On a trip to visit family in NW England, I managed to wangle a few days birding at the same time.
The first day I was allowed to bird was the Monday but after hearing of a male Garganey at Marshside, Southport I managed to twist Mrs' H's arm, so she let me have a quick look there on the Sunday afternoon of our arrival.
Omens looked good as I saw my first Buzzard of the trip on the way to Marshside.
Marshside is an area of flooded fields and marsh. It's situated a stones throw from the sea (when it's in). After arriving I had a look through the viewing screen opposite the car park. Here I saw a few Avocet, Shoveler, Shelduck and Gadwall. Nice birds but no Garganey, not to worry, as I had been previously told it likes the area in front of Nel's hide which was further along. I moved to that hide and took a seat. There were a couple of blokes in the hide but both looked a bit dejected and left the hide. (I did check if I smelled of anything!)
With only my pair of bins with me I set about scanning the birds.
Straight away I picked up a nice summer plumaged Little Grebe directly in front of the hide. There were families of Coot everywhere and quite a few more Avocets.
There was a lot more area to scan here and during this I spotted several Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit & Ringed Plover. Also swimming around was a funny little Ruddy Duck. At the back of the marsh were a few male Pintails and a few Wigeon. Still no target bird though so I checked the logbook to see when it was last seen. Expecting a few days ago, I got a bit depressed when it said the Garganey had been seen today! Noooo. That's worse than dipping on a bird that had moved off.
As I was deciding to head back the heavens opened. This wasn’t a bog standard rain shower either this one had thunder and lightning! This made me decide to stay in the hide :)
I continued to look for the Garganey but just couldn't find it. During the downpour a large number of Swifts and Swallows appeared over the water. A Shoveler came a little bit closer to the hide, close enough for a record shot.
Eventually the rain passed and I was able to go. It was now 1 hour into my 20 minute "quick check" of Marshside. Whoopsadaisy. Mrs H wasn’t going to be best pleased!
I rushed back along the path and when I got near the car park I couldn't help myself but have a last look through the viewing screen.
I scanned the small pool but nothing was there. As I was about to leave some other birders came along so I had a little chat with them. As I talked I also scanned to make it look like I knew what I was doing! During this scan a smaller duck appeared right at the back of the pool. Suddenly my hopes lifted. I got the bins on it but I was only getting a distant head on view. Then it turned ... I could see a big white eyeflash! It was the male Garganey. I couldn't believe it. After being well disappointed five seconds earlier I was now well chuffed. I pointed it out to the other birders and one had a scope so I was able to see it in better detail. I took a distant record shot where you can just about tell it's a Garganey.
This was a new bird for me (and for the two other birders) so was a great start to the trip.
We had decided to go to the Delamere area so Spud the dog could have a walk and I could have a look for birds. We started at Barnesbridge in Delamere forest. As we parked a Nuthatch was in a small tree to our left. Unfortunately it quickly flew off before I could even open my rucksack. I got out and had a look around the car park. More Nuthatch were heard and found as well as some Grey Squirrel. It then started to rain so I went and sat back in the car. When I got back Mrs H told me a person had left some peanuts on the steps handrail. We parked near and waited. First down was a Great Tit, then came another Nuthatch. This was the pattern until a Carrion Crow came in and scared everything away. A few minutes later a Robin appeared nearby to see what was going on. Unfortunately my other half then decided she needed a trip to a water closet so we had to leave Delamere to find one. I hadn’t realized how difficult this was until after one hour of searching!
We had originally planned to move to nearby Whitegate way after finishing at Delamere. This should have taken about ten minutes but it was now one hour later and we still weren't at our next location. We drove to several "supposed" parking places but most were private lanes! After another thirty minutes we finally accidentally came across the lakes (on the way there I spotted a Yellowhammer in a roadside bush which was nice). Here was supposed to be a good place for Black-necked Grebe and Hobby. We walked down the path and looked into the pool on the left. Here we saw a Great-crested Grebe, Tufted Duck and a Jay flew over. We walked on and I saw a pool on the right. Thinking this was the Hobby area I went and had a look. All I found was a Reed Bunting. Time was now pressing so we decided to leave. It was only later that I figured out there were actually three pools there and we hadn't walked far enough for the Black-necked Grebe pool! Dohh.
We didn’t have time to see Weaver Bends so we moved on to Knowsley Safari Park. Here I met up with my mate who is a very good bird photographer from the NW of England. (http://www.stevenround-birdphotography.com/)
We paid our entrance fee and went down to Mizzy Dam. Here a summer plumaged Red-necked Grebe had been reported earlier in the day. The pool is small so we expected a walk along its length would pick up the Grebe. One and a half lengths later and still no Grebe! We couldn't believe it, there was nowhere it could be hiding out of view. Suddenly to our left I spotted a bird on the water that wasn’t there before. A look through the bins confirmed a stunning Red-necked Grebe. This was a lifer for me.
After watching it for a while we realized just how long it could stay under the water.
It took another wait of about thirty minutes for the Grebe to come back for a photo opportunity. I was at one end of the platform and Steve was at the other when the Grebe resurfaced right in front of Steve! How lucky was that! I tried to offer congratulations but it just came out as "You jammy swine!"
I thought I wasn’t going to get any shots off but finally it reappeared towards me and I managed one shot. (Unfortunately in my excitement I didn’t manage an in-focus shot! Arhgh.)
On the dam were also families of Coots. Again there were stacks of Swifts around. I attempted a flight shot and this was my best attempt (still rubbish though).
With us happy we moved off for a quick look at Frodsham marsh. This was a really weird place with burnt out cars dotted around and not a bird in sight. We gave that up as a bad job and moved to Inner Marsh Farm. I had always wanted to see this reserve so was just happy to be there. On the (slightly overgrown) path to the hide a gust of wind blew a branch onto the top of Steve's head, I thought this was extremely funny and creased up until another gust swung the same branch round and it smacked me right in the face! Not very amusing :P
At the hide we spotted hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Knot mixed in. We also noticed a plover at the back of the pool. We both thought it could possibly be a Little Ringed Plover but with only bins we couldn’t quite see the details at that range. Luckily another chap came in and he had a scope. He generously let me look through. I was extremely happy to see my first ever Little Ringed Plover. Later on I spotted a bright yellow dot appear at the back of the pool. Through the bins this was identified as a male Yellow Wagtail. It was with an “altogether duller” female. A couple of ducks appeared from the nearby reeds and it was strange to see a pair of Teal. Most of The Isle of Man's Teal left weeks ago so I couldn’t quite work out why they were still here. Also at the back was a Common Tern.
After a few hours it was time to go and we next went to Spital. Here was a self made hide looking over a woodland. I was hoping to see and photograph some woodland species at close range. Nothing happened for a bit then I heard a weird (to me) call coming from the right. The next second a Great-spotted Woodpecker appeared. Later on a Jay flew in, this was the best view I’ve ever had of a Jay. While taking a photo I noticed something from the corner of my eye. It was a pair of Bullfinch. This was another great view, especially of the cracking male. I managed a record shot just before they flew away. After all the excitement a few Stock Dove flew in. This was my first time photographing Stock Dove as on the Isle of Man they are amazingly scarce. With the three woodland species I hoped to see in the bag I headed back.
Today we planned a day birding in North Wales. Unfortunately the weather was terrible which put a slight dampener on my hopes of seeing Redstart, Pied Fly and Dipper. As we had all day we decided to go straight out to Anglesey (whilst trying to find nicer weather) as an American Golden Plover had been reported the day before. It was reporting on Steve's text that the AGP had been seen that morning but when we arrived at Cemlyn Bay (after getting lost three times) there were a few birders around but none had seen the bird. We all tried different areas but there was no sign. The area it supposedly favoured was covered by the tide while we were there. While looking we saw the local Sandwich Tern population. Steve also pointed out a group of four Red-breasted Mergansers flying through. We assumed the AGP had moved somewhere else while the tide was in but we would have had to wait hours for low tide and we didn’t have the time so we moved on. Our next port of call was South Stack RSPB. Here we were expecting close-ups of Peregrines. The weather was even worse here as we went down the millions of steps towards the lighthouse. While getting blown to pieces we had a look. No Peregrines Dohh!. I scanned the large numbers of Guillemots, Razorbills and found a few Puffins which were a nice substitute. Also a few Manx Shearwater were passing offshore and a few Chough were flying about. We gave South Stack up as a bad job and continued on. (After climbing back up the billions of steps and nearly dying of exhaustion.) On the way out of Anglesey, Steve was positive he had seen some blue sky so we aimed for it and we stopped off at an area of low bushes and reeds. Here we were hoping to see another lifer for me. After about ten minutes we heard the loud song coming from a bush right next to us. It was a Cetti's Warbler. But try as we might we couldn't see the thing. With several more calls but no sighting we had to move on. (I did see one lifer fly over here though…. a Eurofighter Typhoon! :) )
On the way to our next stop we decided to take a detour into Aber Falls. This was a wooded river valley with a possibilty of Dipper and Pied Fly so it was worth the effort. A walk by the river (plus rain) didn't produce the hoped for Dipper but there were several unfamiliar and unidentified calls coming from the trees. At the car park we saw a Peregrine fly over the hills. We also heard a Cuckoo calling from deep in the trees. Steve attempted his Dr Doolittle trick but this time it didn’t work. On the walk back we spotted a male Blackcap. Towards the end of the path Steve heard a Pied Fly and we thought we had caught a glimpse of it but we weren’t positive. After Aber falls we headed to Conwy RSPB. This is a lagoon separated from the River Conwy by a thin bit of land. Here some sun was trying to break through and we hoped for closer views of Little Ringed Plover. Unfortunately we couldn't even find a LRP! A nice Great-crested Grebe was patrolling the pool so I took a photo. Also a pair of Little Grebe swam towards the near bank and I made a nice mess of the photo. While we were in the hide I could hear at least two Reed Warblers but couldn’t spot them. Also, a large number of Sand Martin were flying around then perching on the reeds, making them bend down towards the water. Steve said he had never seen that before and I obviously hadn’t as we don’t have many reedy areas on the IOM. There were also another four Red-breasted Merganser here but unfortunately they never came close enough for a photo. With the pool well and truly scanned we moved on. Now we headed into the hills and forest. On the way up we drove along this small stream (or if you’re Manx “a massive river”). Here we hoped again for a Dipper but again none were seen. About half a mile up the river Steve heard a strange call from some trees so we stopped and got out. We could hear it on the other side of the river but just couldn’t spot what it was through all the leaves. I walked round a small tree for a different angle and I saw something moving in the small tree I had just gone around. I put the bins up and there was a cracking male Pied Flycatcher sitting in the tree. As we had only just got out the car for a quick scan I hadn’t brought my camera with me so I rushed back to tell Steve and grab me camera. By the time we got back round the bird had gone dohh! I wasn’t to be disappointed though, as this was my first view of a Pied Fly for well over ten years and even then the view was in a ringer’s hand. We continued into Clocaneg forest and ended up in the hills and in the rain clouds! Here we patrolled a small area of deciduous trees, which seemed to be carpeted in Willow Warbler. Also in there were a few Chiffchaff. Steve then decided to stare at a small conifer for ages. I thought he was getting a bit desperate but after a few minutes he said there was a bird in there. So we both had a look and sure enough there were a pair of Redpoll in the tree. We then drove along the forest tracks scanning for Crossbill and other forest birds. Apart from some more Bullfinch nothing else was seen and we continued until we came to a clearing. Straight away we could hear a Tree Pipit calling and we saw a few of them flying around quite far away but none came close for a photo. We figured out the weather had beaten us, up on the hills, so we went to our next stop, Clocaneg Forest picnic area. At Christmas we had Crossbill here and sure enough one of the first birds we heard and saw were Crossbill. As we walked into the trees Steve heard an interesting call coming from a lake side tree. We started looking and couldn’t find anything, but then a bird flew out, over the lake, hovered then landed in a blown down tree on the other side. Even without my bins I could see this bird was red. After looking through the bins I was extremely happy to see a brilliant male Redstart. (Again a bird I haven’t seen for well over ten years.) After walking further up the path we heard it again and we spotted it in a tree by our side. I got a touch closer by approaching behind a tree and managed one record shot round the tree. Unfortunately, there was a small branch obscuring my line of sight so I decided to crouch a bit to get a better angle. I managed a crouch for about two seconds before my old battered knees gave way and I collapsed on the floor. As I looked up I saw my Redstart fly away Dohhh! Steve, who was talking photos from a nearby tree didn’t look best pleased with me… Whoops! Further along, “Hawkear Steve”, indicated there was a Wood Warbler singing. We walked towards the song and eventually I spotted the Warbler moving about the trees. Unfortunately, it was in a very dark and dim section of the forest and the bright green didn’t stand out as much as I expected it to. (That’s my excuse for mis-identifying it as a Willow Warbler and I am sticking to it! :P ) As we got right round the lake the Redstart re-appeared doing his little hover over the water. What a great bird and if it wasn’t for the Red-necked Grebe it would have been my bird of the trip. It was now getting late and the sun was starting to drop below the hills so we went off to our last stop, Loggerheads. With it being late on there were not many people here so our hopes were high of seeing the last bird on my wanted list. As we started to walk down the path I got a phone call, while on the phone I only just caught something fly off down river, I looked at Steve and he said “Dipper” I was gutted with my rubbish view of it… until he said “hehehee only joking.” I was thinking about pushing him in the river but thought I might scare any Dippers that might be about :) Further down we saw the birds that had flown from further up. They were a pair of Grey Wagtail. Steve said these birds are used to people so I would be able to approach them quite close for a photo…. Hmmm obviously these were racist Grey Wags and they didn’t like Manx people, try as I might, I could not get anywhere near them before they moved. My best photo was quite a way off. We carried on with still no Dipper but Steve calmed me down as we hadn’t got to the best place for them yet. Further along I was again attempting a Grey Wag photo when I saw something else a bit along the river. I look through the bins and there was my Dipper! This was only my second ever time at seeing a Dipper and my first sighting was a millisecond view of its bum as it shot down river. We walked down the path to its vicinity and it was still there. I took a record shot in the dark and we left him to it and that was the end of my total of two days of birding.
Absolutely brilliant, the three birds I came over to see and I had seen them.
Bird of the trip was definitely the summer plumaged Red-necked Grebe what a stunning bird that was.
Total species for the total of two days birding was 118. Quite an impressive amount I think.