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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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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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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