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....

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The sweet taste of Fudge - Ferruginous Duck at Caldecotte Lake, Buckinghamshire

With a drake Fudge Duck having been present on Caldecotte Lake in Buckinghamshire since the 4th of February, and with Ferruginous Duck being my number one target bird on Bubo for over a year, it was only a matter of time before I gave in and made the 2 and a half hour journey down to Milton Keynes in an attempt to catch up with this extremely attractive species of duck.

Prior arrangements and a trip to Portugal meant the first real opportunity I had was last weekend, and after a casual drive down we arrived on site at just after 2pm. A smattering of rain couldn’t dampen our spirits, and we soon located the handsome drake on the South East end of the lake, associating with a group of Tufted Ducks and viewable from the wildlife screen. Fantastic and well worth the trip!
Fudge Duck - Caldecotte Lake, Buckinghamshire
Scoping from the edge of the lake, we watched this impressive drake as he began to dive for food, the white patch on the under tail distinctive as he ducked under the water. Moving over to the opposite side of the bank and viewing from the other screen, we were able to get much closer views, taking in the rich chestnut colouration and bright pale yellow eye before he eventually swam off towards the centre of the lake and over to the trees.
Fudge Duck - Caldecotte Lake, Buckinghamshire
Fudge Duck - Caldecotte Lake, Buckinghamshire
Having a preference for the far more attractive drake ducks in terms of lifers as opposed to the usually duller females, I had so far resisted going for one of the number of females that have been present in the UK recently – indeed, this has been the first relatively nearby drake I’ve been able to twitch since I first dipped a Fudge Duck back in 2011! With females present in Norfolk and Yorkshire, the regular drake in Hampshire, and a drake of unknown origin associating with the captive Ferruginous Ducks at Washington WWT in Durham, our Buckinghamshire bird appears to be part of a mini influx of sorts this winter.
Fudge Duck - Caldecotte Lake, Buckinghamshire
Despite the fact a known escaped bird has been frequently seen at Dinton Pastures in Berkshire, plus the suspect natures of two WWT birds recently, our Caldecotte drake was bearing no rings and appeared extremely wary – the real deal and as good as it gets.
Ferruginous Duck - Caldecotte Lake, Buckinghamshire
Alex's photo shows perfectly the lack of any bling on the legs
Being one of my top ten targets, Fudge Duck has definitely been a long time coming, especially since dipping two previously and only managing to see a hybrid Ferruginous x Tufted in the Norfolk broads a few years back. Well worth the effort and thanks to Alex for coming along (even though he has already seen 4 in the UK!) 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Norfolk Birding - Shore Larks, Rough-legged Buzzards, Bean Geese and the Golden Pheasant of Wolferton

Me and Alex decided to take a New Year’s trip to Norfolk in order to catch up with all the birding goodies that were on offer in what is surely one of the most productive of counties for birds. With a wealth of species concentrated in a small area near Kings Lynn, we had three days to connect with an impressive line-up of great birds.

Staking out Flitcham that afternoon for the resident Pallid Harrier unfortunately drew a blank (although we had already seen an individual last autumn in Somerset) but we were rewarded with a beautiful flock of feeding Bramblings, a hunting Merlin and a pair of gaudy Egyptian Geese as consolation prizes.
Brambling, Flitcham
Phone-scoped shot of one of the Bramblings
The next day saw an early rise and the obligatory trip to the now famous Wolferton Triangle in order to catch up with the resident Lord of the Estate – the legendary Golden Pheasant himself, before heading over to Choseley Drying Barns to try and spot one of the two Rough-legged Buzzards that have been calling this area home. 
Golden Pheasant, Wolferton Triangle
After eventually finding the right location and after a fair bit of driving and scanning fields, I managed to pick out a pale coloured Buteo heading over the ridge with pronounced black carpal patches and a white upper tail – our target bird.

Enjoying brief views, we drove over to the field in question and after some careful scanning, I picked up our sought after Buzzard, this time perched in the field next to us. Taking flight and being harassed by two persistent crows, we both got excellent views as this majestic raptor flew along the edge of the field, the white inner tail above distinctive along with the much paler wings and characteristic markings.

With the Rough-legged Buzzard now out of sight and perched in a distant tree, we headed over to Cley for our final stop of the day in an attempt to catch up with one of the four Bean Geese that had been present on the reserve associating with the regular Pink Feet. Travelling past many farm fields, it was a refreshing change to see coveys of both Grey and Red-legged Partridges in large numbers as we drove through Norfolk, with both species being plentiful.
Grey Partridges, Norfolk
Arriving at Cley, we immediately locked on to a Barn Owl gracefully quartering the reeds in the afternoon sun, while several Marsh Harriers patrolled the reserve.  Entering the hides, the Bean Geese were extremely difficult to pick out amongst the large flock of Pink Feet, and after some careful scanning it wasn't until the other birders in the next hide along pointed them out to me that I was able to pick them out. Extremely similar to Pink Footed Geese, the good views really enabled us to note the subtle differences - their orange bills really stood out from the pink bills of the Pink Feet. Having only ever seen one Bean Goose before at Telford a few years ago, this was a great opportunity to really get my eye in on these two confusion species.
Bean Geese, Cley
Two orange billed Bean Geese interspersed with the Pink Feet
A quick check on the fields further up the track resulted in us also trying to pick out the Black Brant that had been present in the Brent goose flock for several weeks. Alex eventually managed to pick it up in what was becoming fast fading light, and we both admired this attractive American subspecies - my first in the UK. 
Black Brant, Cley
Black Brant, Cley
Differing from our Brent Geese by sporting a complete white neck collar and having much bolder white markings on the sides, once we had our eye in we could easily pick out this American stray amongst the hundreds of Dark-bellied Brents
Dark-bellied Brent Geese, Cley
The Dark-bellied Brent Geese - Black Brant at the bottom left!
With the light now disappearing, we headed back to the hotel for a feast of pizza and pasta before our final day in Norfolk and what would be our first birds of 2016. 

With New Year’s Day dawning and just one full day left, we decided to head over to Thornham Harbour where 3 Shore Larks had been present on the shingle beach next to the estuary mouth. One of my favourite small shore birds and a species I don’t often come across in the North West, I was keen to catch up with these delightful Bumble Bee patterned larks.

Stopping to admire the flock of around 30 Twite that had been feeding amongst the salt marsh plants right next to the car park and giving excellent views, we headed off in to the dunes to locate the Shore Larks.

With an ever present stream of New Year’s Day birders having scopes set up watching the birds, they weren't hard to find, and we were soon enjoying close views as the three birds fed along the tide line in the debris washed up by the waves.
Shore Lark, Thornham Harbour
Shore Lark, Thornham Harbour
Shore Lark, Thornham Harbour
Having only ever seen the Rossall Point bird last winter, it was great to admire these brightly coloured birds as they went about their business and it was a fantastic end to what had been a hugely successful trip to Norfolk.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Birding in North Wales - Snow Buntings, Hawfinches, Purple Sandpipers and Black Redstarts!

There have been some fantastic birds present in North Wales recently, with a whole host of great subjects for photography all along the coast.

After Alex first found a Snow Bunting at Horton’s nose near Kimnel Bay back at the start of December, a pair of these attractive buntings were found a little further down the shore at the start of January – presumably the same bird Alex found relocating up the beach. With up to 6 birds having been reported (along with records at Pensarn, Llandullas and Point of Ayr) the two seem to have now taken a liking to this small stretch of coast and what is now a regularly seeded area at SH 986 808, offering amazing views and a great opportunity to study these charismatic little birds up close.
Snow Bunting - Kimnel Bay, North Wales
Luckily I had my camera with me when I called in to Kimnel Bay, and the single Snow Bunting that was present when I visited allowed fantastic views as it fed unperturbed on the seed.
Snow Bunting - Kimnel Bay, North Wales
Being the first bird I travelled some distance to see at Kimnel Bay 5 years ago, it is great to see them returning to the North Wales coastline after a considerable absence for some years, and hopefully the numbers will be able to get back up to the 14 or so birds that were present back in 2011.

The Hawfinches at Llanbedr-y-Cennin are also providing excellent views this winter after proving to be very elusive back in January and February 2015. With over 20 birds reported to be present, we had a flock of 10 fly from the trees lining the field at SH 76007 69740, before flying back in to land, offering excellent scope views as seen from the cattle grid. 
Hawfinch - Llanbedr-y-Cennin, North Wales
With a huge bulky appearance in flight and prominent white patches on the wings, we soon became familiar with their silhouette, making it much easier to spot individuals as they flew from tree to tree. The trees around the churchyard and the field at the above grid reference seem to be the best places to spot these huge billed finches.

The Purple Sandpipers at Rhos Point continue to be found in low numbers at both high and low tide on the rocky shoreline while the Black Redstarts on the Little Orme are also producing great views this winter, with up to three individuals having been present. There is an excellent supporting cast of Red-throated Divers, Shags and nesting Fulmars on the cliffs and on the sea, while the seal colony at Angel Bay below holds double figures of Grey Seals, often hauled out on the shingle or with heads poking above the waves. This is a great opportunity to study these pinnipeds through the scope from the cliff top path, and we got great views of several large males and females resting on the sand.
Fulmars - Little Orme, North Wales
Grey Seals - Angel Bay, Little Orme
Grey Seals - Angel Bay, Little Orme

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Little Auk makes landfall at Connahs Quay!

Having sadly missed the influx of Little Auks to the East coast last November and with Little Auk being one of my top targets for last year, I thought I had missed the boat when it came to seeing one of these tiny arctic visitors. When an alert popped up on my phone in the middle of January telling me a Little Auk had been seen at Connah’s Quay Nature Reserve in North Wales, I opened it up expecting the report to be just a fly-by – the typical view of Little Auks over on the West coast. I was therefore shocked to read there was one apparently swimming around the inland pools outside Dee and Middle Hides!!

I was determined that I wanted to see my first Little Auk up close as opposed to a distant dot flying over stormy waves, and knowing that it could fall victim to a marauding crow or gull at any moment, we left Alex’s house in record speed (I’ve never got ready so fast). With Connah’s Quay being a permit only reserve, I had luckily bought Alex a key for Christmas – money that was now definitely well spent!

Despite a few setbacks where the Sat-nav kept insisting on directing us to a random field, we were soon on site, just missing this dainty alcid by moments with it having just that second swam around the bend. A small chase of cat and mouse then ensued, where we attempted to follow it from hide to hide before eventually pinning the elusive Auk down to Middle Hide – relief and my first UK Little Auk, a much wanted bird for some time!
Little Auk - Connah's Quay NR, North Wales
Little Auk swimming along the channel at Connah's Quay NR
We watched as the tiny Auk swam swiftly along the back of the pool before powering off to the left hand side of the channel and out of sight – a much speedier swimmer than I’d anticipated! Heading back on to the road and over to where it looked to be heading, we were surprised to find it had beat us to it and had completely disappeared - seemingly vanishing in front of the assembled birders eyes – presumably taking shelter in the large rocks that lined the banks.
Little Auk - Connah's Quay NR, North Wales
With no sign for a good hour or so and with the bird having either taken shelter in the bank or forced its way through the small weir blocking the access in to the estuary (unlikely!) we headed over to Burton Marsh to enjoy the views of Short-eared Owls, Hen Harriers and Bewick’s Swans that were present. With reports just after lunch that the Little Auk was back in front of the hide again, we made the decision to head back to Connah’s Quay – it’s not every day you get to see a Little Auk so close after all!

Arriving at the hide to find the Little Auk had climbed on to the grassy bank at the side of the water, it was clear that this particular individual was not in completely good health, having seemingly injured one of its legs. 
Little Auk - Connah's Quay NR, North Wales
Little Auk - Connah's Quay NR, North Wales
Watching it for some time and following it down the channel again when it eventually swam off, we enjoyed fantastic views just metres away as it powered past us towards the weir again, and unable to pass, it once again positioned itself in the rocks out of sight to rest.
Little Auk - Connah's Quay NR, North Wales
Little Auk is an excellent record for North Wales, with birds occasionally seen as fly-bys on sea watches during the winter months, and it was even more exceptional that it was found on the pools at Connah’s Quay instead of the harbour.
Connah's Quay NR, North Wales
The small channel the Little Auk kept favouring
With our Little Auk making a final appearance just before dusk, again showing exceptionally closely before swimming off back up the channel and out of sight, we can only hope that under the safety of darkness it managed to make a getaway and head back out to sea. A report of a Little Auk flying west past Hoylake subsequently had the optimist in me hoping that this was our little bird and that he made it to safety! A truly fantastic experience and one I certainly won’t be forgetting in a hurry. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Back to Black - Black Scoter off Stag Rocks, Bamburgh, Northumberland

With news that a Black Scoter had been spotted associating amongst the raft of Common Scoter regularly seen off Stag Rocks near Bamburgh in Northumberland during the week (it transpired that the bird had in fact been present since the 15th Jan), we made the decision to make the long journey up to the North East to see this vagrant American sea duck. Only recently spilt from our Common Scoters in the last decade or so, and with just 13 accepted records, this was a great opportunity to finally nail this mega duck after not managing to get up for any of the previous individuals that have graced the East coast and Scotland over the past 5 years or so and being too young to twitch the long staying individual that resided off Llanfairfechan back in 1999 all the way through to 2007. With birds seen off the Northumberland coast in 2011 (in both the spring and winter) and again in 2015, it is highly likely this could be the same returning individual, especially as the April 2011 bird was actually found off Stag Rocks.

With strong gales and rain forecast for the Saturday however, we decided to call our journey off, thinking it would be near impossible to locate the Black Scoter in stormy seas and driving rain. A report at just after 11am on Saturday morning soon put paid to that theory however, and after booking a last minute hotel 10 minutes away from Bamburgh we were soon on our way north hoping the weather for Sunday would stay calm and dry like predicted.
Bamburgh Castle - Bamburgh, Northumberland
Nearby Bamburgh Castle
Sure enough, we awoke to an extremely calm and still morning (with Alex soon picking out an Iceland Gull from the hotel window before we were even out on the road) and by 10am we were on site ready to track down the Black Scoter. Being nailed down to a regular site unlike last year’s Northumberland bird, I was hopeful we would connect and joining 30 or so other birders overlooking the sea we were soon watching a distant Scoter flock to the north of the rocks. Despite some of those present convinced one individual had a much brighter bill than the others, the birds were just far too distant to get adequate views and confirm it as the Black Scoter.
Black Scoter Map - Stag Rocks, Bamburgh, Northumberland
A map of where we viewed from - our two viewing spots in red and the car park in yellow

Monday, 1 February 2016

January Birding!

There have been a whole host of great birds during January in Cheshire, with some returning favourites such as the Burton Mere Long-eared Owl putting on a great show in the Hawthorn tree leading up to Inner Marsh Farm  hide, to finally getting a Green-winged Teal at my local Neumann’s Flash.
Long-eared Owl, Burton Mere RSPB, Cheshire
Long-eared Owl - Burton Mere RSPB
Green-winged Teal - Neumann's Flash, Cheshire
Record shot of the Neumann's Green-winged Teal
The start of the month also brought my first Cheshire Pallas’s Warbler in the form of the well twitched individual at Heswall on the Wirral. Present for nearly two weeks in the scrub around the sewage works on Target Road and associating with a group of Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and Chiffchaffs, we got great views of what is one of my favourite warbler species bumbling through the branches next to the sewage tanks. Giving fantastic scope views through the wire fencing, the yellow rump stood out a mile (a feature I didn’t manage to see on the Norfolk bird) as did the bold eye stripe, while the colouration was noticeably different from the accompanying Goldcrests, being much more of a green-olive colour on the back.

The Great Northern Diver at West Kirby Marine Lake also continued to show well throughout the month, and we managed to catch up with this impressive diver on the far side of the lake after seeing the Pallas’s Warbler just as the sun had started to go down. 
Great Northern Diver - West Kirby Marine Lake, Wirral
Great Northern Diver - West Kirby Marine Lake
Great Northern Diver - West Kirby Marine Lake, Wirral
It’s always lovely to see these beautiful divers up close, and this particularly confiding individual came to within just a few metres of the side whilst diving for fish and crustaceans.
West Kirby Marine Lake, Wirral
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