Nightjars – birds of the night

Posted on August 23, 2013 by charlie

Last night I decided with a few friends to spend a few hours in pursuit of Nightjars on “Sarn Helen” a former Roman road connecting Nidum (Neath) with Caernarfon. These nocturnal or crepuscular birds with bristles around their mouths (to perhaps assist them in the capture of insects whilst in flight) are an endangered species and their conservation status has been given a Red Alert. The Nightjar season is from May to September spending the rest of the year in Africa so we really had left our visit very late in the season to try and catch these elusive birds..

Anyway we had two 60ft nets set up and ready to go for about 8.30pm. The nets were about 150metres apart and as it got dark it wasn’t long before the trill of the male bird could be heard as he flew around our heads. Not long later it flew into the net. Just as the male had been processed the female also flew into the net. Since in a square kilometer there is probably only one mating pair we decided it was probably wise to pack up rather than risk catching the same birds a second time.

Male Nightjar

The bird above is the female. The male bird has white tips to its outer tail feathers.

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Eilean Nan Ron

Posted on July 11, 2013 by charlie

I have just returned from bird ringing with four friends after spending 3 nights camping on the uninhabited island of Eilean Nan Ron. The last people to live on the island were evacuated in December 1938 because life for the inhabitants of the Gaelic speaking community on the one mile long island had become just to difficult. All that is left now are the stone built houses and cottages that have fallen into decay and ruin. Nan Ron is just to the east of the mouth of Tongue bay on the very north coast of Scotland. We stayed the first night in a Tongue hotel before getting on the small boat to take us over to the island the next morning. Nan Ron is famous for its population of Storm Petrels which were of course our primary target. Great Skua pulli was another possibility as well.

Blue skies were the order of the day and it looked like we were going to be lucky with the warm dry weather.

As we reached the camp site on the fringe of all the derelict building this pair of Grey Lags flew over.

Every day whilst we were on the Island this Curlew was very vocal seeing off any birds that approached its area. We suspected it had young somewhere in the scrub but were unable to locate them. It did however let me get some nice pictures. The wind was strong and you can see how it is ruffling some of it’s feathers.

I like this flight picture of the Fulmar because of the perfect shadow it created as it flew past.

Every Island I vist there are always Meadow Pipits, such obliging handsome little birds.

The Great Skua (Bonxie) was a bird we were hoping to ring the chicks of. We walked miles over the Island looking for their chicks but we only managed to find one nest with two eggs.This was a little worrying because in previous years they have always been there. I wonder if it was the cold spring setting everything back about 4 weeks.

The good old faithful Oystercatcher. Just a different composition.

I have never seen a Twite before but they inhabit the Island. This, therefore was a bird I definitely had to see. The female at the top was seen as we were walking towards the slabs on day 2 and on day 3 the weather turned and became wet. This male above landed in front of my tent as I was sitting in the porch sheltering from the drizzle.

Also a few minutes later this Skylark also landed in front of the tent. The longish grass with such small birds makes it difficult sometimes to get a good shot.

A couple of pictures of Storm Petrels which of course is what we came for. We caught them through the night and because of the time of year it never got really dark and after the sun had gone down three hours later it was starting to rise again.

Sunset over the Island taken from “The Slabs”.

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Skokholm Dream Island (Pectoral Sandpiper)

Posted on September 9, 2012 by charlie

Just back from a weeks volunteering on Skokholm. The whole purpose of being there was to continue with all the volunteer work that has been achieved over the last couple of years, preparing it for holiday visitors and returning the island to Bird Observatory status. It was back in the 70′s when the island closed and fell into disrepair and believe me, it literally was in an awful condition and it is now a credit to everyone who have worked so hard giving their time making it habitable again. For those that may be interested there is a series of 1/2 hour programmes about the progress shown on the Island recorded by ITV in Wales only. Outside Wales the following link will lead you to ITV player where the full series can be seen after they have appeared on the television.

http://www.itv.com/news/wales/2012-09-21/dream-island-2012/

This was not a week on the island birding but a rare bird showed up so we dropped tools for a few hours to go and see it. Credit must go to Steve Sutcliffe who spotted it on North Pond and phoned the Skokholm warden to let the rest of us know.

I was the last person to arrive because fortunately I had taken my photography gear with me which had to be collected from my room and when I arrived at North Pond everyone was looking through their binoculars at the bird. Steve told me it was a small wader in the distance which at this stage he did not recognise. We were in the wrong place for any decent pictures because the sun was almost shining down the lens. Steve and I moved around the pond with the sun on our backs and managed to get fairly close to the bird.

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The first bird coming to mind was a ruff but it was quickly recognised as a PECTORAL SANDPIPER

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I took as many pictures of the bird in all different angles as I could to help and ensure our I/D was correct

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Even pictures of its back end would help to confirm its identity.

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PECTORAL SANDPIPER breed in North America and NE Siberia and winter in South America and Oceania. This is possibly the reason why a few are spotted each year in the UK, blown off track over the Atlantic due to low pressure whilst flying to their winter areas. They are probably the commonest of American vagrants to visit Britain and Ireland but still a rare bird. Most records are in September to October.

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The bird was very obliging and approaching very slowly did not seem to frighten it away.

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http://pembsbirds.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/pectoral-sandpiper-pics.html

The above link is to the Pembrokeshire birding blog where some of my pictures were posted by Steve Sutcliffe.

Click link to read more.

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Finally the pictures of the bird with report have been submitted to the Welsh Records Panel (WRP) for identity confirmation.

http://www.birdsinwales.org.uk/rare/rares2012.htm

Click link to read more.

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I thought I would add this picture of the Red Admiral to this blog for no other reason than I like it.

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And finally sunrise over Skokholm taken the day the Sandpiper pictures were taken.

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Kings of West Yorkshire

Posted on March 15, 2012 by charlie

A friend of mine had a business meeting in Leeds and he suggested that he could drop his dad and me off at RSPB Fairburn Ings and collect us later in the day. We arrived about 9.45am had a cup of coffee and chatted to the helpful RSPB staff for information of where to go and what the recent sighting had been. Talk of numerous sightings of Kingfishers was all I really wanted to hear because although I have seen hundreds of these birds over the years I have never been successful in photographing them.

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The first Kingfisher to show was this female, identifiable by the red lower bill. She was in the distance of the small river and during the course of the day she never came closer. After I checked my camera and I could see I had got a good picture, I was made up, this being my first kingfisher picture ever. If I never had a another all day I was ok with that because I had broken my duck.

About 20 yards below me was a small sluice gate where the water trickled over and bubbled below. About and hour after the female picture this male arrived (black under bill) and sat on the wire cage at the side of the sluice.

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The Wirral Again

Posted on March 12, 2012 by charlie

I decided to go to the Wirral again this week-end. High tides were expected at Parkgate which can provide some excellent birding especially with Raptors which hunt is search of rodents which emerge from their underground homes as the sea creeps in and floods them. This only happens when the tides are very high with low air pressure and winds in the correct direction.

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Before high tide at Parkgate I decided to go to Hoylake again in the hope the waders would make another visit. The light was good this time but when I got there all I could see were quite a large number of Oystercatcher and many Gulls. The Oystercatcher were actually running along the beach all in a line trying to beat the tide as it came in very quickly across the shallow sand.

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Shelduck

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The Mumbles on the Gower Peninsula

Posted on March 8, 2012 by charlie

I have just returned from a few days on the Gower Peninsula in Wales. It wasn’t a birding break but whilst I was there I got up at dawn a couple of days and walked the coastal path in the Langland area of the Mumbles. It is an area I have never visited before, it is so beautiful and I will go again sometime and there are plenty of birds in the area as well. Spring has definitely arrived in this part of Wales, 6.30am starts were still a bit chilly but the early morning sun soon warmed the air. The Gorse was in full flower and the birds loved it flying in and out feeding on insects and seeds. The air was full of bird song and listening to them with the warmth of the sun on your back  and the waves crashing on the beach must be one of the nicest things when you are out and about early in the morning by yourself away from the madding crowd.

I also had a walk along Swansea Bay which is also packed full of birds in particular Curlew, Redshank, Knot, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Brent Geese besides all the Gulls which I am no expert at identifying, all viewed with binoculars at distance.

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Typical habitat for warblers and chats are areas where there is plenty of gorse. I was so pleased to see so much of it on the coastal path and my spirits rose because I new there was a good chance of some good birds. I thought I heard the song of a Dartford Warbler and after about half an hour hanging around one popped his head up above the Gorse and then disappeared not to be seen again. This picture and the one below were taken the next day when I had better views and better early morning warm light as well.

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There call is so distinctive, it is the sort of call that once you have heard it you remember it the next time you hear it. This bird showed well for about one or two minutes. Not a long time but long enough for some nice pictures. The white spots in the reddish throat indicate this is a male bird.. Dartford Warblers are manly found in southern England but are slowly spreading to other areas of the UK.

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Wonderful Wirral Waders

Posted on February 22, 2012 by charlie

Went to Hoylake today. I checked the tides and had been watching the weather for several days. I knew the wind was freshening but thought it would be ok. There was a real hooley blowing and as I was driving down The Kings Gap towards North Parade I could see the sea was very rough and dirty with huge white tops rolling on to the beach  stirring up the sand as they crashed. I thought, yes, I’ve have a wasted journey. But as I reached North Parade there were very large number of Knot on the beach and 100yards further down large numbers of Oystercatcher.

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Before I got my camera out of the car the Knot were giving aerial displays and then gathering again on the beach. I thought a Starling murmuration were impressive but these Knot could match that.

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I took a dozen or so quick pictures in case they flew away because some dog walkers came onto the beach with their dogs off lead. Why they allow their dogs to run up and down with so many birds only 20yards away I do not know. As I had feared the birds flew away but fortunately landed a 100yds further up the beach. In fairness there was a number of considerate walkers who kept their dogs leashed until they had passed the birds.

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Moor at Moore nature reserve

Posted on February 17, 2012 by charlie

I went to Moore nature reserve in the hope of seeing a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. At the moment Moore is as good a place as any since most days it is seen by someone. I really think I spotted it but on a fly past and then a quick second look through some scrub but I felt I did not see it long enough to confirm one way or the other. So, I have will have to go again soon. The highlight of the day was to see the Bittern and also a Tawny Owl.

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I spotted something moving about in the depths of the rushes on the right so I got my camera focused on this area and waited just in case whatever it was came out. Bittern are difficult to spot because their camouflage is so effective against the golden colour of the reed stems. I was really hoping it was a Bittern and suspected it could have been because it was not a small bird I had seen.

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Much to my amazement a few minutes later a Bittern flew out of the right hand side reed bed, flew over to the left and crash landed in the reeds.

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A Couple of Hours in the Garden

Posted on February 11, 2012 by charlie

Today I spent a couple of hours taking pictures of my garden birds through the kitchen window. I felt it was too cold to go out so I stayed in the comfort of my own home. I have been really lucky this winter and plenty of species have been coming to the feeders and apples I threw on to the lawn.

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Th Goldfinch have been numerous, always a dozen or so on the nyjer seed and sunflower hearts.

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Again I have been lucky with Redpoll as well. A maximum count of 29 birds at one time. Such beautiful delicate birds.

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Axe Edge then over to Knypersley

Posted on February 8, 2012 by charlie

The idea today was to go over to the Peak District and get there for day break for some pictures of Red Grouse and then pop over to Knypersley early afternoon and get some pictures of the Dipper, a place I have been to before and had considerable success.

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It was -4.5 degrees centigrade. The reason for arriving at the Peaks at sunset was the wonderful atmospheric feel at this time of the morning when the early warm sun rises, and shines through the mist and lights up the snowy peaks and valleys. The forecast was for a sunny day, but as usual the weather forecasters got it wrong again and it turned out to be dull and drab. The first disappointment of the day.

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There was a few Grouse about but mostly in the distance which was too far for a decent picture. Occasionally I would spot one nearer but they tended to hunker down trying not to show their position.

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