Friday, 22 June 2012

Little Swift - New Brighton - 22nd June 2012

Without a car, I was feeling almost physically sick when I heard about the Little Swift at New Brighton, Wirral. It was made even worse when I found out that the bird was showing very very well down to 4 feet at times as it fed in the rain with the breeding Common Swifts. Luckily, several texts to local birders paid off with a phonecall from Bill Aspin telling me he was about to set off and would i like to be picked up from j32 of the M6. We were soon on our way in the horrendous conditions, but an hour and a half later, we pulled upto New Brighton's front and the assembled group of 30+ birders.
The bird was in view almost straight away and hawked above us throughout our whole visit. It hawked high up, low down and at times, even came so close that it must have been only 4 feet away from our heads! It was so close that you could even hear it's wings cutting through the strong wind! I am very pleased with my photos as I've taken swift photos before and it certainly isn't easy. Combine the subject with terrible light, strong wings and a very shaky twitcher, and you've got a real challenge!
I was amazed how Storm-petrel like the bird appeared when it flew away from us (especially when it flew low over the waves into the wind!) It was a fantastically educational bird which, after several prolonged views of flight behaviour, was really easy to pick out of the flock, even without seeing the white rump.

One of the best birds I've ever seen without a doubt! A huge thanks to Bill Aspin for letting me know he was on his way and for driving the whole way. Huge congratulations must go to the travelling midlands birder who found this mind-blowing bird!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Gull-ringing - Ribble Estuary - 20th June 2012

 Juvenile Herring Gull
Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull
Today I visited the Ribble Marshes for my 2nd trip helping with the Herring and Lesser Black-back project. This is the first time I've been to a large gull colony ringing so it was rather exciting. We caught about 30 birds with 3 Lesser Black-backs, c27 Herring, plus 2 Greater Black-backs that we didn't ring due to lack of H rings. Still very impressive birds to handle (the weight difference is incredible!)
It was a very hot day and I now qualify to live in the deep south of America being a red neck!
I have also never been onto the deep Ribble marshes so it was a very unique experience. A thoroughly enjoyable day.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Entemology - Foulshaw Moss - 18th June 2012

I visited Foulshaw Moss today in search of White-faced Darter dragonfly. Sadly they have not yet emerged so wasn't able to see these infamous odonata. I did however get a chance to have a second look at Large Heath which I last saw on the day I got bitten an Adder last year, so the views weren't exactly prolonged!
Today however, I was able to get really close an personal with these rather flighty butterflies. Other lepidoptera included Laticed Heath and Green-veined White.
Foulshaw is a great place to see Emerald Damselfly so was able to get some pleasing shots of these pretty damselfly.

4 commoner species of damselfly were also present including lots of Azure Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly and smaller numbers of Common Blue Damsel and Blue Tailed Damsel. In addition, there were lots of Four-spotted Chaser reeking havoc on the pools and 2 Emperors patrolling the moss.

Common Sundew Drosera rotundifolia is found all across the moss which is really interesting to see as it's one of Britain's only carnivorous plants.
In addition to these sightings, I was able to see my 18th and 19th Ospreys of the year as they flew distantly over the south of the moss and on the Kent Estuary.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Catalunya/Catalonia - 19th-21st May 2012

I have finally retreived my photos from when I deleted them at the Cream-coloured Courser twitch, so am now able to blog about Kane and my trip to North-east Spain.
I have now been to Spain every year since 2006, but always go in August (except in April 2008), so this was the first trip in May.
We flew out from Manchester with RyanAir and landed in Girona (Barcelona) on the Friday evening, and drove to Empuriabrava. We stayed in the Xon's Platja hotel and hired an Opel Corsa from Europcar, both of which being completely adequate for our needs
We got up bright and early on Saturday and visited Aiguamolls de l'Emporda, starting at the back of the reserve at El Mata. Highlights from this part of the reserve were 3 Glossy Ibis, 7 Squacco Heron, Great Reed Warbler, Whiskered Tern and a superb male Little Bittern. Throughout the rest of the reserve, there was a constant chorus of Nightingale, Cetti's Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler and the bill clapping of the ubiquitous White Stork.
There was an almost complete lack of any mud so Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover and Black-winged Stilt constituted the only waders.
We therefore decided to venture away from the main reserve and check out Estany de Vilaut where we saw lots of Melodious Warbler, Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Purple Heron, Grey Heron. Highlights here were adult White-winged Black Tern, Red-crested Pochard and Garganey.
We ended the day at Estanys de Europa where I got my first lifer of the trip, in the form of 2 female LITTLE CRAKE. I have wanted to see these at Aiguamolls for years, but have always been unlucky. A great bird to see. In addition to this, we saw 2 Little Bittern and several Great Reed Warbler sang around the reserve.
Day 2 saw Kane and I drive up to Val de Nuria in the Pyrenees. The drive up to the valley saw me look into a field of Stork, and notice a darker bird. It was a BLACK STORK! I believe this bird is ringed and has been present in the area all spring. All that I was concerned about was that this was my second lifer of the trip. I visited Nuria with my dad, back in 2010. The weather back then was distinctively horrific with almost constant mist up at the hotel and constant torrential rain and lightning on the walk down the valley. Annoyingly, 2012 saw very similar weather, which prevented us from walking down the valley to target Wallcreeper. There were regular breaks in the mist, so was able to some birding in patches on the top.
I picked up several singing Ring Ouzel and Water Pipit, as well as Rock Bunting, Rock Thrush, Wheatear, Citirl Finch, Common Crossbill, Mistle Thrush, Dunnock, Griffon Vulture, Crag Martin, Dipper and Raven. The regular mist cover didn't allow for much Raptor scanning, but just as we had lost hope and were waiting to board the train down the valley, I caught sight of a shape in the corner of my eye. My heartbeat increased as I got my first view on it, as massive wings and a huge diamond-shaped tail revealed the unmistakable shape of my first ever LAMMERGEIER. What a fantastic bird...the single bird of the trip for me.
On the train down, I knew which rock face to look for Wallcreeper so that's what I did. As we passed the Torrent de Fontable, I picked up movement on one of the cliff faces. I lifted my bins and saw a small bird 'flicking' its wings revealing penetratingly scarlet colouration. This could only be one first WALLCREEPER!

The Ring Ouzel up in the Pyrenees seemed to have a more scaley appearance than the British birds, making these of the race alpestris.
I knew that Nuria is a fantastic place for Butterflies and Fauna, so was slightly disappointed to see the weather being so bad. One surprise was the mammals up at the top, which included Alpine Marmot and Spanish Ibex. These are two species I have wanted to see in the back of my mind for a while now.

Day three saw continued rain when we woke up, but whilst at Estany de Vilaut, there was an hours period where the sun almost came out which set up the birding highlight of the trip for me. Something I have always wanted to see was the Honey Buzzard Migration, and I was able to see, in an hours period, 79 Honey Buzzard moving North East. This featured occasional flock of birds including a flock of 18 birds, as well as 11, 4, 3, 2, and then singles. These flocks all contained only Honey Buzzards except an addition flock of 3 with 2 Black Kites present. It was incredibly educational to see Honey Buzzards, Black Kite and Common Buzzards in the same scan, as the jizz are all three species couldn't be much more different when you see them side by side.
I visited Vilaut a second time, because I had visited a local sightings blog in an Internet cafe and discovered three RED-FOOTED FALCONS were present on the reserve. A second visit here saw distant views of two bird (male and female) which were certainly acceptable.

We ended the birding for the holiday at the lighthouse at the Cap de Creus. Here I did a spot of seawatching which reveal a fantastic passage of three Shearwater sp heading North East. The main passage seemed to be of mediterranean shearwaters of which 50% were identifiable to specific species, however the other 50% were either too distant or too intermediate to be able to make an executive decision of ID. Of the identifiable birds though, I would suggest the passage seemed to be 65% Yelkouan Shearwater and 35% Balaeric Shearwater. A smaller passage of (Scopoli's) Cory's Shearwater. The paler base to the primaries of Scopoli's race (diomedea) was evident even at this range. A very educational seawatch indeed.
In addition to the shearwaters, I got my best views ever of Black-eared Wheatear and Tawny Pipit.
diomedea Cory's Shearwater
Massive thanks to Kane Brides for the holiday and for doing all the driving. I had a fantastic time, despite the almost continuous rain and lack of any mud for waders. We ended the trip on 141 species and 5 lifers (for me) which is my 2nd best total for NE Spain, which is fantastic given the bad conditions and very short 3 day trip!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Well-timed Phalarope! - Brockholes NR LWT - 9th June 2012

(Red-necked Phalarope photo: Bill Aspin)
Arriving home from University this afternoon, I had just sat down for a brew when I got a text off Bill Aspin saying there was a Red-necked Phalarope on Meadow Lake at Brockholes! 9 minutes later, I was stood at the 2nd passing place watching a fantastic Phalarope spinning around on one of the islands at the back of Meadow Lake
It was my first summer plumaged phalarope and what a stunner it was! It was dwarfed by Redshanks and it even made a Little Ringed Plover look big! This is a very long overdue site first and one that I couldn't miss, so was very happy to be 'available' to twitch it, without spending £33.80 on train fare!
It was also great to see some familiar faces such as Tony Disley, Dave Bickerton, Mark Farnshawe, Bill Gregory, Mike Foley, Nick Green, Lee Harrison and the finder, Carl Partington

Monday, 4 June 2012

CES - 4th June 2012

Almost a year ago to the day, I attended my first ever Constant Effort Site visit back on 5th June 2011. This was again, just after my first Puffin Island Visit, so it was nice today, to see how the catch varied.
Species caught were: Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Wren, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock, Lesser Redpoll, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Reed Bunting and Song Thrush totalling 61 birds, with the vast proportion being retraps.
We managed to catch freshly fledged juveniles of Blue Tit (which I of course insisted on ringing!), Robin, Reed Bunting and Chaffinch. This echod last years CES as the juveniles are just starting to fledge, however we were all surprised to not get any Long-tailed Tits at all.
Probably the 'star bird' of the day goes to the above Sedge Warbler which was a British-control. With it being such a long distance migrant, I will be keen to know where it was initially ringed in Britain, and if so, has it been controlled anywhere else?
It's always horrible to set your alarm for 03.15, but it certainly is worth it when you see the sun rising and hear the birds getting louder and louder as dawn breaks.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Puffin Island: Birding - 2nd June 2012

One of my favourite aspects of Puffin Island is that you get so close to some of our most beautiful and charismatic bird species. It's great to be among Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Shag, Fulmar and Kittiwake. This year I thought I'd bring my camera along and try and get some snaps whilst we were waiting to move on from one spot to another.

Birds are flying around all the time so provide regular opportunities for flight shots. This was my best.

Guillemots (especially 'bridled'), although not as jet black as Razors, I think think have to be my favourite British Auk. They are just so lovely and their chicks look like Pingu!
Whereas Bempton Cliffs and South Stack provide distant views of Puffins on cliff faces, Puffin Island provides occasional views like this of Puffins where they are incredibly close, sometimes less than 20 feet away which is fantastic as their almost fluorescent legs really get shown off.
Razorbills are everywhere around the island and look very very smart indeed, but this close up, you can see why they are call Razorbills! Fantastic birds, full of character
Shag are probably the most abundant bird on the island being present in almost every crevice you come across. Adults occasionally sit tight allowing very close up views.

I'm really glad I brought my camera this year as it seems a shame to waste the opportunity!

Puffin Island: Ringing - 2nd June 2012

It's now June and that can only mean Puffin Island. Today a group of 6 of us (Steve, Rachel, Matt, Ian Wright, Ian Lees and I) went onto Puffin Island to ring primarily Shag and Razorbill. The weather held off until the last 20 minutes on the island so made for a really good day with pleasant weather (rather than last year, when it was ludicrously hot!). We went anti-clockwise round the island meaning we started off with Shag pulli. It wasn't long before we had gone through 150 rings!
We soon got some auks though and were pulling out lots of Razorbill, including some rather feisty adults. I had forgotten just how much respect you need to give adult Razorbills and therefore have lots of 'holes' in my hand. They are called Razorbills for a reason! 

I suppose it wouldn't be a trip to Puffin Island if we didn't catch at least 1 Puffin, so Steve noosed an adult that Matt ringed (It was Matt's first trip to the island so he got some superb experience with Auk specials, J's and E's, as well as catching and handling seabirds)
Probably the biggest surprise of the day was this little ball of fluff. It is a baby Puffin that Rachel extracted from a hole and ringed....albeit with a huge grin on her face! Very cute indeed!
Last year I really regretted not bringing my camera, as I had some great opportunities to get some fantastic photos of some of my favourite birds, however I think given the heat of the day and how it was my first trip to the island (so was keen to get fully stuck in), it would have probably been a hassle to lug a big 400mm lens around with me all day.
I did however bring it with me today, and as Steve has just been granted permission to do a Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project on Razorbills, he was very keen for me to try and photograph some rings to get some retraps.
I managed to successfully photograph and read 24 Razorbill rings, 4 Shag rings and 5 Kittiwake darvics.

All in all a fantastic day and another incredibly valuable day for my ringing training and also totals. Thanks to Steve for coordinating and to the other 4 who made for a thoroughly enjoyable day!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Roller and Icterine Warbler - 1st June 2012

I joined Chris Jones and Robin Sandham on their drive across to East Yorkshire to twitch the stunning adult Roller at Aldbrough. Despite some traffic issues, we got there mid-PM with few problems.

Arriving on site, we were greeted to fantastic views of the bird sat on its favoured white post where it usually came back to after short burst of rolling display and feeding. A truly fantastic bird and one I have wanted to see in Britain for ages.
With my trips to Spain, France, Portugal and Italy over the past 10 years, I have seen lots of Roller abroad, but these are usually in late August when they aren't in their most impressive plumage and in the bright sandy conditions of the Med, they don't look as blue as the bird we watched today. It was probably the prettiest bird I have seen in Britain with fantastic sky blue tones and bright purple/navy on the underwing, with black on the primaries and secondaries and a lovely brown mantle. A real treat and a joy to watch!

After soaking in this fantastic bird, we headed north to Flamborough (my first trip here) to the Old Fall steps where we joined fellow North-West birder Mark Payne to look at my first ever Icterine Warbler. I have Mark to thank for this bird, as we would never have looked in this hedgerow if he wasn't present already!
It proved a very tricky bird to see well, so I am very happy with the photos I got, but the 'Hippo' structure was obvious with the long pointy bill, peaked crown and rather slugish feeding habits in the centre of the Hawthorn bush. Whilst ever it was seen perched, the pale wing panel was really evident which is one of the keen features of ID of this species to separate it from Melodious. In addition to educational views, we were also treated to a couple of bursts of song which were just fantastic!

It's not ever day you get to tick off two fantastic species that have been targets for a long time. Thanks to Chris for doing the driving, to Chris and Rob for making it a fantastic day and to Mark for helping us pin down the Iccy!