Saturday, 29 January 2011

An hour locally with the Reed Buntings

January 29, 2011:
A beautifully clear, bright day but with the temperature only just above zero, seemed ideal for a stroll around Brockholes Wetlands. Very prominent were the Reed Buntings, often very frequent here, and regular nesters in the marginal reed beds during the summer.

Both of the main pools were mostly frozen over but on No.1 pool especially, a large number of gulls and wildfowl were concentrated on the limited area of open water. Apart from the usual large flocks of Mallard and Canada Geese, there were also many Tufted Duck as well as several Goldeneye and Teal. At the water's edge a Dunlin, a Snipe and several Redshank foraged.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The elusive Long Marton Shrike

January 19, 2011:
About ten days ago a Great Grey Shrike had been seen near to the village of Long Marton near Appleby in the Eden valley, Cumbria. Last Friday (the 14th) I decided to make the trip to try to find the bird as it had been seen again on the previous day. The area which it frequented comprised open countryside north of the village, mainly farmland, with scattered trees and hedgerows. However, after scouring the area for three hours, there was no sign of the bird and I returned home but only to find later that it had been seen again that same afternoon.

So a return round-trip in excess of 150 miles had to wait until today. Again the outcome seemed unpromising as time went by with no appearance of the bird until in failing light in late afternoon it was sighted perched on overhead wires near to the road junction to Knock. There was just chance for a few distant photos before it flew off but it was soon re-found giving good views perched in typical Shrike fashion on the uppermost tips of trees along the roadside hedgerow. Again a few photos were possible before it disappeared in the gathering gloom not to be seen again. In looking for the Shrike, I had spent more than seven hours over two days as well as four hours travelling time but in the end it was all very worthwhile. Like the two drake Smews at Talkin two weeks ago, these Cumbrian birds seem only to make an appearance late in the day!

For the Shrike there was much suitable territory near Long Marton and its ability to move quickly around made it a frustrating and elusive bird to catch sight of. In the end, however, luck played its part.

Two Buzzards were also seen circling high nearby plus a Kestrel and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers along with many other of the commoner birds.

[Great Spotted Woodpeckers seemed to be quite common here]

Also, there was a beautiful sunset over the Lakeland hills seen on the way home.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Pintail and Teal at Martin Mere Wetlands

January 18, 2011:
Today was a beautiful morning with sunshine providing a clear bright light so that despite the biting wind there was just a suggestion of the Spring to come. All the ice had now melted and a large number of wildfowl were taking advantage of the open water. Apart from huge flocks of Whooper Swans and Pink-feet there were sizeable numbers of ducks, especially Pintail and Teal, which each kept together in their own tight group.

The drake Pintails were in magnificent plumage and cruised around serenely. Several times a female would provide the centre of attraction and become almost coralled by the admiring drakes swimming close by.

[Get out of that - but she did]

Much the same occurred with the Teal whilst others fed closer to the bank.

[Tight group of Teal]

There were also Wigeon, Shelduck, Shoveler and several Coot probing in the mud.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Red-necked Grebe at Fairhaven Lake

January 11: 2011:
This juvenile Red-necked Grebe had been at the lake for several days now. It was quite a confiding bird and would occasionally come close to the side despite people walking by. Being a juvenile its was not as colourfully marked as the summer adults of course but several distinctive characters were evident such as the reddish-brown colouration to the neck, the yellow base to the bill, and the typical 'powder puff' appearance of its rear end. It was larger bird than a Little Grebe but noticeably smaller than a Great Crested Grebe.

It spent much of its time diving, sometimes successfully, but at one point carried out a prolonged period of preening and flapping when almost every one of its feathers seemed to have been examined.

On another occasion it was distracted from its diving when surfacing close to a floating white feather discarded by a gull. This seemed to provide a great fascination as it spent several minutes picking it up and throwing it about as if playing with it.

Red-necked Grebes are mainly birds of northern latitudes, those arriving here will have come from northern-central Europe. They are a scarce winter visitor which are thought to nest occasionally in the U.K. but at localities which are kept secret.

Other than the resident Mallard, there was also a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers fishing on the lake. Presumably it's a good feeding spot for diving birds.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A failure averted: two drake Smew at Talkin Tarn, Cumbria

January 5, 2011:
Reports over the last two days of a drake Smew having been seen at Talkin Tarn caused a slight dilemma. Would a round-trip of 200 miles to north Cumbria be justified on the off-chance that the bird would still be there? This locality is rather under-recorded on national birding websites and birders themselves are relatively thin on the ground here so up-to-date information wasn't readily available. However, as the big freeze was abating and the bird likely to be soon gone, it was decided to take a chance and pay a visit.

On arrival things looked distinctly unpromising, no birders present and no sign of the bird either. It's quite a large tarn and, in the biting wind, took a lot of scanning with the scope but other than a nice flock of Goosander there were only the commoner wildfowl and gulls to be seen.

After two hours without success it was time to head back home. Just when leaving Mike arrived so I gave him the bad news and asked him to phone me if he did locate the Smew. Needless to say, when ten miles down the road home, the message came through that two birds had just flown in! So it was back again to the lake to find them swimming conveniently close to the north shore. By now it was almost 3.30 pm and with rapidly fading light and a heavy shower pending, photography was very difficult.

Smew nest in the holes in tree trunks in the taiga forest zone of northern Europe and Asia. Some overwinter along the coasts of the Baltic Sea and northern Germany and Holland and small numbers also sometimes reach Britain, especially in hard weather. This site at Talkin has several previous records for the bird and appears to be especially favoured.

In the late afternoon the two Smew consorted with 20+ much larger Goosanders (also saw-billed ducks) on a small area of unfrozen water where they spent much time diving along the edge of the ice in the impending gloom. They were exceptionally handsome birds and always kept close to each other. On one occasion one climbed out onto the ice to preen whilst the other was briefly put to flight when a Black-headed Gull attacked it. It's quite probable that both of the Smew were commuting between here and nearby Tindale Tarn which would account for their absence earlier in the day.

[Above, some of the 20+ Goosander photographed in better light before the Smew flew in]

So a day which seemed likely to register as blank, finished on a really high note after all.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Ruff at Martin Mere

January 4, 2011:
Most of the open water here was still frozen over today so that the teeming mass of overwintering wildfowl, which included many Whooper Swans, was congregated on and close to the remaining areas of open water. Waders were very scarce but a small flock of Ruff fed along a muddy bank at the edge of one of the pools.

The white bill-base suggests that this is an adult male. Its winter plumage is in marked contrast to that of the summer.