Friday, 22 January 2016

Rainham double-date

I ended up going to Rainham Marshes twice this week - on Wednesday with Shane and on Thursday with Ian. I am STILL without Dartford Warbler on my yearlist despite spending much time staring into what I think is the correct bramble clump... oh well. Wednesday brought nice views of Short-eared Owls and there were a few other things worth enthusing about. Both days were very cold and mostly cloudy.

OK, Wednesday. A very still day, stillest I've ever known at Rainham. All the waters were frozen and wildfowl-free. The Cetti's are beginning to sing properly and this one even let me take a terrible photo of it.

There are quite a few Stonechat pairs around the reserve.

We went through the gate out to the river wall, and turned towards the tip, hoping for Short-eared Owls. We took the low path but then a Shortie bobbed up and down again over the high path. So we hurried up the slope and soon located the owl, which had landed on a post.

There it is :)

A closer crop to show off that wonderful frowny face. It took off soon after and crossed the rough field behind the firing range numbers, eventually going out of view.

We followed the river path along towards the stone barges. The river was flat calm and busy with wildfowl. Here some Teals in difficult... I mean atmospheric... light.

Having noticed a Shortie or two over the top of the tip, we left the river path to cross the road and head up there. A big flock of Linnets was  moving over the slope, and among them were a couple of Skylarks.

Then a Shortie appeared from our left and flew directly overhead. The light was completely wrong but it was amazing to have such a close fly-by.

After it went over us, this owl had a brief contre-temps with a Carrion Crow before heading away.

We climbed up the path to the top, and here had further views of a couple of Shorties hunting low over the rough vegetation up here. Then we headed back down to return to the visitor centre.

Returning along the riverside, we met a pretty large flock of Dunlins (guesstimated at 50 birds), feeding on the shore as the tide ebbed. There were plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares zipping about near the visitor centre.

Wigeons in the murk. Sounds like a film.

The last pics are from the car park - a camera-shy female Greenfinch, a more confident female House Sparrow, and a meditative Collared Dove.

Puffed up and blue-tinged in the cold. Lots of food out for all the birds here though.

And so to Thursday. I took the train and arrived before 8am, just as the sun was rising.

Some pretty intense colours going on there. The actual sun appeared briefly behind the Dartford bridge, then slipped under a wall of cloud, where it stayed for most of the rest of the day.

Along the river wall I found this Weasel...

... and this female Stonechat who seems to have mislaid part of her anatomy. Still very early and dark so some serious noise levels in these pics.

I was due to meet Ian on the Serin mound at 9am. But there was an accident on the A13 and he was delayed until gone 10am. I spent most of that time on the mound, enjoying a mixed flock of Goldfinches and Linnets, a passing Goldcrest, distant Marsh Harriers but no Short-eared Owls.

 I did go for a short walk at one point when it was getting too cold standing still, and photographed this Kestrel.

Once Ian arrived, we spent a while longer on the mound and failed to find any Shorties. Then we moved on to the stone barges to look for Black-tailed Godwits (some of which I'd seen on my way to the Serin mound). Again, no joy. Here is a bunch of Common and Black-headed Gulls against a gritty industrial backdrop. Wader-wise there were several Redshanks and a lone Snipe.

We drove on down to the reserve then, had some warming tea, and then walked an uneventful lap around. Ian found a Peregrine pair on a pylon.

Two Pintails near the Ken Barratt hide.

Yet another Stonechat, this one from the Tower Butts hide. There wasn't too much else from here, except a ton of Wigeons with a few Shovelers, Teals, Gadwalls and Pochards on the tiny bit of unfrozen water.

A Kestrel and its lucky number.

We walked back on the riverside, and here Ian finally found a far-off Shortie to add to his yearlist. He also found a Rock Pipit for me to add to mine.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Hilbre Island and West Kirby Marine Lake

With high tide not til 4.30pm, Nick and I made the walk across to Hilbre Island on Sunday morning. This lies off the south tip of the Wirral, and is walk-to-able at low tide via a big expanse of soggy sand. There was snow overnight in Warrington but this hadn't made it to the Wirral - it was, however, a dull grey day.

To get here, you park at Morrisons in West Kirby, and then walk out past the Marine Lake. there were a couple of birds bobbing about on it which proved to be a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. We had plans to walk all the way around the lake later, as there was supposedly a Great Northern Diver on it, but for now we headed out towards the island.

Halfway across, with half of my face numb from the crosswind, I paused to admire the crazy landscape of rippling flatlands, stretching across to the straggly hump of Hilbre Island itself. It's the seaside, Jim, but not as we know it.

We didn't see much on the way over. A Knot flew by at a distance, a Golden Plover very close. Once we could see the shore beyond the island we found a few waders there, including a Bar-tailed Godwit. Approaching the main island via seaweedy rocks we were soon among Turnstones and Oystercatchers.

Flyby Turnstone. Shoulda used a faster shutter speed. But then there woulda been more noise. But there is already a lot of noise. I don't think I'm getting the best out of this camera yet... mind you it was a grey old day.

Once you reach the 'Little Eye', the nearest bit of the island, you head sort of north-west along the low ridge that separates the Little Eye from the island proper, and when you get to the island proper you join a proper tarmaced path that brings you past the bird observatory and eventually to a walled but roofless building that gives views out to sea. Here we stayed for a while and found (well, mostly Nick found) various goodies including Grey Plover on the rocks (not a cocktail), and three or four Slavonian Grebes and a single female Scaup on the sea.

Most of this stuff was out of range though. So here's a Herring Gull fight, with spectators...

... and a young Cormorant coming in to land and showing off its totipalmate feet.

On the shore was one of the birds we'd particularly hoped to see, though it was odd to see just one on its own - Pale-bellied Brent Goose.

The walk back to the mainland was really hard-going - FIERCE cold wind in our faces, and conversation died completely as we put our heads down and concentrated on making it back to dry land. Then it was time to do a clockwise lap of the Marine Lake.

The Marine Lake is large, though much longer than it is wide. At the northern end the wind was whipping the waves up and over the path but the further we went the calmer it became. This subadult Herring Gull plunge-dived into the lake to obtain a mussel, which it then dropped on the footpath to try to break it. What a perfectly timed photo (sadly it's a bit of a disaster in all other respects!)

We got to the far end without finding the diver, and then carried on along the road back towards our starting point. There is a little jetty thing here with rocks around it, and on these rocks were roosting waders.

Most were Redshanks.

But there was also this gorgeous little Dunlin.

While I was taking lots of photos of the waders, Nick was more constructively engaged and managed to find the diver. It looked like it was nearer to the far shore than to us so we retraced our steps for closer views, but that didn't really happen.

A distant pic but I thought it was worth showing as you can see Hilbre in the background.

We had to get back to the car then but there was time for a few more gull photos.

Herring Gull who had grown tired of me taking its photo.

From here we went down to Parkgate but stayed only briefly because the cold was getting ridiculous. We saw a Marsh Harrier here, also Little Egret, but not a lot else.

When I got home yesterday I added up my year-list - 105 so far. And still lots of obvious and embarrassing gaps!

Woolston finch-fest

On Saturday Nick and I braved really-really-coldness to visit Woolston Eyes. It was evident pretty early on that all visible bits of the 'Eyes' were frozen solid so the focus was mainly on little birds, especially wintry ones.

From the path towards the reserve proper we found a Kingfisher sulking in a canal-side tree, too far below us and too shadowy for photos. More co-operative was this Redwing, one of a mixed group of thrushes flitting back and forth across the path.

There are feeding stations either side of the hide here, and I could just about see that the finches on the ground below them included quite a few Bramblings, while on one feeder was this male Bullfinch.

From the (elevated) hide, it was easier to see what was going on at ground level. Here are three male Bramblings at various stages of plumage development, with some Chaffinches.

The feeders themselves were mostly packed with Greenfinches - nice to see, given how scarce this species has been lately in some areas thanks to the dreaded 'trich'.

Now and then all the Greenies would rush away for no obvious reason, and this was when a Willow Tit would sneak in to grab a seed.

There is also a Marsh Tit here (apparently just the one) - caught and ringed recently. I heard it pitchoo-ing and had a possible brief view but no pics.

Shunning the feeders was this Lesser Redpoll, which dropped in to feed on the mugwort seeds in front of the hide, and refused to give us a clear view.

Not strictly finches but of the finchy ilk - two male Reed Buntings in the reeds around the feeders.

A Common Buzzard drifted over.

On the frozen lake itself there was almost nothing to see - a few Shelducks sitting on tiny islets, and this lone Canada Goose.

We opted to walk down to the weir, to see if all the regular wildfowl had been pushed there. The sky was starting to look a bit ominous by this point but there were still sunny moments.

An odd squeaky caw drew our attention to these fast-moving corvids. Then the other bird joined in with a baritone cronk, confirming they were Ravens - lovely surprise!

The waters around the weir were indeed full of wildfowl - Tufties, lots of Shovelers, Gadwalls, Mallards.

The larger bit of water, left of the path, also held four drake Goldeneyes, though curiously no ducks.

On the other side of the weir, two more drake Goldeneyes (and again no females). They were better lit but still too far away really.

This female Mallard came closer, in hope of bread, but we had none so off she went again. And because the grey clouds were really building now we headed back, finding big numbers of Redwings on the way. A lovely morning at the Eyes despite frozen-ness.