered it, and we weren't disappointed as 56 frantically probed the mud, calling contentedly.

Saturday dawned frosty again and Gail and I headed to a site in the Hodder Valley in Bowland, where the landowner, Simon, had set up a feeding station for us. It was in an area of semi-mature woodland, an arboretum in fact planted some 25 years ago. This was our first ringing session there, and a bit of a tester to see if it would be worthwhile. We expected to ring a number of Tit species, and we weren't wrong, but a few other species made us think that it is worth persevering with. We ringed 28 birds as follows:

Great Tit - 3
Blue Tit - 12
Chaffinch - 2
Coal Tit - 7
Goldfinch - 1
Nuthatch - 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1

 Frosty woodland

Coal Tit

Nuthatch

There were a number of Siskins criss-crossing the woodland at tree top height, perhaps about 30 or so, and they totally ignored the feeders feeding on Birch and Alder catkins. Other finches in the woodland included two Lesser Redpolls and at least three Chaffinches. A calling Tawny Owl and a handful of Jays, Fieldfares and Redwings also made it into my notebook, but that was it.

Earlier this week, on another frosty morning, I had the first of a series of wintering bird surveys that I have to complete not too far from the historic town of Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. Whilst I was at my first VP I had the feeling that somebody was watching me, and not from the nearby coastal cottages, but from out on the river, and there was an Atlantic Grey Seal bobbing up and down in the water keeping a careful eye on me.

 Some views of Berwick, above & below




A few Rock Pipits fed along the shore and on the river were Goldeneye, two male Goosanders and a Red-throated Diver that too was keeping an eye on me. In fact in one of the shots below you can see it angling it's head to look at me. A number of waders were feeding out on the mud before the tide ran in and the two most numerous species were 61 Curlews and 99 Redshanks.

 Red-throated Diver

The last of my frosty mornings was mid-week at my winter bird survey in the west of my home county. The major upset for me of the morning was a cold flask of coffee! When I was making my flask at home before setting out, I heated the milk but forgot to boil the kettle! Imagine my disappointment when I poured my first cup!

Thrushes were the order of the morning and I recorded 147 Fieldfares and 41 Redwings heading in all sorts of directions, calling, not calling, dropping into berry laden Hawthorns and just perched up looking stunning in the watery December sunshine.

 Fieldfares

One of the most enjoyable moments of the morning was the antics of a young male Sparrowhawk. From my vantage point I caught sight of the Sparrowhawk working the hedges immediately north of where I was standing. He flew along the front of the hedge in the field opposite me, just inches from the ground, all the time 'flicking' in and out of the hedge. When he got to the end of that length of hedge, he could either flick over the hedge and carry on, or turn right at the ninety degree junction of hedges. Luckily for me he turned right and carried along this shorter length of hedge doing just the same as before. He was like a shadow flickering amongst the thorny limbs of the Hawthorn, and you were never quite sure whether he was indeed just shadow, or real.

It was then that I realised that when he got to the end of this short length of hedge he would turn right again and come along the hedge that I was standing sort of within, and behind, and he did!

He came along 'my hedge' and flicked through a gap where I was standing. passing me by just a few feet. At this point I came out with a good old Anglo-Saxon expletive in my head! He then shot across a short open area of field and carried on past the pond, and on to haunt some more hedges. Stunning!

After that everything else seemed fairly mundane, just a couple of Jays, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Raven, a female Sparrowhawk (perhaps his mother or sister), two Kestrels, three Buzzards, eight Curlews and 24 Collared Doves. Hang on, 24 Collared Doves! On some telegraph lines I could see some pigeons/doves perched up and on jizz I thought they looked remarkably like Collared Doves, so to be certain I trained my telescope on them and indeed they were! This is probably the largest flock of Collared Doves I have had for some time. And when I put my thinking cap on, it dawns on me that over the last few years I am seeing less and less Collared Doves, but nobody seems to talk about it. I suppose birders who are driven by listing just like to get them on their year list in early Jan, and never look at them again for the rest of the year, but that's another story!