Sunday, 10 November 2013

Beauty And The Beast - 30 June 2013

During a Sunday walk around Pennington Flash and the lagoons, 31 species were clocked up with notable highlights being 14 Common Scoter,  2 Green Sandpiper and a number of newly fledged Robins.

But my two remarkable memories of the day were:

Beauty... This Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) which was fairly abundant in the marshy ground behind the lagoons.

And the Beast... If you look at it long enough you may get to love it!

Certain as the Sun, rising in the east
Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast.
(Howard Ashman)

Species - 32 (order as seen) - Robin, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Black-headed Gull, Mallard, Coot, Muscovy Duck, Tufted Duck, Shelduck, Great Crested Grebe, Moorhen, Great Tit, Bullfinch, Magpie, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Blue Tit, Wren, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Lapwing, Crow, Green Sandpiper, Common Scoter, Greylag Goose, Pied Wagtail, Herring Gull, Cormorant, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Grey Heron.

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Fort At The Farm - 15 June 2013

I had jumped at the opportunity of a couple of places on a walk to the Iron Age fort site at Burton Point. Even though I am a regular visitor to Inner Marsh Farm, I knew very little of its history and I welcomed the chance to find out more from two local experts.

We met at 10am in IMF car-park where Geoff (RSPB) introduced us to Gary, a local historian and archaeologist. We soon set off down the IMF path where we stopped briefly to admire a male Whitethroat singing from his regular perch below the bench gate.

We left the path and headed south-west across the meadows towards Burton Point. From the highest point here we had a fine view over both Burton and Parkgate marshes, and looking up the coastline we could just about see Hilbre Island 11 miles away off the north-west point of the Wirral Peninsula.

A little further south, after making our way between a badger sett and a small copse, we got our first sight of the large mound that was all that remained of the Iron Age hill fort. It dates to around 200 BC and it was hard to imagine what it would have looked like in those days. Fortunately, a nearby info-board provided an artists impression and Gary added the words to give us a real flavour of the site as a major promontory, jutting out into the old course of the River Dee. The fort was likely to have been an extended family farmstead, easily defendable with its 5 metre high banks of earth and stone, surrounded by a ditch.

We worked our way down below the mound and onto what would have been the river bed, and here we found the medicinal herb White Horehound (Marribium vulgare) rare for these parts, it was once thought to cure almost everything!

As we stood below the mound, Gary informed us that a burial site to the south of the fort was excavated in 1878. This revealed over 50 burials but whether these were of an early Christian date or the remains of a 1637 shipwreck, has never been determined.  

Below the mound we saw the evidence confirming the old course of the river, in the heavy water erosion on the sandstone. And there was plenty of evidence of more recent sandstone quarrying. 

We continued around to the east side of the mound to a quaint spot with a small brook, where Swallows, House Martins and Swifts were hawking insects. We stopped for sometime to enjoy the spectacle and even managed a decent view of the rare Wall Brown Butterfly. From here we had a short climb back to the higher ground, then made our way back through the meadows where we came across a Green Woodpecker feeding in the distance.

It flushed as soon as we started crossing the meadow and we soon noticed its food source, the small nests or mounds of the Meadow Ant (Lasius flavus). And by the time we reached the point where the woodpecker had been feeding, the little orange-yellow fellows were already out repairing the opening and giving us a good look at what is normally an underground forager.

After thanking Geoff and Gary for a fabulous morning, we couldn't leave without dropping down to the IMF hide and we were rewarded with this magnificent Spotted Redshank.

Ain't history fab!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Reflections of Marshside - 10 June 2013

Having endured some horrible weather during my recent visits to Marshside, it was a pleasure to arrive this morning in glorious, calm, sunny conditions. Even if such conditions present a Catch-22 scenario here, as you look out directly into the glare of the morning sun from the east-south-east facing hides.

I started the day in Nel's Hide and was soon checking the Avocet nests and hoping for some successes. But it all looked pretty much as it was on my last visit, with some birds permanently on their nest and others sometimes on, sometimes off. Most worrying was a nest with four eggs that was visited occasionally by the male and female feeding nearby, but neither sat on the eggs during the 90 minutes that I was there. Better news came when I found an adult with three chicks across on the east shore, close to the waters edge and surrounded by plenty of nearby cover.

In a ditch to the left of the hide, a clutch of recently fledged Reed Warbler entertained me as they playfully flitted in and out of the reeds, with their excitement reaching a crescendo whenever the parents returned to feed them.

Out on the flash, the calm waters were entrancing, if feeling a little unnatural! It is rarely so still here, with the slightest puff from the prevailing off-shore westerlies usually sufficient to sustain a steady corrugation. Even the Lapwing (often on the wing at the sound of a Peregrine breaking wind from 5 miles away) were still and restful in the mirror-like water.

I moved on to the Sandgrounders Hide where an early Curlew Sandpiper was showing well but distant, two-thirds of the way down the right-hand channel. In partial moult from it's breeding plumage, it was magnificent looking with plenty of the rusty-red colouring still visible. It was my bird of the day but there were other contenders.

A very unique looking pale form male Ruff, complete with white feathery mane, was giving brief and tantalising glimpses from a watery hollow about 30 metres out. It was an agonising two hours before it emerged and slowly fed its way into the open but it was certainly worth the wait.

With a dozen or more people in the hide, it is hard to believe that what came next was witnessed solely by me and a covert Redshank! A Mediterranean Gull (2nd summer) simply dropped out of the sky with a bill full of something tasty, paused for a second or two directly in front of me, and was off again. How I managed to react so fast to get the shot, I'm not sure. How everyone else had missed it was even more of a mystery and I had a few of those 'are you sure' looks, before my 3" view-back did a tour!

I can't visit Marshside without taking a number of shots of the resident (non-breeding) Black-tailed Godwits. Looking as splendid as ever, I could have included any number of classically posed birds here, but I've gone for this one as it sums up what you get from these wonderful birds... guaranteed character!

Fabulous day at a fabulous place. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Llyn Brenig, A North Wales Jewel - 8 June 2013

I have a good spot for seeing the Cuckoo, just north of the wonderfully named World's End, near Llangollen. Hearing the male bird calling is certainly one of the highlights of a magnificent 14 mile walk, but seeing the bird is not a given and the mixed terrain is a bit gruelling. So with hot weather forecast for today, we chose a gentler option for a Cuckoo hunt.

Llyn Brenig, 12 miles south-west of Denbigh, is a really beautiful reservoir and a popular venue for trout anglers, plus the occasional Osprey. It is also a fantastic place for a birding walk, with a great chance of seeing Cuckoos.

We arrived fairly early and enjoyed a coffee in the visitor centre cafe, or to be more precise, outside on the balcony enjoying the view. We soon set off anti-clockwise around the reservoir and after a brief stop for a Willow Warbler, we arrived on the dam at the southern end, where a stop was compulsory to admire and photograph the resplendent vista.

As I looked out thinking 'it doesn't get better than this' it suddenly did when a couple of Cuckoos flew across from the east and settled on the tree tops behind the visitor centre. It got even better when we heard a male Cuckoo calling from behind us and we turned to find another pair in the nearby wood. With 4 Cuckoos in sight, we then had a fifth when another male was heard calling from the east. What a start to the day!

Walking up the eastern side, it soon became clear why the Cuckoos are drawn to this area. The adjacent rough meadows were alive with Meadow Pipit, so there is no shortage of nests for the Cuckoos to parasitise.

Meadow Pipit with tasty catch but is it feeding a young Cuckoo?

We continued north along the path and up to the point where it veers off into a large coniferous wood and here we stopped for lunch at the waters edge. With another fine view across the calm water and one eye to the skies in search of the Osprey that had been feeding in the area, it would have been so easy to miss the days best view of a Cuckoo. But we were still hearing the calls, so we kept checking the trees behind us and out it popped to perch on a fence post some distance away. I was off... first using the cover of the walled bank, then closing in on my belly and crossing the path where I was almost decapitated by a passing cyclist (with PK sniggering into her tea). I had almost halved the distance when I quickly popped the lens through the long grass and fired off a couple of hopeful shots, just before the bird disappeared back into the wood. 

The smell from the animal droppings that I had managed to accumulate in the process, accompanied us for the rest of the day but it was worth it!

A Llyn Brenig Cuckoo - clocked one at last!

Skylark - a welcome sight on any trip

Species (order as seen): Willow Warbler, Mistle Thrush, Pied Wagtail, Chaffinch, Magpie, Crow, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Greylag Goose, Grey Wagtail, Raven, Jay, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Oystercatcher, Skylark, Robin, Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting, House Martin, Redstart, Stonechat, Goldfinch, Canada Goose.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Marbury Woodpeckers - 3 June 2013

My first visit to Marbury for a while and after a quick tour of all my regular spots, I set off to find the Great Spotted Woodpecker nest site that I had noted on my last visit.

Not knowing if the birds had used the site, I approached cautiously but with no real expectation. That soon changed when I saw an adult bird fly over me and then, as I got closer, I began to hear the constant calls of insatiable chicks.

When I finally got hole-side, the view was amazing but I knew that I had to keep in cover so as not to spook the adults. But I soon realised that I was so conspicuous standing behind trees and the adults would see me as they came back in. So the answer was to sit down at a good distance, hood up, camera on tripod and watch the spectacle from a still and comfy position.

Soon after I settled down, the male came in with food, fed a chick and was quickly off again, leaving the chick squealing for more before withdrawing back into the nest, to be replaced by another at the opening.  A few minutes later the female arrived with food, fed and departed. Soon the male was back feeding, then the male again, and again! I quickly noticed the pattern of the male feeding five or six times between each visit by the female. Maybe the female was busy feeding herself back up after the exertions of egg laying, or maybe the male had found a rich supply of food.

I wondered how many chicks there were and also, with room for only one a time at the dining table, were they all being fed? I studied them closely through the scope and noticed a few differences in cap markings or colouring, very subtle but enough to know that there was some rotation going on. I got to know 4 or 5 of them but as for the exact number I'm not sure.

As the heat increased in the afternoon, the chicks began to show signs of panting and soon withdrew to the shade of the interior. The relieved male stayed on guard nearby and the female, well I hadn't seen her for over an hour.

I returned a couple of times with PK, hoping to see the chicks fledge but I missed them going. I was just happy to know that they had.

The male brings in another tasty tree grub...

... and finally takes a breather on guard duty.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Rainy Day At Marshside - 27 May 2013

Summer (almost) and yet today was cold and very, very wet. So I considered my options carefully before choosing to drive north to Marshside RSPB, Southport. I did this in the belief that I would find the brighter conditions promised by the weather reports but frankly, it just got worse!

After parking up and donning the waterproofs, the short walk from the car-park to Nel's hide (580 meters) was less than pleasant and I was not surprised to find an empty hide. Looking out into the murky greyness, the nesting Avocets were restless and forlorn looking, and appeared to intensify the near monochromatic view.

A hot coffee brightened my spirit suffice to begin scanning through the gloom and I found plenty of birds out there. On the small islands of mud, I found quite a few Dunlin busy feeding. I checked through some them looking for other small waders but the further out they were, the more impossible the task became. I did find a number of Ringed Plover across in the far margins but they are often there, so I knew where to look.

As it approached high tide in Liverpool Bay, a number of waders came in. A small flock of Knot were soon followed in by more Dunlin. Then came a big mixed flock that eventually settled to roost in the still gloom in front of me. I managed to pick out Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, more Knot, more Dunlin, Curlew and a few Sanderling.

Then came the days highlight when a small wader emerged from the pack to feed alone on one of the far muddy islands. I first assumed it was a Dunlin, but on closer inspection I was surprised to see it was a Little Stint.

Whether the bird had just come in or had been out there for a while, I don't know! I do know that the day suddenly seemed brighter!

Little Stint - a reasonable record shot given the conditions

Dunlin - summer clothes, wintery weather!

The Swallows were finding food despite the weather

Species Log (33) - order as seen: Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Teal, Dunlin, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Shelduck, Shoveler, Coot, Oystercatcher, Gadwall, Lapwing, Moorhen, Ringed Plover, Herring Gull, Swallow, Little Egret, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Curlew, Sanderling, Little Stint, Grey Heron, Black-headed Gull, Cormorant, Canada Goose, Swift, Woodpigeon, Blackbird, Magpie.

Leasowe - 20 May 2013

A quick record of a fabulous birding walk around Leasowe Lighthouse; taking in the sea wall path, nature path, horse paddocks and adjacent lanes.

Species (order as seen):

Swallow, Goldfinch, Whitethroat, Herring Gull, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Crow, Mallard, Chiffchaff, Shelduck, Sedge Warbler, Magpie, Collared Dove, Wheatear, Grey Heron, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Starling, Woodpigeon, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Redshank, House Sparrow, Whimbrel, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Swift, Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch, Linnet and Whinchat.

Skylark, a real favourite of mine and Leasowe is a great place to see them.