Monday, 9 November 2015

Birds of October

Hard to see, even harder to photograph - but a new bird to me, a pretty little yellow-browed warbler hiding in dense foliage.

Migrants are still passing through in good numbers in October, and the first winter visitors begin turning up too - geese, swans, winter thrushes. Nationally, a massive influx of yellow-browed warblers was felt even here, with a pair visiting the north end of the coast briefly. To the south, the first snow bunting appeared; these lovely little creatures are surprisingly common on the beach in the winter, although they are not totally reliable and often hard to see. It didn't stay long, though - December tends to be a better month in my short experience.

Short-eared owls have also been reported in large numbers across the country, and two or three hung around the local area for over a week - but my one trip out to locate one was a failure (I haven't given up though, Scotland may provide better chances). A long weekend in Nottingham offered little opportunity for birds, but I did visit a park with resident red-crested pochard, alas absent - but a handsome male mandarin was even better.

Otherwise, it's been a frustrating time, with masses of amazing-sounding birds anywhere but here in the north west of England - sadly if you want rarities, you're much better off almost anywhere else.

October 2015
2 species (1 lifer) - year total 165
Yellow-browed warbler

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Birds of September

Above: a lovely juvenile curlew sandpiper, only my second ever, and my best views to date.

September is a great month for adding species to the list. Lots of migrants are passing through, many summer visitors are still here, and more visible, as they feed up in preparation to migrate, some switching from gleaning insects to berries - sitting out in the open, gorging. However, having moulted, many are less brightly coloured, and from a photographic point of view, less interesting.

Above: a male velvet scoter.

One spot down the coast that often turns up passage migrants didn't fail to disappoint, with two very rare species for these parts - a pair of barred warblers and a wryneck. The former only stayed for a day, and I was lucky to see them; the latter, much more interesting to me, hung around for quite a few days, and I was able to return for better photographs than I'd managed to get at my first encounter.

Above: barred warbler. Below: wryneck.

Back in Scotland, I visited Musselburgh for the first time since the winter, and it did not disappoint. Excellent calm conditions and good light meant seawatching over the Firth of Forth was productive even for a novice like me, and I got a record shot of a Slavonian grebe and plenty of photographs of velvet scoters. A curlew sandpiper at the lagoons there showed very well, and although not a lifer, it was by far the best view I've had of this species. A couple of days later, I went to a spot a little further east to seek a surf scoter that has been there for some time. Alas, conditions this time were poor - choppy waves, overcast with poor light. No scoter (nor on a subsequent visit in better conditions a week or two later), but my first red-necked grebe was a nice consolation prize.

September 2015
7 species (6 lifers) - year total 163
Barred warbler
Curlew sandpiper
Red-necked grebe
Slavonian grebe
Velvet scoter
Yellow-legged gull

Below: two species I'd not expected, red-throated diver still in part breeding plumage, and sandwich tern - not new for the year list, but a treat nonetheless.

Birds of summer

Above from top: my first fulmar and kittiwakes; gannets at Bass Rock.

Summer is a poor season for seeing birds, whatever some people might say. Between the spring and autumn migrations, far fewer rarities turn up, and all the breeding migrants and resident species are either busy raising young or moulting. Either way, along with the increased foliage density, they are hard to see.

Above: my best view of a corn bunting; below: a surprisingly mellow ring-billed gull.

With that in mind, I've lumped together the three summer months, especially in light of having seen no new species at all in June. July was little better - two, both heard only. August is the last chance for early-departing birds like cuckoos (mostly their offspring), but also the start of the return migration, so more unusual species can turn up - albeit not in their best breeding plumage. Garganey are another summer stray, fairly regular, but they are often very hard to see. Luckily I just managed to catch both - a juvenile cuckoo took up residence in a very prominent location, and a few garganey popped up here and there, though I almost missed them.

Seabird colonies are an exception to the summer lull - this is the best time to visit them. I took a trip out to Bass Rock, and managed to see four lifers, although just a week too late to catch any puffins on a neighbouring island. It was my first visit to the Scottish Seabird Centre, and my first boat trip, and I strongly recommend both - Bass Rock especially is a breathtaking experience (up to a quarter of a million gannets in one place!), and it's surprisingly inexpensive. Next year I'll do one of the more adventurous trips - to the Isle of May, most likely.

Above: a shag on Craigleith; some gannets on Bass Rock.

I was lucky in that a few species I'd never expected to see or hear turned up locally - quails sang in a field for a few days, and a lesser yellowlegs (the only one in the country, I believe) hung around the saltmarsh at the far northern end of the local bird recording area. Similarly the ring-billed gull, another American stray, has been seen at Preston Dock for a couple of months now.

Above: a glimpse of a garganey taking off.

June-July-August 2015
13 species (7 lifers) - year total 156
Green woodpecker (heard only)
Lesser yellowlegs
Marsh tit
Quail (heard only)
Ring-billed gull
Sandwich tern

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Birds of May

 Above: sedge and reed warblers showed well early in the month.

Note: this was written back in May, but delayed until I could process some photos to add.

It's been a busy few weeks with family stuff, but I've managed to do a few trips out to catch some nice birds, and to try and get better shots of some I'd already encountered.

A kestrel carries a rodent kill - I didn't realise this until I sorted through the photos at home.

The torrent of passage migrants has finally tailed off at home, and most trees are in full leaf now, so the golden period of spring is over. However, it's been a chilly month, so things have been delayed, which is to my advantage.

Above: a montage of martins and swallows feeding over the park lake.
Below: a swift.

A couple of species that are guaranteed here in mid-late May are spotted flycatcher and common sandpiper - the latter will stay on in various places, but the former usually only passes through for a week or less. Five flycatchers turned up at the park, but only one was visible when I arrived - but it gave me my best ever views. The sandpiper was much more distant, but I don't mind - it's just good to see them back.

A spotted flycatcher. 

A male scaup has become very tame on the marine lake down the coast, and again provided wonderful photo opportunities. I went down a couple of times, visiting the nearby dunes as well, which provided a few treats. An unreported female whinchat, a loudly singing (if frustratingly hard to see) lesser whitethroat, and a nice flock of breeding plumage small waders (dunlin, ringed plovers, and a handful of sanderlings) were the highlights. Towards the end of the month, my bird mentor David took us to Martin Mere, my first time there, and although we missed the bird that had enticed him out (a white-winged (black) tern), we saw an almost-as-rare Temminck's stint, and nearby a couple of farmland species I've never managed to find, corn bunting and yellow wagtail. Not to mention excellent close (albeit obscured) views of roosting tawny owls (my first sightings, as opposed to just hearing their calls), exceptionally distant breeding plumage little ringed plovers, a barn owl hunting mid morning, dozens of swifts, and lots of nice avocets. We stopped off at the local tern colony on the way back, but it's still early in the season, and they haven't started laying yet. I will return there next month.

A whinchat I found myself!

Finally, I nipped up to Silverdale - ostensibly for rare orchids, but I caught the ever-reliable marsh tits to add to the list.

This male scaup has become a local fixture.

May 2015
13 species (3 lifers) - year total 143
Arctic tern
Barn owl
Common sandpiper
Common tern
Corn bunting
Little ringed plover
Marsh tit
Sedge warbler
Spotted flycatcher
Temminck's stint
Yellow wagtail

 Above: a very poor quality but still diagnostic shot of the Temminck's stint.
Below: more good birds from in and around Martin Mere.


Below: avocet, my first ever self-discovered Mediterranean gull, and lady's slipper orchids, a good end to the month.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Summer arrives

A warm sunny day after some nasty weather meant I had to get out. My target was one of the warblers I'd not yet seen, the sedge warbler - and anything else likely on the local patch (swift, common sandpiper, etc).

I stopped off at a pond where a reed warbler had been reported as 'showing well' - and so it was. I got good views, and saw some adorable coot chicks to boot. Then to the first wetland proper, and immediately a singing cetti's warbler waylaid me. This male is a little way from the main local population and seems easier to catch a glimpse of - but he didn't come out. However, immediately in front of me a pair of birds flitted through the reeds - and they were sedgies! One came out, then flew a little way off, then came back and gave my best views ever.

Elsewhere, a male reed bunting, lots of breathtakingly low-swooping swallows, starlings, a whitethroat, blackcaps, and greenfinches filled the apple blossom-scented air with their songs. What a great day to be out - and swinging by the other pond on the way back (I didn't need to go further), I got my best ever views of the reed warbler too.