Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Serengeti Comes to Southport

I've seen a single Cattle Egret before at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB on the Wirral, but how about three together in a field in Merseyside? More text to follow later ...

Friday, 7 October 2016

Great Birds on the Great Orme

Today I decided to try for the rarest bird I've seen to date  - a Booted Warbler which has been showing well on the Great Orme in Llandudno for the last few days.  This trip had the added benefit of letting me also have a look for some Black Redstarts which have been showing around the Great Orme copper mines for the last few weeks as well as the potential of seeing some Chough.

Booted Warbler
When I got to the Orme I decided that the easiest way to get to the 'limestone pavement car park' as it is known was to go round Marine Drive which encircles the hill. I knew this was a toll road, but I thought they stopped charging in the winter months - unfortunately not.

Black Redstart
Nevermind I thought, I'll pay my £3, go for the Booted Warbler first and then go round again and up to the top of the Orme for the Black Redstarts. The reason for needing to do this is because Marine Drive is one-way road around the Orme, and after having gone to see the Booted Warbler, I wouldn't be able to backtrack for the Black Redstarts.

But even this idea was thwarted because I was told by the attendant that you can only go round once on the ticket and would have to pay again for a second trip. So I had to visit the Black Redstarts first all the while hoping the Booted Warbler would still be there.

Kestrel hunting
As it happens, it all worked out very well and I got to see the two main birds and a few others but unfortunately no Chough today.

Here are some more photos of the Booted Warbler and Black Redstarts:

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

An Unbelievable Garden Tick

I've been digging a lot in my garden recently to make way for building a low retaining wall. Most of the garden is underlain with solid clay and so drainage is a problem as there's nowhere for the water to escape. Hence I've had quite a lot of standing water in some parts and this has attracted what for me is a most unusual bird to see in my garden - a beautiful Grey Wagtail. I really couldn't believe it when I first glimpsed out of the corner of my eye and so I was very pleased when I got a better look.

In fact, the first time I saw it through my patio windows there were in fact two birds, but they were very skittish an unapproachable and flew off as I got near the window. After this first viewing I didn't think I'd see them again, but in fact one bird did return on several occasions over the following few days. It never stayed very long and I couldn't get near it but I did at least manage this photograph today.

Grey Wagtails have a slate grey back and lemon breast and under-tail and a long tail. They feed on flies, insects and invertebrates along water courses and it looks as if my puddle of water was briefly a potential food source.

Unfortunately the water has now dried up completely and so I doubt if they'll return again. But it was great while it lasted and an incredible garden tick for me here in Tyldesley.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

White-winged Black Tern at High Rid Reservoir

I spent a lovely sunny afternoon at High Rid Reservoir near Doffcocker in Bolton today, with the target bird being a juvenile White-winged Black Tern. This was a lifer for me having missed a  chance of seeing one at Elton Reservoir in the last few years.

This was my first day out photographing birds since I had my nose operation nearly three weeks ago, and so I was little unsure about how holding the camera up to my face would go, but as it turns out it wasn't a problem.

UPDATE: The photo below has just been given a 'Notable' award on BirdGuides.

I met some great people today and we had a good chat as we watched this special bird repeatedly resting on an orange buoy at one end of the reservoir and then flying down to the end where we were standing before turning into the wind to feed by skimming flies off the water.

A bit more text to follow tomorrow, but for now, here's some more of my photos:

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Second Attempt at Using the Campervan

It's been two weeks since my nose job operation and as I've not been anywhere, let alone take any photographs, I've been itching to get out for days now. This also coincided with the fact that I've finally got my campervan working well enough to use and so this week, despite having no confidence in it at all and fully expecting to break down yet again,  Sarah and I decided to give it a try. Well, I had paid for membership of the RAC to give me a little more piece of mind if we were to break down.

We started with two day trips out, as well as needing to use the van for a couple of hospital checkup appointments. The first day out was to Marshside RSPB at Southport - no camera, only binoculars and so no photographs I'm afraid, but we did have good close views of a Snipe and several Black-tailed Godwits, as well as more distant views of the long-staying Cattle Egret and quite a few Little Egrets.  Apart from these there wasn't really much else about of note, but we has a nice picnic lunch on the car park in the campervan.

Our second trip was to the Wirral, starting at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB and then driving up to Hoylake for lunch, before finally walking across to Hilbre Island over low tide.  This time I did take my camera and some of the landscape shots I took are included in this post.

At Burton Mere Wetlands we had good view of the long-staying Spoonbills, but I could only count eleven when twelve are said to be present. We also had distant views of a Little Stint and closer views of a Green Sandpiper as well as the many usuals which are present in front of the Visitors' Centre. As Hilbre Island was our main target for the day, we only stopped by at the Visitors' Centre area and were soon on our way.

After a quick lunch at King's Gap, Meols in Hoylake where we watching a massive Gull and Oystercatcher roost, we set off for West Kirby where we parked by the side of the Marine Lake after popping into Morrison's to use the toilets.

The walk across to Hilbre Island via the islands of Little Mouse and Middle Mouse takes around an hour, and we had distant views of a large group of Atlantic Seals basking on the sand banks on the way. There really wasn't much bird life around today apart from Gulls of various denominations, but the geology and scenery of the area were fabulous.

As a former geology teacher who has been to Hilbre several times before, I was surprised not to have noticed a classic fault line running through the bedding layers in the red sandstone rocks before. This area would have been great for one of my class's geology field trips with good examples of bedding planes, folds and faults as well as classic coastal erosion geomorphology.

The final trip of the week was an overnight stay in Anglesey, the main reason (apart from being my bird-mobile) for buying the campervan in the first place. It was on this very journey back in November 2014 when I bought the van that all our troubles started. We broke down on our first trip away and had to be recovered home. Following this there were two years of constant problems resulting the fact that we had only ever 'overnighted' in the van once, and that was on that first trip when we broke down.

Since then the van has been constantly in and out of three garages with one repair after another, a saga I'd much rather forget now. So deciding to go for an overnight stay somewhere was quite a big deal given the van's previous history and I decided to go 'light' with as little gear as possible. This meant no cameras, only binoculars and a scope.

Sarah drove the van from our home in Tyldesley to Llandudno where we had a fish supper on the Deganwy side of the Great Orme, overlooking the sandy beach. There were no problems on the way and the van seemed to find a natural speed of 60mph. I then drove it to Anglesey where we parked up in a lay-by which overlooked the sea on the single track road to Penmon.  It was dark by the time we arrived, so all there was to do was have a cup of tea and go to bed. It didn't half rain that night and there were lots of gurgling noises as the water found its way down the windows and into gullies and channels designed to shed the water. But we stayed dry and there were no leaks. It was also very windy and the van was buffeted quite a lot as this was a bit of an exposed location. I did wonder if we might get blown into the sea as I fell asleep.

In the morning we awoke to see a beautiful scene, with a rocky beach in the foreground and some of the North Wales mountains in the background. But better still, there was bird life here including three or four squabbling and noisy Grey Herons, at least ten whistling Curlew, many Oystercatchers and Gulls, three or four Rock Pipits, two or three Redshank, at least two Cormorants and best of all, a Sandwich Tern preening itself on a rock.  After breakfast we had a short walk across the beach to a picnic area where we met a lovely lady with her dog and had a chat. On this walk which was bordered by gardens with some tall conifers and other trees we saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a charm of about fifty Goldfinches and a lone Wheatear. I think I also heard a Stonechat and a Robin, but I didn't see them.

The main target for today was to walk to Llanddwyn Island near Newborough, and so we were soon on the road a heading for the main car park at Newborough Warren. However, as we approached Newborough we thought we'd take a look at another small parking area which we'd visited with our two children many years ago when we had a caravan at Plas Coch (before it got to be a country club for the rich and famous). The car park was packed, but luckily there was just enough room to park the campervan there and there was even a bird hide overlooking a small lake here - I never knew that! On the lake there were many Coot and a few Moorhens, but the stars here were the male and female Gadwall which looked stunning. After a while three Little Grebes appeared and later, a couple of Mute Swans.

After some discussion, Sarah and I decided that we could walk to Newborough beach and on to Llanddwyn Island from here - it would be twice as long but it was a free car park and a sunny day, so we went for it.  It turned out to be a bit of a trek for me however as I'd recently hurt my leg in a fall whilst gardening. It wasn't a problem at first, but I really felt it on the way back.

With its broad sweeping stretch of golden sands backed by shifting sand dunes and a Forestry Commission conifer plantation, the beach at Newborough has to be one of the finest beaches in the UK. We'd been canoeing here a couple of times when the children were younger and I was longing for those days again. I really wanted to go in the sea, but my gammy leg and lack of suitable attire prevented me, so I just had to think about returning soon - as soon as possible.

On our walk along the beach we stopped at the classic 'pillow lava' structures at the northern end, just before you cross over to Llanddwyn Island. The geology teacher in me was revived for a second time this week as I marvelled at the shapes and considered their age in millions of years. There are five main places to visit on the Island: the ruined church, the celtic cross, the cottages with a cannon outside, the two lighthouses and the stone cross - we touched all of them bar one of the lighthouses.

Whilst on the Island I saw a male Stonechat and Sarah saw another which was probably the female. There were many Cormorants perched on the rocky outcrops just off the edge of the Island and a few Gulls here and there. What a fabulous place this is with it's sandy coves and rock formations. The view back over Snowdonia is stunning and the sea is a beautiful green blue.

As I previously mentioned, the 3.5 mile walk back to the campervan was a bit of a trek for me and I soon started flagging. This was helped by an ice-cream and drink of pop when we reached the main Newborough car park, but we still had over a mile to go to get back to the van. However the journey was made easier with the sight of several large Ravens cronking on their return to roost in the conifers.

We walked just over seven miles in total on a lovely sunny day whilst thinking that we really mustn't leave it so long before we return once again. The only photos I've got were taken on Sarah's iPhone - they'll have to do for now, but I'll be back with my proper camera gear before long - can't wait!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Facebook Star

Well this Swallow photo I took at Houghton Green Flash has turned out to be a bit of star on Facebook this week. It's not even that good from a detail point of view - best viewed small!

But I don't think I've had so many 'likes' and comments in such as short space of time from a single bird ever before. I did post it in a few groups though, with some of them topping 100 'likes' in two days.

Funny really, I wasn't even going there to take photos of Swallows - it was the Greenshank that I wanted as shown in a previous post. Just shows how something can take you by surprise.

Greenshank at Houghton Green Flash

Spurred on by finding the Ruff in Winwick and getting some decent photos, I then headed off to Houghton Green Flash to see the Greenshank that's been reported here fro the last couple of days.

With no obvious places to stop, I've always found parking at Houghton Green Flash difficult and today was no different. I ended up parking on a grass verge in front of a hedge where I thought the public footpath entrance was - I later found out that I should have parked further down the road to where the footpath actually starts and where there space for one or two cars just off the road. I'll know for next time!

After a quick look through my binoculars from the roadside, I spotted the Greenshank on the far bank and set off to get closer to it there. The water was very low today (although not perhaps as low as it has been) and there wasn't really much else about. I did see a Ruff, a few Wagtails, some Mallards and a couple of Gulls, but that was all.

After spending sometime following the bird from a safe distance as it fed, I realised that I wasn't going to get close by doing this. It moved very quickly along the water's edge and was always alert to any danger. So I decided to sit down with my camera on a tripod in amongst some vegetation close to the strip of shoreline that it seemed to like best. And sure enough, after waiting about 20 minutes it came round the pool to the bank right in front of me.  This is probably the closest I've ever been to a Greenshank.

Ruff at Alder Lane

With a small operation beckoning to remove a BCC (Basal Cell Carcinoma - a slightly less worrying type of skin cancer) from my nose tomorrow, I decided to get out and do a spot of bird photography today.  This helped take my mind off the impending hospital visit and I thought I might not be unable to get out much next week.

I wanted to stay local and I'd seen that two of the scarcer birds were in the Winwick area - so that's where I headed. The first stop was a long Alder Lane in a flooded horse field facing the Fiddle I'th Bag Inn. What a great name for a pub!  Despite being fairly local, I'd never been down here before but finding the field and locating the bird was very easy. Just the sort of birding I like - get out of the car and there it is!

As soon as I had parked up on Old Alder Lane which runs alongside the field, I noticed two young girls playing in the field and at times splashing through the water. So I immediately thought my luck would be out - wrong!  The Ruff was still present on the far edge of the water as was a single Shelduck.  So I quickly took some distant shots looking into the sun just in case it made a sudden departure.

I knew I wasn't going to be happy with these, so I'd just started to make plans about how I could get on the right side of the bird when the two girls approached the Shelduck and it took off and flew away. They then turned their sights on the Ruff - 'Oh no!' I thought. The Ruff however didn't seem unduly concerned with their presence and, although it  did eventually take off and land a little further away, it didn't fly off.

The girls then walked round the water on to my side of the pool. Funnily enough they didn't ask me what I what I was doing with a camera and a biggish lens on a tripod as they walked straight past me and started playing in some nearby trees. So I continued taking what can only be called 'record shots'. However, as they made their way back I asked them if it was their family's field and they told me it belonged to their Nan who was over with the horses in the stables.

So I decided I'd go and ask her if I might walk through the field to the opposite side. She was a very nice lady and we had a chat about the bird, the field, the floods and even my old Landrover Freelander which she told me she loves, having had a few of the them in the past. She now has a Freelander 2 (to which I aspire) but prefers the Mark 1 version that I have! And after checking that I had boots on she was quite happy to let me walk through the field - a lovely lady!

So I went back to my car to get my camera and just as I was doing so, the two girls chased the Ruff over to my side of the water where it landed on the edge right in front of me! What luck and needless to say I am pretty pleased with the results. I even managed to make this short video of the the bird.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Testing the latest Nikon 300mm f/4 PL VR lens at Moses Gate Country Park

As I mentioned in my previous post, I managed to borrow the latest Nikon f/4 300mm VR  lens off my L.O.S. friend Alan Wilcox, as I wanted to compare it to my big, bulky Nikon f/2.8 300mm. I've always been troubled by the fact that I bought this lens secondhand and I don't seem to get enough good shots from it. By good, I mean pin sharp and well exposed, even when using teleconverters. Other people swear by this lens and seem to do much better than I, and so by trying a completely different lens of the same focal length, I could perhaps see if it was all down to user-error rather than faulty equipmemt. That was the plan, however things are not always that straightforward are they?

So before I returned the lens later today, I managed to pop out to Moses Gate Country Park in Bolton to try out a few flight and other shots on the gulls and other birds there. My shots were rather unscientific and I just used the lens as I would use my f/2.8 300mm to compare the results. Here's what I got:

 Just common and garden birds but a good selection on a nice sunny day there.