A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 23 February 2015

Little Bunting gives great views in Cardiff

With a showy Little Bunting having been present for the last 2 weeks down in Cardiff, we finally got the chance to pay a visit and admire it last weekend after a busy couple of weeks – thankfully it has stuck around and seems to be overwintering. Driving down on the Friday night, me and Alex were up bright and early the next morning and made the quick ten minute journey from our hotel to Forest Farm NR. We soon located the hide next to the warden’s complex, just a short 2 minute walk up the road from the car park, where the bird had been favouring throughout its stay.

Upon arrival there was no sign of our target, but it was just a matter of waiting as the bird has been giving views down to 2 metres each day for the entirety of its stay. 2 Reed Buntings fluttered in, perching on the fencing and piles of brushwood before hopping down to drink and forage by the large puddle right in front of the hide.

A beautiful male Bullfinch fed on the adjacent feeders whilst a Nuthatch – one of my favourite woodland birds – flitted back and too storing seeds.

Before long, a shout went up that the Little Bunting had flown in and was sat on the fence, but raising my bins it immediately dashed back in to the nearby hedge cover, offering just brief flight views of its back end.

After a quick search in the nearby holly tree and hedge lining the field, I spotted the bird flying back in to land on one of the piles of twigs, and immediately got Alex on to our target. Success. After scurrying around deep inside the cover of the branches, the bird teased us by remaining obscured, before slowly creeping out through the fence and in to the open right in front of us, providing absolutely fantastic views. 

Little Bunting

Little Bunting

Little Bunting

Feeding on the discarded seed next to the fence line, we watched the bunting for a good ten minutes, the bird happily providing some great photo opportunities as it foraged in front of us. Eventually it crept back in to the brushwood pile before disappearing off in to the hedge once more.

Little Bunting

Little Bunting

With plenty of records of Little Bunting in Britain, there are usually a scattering of individuals each autumn that make it over to the UK from their usual haunts of Russia and the East. Several have displayed the tendency to overwinter in recent years like this bird has, with 3 actually known to be wintering at present this year, the other sites being Ashdown Forest in Sussex and Gulval in Cornwall.

Very similar to a Reed Bunting, the subtle differences can be quite obvious once you get your eye in, in particular the slightly smaller size and much finer and neater streaking on the breast as opposed to the thicker, bolder streaks on a Reed Bunting. The thin, pale wingbar is also another feature to look out for, as is the small pale dot on the facial markings behind the eye – both characteristic of Little Bunting in comparison to a Reed. I also registered neater and more defined facial patterns on the Little Bunting, with a slight grey shawl around the neck.

Little Bunting

These were absolutely brilliant views and we really couldn’t have asked for more – the bird putting in an excellent show. A great opportunity to see the bird at such close quarters instead of being half hidden in a hedge, and an excellent chance to really take note of the features and to get my eye-in in case I ever come across one in the field.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Parisian Adventures

Enjoying a long weekend in Paris, we took a break from sightseeing and spent an afternoon in the Bois de Bolougne searching for the Middle Spotted Woodpeckers that are often reported from the woodlands in this inner city oasis. On arriving however, it was clear the parkland was much bigger than we anticipated and a far cry from the suburban park with limited decorative large trees that we were expecting!

After 2 hours searching the area we had only managed to explore around 1/10th of the total size, having covered just the top section (on arriving back and comparing sizes, it became apparent that the Bois de Bolougne is actually a third bigger than Central Park itself!!)

With only 2 Great Spotteds and no Middle Spotted Woodpeckers in sight and our feet aching, we admitted defeat, while the rough terrain and huge distance ensured that dragging a suitcase around the next morning wouldn’t be practical in the slightest.

However, despite our disappointment, we did enjoy great views of several Firecrests and Marsh Tits in the trees, along with a nice Crested Tit found by Alex in the parkland near the water – crazy to imagine this species in that sort of city habitat when we’re used to them being restricted to the Scottish pineland forests back in Britain! Really interesting as to why they never made it over to England when they are so widespread in Europe.

Despite this, the sights in Paris were amazing, and I now have a new found weakness for salted caramel macaroons!
Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower!
The delicious salted macaroons!
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe
Obviously a mission to Eastern Europe sometime in the future is in order to track down our elusive Middle-spotteds and the other European woodpecker delights! 

Waxwing at Orrell

Having not seen a Waxing for several years, my last being back in 2011, me and Alex decided to make the quick journey up to Orrell Water Park in Manchester to catch up with an individual that had been hanging around for a couple of days in one of the gardens adjoining the lake off Moss Road.

Driving towards the house, we immediately locked on to the bird before we had even parked the car, and we quickly hopped out to obtain better views, the bird being perched high up in the trees lining the road. The light wasn’t particularly great, with the bird often appearing in silhouette, but it was still great to see this uncommon winter visitor at a relatively close range.


Sadly, the bird didn’t take to the apples set out for it in the garden as it had been doing on previous occasions, but we were more than happy to watch this gorgeous visitor flycatching and hovering in the trees above. 

One of the Waxwings in Northwich a few years ago that showed exceptionally well!
Remarkably, this very same bird was rung in the exact same garden 2 years ago, when a flock of around 200 frequented it throughout the winter. It is truly amazing how now, as an adult female, the bird has made its way back – albeit this year on its own, which could demonstrate some memory recognition when dispersing from Russia and Scandinavia. It would be interesting to learn if any other wintering waxwing flocks return to the same sites in the UK - fascinating stuff. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

You've got to be having a laugh

With an alert popping up on my phone during a meeting on Tuesday causing panic after a Laughing Gull was reported at New Brighton, which then proceeded to show well on and off for the rest of the afternoon, it was a tense few days before I could really do anything about it. With work and the fact that Alex had parent’s evening and extra tuition from Tuesday – Thursday throwing a spanner in the works, it wasn’t until later on in the week that I could make it up there.

Just as I was leaving work, the dreaded news broke that the gull had flown off inland at half 1, and with just a narrow window that day in which to see it, the drive over was a little nervy.

Arriving at the Marine Lake, there was still no sign, and a walk along the promenade checking the beach and surrounding area proved fruitless. The bird had apparently flown off over Morrisons, but chatting to a local revealed that the bird usually returns to the lake around 3pm each day, so I decided that the best option would be to head back to the pontoon.

Whilst scanning the gulls lining the distant breakwater by Fort Perch lighthouse and feeling a touch despondent that this was going to be a dip, my mum of all people exclaimed there was a lone gull standing on the pontoon. Turning round to take a look, I was stunned to see that this was our target – the Laughing Gull had returned!!
Laughing Gull
Originally on the other side of the pontoon, we crossed over by the restaurants to get a better view.
Laughing Gull

It wasn’t until later that I found out she wasn’t as eagle eyed as she’d led me to believe, and had instead just spotted another birder raising his bins and looking excitedly in the direction of the pontoon instead of the actual gull itself….

Phoning Alex, he made a mad dash over from somewhere far up the promenade, wheezing like an 80 year old man as he set up his scope. Glad and relieved that we had connected with this often hard to come across gull, the first winter individual showed really well for around half an hour, at one point taking flight to snaffle some of the bread thrown down by one of the locals and swooping round right in front of us.
Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull

Differing from our similar sized Black-headed Gulls by the slightly elongated bill, more lengthy appearance and light brown colouration on the wings, this American visitor has proved harder to catch up with these last few years, after a huge influx back in 2005/06 when an amazing 104 possible individuals made it across to these shores. With only 26 records in the 8 years since however, and several being one day birds with really only one twitchable record up in Aberdeenshire, this was a much welcome opportunity relatively close to home.

Map showing the distribution of Laughing Gulls in the UK back in 2005/06

With some having a reputation for being long stayers – including the current Ballycotton bird in Ireland which has been present for over a year, there is every chance that this bird may follow suit and stick around for the coming weeks. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A (very) belated round-up of the year!

With my computer setting on fire over Christmas, I never had a chance to do a round up of the year and list my favourite birds of 2014. Although it's a month late, without further a do, here are the best birds from the year that was...

Narrowly missing out on the top ten were the Great Spotted Cuckoo in Pembrokeshire back in March, the White-winged Black Tern that dropped in at Cemlyn Bay and the Bridled Tern up in the Farnes. The Farne islands were one of the best birding experiences I’ve ever had and it was great to see the sea birds in abundance along with the classic view of Puffins complete with sandeels in their beaks! Cattle Egret, Ross’s Gull at Leighton Moss, the Black-winged Pratincole that gave us the run around all summer and the male Red-breasted Flycatcher at Beachy Head, Sussex were also all noteworthy additions and great to see.

White-winged Black Tern
Record shot of the White-winged Black Tern at Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey
Bridled Tern
The Bridled Tern on the rocks by the Jetty upon landing on the Farne Islands
Cattle Egret
Distant pic of the Cattle Egret living up to its name...
Red-breasted Flycatcher
The Red-breasted Flycatcher at Beachy Head was truly stunning
Also deserving of a mention was the Snow Goose up in Lancashire. Derived by some and nastily accused of being “plastic” this bird was absolutely 100% legit and it managed to capture a spot in my heart despite the haters….

Snow Goose
Snow Goose!

And now on to the best....

In 10th place for the year was the ever-loved Ring-billed gull down at Gosport Marine Lake in Hampshire. Returning for its remarkable 13th winter, this individual provided close quarter views, offering me an opportunity to really admire his plumage. Having dipped a first winter a couple of years back on an Asda roof in Liverpool, it felt much better to catch up with this cracking adult bird instead.
Ring-billed Gull
"Waldo" as he is known.... I refuse to call him that!

In 9th position were the Cirl Buntings at Prawle Point in Devon. These deserve a mention as this was my first solo birding visit ever (I always prefer to have some company) and it was great to find them on the Clifftop fields with very few people around. Showing well, I timed it just right – ten minutes later a Sparrowhawk dived after the flock which scattered and weren’t seen again!
Cirl Bunting
The Cirl Buntings were little beauties

Coming up in 8th was the Wryneck seen at Spurn during the Autumn. Having never seen one, this was a key target for the year and when told there was one showing really well just down the road whilst we were searching for a Barred Warbler, we legged it down. After giving us the run around for ten minutes, it eventually flew out of the nearby garden and perched in the hedge right in front of me – breath-taking views and great to finally nail one!

7th place belongs to the drake King Eider (affectionately known as ‘Kingy’) up in the Ythan Estuary near Aberdeen. Flying up to Scotland for the weekend this was a completely relaxed long-distance twitch – a complete change to the usual far away goodies. ‘Chequebook Birding’ it may be to some, but this was one of my favourite twitches to date, with the drake showing really well on the sand in front of us for the couple of hours we were there. Complete with the absolutely hundreds of close in Common Eiders, seals, terns and waders, this will be a twitch that will remain firmly in the memory.
King Eider
Kingy chillin' on the beach 

6th place for the year was the Parrot Crossbills at Budby Common right at the start of the year. Arriving as part of an influx, we tracked them down to a tree amongst the heathland. I definitely wasn’t expecting what happened next, as the whole flock of birds landed in the group of trees underneath where I was standing, proceeding to flit almost over my head at eye level, completely surround me, with many even going as far as to take drinks from the puddle in which I was standing. This went on for a good ten minutes, and was a truly amazing birding experience I will never forget.
Parrot Crossbill
The Parrot Crossbills provided a great start to 2014
In 5th position was the absolutely majestic White-tailed Sea Eagle on Mull from our long weekend up there at the beginning of June. Having never been before it was fantastic to see the wildlife up there – Corncrakes, Mountain Hares and Golden Eagles all adding to the magic. Arriving at a well known eagle car park in front of a favourite perch tree by the loch, we were disappointingly told the eagle had just flown off. However, no more than two minute later I turned to see a huge shape soaring low down over the car park to our right, gliding effortlessly along and back in to the tree all the scopes were trained on. A truly amazing and breath-taking sight, and one of my favourite in birding.
White-tailed Sea Eagle
Showing just how huge the wingspan actually is

4th place for the year goes to the Surf Scoters at Pensarn back at the end of January. Having failed to connect with these for FOUR winters, it was about time I broke the curse of the Surf Scoter. Having been promised views by a certain individual who failed to deliver (TWICE!) I went with my Dad on the third attempt of the New Year, in perfect calm and bright conditions. A local birder from Chester managed to find two drakes and got me on them – and just like that the curse was broken – Surf Scoter – FINALLY!! I even managed to pick them out and show them to someone else myself later in the afternoon!
Scoter flock
The dreadful view of distant scoters in the scope...

In bronze position (somewhat ironically given the name) and 3rd in the best birds of the year was the majestic Golden Pheasant at the Wolferton Triangle just before Christmas. Arriving in the pitch black ready for a dawn vigil on the quiet Norfolk Lane, it was looking bleak until 9am when we spotted him at the side of the road feeding on the seed we had laid out the previous night. Relief – he was there!! Showing right in front of us for 10 minutes, it was great to see him in all his fiery glory – a real high!

Golden Pheasant
He was there. 

The runner up and achieving second place was the brilliant Shore Lark that rocked up at Rossall Point in Lancs for the winter. Having wanted to see one since my childhood and with it being my ‘most needed bird’ according to BUBO, nothing was going to stop me, and within minutes of arriving we were enjoying views of this charming little horned wonder on the shingle beach in front of us. A long anticipated bird and one that was well worth the wait!

Shore Lark
Shore Lark!!!! 

Claiming the top spot and the unquestionable bird of the year without a shadow of a doubt was the remarkable Short-toed Eagle in Dorset. The first twitchable mainland bird ever coupled with the individual in question going to roost in a pine tree on the day it was found meant an overnight drive down to Morden Bog in Dorset and me arriving at the car park at around 4am. Approaching the site in the dense mist, seeing the silent figures of a steady line of twitchers all heading to the ridge had a complete air of magic about it, and is something I will never forget. With daylight revealing the shape of the bird in its pine tree as the mist slowly cleared, the views got better and better throughout the morning, with the bird remaining sat until around 11:30am when it eventually alighted and displayed its magnificent wingspan for the assembled crowd to admire, before disappearing off in to the distance. If this bird hadn’t been relocated in Hampshire (and later Sussex) and become twitchable for the best part of a month, then this would truly have had the potential to be one of the all-time greats and one of the best British birds of all time.
Short-toed Eagle
The magnificent eagle
Eagle Crowd
Waiting for the mist to clear
Eagle Crowd
The Eagle crowd - this photo really doesn't portray just how many people were there!

My international bird of the year was without doubt the Wallcreeper in the high Pyrenees. The ultimate birding highlight to date and in the breath-takingly beautiful settings of the Spanish mountains, we were incredibly lucky to track down a male that had set up home on the rock face in mid-April. After a scenic treck along the mountain trail we arrived at the cliff face, and before long Chris had spotted the bird flying across the rocks, leaving that magnificent call of     in its wake. After another fly-by, we located the bird further on, busy feeding on the rocks and affording amazing views relatively low down in front of us. We watched in awe for a good 20 minutes as the bird went about its business, often showing off the amazing crimson butterfly-like wing patterns and admiring the remarkable long curved bill. In such beautiful surroundings and with an accompanying cast of Lammergeiers, Griffon Vultures and Rock Buntings amid the stunning settings of crystal clear rivers and waterfalls, pure white snow and delicate alpine flora, this was one of the best days birding ever and will stick in the memory for years to come. 


The Wallcreeper - best bird I have ever seen!
Griffon Vulture
Griffon Vulture
Rock Bunting
Rock Bunting
The beautiful view
Absolutely beautiful view in the Pyrenees 
A perfect trip

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