Monday, November 30, 2009


The brightest, sunniest day for a month and I am full of the Common Cold, waking up feeling like you know what, absolutely typical. Tomorrow I will fill myself with Beecham’s Powders and anything else I can find and go out whatever the weather. In the meantime I apologise in advance that the page below contains pictures of gulls.

OK I confess I don’t spend as much time looking at gulls as I used to and sometimes I feel a little guilty at not being a real gull enthusiast. The problem is that if there’s a wet field or a shore with plenty of waders, or a line of hedgerows that might hold a mix of passerines, I prefer to grill them rather than a myriad of gulls that don’t do a lot other than patter across a soggy field, sit around for long periods or simply fly off into the distance just as you focus in on the finer points of the tertials or lesser coverts.

My own lack of gull awareness was brought home to me last week when in the same morning Ian found both a Glaucous Gull and a Yellow-legged Gull at Fleetwood, which of course followed his earlier discovery some weeks before of a Ring-billed Gull. That’s the problem with Ian; he is a bit persistent, regularly finding oddities or rarities around his Fleetwood hot spots where he often leaves a trail of DABs behind him. But on the positive side, at least we know where he’s been lately when a few unknown birders appear. But until the Glaucous is found again, almost certainly not by me, here’s a picture of Glaucous Gull and for good measure, a Glaucous-winged Gull, then as a special treat an Ivory Gull, all courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Let’s hope this latest Glaucous Gull returns soon and becomes a bit of a celebrity like “Biffer”, the adult that for many years used to turn up at Fleetwood each back end for a winter break. He or she terrorised the local gulls to earn the nickname, but was always obliging enough to give local birders an easy yearly tick out on the beach, at the power station or near the “Fishy”, the fish processing plant that strangers to the area could easily find.

Of course when Fleetwood Power Station was a power station I used to spend happy hours there perusing the gulls that moved between the roadside, the tip, the shore and the pools but I think that my activity came to a halt when the tip started to wind down, I moved “Over Wyre” or I decided to get a life.

It was on this side of the River Wyre in civilisation that I caught up with the regular Glasson Dock Yellow-legged Gull a couple of times when looking at the waders from the wall at the back of the Victoria, having stifled my yawns enough to then concentrate on parties of autumn Dunlin, Redshank, Knot and Golden Plover or to search for Curlew Sandpipers. I dug out a picture of Yellow-legged Gull from Menorca where of course they are extremely common but where waders are hard to come by, unless you count Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover or Collared Pratincole. I regret I don’t have a picture of the Balearic speciality Audouin’s Gull but I’ll do my best in May when I lounge around the swimming pool at the hotel where the Audouins visit to drink the chlorined water.

However as compensation for the lack of a photo of there’s a picture of Victor Audouin the French Ornithologist after whom the other gull is named

Ring-billed Gull is a good discovery in the Fylde so anyone who finds one deserves a pat on the back for their skill and persistence when we consider how many there are in North America and the number that probably go unfound over here. Here’s an old slide I dug out from Niagara Falls where the Ring-bills number in their thousands and where it’s them that snaffle your chips (fries) from the picnic tables rather than Llandudno Herring Gulls. After that picture is another Ring-billed, then a Laughing Gull, both pictures taken on the powdery white sand of Cancun beach in Mexico while sipping a Pena Colada. Although gulls there don’t have it all their own way thanks to the Magnificent Frigatebirds who terrorise the gulls and make skuas look almost angelic.

And just for good measure to show I’m not prejudiced against gulls, there are pictures of a Kittiwake on a boat off Fleetwood, a fine Lesser Black-backed Gull telling everyone who is boss and a serene Black-headed Gull, all of them doing what gulls do best, posing.

There, that’s expunged my Gull Guilt, now I can get back to some proper birds.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Good Going Over

An early (or late) beans on toast let me out of the house at 1040 because the sun was out for the foreseeable future and I wanted to give the moss a thorough look, the first for a while.

I called at the barn for a bucket of seed to drop at the feeding station where allegedly the ringing group catch birds; well not yet this winter as the weather frustrates each attempt and our pliers rust up, but at least lots of birds have some supplementary food available for when they need it.

I took a look across the farm where the flooded fields glistened in the sun, with somewhat distant but highly visible, boisterous black and white Lapwing, raucous Black-headed Gulls and unusually but not totally unexpected, a group of about 15 calling Redshank flew off, intermixed with the several hundred Lapwing.

I didn’t go with the bucket immediately because there were thrushes about, mainly Fieldfares whose second coming had been delayed, but here I counted over 90 in the hedge and the hawthorns that line the edge of the opposite wood. Also, several Blackbirds and just 4 Redwings that flew across to the wood when I began the stroll with the bucket.

I could hear the multitude of Tree Sparrows at the end of the hedgerow but before that there were plenty of birds along the hedge, beginning with 17 Long-tailed Tit and several Blue Tits that joined from the roadway hawthorns, conveniently hopping across which allowed me an easy count. What a difference a bit of bright sunshine makes in firstly finding, then counting and photographing birds, I was in danger of enjoying this.

The Woodpigeons flew off the seed soon enough and over to the wood, just as well because I think the more than twenty of them would soon make a large dent in a bucket of fresh seed. Although they weren’t on the seed, 3 Grey Partridge crashed out from the base of the hedge as I walked along. There were masses of Starlings coming and going between the line of food, the hedgerow and the adjacent flood, noisy and quarrelsome as usual, but as I approached they swooped off en masse as I estimated 450+. Let’s hope they don’t all end up in a mist net together on our first winter visit.

By the time I dropped the seed I had counted 260 Tree Sparrows with 6 or 7 Reed Buntings and 12 Chaffinch, a big count but I think the fine weather helped in bringing birds in as well as allowing an accurate count.

Carrion Crow grunts gave away the presence of a Sparrowhawk just over the wood in the bright sun so I took a couple of distant pictures. I think the Sparrowhawk dived into the wood because within a few seconds all the Fieldfare flew from the trees, then gained height to fly off calling in a south easterly direction.

Up past the dwellings I stopped to look east towards Nateby and St Michaels where a distant shoot was in full swing but far enough away so as not to disturb a couple of Roe Deer. No, I did that, just spotting them as they saw or smelt me to then head quickly off and leave me with a tail view.

I headed in the direction they went which proved quite useful because the elusive Skylark chose that time to erupt from the stubble and my count was 85 circling around chirruping. In the tree line next to a black, wet, peaty field I found three more Reed Buntings then 2 Meadow Pipits, one of which sat quietly for a few seconds on a little mound of earth. Not the best picture I know but that soil sure looks full of good things for pipits. Up here at the set aside I disturbed the regular Goldfinch, 11 today, together with 2 Yellowhammers and several more Chaffinch.

I also caught up with the regular Stonechat, which today turned out to be 2.

I made my way back to the barn to drop the bucket in, and as there was some light left I decided to check out another area and the Teal pit. It was down in this quiet corner where the fussy Chaffinch are, the ones that don’t want or need our seed, yet. I had seen them from the barn but when i got near I counted 40 birds + 5 more Fieldfare and 3 Redwing that flew off, the Chaffinch relocating to the trees surrounding the Teal pit.

I didn’t cross to the pool because there is a crop of winter wheat, but I didn’t need to as something spooked the Teal to make them fly around near and far, twisting and turning for several minutes as I waited in the shade and dark of the tall hedge. Eventually they came back to land again in the pool.

What a brilliant couple of hours, but by 2pm the light began to fade.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Spot of Sun

Another rainsome morning, but the sun came out for an hour this afternoon whilst babysitting Theo, or Little Paul as some know him.

This was just the chance to take a few garden pictures of common birds. Goldfinch, a Starling getting ready for some cold weather, a Blue Tit pretending to be a Treecreeper, a shy Blackbird fresh from digging up my borders again. Finally a Collared Dove waiting to pounce on the crumbs below.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Right" said Fred

I gave Granada Fred a chance with his TV forecast this morning because he promised a “good” day, “quite windy, but sun in between the showers”.

I chose well with the first spot Fluke Hall Lane because out on the sun soaked wet fields were over 60 Whooper Swans, where they fed in the distance just behind the sea wall. Some of the crowd started whooping, then gradually the whole lot flew off south in small parties until within five minutes they were all gone and my actual count was 65. This corresponds with what happened a week or two ago when I saw over a hundred Whooper Swans flying to Pilling near dusk, so it looks like Pilling may be the roost site for the many Whoopers currently scattered around the Fylde.

Whilst I watched the Whooper Swans fly off a little Sparrowhawk came from the direction of the fields before heading out of sight behind the wood.

Well Fred was right about the wind as I confirmed when I tried to stand on the sea wall beyond Fluke Hall and although a Little Egret braved the gale, I didn’t. Already the clouds gathered, and weighing up the options I decided that if I wanted to see much, most of this morning would of necessity not involve much walking in the wind and rain but looking at well frequented spots via the car.

From the sea wall at Lane Ends I could see the Pink-footed Geese leaving their roost, so while the sun was out I took a few pictures.

Within minutes the dark clouds rolled in and the rain began. What a difference as I took what I thought was a colour picture of some flying Shelduck.

For the record I counted 3000+ Pinkfeet with several hundred distant Shelduck but 5 Little Egret closer in and a Peregrine beating up mostly everything.

With nothing doing I motored on up to the Conder Green area stopping in at Braides where as I watched a small flock of 40 Lapwings on a flood, as a sudden heavy shower forced 300 Starlings to join them. Here's a picture of a male Starling in my garden on a brighter day.

Conder Green was as quiet as expected but I found 4 Little Grebe a bit closer than normal until they realised I was there behind the screen, then 11 Shelduck opposite me did the same, drifting up the pool out of range. Teal numbers were normal with about 35, together with two Goldeneye, but the wind was whipping up the pool water to a lively head so I suspect some hid or sheltered out of sight as the Snipe must have done with none seen today.

The water level in the creek was fairly high due to the low tide heights this week which meant I couldn’t count more than eight Redshank, but the Spotted Redshank was still there and my picture is from a sunnier day.

It’s quite a view from Bodie Hill but perhaps not today where the squally showers and 50mph wind shook the car as I struggled to even open the door. Out near the waters edge I could see many hundreds of Lapwing and more Shelduck, and like at Lane Ends the Lapwing were being tormented by a Peregrine but for me the conditions were making the birding very hard work.

It was now 100% cloud cover with the rain hammering down, therefore pointless trying to walk anywhere to look so I decided to try Bank End from the car. Two more Little Egrets just out in the puddles and a Pied Wagtail that scampered along the tide line ahead of me were normal as was the Kestrel I disturbed from the fence posts. If it could hang above the marsh today it would well deserve its other name, Windhover.

Not for the first time recently the weather defeated me, but Fred, you must do better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Old Pictures, Old Tales

More wind and rain promised this week doesn’t bode well for much birding or photography but I live in hope of some extensive sunshine later in the week when I will have time to get out. Anyway, today is babysitting and I wouldn’t want to miss that.

So for this evening I’ll post a few aged pictures coupled with a few ancient stories.

When I looked up the date of the first two pictures by referring to some old bird reports I was amazed by how old the transparencies were, how long I held onto them and how they managed to survive the ravages of time. I suppose it helps they were stashed away in the dark in little plastic boxes, and despite a few moves of home and the clearouts that came with pleas of “throw out that old rubbish”, which I resisted on the grounds of preserving vital historical information for future generations, they survived.

The first two show a Grey Phalarope from 26 years ago, September 1983 that turned up at Fairhaven Lake after rough weather. What was fairly remarkable about this bird was how confiding it proved to be, allowing close approach to within feet away as it sailed around the edge of the lake and took to wandering over the grassy areas. Within a few days of its arrival a Red-necked Phalarope was also blown in after a storm, as together the two species entertained the assembled watchers for a day or two. If I remember correctly, the new arrival wasn’t quite as obliging as its counterpart, probably the reason I don’t have a picture of the red-necked, but I do remember seeing them within a foot or two of each other feeding in the detritus of the lake’s surface. Even now I laugh about the somewhat garbled phone message I received at the time "Red-necked Fallahawk on Fairhaven Lake", still something of a household joke.

Maybe there is someone out there who has old slides of them both together. What a furore the same event might cause nowadays, but the resulting multitude and quality of digital pictures would be phenomenal in comparison with my tired old ex slides.

Recently there was a lot of interest shown in a Long-billed Dowitcher found locally near Cockersands and there were also a few others in the UK, but the next picture is of a Short-billed Dowitcher. I took this old photo slide in Ontario Canada in May 1989 where I became fairly familiar with the look and call of the species in the month that I spent there.

Later that year in September 1989 a dowitcher sp turned up at Marton Mere, Blackpool spending its initial time on the northern bank of the mere from where I and one or two others heard it call as it flew around a couple of times. From the diagnostic call, there was no doubt that this bird was a Short-billed Dowitcher, the dull, staccato but fastish Turnstone like “tuttuttut”, quite unlike the high pitched call of Long-billed Dowitcher.

The bird soon relocated to the mere island opposite the south bank where it was not only further away, but where it remained silent until it left later in the day. At its time on the island other observers convinced themselves, perhaps by default as the more common species to occur on this side of the Atlantic, that the bird must be a Long-billed Dowitcher. I believe that the bird was later “accepted” as a Long-billed Dowitcher which really didn’t concern me as I knew what I had seen and heard.

It was in subsequent years, especially in the 1990s, that separation of autumn long-billed and short-billed firmed up, but as they say, “Short-billed Dowitcher, it’s on my list”.

However for anyone with a particular interest in these two species I recommend the following read:

My thanks to Eurico Zimbres for the fantastic picture below of Short-billed Dowitchers, wow, what long bills short-billed have.

And my thanks to for the equally stunning picture of Long-billed Dowitcher.

There was some reaction to my Bardsey memories of a few days ago from fellow Bardsey buffs, so just for them, here is another picture, Yellow-browed Warbler, instantly recognisable as being taken on Bardsey for them that know.

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