Thursday, December 31, 2009

The plan for this week was simple: Martí Rodríguez, Oriol Clarabuch his girlfriend Maria were going to fly to the UK for five days; we were going to spend a couple of nights in Norfolk and then go and see the Pacific Diver and the Brown Shrike. If any of them had gone, we had a backup plan to head to Scotland for the nearctic waders that were up that way. Then, one by one, the birds started to disappear. Then the snow arrived... Eventually they decided to cut their losses and made the (probably sensible) decision to stay in Spain. So, that left us with a fully paid for but non-refundable and currently empty room in King's Lynn. Not wanting to let it go to waste, I decided to head down there for a couple of days myself.
First stop was early Monday morning at Coveney, Cambs. A flock of several hundred swans in a field was made up of Bewick's and Whoopers, the former marginally outnumbering the latter, and a Barn Owl was hunting along a roadside ditch. Just south of the village there was one Common Buzzard but no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard that is hanging around in the area.

Next stop Norfolk. No sign of the 'Golden' Pheasants at Wolferton, although 2 Muntjac Deer were feeding by the side of the road. There was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike at Dersingham Bog and no sign of the Long-eared Owl that has apparently been roosting in pines near the far end of the boardwalk recently. The only sighting of any note was, oddly, a Pale-bellied Brent Goose that flew west over with a dozen Pink-footed Geese.
Down at Wells, the flock of Brent Geese was feeding on the pitch & putt course, all Dark-bellied. More were feeding on the football pitch, again all Dark-bellied. Back at the pitch & putt, the flock there had swollen with the addition of more birds flying in from the harbour including an adult Black Brant and another adult bird that could possibly be a Black Brant x Dark-bellied Brent Goose hybrid - more on that when I've had chance to read a few things, though.

adult Black Brant

Most bizarre sight of the afternoon was a man in a fluorescent jacket making his boat disappear in a puff of smoke:

At Holkham, the adult white morph Greater Snow Goose was with Pink-footed Geese west of Lady Ann's Drive. A walk down to the Joe Jordan hide produced nothing more than a couple of Barn Owls and the always impressive site of 1000s of Pink-footed Geese arriving to roost, dropping down into the mist over the marsh.

^ Snow Goose - typical views

^ Farmyard goose, showing well...

First port of call on Tuesday morning was Thornham harbour to dip some Lapland Buntings, though a Barn Owl and a Marsh Harrier were over the fields towards Holme.
Titchwell was largely frozen and with a bitterly cold wind wasn't too pleasant a place to be. Five Avocets were the only birds of interest on the freshmarsh. A Water Pipit flew over the path before disappearing into the saltmarsh vegetation. A pair of Bearded Tits gave excellent views close to the path, even if keeping track of them was hard work as they got thrown around in the wind. The female was a nice example of a 'streaked' bird.

Down on the beach there was the usual selection of waders. Thirty or so Snow Buntings were at the far end of the beach, flighty and giving nothing better than distant scope views. Out to sea there was nothing much more exciting than a handful of Common Eider and some distant Common Scoter.
Back to Holkham, a flock of 22 Egyptian Geese were feeding in a field just west of the freshmarsh along with a single Mute Swan.

A mixed flock of Greylags and Pink-footed Geese were in fields south of the A149 and held a single Barnacle Goose and 14 Eurasian White-fronted Geese (7 juveniles).

^ White-fronted Goose

^ Not-quite-white-fronted Goose

Wednesday was spent heading back north. First stop was at Bevercotes Pit Wood, Notts, where highlights were some Lesser Redpolls in with a mixed flock of Siskins and Goldfinch and a pair of European Stonechats...
Things were a little bit more successful at Pugneys Country Park, West Yorkshire, where the 1cy drake Ring-necked Duck showed well even if conditions were quite grim and it spent most of its time asleep!

No such luck at nearby Anglers' Country Park where there was no sign of the Ferruginous Duck (annoyingly it later transpired that it had been present in the afternoon at a site only about half a mile from the Ring-necked Duck! Ah well.) but there was a single 1cy Scaup and a small number of Goosander. Thankfully it wasn't all bad news: the M62 was surprisingly clear on the way home, despite the snow piles high along the verges!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And there was me thinking we were over the worst of it...

An hour later there was another inch and a half on top of what you can see already there in the picture!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Today looked like it wasn't going to happen - I woke up to the sound of our neighbour's car wheels spinning on the ice outside our house. Eventually they gave up on trying to get anywhere. Then, while I was getting ready, I could hear several more cars outside slipping and sliding down the road. There was also the small matter of clearing the ice off the car - outside and inside. Eventually though I was away and, once on the main roads, things weren't too bad.
The day was spent birding across in the not-quite-Wirral bit of Wirral with Alex Jones. First up was the Richard's Pipit at Little Neston. After traipsing round the frozen marsh looking for the bird, it eventually decided to show itself about 50 yards from the Harp Inn car park, showing really well in between hail showers...

Unfortunately my first camera battery soon ran out, then a few photos later so did my second! I put my third and final battery in the camera only to find the low battery warning symbol showing itself! The really annoying thing is that all three batteries had been charged, although I suspect the charger is on its last legs. Managed to get enough shots to act as some sort of record, at least, and also to show the degree of post-juvenile moult, which was really quite obvious in the field and nice to look at.

All of the median coverts have been replaced; the feather pattern is perhaps not the most pointed but is probably more pointed than it is blunt, and within variation for Richard's Pipit I imagine. Four inner greater coverts have been moulted, leaving six retained juvenile greater coverts. The middle and large tertials have been moulted but the small tertial is retained from juvenile plumage.
A ringtail Hen Harrier was out over the marsh some distance away and there was the usual collection of Little Egrets, Redshank, Curlew etc in the saltmarsh itself.

Our planned trip to Inner Marsh Farm was cut short when we remembered the reserve was closed on Tuesdays, so we headed to the pub instead for a spot of lunch.

The final part of the day was spent in the old boathouse car park at Parkgate where 2 Hen Harriers came into roost, both first years, one male and one female, helpfully in the same 'scope view at one point for size comparison.

Little Egrets were streaming past, presumably heading to roost at Inner Marsh Farm, and at dusk 3 Short-eared Owls and a Barn Owl were hunting over the marsh. A nice end to an enjoyable day.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best laid plans and all that... I had planned on getting out and doing one of my BTO atlas timed visits this morning, then I opened the curtains to this:

OK, it's hardly 3 foot deep drifts, but still. And it's been snowing/hailing pretty much continuously all day so far. I probably could have gone out but I suspect it would have borderline "periods of especially inclement weather", plus the centre of my tetrad survey area being on a sloping bit of parkland, the local woods would no doubt have been full of scallies and screaming kids on sledges...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

And this afternoon.... finally, some birding. Of sorts. I headed out to Frodsham to have a look for the Water Pipit that's been seen there recently but got distracted on the way out by this covey of 11 Grey Partridge in fields a couple of miles down the road from my house.

The same covey was also there the other week. I have a suspicion that they might have been released; not only have I never seen Grey Partridge there before (though that's not to say they aren't there), they were also in exactly the same place - within a couple of meters - as the spot they were in the other week. Ah well, who knows. Two Golden Plover were also in the same field with 79 Lapwing, nice to see locally.

By the time I eventually got to Frodsham the light was fading and the weather was turning a bit grim. No sign of the Water Pipit in a brief search though there were plenty of Redwings and Fieldfare in the area with a large flock around the horse paddocks by the motorway bridge just before dusk.
It was -5 °C when I left the house this morning; by midday the temperature had risen to a balmy 0 °C. Ringing at Woolston was steady, with birds coming into the feeding station right through the morning. Mostly the usual stuff: Reed Buntings, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, tits etc. The only bird of any real note was a first-year male Great Spotted Woodpecker (below).

A few Redwings and Fieldfares were buzzing around all morning and a Peregrine passed overhead before landing on one of the nearby rubble mounds to consume the prey it was carrying.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ringing at a site in north Cheshire this morning, highlights included a 1st winter female Firecrest (below, originally ringed at the same site a month ago) and 11 Redwings.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An early start this morning, out of bed at 03:30 to get to a site just outside Lymm for about 04:30. We put our nets up over a boggy area and waited. Our plan worked and just before dawn we caught five bird - 3 Common Snipe and 2 Jack Snipe.

Both Jack Snipe - adult in front, 1st winter behind

1st winter Jack Snipe with adult-type Common Snipe

The rest of the morning was spent at Woolston where it was generally quiet apart from 'the usual feeding station stuff'.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Out with Kane Brides again today, this time ringing at Redesmere near Macclesfield. The main aim was to colour-ring some Coot as part of Kane's on-going project, though we took the chance to grab anything else that came close enough. Totals for the morning were 11 Coot (9 new & 3 retraps), 4 Tufted Duck (including one control), 3 Mallard, and a Black-headed Gull.

Coot colour rings

drake Tufted Duck

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Today was spent ringing around Southport marina with Kane Brides, grabbing whatever we could attract in with a few loaves of bread. Thirteen birds in total: 8 Mute Swans, 3 Black-headed Gulls and 2 Canada Geese.

adult male Canada Goose

2nd winter male Mute Swan. Aged by the grey feathering on the head and brown feathers on the rump. Sexed by... erm... 'examination'.

Then we headed down to Sands Lake, Ainsdale, where we were joined by John Gramauskas and Chris Tynan. Another two Mute Swans and a Tufted Duck were added to the day's totals.

male Tufted Duck

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Nobody say 'partial albino', nobody gets hurt

One thing (of many!) that really hacks me off is the term 'partial albino'. I'd always found it a bit odd, a bit like being 'a bit pregnant' or, erm, something else like that that doesn't really make sense. You either are or you aren't; a bird is either albino or it's not. The problem was that I never knew what the correct term was and so carried on using a phrase that clearly contradicted itself, cringing slightly inside every time I did so. Then I saw the light... or, more accurately, read THIS. In a nutshell, albinos are white all over with red eyes and unless you give then a pair of sunglasses they die; leucism is a lack of a pigment due to it's distribution into the feather (rather than its production) being blocked and can occur in any number of feathers, from one to all, though they always have normal colour eyes; and what most people call 'leucistic' (brown/washed-out looking) is in fact 'dilute'. So, the gull above, at Moore today, is fairly extensively leucistic and in no way shape or form albino (to any degree!). Sorted.