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....

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester

Coming back from a meeting at work on Monday morning to discover an excited message from Alex exclaiming a fine male Kentish Plover had been found on Audenshaw Reservoir in Manchester, it was therefore a tense wait until the end of the day to see whether the bird would still be present and whether or not we would get there in time.

Luckily however, despite the inevitable tedium of the M60 and the associated almost standstill rush hour traffic, we arrived at Audenshaw Reservoir to news that the Kentish Plover was still there and showing well on Reservoir 3. Eventually locating the right hole in the fence to get in (it has been a good few years since my last visit and the old gap had been mended) we were soon on our way around the expanses of water and over to the western edge of the reservoir running alongside the motorway in pursuit of our plover.
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir
After a 20 minute walk in the biting cold and bitter wind (who’d have thought it was April?!) we caught up with the small group of assembled birders and scoped out along the shoreline to try and pick out the Kentish. Bingo – we soon had our target, and the bird proceeded to show incredibly well, feeding along the water’s edge right in front of us and taking advantage of the high quantity of flies congregating above the water’s surface.
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
With both Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers associating on the same stretch of bank as the Kentish, the differences between the three were extremely apparent – the much cleaner white of the Kentish Plover stood out from a distance, and the rich ginger cap, incomplete black breast band and the neat black markings on the head were also clear to see.
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Having seen Kentish Plovers in both Spain and Portugal, as well as the extremely similar Snowy Plover in America (both species themselves split from the African White-fronted Plovers) it was great to finally see a British bird at last – although I don’t think any of us expected for one to turn up on the concrete banks of Audenshaw reservoir of all places!
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
A far cry from a shingle beach down south - the concrete edges of Audenshaw! 
Kentish Plover is also a fantastic bird for the North West - the previous county record for Greater Manchester was over 35 years ago, while another unexpected individual was recorded on my local Neumann’s Flash way back in 1991. The female at Cockersand Abbey in May 2011 (slightly before my twitching days) was the last twitchable North West opportunity however, and this was a bird I regrettably didn’t travel up for at the time.

Once a British breeding species with a particular stronghold at Dungeness in Kent up until the 1930s, Kentish Plovers sadly now only occur annually in very small numbers on passage, usually at coastal locations in the southern counties. The birds will often get pushed on by tidal movements (only being one-dayers as a result) so this was a bird that I had been struggling to get back for the last 5 years, especially as very few tend to reach the northern counties!
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Kentish Plover - Audenshaw Reservoir, Manchester
Still present the next day and showing well on the banks of Reservoir 3, this was a brilliant local bird that any North West birder would have been mad to miss, and although it appears to have departed on the morning of the 27th, the majority who needed it will most certainly have left happy after achieving stunning views of what was a fantastic little bird!
  
Alex's great video of the Kentish Plover

Monday, 18 April 2016

Iberian Chiffchaff in Telford, Shropshire!

With an Iberian Chiffchaff turning up in Lancashire towards the end of our two week trip to Florida, I was hopeful that this individual would stay the course and I’d be able to catch up with this Iberian speciality on my return. Unfortunately however, doubts were quickly raised about its identity – the song appeared untypical of Iberian Chiffchaff once sound recordings taken on site were analysed and it was quickly dismissed as an imposter – sadly, not making the grade.

Luckily however, the UK seems to be experiencing a spring influx of these delightful Mediterranean songsters at present, and after a year’s absence with no records during 2015, there have been a further three additional reports of Iberian Chiffchaffs this past week, with individuals in Coverack in Cornwall, Tresco on Scilly and of course, Telford in Shropshire.

First reported on the Sunday afternoon straight after our 8 hour flight back from Orlando and quickly confirmed as being the real deal, I had no chance of getting down to Shropshire until a week later, where thankfully this Mediterranean speciality had set up territory in a patch of woodland, often showing well and calling frequently.
Iberian Chiffchaff - Telford, Shropshire
The Iberian Chiffchaff in Telford, Shropshire
After a leisurely lie-in on the Saturday morning, we made our way down to where the bird had set up territory just off Granville Road in Telford (TF2 7NB) for the early afternoon, wholly expecting it to be in full song when we arrived and showing well in the now glorious sunshine (it had apparently snowed that morning!). Sadly however, it didn’t pan out that way, and we endured a painstaking 2 hours staring at a group of trees in the freezing cold (the warmth of the sun had completely vanished to be replaced by menacing looking rainclouds and a chilling breeze) where the bird only called once distantly! Starting to worry, it was a relief therefore when we heard the distinctive call further around the corner, and heading over that way with the group of assembled birders following, Alex eventually tracked down this subtle warbler, calling just a few feet in front of us low down in the branches and showing well.
Iberian Chiffchaff - Telford, Shropshire
For the next ten minutes or so we followed our target through the trees as it worked its way along the hedgerow, often perching in full view and treating us to blasts of now familiar song. Sounding the initial first notes of “chiff chiff chiff”, this was quickly followed by a warbling variation, much different to any of the Chiffchaffs or Willow Warblers that were also present on site that had been singing throughout the afternoon, and unlike several recent birds in West Sussex and Cambridgeshire a few years back (and possibly the Lancashire bird) it was also quite clear that this was not a mixed singer. While every time I pressed record on my camera to try and capture the call the Chiffchaff seemed to go mute (typical!), Alex managed to get an excellent video of the song, illustrated below:


Formerly treated as just a race of Common Chiffchaff in the past, Iberian Chiffchaffs were recognised as a separate species by the BOU 18 years ago due to a range of differences, including vocalisation, morphology and genetics. Indeed, as well as the call, there were slight variations in the plumage that while subtle, were still noticeable in the field at Telford. The bill was slightly longer than a Common Chiffchaff with a much paler lower mandible, while the legs were much lighter, appearing to be an intermediate shade somewhere in between Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. The plumage was also a brighter green than a Common Chiffchaff, often looking a grey-olive colour, while there was a yellowish wash to the head, cheeks and extensive supercilium, again more so than you would expect to see on a Common Chiffchaff. Studying the photos of the bird later at home, I could also clearly see the indistinct and broken eye-ring that is limited to just the lower edge of the eye – another pro Iberian Chiffchaff feature.
Iberian Chiffchaff - Telford, Shropshire
The broken eye-ring on the lower edge of the eye is clearly visible, as is the yellowish colouration of the head and breast
With only 37 accepted records in Britain, this is a bird I have been wanting to catch up with in the UK for a while, having missed the last local bird in Blackpool back in May 2011. With the vast majority of records occurring in the last 10 years however (25 out of the accepted 37), Iberian Chiffchaff has fast turned from what was once a mega rarity in to a now nearly annual expected spring overshoot, with small influxes like this occurring in several of the past recent years.
Iberian Chiffchaff - Telford, Shropshire
With the finer plumage details matching up and the call (which has been recorded and sonagramed) spot on for Iberian Chiffchaff, there is no doubting the ID in my opinion, with this individual being the real deal. It was great to enjoy hearing him sing prolifically and show so well for us – a great addition to my British list after seeing a pair in Spain two years ago and a fantastic bird to hear in person. 
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