Saturday, March 24, 2012

Red-flanked Bluetail

Last October, while I was painting the house, news broke of a mega rarity for the northwest, our first ever Red-flanked Bluetail! Unfortunately, the bird was on the tidal island of Hilbre in the Dee estuary so access would be late afternoon on the receding tide. This gave me enough time to finish my painting, get my birding gear together and be at West Kirby to follow the tide out; but would the bird still be there?
After a yomp over the wet sand (okay a wade through wellie-high seawater!) numerous birders gathered on the east side of Hilbre Island hoping for a glimpse of this enigmatic eastern waif. Time passed and still there was no sign of the bird, anticipation was turning to frustration when news came through that the bird had been re-trapped. After another dash across slippy rocks onto the main island, an eager crowd of birders gathered outside the observatory keen to see their quarry. The bird was duly shown to the assembled group amidst the sound of clicking camera shutters and hushed murmurs of approval. The bird was re-released and later showed well on the sandstone ledges on the east of the island.
A truly fabulous bird for this part of the country, and one that will remain in the memories of all who saw it. On the walk over I snapped a group of birders who where wading through the ebbing seawater, this photo appears in this month's (April) issue of Birdwatch magazine.
Training update - ran 10 miles at 7 min/mile pace followed by 12 miles at 7.37 pace due to a sore thigh muscle. Only 4 weeks to London.
Saw a White Wagtail at Leasowe accompanying a few Pied Wagtails.

Red-flanked Bluetail, what a bird!

Twitchers wading through the ebbing water in the Dee Estuary.

Red-flanked Bluetail being shown to
the crowd of birders.
White Wagtail, (nominate race of Pied Wagtail), Norfolk
April 2011.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Watkin Path

I decided I'd take it easy this week after running the Blackpool Marathon last Sunday, so I decided to have a day off and walk up Snowdon instead! My friend Jane and I walked to the summit via the picturesque Watkin Path. We couldn't believe our luck with the weather, when we climbed this path last August we got soaked to the skin but today (14th) our only problem was overheating in the bright spring sunshine; I even had to apply sunscreen. Managed to see quite a few Ravens on the way up, and a very smart pair of Grey Wagtails were seen on the Afon Cwm Llan. The Watkin Path near the summit is little more than a loose scree slope which provided a little scambling fun, but could be treacherous in poor weather. After visiting the summit, time-out for a picnic was very welcome. We descended via Bwlch Main, a beautiful ridge with stunning views into Cwm Clogwyn and Cwm Tregalan. The impressive summit of Yr Aran was a tempting addition but the fading light precluded this diversion. A curry and a beer in Llangollen on the way home rounded off a beautiful day in Wales.

Pausing to admire the view across Llyn Llydaw

The summit of Snowdon. Sunshine and no mist!

The route down, Bwlch Main with Yr Aran behind.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Marathons hurt. I know, I've just run my twelfth. I have no doubt that marathons cause some degree of discomfort or even pain to anyone that has ever run one; from the fabulous Paula Radcliffe to the 6 hour plus plodders at the back of the field. It's not just the struggle of covering the iconic 26.2 miles on foot that leaves legs like jelly and causes some finishers to walk downstairs backwards for a few days. It's probably more to do with the fact that our bodies only store enough fuel in the form of glycogen to keep us going for about 20 miles.
So while I marvel at the incredible feats of endurance accomplished by human athletes, how even more amazing are the migrations of birds?
Arctic Terns undertake the longest migration of any bird, from the sub-arctic breeding grounds to and from the Antarctic, a staggering round trip of about 22,000 miles. These elegant seabirds obviously feed as they migrate, not unlike runners taking on gels and energy drinks on a long run. But according to Stephen Moss's fascinating book Everything you always wanted to know about birds but were afraid to ask, the longest single migratory flight is probably that of the Bar-tailed Godwit, from southwest Alaska to New Zealand a distance of 6,800 miles in a single flight! That certainly puts my efforts into perspective.
I actually ran the Blackpool Marathon today as a training run for London. I ran 7.10 per mile for the first 22 miles as planned then slowed down to an easy 8 minute mile pace for the final few miles. This gave me the respectable overall time of 3 hours and 10 minutes. Which allowed me to get back home in time to see the England rugby team beat France in a thrilling and close game in Paris.

A stunning summer-plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit, Wallasey,
May 2011.

Arctic Tern, Farne Islands, June 2010.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Avocets and Spoonbills

Ran a tough 22 mile training run last Saturday (3rd), had stomach cramp and a pulled muscle in my thigh, but managed to complete the distance, albeit slowly. But I'm sure these are the miles that will count come the big day in London next month. Zipped down to Inner Marsh Farm on the same day to see the newly arrived Avocets. It's amazing how these birds have spread across the country during the last few years; very elegant but also very feisty birds that belie their graceful and delicate appearance.
Had a morning at Parkgate today (9th), but the high tide didn't come as close to the wall as hoped. But saw some impressive birds including 2 Hen Harriers, a Sparrowhawk, 2 Short-eared Owls and, bird of the day, a magnificent Peregrine that harassed one of the harriers.
Also had quite good views of the immature Spoonbill on the Boathouse Flash. This is another species that will hopefully become more common after recent years' successful breeding in Norfolk.

Avocet at Cley Norfolk, March 2008.

Immature Spoonbill, Parkgate, February 2012 (record shot).

Spoonbill flock, near Cley Norfolk, August 2010.