Monday, 23 February 2015

High Tides and a Blog Off

Over Friday and Sunday, I was volunteering for the RSPB with RSPB Burton Mere's Dan Trotman at two slightly different events. Firstly, on Friday, it was a high tide at Parkgate, where we were engaging with the public, and showing what species of bird are actually out there on the marsh, and what an important habitat the Dee Estuary is. During the weekend there was going to be a series of high tides, with Friday being one of the highest at 10.3m (which is huge). There was no storm surge expected to go along with the high tide, however with it being so high we still expected it to reach the promenade wall.

Due to it being nice weather on Friday, I managed to interact and talk to lots of people all about the estuary and birds, however, before it got too busy, I got a good chance to talk to the other two people on the stand, Paul Brady and John, who are both working for the RSPB. Paul originally worked for Burton Mere Wetlands, which is where Dan Trotman works now. 

As it was a very high tide there were people lined up everywhere along the walls and sitting areas. Most people were however at the old baths car park, where there was also another RSPB stand. I think the Short Eared Owls were the main attraction down there. (Austin Morley has some great pictures of them on his blog).

Instead of big gushing waves, the tide slowly creeps in at Parkgate, gradually making it's way up the marsh,before flooding into the flashes dotted around the marsh areas. We were watching the flashes closest to the Donkey-stand.

Whilst the street had quietened down for a bit, I decided to set the scope up and have a bit of a pan of the marsh. I managed to pick out a stunning Peregrine, then my dad picked one out, who I have to say was on fire with spotting things on Friday. After a couple of minutes of spotting things I came across a smallish hunched bird sat on a post quite distant for the scope. Me, Dan, Dad and basically the whole RSPB team had a twenty minute debate about what it was. Merlin or Short Eared Owl. We eventually confirmed it as a Short Eared Owl, we could tell with how dark it was around the eyes, and the wing shape when it took off from it's perch.  

When the place got a bit more busy and I was talking to people a lot more, I noticed a familiar face pop round the corner, it was Austin Morley, long time no see. I first met Austin at Burton Mere when he volunteered there, but he now has a job with the Wildlife Trust. Austin was having a brilliant time and it was great to catch up with him.

Most of the people I did speak to had also been to see the Laughing Gull at New Brighton or the Long Eared Owl at Burton Mere before arriving at Parkgate for the high tide.

Tide creeping across the marsh

As the tide oozed in, the water pushed all the secretive birds out and on to any floating substance they could find. The poor water rail below got pushed all the way to the wall where we were standing, so we got a great view and some close up pictures. A fantastic little bird to watch. 

As well as this water rail getting pushed out, all the rodents were becoming victims of the tide, so the raptors and Black Headed Gulls started to circle like flying sharks. I watched the darker, but survival side of nature as the tiny mammals got picked from the water one by one.  

As the tide started to recede, so did the people. The long line of cameras and scopes disappeared and I had a few quieter moments to scan the marsh once more.

On Sunday, the event was slightly different in more ways than one. It was still a high tide, but the main event was Skydancers on the Dee where we were raising awareness about the unacceptable decline of Hen Harriers. Again there were RSPB stands on the Donkey-stand and at the Old Baths car park. 

Sunday's weather couldn't have been more different. It was freezing and was absolutely pouring with rain, sleet and snow, however it didn't "dampen" our spirits. There wasn't really much action to start with, as the tide was still a long way out. We didn't see much, because we were setting all the stuff up, apart from this stunning Grey Wagtail below. 

And then I noticed in a car, a Mr Dr Mark Avery (and of course Mrs Avery), who had come up from Northamptonshire to watch Hen Harriers and eat cake with me.  I had saved my birthday cake to have at the marsh, because I was hoping lots of people I know would come and share the amazing high tide experience of Parkgate.  The cold and rain didn't stop Mark from getting straight out of the car to have his first scan of the marsh. One of the first birds we watched together was a distant Great White Egret that kept bobbing it's head up above the marshland grasses. He is a great person to bird with and I hope we can get together again soon.

Rob Lambert and Lucy McRoberts (AFON) had come up to stay for Parkgate and it was great to catch up with them. They are always so interesting to talk to and I really enjoyed catching up with what they have been up to and sharing views on what is happening in the natural world.

Because I had been tweeting about the high tide event to try and encourage people to visit, there were other people I couldn't wait to see, including Keith (@HoldingMoments), Paul, a brilliant photographer (@arborist2222) and Phil Gatley (@PhilGatley) who volunteers at RSPB Conwy (a lovely man and full of knowledge). 

After Mark, Phil turned up and we enjoyed a great discussion about Conwy. After Phil arrived, the streets were pretty empty so we watched a nice flock of Teal for a bit. However, after about half an hour Keith and Paul arrived so it was time for more catch up chats. Everyone was in good spirits despite the awful weather.

Next to arrive was the very knowledgeable David McGrath, along with Grace and Frank, who straight away settled a debate on another mystery bird. It turned out to be a Merlin this time, sitting way out across the marsh on a washed up branch.  Grace, Frank ( a lovely chocolate lab) and Harley then went off to the pub together to warm up for a bit.  And then it was great to see Kev from my ringing group turn up.

Everyone had of course come for the high tide, which although slightly lower than Friday's, was still a big one at 10.1m. It continued creeping up to the wall and we were all scanning the waters edge to see what it might flush out. "HEN HARRIER" came the shout from Mark, followed closely by "there's actually two of them". Mark then continued to talk everyone through the location of the birds and all the people on the stand (which was very busy by now) joined together for that magical moment of sharing an awesome wildlife moment together.  

As the harriers flew directly in front of us, they came quite close and the views through the scope were amazing. Birders and non-birders couldn't help getting caught up in the excitement of seeing these birds.

The tide just about reached the wall and we managed to get some great views of flocks of Redshank, Dunlin and Lapwing all escaping the tide, (I also managed to get some chips off Keith which I really appreciated as I was freezing and very hungry).


As the tide reached it's height, every now and then you'd catch glimpses of Black Headed Gulls getting very interested in something in the water, and then you'd spot an almost drowned rat, half swimming, half running through the flooded grass. One poor rat survived all the gulls and raptors only to face a screaming woman when it reached the wall, but it was quite funny.

 Some of the longer legged birds, like this Little Egret below, decided to stay put and just let the water rise around them. 

I've got to say a massive thank you to everyone who came and supported me, and of course a massive thank you to Dan Trotman who has been great in letting me volunteer on these days. It was great to catch up with all of you. 

Oh and we ate Chris Packham's slice of cake!


The Blog Off

Mark and I are both writing a blog on Parkgate and we are having a blog off. So there will be 1 point for the most views and 1 point for the most comments. Marks brilliant write up of the day is here. And even though it is a blog off, I have to say his write up is very good and quite funny.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Dipping out of England

Due to it being half term, like most kids, we have had the week off, however sadly it isn't the same for the parents, so last week for three days I was treated to a small holiday in North Wales. After a reasonably long journey I was glad to arrive at my Grandma's, and arrive to all the superb birds you can watch and see there.  Her house is in an old wood, but has fields at the front and a river in the bottom of the valley.

Arriving quite early in the morning gave me a nice opportunity to get out with my camera, and get some pictures of anything I could see really. In the end, I succeeded in getting some nice snaps of Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Siskins, however also observing a couple of Bullfinches and a solitary Goldcrest.

Grandma's woods

When I finished my quick ramble outside, it was good to catch up even more with my Auntie Jennie from Norway, who was staying in Wales for one more day. I wanted to also have a quick conversation to Jennie's husband, my uncle Knute, who unfortunately didn't come over, however we managed to say hello over Facetime. Over in Norway at their place, they still had about two foot of snow.  It was great to catch up with Auntie Jennie and Knute, and I hope I'll be able to catch up with them again, over in Norway possibly.

After a first good day, on Wednesday I decided to go to a coniferous forest called Bod Petryal, in hope of some nice species. As we were driving, a raptor suddenly flew in front of the car and then turned and flew in front so we were following it. It was a stunning Merlin. we followed it for about 40 seconds, so we got great views of it before it veered off over the hedge.

The scenery and countryside here is brilliant, so I was looking forward to seeing what I could find. At first there didn't seem to be too much around, however once I got walking I soon located a mixed flock (or maybe two separate flocks joined together) of Siskin and Crossbill. I heard them first, but I managed to catch a good glimpse of three Crossbill flying over the canopy then back into the safety of the tree tops. 

We continued around the lake of Bod Petryal, getting a cracking Grey Wagtail and another flock of Siskins, this time low enough for me to get some snaps.

Once we had done the full circuit of the lake, seeing quite alot including Crossbills, Goldcrests and Siskins, we all decided to take a visit to the River Alwen.

River Alwen

 I knew what I was looking for, and even before we had parked up I focused in on not one but two Dippers. I saw one last year for the first time  in Wales, again on the River Alwen, but on a different stretch, so I was pretty pleased to get two on a more public area. These two birds were gorgeous and I took as many pictures as I could before they both made their way down the twisting river, dabbling and dipping as they disappeared. 

As I know from over the years, you always have something to surprise you at my Grandma's, however the weather can change everything, so unfortunately on our last day, on Thursday, the rain came in and didn't leave. So really I was stuck  inside, however I still had the bird feeders to entertain me, seeing the usual Nuthatch, Tit species and Woodpecker (Great Spotted).

I have to say a massive thankyou to my Grandma and Grandpa, for letting me stay, and I can't wait to go again next time. By the way I shall be posting about the high tide on Friday Parkgate, volunteering for the RSPB, so don't miss it, some amazing wildlife to talk about!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Teenage Birding & Mothing

On Friday, after a hard working term at school, I finally broke up for half term, on my birthday,and I thought what better way to start my birthday night and half term by visiting Winsford Flash. On Friday evening there didn't seem to be too much about, despite the water levels being low. We only saw a few Gull species (mainly Black Headed and Lesser Black Backed), so we decided to call it a night and return early in the morning.

Winsford Flash

When we got home it was time to open my presents, and to my delight I got some brilliant gifts, including a new set of Opticron bins, and plenty of pocket guides, including one on mushrooms which I'd been asking for, for ages. 

The next morning on Saturday, after a great birthday, I resolved, like I said, to head back to Winsford Flash. We (me and dad) decided to park at the bottom end of Winsford Flash to see if we could find the Kingfisher, and to our delight within five minutes a lovely female turned up and we got some great views. Nevertheless, there was a negative side to the visit. A while back I put up a wildlife crime poster, and when we arrived in the bottom car park that poster had disappeared, however the attachments for the poster were still there, so obviously someone had ripped it off. I will be putting another one back up of course.

After the great views of the Kingfisher, we moved onto the top side of the flash, where we normally get the more exciting species. Due to the water levels still being low, the muddy area held about 400 Lapwing and a surprising, but brilliant, 7 Teal (5 males and 2 females). My new binoculars were working really well and I got some great close up views of the birds.

Unfortunately though one of the four feeders I put up at Winsford Flash had been stolen, and there was also a dead Little Grebe floating near the bank, but not close enough to reach. So definitely a need for a wildlife crime poster (or 2) to go back up.

Roost Ringing

I knew this week was going to be jam packed with events, so after Winsford flash, a bit of patch birding, it was time to go ringing, this time doing a roost. I was so glad to be out after being sick on the Saturday last week and the weather holding us back for much of January.

Only part of our usual team were out this weekend as they had other things on, but it was great to see Peter, Moxey and Sophie;  however catching birds was a bit slow during the afternoon. The usual tit species were about and it was nice to have several Goldcrests with a mixture of new birds and a couple of re-traps from several years ago.  

It wasn't really until a lot later in the afternoon when things really started to get going when the Chaffinches came into roost.  One thing we have noticed over the last month or so is the lack of finches in general, there doesn't seem to be that many about across our various ringing sites.

Whilst the Chaffinches were coming in, we also managed to catch this superb looking Jay.

Jays are beautiful birds and we don't catch that many. In fact, not that many are ringed across the whole of the UK as they are very shy and wary and are off in a flash with their very noisy shriek type call.

Jays are sometimes shot or trapped like magpies and have been persecuted a lot over the centuries for many reasons as they have been described as pests and their blue feathers were used for fishing flies or as decoration for hats. I have an old book which someone kindly gave me and thought I'd look up what it said about the Jay ...

"more strictly a woodland bird than the pie, the vinaceous  (I had to look that word up) plumaged Jay is less familiar, but in some game preserves its mangled corpse decorates or disfigures most keepers' gibbets. Persecution has failed to destroy it, and today in many areas, the jay is not decreasing."     
This extract is taken from  Birds of the Wayside and Woodland - T A Coward.

After a great session of ringing, it was time to go home, however I heard news that my Auntie Jennie from Norway was coming over for tea, who I hadn't met since I was a tiny baby, so I was quite excited about meeting her, and asking her all about the wildlife in Norway (apparently she gets wolves and moose in the fields near by).  I really hope we can go and stay with her soon.

After a long drive home, I finally met her and I've got to say she was lovely, I even got a birthday present. I will see Auntie Jennie again at my Grandma's this week so I can talk even more about the wildlife in Norway and show her some of the wildlife in North Wales. 

First Moth Trap Success of 2015

After it being quite a warm day, I decided to try my luck with the moth trap; it being four - five degrees over night (so the weather said, but I woke up to a frost in the morning). However, despite  this, the moth trap succeeded in catching one moth, but a species I've never caught before. Dad and I spent ages trying to ID it and came up with the following conclusions:

Too small for a Pale Brindled Beauty
No dark spot for an Early Moth
Wrong wing shape for a Winter Moth

 We think it is a dark form Spring Usher, however people on Twitter have said it's a possible Dotted Border, (but we think it is too small to be a dotted border)  so any suggestions and help on that would be very welcomed. 

Sunday Birding at Sandbach Flash

After I'd  finished with the moth, me and my mum this time decided to take a trip to Sandbach Flashes, since it turned out to be a lovely day for birding. Unfortunately a lot of the feeders had been stolen, so I decided to give away one of my fat ball feeders full of fat balls to help replace them. A very kind man helped us find a great place to hang it, hopefully high enough up to stop it being stolen.

As usual the wader life was pretty good, including hundreds of Lapwing, and I managed to pick out 4 Black Tailed Godwit, a solitary Redshank and Ruff (below). Also on the main lake I picked out a couple of Snipe, and of course the usual duck life, including Wigeon, Teal and Mallard.

Now my mum wanted to do some photography, so we decided to watch the "letter box feeder" to see what came down, my mum managed to get some great pictures of the usual Tit species and one of my favorite finches, Chaffinches, including this unfortunate male Chaffinch which has Papillomatosis on it's leg quite bad caused by the papillomavirus.

With it being quite a cold morning, the birds on the feeders seemed to be quite active, with woodpeckers, up to 4 individuals squabbling over food and territory. As you can see in the picture below this male Great Spotted Woodpecker managed to get the food to itself for a bit, on the larger fat ball feeder. All morning we could hear them drumming.

Mum decided to bring some of our own bird food, to see if she could get the birds on more natural perches and it seemed to slightly pay off with mum getting this funny, yet good picture of a Great Tit in a half flight position (just taking off).

What a brilliant mix of wildlife for my first weekend of teenage birding.  Next up North Wales and then a great high tide weekend at Parkgate.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Triskaidekaphobia - Good Question 24

Good evening and welcome to Quiz Night Tuesday

I will be 13 on Friday.....a teenager. 13 on Friday the 13th!!!!!

So tonight's quiz is linked to the number thirteen, well sort of. So far this year I have done 18 BTO Birdtrack lists and recorded 96 species. But can you name the 13 species I have seen most commonly. I will give you a clue, all the birds in the top 13 were always seen at either Frodsham Marsh, Winsford Flash and Sandbach Flash, so wetland areas. 

The person that gets the most species right will win a slice of Birthday cake, but to claim the prize you need to collect it from me at Parkgate on the Wirral (Hightide and Hen Harriers) on 22nd February.  It would be great if any of you could come over for that day.

Good Luck.

I will post the answers tomorrow night.

The Answer

So here are the 13 birds that have appeared most often in my Birdtrack surveys so far this year (and the number of times they have appeared and the number of locations where they have been present):

Black Headed Gull (18 times at 10 locations)
Cormorant (15 times at 10 locations)
Magpie (14 times at 7 locations)
Robin (13 times at 6 locations)
Mallard (13 times at 7 locations)
Herring Gull (13 times at 7 locations)
Blackbird (12 times at 6 locations)
Tufted Duck (11 times at 6 locations)
Redshank (11 times at 7 locations)
Pied Wagtail ( 11 times at 8 locations)
Moorhen (11 times at 6 locations)
Coot (11 times at 6 locations)
Carrion Crow (11 times at 8 locations)

So the winner is David McGrath with 7 right. Cake for you on 22nd February at Parkgate (but I am sure there will be spare slices if anyone else can come). Thank you to everyone else for having a go. Douglas, imagine if just one of your birds had appeared!!!!!

P.S. Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13, but nothing to be scared of with these fabulous 13 birds.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Laughing Gull

After missing out on ringing, and having been feeling slightly under the weather, with a sore throat and a pretty bad cough, I was glad I had perked up a bit, so I decided to take a chance at seeing the Laughing Gull at New Brighton, about an hour away from my home, even though it was quite thick fog.

The bird had been around the marine lake on the pontoons for quite a few days, so me and mum decided to try watching the marine lake on the incoming tide. High tide was at about 1:30pm so we arrived at about 11:30am to watch what the tide would push in. After about twenty minutes or so, a couple of roosting waders started to make their way onto the pontoons; Turnstone and Redshank.

As I'm sure you know the Laughing Gull is quite a rare bird for the UK and comes from North America. It may have been blown off course by the storms in the US. Being in such an easy to reach location, the bird had attracted quite alot of attention and there must have been at least a hundred people surrounding the marine lake by the time we left. It was also great to see the interest from the non-birders and I showed quite a few of these people the gull through my scope, explaining a bit about it.  

After about forty five minutes, the Laughing Gull made it's first appearance with a quick fly by from the direction of the sea front, however it soon spiraled round and turned back to the beach. So we had to wait a little longer, in the freezing cold, for it to make another attempt at landing on the pontoons.

It wasn't too long before the Laughing Gull swung back round and landed briefly on the pontoons before again taking off again. When the bird had landed we noticed that the bird looked like it had an injured left wing, this may have been a strain from battling through those storms. But it was preening and feeding which is a good sign.

When it finally came back, it stayed for quite a long time, mixing with the smaller birds like Redshanks and Turnstones, and occasionally finding a solitary space to sit in. It never seemed to be with the bigger birds, however we managed to get some brilliant views when it came right on to the first pontoon off the marina wall, only about 10 metres away!!

With the bird being so close, mum managed to crack on and get some great pictures.

I was really glad to get out for a few hours and meet some other birders, but I was sorry that I missed Danny, Lucy McRoberts and Rob Lambert, so I hope to catch up with them all soon. 

With it's injured wing, the bird will probably hang around for a while.  And if you wonder where it gets it's name from, have a listen here.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Sore Throat Tweetment

I thought this weekend was going to be very short of birds, because I have a really bad throat infection at the moment and have not been able to go out.  But sometimes it does you good to have a little reminder of the wonders right under your nose.

So I sat by the window all morning and enjoyed a pair of Reed Buntings who have been visiting since the hard frosts last week.

The full list of my "through the window birding" was Reed Bunting, Dunnock, Robin, Starling, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Black Headed Gull, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wren, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove....then a short break when the neighbours cat strolled through..........Jay, House Sparrow, Rook. 

But one of the best spectacles was a big flock of Fieldfare feeding in the field in amongst the Starlings and even some Lapwing nearly all day.

So a fabulous 20 species and all from the settee.  I am hoping to feel well enough to get out of the house tomorrow though.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Heroes (We Could Be)

There have been a lot of Hen Harrier discussions recently.

This blog is pure and simply to say thank you.  Last year Harry the Hen Harrier was born and what a journey it has been since. In December I created my just giving page to raise money for RSPB Skydancers. The majority of money raised came from selling my "Wishing You a Harry Christmas" cards. There were just 2 people I never managed to find and send their cards to, but I did really try to find you. In buying the cards and making donations you have raised over £500.

The best thing about the cards though was being able to get the Hen Harrier story in to so many different houses over Christmas, and not just those who know about Hen Harriers already. In all the turmoil surrounding the Hen Harriers, my main goal has been to raise lots of awareness. 

In this blog and the video below I want to thank everyone who has played a part in raising awareness for Hen Harriers through Harry selfies, sending cards, showing their support and really just caring. If I have missed anyone off, please send me your Harry pictures and I will of course post them on this blog post. 

I feel that things are changing for Hen Harriers and I feel that you are all helping to make that happen. Conservation is moving on and we need to be with it all the way. 

We will be Heroes.

The extra pictures:

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Purple Sandpipers and Snow Bunting

Due to strong wind this weekend, ringing was sadly cancelled, so today we all decided to do a bit of coastal birding, stopping off at several different sites. To start off with we took the M56 up to New Brighton on the Wirral (where I have visited before for the purpose of watching Project Wild Thing). However this time the visit was all about birds (and a smooth promenade for Harley's scooter).

As we arrived the tide was right in, splashing up against the promenade defense and on to the main path; where still some people decided to walk alongside the sea wall, no doubt getting drenched. Anyway we resolved to wait a while for the tide to retreat a bit and then walked slowly along the promenade until we came to the marina just opposite a shopping arcade.   

After a good scan of the marina water (looking for any merganser or duck species) we turned to check the decking areas off the main wall. These smaller strips of wooden decking were packed full of small waders sheltering from the wind and resting whilst the tide retreated far enough back for them to return to the main estuary.

Along side this compact mixture of waders, I located a couple of Cormorants and gull species (Lesser Black Backed Gull, Great Black Backed Gull, and Black Headed Gull). However, my attention was mainly drawn to the wader flock. 

The majority species of bird in the flock were Redshank, however I manged to pick out a couple of nice birds, including one of my target birds of the day, the one and only stunning Purple Sandpiper. Before I set off, I was hoping for even a brief glance of one, however I counted 11 of these birds sheltering with some Dunlin. I felt privileged to be this close to them, and see them for the first time and for so long. 

Along with the Purple Sandpipers I noticed a couple of Turnstones, and was amazed at how well they can blend in with the plumage of the other waders when they were all hunkered down. After a while a couple of these birds took flight to different areas, working with the tide. 

It felt weird that the Purple Sandpipers were surrounded by restaurants and several different amusement places, yet people strolling around have no idea what amazing wonders were right under their noses.

After a good hard look at the Purple Sandpipers, taking in all the knowledge of their plumage differences, we decided to move on further down the promenade. As it was quite windy, there was a bit of sand being whipped back and forth across the path, so we had to make sure the scope and cameras were packed away. We got through the worst of the sand storm and arrived at another part of the beach. The wind must have been a bit too strong for even the bravest waders, as there was nothing to see, so we wandered back for one more look and those stunning Purple Sandpipers.

As we walked back to the car, we noticed the sea spray was still climbing over the edge of the sea wall, threatening to soak you if it could! The next stop was to try and find the Snow Bunting which were right at the other end of the promenade. However, we decided to go for it anyway, despite the icy cold chill of the vicious wind.

We knew finding these birds was going to be a challenge, however surprisingly dad soon located them, not to big a distance away from us. Through the scope these birds looked great in the winter plumage against the varied layers of sand; flighty and skippy, dashing from smaller dunes to the next, but lying low if anyone passed close by and relying on their camouflage. 

After noticing one (above) a second one came to join it, hunkered down against the sand, probably feeding and sheltering from the wind. However, in the freezing cold wind, we couldn't quite manage to stick around for longer than fifteen minutes, so we resolved to move on to one of our next locations, the marina area at West Kirby.

After a brilliant trip and birding day out at New Brighton, we moved on to where we saw the summer plumaged Grey Plover a few weeks ago, West Kirby. Unlike last time the marina was empty apart from a few Cormorants, probably due to the choppiness of the water.

After a good scan of the marina, in case of anything I missed, we moved onto the path alongside the estuary, seeing firstly five Turnstones about two meters away which was great to see. Also out on the estuary we could pick out hundreds of Oystercatcher, thousands of Dunlin and a couple of Grey Plover, feeding alongside the retreating tide. 

After a great day, I couldn't wait to get back and blog about the day and relive those special moments.

I hope you have all had a great weekend.