Thursday, 9 November 2017

A Trip to North Wales

After seeing some shots of Brambling, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll by Paul Lee on Facebook, I decided that it was time to spend some more time in the Welsh hills around Llyn Brenig. And it just so happened that Graeme Robertson was thinking along the same lines, so we arranged to meet on the Visitors' Centre car park at around 9am today.

Lesser Redpoll

Unfortunately, the promise of sunshine never materialised in the morning and we spent most of the time here in dull drizzle, which made photography difficult. There were plenty of birds around including these Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinches and one Robin.

Lesser Redpoll

The aim was to try to get decent shots of the birds in the tree, rather than on the feeders, but they were so fast and active that this was also proved to be very difficult.


We only saw one male Brambling high up in a tree, with perhaps a female underneath it, but they never came down to the alder tree with the feeders in it. So what do you do when there's nothing else to see? Take a photo of a Robin of course, and here's one dong its best Wren impression.


From Llyn Brenig we went on to Dyserth near Rhuddlin to track down the famous Dippers which frequent the area around the waterfall here.  There was plenty of evidence of their presence in the form of white droppings on the rocks at the foot of the waterfall and it didn't take long before I'd spotted one in the channel a little downstream from the waterfall. However, after a couple of shots it was off flying further downstream for a while and then back upstream under a little road bridge to the waterfall area.

A Dyserth Dipper about to take a dip

I am told that there are at least one pair regularly here and so this is definitely a place I'll come back to when I have more time to sit and wait for the birds to come to me. 

Dipper with lunch

Our final destination for the day was Denhall Quay on the Wirral in the hope of seeing some Short-eared Owls hunting on the high tide.  There were plenty of other birders around when we arrived and unfortunately, plenty of dog walkers traversing the marsh.  We had decent scope views of a couple of Marsh Harriers quartering and a Peregrine Falcon sat on a pole, and the ever present Kestrels were also seen a few times.  There were plenty of Little Egrets and Crows about, with lots of waders and various Gulls along the river channels. But everything was pretty distant, so there were no real photo opportunities.  Perhaps the best sight was the hundred of Goldfinches that were flitting around in large flocks before setting down to feed on the grasses.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Red Kites outside Muddy Boots Cafe, Harewood

Note to self

Here's another to do list:
  • 5/11 Ribble and Lunt
  • 29/10 Dunham Park
  • 27/10 Red Kites and Red Deer at Harewood
  • 25/10 Marshside
  • 19/10 Red Squirrels at Formby
  • 16/10 The Red Sun - partly done
  • 15/10 Ribble Estuary
  • 12/10 Leighton Moss
  • 8/10 The Wirral
  • 1/10 Spurn
  • 22/9 Northumberland
  • 14/9 New Brighton
  • 25/8 Ainsdale

Monday, 16 October 2017

Autumn Sun

It's not often you can take a photograph of the full disc of the sun without damaging your eyes or cameras. The red coloration is due to their being a lot of Saharan dust in the air.

And sometimes a little bit of cloud and shadow enhances the mood - just waiting for Storm Ophelia to pass by now.

If you want to know how far and fast the Sun apparently moves across the sky in five minutes, sit back and enjoy a bit of Pink Floyd in this video. But if you can't wait that long, just drag the scroll bar to the right.

Stills and video taken in Tyldesley this morning.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Long Distance Dowitcher

This must be the 'mother of all record shots!' - believe me, it is a Long-billed Dowitcher and another lifer for me this year.

As I approached the viewing area on the embankment over looking the marsh, I got the feeling that I was going to be out of luck today - two birders were packing up and leaving. I could feel another case of 'you should have been here ten minutes ago' happening as they told me they'd seen the bird, but that it had just taken off in a flock and they didn't see where it went.

However some more birders arrived with me and we set about trying to find the bird.  Fortunately, after about twenty minutes or so, I did manage to relocate it, but it was very distant. I had reasonable views in my little scope and even better views in a lovely Swarowski scope which a birder next to me kindly let me use.

As it was so far away, I couldn't really see the bird clearly with my camera.  So I just blindly fired off a few shots at roughly where I thought it was and this is the result - not great but good enough to ID it.

I then set off for RSPB Marshside and caught this Kestrel on the way.

At Soundgrounder's Hide at RSPB Marshside I found this pair of Black-tailed Godwits which were engaging in this unseasonably frisky behaviour. At first I thought they were fighting until a local birder told me this was mating behaviour and had never been seen or recorded here before at this time of year - it was worthy of noting.


Before leaving Sandgrounder's Hide for Lunt Meadows, I took this photo of the water. Oh, and there's a Little Grebe in it too :)

At Lunt I met up with quite a few of the regular birders there and we had a really good chat about just about everything - well that's all there was to do as there were hardly any birds about. A well-hidden Cetti's Warbler did occasionally burst into song behind us and a good few hundred Pink-footeed Geese went high over us, wink-winking in their characteristic V formations as they headed towards the coastal marshes.

And finally, just as the light had more or less gone, the local Barn Owl and one Short-eared Owl did put in a brief but distant appearance.  Too dark and too far away to be bothered even attempting a photograph.

And oh yes, I almost forgot - in the fading light there was the silhouette of a Stonechat sitting atop the tall grasses as I made my way back to the car.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Time for Another Lifer - Purple Heron at Leighton Moss

I've not really done much birding recently so the appearance of another lifer for me in the form of a  juvenile Purple Heron at Leighton Moss RSPB was very appealing. Although Leighton Moss is over an hour's drive for me, the bird had been seen regularly for the last few days and after the first few distant photos I'd seen,  it seemed to be getting nearer. And anyway, Leighton Moss is a really nice place to go whatever you see there.

I latched on to the bird almost as soon as I entered Grizedale Hide at the south-west end of the reserve, well that was after first discounting a silvery white Heron-like stick which was emerging from the water!

Here's some video to finish off with:

Sunday, 20 August 2017

An Afternoon at Dunham Park

A short video from Smithy Pool at Dunham Park:

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Kingfisher Fest at Penny

For the last few years Pennington Flash has become a mecca for photographers of Kingfishers each August, but for one reason and another I have never taken part in this annual pilgrimage.  However, having just received my 500mm lens back from repair today, I decided to see what I could get there today and this juvenile male bird put in an appearance for me.

These shots were all taken from Ramsdale's Hide where a set of branches have been placed in the water at suitable viewing distances for photographs. I saw two Kingfishers here today and I believe that there are at least four still about.

The light at Ramsdale's Hide is against you most of the time and so most of these shots have the bird in shadow. But it is just about as close as you'll ever get to a Kingfisher at a public hide.

On my way back to the car I stopped off at Tom Edmonson's Hide where I saw this Grey Heron begging for loose change! I had to double-take when I saw it from a distance as I thought it was a plastic bag!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Little Owl in Holcombe

Following a tip off from fellow L.O.S. member Martin Loftus, I headed up the M66 to Holcombe this afternoon to have a look at his Little Owls.  I say 'his' because Martin has been monitoring these birds ever since he moved out of Salford and up to the rural idyll that is Holcombe near Ramsbottom in true Lancashire.

The pair he first spotted a year or so ago have successfully bred this year and there are now four birds present in the quarry - two adults and two fledglings.  Martin has taken some really good photos of this family and shared them on Facebook in recent weeks, so today I was hoping it was my turn.

It took me around 15 minutes to locate the one and only Little Owl I saw today, and then, as in the old Beatles song, it was a quick case of "Hello, Goodbye" because after taking only two shots the bird flew off.

I stayed for another hour and half before the weather turned for the worse but I couldn't relocate any of them, and so I'll have revisit on another day.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Another trip St. Aidan's RSPB

Readers of this blog, if there are any, may remember a post entitled 'Black Tuesday' in which I related a disastrous day for me in West Yorkshire when I broke my newly acquired 500mm lens in two after the tripod holding it fell over. Well, it was here at St. Aidan's RSPB that it happened and today I was venturing back for the first time since that fateful day due to the presence of a rare bird - a Caspian Tern.

If I ever decide to go for a rarity, it has to have been present for a day or more in the locality or else I won't bother.  This bird has apparently been on a UK-wide tour over recent weeks having been seen in South Wales, North Lancashire, Northamptonshire and now in West Yorkshire where it has been for two or three days. This is known because the bird is wearing a red leg ring.

After spending half an hour or so at the Fleet Lane bird hide which overlooks Astley Lake at St. Aidan's, I decided to head for the east end of the Main Lake where the bird was last seen today.  This was quite a trek carrying camera gear but the paths were very good in the main.  My first stop was at a viewpoint which I now know is called 'The Warren' and it was here that I had my first distant glimpses of the bird which was on a thin gravel spit.  But this place was much too far for photographs, so I headed on down the rough track which lead to a bit of headland from where much better views could be had.

Here I met Jason Higgins and a couple of other people and we had a good chat about things whilst the bird stayed on the ground on the spit at the water's edge. As well as some Common Terns with their newly fledged young, Black-headed Gulls, Mallards, a Carrion Crow and two Cormorants, there was also a Garganey present and there can't be too many times you get a Caspian Tern and a Garganey in the same shot.

The Caspian Tern took off a couple of times before returning to the same spot, but the third time it was clearly heading off back to Astley Lake. So we all left too. We popped in the Warren again briefly where there was a distant drake Scaup in amongst some Tufted Ducks, but we didn't stop for long.

The bird had returned to Astley Lake and was located on one of the gravel islands before it started a circle of the lake, staying distant all the time. It then flew back towards Main Lake but there was no way any of us were going to walk back all the way down there and so I spent the rest of my time at St. Adian's overlooking Astley Lake chatting with Jason and a friend of his called Gary Vause.

Whilst we were doing so we had several fly pasts by a Black Tern which was starting to lose its colour as well as young Peregrine Falcon which foolishly tried to grab a Black-headed Gull off the water, failing miserably and scattering the flock in every direction.

When the Caspian Tern returned and started circling the lake again I missed the best shot of the day because I was talking to Jason as it flew past fairly close - Gary got it though and it's the best shot I've seen of this bird - it's on his Flickr site.

So I'll have to make do with with what I got which aren't too bad as record shots. I've even doctored one of them to remove the Black-headed Gull behind it.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Gronant wi' tha' Lads

Recently retired G.P. and L.O.S. member Doctor Paul Richardson had been wanting to go to Gronant in North Wales to see the Little Tern colony for a while now and so I arranged a trip this week with a few of the L.O.S. Young Birder's Club crew. We met at Leigh Cricket Club car park and set of in two cars, Brian, George and Tony in one and Paul and me in the other.

I drove the lead car and after only one one wrong turn, we arrived at Gronant Dunes Nature Reserve to give it it's full title We parked on the free car park a little further down the road from the Presthaven Sands Caravan site where we used to be allowed to park.

The Little Tern colony here is the only one on mainland Wales and has been a popular breeding ground for many years. As such it is well-protected by local wardens who have erected a fence around the beach areas where they breed and who understandably police the area rigorously.

I was worried that it was a little late in the season as most of the young have fledged by now and are gathering in groups getting ready for the flight to their wintering grounds in Africa. However, there were still quite a few birds around and we had good views of both adults and fledglings in flight.

There were quite a few Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls about and we also saw a few Sandwich Terns over the sea, two Curlews, some Dunlins, an Oystercatcher carrying a crab and a few Sedge Warblers. But the main focus was always on the Little Terns, which frequently returned from the sea carrying fish.

Here's a few more of the Little Terns.