Monday, 20 January 2020

Mid-winter Birding ... Purple Heron, Siberian Chiffchaff ... a proactive female Goosander ...

The Eagland Hill Purple Heron in Lancashire gave wonderful views recently in its relentless pursuit of what looked like Bank Voles ...








... while nearby a flock of fifty or so Whooper Swans was accompanied by a handful of Bewick's Swans ...


... and a Cattle Egret demonstrated its small size by flying in to land near some Little Egrets ...


At Pilling, still in the same county the water treatment works hosted a nice selection of common passerines including three Chiffchaffs, one of which was a clear tristis ...



Back in Cumbria at Siddick Pond, five adult Mediterranean Gulls made up for an unremarkable seawatch ... there were a few Goosanders and one female was constantly pursuing a male ... the male responded each time the female got close by performing a strange but highly stylised upending motion followed by some wing flapping ...



... I can find nothing in the literature about females pursuing males ... nor anything about the strange routine that the male performed ...



Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Norfolk ... with some interesting forms ... Grey-bellied Brant ... Alaskan Yellow Wagtail ...

The now renowned dung heap near Sedgeford was still hosting the Alaskan Yellow Wagtail at the end of last week ... despite its name this form, the nominate sub-species of Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutchensis tschutchensis has a breeding range from eastern Kazakhstan to the tip of Far Eastern Russia ...


... this was a strikingly attractive bird ... a male moulting from juvenile into first-winter plumage ... the general appearance was reminiscent of the Blue-headed form of Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flava except for its dark ear coverts ... also the white supercillium did not extend as far in front of the eye, stopping well short of the bill ...

... it fed for a time around puddles closer to the track than the dung heaps to give close views ...





Not very far away a Grey-bellied Brant was reported in fields near Fring along with several thousand Pink-footed Geese ... this bird proved more tricky than the wagtail ... and the Pinkfeet lifted frequently while some birds came in and out of view in the undulating terrain ... some left the area while others flew in ... and all the while the heavy drizzle piled in on the stiff breeze ...
But then the skies brightened and the Grey-bellied Brant was re-located near Choseley ... and now in much easier terrain ...


... the belly had a distinctly brownish tone as compared with the dark grey belly of Black Brant ... the neck collar was bold, more so than that of Pale-bellied or Dark-bellied Brent Goose ... but did not concentrate to such a dense white area on the ventral aspect as does the neck collar of Black Brant ... rather, the white lines faded towards the ventral surface of the neck ...



... the bird was continually on the move and behaving fairly aggressively towards the nearby Pinkfeet ...
This form has a complicated taxonomic status ... it is not recognised by the IOC ... the latest version IOC 9.2 gives only three sub-species of Brent Goose - Dark-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla bernicla , Pale-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota and Black Brant Branta bernicla nigricans.

Sebastien Reeber ( Wildfowl of Europe, Asia and North America 2015 ) takes a different and well argued view ... he describes how DNA studies indicate that Grey-bellied Brant have been reproductively isolated from the other forms for 40.000 years in their breeding range in the Western Queen Elizabeth Islands in Arctic Canada ... interestingly the type specimen of Black Brant was taken in New Jersey in 1846 where that form is only an occasional visitor ... the description of that bird seems to be more consistent with Grey-bellied Brant rather than Black Brant.  He cites a paper by Lewis et.al.2013 that gives Grey-bellied Brant the name B.b. nigricans and re-assigns Black Brant as B.b.orientalis  as this is the next oldest available name.
We will doubtless hear more on this ....

At Titchwell roosting Marsh Harriers provide quite a spectacle with upward of ninety birds often present ...


... and also at Titchwell two Spotted Redshanks fed in a deep pool in characteristically frenetic style ...


Along the coast at Wells a Rough-legged Buzzard surveyed the scene from a large bush in the pleasant mid-day sunshine ...



... and a Short-eared Owl flew almost overhead ... 


... a Kestrel hovered similarly close-by ...


... then as the day drew towards its early mid-winter end a walk along the beach at Titchwell seemed to hold little promise in the fading light ... but among a small group of Herring Gulls and Oystercatchers along the shore-line was a smart adult Yellow-legged Gull ...



Saturday, 21 December 2019

Some local(ish) Birding in the period leading up to the Shortest Day ...

Purple Sandpipers delighted as always on a stormy day on Workington Pier ... the birds sheltered near the base of the pier but still were vigilant for the big wave ...



... and nearby there was a first-winter Shag ... not too common in these parts ...

On the day that the General Election results emerged it seemed somehow a good idea to cross the border into Scotland ... and the Ken Dee Marshes felt remote, quiet ... and the sun shone beautifully on that lovely landscape ...

... that bizarre almost 'car alarm' style of call announced the presence of Red Kites ... and there they were ...


... Fieldfares piled out of the trees along the lane leaving just one watchful bird ...


... and an adult male Reed Bunting showed off its winter plumage ... striking but with more subtlety than its breeding plumage ...


... and then into the wet woodland with the potential for Willow Tits ... a sadly declining species ... but two birds gave wonderful views ...





... apart from the long established identification features that separate this species from Marsh Tit it was interesting to note the bill pattern - the absence of the pale spot at the base of the bill that is diagnostic for Marsh Tit was easily discerned ...





Then at Threave the high water levels created large areas of flooded marsh ...


... that were teeming with birds ...

Greenland White-fronted Geese fed among the vegetation ...



... and male Pintails performed excited displays to the single female ...




... and all the while the calls of some distant Pink-footed Geese came through the still air ...


Monday, 16 December 2019

Eastern Yellow Wagtail at Prestwick Carr Northumberland ...

The bird was immediately visible on the muddy ground of the flooded field in the early morning sunshine today ...

Initially distant it flew across to near the track ... but into a shady area ...



... the characteristic long hind-claw was surprisingly easy to discern as it picked its way across the mud ...


... and even closer as it fed seemingly unconcerned behind the hedge just a few meters away ...


... when a Pied Wagtail came close that bird looked so much larger and more robust than the Eastern Yellow Wagtail ...


... strikingly pale grey with just a hint of yellow near the vent and the alula ...


... as the sun gained a little height the colour tones showed better as the bird fed incessantly ...



... and eventually it called again ... a note with a distinctly rasping quality ...



Thursday, 5 December 2019

Northumberland ... some very showy Waxwings ... a rather mobile Long-billed Dowitcher ...

A flock of twenty-odd Waxwings at North Shields in brilliant sunshine yesterday were a pure delight ... they flew into a birch ...


... and dropped lower to feed on rowan berries ...


... then in flight again as they circled around the park ...




... landing again in another birch ...


... and posing for wonderful views against the pristine blue sky ...





In the afternoon with the daylight already on the wane Cresswell Pool was packed with birds ... big flocks of Lapwing and lesser numbers of Golden Plover occupied the skies and dropped again to the pool ... a Long-tailed Duck dived incessantly taking only the briefest time to take in air ... several Scaup were among the Goldeneye and an adult Mediterranean Gull dropped onto the water for a short stay ... among the many Redshank a single Ruff fed along the margins and there also appeared the long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher ... never still for long, it flew across the pool ... ran among the other waders and fed energetically ...



... after a brief rest it was off again ...



... among the several hundred Pink-footed Geese in fields to the north at least one Eurasian White-fronted Goose almost blended in with the other geese in the brisk wind and rapidly failing light ...


Tuesday, 3 December 2019

More from The Borderlands' Moors and Marshes ... Crossbills ... Winter Waders and Geese ...

Late November has seen far too  many murky days but the Solway marshes suddenly spring into life as thousands of Barnacle Geese come onto some of the roadside goose fields like those at Whitrigg ...



... in recent years the flocks that often frequent the areas between here and Cardurnock have included three or more leucistic birds ... very often feeding close together ... and sometimes a little distance apart ...


... it makes me wonder how closely these individuals associate in the breeding season ...

Black-tailed Godwits are thinly spread in the environs of the Solway unlike the the large numbers frequenting the Morcambe Bay area ... but all the more pleasing to see here ... and it tempts closer scrutiny of these small groups ...


... these four birds roosting on the Folly Pond at Caerlaverock remained resolutely inactive but the two first-winter birds showed off their retained juvenile tertials with more markings than the adults' plain grey tertials.

The Border Forests that were once the Bewcastle Fells and Gilsland Moors so evocatively described by Ritson Graham in the middle decades of the twentieth century, still hold the promise of something special ... a promise that often remains undelivered ...
... Crossbills have been a bit scarce lately but some good looking cones are now visible ... and so more Crossbills ...



... the bill shape looking typical of Common Crossbill .... not particularly broad based neither being overly long ...




... and mobile as ever ...