Thursday, 29 March 2012

Great Grey Shrike on Longridge Fell. Removing the sting from a bumblebee

March 25, 2012:
The bird has now been here for at least two weeks. It can be elusive though and is easily lost from sight amongst the tangled debris following tree felling. Recently the weather has been superb and bumblebees are now emerging. Today it could be seen removing the sting from one of these prior to eating it. At other times it would catch flies in mid-air off a favourite high perch.

Removing a sting

The debris-strewn area usually occupied by the bird. It can be seen as a minute speck in the centre of the middle distance horizon.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Hawfinches at Sizergh Castle, Cumbria

March 27, 2012:
Hawfinches have recently been reported to be showing well at one of their best-known Cumbria locations at the castle car-park. Hornbeam and beech fruits normally provide their food here but at this stage of late winter it has been supplemented by a human agency with additonal seed. It is rare to get such good, close views of Hawfinches and at least five birds were present today. However, an early start is necessary to be sure of seeing them before the car-park reverts to its normal use.

Bullfinches, Greenfinches, a Jackdaw and a Blackbird also joined in the free meal

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A Goshawk at a site in northern England

March 19, 2012:
Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) are perhaps the most difficult resident raptors to identify with certainty due to a similarity to Sparrowhawks. There is an apt saying that if you are unsure if it’s a Goshawk, then it’s a Sparrowhawk. These are secretive birds, usually inhabiting extensive tracts of relatively remote coniferous woodland, so that sightings are usually when airborne and even then can be infrequent, distant, and rather brief. In early spring, birds display near their nesting grounds which gives the best opportunity to see them. Like many raptors they are prone to persecution and, as they only occur in small numbers, it’s important that localities are not publicised.

This morning, over an an area of wooded fell-side, this bird put in an appearance between Sparrowhawk sightings. At the time there was a short burst of sunshine but the bird was distant against a bright sky so making photography very difficult. The composite photo was taken in a five second period as the bird circled away to the right. The bottom right photo best shows its typical bulky flight silhouette. Identification was further confirmed by three separate experienced raptor watchers.
An excellent account relating to Goshawk identification is given by Keith Vinicombe at

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Great Grey Shrike on Longridge Fell, Lancashire

Yet another Great Grey Shrike has arived in this small area of Lancashire countryside. Today, the bird was hunting in recently-felled evergreen woodland on the fell-side about 8 km west of Easington. That is where another shrike was seen on Sunday at almost the same time as this one (also see an earlier posting below).

The terrain on the fell here is a tangled mass of fallen branches and scattered tree stumps and is consequently difficult to walk over. This, and the lack of cover, resulted in views which were rather too distant for good photography; the very poor light was also a problem. During tree-felling, the foresters had deliberately left standing a few scattered spikey dead trees for use as raptor perches and it was from the tips of these that the shrike did its hunting. No raptors were in evidence today but two Mistle Thrushes attempting to use the perches were soon chased away by the shrike. Grubs and voles whose runs have been exposed in the recently-torn earth were presumably an excellent source of prey.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A Dipper, reported as a European Black-bellied (cinclus), on the River Aire at Shipley, West Yorkshire

March 8, 2012:
A Dipper seen on the River Aire just downstream from the railway bridge at Shipley had been reported on several occasions as being of the European race (cinclus). However, rather than having a totally black belly it had a distinct rusty-brown band below its white bib. Whether this is within the range of variation of cinclus or whether it's a case of the bird being misidentified, is open to question. It was very confiding, perching close-by on a rock in the river and preening for a long period. Being so approachable might indicate it to be a foreign migrant but the presence of the rusty colouration on the upper belly wasn't entirely convincing. Either way, it was a nice bird to see and especially so at such close range.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Great Grey Shrike near Easington, Bowland

March 4, 2012:
Another Great Grey Shrike (or possibly the same one) has reappeared not far away from Marl Hill (see earlier) and Stocks Reservoir where one was seen on several occasions about a month ago. Today, it hunted from various viewpoints on scattered hawthorns some distance away in farmland. Poor dull light made photography difficult.

At one point, a 'mad' March Hare galloped across the same field.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Great Crested Grebes displaying at Brockholes Wetlands

March 1, 2012:
A beautiful warm sunny day with distinct signs of Spring approaching had at least two pairs of Great Crested Grebes displaying on No.1 lake. With the pair immediately facing each other in the water there were sessions lasting up to one minute or more of head twisting and nodding, usually with the male's crest raised.

There were pairs of Goldeneye and Gadwall also on the lake and at least one Mediterranean Gull was preening amidst a large flock of Black-headed Gulls on the main island.

The Mediterranean Gull is towards the centre.