Monday, 26 January 2009

Local birding: Ad Med Gull, Fishmoor Res, Lancs - 26th Jan 2009.

An adult Med Gull on Guide Reservoir was the highlight of tonights roost.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Local birding: Hawfinch, Stocks Res, Lancs - 25th Jan 2009.

Hawfinch in East Lancashire is a must-see bird when the rare opportunity arises, so two birds found by Mike Watson at Stocks fishery simply had to be twitched. Distant but extremely pleasing views were had of at least one of the Hawfinch during visits morning & afternoon, the latter time providing the best views in better light as it perched atop conifers by Hollins House. Great bird!

Other highlights from Bowland today included 3 Raven over Slaidburn, single Little, Tawny & Short-eared Owls, Peregrine, 3 Buzzards and a male Stonechat.

The non-ornithological highlight was this hibernating Myotis Bat, almost certainly Daubentens. Photo by Steven Flynn.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Local birding: 1stw Iceland Gull, Fishmoor Res, Lancs - 24th Jan 2009.

A distant camcorder digiscoped videograb in failing light.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Local birding: Long-eared Owl - 18th Jan 2009.

This fantastic local LEO continues to captivate me.
Birding activity over the past few days has included me spending an hour per day looking for the Blackburn Cathedral Black Redstart, with no luck. With today being a Sunday, I spent a couple of hours on site, inc. gazing through the fencing at the building site on the opposite side of Church Street, a classic place for it to be lurking, but no joy, although there is no way I could say it wasn't present.
No sign of any Town Centre Ravens during the time spent looking for the Black Red, or at the Gasometer on Wensley Rd, but a Peregrine flew over the latter site, which has previous as a perch for this species.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Local birding: Black Redstart at Blackburn Cathedral, Lancs - 12th Jan 2009.

A Black Redstart atop a Cathedral is, I think, an iconic image, and one that i freely admit to fantasising about seeing at Blackburn Cathedral when i have walked through the grounds over the years, both when sober and staggering through inebriated during my lager-swigging years!

So I could hardly believe it when news of one appeared on the pager and I shot down to the site with Bill Berry.

We eventually found the bird at the rear of the Cathedral as it flitted on the grass, in trees, and then to the top of the Cathedral at the base of the spire. Fantastic to have a long standing ambition realised at last! - Many thanks to the so far anonymous finder for broadcasting news of his/her find.

The one thing that spoilt the occasion was the 'error 5' which appeared in the DSLR viewfinder! The camera wouldn't autofocus or take bursts of shots, and i spent more time swearing loudly at the camera instead of watching the Black Red, the record shot above was the only shot I took of the bird. Fingers crossed it sticks around.

Afterwards, some great views of the amazing diurnal Long-eared Owl at a site close to home were had as it hunted mid-pm.

But when I did eventually get a clear digiscopable view of the bird, it remained back-on... AAARRGGHH!!!
Nothing of note was seen in the Fishmoor Gull roost this evening.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Local birding: Owls - 9th Jan 2009.

This Barn Owl and Long-eared Owl were both hunting the same area of rough grassland at 12:30 today!

Gull-wise, this week has been extremely frustrating, with not one decent Gull seen in 25hrs of local searching. A visit to Brockholes on Thursday saw my first local Oystercatcher of the year noted.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Over Wyre, Lancs - 5th Jan 2009.

I had promised Myself to take my Cousin Kevin's son Lewi out birding over the Christmas period.

But where to go?

I feared that if we birded locally the gravitational pull to Whinney Hill Tip and the Fishmoor roost would prove too strong and I didn't want to subject a 14 year old with an interest in nature to a gruelling and intense few hours 'Gulling' in freezing conditions, so I decided it was best to leave the area completely and head Over Wyre for the afternoon in the hope of some Owls, Geese and a few other winter bits and bobs. This proved a good decision and a very pleasant and rewarding few hours was had showing an interested youngster some of the birds of the area.

Starting off at Glasson Dock, the Marina was largely frozen, with three Little Grebe the highlight. The adjacent Lune Estuary was much better with a nice selection of birds to show Lewi; a stunning drake Red-breasted Merganser, female Goosander, c40 Wigeon, 9 Teal, several Shelduck and an impressive flock of 53 Goldeneye. A substantial but uncounted flock of Bar-tailed Godwit and a smaller number of Knot were roosting fairly distantly upstream. Lewi using the Leica APO 62mm scope (Optics to only dream of when I was his age!) located and identified a very distant Little Grebe upstream, I was most impressed.

Driving along Bank Lane, Cockerham, the first of 4 Little Egret flew over and landed in a field-side ditch, a small number of Golden Plover were present in a field and a Little Owl roosted in a Hawthorn as we neared the final bend towards the Caravan Site at Bank End.

A fair number of wildfowl was present in the channel at Bank End with several hundred Wigeon, c60 Pintail and smaller numbers of Teal, but the low sun made viewing problematic. Suddenly c50 Twite descended onto the trees by the farm, then moved quickly onto the saltmarsh and a male Stonechat and 4 Fieldfare showed well by the road. The second Little Egret of the day landed out of view in a creek.

Above & below: Twite, Bank End, Cockerham, Lancs - 5th Jan 2009.

With only 1.5 hrs light remaining, we drove towards Pilling where a superb Barn Owl gave excellent views as it hunted along roadside ditches adj to the road approaching Lane Ends.

A quick stop at Lane Ends Car Park produced the third Little Egret of the day out on the saltmarsh, and whilst in pursuit of a flock of Pink-feet in the Fluke Hall area, a fourth Little Egret flew over the road towards the saltmarsh. The next ten minutes were then spent explaining to Lewi that Little egrets weren't always this easy to encounter! c100 Pink-feet were located in fields by Fluke Hall car park.

The final area of the day was Bradshaw Lane, Pilling, in the hope of more Owls and maybe some Raptors. The only Owl sighting was a superb Short-eared which sat on a post for 15 mins, regurgitated a pellet, then flew off for 30yrds, plunged to the ground, flew up with another Vole and was almost immediately mugged by a Kestrel, which prompted the SEO to gain considerable height before heading off towards Scronkey, still with prey. c30 Tree Sparrow were by the feeding station and c700 Pink-feet could be seen flighting to roost from fields well inland towards the sands off Pilling.

Surprisingly, no more Barn or Little Owls were seen, but a Peregrine flew over at dusk.

The Eagland Hill area is a very atmospheric place on a still, cold, winters evening and tonight was no exception. It was one of those evenings when you didn't want it to go dark.

Above & below: Short-eared Owl, Bradshaw Lane, Pilling, Lancs - 5th Jan 2009.

Back to the Gulls tomorrow......

Friday, 2 January 2009

Glaucous-winged Gull - Cleveland, UK - 2nd Jan 2009.

A hastily arranged twitch to Cowpen Bewley Tip, Cleveland, for the putative adult Glaucous-winged Gull with Cllr John F. Wright, Mark Breaks and Dave Bickerton. Enroute a fine Red Kite was seen circling over the A59 east of Fewston Reservoir.
The GWG and other Gulls had been flushed by shotgun fire and had not been seen for at least two hours prior to our arrival. A first-winter Glaucous Gull was the first decent Gull, but it was over 1.5hrs into the vigil until the Glaucous-winged Gull appeared, brilliantly picked out by Mark Breaks.
Thereafter, the Gull showed relatively well amongst other Gulls on+off for 45mins.
Once seen the bird was easily picked out even when the entire body and wings were obscured or out of view due to the very distinctive appearence to the head; rounded headshape, dark eye set high, and smoky head markings. Behind the eye was a 'bridled Guillemot' like mark and the bird showed a long, curved gape line. The basal two-thirds of the bill appeared pale greenish with a small red gonys spot and a yellow tip.

adult Glaucous-winged Gull, Cowpen Marsh, Cleveland - 2nd Jan 2009.

1stw Glaucous Gull, Cowpen Marsh, cleveland - 2nd Jan 2009.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Local birding: The 'Yellow-legged Gull' of 30th Dec revisited.

I thought I would post an update on this bird in light of opinions sought from two very experienced Gull enthusiasts, which may be helpful to anyone at my (moderate) level of experience and below.

Certainly with large Gulls, I personally try and strive to maintain a level of super-cautious self dicipline when it comes to claiming both Caspian AND Yellow-legged Gulls and my main aim with this bird was to see whether I could 'push' my own boundaries by seeing whether I could confidently clinch a Yellow-legged Gull locally in views such as this of birds on the water, and even if ALL features were not adequately documented.

For the majority of the time, c10 minutes at dawn, the distant bird sat motionless on the water, then washed & preened for the final couple of minutes, lifting up and down as it flapped whilst I filmed it, just before it flew off.

On reviewing the footage, I was never comfortable with the perceived pinkish leg colour in a bird of this age and after an evening of pouring over the images and literature, I arrived at the conclusion that everything fitted a YLG of this apparent age except the leg colour, which certainly showed pink at least mixed in. But did that mean that it was definately not a YLG as everything else in terms of plumage and structure appeared to fit very well?

Having let multiple birds similar to this this 'go' over the years, I concluded some time ago that in order to learn as much as possible from birds like this when I hit the 'brick-wall' of my own experience, the best thing to do was to email images to respected birders with infinately more experience in this field for their comments. These are reproduced below the images.

Dick Newell: I think you are right Bill, it looks fairly typical of Yellow-legged Gulls around here (Peterborough area) at the moment.

Alan Dean: Your photos have very much the ‘character’ of a YLG but, personally, I wouldn’t want to make a categorical identification from photos taken in such unhelpful light conditions.
What can be seen of the wing-pattern seems to fit, as does the apparent shade of the mantle – though again ‘low’ light conditions can make an accurate appraisal difficult.
It is always worth ‘checking out’ any large gull with a clean white head in winter but, after about mid-December, it does not mean too much in itself, as from around that time Herring Gulls can acquire a very white head. They then look very different from nearby birds – especially Scandinavian birds – with very streaky and messy looking heads.
I’m sure that here in my own area some people erroneously identify HGs as YLGs at this time of the year because they are over-reliant on a white head as an id feature.
In your photos the legs do look rather pink. This may be a photographic artefact (yellow can sometimes become very suppressed in photos) while some YLGs can have rather colourless greyish-flesh legs – especially sub-adults. I have recently been discussing with Dick such a bird, which I saw here in the midlands. However, I seem to detect suggestions of quite intense pink in one or two of your photos and, if this were genuine, it would be unlikely in YLG, certainly in an adult bird.
Thus, on the basis of apparent mantle colour in combination with apparent wing-pattern, I strongly suspect that your bird is a YLG but I would require more ‘unequivocal photos’ of these and other features before proffering a confident diagnosis.
Many thanks to Dick & Alan for their comments.

So, in keeping with my regime of trying to be as cautious as possible, i'm content to downgrade this to an inconclusive YLG solely on the apparent anomalous leg colour coupled with the apparent age of the bird.

Postscript: Browsing through my limited archive of local YLG images, this bird, considered a good YLG at the time, perhaps shows a leg colour reminiscent of my impression of the 30th Dec bird: