Thursday, 1 December 2011

Greenland White-fronted Geese at Rishton Reservoir

December 1, 2011:
Two adult Greenland White-fronts arrived here overnight on a field adjacent to the reservoir. There has been a large influx into various part of the country over the last week or so but to have some here is quite exceptional.

The birds kept together and could only be viewed at long range (400 metres or more) on the field beyond the western bank of the reservoir. For a while they were resting, asleep, but soon began to graze in the pasture. One of them remained especially alert but neither appeared disturbed by the noise of a passing train. This is another good record for the site following the Red-throated Diver present here (see below) a few weeks ago.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Red-throated Diver at Rishton reservoir, Lancashire

November 13, 2011:
This bird which had arrived overnight didn't stay long as by mid-morning motor-boats were out on the reservoir and the resulting noise caused the bird to take flight and leave. It circled over the water for five minutes gaining height all the time and when finally a mere speck in the sky, flew off west. The Red-breasted Merganser also present earlier couldn't be relocated either. At least I managed to see these two birds, if only briefly; this contrasted with the previous day when I missed seeing the Richard's Pipit at Longridge by only ten minutes.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Some raptors and passerines photographed at Brockholes Wetlands over the past week

November 6, 2011:
Kestrels are frequently seen hunting over the damp grassland on the Reserve whilst in good weather Buzzards thermal over the adjoining woodland. The Hobbys have long since departed south but Sparrowhawks can occasionally be seen.

[One of the ever-present Kestrels hunting over the marsh]

[A Common Buzzard making use of the thermals]

[A distant and distinctly bedraggled over-flying Sparrowhawk]

Flocks of Goldfinches feed on the thistle and burdock seed-heads and Meadow Pipits and Stonechats are also present, the latter often perching prominently.

[A small flock of five Goldfinches feeding on burdock seed-head]

[Meadow Pipit at the car park]

[Stonechat near the quicksand pool]

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Steppe Grey Shrike in Shropshire

November 1 2011:
This bird at Kynnersley was first seen two days earlier and initially thought to be a Great Grey Shrike. Closer views by the finders led to it being revised to a Steppe Grey Shrike, i.e. a subspecies (pallidirostris) of the Southern Grey Shrike. These are birds of Central Asia and very rare visitors to Britain, this one being well off-course. The previous record was in Lincolnshire three years ago (see below).

It had set up its feeding territory on rather remote agricultural land where it worked along a 500 metre stretch of sparsely vegetated hedgerow adjacent to a recently ploughed field. The bird was always remote to view, never coming within 200 metres and was often double this distance; this consequently made photography very difficult although there were good views through the 'scope. Today, in beautifully warm sunny weather, it perched at several favoured points along the hedge, sometimes on the tips of shrubs in true shrike-like fashion, and would drop down to the ploughed field whenever prey was spotted. It was a very light-grey coloured bird with a noticeably pale beak and a shortish distinctive dark mask. Its contrasting black and white tail feathers and white wing patches showed up well when in flight.

[Photo very close to #16-l, p.66, in 'Shrikes' (Lefranc & Worfolk, 1997)]

[The locality favoured by the Shrike: the long sparse hedgerow alongside the ploughed field]

There was always at least 10-15 people watching the bird at any one time with others constantly coming and going. Donations for car parking would no doubt eventually amount to a tidy sum.

[A few of the watchers]

It was a much more wary bird than the Lincolnshire one seen in 2008. That would happily fly to within a few feet and perch on telescopes or people's heads (see below).

[The very confiding Steppe Grey Shrike at Grainthorpe Haven in Lincolnshire in 2008]

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Pectoral Sandpiper at Brigsteer, Cumbria

October 25, 2011:
A juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper was on flooded farmland here for the fifth successive day today. It fed almost continuously on the muddy margins of the large puddles in the field and seemed to have a favoured area of limited size.

It was nicely plumaged, its darker breast markings finishing abruptly as a sharp border in the pectoral region, hence its name. It had a partial eye-stripe running slightly behind the eye, mustard-yellow legs, and strongly contrasting wing feathers reminiscent of a Ruff.

It fed avidly with both a pecking and a sewing-machine motion (cf Dowitchers) and preened occasionally but was also very wary, posing in an upright manner to check for danger. This is a high arctic bird which nests on the tundra of the North American continent and, similar to many other birds from there this autumn, had been blown well of course eastwards during its southerly migration.

[The flooded field favoured by the Sandpiper]

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Great Northern Diver at Ringstone Edge Reservoir, West Yorkhire

October 19, 2011:
On this high Pennine wind-swept reservoir a mature bird has been present for several days. It was in full summer plumage and beautifully marked, quite different to the juveniles or moulting birds sometimes seen inland in the autumn. Great Northern Divers nest mainly in Iceland and Greenland and return there in April after wintering much further south, usually well off-shore in the Atlantic.

This bird spent most of the time diving and would often travel a considerable distance under water which made it difficult to relocate on the choppy surface. It occasionally preened and wing-flapped and on more than one occasion sang mournfully, a most eerie sound at this remote location. Unfortunately it was always distant which made photography difficult.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Slavonian Grebe at Fairhaven Lake

October 6, 2011:
A non-breeding plumage Slavonian Grebe arrived at Fairhaven Lake yesterday and is possibly one of the Scottish birds. The weather conditions today were atrocious with gale-force gusts of wind and periods of horizontal hail.

In this weather the bird kept fairly close to the lake shore but continued to dive, sometimes surfacing with a captured small fish.

{Today's very poor weather]

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Solitary Sandpiper still at Nateby

October 4, 2011
The bird was still on the flooded scrape in the farmer's field this morning. It was possible to get slightly closer than before but it was still distant. It fed in the soft mud almost continuously but on one occasion flew across the pool. It appears to be quite settled here for the time being at least.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Solitary Sandpiper at Nateby, Lancashire

October 2, 2011:
A Solitary Sandpiper arrived in agricultural fields near Nateby this morning. A very rare vagrant to western Europe which appears to be only the 37th confirmed record for the British Isles and the first for Lancashire and north-west England. It is also the first record in Britain since 2007 (although by coincidence another one was reported in Jersey today).

The bird could only be safely viewed at long range (c.300 metres) from a slight rise in the ground as it fed in a shallow scrape. Clay pigeon shooters not too far away appeared not to bother it. A large number of people had already arrived to see it within 2 hours of the sighting being put out on the internet. A few photos taken in steady rain, poor light, and at great distance give an indication of the locality the bird was favouring which can just be discerned as it reflects in the water.

Solitary Sandpipers nest in trees in the low arctic/boreal region of Alaska and northern Canada and winter in southern USA and South America. Like many others rare waders arriving in Britain recently they will have been blown off course whilst migrating south during last month's American hurricane.

[The Solitary Sandpiper twitch]

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Bufff-breasted Sandpiper at Arnside

September 26, 2011:
A nice surprise for a Monday morning was that the Buff-breasted Sandpiper reported from the Kent estuary at Arnide the previous day was still present. The bird was beyond the far edge of the salt-marsh and about 600 metres from the shore-line proper, feeding on a mud-bank recently exposed by the falling tide. Unfortunately soft deep mud and several still-flooded dykes meant that it could only be viewed from a distance which was never within 100 metres and often much further.

This is a bird which nests in the high arctic of Alaska and northern Canada. A minor migration route to the main wintering grounds in South America runs down the east coast of the USA. Presumably the relatively large number of these sandpipers, normally very rare in Britain, which have been reported during the past week or so (an unprecedented 26 were seen at one site in Ireland today) are probably those forced eastwards during the recent American hurricane. They are a very welcome bonus of the bad weather.