Sunday, 22 September 2013

Sparrowhawk gets Collared Dove

Sunday morning 22nd September 2013, a fine sunny morning and I had just gone into the kitchen to make a cup of tea when I gave a cursory glance out of the window at the bird feeder. One Stock Dove was sat below eating some spilt seeds when a Collared Dove flew across the garden with a Sparrowhawk in hot pursuit.

The Stock Dove flew off sharpish and the Collared Dove made some twisting manoeuvres, before flying straight at me and the kitchen window.....THUD !! No doubt the Dove was dead instantly and the Sparrowhawk was on it!!!

I grabbed my Samsung Galaxy S4 and managed this blurry shot before this adult female bird spotted me and flew a bit further out into the garden with her prey.

Here she started a plucking and boy could she pluck........

After a while, a cheeky Magpie flew down and started pestering the Sparrowhawk, hopping up behind and nipping at her tail. This was quite intriguing to watch and as well as the next photo, I managed a small amount of video footage.

Real Magpie by Sparrowhawk, not plastic like the ornamental bird on the right !! Wonder what the gnome made of it all ?

Just shows you like in nature, you don't know what's around the corner. Hope you enjoyed.

Burton Mere & Hoylake Shore - Saturday 21st September 2013

At around 9.15am myself and Shaun arrived at Burton Mere Wetlands and were set to meet a couple of our 'twitter' friends Keith @holdingmoments and Heather @kidsnorthwest

Keith was already on the boardwalk looking out over the scrape and had spied a nice Snipe in the grasses. We said our hellos and continued to scan the scrape and spotted the usual suspects, Black Tailed Godwits, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Canada and Greylag Geese in good numbers, but a distinct lack of waders and not one Lapwing was present.

The birds were flushed momentarily as a Buzzard flew across the scrape and landed on a fencepost out towards the right of the reception hide. On closer inspection there was a further 2 Buzzards a bit further up also on fenceposts. Entering the reception hide, we then met Heather who had been given a mornings pass out after a couple of days looking after a poorly @wildeaboutbirds (her son Findlay), after greetings, we spotted a Little Grebe and a couple of Wigeon, but nothing to really catch the eye.

We decided on a walk around the lake and up towards Marsh Covert Hide, it was a warm day and a couple of Brown & Migrant Hawkers were flying around the paths. Seems a good year for Goldfinches and quite a few were in and around the bushes by the feeders.

Upon entering the hide, we had little to see other than a few Geese further out and a constant stream of Canada Geese flying in to the wetlands from the direction of the Dee Estuary.

Keith whilst enjoying birds and nature in general, is very much into Butterflies/Dragonflies, so he spotted this nice Comma sunning itself just outside one of the hide windows and took this lovely photo.

Shaun had promised up some home made vegetable soup so had disappeared to the car park to open his mobile soup kitchen (aka works van) when we got there it smelt absolutely gorgeous and tasted very nice too :) Sadly, Heather had to head back home so we promised to all meet up again sometime maybe at Froddy Marshes.

Myself, Shaun and Keith were heading to Hoylake shore as a 9.5m tide was due around 1pm. Upon arrival, many birders were lined up along the promenade and we could see quite a lot of waders and gulls moving in with the tide.

Great Black Backed, Lesser Black Backed, Herring and Common were the main species, but a local birder spotted a juv Caspian Gull in amongst the flock.

Keith had never been to Hoylake before and was enjoying the spectacle as the waders flew closer to shore as the tide came in. Just then a Peregrine flew into a flock of Dunlin and quickly snatched one unlucky bird up and then made it's way off out towards Hilbre with the spoils. Quite a few Oystercatchers were out on a small spit of sand still uncovered by the encroaching tide, in amongst them were 30+ Bar tailed Godwits and around a dozen Knot.

Small waders such as Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover and the odd Curlew Sandpiper were scurrying around in a feeding frenzy, sadly as it was the weekend you got the odd irresponsible dog walker, who despite seeing huge numbers of birds and birdwatchers, still let their dogs run amok on the beach!!

I spotted a Curlew Sandpiper in amongst the flock of Dunlin and Shaun managed this shot, you can see the bigger bird facing the camera with a lot more white underneath.

Birds were coming and going and huge numbers of Oystercatchers and Barwits were making their way across the sands to eventual roosting spots probably on Middle Eye over by Hilbre.

Just then I overheard Colin Wells (local RSPB) taking a call about a sighting of a Semipalmated Sandpiper (a small American wader) the bird had been spotted by Jane Turner (local expert) who had been doing some wader counts from a higher position. Sure enough we got a fleeting glimpse of the bird as it ran quickly inbetween the Dunlin and Ringed Plovers in a flock of around 100 birds. Just as the scope got settled, a dog ran into the flock and the birds moved further down the beach and we lost sight, grrrrrrr.

We had enjoyed our day and on the way home stopped in at The Harp at Denhall Quay for a couple of pints. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and numerous Swallows were feeding across the marsh before no doubt making their final push back to Africa.

When I got in, I had a call from Shaun who had spotted a 'different' type bird flying between the rooftops near to his house. From his initial pictures he sent it appeared robin sized with a thin bill and had some yellow and orange tinge. It looked Redstart/Wheatear type but the plumage looked all wrong. Quite a lot of my contacts on Twitter said Northern Wheatear straight away. I have learned not to trust some pics especially in certain light, however this pic gives no doubt it is a wheatear most prob a first winter bird. First time I have heard of or seen a Wheatear in the middle of a large town, only normally near the coast. Comments would be appreciated.

Big thanks to Keith and Heather who took the time to travel up to our neck of the woods for a visit and to the kind birders at Hoylake who were all friendly as usual.

Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photography)
Keith O'Hagan (photography)
Heather Wilde (photos to be added later maybe)

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A day in East Yorkshire - Saturday 14th September 2013

Having missed last weekends migfest at Spurn due to being over at Hilbre Island, myself, Shaun and Paul (our friend from over the water in Lpool) planned a trip for the following Saturday, we were jealous we missed all the fun of the festival but on a brighter note were optimistic it would be quieter and may still see some great birds. We were not to be disappointed.

Shaun picked me up at 4.30am and we met up with Paul in Frodsham and shifted all our gear over to Pauls car for the trip East. The roads were clear and in just under 3 hours we were pulling into the car park at the back of the Blue Bell Inn cafe. The North Sea was very choppy and it was a cold wind, so it was defo wooly hat time.

We set off down the famous long road/spit that we had heard so much about and were all very excited about what we may see. All around us we could hear Meadow Pipits and the majority we could see were coming in off the sea. The fields were alive with Goldfinches, Swallows and Pipits.

We stopped in at the canal scrape and a sign on the door to the hide warned to keep right as there was still nesting Swallows inside to the left!! We spotted some Moorhen and a Snipe was feeding opposite.

Just then we heard a Redstart and spotted a female in the bushes quite a far way out to our right hand side, we were watching this bird when a Sparrowhawk flew across the scrape and flushed the Snipe. Presumably one of the local pair that also flushed a Pec Sand yesterday grrrrr.

It had began to warm up slightly and after a cuppa and a sarnie in the hide, we headed back towards Southfield Farm to see if we could spot the Red Backed Shrike. Our luck was in, the Shrike was showing well on a fence post in a small paddock like area with orchards at the back of the farm :)

Brilliant, this was a new year tick and we had great views as seen above.

We decided to head off towards the bird observatory and do a spot of sea watching. As we arrived the hide was full, so we spent around half an hour outside looking out to sea, most of these pelagic birds were quite a ways out and were quite tricky to ID despite having our scopes. With seabirds, shape, wingbeat and behaviour is key in helping to ID. We had some Manx Shearwaters and Gannets pass by and just then two Wheatears flew in off the sea !!

The hide emptied out a bit and a flap opened up and a guy shouted us in as there was now room. His name was Steve from the Obs and he was doing a count, we sat alongside him and it was entertaining to spot these seabirds in tandem. Slowly but surely the counts built up, "Sooty Shearwater, flying low over the waves going North" came the cry, Bonxie, (Gt Skua), Arctic Skua with quick wingbeats and sudden lunges down towards the sea. Sandwich Terns, Red Throated Divers, Fulmars, it was seawatch heaven. Then it would go quiet and all of a sudden after 15 minutes the clicker went mad again as Steve began counting the stream of Gannets that suddenly appeared. We enjoyed a good chat and it's great to meet new people who share a same passion. Shaun (who me and Paul have christened The Lurker) had vanished again and seldom sits in a place for more than 15 mins and likes to be on the move and we often find him lurking up a dark path or near some bushes (hence the new nickname), really he is out and about with camera looking for good photo opportunitys :)

Steve had told us we would not get a fry up at the Blue Bell Cafe, but put us onto a good spot in the caravan park, where there is a greasy spoon cafe. Thanking Steve for his hospitality, we set off for some grub. On the way to the cafe we spotted a very yellow looking warbler and relocated it in some bushes. Sadly it was nothing special but nevertheless a lovely and very bright Willow Warbler, if only they were all this colour, seperating chiff would be made so much easier. See below

On the way to the cafe we spotted 2 juv Med Gulls out on the Sea.

Now, the cafe also doubled as an amusement arcade and had to endure "oo oo oo, I wanna be like you oo oo" tune from the jungle book repeating around every couple of minutes through our breakfasts. Nice as the brekky was, we were glad to get out!!

"Where next?" I said, should we drive or have another walk up the road and scan the bushes to see what may have dropped in? Walk, how fateful that decision proved to be. Walking past Southfield Farm, both myself and Paul spotted a bird fly into some bushes. The Red Backed Shrike was perched on some branches nearby, but another bird was making it's way through the branches towards the Shrike? BOOM Barred Warbler a 1st Autumn imm bird.

I had imagined spotting one of these birds and now it was here I was mesmerised as it showed really well and perched on a post and preened and even sunned itself for a while. Fresh in and another year tick :) The 3G signal here in Spurn is sporadic nevertheless and I quickly tweeted RBA with the news. Ian Smith, chairman of Spurn Bird Obs who was nearby also relayed the news on his two-way and soon a scurry of birders descended on Southfield Farm!! Now if you look in the Collins Field Guide, under Barred Warbler it says (shares habitat with Red Backed Shrike), your not kidding!! Take a look at this pic :-

This place was quickly growing on me and my mind was racing, what's next I wonder? We enjoyed the bird for a while, then walked up the road towards the Obs and the Estuary as high tide was approaching and we needed to clock some waders.

Arriving at the Estuary the tide was nearly all the way in but had great views of Red Knot (in thousands),

Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Barwits, Curlew, Sanderling, Turnstones, Shelduck & Little Egret, it's hard to do it justice in words, but it was simply breathtaking. Also we saw a Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine hunting. Here are a few pictures that Shaun took.

Pic of me and Paul enjoying the spectacle :)

After enjoying the waders, we walked further up past the obs and out further onto the spit, on the way though we spotted some young Swallows being fed by their parents in and around the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reception.

Walking along the road towards the lighthouse was a bit tiring and we had to constantly step into the dunes to make way for a procession of cars that kept coming through. It had it's benefits though as Shaun spotted this fine Wheatear on the beach and got this cracking photo.

We clambered up an embankment and near to a wooden shelter type structure and looked out to sea. Not a lot was happening, Pipits were still coming inland though and then a Leach's Storm Petrel appeared and glided past in the powerful winds. First one of the year for me and another tick :)

Time was ticking on so we decided to have a walk back and take the coastal path to search the bushes for migrants. Some Buntings were in the bushes and with news a Lapland Bunting may be about, we were looking high and low, Shaun managed these photo's of Reed Bunting :}

So many different variations and females often get a male like head pattern, arghhhh.

Not many butterflies or Dragonflies along this path but spotted a Migrant Hawker and a Speckled Wood so not a bad pair to find :)

Paul was suffering with his back so left me and Shaun to walk the path that separates the estuary and Southfield Farm, it leads to the Crown and Anchor Pub :) so we stopped in for a couple of pints! Heading back to the car park where we had agreed to meet up with Paul we saw a chap photographing a dragonfly by the side of the road. Just then a car pulled up and a bloke shouted out to him "Great Snipe at Warrenby Cottage" Vroooooooom, it was off like a shot and so were we, well I was, Shaun don't do running haha.

Upon arrival, there were around 20 birders all looking into a drainage ditch that ran between the cottage and the nearby fields. "Snipes in there" a guy said, in a thick Yorkshire accent :) To say it was well camouflaged would be an understatement!! All the activity had moved the bird deeper into cover and after around 15 minutes when a few more of the senior birders at Spurn had arrived, it was decided a guy would enter the ditch and try to flush it, ethical or not I thought oh well at least I will get to see it.

Butterfly net in hand? This guy clambered into the ditch and the Great Snipe thought I'm not having this and casually walked out into the field on the other side! Mass exodus around into the field, the Snipe was in the grass on the edge of the hedgerow and albeit restricted view, nevertheless I bagged a view of my first ever Great Snipe, a lifer BOOM :) After about ten minutes of viewing, it moved back into the ditch. I spent a while face down on my belly trying to focus in at close range and relocate, however I decided time was ticking on and we had to make the three hour journey back home and grab a meal on the way back so we called it a day.

The Great Snipe proved more accommodating later on and I grabbed this pic off the Spurn website

What a great day's birding and with great company, thanks to Shaun & Paul for making it an entertaining day and taking great pics. Also a big thanks to the friendly people of Kilnsea and Spurn, we will defo be going back again!!

Follow us on twitter @bucko41 @shaunkhickey @arborist2222


Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (Photography)
Paul Jason (Photography)

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Hilbre Island Saturday 7th September 2013

Had booked a trip with the RSPB and Wirral Coastal Rangers so myself and Shaun met up with the rest of the group at the marina lake in West Kirby around 9.15am. Weather was fine but breezy with the chance of hit and miss showers, had a quick scan for a Med Gull around the lake, but could not see any. Colin Wells (reserve manager Burton Mere Wetlands), Dan and Hannah were heading the RSPB team and Lynne was helping the guided walk on behalf of the Wirral Rangers.

Hilbre Islands is a haven for wildlife, especially birds and consists of three islands, little eye, middle eye and the main larger island Hilbre. Low tide was around an hour earlier so, we made the walk out to little eye, dodging the bigger pools of water as we went along. As we got to middle eye,

we stopped to scan the sandbanks for waders, we could see, Ringed Plover, Oystercatchers (in huge numbers),

some Bar tailed Godwits and I spotted a solitary Grey Plover still in resplendent summer plumage. Moving along we reached the main island which is roughly a 2 mile trip from the mainland. The guiders explained we would be doing some seawatching and also keeping an eye out for any passerines (small birds) that may be on the island. Some Meadow Pipits and a Dunnock were noted near the observatory garden. The guys in the observatory do a lot of bird ringing on the island and Colin showed us the heligoland traps (so named after an island off the coast of Germany where the first trap was built, hence the name) in which they catch the small birds. They are then measured, weighed, sexed and ringed and recorded in log books then released.

We made our way down to the old lifeboat station for a bit of seawatching. The tide was high now and we were  completely cut off from the mainland. Most of the birds that flew past were Cormorants.

Quite a few Sandwich Terns were noisily passing overhead and we also spotted a Great Crested Grebe out to sea. Just then Colin spotted a Common Scoter which was flying very low and fast quite a ways out! A couple of guys in our group spotted a young Guillemot but the views were not too good as the waves were disrupting the views as the sea was very choppy. Sadly no Skuas, Petrels or Shearwaters were to be seen today. The weather forecast had changed in the run up to the trip and the gusting North Westerly we were hoping for never materialised.

Myself and Shaun decided on a look around the island to see if we could spot any small birds. We flushed a small party of Linnets and then later spotted them bathing in a freshwater pool :)

A couple of Swallows were flying around and Shaun then spotted a female Wheatear up on a grassy bank. This time of year is known as return passage and quite a few of these fantastic birds had been spotted locally over the last few days.

The hweet call brought my attention to a Chiffchaff that was calling just outside the obs garden, but was proving elusive and was deep in foliage away from the breeze. Just then a female Kestrel flew up and I watched her hunting for a while. It was thrilling to see her hanging in the breeze and then dropping down in stages to finally catch her prey, a small mouse in this instance :)

We headed back for refreshments and had a brew in one of the old buildings that accommodate visitors to the island. I was intrigued by the old bird books and was looking through one at declining species and causes, habitat loss and more worryingly climatic change was highlighted and this book was going back into the early 80's!! Great to see the effort put in by the RSPB and volunteers to try and reverse this trend by providing great habitats for wildlife and birds.

After lunch, we walked around the East side of the Island as the tide was back on it's way out, here we got some great views of a Ringed Plover family. You can see the juvenile bird in the middle as it has an incomplete breast band.

Quite a lot of birds were now on the move and a Whimbrel flew past and we then spotted a family of Turnstones who were not the slightest bit bothered about us interrupting their get together.

Hilbre is also known for other wildlife and the @hilbrebirdobs team do a great job of managing the wildlife gardens on the island which attract a number of butterflies and dragonflies during the summer months. We were being watched by a number of Atlantic Grey Seals and they are quite curious about visitors to the island and will pop up and take a peek :)

The sky was darkening in the distance and it looked like we may be in for a sharp shower. I joked about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and was wondering if a rare bird was in the nursing home gardens over at Red Rocks!!

Time was ticking on and the tide was receding faster than my hairline (ahem) so we made our way back across the wet sands and back to the car park. On the way, Shaun spotted a Little Egret feeding and took this picture.

All in all it was a good day out and despite getting soaked on the way back to the van as the heavens opened, I would recommend to anyone who has not been, to go over to Hilbre and enjoy the fresh air and great wildlife. Here is a link to the Hilbre Bird Observatory and also the Dee Estuary Site for those planning a guided trip in the future. Once again many thanks to Colin, Dan, Hannah & Lynne.


Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photography)