Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A Bird for all Seasons ... the past fortnight ... Whinchats in wintry Geltsdale ... Blyth's Reed Warbler singing at sultry Siddick ...

With the characteristic vagaries of the weather around the summer solstice, nothing should come as a surprise ... but it did !

A foray into the far south east corner of the Geltsdale Reserve took us through some swathes of burgeoning bracken ... Curlews alarming overhead and Short-eared Owls foraging up the slopes and some lovely male Whinchats flitting between the bracken fronds and calling urgently ...



... heading up towards the Pennine ridge the landscape is excitingly wild but tempered by the awareness of the Grouse shooting estates of Croglin on one side and Knarsdale looming ahead ...


... with rain clouds looming and a punishing wind, it felt a bit like winter ... but still the Short-eared Owls foraged ...

Back on lower ground at the Stagsike Meadow and the array of buttercups painted a nice picture looking over towards White Tortie ...


... and breeding waders were everywhere ...

Curlews with chicks alarming incessantly ...



Lapwings performing extravagant flights ...



... and Redshank in their obligatory 'sentinel' role ...



Away from the uplands, at Siddick Pond, Carl Thompson had made a great find - a singing Blyth's Reed Warbler ...

... the following day it first of all sang well but the singing tailed off as the sultry day wore on ...

... a great opportunity to experience this rarity giving a comprehensive performance ...

... there was no mistaking the song ... so different from the relaxed rhythmic utterances of Reed Warbler ... it included pure whistled notes and very characteristic descending scales of notes interspersed with clicking calls ...






The sonogram looks really attractive as well !



Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Reserve Spotlight : Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits, Common Cranes - Norfolk perhaps ? ... No, Loch of Strathbeg !

Two recent visits to this reserve, one in late April and again in late May both produced interesting birds ... species not usually associated with northern Scotland ...

We dropped in to the reserve just briefly in April and were treated to calling Common Cranes which flew right over us before alighting briefly in a ploughed field ...


... a male Garganey and a male Green-winged Teal showed on the pools and from the visitor centre the pair of Little Gulls that bred here last year were resting among some Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns ... frustratingly, the visitor centre closed before further views of the Little Gulls were possible ... so another visit was essential ...

Towards the end of May I was back at the reserve for a more comprehensive visit ... a drake Garganey was again present ...


... but resting ...

Sadly there was no sign of Little Gulls and in conversation with a local birder I learned that a Peregrine had taken one of the pair and the other had subsequently departed ...

The reserve covers a large area with pools and a larger water body - the Loch of Strathbeg itself ... from the visitor centre the view covers a swathe of wet meadow grazed by Koniks and close by is an island protected for breeding terns ...




... Common Terns were flying in carrying fish ...

...

... a walk of around a mile towards the coast goes through some lovely habitat ...


... and becomes a boardwalk through wet woodland ...


... before coming to the Fen Hide with views out across the reedbed to the loch ...


... Bearded Tits flew across every few minutes, perching occasionally to give unexpectedly good views ... an Osprey appeared, immediately attracting the attention of a defensive group of terns ...

... further towards the coast the Bay Hide looks out over open water where a lone Whooper Swan fed languidly ...


... and a group of four Pinkfeet dropped in before moving north onto farmland ...


... the edges of the loch had Shoveler and a few Pintail bobbed around in the middle ...

... between the hides the route passed through a succession of Sedge Warbler territories with a smaller number of Common Whitethroats singing from the hedgerows ...


... heading back inland to the Tower pool Hide and Marsh Harriers showed intermittently , low over the reeds ... and then in the middle of the complex of pools a Great White Egret strolled out as if from nowhere ...


... and eventually showed very nicely ...


... the Garganey became more animated but was always cryptic as it fed ...


... the reserve reminded me of Leighton Moss ... but on a much larger scale ... and with far fewer human visitors ... quite an appealing combination !






Thursday, 18 May 2017

A tale of two waders ... Spotted Sandpiper at Buttermere ... Golden Plover at Geltsdale ...

Another bird-filled week with good skua movement on the Solway on Tuesday ... the winds brought two Bonxies , a few Arctics and more than ten Pomarine Skuas with lovely 'spoons' ... rather a low point was failing to find Wood Warblers in NY47 and NY57 ... a singing Common Crossbill and displaying Tree Pipits helped to mitigate ...

A visit to Buttermere this morning to see the summer plumage Spotted Sandpiper for its sixth day ... a striking looking bird with colourful bill and extravagant spots made the Common Sandpipers look quite drab ...





... initially resting behind the shore line and visible only through two wire mesh fences ... then walked down to the water's edge and was a little more active for a time ...



... a superb looking bird in the striking setting of Buttermere ... and in sunshine !

Yesterday ... and back in the Geltsdale uplands ... from the exotic to ... well, the more familiar but nonetheless wonderful Golden Plover with its haunting calls and its attachment to those wild places ...


This sentinel male was giving one of the alarm calls typical of this time in the season ... as were several other birds on the plateau ...









The sonogram interestingly shows a number of overtones and the rise in pitch of this particular call ...


With all the Golden Plovers in this area no longer singing, the behaviour  of birds at Nenthead in recent days was contrastingly held back ... they were still singing and performing display flights ... and with Ring Ouzels present in good numbers there ... Black Grouse and Short-eared Owls ... and a Woodcock sat out in the open in a small field ... quite a birdfest !








Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Short-toed Lark ... in Northumberland ... just 12 miles from the Cumbrian border

There are no accepted records of Short-toed Lark for Cumbria ... but this week one turned up in Northumberland, a mere 12 miles from Cumbria ... Catton Moss is a place that looks just like vast tracts of Cumbria ... in fact it looks just like where I spent the day today on the Geltsdale Reserve ... and the stony track looks just like the one I walked up today ...

Northumberland has hosted a few but the last was five years ago ...

I spent almost two hours yesterday waiting for the bird to reappear where it had apparently walked off into rough grassland ... I gave up and walked down the track ... and there it was perched in the middle of the track ... I was able to attract the attention of the only other birder still present and we both watched it for about a minute before a pick-up drove by and flushed it deep into the grassland ... just time for a couple of poor phone-scope shots ...



... as I sat today looking out over the seemingly endless landscape of Geltsdale, I mused about whether there might be another one out there somewhere ...

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Geltsdale ... Golden Plovers ... singing Ring Ouzels

The season moves on ... Golden Plovers were singing only early in the morning this week ... as I walked the boundary fence one was calling nervously from vegetation on the estate side ...



But Ring Ouzels were much more vocal with birds singing from different places ...

... one was producing two distinct songs ...

... the first was what I think of as the typical song ... two, three or four pure whistled notes ...



... the second was a series of three similar notes but with a much more buzzy quality ...


The sonograms illustrate the different quality of the notes.  ( A Willow Warbler song is just ending before the first song - traces show on the sonogram. )




Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Geltsdale goes to Bowland ... still in search of harriers ... this time Pallid Harrier

By way of a change we went to the Whitendale Valley yesterday in the hope of seeing a near-adult male Pallid Harrier.  The bird had been found the previous Wednesday by fieldworkers looking for Hen Harriers in this area that was once a stronghold for them.

As we walked up the valley and arrived at the favoured location the bird came into view almost immediately ... it performed wide circuits of the narrow section of the valley ...






... flying quite high and disappearing over a rise only to reappear moments later ...

... the elegance and rakishness of it was striking ...

... so different from our own Hen Harriers ...



... sometimes on one ridge of the valley ... and then the other ...




... and at times performing the most exuberant and aerobatic skydancing I have ever seen ...

... mostly at an incredible height ...






















Pallid Harrier has a breeding distribution from the Ukraine, across Central Asia to Mongolia ... it winters largely in Africa and the Indian Subcontinent ...

... in between bouts of skydancing the bird went lower down the valley side to an area where it plucked grass in its bill and indulged in some nest building activities ...












... after two hours or so the bird had been continuously active ... flying circuits ... skydancing ... nest building ... 

... an extraordinary spectacle ... given by a very rare bird ...