Monday, 27 May 2013

Frodsham Marshes - Bank Holiday Monday 27th May 2013

Shaun picked me up around 6.15am and after doing some watering at his allotments, we headed off to Frodsham Marsh. We decided on a different approach this morning and went up towards the Weaver bend and Marsh Farm. Wren, Rook, Carrion Crow and Chaffinches were the first birds seen on the way up towards the Weaver bend. A Chiffchaff sang it's repetitive song from an overhead wire, much easier to id that way (thank you)

Sedge Warblers seemed to be all over the place and the mechanical churrs and clicks and whistles had an almost hypnotic effect as you walked along. Great birds all the same and this one came into view very obligingly for a nice photo :)

Upon arrival at the Weaver bend, we could see Canada Geese with Goslings, a solitary Oystercatcher, around 20 or so Shelduck and a few Tuftys. Overhead a pair of Buzzards put on a great display for us and showed some very agile moves.

It was very quiet on the way up to Marsh farm, but right at the corner before the cattle grid we came across a large flock of Linnets, these two hung around on the wires just long enough for Shaun to get a quick snap.

A bonus Lesser Whitethroat was spotted before darting back into cover and a Tree Pipit ascended up singing it's beautiful song. A couple of Skylarks could be heard in the distance and upon arrival at the M.S.C. (Manchester Ship Canal) where the shooting club cross over in their little boat, a family of inbred ducks eyed us warily before swimming out onto the canal.

A Great Black Backed Gull made its way up the canal and lots of Swallows and Swifts were hunting right on the far bend. A Meadow Pipit was feeding around the cattle trough, before flying off into the long grass.

The wind was getting quite blustery now so we decided to head up towards No 6 tank and see what we could spot up there.

Well, it was the quietest I think I have ever seen it, a couple of Mute Swans, some Tufted Duck and the odd Mallard were out on the water. A Kestrel hovered in the wind in the distance and did so effortlessly, a joy to watch. A lovely Goldfinch flew onto a nearby post and gave us a tinkling song before flying off like a bolt of lightning, blown on the strengthening winds.

A Chaffinch was pinking noisily and the reason soon became apparent as it wanted us to move on quickly as it obviously had a nest nearby as it had a beak full of insects!!

A couple of Ringed Plovers were on No 6 tank and then we got a brief glimpse of a Hobby, before it flew quickly out of sight, our 1st of the year :) A Little Grebe and some Tuftys were on the pool before No 4 reedbed and we managed to get a shot of the Male Marsh Harrier as he hunted above the reeds.

On the walk back to the van, we added a couple of Reed Buntings to the list and then bumped into an old friend who advised us of the location of the Peregrine box at Vauxhalls in Ellesmere Port, so we decided to head off to see them for a bit.

Upon arrival at Vauxhalls, the box was quite a distance away and unable to go into the car park we had to observe from the Private Road. One adult was on top of the box and one was inside with the three chicks. We managed to get a photo after one of the adults had flown off, but it is not the best shot :-

Amazingly, we spotted two Marsh Harriers over Boostings Wood, this is the first I've heard of them being in this area and all the more exciting due to the fact I only live about 10 minutes away :-) we tried to get further views by cutting through the Wood, but could not relocate. Blackcap, Goldcrest and Song Thrush were heard and a Common Sandpiper was spotted on the far bank of the M.S.C.

We got this shot of a huge tanker was being pulled towards Eastham Locks by a small tug boat, before calling it a morning and heading home, just in time as the rain started about 12.15.

Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (Photos)

Sunday 26th May 2013 - Burton Mere Wetlands

1st birding trip out since my return from Spain, so was keen to see what was at the local reserve up at Burton. Upon arrival, the doors were wide open as the weather had been very warm over the weekend, unfortunately this had facilitated hundreds of flies into the reception hide which made viewing through the windows awful, so we did not stay inside long and went down towards the barn.

Quite a few Avocet chicks had been born and were scurrying around on the islands on the scrape :)

Black Headed Gulls and a couple of pairs of Common Terns were also nesting. The usual Tufted Ducks and Coots were on the near pool along with Canada Geese and some goslings.

Up by the barn Shaun spotted some Whitethroats flying up from the hedgerow, also accompanied by a singing Sedge Warbler.

Not a lot else was present by the barn, just the odd Linnet and some Lapwings could be heard in the fields further out on the marsh, occasionally taking to the skies to ward off the Carrion Crows! Just then around a dozen Mute Swans flew across from the direction of Shotwick boating lake.

Walking back through the reception hide and out towards the feeders not a lot of small birds could be seen, however the warm weather had brought the Carp to the surface and there were some rather large splashes as they fed near the top. When the ponds were netted prior to the RSPB purchasing the mere from Terry Knight, they took a lot of the fish out and removed to Denhall Fisheries, however an awful lot remain.

Making our way to Marsh Covert Hide, we spotted a Cuckoo flying over the reedbed, the Swan was still on the nest and numerous Sedge Warblers were rattling away. The Little Egrets nesting in the wood have settled down and are nowhere near as noisy as they were a month ago, thankfully! The Cuckoo was showing well from the hide, it was out beyond the gate and gave good views perched in bushes and on top of reeds. It was constantly mobbed by Reed Buntings and I was wondering if it was a female looking for a suitable nest to lay its egg.

Quite a few butterflies were out in the warm sunshine and this small tortoiseshell was pictured by the feeders.

Time was getting on and as we we had both been out the night before, Shaun in Chester and me at the Groves watching the footy we were both nursing hangovers. It was therefore time to make it back home for much needed grub and forty winks at our respective abodes. Not a bad two hours birding.

Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (Photos)

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Biggest Twitch - Conwy & Anglesey Saturday 11th May 2013

Finally, Saturday had arrived and it was time to set off for RSPB Conwy to meet Alan Davies of The Biggest Twitch fame for a days birding. Myself, Shaun Hickey and Paul Jason set off from Ellesmere Port around 6.30am. En route we stopped for some diesel and spotted Chaffinch, Goldfinch and a Collared Dove nest building. We arrived at Conwy around 7.40 and watched hundreds of Hirundines chasing insects around the reserve buildings, Swifts, House Martins and Swallows were swooping and calling, a fantastic spectacle.

Alan arrived at 8 and after meet and greets we were off. A quick scan of the Estuary at the front of the reserve produced Shelduck,

Oystercatcher and some nesting Grey Herons and Little Egrets in trees on the bank opposite. A Common Whitethroat flew up whilst singing before diving down into some thick gorse, suddenly a male Peregrine flew over and gave us great views, what a start :)

Our next stop was South Stack, on the way the skies went black and the rain was relentless, our mood sullied somewhat however we were sure it would blow over. Upon arrival the rain had blown over, however the wind was quite fresh and the waves were crashing against the rocks. A flock of around 50 Goldfinches flew overhead, migrants most probably. Looking out past the lighthouse we saw Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Fulmars and Kittiwakes out to sea. On the rocks we had excellent views of Guillemots and Razorbills nesting. We also saw a solitary Puffin bobbing up and down on the waves below. Great Black Backed Gulls and a Shag were sitting not far from each other on the cliff face. Just then a pair of Ravens flew over, big birds!! All in all a stunning place that literally took your breath away.

It was back in the car and a short hop around the corner we were out again and Alan was trying to flush small birds with a bit of pishing, not much success, but he did flush a Hare which legged it right the way up the field. Some Greylag Geese and Pheasants were spotted and what we were informed was a hybrid, but looked like a Hooded Crow.

Next we drove into Holyhead for target bird Black Guillemot. We were not disappointed as we had no less than 11 birds in the harbour. We were informed they were nesting in the walls below an old white boat, seems a curious place given the abundance of great nesting sights. Fantastic little birds, with distinct white wing patches and bright red legs :)

The ferry was pulling out of the harbour like a monstrous Whale Shark with it's front end gaping.

Just around the corner was the Alaw Estuary so we headed off to see what waders we could encounter. Down a public footpath through an Iron Gate and we were in a lovely bay with great views of Red Breasted Merganser. A Buzzard was just hanging in the wind over some dunes a seemingly effortless task, oh to have wings! The tide was coming in fast and with a strong North Westerly we had to be quick, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Bar tailed Godwits were added to the ever growing twitch list, it was around 11am and we already had over 50 species.

A brisk walk back to the car to evade the incoming tide a quick coffee and we were off to RSPB Valley Lakes. Driving past the airfield and the Gate Guardian

we could see the skies had brightened up but we were going to be occasionally dodging some pretty heavy showers. In the car park, the lads were scoffing again, whilst me and Alan were listening to Sedge, Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting and Willow Warbler. I spotted a Kestrel in the distance and Alan assured me it's a rare sight on Anglesey these days :( Well, what a lovely little spot, a lake surrounded by reedbed and scrub made this a great habitat for birds, we saw Pochard, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebes, Canada and Greylag Geese and Mergansers. What at first glance appeared to be a Sparrowhawk flying fast over the reedbed was in fact a Cuckoo, our second sighting of this elusive bird in a couple of weeks. It perched on a reed and then flew down and caught a grub, before the heavens opened and we had to head back to the car :( On the other side of the lake we saw Little Grebe and Shoveler, the twitch list was now up in the high 60's.

Next we headed back towards Penrhos Nature Park in Holyhead and Petes Burger Van!! I was peckish by now and as it was after midday I needed feeding. Well, the double Cheeseburger was costly at £3.70, but it was very tasty, even if Pete overdid the amount of onions a bit!!!! Paul and Shaun had been munching away all day on various snacks including Ham and Egg Sarnies, Pork Pies and Chocolate, but they still had a burger and a bacon and sausage batch, Jeez.

Sandwich Tern was added to the list flying over the bay, as was Robin, Great Tit and Blue Tit on the feeders Pete has put up behind his Van. A Song Thrush was heard in the distance.

After refuelling, we headed off to Cemlys Bay and Lagoons, Alan had assured us we would get further species here and may even see the Roseate Tern in amongst the other Terns at their breeding colony in the Welsh Wildlife Trust reserve. What a racket when we arrived, but great views of hundreds of Arctic and Sandwich but not many Common Terns, which Alan said was unusual. In amongst the nesting Terns, were at least 4 Med Gulls. In the surrounding area, we added Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail, we were scanning the gorse around the old building checking for migrants, it was the place the Golden Oriole had been spotted about a month ago. Suddenly a Stoat appeared and ran along the fenceline before dropping out of sight :)

Marvellous spot, I could have stayed all day, but you guessed it, the heavens opened and we just got back to the comfort of the car in time :) The showers were short and sharp and ten minutes later we were back out and walking up a nearby country lane to check for migrants, we saw Linnets, Wheatear and Stonechat all in one field. On the way back, we spotted at least a dozen Ringed Plover that had dropped in. The twitch list was now in the 80's and we still had birds to get at Conwy!!

Time was ticking on, so we headed back to RSPB Conwy, the reserve were Alan had been manager at for over 7 years!! He may know where to find a few birds there then ;) It was around 4.15pm so we had time to  add a few species, a beautiful male Bullfinch was on the feeders right at the front of the reserve.

At one of the hides, we spotted a Little Ringed Plover on nest, a White Wagtail and a Yellow Wagtail and also added Lapwing which curiously we had not seen all day!! Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to Alan, but his time, expertise and helpful assistance throughout the day had made this a brilliant day out. We all agreed we would be using again in the near future.

88 Species

Alan Davies (The Biggest Twitch)
Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (Photos)
Paul Jason (Photos)

Monday, 6 May 2013

Dawn Chorus Day Ramble - Sunday 5th May 2013

A lovely Spring day and what better way to start it off than an early morning visit to Burton Marshes. It looked like being a glorious day and their was an early morning mist rising over the Marsh. The Sheep that were on the Marsh, had now been relocated and the path had been scrubbed and brushed up (no more poop). On the farm on the left as you walk down towards Burton Point, the Sheep seemed rather lethargic and Shaun noticed a dead lamb that the Corvids had taken a relish to and sadly as all scavengers do, removed it's eyes.

On further examination of the fields, as we often do for Pipits and Wheatear, we noticed several dead lambs and wondered what had caused their demise? We were sure that by the time we had walked back later on, the farmer would have been out and about and removed the carcasses, sadly we were wrong as over two hours later they all remained :(

Approaching the cattle grid, we could hear Gropper, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler in full flow. The mechanical sounds are somewhat hypnotic and you have to stop and listen to see if you can seperate the different birds by sound. I did my Bill Oddie impression mimicking Sedge, then Reed and got some odd glances from Shaun, ahem, time to move on!!

A lovely female Wheatear flew down to the sandstone wall by the sheepdip pens and happily posed for a picture.

Waking further up towards Burton Point, we spotted the duelling male Whitethroats in their usual corner, but they were flying around so quickly, it was difficult to get a shot of them. As it was bank holiday, the path was in more use today and numerous cyclists and power walkers were out in force. No Shorty could be seen, but noisy Oystercatchers flew overhead. Crossing the wooden footbridge towards the rear of Inner Marsh Farm, we scanned for the Little Owl, but could not locate him today. Looking out over the pools at IMF we could see a flock of around 60 Blackwits and some Lapwings an the banks in the background. After a few minutes walk further up the track I turned and noticed something had spooked the Blackwits and they were now up and wheeling around in predator evasing motion. Peregrine!! No kill, but the bird flew back out across the Point and disappeared over a bank out onto the Marsh.

A small Palmate Newt was again crossing the tarmac path, so minute it was very nearly stepped on. Some Tufted Duck and Shoveler were on the far pools to the right of IMF and some Canada Geese were in the fields. Some Linnets twittered away and flew down to the grasses by the army firing range, no sign of the soldiers today, even though the red flags were flying.

Time to head off to Burton Mere Wetlands, but on the way back we saw quite a few Linnets and managed to capture these four sitting on the fence. We talked about Cuckoos and how for me it had been years since I had seen one, we both agreed they were heard rather more than they were seen!!

A young rabbit also cast us a curious glance before making it's way back to the safety of the undergrowth.

Upon arrival at BMW, we noticed a few more cars than usual and then remembered it had been the Dawn Chorus 5am walk. Usual suspects were out on the scrape, Black Headed Gulls, Blackwits, Avocets still sitting on eggs (can't be long now before the patter of tiny feet), Redshank and on the pool adjacent to the  reception centre, one of my favourites a Little Grebe or Dabchick as they are also fondly known, they really are quite colourful and expertly dive down for small fish.

The Canada Goslings had moved over to the irrigation channel so were no longer on the back pools, however we had excellent views of a Common Tern which was expertly diving down and catching small Rudd, which was a joy to watch and a first for me at The Mere. Shaun managed this cracking photo :-

A Blackcap could be heard in the nearby wood along with the cacophany of gurgling noises that we have come to expect from the breeding Little Egrets!! Bees were buzzing, insects were swarming and the butterflies were out in force on this fine morning, including a glut of Orange tips, like this one below :-

Just down the steps and turning the bend towards Marsh Covert Hide, we could see the Mute Swan still on her nest, no sign of any cygnets as yet. Both Reed and Sedge were in full voice and a Sedge Warbler was rattling away and shimmied up a reed stem to give Shaun his first chance of obtaining a pic :)

Only a couple of people were in the hide, so I opened the windows and immediately scanned the pool looking out to IMF. A lovely summer plumage Dunlin was feeding near a Spotted Redshank very close to the hide. Further out some Shelduck were fighting and both males had their beaks locked and were going for it big time. Scanning the little bays as I do, I noticed a wader moving slowly across the grasses by the edge of the water, it was a juvenile Ruff and another tick for me for 2013 :) Just then a guy came in the hide whom I have come to recognise in and around the reserve and he rushed to the end of the hide, set up his scope rather frantically and proclaimed Cuckoo!! I had cried it in again, as so often works in the birding world, you moan about what you haven't seen and hey presto, like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, they suddenly appear :)

We watched the Cuckoo on a reed, it's unmistakable shape and slatish grey plumage along with barred chest all being taken in. It kept dropping down onto the grass, vanishing out of sight, only to reappear with a grub or a worm in it's beak, Marvellous, another tick for 2013 bringing my yearly total up to 137. Shaun managed a quick capture of the Cuckoo before it dropped down to the ground out of sight :-

Time was ticking on, so we made our way back to the car park. A Song Thrush was belting out a powerful and beatiful song and small birds were all around the feeders, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Great Tits and still the odd Siskin.

All in all, a very good mornings birding and next Saturday myself, Shaun and Paul, head off to Anglesey with Alan Davies and Ruth Miller  for what I'm sure will be a fantastic days birding, we all can't wait, please weather stay kind!

If you like my blogs, please also follow on twitter

Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photos)