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, 30 November 2015

New York Trip Report - Day 1 (Central Park)

Day 1 -  Thursday 21st May 2015

Being a destination we had both been eager to visit and with Central Park well known as a migrant hotspot during the epic spring migration, we booked 10 days in what is perhaps the most well-known city in the world – New York.  Whilst this bustling hub of metropolitan life may not at first glance seem a typical birding destination, the parks attract an incredible array of species during spring and autumn migration, with over 20 species of warbler waiting to be found on a typical May morning. Also home to such iconic sights as the Empire State Building, Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, as well as the natural wonder that is Niagara Falls being easily accessible through flights to Buffalo, New York was the perfect choice for our first journey in to American birding.
Central Park, New York
The famous view of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline
Basing ourselves at the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan for the duration of our stay, we were just 3 blocks from the entrance of Central Park, and with one of New York’s many tube stations situated right outside our hotel, the rest of New York was easily accessible to us via public transport, meaning we managed to explore 3 of New York’s 5 boroughs during our stay (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens). With a wealth of parks and wildlife refuges scattered through New York offering the many birds passing through a place to rest up during migration, a fantastic diversity of species can surprisingly be found living alongside the 8 million people that call the city their home, and without doubt, this was the best trip that both of us have been on to date.
New York, America
New York, America
Landing at JFK airport just after lunch, despite the 7 hour flight there was no time to rest. After checking in to our hotel 3 hours later (the border queues at the airport were huge!) we immediately took the 5 minute walk to perhaps what is the most iconic park in the world to begin our trip – Central Park.
Sheep Meadow, Central Park
The famous Sheep Meadow in Central Park
Having already familiarised ourselves with the species we should come face to face with and having tried to memorise the calls, along with our Sibley Guide we were well equipped to begin our adventure, despite neither of us having any experience with American birds apart from the strays and vagrants that make it across to Britain.

Completely artificially created and nestled within the towering skyscrapers, Central Park is an absolute mecca for birds during May, with the peak usually occurring during the second week. Luckily for us, migration this year was late, as we weren’t able to fly out until the 21st, giving us the whole of the last week and part of the third to see what goodies we could unearth. With their bright colours, vibrant patterns, and often quirky names, warblers were naturally high up on our list and were the main focus during our time in New York’s parks.

Taking bets as to what the first new bird we’d spot would be (Alex thought Chimney Swift while I went for Great Blue Heron due to JFK being so close to the water) we were both proved wrong, with that honour going to the classic American Robin.
American Robin - New York
American Robin - our first new species in America!
Hopping around on the grass just a few feet from the entrance, we had our first American species in all its glory – much larger than I had expected and more similar in size and structure to a Blackbird than a Robin. I couldn’t resist stopping to take a series of photos (despite Alex telling me we had to focus on the rarer species on our first day and not get distracted by the common) although this was definitely justified as these initial shots proved to be my best of American Robins throughout the whole trip!

Dragging me away and heading in the direction of the Ramble, we soon racked up some of the commoner species. A Blue Jay taking advantage of some leftover bread was just as beautiful in real life as depicted in our books, while the bright red flash of a Northern Cardinal looked positively tropical in comparison to our normal backyard birds at home. Huge flocks of House Sparrows and Starlings also provided a touch of familiarity, having been introduced here and thriving in the urban landscape of Manhattan.
Blue Jay - Central Park, New York
Blue Jays were relatively common
Northern Cardinal - Central Park, New York
Northern Cardinals were also a regular sight
Northern Cardinal - Central Park, New York

Monday, 16 November 2015

Crag Martin in the bag - Crooked Spire, Chesterfield

Crag Martin! What a bird, what an agonising week in work and what a roller coaster ride of emotion - all thanks to one tiny Mediterranean Hirundine taking to the skies in a Derbyshire town!
Crag Martin - Crooked Spire, Chesterfield
After missing the well twitched Crag Martin at Flamborough in April last year due to flying out to Spain the same weekend it arrived, me and Alex were sure it would be a considerable wait until we got another opportunity to see this mega bird in Britain again – if ever. Even though we had seen plenty during our trip to Spain, it wasn’t quite the same as seeing one in the UK, and the Flamborough Crag Martin definitely fell in the category of one that got away….

Fast forward a year and a half to last Sunday morning when the alert on my phone came through detailing the incredible report of a Crag Martin flying around the crooked spire in Chesterfield! This was an opportunity we simply couldn’t miss! Leaving on first news and despite the bird disappearing on several occasions, it reassuringly kept returning to the spire throughout the afternoon, obviously favouring the tall structure as a point of interest in the Chesterfield landscape.  I had a good feeling – it felt like we would connect.

However, at 13:50 news came out that the bird had flown off and not yet returned, and despite a vigil at the spire with another hundred or so birders in the hope that it would come in to roost, there was sadly no sign through to dusk.
Chesterfield's Crooked Spire
Several birders were convinced it would be back in the morning, with Crag Martins on the continent often returning to the same structure or spot once they have taken a liking to it, and were staking out the crooked spire from dawn. The mega alert noise on my phone while walking through the door at work on Monday morning therefore stopped me in my tracks and my heart sank – it had to be the Crag Martin back. Phew – false alarm, it was only the Hudsonian Whimbrel in Cornwall. A second alert 10 minutes later however wasn’t so welcome – the Crag Martin was indeed back and flying around the spire! Gutted was an understatement.

An agonising work in week then ensued, before the dreaded news on Wednesday came though that there had been no sign at the church all day – this mega visitor had apparently departed without us managing to connect.

However, searching for ‘Crag Martin’ on twitter late on Thursday night, I came across a tweet from the same day by a birder saying he had enjoyed views of it flying around the spire that very morning! What on earth?! Sending the photo to Alex he sent the news in to Birdguides in case the bird had been remarkably refound – we still weren’t sure if this was a mistake or even a wind up after all the local publicity the bird had been receiving. Regardless, the report being publicised the next day worked, and sure enough (despite the sighting at one point being renounced as a hoax/plane) at half 9 that morning the few birders present confirmed the unbelievable – the Crag Martin was back for more! Every weekday worker/twitcher unable to get time off breathed a collective sigh of relief across the country. The Crag Martin twitch was back on!
Crag Martin Tweet

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Autumnal Birding - Short-eared Owls, Scaup, Jack Snipe and Cetti's

With the rustic tones of autumn coming to a close and the cool chill of winter fast approaching, I’ve been able to catch up with a selection of good birds locally as the seasons shift and the birds follow suite.

Short-eared Owls in particular seem to be in great abundance this year, and I managed to see up to 6 different birds at Parkgate/Burton Point during the recent high tides, all taking advantage of the large numbers of voles and other small mammals forced out of the vegetation as the water levels rose. With further individuals at Frodsham Marsh as well as this beautiful bird found hunting along the banks of the River Clywd in Rhyl, the winter of 2015/16 already seems to be a bumper year for these charismatic owls.
Short-eared Owl - River Clwyd
There also appears to have been a mini-invasion of Firecrests taking place throughout the North Wales coastline over the past few weeks, with up to 5 spotted at Conwy RSPB near the pond bridge and further individuals scattered across the coastline and up to the Great Orme, particularly around Llys Helig Drive.

The female/immature Scaup at Eirias Park boating lake also provided excellent views when I visited, and having been associating with a group of Mallards for several weeks now, is still present. Whilst occasionally flushed by dogs (such as on one occasion while I was present) the Scaup seems to have taken this small patch of water to its liking, showing fantastically well and being easy to spot on such a small water body. With the lake slowly being drained for the winter however, it will more than likely soon move on, perhaps to the coast or to one of the other pools or lakes nearby.
Scaup - Colwyn Bay, Wales
Burton Mere Wetlands is also playing host to two Jack Snipe at present, most often seen from the first boardwalk screen hidden amongst the stubble of cut reeds. Cryptically camouflaged and usually asleep amongst the Common Snipe with its beak concealed, the distinctive facial markings give the ID away along with the darker and bolder patterns on the back. Luckily, we managed to get great views of one individual doing its characteristic bobbing motion as it moved through the reeds before settling back down and remaining hidden behind the vegetation.
Jack Snipe - Burton Mere Wetlands
Two Cetti’s Warblers have also taken up residence in the patch of reeds between the reedbed screen and the second hide. Usually remaining hidden deep within the depths of the reeds, with just the distinctive explosive call giving their location away, we were lucky to get amazing views as they became incredibly active late in the afternoon before heading off to roost, showing unbelievably well and performing right in front of the screen out in the open. These were by far my longest ever views of Cetti’s Warblers, having previously only ever got glimpses at various reserves before the bird dashed back in to the safety of the reeds. A pair of Brambling on the feeders were also lovely to see, completing what has been a fantastic few weeks for classic autumnal/winter birds.
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