Friday, 8 December 2017

Druridge Bay ... birding in the sunshine ... Red-necked Grebe, Long-tailed Duck and a Shrike to round off the day ...

At QE 11 Country Park a Red-necked Grebe in an interesting plumage state was cruising around while hundreds of school children took part in a cross country run around the periphery of the lake ...


... moulting out of juvenile into first-winter plumage, the neck showed significant red tones while the ear coverts had the dark stripes characteristic of juvenile grebes ...


... that lovely yellow bill shone out even in the murky December light ...



... it seems that this location is one where feeding the birds - Swans, Ducks, Gulls - is still permitted ... so, quite a nice spot to get a good look at some gulls ...

... among the Herring Gulls was this nice Scandinavian Herring Gull  Larus argentatus argentatus 


... with a mantle significantly darker than the nearby more southerly Herring Gulls  Larus argentatus argenteus and quite significant head and neck streaking ...


... the P10 pattern is visible on the far side wing and reveals a large white mirror, narrow sub-terminal black band and small white tip typical of birds of this race ...
... the small dark gonydeal spot on the lower mandible is probably indicative of this being a fourth-winter bird ...

... going on from here and approaching Cresswell Pond a large flock of Pink-footed Geese were in a field behind the cafe ...


... they were on the move and slowly drifted off west while further skeins came in-off the sea ...

Linton Lakes had some gulls also and this individual was intriguing ...


... the bill was dark with a pale tip - reminiscent of a first-winter Great Black-backed Gull - and was small and short ... the eye was pale, consistent with a second or third -winter Herring Gull and the brown in the wing coverts and tertials also fitted in with that age ... the head shape was rather more rounded than a typical Herring Gull and the bird looked small for a Herring Gull which is what it presumably was ... fascinating, but time to move on ...

Cresswell Pond had some pristine male Red-breasted Mergansers ...


... and Lapwings looked lovely in the sunshine ...


... and the juvenile / first-winter birds showing nice pale fringes to the mantle and scapular feathers giving a subtly scalloped appearance ...

In the ground by the sand dunes a good size flock of Goldfinches and Twite fed on the seeds of tall plants ...


... the Twite showing their strongly streaked mantles and warm buff / brown unstriated throats ...

On East Chevington Lake a female Long-tailed Duck was a nice surprise but its erratic and frequent diving made the long range viewing tricky and phone-scoping nigh-on impossible as my best result shows ...


In failing light we scanned the dark bare-twigged bushes at Prestwick Carr and amazingly found a Great Grey Shrike that had been seen intermittently there in recent weeks ...


... it dropped into the long vegetation and then returned to another high perch ...


... before finally going presumably to roost ... 



Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Golden Eagle - reinforcing the S Scotland population ... Dr Cat Barlow and the Elephant in the Room

An interesting evening ... in more ways than one ! ... heading into the dark recesses of North Cumbria to hear about the Golden Eagle Project ... maybe in the back room of some unknown village pub - we all knew the score ( or thought we did ) ...

... but there we were suddenly thrust into the bright lights ... a never ending sea of tables full of diners ... a noise level to match any crowded bar and with temperatures long forgotten about ...

... it was more Las Vagas than Village Pub ...

Cat Barlow started telling us about the project ... and in impressively confident style ...


With £1.3 million of Lottery funding and some ( luckily already banked ) EU cash this is a big deal ... it has some impressive backing from worthy bodies like the RSPB , Scottish Natural Heritage and the Forestry Commission Scotland.  And also from some rather worrying bodies like the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust ( where the use of the word 'Conservation ' has a rather different meaning ! ).



There are also some very impressive people associated with the project - Roy Dennis as we all know  has been at the forefront of reintroduction schemes of White-tailed Eagles and more ...
... I was interested to see Stephen Murphy's name up there ... I had great respect for him when he came to the latter stages of some Hen Harrier nest sites that we had been wardening in order to fit satellite transmitters ... but then there was all the trouble about withheld data in association with Natural England and so I think ... Hmmm ...



Duncan Orr-Ewing is in there too ... he was good at the Hen Harrier Day in central Scotland.

We were shown several charts and one was a bar chart representing the perceived threats to the introduced Golden Eagles ... there was brief mention by Cat of one of the mid-height bars but one bar stood out above all the others - that of PERSECUTION - and that got no mention at all.

We were shown a map of the area where birds would be introduced ...


... anyone who has followed reports of illegal raptor persecution ( notably on RPUK which comes top of my blog list ) will be very familiar with those two hot spots for raptor persecution - the Lowther |Hills and the Lammermuir Hills ... the proposed site for the Golden Eagle releases lies right between these two Black Holes ...

... so how much of a good idea is this while illegal killing of many species of raptor including Golden Eagles continues unabated ?

Certainly Raptor Persecution UK has serious reservations about the project for this very reason and Dr Ruth Tingay the highly respected academic and raptor fieldworker is the voice of RPUK.


It would be wonderful to see Golden Eagles thriving in the south of Scotland and wonderful also if this area were to become a place known for its wildlife and be valued for that as a tourist destination.

Cat Barlow was a redoubtable and impressive speaker but is that confident dismissal of the threats that these young Golden Eagles will face one that is well placed ?




Thursday, 30 November 2017

Some Winter Waders in Cumbria ... on the Solway ... and inland ...

Greenshank is always a nice bird to see on the Solway particularly away from the expected prime time of autumn migration in September ... far fewer Greenshanks frequent the north of Cumbria as compared with the Morcambe Bay area ...

So chancing upon one at Glasson Point yesterday made the decision to don the wellies and pick my way through the marshy ground all the more satisfying ...





... feeding along with a small group of Redshanks in the shadow from the low sun ...



... as the bird chased around in true Greenshank style the two colour rings on each tibia came into view in the shallower parts of the water ...


... so now eagerly awaiting a reply from the Greenshank project ... where else has this bird been ? ... perhaps a Scottish breeder which would be likely to winter in Britain or perhaps one that might breed in northern Eurasia and undertake a longer migration to equatorial Africa.

Meanwhile thoughts turn to another wader which has made some welcome appearances for me recently ... on 10th November I flushed a Woodcock from low bushes at the end of my garden - wow, a nice bird ! and so unexpected an addition to my garden list ...
... then on 16th November another flushed from near Howgill on the Geltsdale Reserve ...
... and yet another on the 26th November not far away on Tarn Rigg ...
These may well have been Continental migrants - and so disturbing to think that these birds are a legitimate quarry species for hunters - how far we have to go in this country with protecting our diminishing wildlife !

... but back on the Solway and a careful search through a flock of around 500 Dunlins resulted in picking out a single Little Stint ...


... feeding as the birds were among scattered piles of seaweed and rocks, individuals can be easily overlooked ... specially when tail-on ...  but then it turned and was more obvious ...



... and then more out in the open and giving nice although distant views in the increasing gloom of the mid-afternoon ...






Sunday, 26 November 2017

More winter geese ... Loch Ken and around ...

I have known Loch Ken in SW Scotland for longer than I care to remember ... and yet it still holds a fascination and allure much as it did a good half-century ago ... it lies barely any further north from where I live in N Cumbria ... and yet it feels Scottish, quite unlike England ...

One of the important birds that winters in the area is Greenland White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons flavirostris.  This race of White-fronted Goose with its strikingly attractive orange-yellow bill breeds in W Greenland and travels via Iceland to winter exclusively in the British Isles.

A flock of 129 was feeding on grassland near Threave Castle when I visited two days ago ...


... although distant they gave good views on the short turf and flew to the next field showing off the striking tail pattern characteristic of the race ...


... with other wintering areas, notably in Ireland and Islay holding greater numbers, the Loch Ken population is still important ... in 1963 the flock there numbered 400 - 500 but has declined since with only just over 200 birds present in recent winters ... research on the race is ongoing and many birds carry neck-collars ... some were visible on these birds but at such long range it was impossible to read the characters ...

... despite the two races of White-fronted Goose being currently considered to be the same species, these Greenland White-fronted Geese looked so different from the Eurasian White-fronted Geese which I saw a Slimbridge recently ... not only is the bill colour different but Greenland White-fronted Goose has a longer neck, is larger, has a darker mantle and more black barring on the belly as well as having a narrower white band on the tip of the tail ... 
... it becomes increasingly likely that the two races will become recognised as distinct species ...

... the marshes adjoining the River Dee at Threave Castle had good numbers of Pintail, that most attractive of ducks ... with males outnumbering females by a good margin ...





... Wigeon, Teal and Gadwall and scattered Whooper Swans accompanied by encouragingly good numbers of juveniles occupied the flooded marshland ...



... the River Dee itself was well above its normal level and seemed to have few birds ... until a small group of Goldeneye came into view ... five males and a single female ...


... a full adult male swam in front, followed by a rather advanced first-winter male ...


... an adult male and female swam together ...


... and the male instigated some courtship behaviour  ...


... eliciting a rapid but brief response from the female ...


... well it is still only November ! ...

While just up-river a female Peregrine had its mind on other things ... focused on dismembering and devouring what looked like a recently killed Blackbird ...



... the action took place in a recess in the wall of Threave Castle, built in the 1370s by Archibald the Grim and subsequently occupied by the Black Douglases who wreaked a good deal of havoc in the area until quelled by King James 11 in 1455 ...
... happier times today, but not for the Blackbird ...

... as the afternoon wore on and in the warm glow of the setting sun some skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in and over from the east ...






... the low sun illuminating their undersides as they disappeared ...


Friday, 17 November 2017

Winter Thrushes ... Winter Geese ... while Raptor Persecution continues unabated

Flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings have been particularly prolific at the foot of the fells on the Geltsdale Reserve ... feeding avidly on hawthorn berries in the low winter sun ...




... and taking refuge among the few remaining leaves of the tall sycamores ...

... with the Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock was a hybrid goose thought to have Barnacle and Snow Goose parentage but having more than a passing resemblance to a blue phase Snow Goose ... it certainly sent my pulse racing for a moment when I first encountered it last winter ...


... and at Slimbridge a scattered group of fifteen Eurasian White-fronted Geese fed discreetly away from a large flock of Greylags ...


... the Red-breasted Goose of unknown origin but of undoubted appeal was still with the Barnacle Goose flock ...

... and it brought to mind the Peter Scott painting that we called in to see at the Nature in Art Gallery not far from Slimbridge ( thanks Nick for the alert ) ... the single Red-breasted Goose along with Eurasian Whitefronts with a snowy background ...


... that very same painting that was featured on the cover of the excellent 1966 Shell Bird Book by James Fisher ... 


But amid the enjoyment of winter birding looms the spectre of continuing raptor persecution ... with more reports of illegally killed birds coming to light ... and yet more raptors that have been illegally killed just becoming known about ...

... the reasons for this are clear ...


... the new Petition to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting has now reached 12,694 signatures and the Government response to its passing 10,000 is now more than a week late according to statutory requirements ...
... those who signed are being wilfully ignored by this terrible government ...

... please sign to add to the building pressure ...