Friday, 12 February 2010

Spring Migration

Due to an imminent move into North Wales I have decided to discontinue this blog and start blogging on the new site - after all ‘chesterbirder’ would have been of a misnomer!

The site and its content will be very similar to this one, but given that practically all my birding and nature watching will be focused on North East Wales I felt that a change of name was the order of the day.

I wanted to pick a name that was synonymous with the area and after some thought there is no more an iconic bird for Clwyd than the Black Grouse. It also means that if I move in the future it is less likely that I will have to change name again!

I would like to end by thanking all the regular readers of this blog over the last nine months, particularly people like Keith, Ash, Phil, Denzil, Andy, John, 'The Gents' and 007 who have been kind enough to post numerous comments. Thanks guys.

Hare Krishna.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Instruments of Torture

The release of the methods of torture Binyam Mohamed was subject to may have made the news headlines today, but my own personal instrument of torment was a set of bathroom scales I had a nasty encounter with a couple of days back.

In fairness the warning signs have been evident for a while, but the reading was still an unwelcome shock – I half expected the scales to quote the line from Get Carter “You’re a big bloke, but you’re out of shape”.

With the Welsh Uplands open for business in a couple of months, I decided some urgent action was required. After all, and to get back on the Mohamed theme again – “If the mountain won’t come to Mohamed…” well you know the rest and I’m not going to get a trip of Dotterel in my back garden am I?

So it was that ‘Operation Fighting Fit’ began in earnest today with a thirteen mile walk around Lake Vyrnwy – somewhere flat to ease me in!

I didn’t anticipate much on the birding front and I didn’t get much. Waterfowl seem to be able to smell a man made reservoir from a mile away and generally avoid them like the plague.

This rule rings true as much in India as it does in Wales – the massive Lake Periyar in Kerala has one species of duck on its list – Garganey – and that’s it.

All that I could muster today from six miles of open water was a Little Grebe, a Cormorant, and rather bizarrely a Shelduck that I kept telling myself must be Goosander, despite it being fairly obvious that it was not.

The woodland was not much better with a few roving tit flocks and a handful of Siskins – giving their distinctive wheezing call – all I could muster.

Walking around the lake at least provided me with the chance to look at the reserve close up and personal as well as affording me the opportunity to feel smug every time somebody passed me in a car.

What struck me about the area is how few stands of ancient woodland there actually are here – well over three quarters of the trees are non native and awful conifers to boot, whilst the invasive Rhododendron is rife.

Still, it’s a very scenic valley regardless, all that is needed is a good dose of spring migrants…

Until later.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Marsh Matters

Lots of activity at Burton Marsh this morning, including a large skein of Pinkies and a small RSPB chain-gang engaged in a spot of fence mending – all that was missing was the prison issue boiler suits!

Still hundreds of waterfowl on the numerous flashes, including large numbers of Wigeon and Lapwing – the recent high tides and resultant flooding really has produced a superb spectacle.

Good numbers of birds are not just restricted to the marsh though, with a large flock of finches feeding in the fields behind the Decca Pools. Flying overhead, at least one Brambling was calling (one bird I can pick-up in flight, unlike the characters in the next paragraph!) but the bulk of the numbers seemed to be made up of Chaffinch and Linnets.

Crossing the bridge near Neston Old Quay I had a quick scan for Water Pipits, but before I had a chance to look properly three birds shot up from the stream and flew off towards the sewage works. All giving off single calls, it seems likely that they were either Rock or Water Pipits, but I’m afraid my level of competency does not extend to telling the difference between a ‘pseep’ and a ‘weest’ yet!

Try as I might, I could not find one single Harrier on the outer marsh today, just a couple of blokes with Alsatians - trying their damnedest to disturb every bird within two miles of Denhall Old Quay - and a returning wildfowler.

On a positive note, I heard my first singing Chaffinch of the year – yet another sign that spring is not too far away now. Let’s hope this latest does of cold weather is the last medicine we have to take this winter!

Until later.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Have I Got Smews For You

Having waited for the best part of five years for a Red-necked Grebe or drake Smew to turn up somewhere reasonably local, my patience finally evaporated yesterday and 007 and I motored over to east Nottinghamshire to try and net both these elusive species.

First port of call was Hoveringham Gravel Pits where after some searching the resident Red-necked Grebe was located at the far corner of the water. Busily fishing for sticklebacks it all but ignored us as it moved to about forty yards from us - stood on the shore - affording cracking views in the ‘scope.

Not the best name for a bird really ‘Red-necked.’ Hick Grebe, Deliverance Grebe, Dungarees Grebe, or my personal choice ‘Cajun Swamp Grebe’, are all far less sinister.

With the bird drifting away from us as it slept off its fish breakfast, there was just enough time for a quick scan of the lake that netted both Kingfisher and Goldeneye, before setting course for Attenborough NR near Nottingham to try and catch up with the drake Smews.

The most handsome of ducks was an absolute nightmare to find and it took two laps and three hours of the area before we eventually found a pair of drakes skulking in an inaccessible corner. They were fairly distant, but with the scope trained on them, we enjoyed excellent views. A genuinely stunning bird and well worth the wait!

Attenborough unquestionably possesses some excellent habitat, but the massive area of flooded gravel pits serve more as a park for local people, than an actual nature reserve, with no attempt by the wildlife trust to delineate between the two.

Most of the ‘wild’ birds seek refuge in the quieter regions of the site (of which there are few) whilst the ‘domesticated’ birds (including worryingly tame Tufted Ducks, Ruddy Shelduck, Egyptian Goose and Red-crested Pochard) besiege the area near the cafeteria.

The result is an unholy mess if I am honest. Conservation organisations only need to look at the WWT reserve at Martin Mere to recognise that it is fairly straight forward to keep the wild and captive parts separate and cater for birders, casual observers and day-trippers alike.

That aside, there were still many excellent birds to enjoy including well over fifty Goosander, Goldeneye, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Tree Sparrow and even a handful of Ruddy Duck that have managed to evade the guns of the Environment Agency.

Until later.

Friday, 5 February 2010

It Was Dark, Okay?

They say travel broadens the mind, but not everything you experience and learn abroad is necessarily of use – especially when you are standing on a lane north of Garth Wood looking at a silhouette in the top of an oak tree.

My brain was screaming “IT’S A BARBET”, which was a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw had I been walking around the arboretum in Darjeeling, not a hillside in Flintshire.

Minor geographical anomaly notwithstanding, I had to agree with the old grey matter – it did indeed resemble a Barbet. Mistle Thrush was the next best guess, but the bird looked too chunky for a thrush and the tail was too stubby.

Fortunately the bird soon clocked me and took off flying directly away from me. Within a nanosecond I realised what I had been looking at - the clear yellow rump and dipping flight meant it was obviously a Green Woodpecker – how could I have been so obtuse? Too much knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing.

Other than my Lineated Woodpecker, Garth Wood was well stocked with commoner birds today. No sign of any of the rarer tits today or indeed a Lesser Spot. The habitat looks good for all three, but as of yet Marsh Tit is the only species I have bagged.

On a disturbing note, Flintshire Council had placed a notice about a “POISIONING INSIDENT” (sic) in the woods that had led to a fatality. Reading between the lines I inferred that some poor mutt must have eaten some laced meat. I’m not sure what’s more worriying: learning that this sort of sickening and reprehensible activity still goes on, or that somebody working in a reasonable position of authority has such piss-poor spelling.

Until later.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

It's Grim Up North

I don’t know about you, but I am seriously considering stuffing my face with McDonalds three times a day (grim, I know, but theses are desperate times) and then finding the nearest cave where I will hunker down and set the alarm clock for April.

Despite the minging weather at Inner Marsh Farm this afternoon, I did at least enjoy an excellent hour and a half at lunchtime over at Connah’s Quay with thousands of waders feeding very close to the west hide on an advancing tide.

The numbers of shorebirds at Connah’s Quay has been fairly modest over recent weeks, so it was a real treat to see big flocks of Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwit probing, prodding and drilling their way through the gloriously gloopy mud.

Interestingly, at least twenty Bar-tailed Godwits were mixed in with their taller and drabber brothers. Given that they favour hanging with Grey Plovers and Sanderling on sandy shores they are fairly unusual on the muddier flats off Oakenholt – I can’t recall seeing more than the odd one or two before.

I just had enough time left to squeeze in a visit to Inner Marsh Farm where again there was plenty of wildfowl on the reserve, but with very few birds on the hide pool. With the sleet driving through the windows I didn’t hang around long, but I was cheered slightly by the appearance of a few snowdrops near the car park – spring can’t to be too far away now…..surely!

It was interesting to note two more Sparrowhawks today; just based on my observations, I wager these efficient little hunting machines have been filling their boots this winter. They seem to be very conspicuous at the moment and I wonder if the weakened state of many songbirds during the freezing temperatures has increased hunting success and reduced the hawk’s attrition rate?

Anyway, I’m off to find a cave. Nothing on the websites of Rightmove or Beresford Adams…..perhaps I should try Cave-ndish Ikin.

Connah’s Quay 03.02.10

2,000 Dunlin
1,000 Black-tailed Godwit
300 Oystercatcher
200 Knot
50 Redshank
20 Bar-tailed Godwit
2 Sparrowhawk

Until later.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Vanishing Point

An exceptionally high tide at the Point of Ayr this morning produced an excellent crop of birds, with the pick being an incredible count of ninety five Brent Geese that arrived in two equal sized skeins about twenty minutes apart.

The water practically covered the spit today – the first time I have seen this happen. A tide of 10.1m had been predicted – lower than yesterday – but the combination of falling atmospheric pressure and a strengthening wind conspired to produce a big ‘un.

I had started out the morning with a seawatch - hoping to locate a small flock of Long-tailed Ducks that had been reported over the last couple of days. No joy, but plenty of Red-throated Divers past and a couple of Guillemots too.

I needed little encouragement to pack the seawatching in as he birds were not flying very close to the shore and when I spotted a Short-eared Owl cruising along the beach I sensed things must have started to get interesting on the marsh, so I headed over to near the café.

To my astonishment the water was already up to the embankment with an hour still to go. Pintail, Teal, Shelduck, Redshank and Curlew comprised the lion’s share of the birds, but a few goodies were present too in the form of a Red-breasted Merganser and a Spotted Redshank, whilst the first flock of Brent Geese soon touched down.

Closer scrutiny of the waders revealed a lone Bar-tailed Godwit – a nice addition to my Flintshire list – but the arrival of more Brent Geese had me trying to get an accurate count of their numbers. Ninety five in total – including at least two Dark-bellied Birds - and perhaps a record count for this site?

Point of Ayr 02.02.10

1 Short-eared Owl
95 Brent Goose (inc 2 Dark-bellied)
15+ Red-throated Diver
2 Guillemot
1 Spotted Redshank
3+ Rock Pipit
3 RB Merganser
2 GC Grebe

Until later.