Sunday, March 29, 2015

Iceland Gull

Bizarrely, Iceland Gulls do not breed in Iceland. They do breed in Greenland and Northern Canada, and more interestingly for us, a number of these enigmatic white-winged gulls turn up in Britain during the winter months. March is a good time to find one of these birds as they begin to migrate back to their breeding grounds.
Exactly ten years ago I photographed two Iceland Gulls at Llandullas on the North Wales coast, so I was quite excited when a juvenile bird took up residence at Pensarn not far along the coast from where I last saw this species. Unfortunately, on the bright sunny day that I first visited the shingle beach where the bird had been, to use twitching parlance, "showing well" the gull could not be found. So I amused myself by photographing the local Black-headed Gulls. A week later on a really grey Sunday afternoon I returned to the site and had great views of the bird all to myself. The bird was aged as a juvenile, and was slightly smaller than the accompanying juvenile Herring Gulls. It had pale coffee-coloured barring on the plumage and white tips to the primary feathers. At the time of writing (end of March) the bird is still present. As is the Laughing Gull in New Brighton (see earlier post). It's a great time to be a larophile!

Black-headed Gull

Juvenile Herring Gull


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spotted Redshank and Other Waders.

On a recent visit to Leighton Moss RSPB I had hoped to photograph some Avocets that had returned to the Eric Morecombe pools. Unfortunately, they were feeding on a very distant pool and were only just visible through my telescope. But, as always, there is always something of interest to photograph, and when that other something is one of my favourite waders, a Spotted Redshank, I am more than happy. This elegant winter-plumaged bird fed at times in the company of a Common Redshank, so it was also a good opportunity to study the differences between the two species.
It was a blustery day, and most of the other birds were sheltering from the wind, but Curlew, Oystercatcher and Little Egret all came into photographable range.
Another bonus was the presence of a small group of European White-fronted Geese in a field near the level-crossing. These were probably feeding up on the first leg of their migration back to their breeding grounds. I finished the day off on the main reserve where a unusual pair of Great-crested Grebes were showing interest in one another; unusual because one of the pair was still in winter-plumage. I had hoped they might indulge in their beautiful mating ritual, the famous "weed dance", but maybe they were not quite ready for that.
Also the resident pair of Great Black-backed Gulls that nest on the island opposite the Public Hide were displaying to one another. Although at one point one of the birds almost landed on a lapwing that was also asleep on the island!

Spotted Redshank (left) and Common Redshank


European White-fronted Geese
Black-headed Gull


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leighton Moss Tufted Ducks

I visited my spiritual home at Leighton Moss RSPB again last week! I headed straight for the Public Hide which is situated halfway down the main causeway. This hide overlooks a large expanse of freshwater and is surrounded by extensive reedbeds. It is one of the best places on the reserve to view fabulous species such as Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Otter.
After a dull start to March we were lucky that the sun was shining on the day of our visit. I quickly found a the mother Otter and her two cubs swimming in the distance, but they soon swam out of view. A female Marsh Harrier flew across the reeds on the far side of the reserve and it too disappeared. And the Bitterns failed to materialise while we were there.
But a very common species gave what twitchers would call "crippling views!" There was a small flock of Tufted Ducks milling around right in front of the hide and they provided superb close photographic opportunities for about twenty minutes. The black heads of the males occasionally flashed with a blue iridescence as they swam in the sunlight. I tried to catch this colouration on my camera with moderate success, but they were a joy to watch nevertheless.
There were also six young Mute Swans still sporting some brown juvenile feathers that were also fun to photograph. Two adult swans, most likely the parents of the cygnets, swam past the hide; they will probably not tolerate the presence of these young birds much longer.

Female Tufted Duck


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sizergh Hawfinches

Early one morning last week I stopped for a brief stay at Sizergh Castle on the southern edge of Cumbria. The car park at this picturesque site has become renowned for hosting good numbers of that rare beast of a finch; the Hawfinch. These monsters of the bird world are understandably a major draw for birdwatchers. They regularly feed in the trees and on the ground in the play area and, despite their reputation for being shy, can be seen quite well with a bit of patience.(the finches that is, not the birdwatchers!)
Unfortunately on my visit the light was very poor for photography, and I kept my distance so as not to disturb the birds as they fed on some seed that I had scattered on the ground. There was a good sized flock of common birds making the most of an easy feed; the flock was mostly composed of the Hawfinch's smaller relative the Chaffinch along with Blue, Great and Coal Tits and some stunning Bullfinches. Two different pairs of Hawfinch were seen but none were photographable until a female dropped on to the leaf litter to have a feed. The photographs are definitely "record" shots, but what stunning birds!