Sunday, 22 February 2015

A bird in the hand

One of the great things about my job is the interaction with visitors to the reserve. Its not good all the time and it does get a bit wearing the same moans all the time but when you get the opportunity to inspire people its the best feeling in the world.

Last week, as part of our half-term activities, I put on a couple of short ringing demonstrations by the visitor centre. A couple of feeders and a 20' mist net were enough to catch a nice selection of birds. Mainly tits were caught but greenfinch, goldfinch, long tailed tit and robin were different.

The ringing was a fantastic way to capture the imagination of people and show them common birds up close for the first time. It is always great to see the smiles on the faces of the children and they especially love it when the blue tits peck me hard!  It is also a great opportunity to talk about the important role that ringing plays in bird research and conservation and to encourage people to support the work of the BTO and RSPB.

We had a really nice email from a visitor that really made my week saying how their family had been inspired by their visit :-)

Monday, 9 February 2015

Magical Grouse

The whole reason for heading over to North Wales was to see the lekking black grouse. I have seen them several times in Scotland and northern England but never in the breeding season.

We left our hotel before dawn and climbed up into the local hills. The fog on the drive up wasn't great but thankfully the roads were clear of snow.  Thanks to Alan D we found the right spot to park and straight away could hear the strange bubbling and hissing calls before it had even got light. A magical sound :-)
Thankfully the birds were close to the road as the viewing conditions were rubbish, windy with low cloud.
As it got lighter, more and more males could be seen strutting their stuff on their favoured little patch of ground with their tail feathers spread and white undertail coverts fluffed up. Several times, intruding males caused a full on scrap. Most of the birds were males with 13 of the 15 being males.

We thought we would drive across the moorland road to see if there was any clearer weather but sadly it was just as bad. We did bump into another lek with at least 18 lekking males.

By the time we got back to the original site, all the birds had moved off. Can't grumble with 33 black grouse in a couple of hours!

The rest of the morning was spend on the Dee and the Wirral.

1st stop was Burton Mere Wetlands where on arrival in the visitor centre a ringtail hen harrier was hunting over the marsh. The main target was a roosting long eared owl that gave great views to about 10m! Several whooper swans and a stack of pinkies were nice.

Final stop of the trip was 'wonderfully scenic' seafront boating lake in New Brighton to twitch the 1st winter laughing gull. Typically it was present when we arrived but after a few minutes it was picked up circling around the local shops. Eventually it dropped right down in front of us and gave fantastic close views. A British tick for me :-)
Just when we thought the trip was over, 2 purple sandpipers flew into the jetty to roost with the redshank.

A great way to end a great trip. Special thanks to Ruth and Alan for their help in finding some quality birds.

Pic 1, 2 - murky black grouse leks
Pic 3, 4, 5 - Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB reserve
Pic 6, 7 roosting long eared owl
Pic 8 - New Brighton boating lark
Pic 9, 10, 11 - 1st winter laighing gull
Pic 12 - one of two roosting purple sandpipers

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Anglesey Adventure

Wen we opened the curtains this morning and couldn't see the Great Orme because of fog, our hopes for the day were not good. A full English did lift spirits a little bit.

The fog was pretty dense all the way onto Anglesey but, if by magic, the sun was breaking through by the time we reached Beddmanarch Bay. Tide was pretty high with good numbers of curlew and oystercatcher roosting. Scanning the estuary produced a slav grebe, a few goldeneye and 140 smart looking pale bellied brent geese. Not something often in Norfolk.

Now in full sunshine we headed to Holyhead harbour. Almost straight away we found the Great Northern diver which was just starting to moult into summer plumage. At least 6 black guillemots were about including a couple already in full summer plumage.
Just as we were about to leave I heard a wader-like call from the harbour behind us and was rather surprised to see a black necked grebe. Apparently a scarce bird here :-)

On a high we left for South Stack where we bagged chough before we even got out of the car!
The last time I visited the site was to see the BLACK LARK :-)
Not a great deal changed but is was nice to see the cliffs and walk to the bottom of the steps to the lighthouse. Another 4 chough, several raven, 2 peregrines, good numbers of aukd and a harbour porpoise were seen.

The rest of the day was spent checking sites along the southern side of the island. 3 long tailed ducks on the Inland Sea, 22 goosander at Llyn Coron, 162 pintail on the Cobb Pool.

Last stop was the RSPB reserve at Malltraeth Marsh. Although the site was quiet, I was jammy in seeing the small flock of Greenland white-fronted geese. Having heard they had flown off a while before and couldn't be seen I was very lucky that the greylag flock were flushed and I could here the white-fronts calling. Although fairly distant, I could see 19 birds in flight. Everything in the hitlist for the day seen.
The walk back to the car produced 7 raven, 2 little egrets and a buzzard.

A great day but only the warmup act for tomorrow...

Pic 1 - mmmmmmm
Pic 2 - Beddmanarch Bay
Pic 3, 4 - Holyhead harbour
Pic 5 - black guillemot
Pic 6 - record shot of the black necked grebe
Pic 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 - South Stack
Pic 12 - raven
Pic 13 - female peregrine at South Stack
Pic 14 - Malltraeth Marsh RSPB reserve

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Wonderful Wales

My initial plan was to try and get out this early spring and see a black grouse lek having only seen single birds before.

An internet search revealed that a site close to Wrexham was probably the best bet.

So to make the most of trip we decided to do a long weekend birding trip to North Wales focussing on species we don't get in Norfolk.

A 5am start from Norfolk saw us joining up with Alan Davies at Old Colwyn prom to look for seaducks. The calm sea and sun made searching through the scoter flock easier and we soon had several velvet scoter in view. After a bit of time we managed our target species, 2 drake surf scoter. Although they were at least a mile offshore, the white nape patches made them stand out like a sore thumb! Further searching located another drake and a female. Loads of red throated divers and some nice displaying red breasted mergs were about.

A quick stop at Rhos on Sea bagged 8 roosting purple sands before heading to Llanfairfechan. 3 slav grebe, great northern and loads of red throated divers were added along with a nice bacon roll.
A search of the small stream that runs though the town eventually revealed a dipper along with a couple of grey wags.

Final stop of the day was in a stunning Welsh valley to the south of Bethesda to look for some wintering ring ouzels. Thankfully two of the birds (male & female) were showing well feeding close to the road plus another 2 males on flight. Despite a lot of the snow having gone, the scenery was stunning (not used to mountains in Norfolk!) with a bonus 3 goosander on the lake at the head of the valley.

A fantastic days birding and a Alan is a  highly recommended guide if you are looking to do a visit to the area :-)

Pic 1 - Rhos on Sea
Pic 2, 3 - roosting purple sand @ Rhos on Sea
Pic 4 - dipper site
Pic 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 - valley south of Bethesda inc male ring ouzel
Pic 11 - Little Orme from the Great Orme
Pic 12 - looking west towards Anglesey from the Great Orme