Monday, 30 March 2015

Iceland Gull at Pensarn

Present for almost 6 weeks now, the Pensarn Iceland Gull seems to have made the overflow car park on the east side its home for the time being. It is still showing incredibly well and won't refuse a slice of bread or two. However, this isn't my latest record of Iceland Gull in North Wales. I found a second winter bird back in 2013 on 30th April on the River Clwyd.  
Hopefully the Pensarn Gull will stay around as long as that, but the likelihood is that it probably won't. So if you haven't seen it yet, get yourself down there soon!
Very approachable, especially when you're in the car

Here's a video of the bird I took last month if you haven't seen it already!
Best of the rest include a Great Northern Diver from Rhos-On-Sea (28/03), Whimbrel and 2 Pink-Footed Geese on the River Clwyd (30/03) and plenty of Chiffchaffs

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Penduline Tits at Dart's Farm RSPB

I've seen a few Penduline Tits in Spain and they've been easy to catch up with, however records in the UK have been a little different. Many are elusive, a one (or two) day bird or even after the initial report; fly off high and are never seen again. However, in recent time they have become an increasingly more familiar sight on the birds news services. Many reports have mainly come from the Kent area, whereas others have been dotted around the south coast. An interesting report from Lancashire back in 2011 where a Penduline Tit was trapped and ringed in the November. It was even more surprising when it was re-sighted in the following February and April, 2012.
Back to these birds... they've been around since 5th December last year and due to reputation and other birding priorities, I haven't had too much chance to travel down for them until this weekend. We were due another twitch (as March can drag birding-wise) so myself and Steff made our way down on the back of 3 week's worth of reports of these birds coming from the same location: the little pond at Dart's Farm RSPB.
After a set back and diversions all occurring within 10 minutes to the destination, we finally arrived. To our surprise, the two Penduline Tits were showing, and showing well a matter of feet in front of us! Before I could get over the realisation that they were actually present, they did what they do best (when they want out) and took to the skies (and high!). With the pressure off, we both decided we wanted more views so decided to wait until they returned. A few birdtracks later and a doze in the warm sun, they were back!
The birds showed incredibly well in front of us for at least 90 minutes giving us opportunities for a few pictures although with the ever-increasing strength in the wind and the quick flitting from reed-to-reed and branch-to-branch, I found it difficult to get a definite shot in!
Both sexes are very similar with subtle differences but both feature a black mask over the eyes, grey head, brown-rufous back and buff-coloured under parts.
After spending the majority of time in the blossom tree adjacent to the small pond, they came down to the reedbed and bed from the bulrushes giving more fantastic views.
Although the birds showed for well over 90 minutes, they have lived up to their reputation during their stay commuting between the small pond on the RSPB reserve, Exminister Marshes and Bowling Green Marsh RSPB all within close proximity of each other.
Penduline Tit extracting the seeds from the bulrush
Here's a couple of videos taken from the visit to Dart's Farm RSPB
Since arrival there has been three birds present up until just over a week ago so who knows where the third has gone and who knows where these birds will go next? Will they stick around or head off from it's wintering ground?

Ring-Necked Duck, Priorslee Lake

On our way back from Devon, we decided to drop in at Priorslee Lake where a Ring-Necked Duck had previously been reported earlier that day. It was nice to get out of the car and enjoy what was left of the sunshine following a 3 hour drive up the motorways. We more or less immediately got onto the bird despite it having its head tucked in; asleep as it's clear white spur at the front side of the bird clearly highlight it wasn't a (more familiar) Tufted Duck!

It soon had its head up and was showing well from distance regularly diving with the Tufties. It's distinct peaked head was obvious and clear white bands across the bill also easy to see to confirm its identification. This is my forth Ring-Necked Duck after a female at Ranworth Broad back at the beginning of 2012.
Drake Ring-Necked Duck
There were 16 Great-Crested Grebes at the site; many of wish were paired up and carrying out courtship displays to one-another. It brought a lovely end to the day watching the sun slowly sinking as dusk rapidly approached.

Fantastic Finch Fiasco

With a day to spare, what better but to spend it in the local countryside of North Wales. As the forecast was to be beautiful, myself and Steff decided to try and get around the local sites. First up was a drop in at Old Colwyn for a sea watch. In quick succession, we both found a drake Surf Scoter each and up to 6 Velvet Scoter were also bobbing within the huge flock of Common Scoter. No less than 5 Red Throated Divers were also present with Red-Breasted Mergansers, Guillemots and Fulmars thrown in too! A partially leucistic Common Scoter threw us for a moment but with closer inspection was revealed as a female.
We then took the trip to Clocaenog forest where we immediately locked on to Siskins! They were everywhere we went displaying in the warm spring sun. We were also very lucky enough to walk into 4 female Crossbills (of which has been quite hard to see in recent years at Clocaenog).
Two of four (female) Crossbills
As we started to make our way back, we came across a huge finch flock which looked good from the start. Redpolls, Siskins, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and 2 super summer plumaged Brambling. The latter (one of my favourite finches) I haven't witnessed too many times in this plumage, so it was real good to find a couple so close to home. Also of note were 2 Fieldfare still hanging on!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Lapland Bunting at Cemlyn Bay

A very fine Lapland Bunting stayed put between 11th-17th March to allow close inspection from birdwatchers as far from Manchester. The bird showed well from the path just north of the west car park and quite possibly could be still around now. It has however been a little harder to locate as time as progressed.
The icy wind howled from the moment myself and Steff got there but hardened to the prevailing conditions, the Lapland wasn't phased as it fed on small seeds between the stony path ahead of us.
I've been use to seeing these birds in autumn on the Great Orme in small flocks hiding amongst the depths of the long grass; often proving difficult to keep an eye on.
The bird was ever-nearing summer plumage with it's black bib coming through along with its nice rustic body plumage.
Over 200 Golden Plover and a lone Sanderling roosted on the nearby rocks however an over-wintering Whimbrel remained elusive. There were no signs of any terns yet although the wardens are expecting the first Sandwich terns any day now. Up to 8 Med Gulls have been present on the lagoon and at least 2 Goldeneye were still present.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Serins at Gunners Park, Essex

Serin's are one of those birds that if you're in Europe, they become part of the surrounding landscape. In the UK, it's a different story. Many reports are fly overs on the South coast or strung for Siskins! I prioritised a Flambrough Serin two years in Autumn over a Western Orphean Warbler (which luckily I got back 4 days later - could've gone horribly wrong though!). The views I got a couple of years ago of the Serin were atrocious and I'd have been better off waiting for this one, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Unusually, there has been two male Serins over-wintering at Gunners Park in Essex which have proved very popular with the locals and people across the UK. Many have made the journey down to acquire close views of these vibrantly coloured finches. However, the birds haven't always been easy to see. They have been known to spend some considerable time away from their favoured location probably within the adjacent housing estate.
On arrival, there were a small group of birdwatchers already with the bird locked down. That was easy! Although locating the bird was a little trickier. The birds spent most of their time in a weedy scrub next to the roadside and surprisingly difficult to see. After 10 minutes or so, one popped up in front of us and undiscouraged by us, kept feeding away giving super views.

During our time there, they moved around the small area next to the pond but were always on view allowing some good photo opportunities. With it's distinctive yellow rump, short stubby bill and bright yellow body feathering, the bird was difficult to miss and easy to relocate.
Home to four Parrot Crossbill for a couple of weeks during the influx of autumn 2013, Gunners Park has always been a decent site for passage migrants with regular Wryneck, Yellow Browed and Barred warbler migrants most years. A place worth bothering with you have a little time on your side and you're down that way!  


Monday, 9 March 2015

Ruddy Brilliant

We're all familiar with why Ruddy Ducks have been culled in the UK and although it may be for all the right reasons as far as White-Headed Ducks are concerned, I certainly wouldn't in a million years have taken the job to shot every last one of them. It saddens to me to remember the time where there were in excess of 6000 individuals back in 2000 and a common and familiar site around North Wales.
They're one of my favourite ducks and one I hope to catch up with in its rightful breeding grounds in America later this year. Drakes are completely unmistakeable with their brick red-orange bodies and vibrant blue bills as they provide a stunning contrast on a dull lake even on a sunny day.
It was exciting and rather breath-taking to when I found this drake at the weekend on a small body of water which brought back many fond memories of my younger birding days when I had to rely on my Nan and Granddad to take me to Conwy RSPB during the Summer. A real joy to see and one certainly to be remembered. 
It spent it's first 10 minutes asleep until it woke up and starting preening, followed by diving - to which it spent an incredible long time under the water at any one time. Photos were difficult to take as the sun's reflection distorted the sharpness and altered the contrast.
Sadly this sight within the next year or two will be extinct which I personally believe is a great loss to the UK's waterfowl world. I could've stayed with it all day, easily. As long as it remains unseen, I may just pay it another visit in the not so distant future!

Monday, 2 March 2015

A touch of Ice

We all like a good gull whether it be a Med amongst the Black heads, a Glaucous caught up between the Herrings or a Ring-Billed in the mix of a Common Gull flock! It always provides that element of challenge and one of which that attracts me to sites like Richmond Bank in Cheshire or the gull roost at Pensarn. With 14 species of gull under my belt in the UK, I always still look forward to seeing the 'white wingers' during the winter.
I've seen a few Iceland Gulls now all over North Wales and I can never get bored of seeing them. A first winter arrived at Pentre Mawr Park nearly two weeks ago and after spending two days of my holiday looking for it, I gave up! Of course, being away elsewhere at the weekend that followed, the bird gave incredible views down to a few feet.
I had to wait to the weekend after until I eventually caught up with the bird which was much easier to see. The bird stood out extremely clearly against the sands and made it an easy focus for the camera.

 Between the two regular 'white wingers', Iceland Gull's are always the softer looking bird whereas the much larger, harsher faced Glaucous is quite apparent in the field (not that you should use this as a reliable source for identification!!). In a nutshell, size is the main factor between these species and bill length/thickness and general bulkiness are all factors for splitting the species.

Comparing the size to a Herring Gull is the safest means of identification. Iceland Gull are smaller whereas Glaucous Gulls are much bigger. The Iceland Gull at Pensarn is a typical first winter bird still retaining a lot of it's juvenile dis-coloured white plumage. As the winter wears on, the bird's plumage will become cleaner.

Like this bird, the majority of first winter Iceland Gulls will have a pinkish pale base to the bill. It's a bird that can't really be missed whilst scanning the nearby flocks of gulls. Iceland Gulls are really apparent in flight also and give a 'ghost' like appearance in the bird/gull world.

A beautiful bird nevertheless and with it being so confiding, it's one opportunity certainly not to be missed!


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Little Bunting, Cardiff

Although a scarcity, Little Bunting is a very hard bird to get text book views of. I've missed and dipped a couple in the last few years and they can be incredibly elusive when they want to be as well. After a trip to Paris and a trip down to Cornwall, the Little Bunting had been present already for nearly 2 weeks and this was the time to go. It seemed settled and content feeding up at Forest Farm Nature reserve just on the outskirts of Cardiff itself. We parked in the car park and walked no more than 150 metres until we reached the location of a small hide. It was a feeding station where there we plenty of Reed Buntings, tits, finches and a Grey Heron on the nearby pond.
We waited around 10-15 minutes checking every bunting that popped in until someone called it right underneath our noses no more than 5 metres away from the hide. Although, it maintained it's 'elusive' status feeding low down in the grass and spending a lot of its time in the piles of brushwood making it slightly trickier to get an image.
As it's name suggests, it was noticeable smaller than the more familiar Reed Bunting and a lot paler also. The thin, white wing bar is a feature to be looked out for, as is the small white dot behind the eye.
The streaking on the belly also appears thinner and more frequent than that on the Reed Bunting.
The bird continued to show well throughout the time we were there and in the beautiful Welsh sunshine and environment, it was a fab place to be!

Long Eared Owl at Burton Mere Wetlands

Being secretive, elusive and nocturnal can not always favour a birder who is trying to find a bird. Long Eared Owls are just that and your best opportunity is a daytime roost. There are many well-known wintering roost sites around the UK with Blackpool one of the most reliable in the Northwest. In North Wales, they are very difficult to come by, although there is more than enough suitable habitat so it may be just a case of getting out there and looking!
Over the last couple of weeks a Long-Eared Owl as reliably roosted at Burton Mere Wetlands and I've caught up with this bird a couple of times. It showed well today in the Hawthorns right of the path on the way to Inner Marsh Farm Hide. It occasionally opened its eyes and scanned around as it sat hidden away.
Long-Eared Owl at Burton Mere Wetlands
It would be nice for it to use this site as a regular wintering roost for years to come, maybe this isn't its first year? After all, they're incredibly hard to pick out! Best of the rest included a Hen Harrier, Great White Egret and hear a Green Woodpecker too!
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