A Visit to NW England
This weekend Keren and I, along with a few new-found friends from Birdforum.net decided to pay a visit to see the Golden Eagles in the Lake District and to have a good wander round the RSPB Reserve at Leighton Moss in Lancashire.
So, on the Saturday we all met up and headed off on the 2 mile walk round to the Eagle viewpoint next to Riggindale Beck. On the walk up there we were kept entertained by a good number of Tree Pipits in their characteristic display flights and several family parties of Wheatear gave excellent views down to just a few feet.
As we rounded the foot of Riggindale Crag we became aware of a 'chacking' noise which sounded a little like a Blackbird's alarm call, but was actually coming from a stunning male Redstart who, as it turned out, had a number of recently fledged youngsters scattered about in the bracken. He gave excellent views out in the open down to about 20 feet and allowed Keren to take a few photographs. Realising we may have been disturbing this group of charming creatures, Keren made a discrete withdrawal and we continued on our way up the valley floor, all the time accompanied by Tree Pipits and Weatears.
On arriving at the watch point in a state of exhaustion (I really must endeavour to get fit!), we were told by the volunteer wardens that the eagle hadn't been seen so far that morning but that, if we were patient, he would eventually materialise. Unfortunately, the female of this pair (an old bird in her late 20's) hasn't returned this year and is feared dead, leaving the male on his own and hoping for a replacement partner to turn up.
Whilst we waited a female Ring Ouzel paid a brief visit to an area of nearby bushes, but didn't hang around long enough to be photographed.
Eventually after what seemed like ½ the morning, but was in fact only about 1¾ hours, one of the wardens turned to us and said "I've got him, he's up to the right hand side of the valley, just below Kidsty Pike". Sure enough, there he was and although at least a mile away we got relatively good views through our 'scopes and even managed to get a record shot of him by holding Keren's camera up to the eyepiece of my 'scope - see if you can spot him on THIS PHOTO.
After watching the eagle sit there doing nowt for about 45 minutes, we decided to head back to the car park along Riggindale beck looking for Dippers but were unsuccessful still, at least the Redstarts gave us an excuse to take a breather on our trudge back!
After leaving Haweswater, we parked in some woodland by a small stream that has always been a traditional site for Dipper, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler.
Unfortunately, the heavens opened as we were under the trees and really hampered viewing even though the area seemed alive with birds. However, a Red Squirrel provided a pleasant and, dare I say it, cute diversion as he ran through the tops of a nearby tree. After an hour of getting drenched the rain eventually eased off and we were able to get ½-decent views of a couple of Pied Flycatchers, but it was very dark under there and photography was nigh-on impossible to get any shots of these active birds. SEE WHAT I MEAN?
After a brief sandwich break while we dried off we took a short walk along the stream again looking for Dippers and were eventually rewarded with good views of a juvenile bird bobbing in typical fashion on rocks in the middle of the stream.
Before heading for our hotel for the evening (The Fighting Cocks in Arnside), we paid a brief visit to a secret location which reportedly held a couple of pairs of Honey Buzzards, but the increasing wind strength, and the lateness of the hour, probably prevented them flying so we dipped-out.
That evening we enjoyed an excellent meal with some great new friends and I was encouraged by one of our party to stay up late drinking beer - something I thought would have been rude not to do!
So, Sunday morning dawned bright, calm and sunny - not at all reflecting my demeanour! A pre-breakfast amble to clear our heads more than anything else provided little in the way of notable birdlife - I'm sure they were there it was just too much of an effort to raise my bins to my eyes! Damn these cockneys and there propensity for alcohol!
Suitably refreshed after a Full English Breakfast (is there a better hangover cure?) we headed off to Leighton Moss for our second full day's birding.
As it was June we weren't expecting to see anything particularly dramatic, but what nicer place is there to spend time amongst new friends and like-minded people?
Most of the ducks (Tufted, Shoveler, Gadwall etc) were starting to get their grotty eclipse plumages although the Ruddy Ducks remained in full glorious colour. The Black-headed Gulls were being noisy and argumentative as usual and mobbed anything bigger than them that took to the air - thus, all our views of Marsh Harriers were brief and a little distant. There were also large numbers of Coot with young, providing a ready source of nourishment for the harriers and Herons!
There were Reed Warblers breeding just in front of one hide and I even managed to get a ½-decent record shot of one of these birds as it grovelled around in the dense reed bed.
Over at the salt marsh section of the reserve there were again large numbers of Black-headed Gulls but also quite a few waders providing us with some excellent photographic opportunities - Avocets, 150+ Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank and a Common Sandpiper all came under fire from the camera and I even attempted getting photos of the Swifts as they zoomed back and forth over the pools, but they were just too fast for my ageing eyes to keep up with!
Whilst at the Eric Morecambe hide, Keren was told about a nearby Peregrine watch point, where a pair of birds had fledged three young. After getting directions we headed off and got great views of both adults and juveniles flying around.
Following this, we decided to cover the NE corner of the reserve which was a 3 mile round walk but gave us several new species for the trip list including excellent views of Goldfinch, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Blackcap and several other woodland species, including Speckled Wood butterfly but no sign of the hoped-for Garden Warblers.
In the end we ended up the weekend having seen 87 species (See list, below)
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon
Great Spotted Woodpecker