Sunday, 19 May 2013

Bird project 20 - Spotted flycatcher

Muscicapa striata Spotted flycatcher

Location: Treetops above stump circle, Stanley Park, Blackpool.
Conditions: Mild sunshine, light breeze, early evening.
Photograph quality: 1-2.

Comments: I have seen a few reports of these birds in the park since the end of April, but only one or two birds. Today, three were seen, and conditions were good, so I went along to see if I could find any.

In fact, there were at least half a dozen, fluttering in the treetops. They rarely stayed still, settling on a different branch each time, then flying out a short way to feed, then perching somewhere else. It was a real challenge to get them in shot and in focus, and I was mostly shooting straight up, which is hard work with a big lens (for part of the time, I lay on the ground, so I was facing the treetops, which was moderately effective). Additionally, the high contrast between bright sky and sunlit leaves, the birds themselves in sun or shadow, and the branches, made getting correct exposure tricky too.

Despite the challenges, I really enjoyed myself. It was a lovely setting, and the birds themselves were delightful, acrobatic, and thankfully unconcerned by my presence. I will try to go back again before they migrate, and see if I can get better shots.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bird project 19 - Dunlin

Calidris alpina Dunlin

Location: Fleetwood Marine Lakes, Lancashire.
Conditions: Bright, light cloud, strong wind; mid afternoon (high tide).
Photograph quality: 1

Comments: I went up to Fleetwood to find various waders and sea birds - a large flock of godwits was roosting opposite the Marine Lakes the last couple of days, but today they were nowhere to be seen, perhaps due to the strong wind on the coast. There was a small flock of turnstones on a jetty above the eastern lake, by a bridge separating the two bodies of water. One bird was different - but since I only know waders in their winter plumage, I wasn't sure what it was.

I really assumed it was something I'd seen before, but I was lucky - it's a dunlin! In the winter, these are pale grey above, white underneath, but as you can see, the breeding plumage is much brighter - the same goes for the turnstones. Note how small this bird is - turnstones are quite a bit smaller than redshanks, but they dwarf this little dunlin. Not common in the summer in the UK, especially on the coast - a few thousand pairs breed on mountains, so even more unexpected.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Bird project 18 - Garganey

Extended list 1/42.
Anas querquedula Garganey

Location: Reedbeds on east side of Marton Mere, Blackpool.
Conditions: Warm sunshine, light breeze, early afternoon.
Photograph quality: 2.

Comments: A male was seen here a few days ago, but then nothing. These ducks are few in number (the RSPB states "23-115 pairs", the BTO says 86 pairs), and turn up randomly, by all accounts. They are the only summer migrant duck in the UK, and easily missed. So I was surprised to be told by a woman who joined me in the main bird hide that a pair had been seen earlier in the day. In fact, it was a couple of hours earlier, and the report stated they then disappeared. It turns out they must have moved from the open water in the southeast of the lake, to the more secluded reed beds at the east end, but they were clearly visible (if easily overlooked) from the embankment path.

They didn't stay in the open for long. I'm really pleased to have caught them, especially as all the other new species I might have seen today (grasshopper and garden warblers, whinchat, wheatear, and little grebe) were no-shows (although I heard a grasshopper warbler).

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Bird project 17 - Sedge warbler

Acrocephalus schoenobaenus Sedge warbler
Location: Reedbeds on east side of Marton Mere, Blackpool.
Conditions: Warm sunshine, very light breeze, mid afternoon.
Photograph quality: 2-3.

Comments: Sedge, reed, and grasshopper warblers have returned to the reedbeds here in the last two or three weeks. All three have been seen more or less daily, but I knew photographing them would be very difficult. I got a shot of a reed warbler last summer - pure luck, as I was in a hide at the mere for just a few minutes before it came into view. I tried to see them a couple of days ago, but although they were noisily apparent, they never came out of hiding.

This time, conditions were even better - very pleasant to spend time standing , watching the reeds - and I didn't have to wait long before I saw small birds flitting across a gap between sections of dense stems. I couldn't be sure at the time what they were, although I got quite a few mediocre shots - but at home I've checked multiple sources and am confident the bird in these photographs is a sedge warbler. Note the very pale underside, dark back, some markings on the wing, and crucially, a pale supercilium, and dark stripe beneath. The sound they make is quite extraordinary.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Bird project 16 - Jay

Garrulus glandarius Jay 

Location: Conifer between Lytham Crematorium cemetery and Fairhaven Golf Club, Lancashire, England.
Conditions: Mild, sunny (bird in deep shade).
Photograph quality: 3.

Comments: I went to this location for the first time today, as crossbills had been seen there for several days (but not yesterday). I didn't expect they'd still be there, but other excellent species are commonly found there, including jays - which are rare in these parts - and parakeets, which though not native, I wanted to photograph.

The conditions began perfectly, with blue skies and warm sunshine, and next to no breeze, and immediately I saw birds in the trees by the golf course. Luckily I fired off the above shot straight away, as I saw no more sign of this species after that. However, there were many others - including singing chaffinches and goldfinches, a chiffchaff, willow warblers, long-tailed tits, and a probable reed warbler. Later, thin cloud moved in, the temperature dropped, and the breeze picked up, so I didn't linger. I'll go back at some point to try and get a better shot of the jays.