Friday, December 27, 2013

Winter Birds

Seasons Greetings.

Just a few images from a colder winter taken a couple of years ago in North Wales. Male Bullfinch, Fieldfare and of course a Waxwing.

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Welsh Waxwings

Marsh Tits

Monday, November 11, 2013

Grey Phalarope

The Grey Phalarope is a scarce migrant wader that passes through our region in autumn and is often associated with autumnal gales. They breed in the high Arctic region and as such have little contact with people, hence these birds can be quite tame and approachable. Although one individual I saw at Crosby Marina a few years back was fearless towards people but flew off at the sight of dogs. I can only assume that this is a result of sharing its breeding area with Arctic Foxes.
A juvenile Grey Phalarope was present at Gronant, North Wales for a few days at the end of October. It spent most of its time at the north end (read inaccessible end!) of a large lake situated in the sand dunes. It employed the usual phalarope feeding technique of spinning on the water to disturb food items in the mud of the lake. But I have never see a Grey Phalarope spin so much; it was a veritable grey spinning top! And patience was certainly a virtue, as after a long wait it flew down the lake to a small bay where it gave stunning views.

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Desert Wheatear

Sunday, November 3, 2013


When I was a young boy I received a book on birds which, as far as I can remember, was called Spotting Birds as part of a package of natural history books. What I was really after was a book in the collection on prehistoric animals as that was my real passion as a child, and no right-minded birder would touch a book called Spotting Birds! Anyhow, this book whose cover was adorned with a beautiful Bluethroat and whose pages contained exotic species such as Bee-eaters and, you've guessed it, Hoopoes, sowed an ornithological seed that lay dormant for some years. At the time I did go out and look for these mythical birds in a local quarry and I was not that disappointed when my searching proved fruitless; birding without binoculars isn't easy and anyhow I could easily go and see skeletons of the mighty predator Allosaurus and its prey Camptosaurus at the local museum!
Fast forward a good few decades and it is incredible to think I have seen all three of these colourful birds in Britain; indeed, I have seen at least three different Hoopoes on the Wirral Peninsular.
I have only ever photographed Hoopoes abroad so I was delighted when one recently turned up near Rhyl. Although it took two visits for me to even see the bird, and it proved quite elusive at times, it was well worth the effort. It has been described as the avian equivalent of a butterfly, and who can deny its quirky beauty with its zebra striped plumage, curved bill and outlandish crest that all signify something exotic.
In addition to being difficult to pin down at times, the weather wasn't exactly conducive to photography but with a bit of patience I managed some acceptable shots.



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Azores Bullfinch


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hell Up North

Today I ventured out to a very autumnal Delamere Forest for my annual dose of killer hills, shoulder deep freezing water and bogs oozing with energy sapping stinking brown mud; yes, it's Hellrunner time again! There were plenty of hardy souls (crazed runners if you like) milling around the start area when I arrived. A whole gaggle of Elvis lookalikes were mingling with superheroes, devils, demons and even a few serious runners. At 10 am the first wave of Hellrunners charged across the start line and sped up the first of many hills. There then followed many miles of muddy forest trails and short sharp hills interspersed with ankle deep streams and gullies, as well as logs and fallen trees that had to be negotiated with care; or, if you were flying along, it was just a case of launching yourself at them and hoping for the best!
At around the halfway point the first of the seriously deep bogs had to be tackled. This waist deep mud had hidden logs, branches and areas of deeper mud to catch the unwary. A few more miles of beautiful forest trails and a short run along a shallow stream lulled the runners into a sense of false security. Because the next set of obstacles were steep hills and climbs that had everyone scrambling on hands and knees in a vain attempt to get some form of grip on the slippery slopes; and running down the hills was even more hazardous! There was to be no respite; after a mile of gentle climbing what was probably the most feared obstacle loomed into partial view through a dense stand of willows; the freezing lake. To say it was cold is a gross understatement; to say it was treacherous would be no exaggeration. The calm level surface hid undulations, dips and downright potholes that caught out many runners. But, hey, this is Hell after all, but I think it had frozen over! Many couldn't feel their legs after exiting the water but maybe that was a good thing. The cold must have gone to my head because next thing I knew I was running past a bevy of cheerleaders dressed as fairies!
A quick circuit of Black Lake and I was by the infamous Bog of Doom where I was welcomed with loud cheers from the fantastic crowd of supporters. This stream contains many hidden dangers in the form of sunken logs, dense soggy vegetation and thick glutinous mud that acts like quicksand. At one point I was being sucked back into the bog as I struggled to haul myself out of the gloopy mud. Once out of the bog it was a short mud-encrusted jog around the final field before crossing the finish line in a fabulous seventh place. A welcome hose down was kindly provided by the local fire brigade; the water felt warm in comparison to the lakes and bogs! After changing into dry clothes I purchased a coffee, most of which I spilled due to the shaking of my cold hands! I watched the fabulous drum band for a few minutes before retracing the race route to cheer on the other Hellrunners and take some photos and video. One Hell of a race!

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Hell in the Middle

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Glossy Ibis

I saw my first ever Glossy Ibis back in 1989 at the RSPB's reserve at Fairburn Ings in Yorkshire. It was a beautiful sunny day in late May and the bird in its glossy breeding plumage fed in a shallow reed-fringed pool, unconcerned by the large group of admirers close by. My son wasn't yet one year old and a sudden breeze sent the plastic windmill attached to his pushchair spinning wildly; so much so that I thought it would scare the ibis! Luckily it wasn't bothered by the whirring of the brightly-coloured plastic blades.
This scene is in total contrast to the four Glossy Ibises that I photographed last Sunday on boggy windswept moorland north of Bolton. It was a cold, grey rainy day and initially we struggled to find the birds until one decided to fly out of the dense rush, thereby revealing the location of the other three birds. Despite the weather, and the fact that the birds where in winter/juvenile plumage, it was fabulous to see a flock of these Mediterranean wanderers in the northwest. I hope they stay then hopefully I can return and photograph them in more favourable weather conditions.

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Desert Wheatear

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Jack Snipe

Last weekend I zipped out to North Wales for a spot of birding. I started on the Great Orme where a pair of Lapland Buntings had been reported, but despite scouring the area around the limestone pavement I was unable to find the birds. The strong easterly wind made if feel decidedly chilly so I retreated to the comfort of the cafe at the nearby Conway RSPB reserve. After a very welcome lunch I strolled around the reserve and was delighted to see a Jack Snipe roosting on the edge of a muddy pool. These small relatives of the Common Snipe are normally very secretive, but this bird clearly hadn't read the rule book. Unfortunately, the  hide did not have shutters only glass windows and and photographs taken through the glass were slighlty distorted. By the time the snipe woke up and fed at a site that was viewable without looking through the windows the sky had clouded over, but I still managed to take some reasonable shots of this normally elusive little wader.

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Norfolk in October

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Quay Dolphins

New Quay in Wales is undoubtedly one of the best places in Britain to see Bottlenosed Dolphins. Pack yourself a picnic and settle down on the breakwater wall and enjoy the amazing cetacean show played out in the clear waters of Cardigan Bay. This is exactly what Jane and I did last June, and despite the changeable weather we enjoyed a full day's dolphin entertainment. The animals here can be viewed without optics but to obtain the best views a pair of binoculars is a real boon.
It is not easy to estimate the total number of dolphins seen, but there were at least a two or three mother and calf pairs quite close to the harbour wall, while further out small pods could be seen fishing and performing breathtaking acrobatics in the company of plunge-diving Gannets. Even after many hours of observation it was a struggle to drag ourselves away from this amazing wildlife spectacle; but we will be back.
All photos were taken from the breakwater with a 400mm lens.

This adult Kittiwake fed close to the harbour wall
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Azores Common Dolphins


Sunday, September 1, 2013


This weekend I had two distinctly different birding experiences with two different species of wading bird. The first bird was a beautiful juvenile Dotterel that graced the grassy plateau near the limestone pavement on the Great Orme, Conway. Dotterel breed on grassy tundra and are also a rare breeding bird of the mountain tops in Scotland. This means that they have very little contact with humans and as a result can be quite tame; as was the case with the Welsh bird that approached to within a few feet of where I was sitting in the sunshine. During the two hours that I spent on site only a handful of birders viewed this confiding wader. In total contrast a the Stilt Sandpiper at Neumann's Flash in Cheshire was but a distant speck in my telescope and afforded scant photographic opportunities. But due to its greater rarity many more birders visited this site. On a scale where zero is failing to see a bird at all and ten is giving the proverbial "crippling" views I would award this bird a paltry number one! That is only one better than not seeing the bird at all. OK, joking aside, it was a Cheshire tick for me, but the Stilt Sands that I have seen before at Minsmere in 1997 and in Dorset in 2011 gave much better views. But I wouldn't go as far to say that it was a bad as the Great Knot in the Northeast in 1996, but that's another story.

Although the sun shone brightly for most of the day the wind was
quite strong and the bird made the most of this outcrop of
limestone that offered some respite from the relentless breeze.

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Little Swift