Saturday 24 November 2018

Groundhog Week

I do apologise dear readers as there will be a sense of deja vu regarding this post! I've only been out twice since my last post and it was to the same two sites again; deepest darkest Cheshire and glorious northwest Cumbria.

It dawned clear and frosty in Cheshire with a light easterly wind. I had an experience that I have never had before when out birding and that was moisture forming in my beard because of the cold conditions (I've experienced that bit before), and then it was dripping onto the eye-pieces of my bins! Very annoying!

There wasn't much to report really other than seven Fieldfares, a Jay, four Buzzards, a Brambling, two Stock Doves, six Linnets, ten Skylarks, four Redwings and seven Lapwings. I was surprised I had that much in the ryegrass desert, with butchered hedgerows, habitat that I was in!

Fast forward to glorious Cumbria and it was a morning where Stonechats would feature strongly. It was another beautiful morning and walking down towards my cliff-top vantage point I came across a male and two female Stonechats. The male showed really well in the November sunshine and proceeded to have a good old preen in front of me, and I took the following snaps.

Interestingly, on my way home I stopped in a parking area to have my lunch, in view of the coast, and there in front of me working their way along a wire fence fly-catching was a pair of Stonechats, and the female is pictured below. Is this part of Cumbria the Stonechat capital of the UK?

Going back to my survey there are two elements to it, a land-based bit and a coastal bit. The land based bit didn't turn up much other than three Siskins, 17 Meadow Pipits, the aforementioned Stonechats and a Buzzard.

Looking from my coastal watch point I had a male Peregrine fly south and I wish I had it seen it coming sooner as it looked fantastic in the crisp light. Where was my camera I hear you ask, and the answer was in it's case on the floor next to my rucksack! 

I'd not long sent a text to Gail saying "no Harbour Porpoise so far, or indeed any other marine mammals", when two Harbour Porpoises appeared slowly moving and feeding offshore! I got cracking scope views with my new x 25-60 wide angle zoom lens, as they did their rolling breach in full glorious sunshine! Maybe I should have sent Gail a text saying "no Orca's so far"!

I'm used to seawatching off the Fylde coast of Lancashire where any views of Common Scoters are miles away, even though they might be in good numbers. So it was refreshing being at a site where I could look down on them relatively close and watch them diving and feeding! The best of the rest from the coast was two Shags, two Red-throated Divers, a Guillemot and three Auk sp. 

Driving back home I noticed that the first snow of the winter was on the tops of some of the lakeland fells such as Skiddaw, and very seasonal it looked too!

Sunday 18 November 2018

The Working Week That Was

During the past week I have had two site visits to complete on-going wintering bird surveys, and as winter tightens it's grip and autumn loses it, the surveys get quieter and quieter, until you approach March and spring then tightens it's grip as winter loses its! I've said this before, but Naturalists do tend to spend a lot of time wishing their lives away!

Monday morning saw Gail and I at my Cheshire survey site under two oktas cloud cover with a niggling 10-15 mph south-southeasterly wind. Not impossible conditions for the survey, but the wind was more of a nuisance than a benefit.

During October at this site I recorded quite a few Woodpigeons on visible migration, but this has now stopped and the only members of that family were three Stock Doves that I recorded.

Talking of vis I did have a few Fieldfares go through, 62 in fact, all heading south. Cousins of the Fieldfare included a Song Thrush and ten Redwings, and all made it in to my notebook. Two Buzzards and seven Skylarks were best of the rest, and it was then time to face the onslaught of the M6 on our way home.

On Friday I was in northwest Cumbria, and again Gail accompanied me. No views across to Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland today as the visibility was only moderate-good with full cloud cover and a southeasterly wind force three.

Along the coast at this site are some arable fields and numbers of Skylarks are presently foraging in them. Sometimes the Skylarks seem to be heading south and then you will see them coming back! Whatever they were doing we had an impressive 65 this morning.

There was a lack of members of the Thrush family other than two Song Thrushes that look to winter in the area alongside a handful of Reed Buntings and a male Stonechat. A couple of Rock Pipits moved up and down the coast, and the most unusual bird I had looking out to sea was a female Pheasant that flew south just off the cliffs!


Sea mammals put in an appearance and these made Gail's day. First up were two Harbour Porpoises feeding offshore, but sadly not close enough for any photos, and then we had an Atlantic Grey Seal make it's way along the coast.

It was quiet on the sea with just two Shags, a Guillemot, ten Common Scoters, two Red-throated Divers, and a male Peregrine that flew rapidly south.

It's going easterly over this coming week and I will be trying my best to get out, so if I do I'll be sure to let you know.

Saturday 10 November 2018

The River

I apologise for a lack of posts of late dear readers, it's been mainly due to poor weather that I haven't been out. In fact I haven't even managed to get any work surveys in since 2nd November! I had an aborted trip earlier in the week to one of my wintering bird survey sites in Cheshire, but didn't get there because of a complete closure of the M6 southbound between Junctions 21 and 20! I managed to muscle myself off the motorway at J23, and high-tailed it home!

I suppose I could have gone out just for the sake of it, but as we approach early winter autumn migration has slowed down, nearly to a full stop, and birding round here in particular has become hard work. In fact birding in this part of Lancashire gets less pleasurable every year, with more and more people, and more and more disturbance! So all being well the Hairy Birder is likely to be 'upping sticks' and moving north in the not too distant future! How far north really depends on Mrs Hairy Birder! The preferred location for me would be Dumfries and Galloway, but I would say that anywhere from north Lancs, through to Cumbria and onwards to Scotland is a possibility!

Anyway, back to the river. And the river on this occasion was the River Wyre. Earlier in the week Gail and I had to go to Fleetwood to pick up some Birch logs to burn in our wood burner along with some Ash that we had taken a delivery of. I knew that the tide was falling so we decided to have a walk alongside Jubilee Quay on the Wyre. Funnily enough, there is a connection with Whitehaven in Cumbria where I presently have some work in the area, and Fleetwood, as some of the fishing boats from Whitehaven in days gone by used to land their catch at Jubilee Quay.

 Some of the inaccessible quayside is used by Gulls to roost on like this 
Black-headed Gull

On the falling tide waders come in to feed on the freshly exposed mud and it's the first part of the estuary that Black-tailed Godwits feed on at this state of tide, and on this occasion we had 26. Other waders included six Oystercatchers and 44 Redshanks.

 Even though it is silhouetted and it has its back to us, I rather like this 
picture of a black-tailed Godwit

This morning I was back on the Wyre, but a little further upstream, and I had a pleasant walk under the five oktas cloud cover with a stiff southerly breeze. Walking down the path to the estuary I pushed twelve Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and a couple of Redwings from the Hawthorns. I could hear Chaffinches going over on vis, but couldn't see them, but I could certainly see the 36 Woodpigeons that headed east.

 The path down to the river

On the edge of the saltmarsh was a nice flock of 65 Goldfinches that were feeding on the seeds of what looked like Sea Lavender. I had a walk across the saltmarsh to my vantage point where I can see both up and down stream and I put 43 Snipe up.

On the river were 226 Lapwings, 244 Wigeons and 117 Teal. There was probably quite a bit more than this as I could see bits of birds on the edge of creeks and behind mud banks that were impossible to count. Walking back to the main path a Little Egret flew upstream and four Rock Pipits called as they flew around the marsh.

 Little Egret

A quick look on the reservoir revealed 22 Mallards, twelve Coots, five Little Grebes, eleven Tufted Ducks and a male Goldeneye. Other than ten Linnets, three Reed Buntings and a Grey Wagtail on my walk back to the car that was it.

The weather is looking a bit mixed this coming week with perhaps some opportunities to get out at the start and then end of the week. As ever I'll keep you posted!

Friday 2 November 2018

Four Countries

Both today and earlier in the week I have been undertaking a series of wintering bird surveys, and if you include the country I was standing in (England) I could see four countries! Well, three countries and a self-governing British Crown dependency; Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland and England! On Monday the visibility was great and I had clear skies with a light southeasterly wind.

There were a number of Stonechats about, at least two pairs, and they showed well, usually when my camera wasn't at hand, or when the light wasn't right! But today I managed to get a few snaps of this female below.

I had quite good numbers of Skylarks and I must admit it was difficult to say whether they were moving, or just feeding in the coastal fields. I would have birds that looked as if they were heading south, and then they would come back north again! Anyway whatever they were doing I had 18 on Monday and 23 today.

Raptors have been thin on the ground other than a Kestrel, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, but maybe that's all I can expect. What was a pleasant surprise was the covey of five Grey Partridges that flew past us as Gail and I were huffing and puffing walking up a hill! Up to four Song Thrushes have been present, and being a coastal location two Rock Pipits have been moving up and down the coast.


I spent some time seawatching, but it wasn't exactly rocking, and my totals included two Red-throated Divers, seven Pintails, three Guillemots, a Razorbill and 49 Common Scoters.

The best seawatching record I had on Monday was of two Harbour Porpoise that I watched for about fifteen minutes. At about 1:00 pm I picked up a Harbour Porpoise fairly close inshore. It was drifting back and forth, actively feeding, below the cliffs, and breaching with that lovely rolling action that they have. I suspected that there might be a second individual, but for a while I could just see one. After about five minutes two breached together! I tried to get a few shots and you will see my efforts below! They made my day anyway!

Just one Harbour Porpoise

 Suspicions of two!

 Definitely two!

More Hoglets

Since I last posted we have had two more Hoglets in the garden, taking the total to six, and we are hoping that we have now managed to rescue them all! The second Hoglet (no. 6) was with it's mother and sadly we had to take it in because it was woefully under weight. Both Hoglets have gone to the lovely Jean and hopefully they will put weight on and be able to get back to the wild in the Spring!

 Hoglet No. 6

We still have at least one large Hedgehog coming to feed every night, but it has turned cold of late, so how long it will be visiting I'm not sure. We think it is the mother of our six Hoglets and she looks large and healthy, so when it's time for her to get her head down I don't think she'll have any problems.