Friday, 27 December 2013

Boxing Day Birding

Firstly I would like to say a very Merry Christmas to all my friends and fellow bloggers. Spent a really nice day at my sisters having a cracking lunch with lots of beverages so when Shaun text me asking if I fancied a look down Burton on the Boxing Day, I thought it would be a great chance to see some great birds and clear the cobwebs!!

With all the talk of Buff Bellied Pipit and kicking myself for missing the chance to go with Dermot Smith and see it Sunday before our WeBS count, I arrived with a sense of optimism that the bird would still be about. Upon arrival, we had to park miles back from our usual spot by the gate at the bottom of station road as the world and his wife had descended upon our patch :( Walkers, Cyclists, Twitchers, Dogs, Kids, you name it they were all at the bottom of Station Rd!!

Never mind, encouraging signs of birders with scopes all trained on an area by the flag looked promising. Now for those that are not aware, on Thursday 5th December, we had a major storm surge and high tide, this was one of (if not the highest) I had ever seen and being a witness at Parkgate on that day to what I can only describe as a mini tsunami, was something I will never forget. The tide was that high that the water pushed all the debris from the marsh right up and over the tarmac path at Burton. Colin Wells and his staff did an excellent job of clearing the debris and clearing the track. What remains is an area of flattened marsh and reeds close to the road, that is a veritable haven for small birds who are feeding in amongst the detritus and boy are they having fun.

Amazingly the first birds we saw were Chiffchaffs, a couple of birds were feeding no less than a metre away from the road and were flying along the fenceline and in brambles, providing excellent views. The call was that they were the Siberian Chiffchaff as the buff face and breast sides and also a buff supercilium stand out. I suppose there is a great deal of overlap in these species (collybita, abientinus, tristis) so will put the pics on and let readers draw there own conclusions, certainly looked good for me :)


As you can see, from the above pictures Shaun took, very difficult to make definite ID with sunlight as well, but birders present agreed at least one of the birds was a tristis. 

Well, it was a great place to watch and as well as the numerous Meadow Pipits and the lovely Stonechats that kept appearing, in the field opposite we had Redwing and Fieldfares. Now then to find the Buff Bellied Pipit was not easy, nobody present had located it and it was now 11.30am. Viewing these birds in amongst this excellent camouflaging debris was quite difficult and the pipits as always were on the move constantly feeding and disappearing now and then behind various rafts of reed and rubbish. I went further up by the gate and trained my bins on a huge pile of vegetation that had caught my attention because a solitary pipit was sitting on top whilst everyone was looking the other way, hmmm. Bingo... Buff Bellied Pipit, oh, just as I was about to announce, the bugger flew off, grrrrrrrrrr. Trying to relocate was a nightmare and after about half an hour, we decided to walk up the track towards Burton Point as it was now becoming rather congested (bloody packed)!

Walking along this track is normally peaceful, however today it was like the M1, "can you not hear the bell deafhead" muttered an angry cyclist as he manouvered around the throngs of xmas walkers, this was an ongoing problem and after initial amusement, became rather boring. I was enjoying, Rooks, Wigeon, Egrets and a lovely Merlin that flew like a bullet along the fenceline out on the marsh :) Shaun spotted some Stonechats that were following us along the nearby Burton Marsh Farm fencing, flying into the field then back up onto the wire fence flicking their tails very gracefully.

Lovely birds and always pleasing to see them here at Burton. A bit further along we spotted a group of Pied Wagtails all feeding quite happily and oblivious to the folks passing by :) 

Linnets and Goldfinches were in gorse just up past the cattle grid and the harsh clicks of an annoyed Robin allowed us to focus in on his majestic red breast. Wandering off the track and towards the rifle range (thankfully closed today) Shaun waved me over. "What you got mate?" ......"Shortys back" he said, I looked over and there was our old mate, the Short Eared Owl, brilliant!! I got my new phoneskoping attachment and placed it on the scope and took these shots. As you can see a Magpie flew on the post alongside the Owl, rather bravely and boldly, typical of the species! 

Superb!!! After enjoying this magnificent bird for a while, we walked along the track by the rifle range to see if we could spot some ducks on the pool further out on the marsh. Along the way we spotted a Merlin sitting on a fencepost and a Great White Egret was further out still. A pair of Buzzards watched from nearby trees as we flushed Lapwing, Redshank, Golden Plover who all flew off calling loudly. As we arrived at the pool, no ducks!! Just one Coot who had the gaff to himself and swam around like cock of the rock!! Nevermind, it had been an icy morning and part of the pool was still frozen over, so probably explains this lack of birds. 

On the way back Shaun spotted a Peregrine and it flew from a gatepost right across in front of us and out onto a perch on the marsh. Time was ticking on so we headed back in the hope the BBP had been relocated. We were in luck as Ken & Tony, fellow birding buddies had seen it to the right of the gate where we had seen the Chiffchaff. After some searching and going a bit bog eyed trying to see the distinguishing dark median coverts, (almost like a japonicus) but defo a rubescens, success, the bird appeared and happily showed for a good ten minutes or so before we had to make tracks for lunch and I was going out for the footy. A great couple of hours birding down on the patch and not very often you get to see a V*** well happy. Here is a library pic of a cracking pic taken by the Hilbre Bird Obs team

Big thanks to all my readers and a special thanks to my good friend Shaun who provides the transport and takes some cracking photos and Paul from Liverpool :) It's been a good year and I'm now on 214 for the year so not bad considering most of the birds have been seen in the North West!! A mention to Alan Davies and Ruth Miller whose excellent book The Biggest Twitch gave me writing inspiration and to other bloggers who also provided inspiration for me to get started as I still read their blogs regularly, Findlay Wilde, Matt Thomas, Keith (@holdingmoments), Ellis Lucas, Phil Woolen, Austin Morley, Warren (@liverbirder) to name just a few. 

All the best for the New Year


Shaun Hickey (Photography)

Monday, 18 November 2013

Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) Sunday 17th November 2013

A little while ago, I saw a post on facebook asking for volunteers to help with the local WeBS count. Both myself and good friend Shaun decided to have a go and we had our initiation on the 20th October at a place called Mount Manisty. It was a great experience so when Dermot Smith (local WeBS co-ordinator) asked if we could attend the following month, we both agreed and this is a description of our day :-

Shaun picked me up around 6.45am and we set off for the local oil refinery Stanlow our designated meet up point. On arrival we were met by Dermot, a new guy John and hardened counters Mick and Andy. We were told that unfortunately we were stretched this morning and only had the six people available to do the count! Last month we had nine people. Anyways, what happens now is that we have to report to security and each hand in some photo ID and get a security pass as we have to pass through the plant at No3 gate. We leave the first security area, get buzzed through some barriers to No3 gate and then go through the same procedure there, all very secure as you would expect.

After a short wait at No3 gate, our minibus arrived and took us to the ferry docking area. The ferryman then comes across the Manchester Ship Canal and takes us across to the other side and through more secure gates onto the marshes. This is a fantastic place for wildlife, it's untouched and we are very pleased that we have this opportunity to view the birds that many others will never get to see.

We then all make our way to the River Gowy Estuary and usually flush Teal and Redshank in great numbers from the gutters as we go. Today, however their was only a small number? a sign of things to come maybe? A short while further on, we meet up and Dermot hands us some maps of the general areas of the marshes and advises us which we will be covering. Dermot and John were walking a couple of miles to Mount Manisty, Andy and Mick were to remain in the same spot and cover some of Manisty and Ince and the Gowy Estuary and myself and Shaun had a refreshing four mile walk up to Ince Marshes and Frodsham score :) Glad I brought my stout walking boots (although as I found, they need a waterproof respray) :(

The weather was forecast to be overcast and they were not kidding. Visibility was very poor and as we set off towards Ince we could only see a few hundred yards out into the marshes as a blanket of fog and mist was swirling around like a grey curtain. We flushed some Redshank and Teal from the Ship Canal as we went along and also spotted a Coot and a Moorhen, all these water birds are added to the count. In the bushes alongside the canal, we were joined by Chaffinch, Wren, Robin, Great tit and quite a few Pied Wagtails. We also spotted some fresh badger tracks.

As we went further along the track Shaun said that he could see some Swans up ahead and sure enough big white blobs emerged out of the gloom. It was very difficult to make out the species, mainly Mute Swans we thought with the odd Whooper, hopefully the fog would lift and allow us better views. "Cronk cronk cronk", Ravens notified us of their presence with their unmistakable calls, a party of about seven birds curiously eyed us and followed us along the path for a short way.

We saw quite a few sheep carcasses along the path, and no doubt these Ravens had been feasting at one time or another on a nice juicy eye or some ribs! Yuk, further along in what seemed like a never ending track, we came to a wildfowlers hut so knew we were not far from our watching point. The sun had managed to penetrate the mist and just then we saw Lapwings and a lot of them, mixed in with flocks of Starlings. Their peewit cries and tumbling flight as they come down to land are a joy to watch.

Lots of Linnets and Meadow Pipits were feeding close to the paths and also a few Reed Buntings. Occasionally the odd rabbit, went scurrying across the path also.

We crossed through another gated area and across whats called the Holpool Gutter, no birds other than a solitary Redshank was flushed. A strange looking wagtail could be seen feeding in and around a water trough, it's face looked very yellow, however some young birds do get this greenish/yellowish tinge in the winter months, so just a pied/white wagtail.

Climbing up an embankment we finally came to our designated spot to look out onto the River as the high tide was due at around 10.40am. We sought shelter behind an old anti aircraft gun turret that now had a tree sprouting out of the top! A curious sight indeed, but good cover.

At first glance, the main birds out on the River were Canada Geese, followed by mainly Wigeon, some Mallard and some large flocks of Dunlin wheeling overhead.

Scanning the banks as the tide approached we could see, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Cormorants, Grey Herons and the odd Shelduck, Redshank and Little Egret. The Canada Geese were building in numbers and were coming in with the tide. The Dunlin flocks were small and compact but big enough to contain a few thousand birds. Scanning the fields alongside the River, I could see Curlew and Golden Plover. All the time, I am making notes in my book of numbers of birds sighted.

Shaun walked a further mile down the bank to a bend where the Mersey and River Weaver meet, through the scope I could see fair number of Shelduck and more Geese, so as Dermot had suggested to us, he set off to take notes and see what else was around the corner. He had not been gone long, when the birds took flight and a hunting Peregrine came into view, always a welcome sight as it gives you a further chance to count the birds whilst airborne!

Shaun returned a bit later on with his list of birds and had flushed around 50 Black tailed Godwits which are shown in this pic.

He had also seen around 365 Shelduck, 600 Dunlin, and over 300 Canada Geese, so worth the trip to see what we would not have seen from our vantage point. At high tide, I spotted a couple of Pintail, always nice birds to see on the count. Time had flown by and we had to make our way back, however on the way, we got a better view of the Swans, and final counts showed 48 Mute and 15 Whoopers.

We had spotted the odd Buzzard throughout the walk, however Shaun spotted a small bird of prey fly across from the marsh and alight on a post on the other side of the ship canal, female Merlin! Wow, what a fantastic little bird and she blended in so well with the vegetation in the background that had we not seen her fly across, would not have known she was there at all!!

Further on we spotted a small group of Pink Footed Geese and had seen just the one Greylag today, further Lapwing and Canadas were added to the count. On the way out Shaun and I were certain we had seen a Great White Egret but the gloom had been that bad we were unsure. Minutes further down the track and Boom, GWE flew out from by the bank and settled down on the marsh nearby before disappearing down into one of the gutters.

When we got back to the others, they had seen two Great White Egrets as well on their own patch near to Manisty, so that was three birds for the day :)

Ferry back across the MSC and bussed out of Stanlow, we met to collate the Data and Dermot will then include it in his records and send us details via spreadsheet.

This is a list of what Wetland birds including birds of prey myself and Shaun spotted today.

Information can also be found on the following links and Dermot is always looking for birding volunteers to assist in the counts.


Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photography)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Walk along Burton Marshes - Wednesday Evening 23rd October

Shaun rang me and asked if I fancied the last hour or so before sunset down at Burton Point. A few minutes later he pulled up in the van and we were at Station Rd Burton for 4.45pm. The wind was quite strong when we arrived and a few Pied Wagtails were hunkered down on the tarmac path trying to keep as low as possible to shelter. We soon displaced them and they were instantly blown into Burton Marsh Farm and the surrounding sheep fields! The usual corvids were out on the marsh and a few Geese were flying over. This is a small flock of Pink Footed Geese.

Passing the cattle grid, we could hear a Robin and the odd Wren as is usual down here, also a Dunnock popped his head out to see who was passing by. Scanning the marsh, there was no sign of the Shorty, may still be a bit early. A hunting pair of Kestrels swooped overhead and we watched as they coursed the marshes looking for a tasty treat for supper.

A flock of Goldfinches took briefly to the air, then thinking better of it, they took refuge by flying into the gorse bushes at the back of the Sealand MOD Firing range (no shooting this evening)

Just then Shaun spotted a lovely Stonechat perching on a dead tree stump and manouvered himself to get the sun behind for a record shot. It wasn't shy and was a right little poser. When Shaun e.mailed me the pics later on that night, it turned out to be a cracker.......

Wow !! It was flitting about trying to catch a few insects before it retired for the night, see below......

I scanned for the Little Owls on the sandstone bank at the point, but could not see them. Walking over the long boardwalk, we could see that some irrigation work has been done on the ditches and the surrounding banks. This will no doubt help with all the rain that has fell and is forecast in the near future. Should also attract some wildfowl hopefully :) Scanning the pools over at IMF, we could see very little activity, however the fields at the back of BMW were full of Canada Geese with one Black Swan in amongst them. The very far pool contained about 8 Whooper Swans and a small number of Teal and Little Egret.

The Canada Geese took to the air and were very noisy as they passed overhead, heading to the marsh for their roosting spot.

On the walk back towards the van, a Peregrine appeared overhead and flew out across the marsh. A Water Rail was squealing from the dense reeds and trees just before the cattle grid and a female Tawny was then heard giving an alarm call somewhere above us and over by the railway line and the farm. Just then Mr Fox came into view.

I gave a few squeaks through pursed lips and he trotted down to get a closer look through the wooden fence by the farmers sheep control area! :)

He gave us the once over and after marking his territory, all along the sheep pens! moved off into the night.

Our usual scan for the Barn Owl, resulted in a good sighting of the pair. One flew down into the gorse bushes before flying back up into the nesting box to join his mate, the other just sat at the hole watching. The male (presumably) then flew out over the grass and dived down on a small mammal and fed on it!! Much to the bemusement of the other bird at the box who was probably thinking "Hey, I want half"

I bumped into Sean D an old mate from Chester Zoo who was also out looking at the Owl, small world. Behind us a Stonechat was calling and I did wonder if it was our mate from earlier who had maybe followed us back along the tarmac path?

A good few hours birding before dark.


Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photography)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

High tide at Hoylake

I was doing some gardening at home in between the rain showers and I received a call from my friend Shaun to see if I fancied a trip to Hoylake for the high tide. It was around 2pm in the afternoon so high tide was due shortly and with the added wind factor may be good for seabirds.

We arrived at Hoylake at approx 2.30pm and the sea was very choppy indeed. I got the scope out but after 5 minutes it was clear it was not needed as the wind was that strong, I had no shelter and viewing through the scope was possible but not brilliant as I was trying to hold it still!! The waders were quite close, so back in the van went the scope and I opted for the binoculars. As the wind was right in your face from the promenade front at Kings Gap, this was tiring. We both received some reprieve by leaning on a Biffa waste bin to steady ourselves.

Dunlin, Sanderling, Plovers, Barwits, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Gulls, were amongst the many birds on the beach. Grey, Ringed and Golden Plover were visible. Watching the Sanderling is normally very entertaining as they dart along the sand and dodge the incoming tide, however today most were hunkered together in small flocks sheltering from the gale.

Just then despite the high tide and a fierce wind, a dog walker arrived and despite their being hardly any sand to walk, had to be on the beach and the dogs put the birds up!!

We drove a bit further along the prom and spotted some Golden Plover, Shaun took these nice pictures of a single bird, in between the odd ray of sun bursting through the clouds, the golden plumage on the bird looked magnificent.

We spotted a solitary Dunlin that seemed to have either something wrong with a leg, or it was having a torrid time standing up in the wind, it was constantly flapping it's wings to stay upright whilst it tried to feed :(

Small groups of Sanderling were showing well and further out we could see quite a lot of Redshank.

Not huge numbers of Ringed Plover like in late August/early Sept when as many as 1600 birds were recorded at West Kirby, however we could pick out the odd bird in amongst the flocks.

After trying various places to get the best viewing out of the wind, it was pointless as it was right at you! We had a walk across the grass by the lifeboat station, however apart from a few Pied Wagtails, no other birds were sheltering. We opted to drive a bit further up and watch from inside the van.

On the drive up, I spotted a bird on of all places a tennis court!! Stop! Go back, we reversed and a young Guillemot was sitting on the court. It was obvious it had been blown in and had been sheltering from the wind. Shaun took a picture as it was unusual to see to say the least!

We then had a chat about what to do? To leave it, would be maybe to condemn it to the fate of a wandering dog or some local scallies that may not have been very accommodating. The court was open so access could be gained by anyone or anything!! Also, could it take off from a prone position like this, we thought with great difficulty maybe just? Could it gain momentum to get high enough up and out over the court fence? We decided it would be best to help it get back out to sea. Shaun picked it up with little fuss apart from a few cries and a bit of a peck. Shaun carried it to the promenade front and released it over the edge and it took flight straight away and flew very boldly right out to sea :) A good result

We drove to a slipway by a small roundabout and started a seawatch. Quite a few Shelduck were visible in small groups and the odd Cormorant was flying past. The lifeboat was launched as were watching and boy did it struggle through the waves, somebody was in trouble somewhere out to sea.

As we were both looking out we spotted a small black bird down low near to the sea about half way out. It was a Leach's Storm Petrel!! Quite a few had gone back a few weeks ago after our first Atlantic storm of the Autumn, however today, we just spotted the one bird.

A fitting end to an afternoons birding and as always, eventful!!


Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photography)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Open Day at Deeside Naturalists' Society

Saturday 5th October 

Took a trip over the border into Wales with Shaun to see what the other side of the Dee Estuary had to offer. The Deeside Naturalists were holding an open day on the mile long reserve that runs along the River Dee and the Dee Estuary by Connah's Quay power station. Met up with our scouse mate Paul and after being scrutinised on entry by CCTV and having our number plates logged (the site is managed and owned by e.on) we parked up at the field studies centre and popped in for a chat. Dr Paul Brewster manager of Focalpoint Optics was inside and after a brief chat, we walked down the paths and into the first hide.

Quite a few waders were roosting and incuded Redshank, Spotted Reds, Black tailed Godwits and a few Greenshank. As we were looking the shrill call of a Kingfisher alerted us and gave a quick fly by in front of the hide before disappearing out of view.

The odd Grey Heron and Little Egret was also present along with a few Teal and Mallard. We moved further down the road and into another hide but it was fairly quiet out on the pools in front with just a few Black Headed Gulls and a few Redshank resting up. Walking along the road that runs between the power station and the estuary, planted either side are various shrubs, trees and bushes, which give good cover to protect the birds from view. Further down the road it opened up a bit and we could see hundreds of Goldfinches forming flocks and feeding on the weed seeds on the banks of the Dee.

Overhead, Skylarks and the odd Meadow Pipit could be heard passing by. A bit further up we spotted a female Reed Bunting (we think) in a tree nearby.

The tide had not long come in and quite a few Redshank mainly were making their way up the River to their Roosting areas. The main West Hide which is two storeys was quite busy so we waited outside but had good views of Shoveler, Tufted Duck and a pair of Buzzards overhead that was joined by a Sparrowhawk circling higher above them.

When we got into the hide we could see Flint Castle and in the foreground on the banks of the Dee were mainly Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank, Godwits and the odd Shelduck.

On the river were quite a few gulls, including a large number of Great Black Backs and mainly Black Headed and Herring Gulls. Looking out over the river gave views of Parkgate.

After chatting with a few familiar faces and watching a Peregrine perched out on a Pylon, we made our way back to the field centre, on the way, we watched four Ravens in an aerial duel, the wedge shaped tales very noticeable. When we got back to the van, we had a bite to eat before setting off to Burton for a few hours. It was worth coming to have a look and I can imagine it being a good place to see birds especially in the winter months when the geese and wader numbers increase. Here is a link to the webiste :-

Parking up at Station Rd we had a walk along the tarmac path as far as the shooting range at Sealand. Again, large flocks of Goldfinches (mainly juvs) were nearby a manure pile at Burton Marsh Farm along with the odd Linnet and Pied Wagtail.

Dodging the cyclists and Dog Walkers (only one had a dog not on a lead), we scanned for the Little Owls with no success. Walking back we received some abuse from a fat cyclist who had somehow managed to tuck his lard ass into lycra shorts "Oh look, it's the greater spotted tit heads" he said, how funny, there's a first time for everything I suppose.

This rare bird flew right overhead, any ideas??

We then spotted a small bird on top of the reeds, it was flying up into the air from the reed almost flycatcher like and was catching insects and then flying back down. We had not brought the scopes so had to make do with the bins, but first impressions were fem Stonechat. We had seen these birds here throughout the year and it was the most likely candidate, especially when it flew off and the white wing patch was evident. Here are some pics.

Apart from a Buzzard and a female Kestrel we had seen over the marsh, no sign of any Harriers. We headed off to Inner Marsh Farm. Upon arrival it was quite busy and straight away we saw some lovely Golden Plover in amongst the Lapwings.

A solitary Greenshank was nearby and we had some good views of Snipe feeding in the reeds.

Other birds out on the scrape, included Curlew Sandpipers, Black tailed Godwits, Greylag and Canada Geese, Teal and a few Wigeon. Over on the other far pool I could make out one or two returned Pintail :)

It was getting late, but before we left we had an unexpected flyover by a Great White Egret. You could see his long neck tucked tight in and his trailing legs which stick out way past his tail.

A nice end to the night and another enjoyable day out with good company. Oh and in the car park by the RSPB buildings, I heard a Chiffchaff calling and also the manic laugh of a Green Woodpecker :)


Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photography)
Paul Kurs (photography)