Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy New Year!

Once again in 2012 I've been lucky enough to travel further afield with visits to France, Spain and in early May eighteen days in Canada touring in a motor home. For anyone who knows me Canada is always the highlight of my birding year and this year was no exception.

As regulars will know I'm a proud member of the Brandon Marsh Voluntary Conservation Team and would like to say a special Happy New Year to all those who unselfishly give up their time in rain or shine to make Brandon such an amazingly diverse habitat!

Finally, something new for me in 2012 was my decision to finally purchase a decent camera and lens and I'm now able to compliment my birding trips with some decent photographs. I would also like to say a big thank you to a number of individuals who have patiently coached me in the art of photography. I would also remind certain individuals (yes you Max!) that I remain a birder with a camera and not a photographer who birds!

To complete my blogging for 2012 I thought I'd end with a few of many amazing wildlife moments over the past year!

The Iconic Bald Eagle - Horse Lake Canada BC
Red Kite - Chiltern Hills

Yellow-headed Blackbird - Canada In May

Brandon Marsh - My First Willow Warbler Of 2012

Stone Curlew - France In June

I wish all my followers a very peaceful New Year and above all a very exciting birding adventure for 2013.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Last Day On The Coast!!

It was our last full day at the cottage today and so we met up with Pete Worthy, a colleague from the Brandon Conservation Team who was also staying locally and knows the area well.

Pete arrived at the cottage just before 10am and while having a quick coffee before departing I managed to pick up a brief glimpse of a Great White Egret feeding in the pools on the marshland opposite the garden. The bird, first discovered by Dee last Sunday, has been here during the whole of our stay.

Our first stop was Marton Mere (not to be confused with WWT Martin Mere). Marton is a quiet refuge surprisingly situated on the outskirts of Blackpool. The reserve is an SSSI in recognition of its bird population and the site contains open water, reed beds, grassland, scrub and some pockets of woodland. There are footpaths through the reserve providing access to the bird hides and we enjoyed a few hours on site before moving on. One of the main reasons for starting here was the recently reported Long-eared Owls but sadly after several scans of the reported area we drew a blank. Highlight of the visit were several Whooper Swans.

From Marton we moved on to Blackpool's promenade where Pete guided us to an area he knows for Purple Sandpiper. After battling the strong wind and making our way down to the go-cart track, where the waves were crashing up against the wall, we duly arrived at the spot. Here a group of around 100 or so Redshank along with smaller numbers of Turnstone were huddled and roosting on the sea wall. Amazingly asleep on the right hand end were 2 Purple Sandpiper, which after a short while flew down to feed on the algae clinging to the sea wall. Hearts in our mouths as we watched the waves missing them by inches! Gutted I haven't had my camera on this trip!!

A report from yesterday regarding Velvet Scoter at Fleetwood determined our next stop and incredibly as we pulled in to park near the Knott End ferry the bird flew right in front of use towards the terminal. The bird remained during our stay and seemed to have a pattern of flying against the tide and then drifting with it before heading back to it's original spot. Also recorded of interest in various numbers while we enjoyed some seaside chips: Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Knot and Redshank.

With the light fading two further stops, firstly at Lytham Moss for Pink-footed Goose and Whooper Swan included at least 50 or so Curlew and a final stop at Fairhaven Lake for a recent Long-tailed Duck drew a blank. A really good final day on the North-West coast with Pink-footed Geese constantly on the move all around the area and of course a big thank you to Pete for his local knowledge and in particular for chauffeuring us around the patch.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Liverpool Today!

The priority today was to deliver my dear old mum back to Liverpool and as I drove out along the Bank Road I was delighted to see a Short-eared Owl overhead being mobbed by several Corvids. There were also 2 White-fronted noted among the Geese flock this morning.

Back at the cottage Dee and I did managed an hour out on the marsh this evening and I can't believe how many Whooper Swans there are in this neck of the woods, probably due to the not too distant WWT Martin Mere. Another sighting of Merlin, plus Buzzard, Kestrel and Peregrine but sadly no sign of Great White Egret, although I did note a sighting listed on Birdguides which also included Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier!

Tomorrow we've arranged to meet up with Pete Worthy, another member of the Brandon Team who is also staying locally and knows the area exceptionally well.

Also of note this evening: (7) Little Egret, (11) Curlew and the usual Pink-footed, Greylag and Canada Geese.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Seasons Greetings

Over the Christmas period the weather has actually been a lot better than expected here at Warton Bank Marsh and despite the usual Christmas Day family activities Dee and I have managed a few brief escapes.

On Christmas Day evening a walk along the bank towards Lytham produced at least (5) Little Egret and a trio of Raptors with Kestrel, Peregrine and ♀Merlin. This area also appears to be very well off for Curlew with excellent numbers all around and the pools in close proximity to the cottage are filled with Wigeon each evening. The Great White Egret Dee found on our first day here has remained and it's been quite surreal watching the bird from the comfort of the living room! A couple of other highlights during our short walk were: (4) Meadow Pipit, (3) Reed Bunting and (2) Rock Pipit.

Today the tides were a little more favourable and so quiet a few species could be seen a little closer in. This included a good few Geese flocks which contained Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed and a white Goose in among these but slightly too distant for a definite ID. We were also treated to (42) Whooper Swans feeding near one of the pools this afternoon, plus a ♀Marsh Harrier and another view of ♀Merlin, probably the same bird as yesterday.

Hope your having a great Christmas - A Very Merry Christmas everyone....

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Great Find!

View From Living Room Window!
With mum in her early nineties getting on and off a boat is obviously a real problem and so each year Dee researches a cottage to rent during the Christmas period. This year Dee has really excelled herself!

The cottage is situated overlooking the Ribble Estuary in the village of Warton. In fact the cottage is actually on the approach to British Aerospace Warton Aerodrome, so close in fact that one of the flare-path light arrays is actually situated in the garden. For an aircraft and bird enthusiast like myself, with the estuary literally over the garden wall and the aerodrome seconds away I feel all my Christmas's have come at once.

Today started bright and breezy and after the unpleasant chore of the Christmas food shop, which to be honest was quite painless, Dee and I took a walk along Warton Bank Marsh. Although we had an almost cloudless sky the strong wind coming in from the west and the low sun made birding conditions quite difficult.

Notwithstanding Dee and  I persevered  with good numbers of Curlew, several Little Egret and a female Marsh Harrier as we headed north towards Lytham. With the tide way out large flocks of Geese and Waders were seen off in the distance but closer in we managed Water Rail, Black-tailed Godwit, Brent Geese, Shelduck and 5 Whooper Swan (2 adult with 3 Juvenile). Along the hedgerows Fieldfare, Redwing Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit, and a few Skylark over.

However, the best was saved until almost back at the cottage when Dee, having one of her usual scans with the scope came up with another great find, a Great White Egret feeding in the pools just to the rear of the aerodrome. The best part was when we got back to the cottage and could actually watch the bird from the comfort of the living room window! The bird flew out towards the estuary just prior to sunset and as the light faded a Barn Owl flying over the garden wall ended a top day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Is Local Best?

Kingfisher From Carlton Hide
As a very positive individual with my cup always half full I have to say that I've been really struggling over the past few weeks to come up with anything of note to blog about at Brandon Marsh. The birding has literally been dire! Yesterdays visit was a complete loss save for the usual large Siskin/Redpoll flock, ♂♀Goldeneye, Kingfisher and a Yellow-legged Gull on East Marsh Pool. I got even more depressed last night when I read the updated BTO report on the worst summer ever for some breeding birds. Mind you with the wettest summer on record the latter wasn't all that surprising!

Flighty Fieldfare
Notwithstanding I decided to be positive and concentrate on birding closer to home this morning and so took a stroll around the marina and nearby fields before the predicted rain set in. The first surprise was when I stumbled on a wintering ♂Blackcap, a first for me at the marina and by the time I'd completed my check of the Hawthorn bushes I'd further recorded (2) Goldcrest, (2) ♂Bullfinch, (7) Redwing, (4) Fieldfare, (3) Blackbird, (1) Song Thrush, (6) House Sparrow, (1) Wren and (4) Tree Sparrow.

Tufty's Mates!!
The various feeders around the grounds put out by fellow moorers held Great Tit, Blue Tit, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Starling, Chaffinch, Goldfinch Greenfinch, ♂♀Reed Bunting and  Pied Wagtail and Moorhen enjoying the over-spill. The marina basin had our usual selection consisting of Mallards and their hybrids, our regular Mute Swan family of 2 adult and 6 youngsters and our resident flightless ♂Tufted Duck who I'm glad to say had been joined by a couple of friends. My second surprise of the day was a Grey Wagtail which I found under the canal junction bridge opposite the marina entrance.

Common Gull
By the time I started on the surrounding fields I was feeling a lot more enthused and a flock of around 150 or so Lapwing cheered me even more, especially as 4 Golden Plover were among them! A good number of Gulls were also feeding, the majority of which were Black-headed but Common, Lesser Black-backed and Herring were also recorded.

By the time I arrived back aboard for breakfast my tally for the morning had increased even further with (4) Red-legged Partridge, (3) Pheasant, (3) Yellowhammer, Kestrel, Buzzard, Green Woodpecker, and more Fieldfare and Redwing. Also recorded overhead were: Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Raven and (4) Skylark. What an excellent mornings birding, this has really set me up nicely for next weeks Christmas on the Ribble Estuary!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bah Humbug

Father Christmas's Alter-Ego! 
Well I can't say its the best birding weekend I've ever had but I did meet an alter-ego Father Christmas at Brandon Marsh this morning!

I knew it wasn't going to be the best day ever when I met up with Chris Wiltshier and you know how it goes "you should have been here a few minutes earlier". It seems that I'd missed out on 9 Waxwings heading west just after arriving.

Once again little was showing today on East Marsh Pool and I'm still trying desperately to persuade the 'elders' of Brandon to reduce the ridiculously high water levels on East Marsh Pool. Personally I'd rather the islands were showing and not under water allowing our normally excellent Lapwing and Snipe numbers refuge. It's been the normal procedure for many years at Brandon to flood the islands to prevent vegetation growth in the spring and I feel the whole procedure requires a re-think. Last year for example when the levels were much lower and the islands showing due to lack of water reports for the first two weeks of December included: Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, 160 Golden Plover and several sightings of Bittern in the reeds in front of Big Hide.

One Giant Leap!
Back to today and I decided on an alternate route when I found out that the path to Big Hide and Carlton were underwater and my wellies were still back aboard the boat. A walk around the Tip area and Farm Field produced a few Fieldfare, Redwing, Bullfinch and Goldfinch, plus single Raven, Green Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard.

Other highlights were 11 Greenfinch on Sheepfield (my largest Brandon count), 4 Nuthatch, 2 Goldcrest and single Coal Tit in New Hare Covert and to the rear of the Wright Hide the large Siskin/Redpoll flock was showing well feeding in the Alders producing the only half decent photo of the day! 2 Cetti's Warbler were also heard on Newlands reed bed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Quiet Visit

Heavily Cropped Record Shot Of Today's ♀Goosander
A fairly quiet early morning visit to Brandon Marsh today with the only highlights being Water Rail, ♂♀Goldeneye and a pair of ♀Goosander which dropped in for a short while on East Marsh Pool. A rare visitor to Brandon a Great-Black-backed Gull was also among the early morning Gull count!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thoroughly Gloomy!

Drake Smew On East Marsh Pool - Image Courtesy Of Jeff Rankin
A stunning start to the day with a Barn Owl dropping down and taking prey only feet in front of me as I walked to the marina car park, could the day get any better?

Sadly not! Shortly after arriving at Brandon Marsh the freezing fog dropped in dashing all hopes of seeing yesterdays ♂Smew. It didn't come as any surprise either that all pools were frozen except for a small area in the middle of East Marsh pool which contained various numbers of Teal, Shoveler, Tufted and Gadwall, what remains of Willow Island held 4 Snipe.

Kestrel In The Murk!
A brief spell in the Carlton Hide, which resembled a fridge freezer, produced a single Fieldfare in the Hawthorn and it wasn't long before Alban, Keith (2), Martin and I were on the move once more. A brief search of the main car park failed to yield any of the recent Waxwings (16 on site yesterday) and so with the visibility deteriorating a decision to walk the perimeter of the farm and top reed bed to check the berry bushes.

Not a bad decision with a very obliging Kestrel (blue band on left leg) huddled in the cold producing one of only a few photo opportunities today. After Martin and I managed a good few shots in the murk we took a wide berth leaving the bird in peace still huddling from the cold.

Siskin In Even More Gloom!!
The berry bushes leading down to the the farm area produced Redwing, Fieldfare, Greenfinch, Bullfinch and Woodcock when one flew out of the undergrowth heading across the reed bed. A second sighting of probably the same bird as we got a little closer to the farm.

Finally, ten minutes at the gate near the nature centre produced a good selection of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll in a small flock feeding in the Alder. A thoroughly gloomy and freezing cold day!!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Packed Lunch

Barn Owl in Poor Light!
A change of scenery, a packed lunch and a few hours at Rutland Water with Dee this afternoon.

On arrival around midday a brief search for the reported Hawfinch in the car park area proved fruitless, I think from recent reports this is an early morning bird! A flock of Long-tailed Tit, Jay and a very friendly Robin kept us amused.

The reserve itself seemed pretty quiet as we set off north from the Nature Centre, several Fieldfare and Redwing were feeding in the remaining berry crop.

Long-tailed Tit
After navigating the flooded paths (only boots today) we decided to head straight for The Shoveler Hide on Lagoon 3 and have our packed lunch. Even the Lagoon seemed quieter than normal but in the end there was plenty on offer with 7 Redshank, 3 Snipe and a lone Ruff. Waterfowl included a decent number of both ♂♀Goldeneye, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Great-crested Grebe and ♂♀Goosander but the highlight was 3 Redhead Smew.

Lagoon 4 was even quieter and the only highlights here being several Shelduck, 4 Pied Wagtail, Siskin over and a distant Great-spotted woodpecker. A large flock of Lapwing flushed from a nearby field held 2 Snipe and 2 Golden Plover within.

Sunset Over Eyebrook On Route Home!
Nothing much to report from other areas of the reserve and so back to the Centre for a hot chocolate and some luxury birding from the heated balcony area. Quite a bit on offer here with Stonechat, Little Egret, Curlew, Buzzard, ♂Goosander and the star of the show a Barn Owl quartering over the reed beds, perching for a short while as the light was fading, a nice end to the afternoon.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Window Birding!

Laid up today and feeling crap but dragged myself out of the pit to take this picture of a stunning sunrise from the boat window! Doing some window birding from the couch just now and its amazing what flies over the marina. Fieldfares, Redwing, Goldfinch, Buzzard, Kestrel, Pied Wagtail and even a Raven! Plus we just had a Typhoon, that's the aircraft not the weather one!

Cold Scenario For Next Week!
On the birding weather front there's a definite possibility of a real cold snap over the UK as Europe starts a big freeze. If the the cold scenario becomes fact then we may be in for a great cold weather vis-meg period mid December!

Click HERE to watch the forecast.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Sods Law!

One of the regular Tree Sparrow population At The Marina!
Nothing unusual on offer at Brandon Marsh today but the large Redpoll/Siskin flock remains and there are still plenty of Goldcrest, Redwing and Fieldfare around.

As I passed through New Hare Covert a ♀Muntjac Deer was spotted to the back near the recently coppiced Hazels, 2 Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great-spotted Woodpecker the other highlights.

Nuthatch Record Shot!
I managed wintering Chiffchaff for the second time this week when one flew from the reed bed area across towards the golf course as I emerged from the Covert. The pools are still at a very high level and have now defrosted. The best on offer was Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, two pair of Goldeneye, 16 Snipe and a brief appearance of a single Shelduck. Two Raven were observed circling over Brandon Wood and after the recent cold snap it was also good to register 2 Kingfisher at Carlton Pool.

A search of the car park before leaving had no sign of any Waxwing but blow me as I arrived back at the marina Mike Lee called to tell me that 4 had duly arrived, sods law really! There was also a report of 10 in the trees at the Warwick Road/Kelseys Close junction at nearby Wolston.

Aptly Named Redwing!
Back at the marina the light was excellent so I decided to have a go at finding some of the resident Tree Sparrow population and one particular bird was very obliging! Recorded of note during my walk around were: Tree Sparrow (5), House Sparrow (7), Reed Bunting (3), Fieldfare (3), Redwing (17), Kestrel (1), Buzzard (1), Pied Wagtail (2), Tufted Duck (2) and Skylark (2 over).

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Glorious Waxwing!

Waxwing in Main Car Park!
A heavy frost overnight produced a glorious but freezing morning and as I left for Brandon Marsh the outside temperature was showing a chilling -5C. It was also nice to here a Little Owl calling as I was defrosting the car.

A brief vigil at Sheepfield with Derek, Walter, John and Bob in the hope of an Owl or two proved fruitless. In fact apart from yesterdays large Redpoll flock, now with several very pristine Siskin within and at least 6 Goldcrest showing well at close quarters, very little was on the move!

As you would imagine all the pools were frozen up and so I spent very little time in the hides and mostly kept mobile to stop from freezing up altogether! A couple of Water Rail and a lone Cetti's Warbler were heard on my travels, 2 Snipe flew over Central Marsh, Treecreeper, 2 Nuthatch and several Reed Bunting were also noted.

Further highlights before spending a good half hour in the main car park photographing the enclosed very accommodating Waxwing was a Chiffchaff near the Carlton Overflow Ditch, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and the usual Redwings and Fieldfare! John also spotted a Fox crossing the golf course but I bombed on that one.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Pinch Punch!

Huge flock of Redpolls at Brandon this morning!
Pinch punch, 1st of the month! It was a little colder than I thought last night and for the first time this autumn/winter the marina had actually frozen over.

A little later arriving at Brandon Marsh today, just prior to sunrise and taking my usual route it seemed a little quieter than previous days, save for a Kestrel perched on the stationary wind pump. Not surprising really as the berry stock in my opinion is about 80 depleted! I always know when things are starting to get a little more difficult for our winter Thrush flocks when they begin to ground feed, searching for windfall snacks.

Lesser Redpoll
The pools were partly frozen and the best I could manage of note: 2 Great-crested Grebe 2 ♀Goldeneye and 10 Snipe. As I approached the Oak Tree near the River Pool Hide turn from Central Marsh a huge flock of Lesser Redpoll were feeding both in the nearby Alder and at lower level in what remains of the Willow Herb. Even in the light rain and poor light it was too much of an opportunity for some shots.

The best of my short visit was when I was edging my way along the path towards River Pool trying to get a little closer to the Redpoll, when my first Woodcock this autumn at Brandon took flight. In fact I nearly stood on the poor thing!

Also of note: Treecreeper (2), Willow Tit (2), Bullfinch (1♂2♀), Linnet (1), Skylark (2 over), Cetti's Warbler (2 heard), Kingfisher (2), Water Rail (1 heard) and Goldcrest (1)