Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spotted Redshank and Other Waders.

On a recent visit to Leighton Moss RSPB I had hoped to photograph some Avocets that had returned to the Eric Morecombe pools. Unfortunately, they were feeding on a very distant pool and were only just visible through my telescope. But, as always, there is always something of interest to photograph, and when that other something is one of my favourite waders, a Spotted Redshank, I am more than happy. This elegant winter-plumaged bird fed at times in the company of a Common Redshank, so it was also a good opportunity to study the differences between the two species.
It was a blustery day, and most of the other birds were sheltering from the wind, but Curlew, Oystercatcher and Little Egret all came into photographable range.
Another bonus was the presence of a small group of European White-fronted Geese in a field near the level-crossing. These were probably feeding up on the first leg of their migration back to their breeding grounds. I finished the day off on the main reserve where a unusual pair of Great-crested Grebes were showing interest in one another; unusual because one of the pair was still in winter-plumage. I had hoped they might indulge in their beautiful mating ritual, the famous "weed dance", but maybe they were not quite ready for that.
Also the resident pair of Great Black-backed Gulls that nest on the island opposite the Public Hide were displaying to one another. Although at one point one of the birds almost landed on a lapwing that was also asleep on the island!

Spotted Redshank (left) and Common Redshank


European White-fronted Geese
Black-headed Gull


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leighton Moss Tufted Ducks

I visited my spiritual home at Leighton Moss RSPB again last week! I headed straight for the Public Hide which is situated halfway down the main causeway. This hide overlooks a large expanse of freshwater and is surrounded by extensive reedbeds. It is one of the best places on the reserve to view fabulous species such as Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Otter.
After a dull start to March we were lucky that the sun was shining on the day of our visit. I quickly found a the mother Otter and her two cubs swimming in the distance, but they soon swam out of view. A female Marsh Harrier flew across the reeds on the far side of the reserve and it too disappeared. And the Bitterns failed to materialise while we were there.
But a very common species gave what twitchers would call "crippling views!" There was a small flock of Tufted Ducks milling around right in front of the hide and they provided superb close photographic opportunities for about twenty minutes. The black heads of the males occasionally flashed with a blue iridescence as they swam in the sunlight. I tried to catch this colouration on my camera with moderate success, but they were a joy to watch nevertheless.
There were also six young Mute Swans still sporting some brown juvenile feathers that were also fun to photograph. Two adult swans, most likely the parents of the cygnets, swam past the hide; they will probably not tolerate the presence of these young birds much longer.

Female Tufted Duck


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sizergh Hawfinches

Early one morning last week I stopped for a brief stay at Sizergh Castle on the southern edge of Cumbria. The car park at this picturesque site has become renowned for hosting good numbers of that rare beast of a finch; the Hawfinch. These monsters of the bird world are understandably a major draw for birdwatchers. They regularly feed in the trees and on the ground in the play area and, despite their reputation for being shy, can be seen quite well with a bit of patience.(the finches that is, not the birdwatchers!)
Unfortunately on my visit the light was very poor for photography, and I kept my distance so as not to disturb the birds as they fed on some seed that I had scattered on the ground. There was a good sized flock of common birds making the most of an easy feed; the flock was mostly composed of the Hawfinch's smaller relative the Chaffinch along with Blue, Great and Coal Tits and some stunning Bullfinches. Two different pairs of Hawfinch were seen but none were photographable until a female dropped on to the leaf litter to have a feed. The photographs are definitely "record" shots, but what stunning birds!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Laughing Gull

Over the years I have seen a number of rare birds in Britain including three American Laughing Gulls; two adults in Norfolk in the nineties and a second summer bird in North Wales ten years ago. So I was unlikely to travel very far to see another one, that is unless one turned up near my home, and that is exactly what happened a few weeks ago!
I live three miles from New Brighton on the Wirral, so when a group of visiting birders from Manchester found a Laughing Gull on the marine lake in the resort I dashed to the site at the first available opportunity. For the first few days the bird was quite mobile and when I arrived it was feeding near the lighthouse on the incoming tide at a distance of over half a mile away. Luckily it took to roosting on a pontoon on the marine lake that is regularly used by wading birds as a safe place to rest over the high tides.
Birders often talk about the tameness of a bird (especially gulls) by saying "it was coming to bread". Well there was plenty of bread on offer on the pontoon, but some enterprising individuals had sprinkled a few shrimps on the wooden platform and these tasty morsels proved irresistible to the vagrant gull. At times it came closer than any other bird on the lake, providing birders and photographers with unrivalled views.
Now I know that gulls are not every wildlife-watchers cup-of-tea, but I have to confess to being a bit of a larophile (lover of gulls!). So that even in its drab first winter plumage I found it to be an immensely interesting bird. The adult birds with their black hoods and dark grey backs and wings are most attractive. Hopefully this bird, which still exhibits some brown juvenile feathering, will stick around and develop more of a black hood. It is still present three weeks after being found.
Another popular bird that frequents the pontoon at this time of the year is the Purple Sandpiper. This scarce dumpy wader is found on rocky coasts and is something of a speciality on the Wirral, with birds regularly spending the winter on the northern coast and on Hilbre Island in the mouth of the River Dee. There were at least a dozen of these roosting on the pontoon when I was photographing the  Laughing Gull. Also present was a solitary ghostly-white Sanderling. All in all it was an excellent morning spent close to home.

Purple Sandpiper


Redshanks and Turnstones


First-winter plumaged Herring Gull


Sunday, February 22, 2015


I am very lucky to work in a hospital that was built on a site that is surrounded by extensive parkland; the site of a former country house. This is a much needed green space on the edge of a large urban area. It is widely-used by the local population but sadly much underused by the hospital staff. It provides me with welcome respite from my work and would surely benefit more people if only they would stretch their legs and investigate what the park has to offer. I know from personal experience that wildlife watching is very therapeutic.
I have birdwatched this area for a number of years and over that time I have seen some special birds including Grasshopper Warbler, Cuckoo, Kingfisher and even a flock of Whimbrel. There is an ornamental lake and waterfall that attracts a small selection of wildfowl, but a surprise visitor the other day was a stunning Little Egret. Not so long ago this was a real rarity, even nationally, but the nearby Dee Estuary has a thriving breeding population, but this was a first for me in the park.
Another bird that has increased in the park recently is the Mandarin Duck. This is an introduced species but the gaudy males are stunning birds. They have bred in the park in recent years but on a lunchtime stroll last week I saw more than a dozen males; the most that I have ever seen at one time. And what a spectacular sight they made; parading like little rainbow-coloured sailing boats with their orange spinnakers on full display. Their beauty was somewhat undermined by their pig-like grunting! The females were far-more demure and subtly-plumaged. I only had my compact camera with me at the time, so I vowed to return with my DSLR to try obtain some sharper images.