Saturday, 26 January 2013

Conwy Tweeties & Air Show

A bureaucratic and ridiculously overpriced passport application in Liverpool gave us the opportunity to do some birding in North Wales and to check out a new RSPB reserve. Conwy RSPB is fairly new (about 16 years old) and relatively small with lagoons and grass covered islands right by the estuary. A circular route leads the visitor around the lagoons and plentiful hides and screens are scattered along the walk. The tearooms were very nice and the reserve certainly has potential but unfortunately it did not hold anything exciting whilst we were there. The long staying bittern and firecrest had long gone probably due to the cold weather we have been having so we were left with some wildfowl, waders and overabundant robins and song thrushes.

The highlights were good views of six red-breasted merganser, wigeon, teal, tufted duck, pochard and gadwall; the last three being fairly rare in our home regions. Coot was added to the year list (finally!) and on the exposed mudflats we found redshank, dunlin, curlew, ringed plover and oystercatcher. The obligatory grey herons made their rounds over the reserve and a male stonechat accompanied us along the railway line.


Curlew and Pintail

 Next day we headed east and decided to stop at the Point of Air which is a beach sticking out into the Dee estuary with saltmarsh and a shingle spit that hosts Wales' only little tern colony in the summer. For a change we timed it right as high tide had just approached and was slowly receding whilst we were there. The weather also played along (the rain stopped as we arrived and started again as we left) and a newly built hide sheltered us from the cold wind. We were presented with a very enjoyable spectacle of a continous coming and going of waders and wildfowl. Close in amongst the saltmarsh dozens of curlew and redshank roosted and were soon joined by about 30 black-tailed godwit. Numerous pintail, wigeon, teal and shelduck were found behind the waders on the water's edge.
Knot and Redshank
On the shingle spit roosting oystercatcher and knot were soon spooked by a hunting merlin which left without catching anything though. Along the shoreline dunlin were feeding with sanderling and grey plover. Out at sea a red-throated diver flew into the estaury, a flock of linnet briefly landed on the bushes besides the hide and a single skylark filled the air with its song. A little egret made an appearance and on our walk back to the car we spotted a handsome fox running through the saltmarsh vegetation. All in all a very enjoyable couple of days.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Mar/low Tit Conundrum

Opening up this blog for discussion, we are still being visited by our willow tit, or at least what we still believe to be a willow tit. Luckily, Steffi managed to grab a shot of it, which was a miracle in itself as it never stays still long enough to get the bins on it normally. Looking at all available material, it seems the only defining clincher for this species is the absence (willow), or presence (marsh), of a pale whitish mark on the upper mandible. We have had pretty good views of the bird, in different light conditions and cannot see such a mark. It has a very obvious pale panel on the secondaries, visible even with the naked eye and its cap appears dull, rather than glossy - features of willow. However, the bib is not that large, and there is a hint of pale brown toward the back of the white cheek - features of marsh. Unfortunately, we havent heard any calls, as we only see it from inside - any attempt to open a window or go outside seems to coincide with its disappearance. Another point of debate - most material indicates willow is less likely to come to feeders than marsh, and our little fellow checked out all ours before deciding that the fatballs were to its liking, but only when the feeding activity has abated and all is quiet. So any opinion, fact, speculation, theory is welcome. Check out this link for more info.

In other, less contentious, news; the bad weather has brought lots of winter thrushes back to the valley, along with some lapwing which are now regular in the field. The starling flock is now very impressive - 500+  and today they got the fright of their lives when a peregrine (no 71 for the garden list) shot through, causing mass panic in the ranks.

Yesterday, whilst out on a walk, we saw a gathering of red kites late afternoon - around 25 - at Forge, suggesting an evening roost nearby. We'll check it again soon. Also, on our little stretch of the River Dulas, the dippers are singing, which is great to hear.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

daft duck and top tit

A high tide and a clear dry, if blooming cold, forecast had us up and out at Ynys-hir to see what the rising water brought in. Not much, unfortunately. The usual teal, wigeon, shelduck, pintail, curlew, redshank, goldeneye, snipe and lapwing joined the honking great flocks of canada geese in front of the saltings hide, and a handsome ringtail hen harrier passed by to cheer us up, but aside from a nice group of white fronted geese that flew in to alight on the water, it was fairly uneventful. Walking back through the reserve we stopped to listen to at least 3 great spots drumming away, and had great views of a foraging treecreeper.

However, another quick scan of the estuary picked up this little oddball amongst the shelduck, some kind of hybrid ruddy shelduck? Certainly from the neck down its a ruddy, but the almost all black head throws up a number of potential suspects regarding the parentage.

Back home, things got even more exciting (hard to believe, I know) when we spotted a dark headed tit foraging by the ash tree - grabbing our bins for a good look, assuming it was a marsh tit and therefore a new bird on the garden list, we were astonished, and delighted to discover it was a willow tit - garden tick number 70!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

new year, old squaw

After our christmas hiatus, we decided it was time to get out and start on the new year list - helped by the fact that it finally stopped raining and that big old scary fireball once again showed itself against a bright blue sky.
First port of call was the Ynyslas turn 'carpark' where we emerged blinking into the light and watched a rock pipit fly catching on the wooden sea wall. On reaching the wall, the exposed sand in front of us had small groups of feeding sanderling, ringed plover and oystercatcher, which prompted Steffi to grab her camera and adopt her customary belly-crawl technique across the soggy beach to capture them on film. I took the easier, and far more sensible approach, by setting up the scope and scanning the sea, where large rafts of common scoter bobbed around. Failing to find anything unusual amongst them apart from 2 great crested grebes, I checked the tideline and noticed a very close female scoter feeding in the waves - turning the scope on her I was delighted when an equally close male long tailed duck popped up next to her. By now Steffi had returned and fixing on its location, went off again to try and get some pics - not easy in the dipping swell, and the bird was drifting further out with each second, but she at least got some reasonable record shots.

After that treat, we headed to the River Clettwr to walk the embankment to the saltmarsh. Lots of lapwing, teal, wigeon, golden plover, curlew, redshank and snipe along the way, occasionally rising in great swirling flocks, looking fantastic in the late afternoon sunlight. A kingfisher kept zipping up and down the river and a sighting of 3 meadow pipits had us slighty anxious for a spell, with one of them showing obvious white mantle steaks and behaving in different manner to the other two. Thoughts of red throated kept popping into my head, but try as we might, we had to concede it was just a slightly odd looking meadow. The day ended on a high, when retracing our steps back to the car, a two pronged attack took place on the assembled waders with a ringtail hen harrier and a peregrine panicking the flocks.