Wednesday, 19 February 2014

No moore birds, in search of the lesser spotted

In search of the lesser spotted woodpecker

We arrived mob handed at Moore. Over 20 eager birders arrived keen to find our target bird the lesser spotted woodpecker. All reports said it hung out in the woods by the car park in the morning and it had already been seen. Over half an hour later we still had not seen our quarry, despite straining our eyeballs searching, a great spotted showed well but nearly every flittering turned out to be a blessed blue tit.  And so it was to be, a day of chasing the tail of an elusive woodpecker, with passing birder conversations of ‘oh you've just missed it! Or no show’. Still along the way we saw some very nice birds...

We wandered down lapwing lane towards the feeding station hide, reed bunting, nuthatch, longed tailed tit, redwing; mistle thrush all appeared including a surprise sighting of bright yellow brimstone butterfly taking advantage of the fine weather.

A kettle of five buzzards were soaring on the thermals above the raptor watch woodpecker.

A report of a little owl hanging out in a nest box on the path to Norton marsh spurred us on. 

Red poll - Neil P
Two species of note observed along the path feeding in the trees were a redpoll and two fine siskins a striking male with his lady. 
As we reached the more open farmland landscape of upper moss side (acquired by the Mersey forest community project, complete with bird tables and nesting posts) we could see lots of birds in the hedgerow, tree sparrows perhaps? Yet no, stunning, not one but five yellowhammers, males so bright they stood out visibly with the naked eye, worth the detour alone...

Path to Norton marsh
We arrived at the area where the nest boxes were situated, something definitely in there, overhead a male kestrel hovered over the golden grass, soon to be joined by the bird in the box! It would appear our box wasn’t occupied by little owls  but beautiful kestrels, surprising as the box was not open fronted, but I guess better protected from the inclement weather of late, and the watchful crow positioned on the hedge nearby. 
Tables and posts -
 Norton marsh/upper Moss side

Kestrels - L Bimson

According to the signage, feeding tables positioned at various places attract great spotted woodpeckers, fieldfare, redwings, song thrush, linnet, tree sparrow and other common birds…we got mistle, redwing, robin, chaffinch, blackbird, blue and gt tits.  

A lunch stop at the Norton Marsh hide was next, overlooking the Mersey, opposite the looming high towers of the Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. Ranks of lapwings were joined by grey plover and shelducks.

Fox lox -Neil P
Returning to the path back to Moore we  came across a fox hunting on the  farmland, a fine healthy specimen, all bushy tail and inquisitiveness, puzzled by the human making distressed rabbit noises over the way!!

We meandered our way back through the mud, secretly hoping the lesser spotted would put in an appearance, it didn’t - no such luck. So we pushed on aiming for the distant eastern reed bed with reported sightings of a green woodpecker buoying us. Observing the lagoons on the way we noted the cutest little grebe, catching tiny silverfish in front of the hide, a little smile for the day. Resplendent gadwall and shovellers along with the more usual mallard, grey heron, Canadian geese and cormorant, sadly no sign of a goldeneye seen earlier- probably on the other side of the Island. Flitting through the lagoon side undergrowth a pretty marsh tit entertained us for a while, intent on finding its supper.

Alas, it was to be a day of elusive woodies, even the hoped for green was nowhere to be seen on the grassy areas by the pump house pool. Arriving at the phoenix hide we added teal and jay to our day list but no bittern, but then it was a long shot really; we waited as the afternoon sun waned, but the watery end of the reserve seemed quiet, as if the day's remarkably fine weather has given the birds a day off, a squealing water rail tormented us.

It was time to go, a day of mixed emotions, huge disappointment of not finding the lesser spotted... the much repeated tip was that we should have got there earlier, you don't say! No consolation green woodpecker and certainly not a sniff of bittern, but the kestrels and yellowhammers had been special and it had been a lovely if long day for the lesser spotted seekers.
The one that got away- lesser spotted woodpecker...Neil P



Well done to those canny souls who persuaded Heatherlea Birding Hols to do a 2 for 1 deal taster trip, to Nethy Bridge! At £520 for two, for four nights, three days expert guided birding and more food than anyone can decently eat, it was brilliant! Etienne the chef, produced mountains of home cooked breakfasts, cakes, pasties and three course dinners, so I would advise pre booking a gym afterwards, if you consider going……
Basically, the three days consisted of a Scottish speciality day, a country day and a coastal day – the order and content being dictated by the weather.
Day One, a mixture of squalls and sunshine, mixed with high tides, so the coast was the target. My personal count was 56 species although those with ‘scopes, picked out a few more….. Highlights for me were the beautiful sea ducks – Eider, Red Breasted Merganser and Long Tailed Duck. Other ‘spots’ that interested me were the Great Northern Diver, Common Scoter, a flock of Snow Bunting and Razorbill. th only in UK. After debating said coot, in driving sleet for half an hour, it lost some of its appeal…. I gained some credibility for Liverpool RSPB, despite my lack of ‘scope or credible camera, by being the first to identify the Slavonian Grebe. A little swotting on the way down proved worthwhile!
American Coot - G Morgan 
Yes, I did see the American Coot  – a first in Scotland and 7th only in the UK
Fran Carleton
You will just have to take my word for it that the birds in the right photo are an Eider,  Long Tailed Duck and a Black Backed Gull.

Day Two, we headed for the glens, principally the valley of the Findhorn. On the way, my favourite sightings were Crested Tits (Loch Garten RSPB), Red Kite, Dipper and Goosander.  After pursuing the elusive Capercaillie and Crossbills, we stopped for lunch in a partially wooded valley.
Crossbill  G Morgan
Typically, the Crossbills then came to us. A small flock descended on the pines above us – resplendent in red and green – searching for seeds.  Graham Morgan (a keen birder and photographer located on Facebook) who took this photo, was happy to share several photos.  In fact, we were very lucky with the company as a whole. Folk came from varied backgrounds – but all worked together to share fun, information and equipment. Phil Knott and Toby Green, our guides, were more than  generous with their expertise and enthusiasm.  
Peregrine v Eagle  - Fran C
The glen was stunning and we had the great luck to see a Peregrine attacking a juvenile Golden Eagle.  It was so dramatic that for once most cameras remained largely idle.
Findhorn Valley - Fran C
We watched Red Deer on the skyline – including several large antlered males - and a couple of snow hares, crouching in the rocks. The snow covered peaks and the sheer barrenness of the landscape, impressed all.

Day Three, we were lucky enough to see Black Grouse lekking and Red Grouse on the verges of moorland roads. Despite huge efforts we did not manage to track down the furtive Capercaillie, but the trips into the woodland to flush them out rewarded us with amazing carpets of brightly coloured lichen and shy roe deer retreating into the trees.
Finally, up to the Cairngorms, where near blizzard conditions prevailed for some of the time. Snow Bunting battled the wind in search of seeds. Crazy little birds!
Snow Buntings -Fran C

Ptarmigan were seen, but  dived over the ridge, out of the wind, so that we could not get a proper view.  During the trip we also observed several red squirrel,  brown hares hunkered down in a stubble field, wild goats and seals – so that my count for mammals reached 8.  My bird count reached 78

Loch Morich -Fran C

Finally a classic picture of Loch Morich - with the Cairngorms in the background, the crew sheltering behind the ski school, wind driven snow on the slopes and a photo of Capercaillie poo (in lieu of the bird). Eat your heart out Chris Packham!

The Crew

Caper poo -Fran C

Fran Carleton, 1st to 5th February, 2014.

            SURFS UP !

  Day started with lovely adult summer plumage mediterranean gull outside surgery window first thing this morning. With about 20 black headed gulls, mostly still in winter plumage, on school playing fields next to Speke Health Centre.

   Afternoon off, got away by 2pm so decided to whizz over to Pensarn to look for Surf Scoters. Very easy to get to, off A55, car park on sea front.

    Couple of other birders there. Very quickly picked out 2 male Surf Scoters among long line of 1000s of common scoters 3/4 way out to wind farms. Surf Scoters pretty easy to find with their white heads standing out,  2 males that stayed together all the time. There were reports of 5 but could only find the 2 together. Something then spooked scoter flock which all took to the air, a great sight but no sign of any velvets and they settled a lot further out to the west of the wind turbines.

    Also present at least a dozen red throated divers, a few great crested grebes, red breasted mreganser and a nice great northern diver that drifted across in front of the scoter flock.

    2 fly over ravens as I came past Frodsham on the way back. Good end to a quick twitch.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

       WEDS  1.30PM.   12th Feb.            Otterspool.

  Lovely adult Med gull on prom.........nearly got full black head.

Foul weather so very few dog walkers, therefore over 100 oystercatchers and also over 30 redshanks.


Friday, 7 February 2014

BTO's National Nest Box Week 14-21 February

National Nest Box Week is great for birds. Starting on St Valentine's Day,it's the time we remind ourselves to provide homes for dozens of species, from Blue Tits to Barn Owls.
If you've never built a nest box before, why not give it a go this year? Or if you haven't got the time, it's easy to buy a good one. Go on, take part for Britain's birds!

NNBW aims to:
Encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their local area in order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife.
The natural nest sites on which many of our bird species depend, such as holes in trees and buildings, are fast disappearing as gardens and woods are ‘tidied’ and old houses are repaired. Since National Nest Box Week was launched in 1997, thousands of enthusiastic naturalists across the UK have put up boxes to compensate for this loss. It is estimated that there are now 5-6 million boxes in gardens across the UK.

Monday, 3 February 2014

A tale of Wirral Wanderings, Wondrous waders and a Wretched Fox

Fox lox stranded on Parkgate Marsh

If the recent weather had anything to do with it, our Wirral wander was about to be a gale lashed wash out, never believe the weather forecast, fortunately for our group the day dawned cold, bright and gustier rather than gale force.
Our first stop on our wander was the Leasowe lighthouse area. A terrific area offering mixed habitats, shoreline, marshy reed beds and fields. From our vantage point of the sea wall we observed the birds dashing on the tideline, small groups of curlew, shelduck and oystercatchers amongst the bigger flocks, the gulls were squabbling and pecking at some puzzling unfortunate on the shore. The welcome voices of Skylarks sang over head as we walked along the sea wall, we were accompanied by a solitary turnstone busy foraging for things only he could see. 
Mixed waders on the Leasowe groyne

Eventually we reached a point along the wall were a rocky groyne had been constructed out from the wall towards the sea. This proved to be great place to stop as this was were our waders escaping the incoming tide took refuge; dunlin, redshank oystercatchers, lapwing, turnstones and a solitary sanderling sat huddled together. 
Fidgeting, jostling then taking flight, a wonderful aerial ballet, a shimmering silvery cloud of dunlin wheeling and whirling in unison, a spectacle to put the Snettisham knot to shame.

Wheeling waders

Time was tight today as we had planned to get to Parkgate marsh for the high tide after midday, so we dragged ourselves away from our waders to investigate the paddocks and reed bed area behind the seawall. No rarities and strangely no visiting winter thrushes today, sparrows, finches, meadow pipits, song thrushes and tits were the order of the day; even the wagtails were the more usual black and white.

The morning pressed on, we just had time to make  a dash to New Brighton’s marine lake where we were assured to see Purple sandpipers. 
New Brighton Sea wall
Boy was it busy when we arrived, the windy weather combined with the expected high tide, made the sea heave and swell, crashing against and above the sea wall, here the Sunday walkers had been joined by ranks of excited onlookers, there to witness the crashing sea.

Arriving at the lake we were not disappointed, we found our sandpipers 16 in total clustered alongside yet more redshank, turnstones and dunlin. 4 cormorants stood on the pontoon corners, as if on guard over the restless flock, one of these guards displayed an attractive white, crested head plumage, which identified it as continental fellow, very striking.  An unexpected bonus was a solitary red breasted merganser preening and fishing on the lake, an eye catching stunning individual.
Red breasted Merganser R Blythe

Continental cormorant

Mixed waders on the pontoon

Leaving the lake we rushed to Parkgate, anticipation was high as the previous days high tide had brought in all manner of raptors eager to feast, short eared owls, Kestrel, peregrine falcon and hen Harriers. 
Good grief from one football crowd to another, the promenade and sea wall was packed with spectators. We made our way along the path away from the boathouse and promenade. The tide was already on its way in, flushing birds up into the air above the marsh. The Marsh was alive with a multitude of skylarks, pipits and linnets.
The wirral wanderers at parkgate
One forlorn, dejected fox sat on a marshy clump stuck between the tidal water and the massed ranks of humans on the seawall, a sad sight an unhappy soul unable to find the courage to make a break for it, to the safety of the fields behind, and here he stayed for how long we don’t know, still crouched on his soggy island as we left.

Short eared owl  R Blythe
Shortly after arriving we saw our first ‘shortie’ quartering along the shoreline, deep languid beats, a most splendid owl. Our second was a kestrel hovering over the marsh, searching for an unfortunate mammal trying to escape the waters. Exploring the waters lapping against the sea wall we were surprised not to see more stranded creatures, a sign perhaps that the previous day’s high tide may have flushed most out already, a thought certainly indicted by a fellow members account  of watching a kestrel take 6 mice or voles from her shop windowsill vantage point the previous day!
Kestrel and mouse.  N Prendergast

A second and third sighting of  short eared owls was too follow, one being  an owl sitting on the marsh, mobbed by skylarks but content to sit and  digest his dinner. 

We were due  to leave when a small bird fluttered down along the path in front of us,  fevered scrutiny through the binoculars confirmed this to be a twite, a welcome sighting for many.

We left the RSPB stand and the retreating spectators and headed for our last destination of the day,  a remarkably busy RSPB Burton Mere wetlands, other birders had obviously had the same idea. The scrapes seemed less busy than our December visit; the usual geese and ducks were there but hidden amongst them was a charming bar headed goose and a single godwit. A black swan was feeding with the whoopers on the reserve perimeter fields, noticeably smaller than his fellow swans. No sign of the water rail, little stint or golden plover, a single little egret briefly dropped into the waters by marsh covert hide.

A gt spotted woodpecker high in a tree was the last bird to be seen as we wearily left for home. It had been a long day, a busy day, but a great day and to cap it all on the way home five travellers were treated to a wake of seven buzzards hopping round a field edge, on the hunt for a wormy dinner no doubt!