Pete's Christmas Break
Moore nr 24-12-04
While on a Christmas break in Liverpool I managed to find time to spend a few hours at a nature reserve. Since I was in England I thought it would be good to try and see some woodland birds that we donít get on the Isle of Man like Woodpeckers, Jay, Nuthatch etc
I was advised Moore NR ( http://www.wrg.co.uk/moorenaturereserve ) would be a good choice. This reserve is a large area of flooded gravel pits and several pockets of deciduous woodland. I was dropped off there near lunchtime and set about trying to find the feeding station. There were several tables and hanging feeders set up and straight away I could see that the Grey Squirrels were happy with this free food.
There were a lot of little birds flitting around in the surrounding bushes, these included Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Greenfinch. A few Blackbirds were coming out of the bushes and feeding on the seed on the floor. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a something a bit different but when I swung round to have a proper look there was just a Coal Tit there. Not what I was thinking or hoping for. A Robin then appeared, quite close to the watching point and didnít seem bothered with the seed or me.
Also, rather unusual for a feeding area was a Reed Bunting. I then heard a loud unfamiliar call in the tree above me but I couldn't locate the culprit. As I turned back to view the tables I spotted the bird that I thought I saw earlier. This time I was able to track its flight into the bush and saw it was indeed a Willow Tit.
I was pleased to see this as it's only the second one Iíve seen. I managed to grab a poor record shot as it darted to the table.
Happy to wait at the feeding station for more views, I wasn't too pleased to feel the heavens open!
I had spotted a roofed hide near the reserve entrance so I quickly scarpered for that.
The hide was overlooking a pool so while I was sorting myself out to be as waterproof as possible I was able to see some other birds. Nearest the hide were a pair of Pochard and there were plenty of Coot. There were also a few Little Grebe but they were a distance from the hide.
After a while I realised time was ticking on and I needed to find the Eastern Reed bed for a slim chance of seeing a Bittern. I found a path that went eastwards and set off. I quickly got lost and a phone call home was needed to have someone check the reserve map. Back on the right path I walked through a field and saw a few Fieldfare and one Mistle Thrush the path then approached a large pool and split two ways. I went left. After a few hundred yards the path ended! So I had to turn back. On my way back to the path junction a large bird flew out of a tree above me. I got the bins on it and I was pleased to see it was a Common Buzzard. Unfortunately due to it raining my camera was in my bag so I didn't manage a pic. (Excuses, excuses! :) )
Back again on the correct path I came across another hide so stopped for a look. The waters edge was below the hide but quite close and there were a couple of Coots extremely near.
Suddenly a couple of Little Grebe surfaced in a position just as close.
It always nice to see Dabchicks so I grabbed a few photos as quickly as possible, expecting them to hear me and swim off. But to my amazement these two carried on feeding like I wasnít there.
A further scan of the pool resulted in my seeing a large number of sleeping Tufted Ducks and several Gadwall. Looking around some more I couldn't notice any reeds and since I was looking for the Eastern Reed bed I guessed I wasn't at the right place. Another quick phone call and I was told I had another three pools to walk past. I was only at pool one!
Looking at the time I thought I better get my skates on. After going through a wood and past another pool, I found myself on a small track. I noticed a small mammal move along the side of the road. Even though I thought it was going to be a Long Tail, I still walked over for a look. To my complete amazement a Stoat was looking back at me! He stayed put and looked like he was deciding whether he could eat me or not. Unfortunately it was still raining so my camera was still in my bag. This was slightly disappointing as I doubt chances like this come around very often but it didnít take much off the happiness of seeing my first Stoat. After going through more woods and hearing then seeing several flocks of Long-tailed Tit, I eventually found the Eastern Reed bed. In the hide there were two blokes who looked like they had been there all day. After chatting to them, I realised my chance of seeing the wintering Bittern here were extremely slim. I had a scan on the nearby pool and only added Black-headed Gull to the day's sightings. With the rain now bucketing down, it made my decision to stay and scan the reeds a bit easier.
After a while the rain stopped but time was really at a premium now. The blokes in the hide had given me some local gen on a good place for Bullfinch so I decided to try. I walked off and after about half a mile walking along this superb unused canal habitat I thought I had better cut my loses and turn back. As I got back to the track I spotted two birds fly out of a trackside bush. I tentatively id'd them as Chaffinch and was about to walk off when a third bird flew and landed in a bush in view. I thought I better just double check so I put my bins on the bird only to see a female Bullfinch sitting there! The light was too low now even for a record shot and the same was true when a pair of Shoveler swam off in a small pond very near the track. Thinking the light had gone I put the camera back in my bag only to watch another Buzzard fly over. This one though flew about 20 ft above my head. A cracking sight!
On my way back I stopped off at one of pools I had rushed past earlier. Here a winter plumage Great-crested Grebe was sitting in the corner of the pool. I am fan of Grebes so I attempted a record shot in the dark.
I had another look on the big pool where I saw the close in Little Grebes and in nearly the same place were a couple of male Gadwall. Even with the faded light I attempted a photo.
I finally got back to the main entrance ready to be picked up when I heard the funny call of a Green Woodpecker! I stared and stared into the woods to try and pick it out as I have never seen a Green Woodpecker but unfortunately I couldn't see it. As the car arrived to pick me up I could hear another Woodpecker drumming from a different part of the wood. Doh!
Highlights of the day were my second only Willow Tit and my first time seeing a little Stoat.
Moore Nr 26-12-04
Unbelievably my other half decided we could go to Moore Nr again as it allowed dogs. This meant she could take our dog for a walk while I had another go at seeing some woodland birds. This day looked promising as snow still covered the ground from the previous days "White Christmas" and it wasnít raining.
With this in mind we headed straight for the feeding station. There were many more birds here than on the 24th. So I sat down on the snow covered bench ( instantly getting a wet arse! ) and started to scan. All the same birds as on the 24th were here again but in higher numbers so trying pick out the interesting ones was a bit more tricky.
After getting my eye in we spotted the Willow Tit come in again. Lovely to see again but just as I was readying the camera something appeared on the nearby fat cake that nearly made me drop the camera! It was
a male Great-spotted Woodpecker. I watched it through my bins, partially stunned at the best views of a woodpecker I have ever had. My other half then gave me a nudge and said "Donít you want a photo?"
Realising she was right I quickly swung the camera round and got a couple of record shots.
Soon it was gone and also my dog seemed to not like sitting in the snow so we moved off onto a path heading east. We ended up in a part of a wood I hadnít visited on the 24th and straight away I could hear many little squeaks and chirps coming from the trees. I noticed a little bird fly low onto a tree trunk and start scooting up. Slightly hoping it could be a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker (but assuming it was probably a Treecreeper) I kept my distance and walked to a different viewing position. Finding nothing on the tree I was slightly confused until on a nearby tree I did indeed see a Treecreeper.
Also in this small section of wood were two more Willow Tit and a Goldcrest.
We had to move off quickly as other dog walkers were coming through and exiting the woods we walked across an open field on the edge of the wood. Half way along I spotted a crow sized bird with a pale back flying towards the trees. It was quite a way off and I donít know why but my brain kicked into Isle of Man mode and I just thought "oh a Hooded Crow!" Luckily I quickly realised it was highly unlikely to be a Hoody round these parts so tried to pick the bird up in the bins. I just saw it land in a tree then hop further in but this small view was enough to tell that the bird was in fact a Jay. Another new bird for the trip and one I had hoped to get a pic of. Sadly when we covered the distance to the trees the Jay had already gone. Soon we had reached the road and got back to the car and that ended my visits to Moore Nr.
Highlight of this day was my best ever views of a Woodpecker.
47 species so far.
North Wales coast 27-12-04
I planned to spend this day with a bird photographer mate from the NW and we hoped to get round as many places as possible during the available hours. Unfortunately when my mate told me we would need at least three days to do the listed areas properly, quite a few areas got scrubbed.
We started at 8am in the town of Ruthin, hoping to see the large Waxwing flock but they didnít appear. Instead there were large amounts of Redwing about. Also in the berry bushes were a few Mistle Thrush and one hung round just long enough for a photo.
Berries must have been falling on the floor as lots of other birds were feeding under the trees. This included Song Thrush, Chaffinch and Bullfinch. Again the Bullfinch was just too far away to photograph (there seems to be a pattern emerging here! :) ) With no Waxwings showing we headed to our next destination. As we left the area I spotted a large looking female Bullfinch in a bush but I never managed to see any detail so will never know if it was one of these "Northern" Bullfinches that have appeared in the UK recently.
With the sun trying to break into the valleys we got to Clocaenog forest. Recently there had reports of Crossbill, large numbers of Brambling & Siskin and Northern Bullfinches all near the picnic area.
Near the car my mate chucked some seed down just to see what might come down and as I walked towards the track turned to see my mate surrounded by three Robins. All were within a few feet of him! I half expected him to put his arm out and have birds land on him ala Dr Doolittle!
We walked into the wood and instantly heard the loud "chipping" of a Crossbill but as with all my Crossbill encounters, we couldn't locate the beggar. We walked on to the far edge of the frozen lake and stopped to see if we could hear anything. It was deadly quiet until after a few minutes we heard the loud chipping again. This time from far back in the wood. Starting to get depressed that this would be another day of only hearing Crossbill I was cheered up by the closeness of the Robins. One coming too close to focus on! I finally managed a photo when one fighting Robin flew to a post probably to announce his victory.
Dr Doolittle was up to his old tricks again as we were then surrounded by Blue, Great and Coal Tits. My mate then heard some Siskin fly in and we spotted them high up in the trees. While looking at these we heard Crossbills calling again, this time a bit closer. We scanned the tops of the trees desperately looking for a one to show itself. Suddenly in mid scan I spotted a bird right at the highest point on a very high tree. It was green and had a massive bill I was sure it was a Crossbill but at this distance and having never seen one before I was lucky to have my mate there who had a look and confirmed it! Hurrah finally a b****y Crossbill!
It edged to a slightly closer tree and we both tried some record shots
I was quite happy to have managed a recognizable shot from this distance but then I saw my mates shot from the same distance and I was stunned, you could nearly see feather detail!
I think it was his 5k lens rather than better skill though ;) (well thatís what Iím telling myself).
While we were photographing this one, a party of seven Crossbills noisely flew over. One of them, a brilliant red male landed high up in a nearby tree so I tried (not very successfully) to get a record shot of this one.
With time at a premium we had to move on but no doubt my mate will be back there and hopefully I can get back in the summer.
Our next stop was Caerhun Church. This is a renowned place for Hawfinch due to it's Yew trees but as there was a Pheasant shoot going on in the next field we think all the Hawfinch (quite rightly) had gone to safer places. The churchyard did overlook a nice river and as we scanned it, a group of three Whooper Swan flew past. Quite an unusual sight for this part of the country I was told. Also on the land surrounding the river was a large amount of Lapwing. With the shooters walking back towards us, blasting everything in sight we beat a hasty retreat, out to the coast.
Next stop was a proper reserve, Conwy RSPB. This reserve is an area of salt marsh and pools with a small scattering of reed. Recently there had been a winter plumage Water Pipit there so after getting directions from the RSPB bloke we headed off. Unfortunately we never managed to find the two outflow pipes he
mentioned. We only found three outflow pipes! We didnít stop here too long either as we had some manky horses trying to eat our coats!
We headed back to one of the hides and here we straight away saw 2 Water Rail walking out in the open.
A very uncommon sight for someone used to birding on the Isle of Man. From this hide we also saw Curlew, Grey Plover, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Snipe and the female Scaup.
With not much more happening we moved a bit more up the coast to a place called The Spinnies.
This was a shallow freshwater pool separated from the estuary by a section of trees and bushes. Once in
the hide we spotted two Little Egret in the corners of the pool.
On the small island were some roosting waders including Redshank, Greenshank and Knot.
Several more Greenshank flew in to the back of the pool so I got a record shot.
A longer scan found a couple of Common Snipe hiding. Also there was a Red-breasted Merganser in the far right corner of the pool. A Water Rail then ran straight in front of the hide and off into the reeds. We then heard
the familiar call of a Kingfisher and my mate spotted it sitting on a dead log on the right of the pool. Unfortunately it was too far to get
a photo. While looking at the Kingfisher I saw a brilliant red male Bullfinch sitting in the bushes. (Chalk up another Bullfinch experience with no resulting photo!). Not much more happened here so we had a walk around this small reserve and then left for our final stop.
At this town on the North Wales coast my mate had been given some gen on Short-eared Owls (SEO) coming so close that you could nearly touch them. Unfortunately the directions we had to go off were
pretty poo so we ended up driving round a town which makes Blackpool look like Las Vegas! At one point we got out the car to try and find the SEO area on foot but we managed about three steps on a dog poo riddled path and we decided to cut our losses and get the hell out of the there! With it now dark there was no place left to go but home.
Highlights of this day were seeing my first ever Crossbill and getting some stunning views of Water Rail.
74 species seen (plus 1 heard only) in total
Great Crested Grebe
Atlantic Great Cormorant
Great Black-backed Gull
Green Woodpecker (heard only)
Great Spotted Woodpecker