Monday, December 10, 2012

Waxwings 3 (Welsh Waxwings)

Regular readers already know of my love of Waxwings and this winter is turning out to be a classic one for this irregular visitor. I have already photographed a few medium sized flocks of these beautiful birds but I am still trying to find a large flock to enjoy and at the moment Wales seems to be a good bet for such an
Time has been a limiting factor on my birding trips recently and last Saturday afternoon was no exception. A brief stop in Chester where a few Waxwings had been reported in the morning proved fruitless, so I drove on to Denbigh where a flock of seventy birds had been seen earlier in the day. I had already visited the site at Brookhouse Mill two weeks earlier after photographing the Desert Wheatear at Rhyl, but there were no Waxwings to be seen on the afternoon of that day. Today, I was more fortunate as the birds could be seen feeding in bushes right on the main road as I pulled into the mill carpark. Four other birdwatchers were present when I arrived, but didn't stay long, so I had a flock of over one hundred of these fabulous birds almost to myself; apart from the friendly locals who were most interested in what I was photographing. The birds were very obliging and only flew into the high trees when surprised by a Sparrowhawk. Unfortunately, it was a dull afternoon but I still managed to take some acceptable photographs. I have no doubt that I will spend more time with these avian beauties this winter.

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Desert Wheatear

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Llanberis Path

I managed to scrounge a day off work last Thursday in order to make the most of the weather and walk up Snowdon with my friend Jane. I hadn't been to Snowdon since the mountain race in July and was keen to walk up the Llanberis Path as I had only ever run this route before.
This is often known as the tourists path and can be like Piccadilly Circus in the summer, but we only saw one other walker on the way up and only a few people at the top; bliss.
The weather was perfect, cold with bright sunshine, almost tee-shirt weather on the ascent. But what a difference near the summit; thick snow that was quite possibly eight inches deep in places. The view from the top was simply stunning. It was possible to clearly see all of the Llyn Peninsula out to Bardsey Island, and in the far distance Ireland and the peaks of the Lake District were visible.
We enjoyed a tasty picnic in the sunshine on the descent and attempted to feed the local ravens ,which were the commonest bird on the mountainside. A hot curry in Llangollen on the way home rounded off a brilliant day.

The View from the Summit.

Me with Carnedd Ugain in the background.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Waxwings 2

After lunch in Liverpool with my son Adam, I returned to the Wirral via the Birkenhead tunnel and was delighted to find a flock of over sixty Waxwings not far from the tunnel exit. I took some record shots and a brief snippet of video. There was an irate Mistle Thrush (whose rattling call can clearly be heard on the video) trying to defend his berry supply from the ravenous hordes of Waxwings.

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Norfolk in October


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Desert Wheatear

Today I had planned to go in search of more Waxwings in North Wales as there had been reports of some large flocks of these colourful birds. But news of a rare Wheatear near Rhyl in Clwyd had me heading for the coast. After a brief drive around near the golf course I found a suitable parking place and headed along the seawall adjacent to the golf links.
A small group of birders was gathered in the afternoon wintry gloom watching a small bird flitting along the seawall. It flew and landed right by me; my second ever Desert Wheatear! It's what I would call a birder's bird; not bright and gaudy like a Waxwing, but endowed with a subtle beauty that repays detailed examination. And as this bird exhibited a tameness to rival any Waxwing, its plumage details were easily observed and duly appreciated. It fed on small flies along the seawall unperturbed by the presence of birdwatchers and passing walkers and cyclists. The views could only have been bettered if the sun had broken through the clouds, but what a fabulous little bird.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Men's Health Survival of the Fittest

Last Saturday I took part in a crazy race organised by Men's Health Magazine called Survival of the Fittest. The race over 10k took place in and around that iconic grade II listed building Battersea Power Station on the south bank of the River Thames.
It's the largest brick building in Europe and has appeared on the Pink Floyd album Animals and the plant's interior control room also featured on the cover of Hawkwind's Quark, Strangeness and Charm album. What better place for a 6 mile urban assault course could there be?
My hotel was in Victoria, so an early morning jog along the Thames was required to reach registration on time. Around ten thousand runners had applied to run the race, so thankfully we were starting in waves of around 300 throughout the day and I was in the first wave.
At 9 o'clock a mixed bunch of athletes, fun-runners, charity runners and an assortment of costumed joggers, including Village People, animals and super heroes, sprinted for the first obstacles, the hay bales. The rain was falling and the bales were slippy so naturally I slipped down the tallest of the bales, but I soon regained my footing and climbed over the top and was back into my running stride. A few loops around the power station grounds was followed by some rain-soaked parkour obstacles which I negotiated gingerly. The course then headed towards Battersea Park but not before I had to crawl through some raised tunnels that were so low that I had to inch along on my stomach. It was nice to stretch my legs in the park and I managed to overtake a few other competitors including the biker from the Village People! I also noted numerous Ring-necked Parakeets calling from the trees.
We then entered Millennium Park where we had a taste of the Olympics by running around a steeplechase course, once again it was treacherous due to the rain. A quick run through the streets brought us back towards the Power Station where numerous tunnels, climbs, skips, mud, ice, and fire hoses where brought into play to sap the runners' energy. In all there were almost 100 obstacles on the course including the infamous Men's Health Wall of Fame near the finish. After pausing briefly to get my breath, I successfully overcame this final barrier unaided. Cold, wet, bruised and bloody I was pleased with my performance and jogged back to my hotel with a smile on my face; much to the amusement of passing later wave runners heading for the start and wondering what they had let themselves in for.

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Snowdon Mountain Race

Sunday, November 18, 2012


If you phone the bird information services, or have a rare bird pager, or browse the web for news of the latest rarities you will be familiar with the names of the country's birding hot spots such as Cley in Norfolk, Fair Isle or the Scillies. But recently other names have been swamping the bird news services such as Tesco, Mecca Bingo and even Bargain Booze!
This can mean only one thing; Waxwings are here, and this winter birdwatchers and the general public alike are in for a bountiful bonanza of these colourful Scandinavian crowd-pleasers. Being mainly berry eaters they are fond of rowan, hawthorn and cotoneaster berries which are often planted in urban areas, hence their  predilection for turning up in some unlikely places.
Waxwings are undoubtedly, one of my favourite birds and I never pass up an opportunity to see them or photograph them so I could be quite busy over the next few months. In keeping with their choice of feeding areas I visited B&Q in Llandudno last week, not to try and improve my woeful DIY skills, but to try and photograph a flock of about forty of these avian beauties that had taken up temporary residence in the area.
My time was limited but I managed some acceptable shots before heading to Conway RSPB.
Today I saw a single bird in the car park of Arrowe Park Hospital in Upton, before heading over to Liverpool where a flock of over one hundred had been reported. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived there were only ten birds present. Never mind, I'm sure plenty more photographic opportunities with Waxwings will present themselves over the coming months.
Keep your eyes peeled on those berry bushes, and if you haven't seen any yet this year, don't worry they will no doubt be coming to a car park near you some time soon!

All the above photos were taken in Llandudno, the following four were taken in Liverpool.

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Norfolk in October

Leighton Moss

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I had planned to visit Conway RSPB reserve this weekend in the hope of seeing the starling roost.
By pure coincidence there was a flock of Waxwings at nearby Llandudno, a bird which I will always go out of my way to see (photos in the next post). Unfortunately, due to family commitments I couldn't stay long with the Waxwings so I drove to Conway RSPB for a coffee. After a delicious bowl of parsnip and apple soup, I was enjoying my coffee when my son, Adam, pointed out a bird in the bushes right outside the cafe window; it was a Firecrest!
Camera in hand, I shot out of the cafe and managed to grab a few shots of this beautiful, but elusive, sprite as it made its way along a small hedge. The bird then flew to the car park and I did not see it again all afternoon, but what a great sighting.
The starlings started to arrive at about 4pm in flocks varying in size from a few individuals to hundreds, but none were in the mood to perform their aerial ballet and they all dived straight into the reedbed to roost. But, nevertheless it was a great afternoon's birding.

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Norfolk in October
Stoatally Amazing

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Leighton Moss

My friend Jane and I visited this fabulous RSPB reserve towards the end of October in the hope of photographing Kingfishers on the Eric Morecombe pools. Unfortunately the Kingfisher did not show but there is always plenty to see at this amazing site.
One of the highlights was undoubtedly the Bearded Tits visiting the grit trays on the public causeway. We nearly missed them as they tend to show well first thing in the morning and we didn't arrive until 10. But we did see at least three birds including a stunning male.
Other highlights included Marsh Tit, Mediterranean Gull, two Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk and a mini starling roost - I'm sure the numbers will pick up as winter approaches. The Red Deer were bellowing loudly from the reedbed but were very difficult to see, but a stag did splash across  the pool in front of the Tim Jackson hide. Mostly we could just see antlers moving above the reeds! The day finished with a beautiful sunset followed by a delicious curry in Carnforth.

Female Bearded Tit, near the grit trays on
the public causeway.

Adult winter-plumaged Mediterranean Gull.

Male Chaffinch - I have photographed a lot of Chaffinches recently,
but despite being extremely common they are quite attractive birds.

Marsh Tit - Leighton Moss is an excellent place to see this species.

Coots are one of the quintessential birds of the reserve and are
full of character.

Sunset from Tim Jackson hide - there were at least three Red Deer
Stags hidden in the reedbed.

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Friday 13th
Insects and Birds