Saturday, 25 September 2010

Marsh Harriers and other raptors at Inner Marsh Farm, Cheshire

September 25, 2010:
The intermittent appearance of five different species of raptor kept the other bird-life under great stress. Most persistent were two Marsh Harriers which relentessly quartered the marsh and pools.

Lapwings and other waders appeared to be their main target but on several occasions the Lapwings retaliated when in sufficient numbers by mobbing the harriers although even the Greylags seemed to show some apprehension.

A Peregrine gave an impressive aerial display lasting several minutes, mainly chasing the Lapwings but failed to make a catch and departed elsewhere. A Hobby made a single pass over the pools but was also unsuccessful. This bird was very pale in the vent area and was presumably a juvenile. An isolated Lapwing resisted an attention from a Sparrowhawk whilst two Buzzards circled harmlessly high overhead.

The Whiskered Tern which had been present here for several days seemed to have departed but there were at least five Greenshank, three Ruff, a Black-tailed Godwit and Little Stint on the pools. Migrant Hawker dragonflies flew in good numbers around the reed beds.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Black Terns: aerobatics at Leighton Moss, Lancashire

September 15, 2010:
At least two, possibly three, Black Terns were flying over the large fresh water pools here today. They restlessly patrolled close above the water, mainly searching for insects which they took in the air or neatly picked off the surface. These are small terns and unlike others of the family they don't dive for fish. They had a very agile fast flight and frequently turned sharply to pick up airborne prey. Although watched for two hours, they were never seen to land.

They seemed to be especially attracted to the margins of the reed beds, possibly because the weather was cool and most insects were there.

These are autumn passage migrants, soon to fly south to Africa where they over-winter. Not regular nesters in Britain, they favour fresh water marshes, often in association with Black-headed Gulls to provide some protection.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Red-backed Shrike at Frodsham Marsh, Cheshire

September 11, 2010:
Far out on the flat agricultural marshland at Frodsham and quite close to the Mersey estuary, a Red-backed Shrike had been reported present two days earlier. Known to be still there this morning it was thought well worth the one hundred mile round-trip to see it.

For all three days, it had apparently kept to just a small area perhaps one hundred metres wide. The attractions here were obvious, many fence posts for perching and an abundance of thistle plants which were attracting a variety of insects. Although it took a wasp on one occasion butterflies were its main prey, as it routinely dropped off the posts every minute or so to take Small Tortoiseshells from the thistle heads. Back on its post, the wings were neatly discarded before it devoured its catch. The unfortunate butterflies were a very easy prey and this seemed a cruel example of nature where such beautiful but defenceless creatures had no chance against a hungry shrike. Indeed it must have been hungry as it never attempted to store food on the nearby barbed wire fence. I watched it for almost three hours rarely closer than 100 metres and often much more and suspect that it was probably an immature female.

The site with the bird at distance just visible on a post to right of centre and the large industrial chemical plant in the background

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Whinchat at Conder Green, Lancashire

September 8, 2010
On clumps of thistles close to the pool at Conder Green, with a lack of competition from other birds, a Whinchat was making the most of the opportunity to feed on the seed heads. It appeared to be an immature bird with a spotted breast. It stayed in the immediate area for more than an hour but was very active, often perching on the Phragmites before dropping to the ground to feed there as well.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Buzzard, Brockholes Wetlands, Lancashire

September 2, 2010:
After only having had very distant views of the two Ospreys at Foulshaw yesterday, my luck with raptors changed when driving up the Brockholes approach road early this evening. A Buzzard had perched on a fence post opposite the main lay-by but, startled by the approaching car, flew off only to settle again on top of a nearby hazel. There was just chance for a few quick photo before, still suspicious, it flew across the lake and out of sight.

It was a pale-plumaged bird with a rather streaked breast and white feathers in its tail, these especially noticeable when in flight. It was probably the same bird seen distantly three days earlier when its plumage was also remarked on as somewhat atypical.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Ospreys at Foulshaw, Cumbria

September 1, 2010:
Almost exactly two years ago to the day, I was lucky enough to see four Ospreys here (and on one occasion up to nine had been reported). Today there were two birds perched in the pines far out on the open moss. One was partly hidden and in the shade but the other was clearly visible on a bare branch devouring a fish which must have weighed 3 lbs or more. I watched it for over an hour and at one point it neatly separated the fish's entrails which glistened in the bright light when falling to the ground.

This area seems to be an annual staging post as the birds make their way south. Very isolated and almost inaccessible on foot, when perched in the pines they must feel completely safe. Today was very hot with a shimmering heat haze and the Ospreys were at least 500 metres distant. Consequently photography was virtually impossible, even through the scope.

[One of the Ospreys eating a fish]