Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Update

Had a photo of the Glossy Ibis (click to view)  that was at Leighton Moss RSPB in December published in the UK Bird Sightings section of Birdwatching Magazine.
Marathon training update - ran 17 miles at 7.03 min/mile pace yesterday. It was very cold but the the sun was shining, and more importantly, no wind!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Iceland - Whales

A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit the amazing island of Iceland, mainly to try and see cetaceans, but the birds and geology were truly stunning as well. This post contains a few pics of some of the whales, I'll try and do another soon on the geology and birds.
I stayed near Lake Myvatn for part of the trip which was not far from Husavik, one of the best places in Iceland, if not the world, from which to watch whales and dolphins. I went on two trips with the company North Sailing. The first trip produced sightings of Minke Whales and Northern Bottlenosed Whales, but the second surpassed expectations with not one, but three fabulous Humpback Whales.
The first six photos are all Humpback Whales, note the white flippers visible in some of the photos.The pattern of the tail flukes (fifth Humpback photo) are unique and are used by researchers in photo identification of individual animals.
The last two photos are of Minke Whales, note the falcate dorsal fin of this, the smallest of the rorqual whales.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wind and Waders

Another blustery day. Left the house at 9am on a training run. Made very slow progress down the main roads to Meols, but speeded up a lot once the wind was behind me on the prom. Lots of gulls flying into the teeth of the gale and good numbers of waders including large flocks of Oystercatchers in flight and on the beach at  Leasowe. A nice flock of Ringed Plover was on the sea defences at Moreton, but the highlight for me were my first Sanderlings of the year on the beach at Wallasey.
Managed 17 miles at 7.15 min/mile pace, despite being hit by a few a few large waves!

Sanderling at Wallasey (2008)

Didn't see any Purple Sandpipers today, they were probably
all on the pontoon on New Brighton marine lake. This is a
photo from by the Coastguard station in Wallasey (2006).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bay of Biscay

Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of whale-watching from ferries travelling across the Bay of Biscay. This region has an abundance of marine wildlife and there is a real sense of anticipation as you scan the open sea from the deck not knowing what might appear close to the ship; from the mighty Blue Whale down to the tiny Storm Petrel.The wildlife here is not easy to photograph though. Firstly, because views of animals such as whales and dolphins can be fleeting to say the least. And secondly, the deck of ships such as the Pride of Bilbao are about 100ft above the sea. Nevertheless, here are a few shots from recent voyages.

Fin Whale, second largest animal on the planet.

Common Dolphins occasionally appear in pods numbering in
the  hundreds.

A beautiful Common Dolphin riding the bow wave of the Pride
of Bilbao.
A Cuvier's Beaked Whale logging just below the surface. Note
the scarring on the body. The males of this species are thought
to use their tusks when fighting.

Common Dolphin.

Fin Whale showing the remnants of its "blow". Also note this
species has an asymmetrically coloured jaw, the lower left
being dark and the right is white.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Friday 13th

As a birthday treat for my friend Jane I bought her vouchers for Airkix in Manchester to experience indoor free-fall. It was great fun especially when the instructors spun us up to the full 11 metre height of the wind tunnel, fantastic!
Afterwards we zipped up the motorway to spend the afternoon at Leighton Moss RSPB. The Glossy Ibis was still feeding distantly in the field by the level crossing. We had our picnic in Lilian's Hide and were rewarded with great views of a Bittern catching a fish. Unfortunately, I'd only brought a smallish lens with me due to being in Manchester for the morning, but the pictures aren't too bad; I think the bird has caught a small fish in one of  the photos.
We went in search of the Otters and managed a brief glimpse of one animal as it swam into the reedbed on the far side of the Lower Hide. Undaunted, we waited and and were overjoyed when three Otters re-appeared and began chasing, diving and catching fish in full view. The views through the telescope were magnificent, what truly magical animals they are. It was almost night as we walked back up the public causeway, but Leighton Moss had one more stunning visual treat in store for us; the evening roost of thousands of Starlings. It's almost a cliche to say the sky was black with birds, but it was! You could hear their wingbeats and chattering calls as they flew over us, not to mention their droppings falling like rain. And more than one Sparrowhawk was attracted to this mobile feast. It was a fitting finale to a fabulous day.

Starling Roost at Leighton Moss, November 2011

Photo courtesy of Airkix Manchester
Training update - ran 15 miles today at 7.06 min/mile, (14th Jan), very cold, pleased I completed the distance. Saw Purple Sandpiper for the year list in New Brighton.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Stoatally Amazing

Last June I was lucky enough to visit Conway RSPB in Wales when a family of Stoats was busy playing, fighting and hunting on the rocks by the river. It was an incredible experience to be able to watch two adults and four youngsters at close quarters almost oblivious of their human observers. Indeed, at one point one of the adults ran between the legs of my tripod! Even so they were not easy to photograph, they moved with lightening speed and could disappear in the rocks only to reappear tens of metres away. The young were continually play-fighting and I managed to get a shot of one of them attempting to bite the neck of its sibling; skills they will need to catch their own prey in the future. Like all young they also managed to get into a few scrapes - see the photo of the mud-covered stoat.
But what a privilege to watch and enjoy these fantastic animals. I returned a week later and didn't see a single Stoat, but did manage to photograph a beautiful Bee Orchid.

Training News - ran 12 miles at 7 min/mile pace yesterday, was still very windy on the prom, but did manage to see a first-winter Kittiwake close inshore at Wallasey.

Friday, January 6, 2012

More Owls and Buntings

A few more photos of Snow Buntings and Short-eared Owls from last weekend's trip to Kinmel Bay in Wales. The sun shone for most of the day but it was quite windy. You can see the grains of sand being blown around in the Snow Bunting photos. The owls didn't show as well as in December, but I did manage one or two photos of these fabulous birds flying in the sunshine. The Great Northern Diver was still on the marine lake in Rhyl but was still too distant for any shots.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


LBJ's, or little brown jobs, is birdwatching slang for those boring little birds that usually are brown or beige such as House Sparrows and don't warrant a second glance once they are on your list. But these birds deserve a closer look as they often have a subtle beauty that repays close scrutiny. I came across two such species on a recent trip to photograph the Snow Buntings at Kinmel bay again. I hope the following photos do justice to the often overlooked Linnet and Meadow Pipit.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Marathon Training

It is exactly 16 weeks until the London Marathon so now is the time to plan my training and start doing a few more miles each week. I never take my training seriously enough, but as long as I can run under 3 hours and 15 minutes in April I will be happy. The main aim of my training, apart from the obvious of being able to run 26 miles, is to try and stay free from injury and illness. Here's hoping!
Ran 12 miles along the coast this morning, torrential rain early on, but soon dried off in the strong wind!
Managed 7 minute/mile pace which was okay.
Started my British bird year list at the same time. I keep a list of all the birds I see in Britain during the year. I don't go chasing big totals but it's a nice record of what I've seen each year. Saw usual gulls and shorebirds on my run including some flocks of Redshank and Lapwing. Avian highlight of the day was a good view of a Short-eared Owl flushing a Snipe on Burton Marsh.

Redshank (photographed in Southport a few years ago)