Thursday, July 29, 2010

Falcons and gulls...

Out today gulling with the local pest control crew. Bloody marvellous! Super set-up, beautiful birds, fascinating insight - learned loads and had a brilliant time! You know, I'm a lucky bugger really. I get to meet some really interesting people and to experience stuff that other peeps would probably give their proverbial for. Today it was flying falcons to scare off gulls.

Arrived on site and was introduced to the birds...

Tubs - a female Peregrine x Saker cross

Archie - a Gyr x Barbary cross

Bert - young male Lanner

The gulls tended to frequent the roof-top of an extensive empty warehouse and had bred there again this year. The 'remit is basically to cause as much nuisance with the gulls as possible' using a variety of means including pyrotechnics, distress calls and, of course, birds of prey. Today we were flying Tubs and Archie and training the wee man, Bert, up a lil.

and training the wee man,

SO, first up, the absolutely gorgeous Tubby. Falconer in residence J, popped on her hood and she hopped on to his glove ready for weighing. Popped her on the scales and she was just the right weight for flying. J chatted to her as he took off her swivel and jesses and gently replaced these with a couple of bright orange flight jesses and a small radio transmitter. I was curious how the telemetry was gonna be attached. I'd fitted radio harnesses myself to Goosander many moons ago and watched my mate do a far more professional and quicker job with Hen Harriers not so long ago, but both took time. Even tail mounting wasn't an especially 'portable' process in my experience. Working bird telemetry though was simplicitty itself - leg mount, cable clip - sorted. Elegant and efficient. Impressed!

Took Tubs out. Showed her where to go and let her fly. Off like a shot on to roof of a nearby office block. About 20-30 gulls, mostly Lesser Black-backed with a few Herring Gulls thrown in spotted her immediately and one or two LBBGs decided to have a pop. Pretty tame stuff though, despite their racket... a few fairly long distant swoops in her general direction. I can see why they didn't get closer. Tubs is a big bird. Powerful. And J told me she'd taken Lesser Black-backed Gulls before. I could easily believe it. Somehow I think the gulls knew too. She took off on a low sweep across the roof top where the gulls had come up from. More erupted from its depths... 40... 50... 70... 100. They were pretty freaked. She landed on the roof briefly then dropped out of sight - cue mayhem. the gulls behaviour changed immediately. We couldn't see Tubs, but the loud steady beep...beep... beep... from her transmitter was telling us she was still on the roof. Suddenly gulls began to dive bomb her position in a steady stream... she'd got something! For a few minutes gulls rained down on where the Yaggi was telling us Tubs had settled. Then gradually they eased off. The signal stayed strong and the gulls drifted away - she'd made a kill.


Or so we thought. A little while later she reappeared. Low along the roof line then banking north toward us. I thought she looked heavy. Full. Not so. Tubs alighted on the nearby roof and J quickly got to work with the lure. A few skillfull swings and she was on the ground. If she had indeed whacked a gull on the warehouse roof, as their behaviour had suggested, it had gotten away because her crop was empty. J fed her a chick as she hopped onto his glove. Good girl.

Bert on the lure

Next up some traing for Bert. Bert was new to all this. A wee Lanner, just a couple of months old, but what a handsome chap. Gorgeous silky chocolate browny and peach. Until now he'd not had any experience of flying from glove to glove or to the lure so J wanted to try him on the creance. See if we could get him to hop 3 feet, then maybe 6 feet. What a little star! Despite the wind and the numerous distractions he did just that. Surprising what a flick of a day-old chick leg and an encouraging whistle can do :)


Now it was Archie's turn at the gulls. A quick weigh in and furniture adjustment and he was ready to go. Hood off and... wow! Fast!! He was off into the wind. Much faster than Tubs, then high. Quickly. Gulls were off! No mobbing, just got the hell out. The whole lot headed straight east as he climbed and wheeled and climbed and wheeled. A dot in the sun... then gone. Telemetry showed he was still around but my eyes had stars everywhere and I couldn't spot him. J wheeled the lure. Nothing. Scan of the sky through bins. Gulls. Gulls. Pigeons. Goldfinches. Swifts. Gulls. NO Archie... but there WAS a steady beep... beep... beep from the roof top. Then suddenly... whoosh... he was back. SO, fast! Again J swung the lure and with a scything stoop Archie was down and quickly to hand. Bloody marvellous!


More training with Bert followed, then another flight with Archie (though this time he was happy to sit on the roof tops and blow raspberries at us for an hour lol) and I got to feed Tubs with a few cold, bloody, gutted chicks - yum! Talk about wolfed em down! I reckon 30-45 seconds each... shredded and gulped. Luvvly!!! All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Me in Tubs

Thanks so much to all involved.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

GRAND DAYS OUT #4 – One Welsh Winter’s Day...

I guess we’ve all had them – near perfect stress free birding days when you see most of what you go for (but it doesn’t matter if you don’t) and get one or two surprises along the way. As usual with this part of the blog, stuff is lifted ‘as writ at the time’ from diaries, notebooks etc except for [comments]. Guess the year...

Mid-February - Good news is that the same stuff is still around today as yesterday! Why? Coz I’m off out to North Wales with my long time birding chum, Matt. First off, current plan is to go for Great Grey Shrike at Clocaenog, followed by Hawfinch at Caerhun and Little Bunting at Newborough Warren. If I get them [those] three I’ll be a happy bunny – anything else is a bonus! By 12th Feb last year I had 107 species – so what could I get today in addition to the ‘big three’ above? Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Slavonina Grebe, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Great Northern Diver, Chough, Hooded Crow, Crossbill, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll etc.

Clocaenog Forest

SO... today’s the day! Arranged to meet Matt at Runcorn Station at 07:30 [note the almost military precision in those days]. Come 07:40 gave him a ring. He was lost [shame on him!] and stuck by the river, so had to direct him for a pick up. About 5 minutes later we were finally. First stop, Clocaenog Forest for Great Grey Shrike. At least two have been recorded this winter and birds have used the site near the mast at Craig Bron-banog for the past 2-3 years. Found the track we needed to climb easily from maps downloaded from t’interweb and parked Matt’s Landrover as far up as we could. Climb was quite steep through surprisingly quiet plantation – just Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks – no finches. Through thelast get the ground opened up into heather moorland and we could see the mast a little way off. Suddenly, a large[ish] black bird flew out low over the heather, flashing white on the wings – male Black Grouse. What a bonus! Totally unexpected too [we didn’t know they were found there at the time]. Got to the top of the climb and worked right, around the fenced-off mast to keep out of the heather and to be able to look due north – where the shrike had been reported yesterday. Set up scope and began scanning the pines and scrubby leafless trees scattered across the moor. There were loads (!), any one of which could potentially have been a shrike lookout post. Still, at least the vantage point was great. Only bird on our first [binocular] sweep was the Fieldfare we’d flushed from the mast fence on arrival and which, momentarily, we had thought was the shrike! Second sweep used scope [very wise!].

Great Grey Shrike

Picked it [shrike] up in a tree to the north-west, on the horizon, by an outcrop and put Matt onto it. Zoomed in and followed it flying from tree to tree – perching at the top of each as it did so. Excellent! Said to Matt that it would be worth keeping our eyes peeled on the way down, coz there was ‘supposed’ to be another one. No sooner has we rounded the mast to head back to the Land Rover when Matt said “Is that it, there on the wire?” Fuck me! [Yes, I actually said “Fuck me!”] It was – close too! Got scope on it before it flew to the top of a bush further way. Managed a few pix – none very good, but at least you can see what it is! [judge for yourself dear reader... evidence below]. Grinning from ear to ear we headed off down the track – plan was to try the Picnic Spot down the road for Crossbill and Siskin. Dead certs... we thought. No such luck! It was as quiet as the grave; just a few Tits, Robins, Wrens and Mallards and lots of Muscovy hybrids on the pond. So, no luck.

Great Grey Shrike
Shot off to try for Dipper at a site that had proved great the past two years; Cerrig-y-drudion [that’s Welsh... by the way...]. Parked up by the bridge for a quick scan of what looked like a VERY Dipperesque bit of the River Something-Y-Other. Water was quite high, not many rocks exposed and the only bird showing was a male Grey Wagtail on one of them. Drove a little further down towards the play area and tried again, but a short walk along the river bank yielded nothing but tits and Nuthatches in the riverside trees. We were walking back when we heard the familiar ‘chink’ call of Dipper in flight. Quickly checked the river again, but saw nothing, so decided to do one last check from the road bridge. We were just about to go when what should come chinking at full speed low over the water, right under the bridge, but Dipper. Cracking views AND it landed further upstream... on a rock... so we could get another look. Jolly nice [yes, I actually said “Jolly nice”] – not seen one for ages. [I used to study these, many moons ago when I lived in Scotland. Spent many a glorious hour dippering around Stirling – bloody marvellous!]

Next stop, Llanbedr-y-cennin for Hawfinch. Found churchyard without much problem [this was pre-SatNav btw peeps, hence my implied surprise...] and pulled up as a man and woman emerged from it. Right place apparently, but no birds showing. Decided to check trees at back of churchyard from road [either I had an aversion to the word ‘THE’ in those days or I was writing in Yorkshire]. No luck. Thought I saw two chunky, orange-ish birds at the back of the field behind the church. Decided to take a closer look IN the field, but got called out by the farmer who’s field it was [or, to whom the field belonged, should we wish now to be grammatically correct - miserable git anyway: the farmer...]. Had a couple of dodgy views of Chaffinch but nothing else and walking the graveyard and other road to scan the trees similarly yielded nothing.
Caerhun Chruch

Local guy said that they sometimes went to the old church at Caerhun! we had assumed the two sites were the same. Not so. Matt recalled getting Hawfinch at a small church down a track right by the River Conwy and this was clearly not it! Without much ado, we found the place pretty easily from the directions given to us, but there were loads of people there repointing the walls and strimming (!) so needless to say there were no Hawfinches showing. Ah well…

Llanfairfechan sea watch

Getting peckish now (12:30) so stopped off at Llanfairfechan as tide was right in and it looked like a mill pond (good for scoping) and who she we meet there but the same couple we’d earlier bumped into Hawfinching. Scopes up and we quickly got on to loads of Great Crested Grebes [c30] and Red-throated Divers [c20]. Also cracking view of two Great Northern Divers – one which had caught something. Got a Black-throated Diver around more into the bay to the west where we also had a small grebe drop in – Slavonian. A solitary Shag on the water and 2 Fulmar at the ‘cliffs’ to the east completed a great lunch break. Matt had fired up the Trangia and cooked us both beef and vegetable BIG soup which we slurped from wooden bowls – Chinese stylee (no spoons). Beautifully calm. A few Common Scoter about too, but no Velvets and no sign today of the regular Black Scoter.

Finished lunch, showed the couple the way to the ‘biggy’ on our maps and headed off for Little Bunting. Arrived at Newborough Warren about 14:00 to find the car park nearly full and all eyes trained on the bushes to where the bird had just flown before we arrived. HAD been showing well. We shifted position to view the bushes side on and picked up the bird in the middle. Beckoned other over but lost it – then something flew to the bushes by the car park with loads of Chaffinches. It finally flipped over a slate ‘fence’ into the car park, where, behind the picnic tables was a lot of seed on the ground. The bird started feeding there and I managed to reel off a few pix before it disappeared only to reappear 10 minutes later in the same spot. Problem was, it kept ‘hiding’ behind a bloody leaf so no shots are clear (see below).

Little Bunting - Newborough Warren

One old bloke appeared to be so frustrated that he decided to get a closer look… in his car! He managed to bump into the short wooden edging posts around the car park at least twice during hos 30-point reverse into postion much to the bemusement and slight annoyance of the assembled onlookers. Finally he was happy with his position it seemed and set up a long-lens on a beanie out of the dricver’s window. Neeedless to say, his antics has scared everything away and so we left with only the ‘pronks’ and ‘cruuks’ of the local Ravens to signal the end of a great day. 10 year ticks including all the divers, 1 lifer and as many Great Grey Shrikes in 10 minutes as I’d previously had in 10 years. Fucking A!!! [Yes, I was a trifle excited…].

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Mysterious Teal and the possibly spurious application of Logic...

Today I visited the patch... of course (!). BUT as it was drizzling and I was seriously short of time, the river, alas had to go begging and so instead I decided to 'do the ponds' at the east end of Moore NR. All, was... well, as it often is... quiet and fairly predictable... until I spotted a small duck. But I'm leaping ahead! First... the build up. As is often the case of late, at Big Hand Ranch a Little Owl was plopped in the recess on the first barn between the peeling sheets of make-shift roofing. Today it was enduring (enjoying? It seemed happy enough...) the mizzle, but nothing else was out and about.

Pumphouse Pool

I started here today, for shelter apart from anything else. Parked up and peered out at the murk. Problem with the mizzle was that it kinda fogged up everything. Couldn't really get much of a clear view of owt, certainly not down the far end and everything had that blurry 'steamed up' kind of feel. So much so that I more than once checked to see if the bins and scope had fogged over - they hadn't. It was just a poor visibility sesh. Ah well, didn't stop me squinting through the wildfowl and gulls. There was...

36 Mallard   7 Canada Geese (numbers down - there's usually about 30)   21 Coot   8 Moorhen (3ads+5juvs spread about)   4 Little Grebe (ad+3juvs)   1 Great Crested Grebe   7 Tufty   2 Pochard   1 Grey Heron (subadult)   97 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (including *R28522 Black-headed Gulls   2 Herring Gull   5 Magpie   2 Carrion Crow   2 Robin (ad+juv)   2 Bullfinch (juvs)   3 Pied Wagtail (juvs)   1 Blue Tit   1 Great Tit   9 Sand Martin   AND... a Teal.

Yes. A Teal. Among the Mallard, roosting. Dinky, rectangular head shape, white tail flash, unremarkable. Now my first thoughts were... 'female' and 'bloody early!'. Quickly followed by 'too dark and plain for a female' and 'there's orange at the base of the upper mandible' and 'must be a juvenile'. Well, that was just odd. First where had it come from? Teal don't breed at Moore. Think they might at Woolston but I couldn't believe juvenile Teal from there would move anywhere before it's mum did anyway. And second, what IS the natal disperasl pattern in juvenile Teal? - I had (still haven't) no (any) idea! My gut told me it should be with others of it's brood and preferably in the company of a responsible adult - but this one clearly wasn't! Next thought. You idiot. It's a trick of the light and drizzle and you're looking at a Mallard or Gadwall DUCKLING. Moron! Next thought. Moron for even thinking THAT - of COURSE it's a Teal! Duh!!! Even in this mizzle. Idiot! It IS a Teal. Right, try logic. Males leave the breeding grounds before females AND during drought conditions (which we're probably in) non-breeders move off breeding grounds even earlier than usual. SO, it's a non-breeding male. Aha! Eclipse drake - sorted! Except... well, it must have flown in. And they drop their flight feathers in eclipse don't they? Doh! BUT wait... they do a full head and body moult (early Jul - Aug) - fits (!) and dump their flight feathers from late July. A-ha! Now to be honest, I'd always assumed post-breeding moult in ducks was one of those things they did after they'd left the breeding grounds and had settled somewhere, in other words the whole shebang took place in... one place, but this bloke seems to have done a bit somewhere else and is gonna finish it off here... or maybe he'll bugger off somewhere else to drop his flights. Time will tell...

Eastern Reedbed

44 Gadwall   2 Tufty   2 Coot   2 Great Crested Grebe (ad+juv)   2 Moorhen (ad+new chick)  
Reed Bunting and Reed Warbler singing

Millbrook Pool

11 Mallard   21 Canada Geese   1 Grey Heron (ad)   2 Moorhen (ad+juv)   4 Coot (3ad+new chick)
AND... 2 more Teal (same as previously)

Birchwood Pool

95 Coot (up again!)   5 Pochard   2 Moorhen   52 Tufty (incl. female+5 new ducklings)   5 Canada Geese (numbers down)   2 Grey Heron   25 Gadwall (incl 2 x f with broods of well grown 9)   1 Mallard (one!)   2 Mute Swan   19 Lesser Black-backed Gull   15 Black-headed Gull  

And that chums... is that!

To the river tomorrow with any luck!!!

PS *R285 - black plastic ring on left leg with R285 in yellow on it. No obvious metal ring on other leg. Anybody have any info. on who's ringing LBBGs???

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Patch Perspectives

I was looking back through old records the other day, trying to get a feel for the comings and goings of waders at various nearby sites, when I was suddenly struck by just how close some of these sites are to the patch. The local hotspots by a mile were unsurprisingly Frodsham / Weaver Bend and Woolston Eyes, but what hadn't really clicked was how 'right-bang-in-the-middle' of the flyway between these two sites the patch actually is...

The Patch - yellow area

...AND just how close they were to the patch. Turns out, as the wader flies, each is pretty much 5km from either end of the patch...

The yellow X marks Halfway House

The Patch (shaded) delimited at the West (yellow X) by Halfway House and the East (blue X) by the Eastern Reedbed in relation to Woolston Eyes

This is all very encouraging! Given the amount of stuff that's turned up at these two and a few other (Hale, Gatewarth, Astmoor etc) adjacent sites over the years, the potential for getting stuff on the river looks very good indeed. Not that I need much encouragement tbh... the river at Halfway House has, at the moment, a rather mysterious pull it seems. I'm finding it extremely easy to ignore the rest of the patch with the exception of Norton Marsh Pool and Pumphouse Pool, (see below) both of which, my ever expanding holiday gut tells me, will get something good dropping in soon.

Looking west - the whole patch except for the Eastern Reedbed

I have this vision of a dainty wader in a checked shirt spinning around on Norton Marsh Pool, spitting out little gobs of chewing tobacco and humming a Dolly Parton tune... fingers crossed!!!

Redneck Phalarope

PS bad news is that 15 minutes away, in my front garden, the Wrens in the Juniper appear to have been predated, either that or they have suffered a premature evacuation - no sign of parents these past few days and the nest is empty. Alas, too soon, I fear for them to have fledged successfully...

Friday, July 23, 2010

That Riviera Touch...

Ce soir il y a beaucoup d'oiseaux sur la rivi√®re. La Pwing 965, C'urlew 52, mais il n'√©taient Common Sandpipers! Not one! Ne pas de sausage. BUT I did get 3 Petite Egrets. Bloody merveilleux!

PS,,, Et une Raven...

PPS 13 Mistle Thrush in a tree! Don't remember picking up post-breeding flocks on the patch before.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Useful things...gulls...

SO, I'd been itching to get to the river to see what's been going on with these wader drop-ins and hang-arounds, especially the seemingly stop-over Common Sandpipers. Took the opportunity, therefore, to grab an hour before dinner whilst the missus went shopping and headed straight to Halfway House. The place was hooching - loads of stuff out on the mud... pale stuff (gulls)... DARK matter (waders!). Excellent. Set up my usual fezzie chair, clipped my scope on the pod, flipped out its legs (1 always go 1 out front at 45 degrees and the other 2 horizontal and resting on the arms of the fezzie chair), hunker down and begin to scan. Lapwing everywhere! Almost immediately among said peewits a small wader washing. Quick shake of the wings and it's done... Common Sandpiper. That's ONE! The post-breeding Lapwing numbers look big today... bigger still than a few days ago, so I settle down to count... working through the strung-out flocklets when I hit a Curlew... then another... then a group. OK. Concentrate on the Lapwing then go back for the Curlew! Takes a while but I count 825 Lapwing, that's almost 400 up on Tuesday! Now for the Curlew, 31 on the bank, 58 in a group among the Lapwing to the east and another 30 scattered about on the mud. I make that 119! That's a good count.

Oi, Oi...Gulls are up... Why? WHY?? Can't see owt, but they're well spooked. Hang on... raptor... low in front of the Fiddler's Ferry hide on the other side of the river. Harrier! Bins up... cream crown... female Marsh Harrier... bit dark though. Get the scope on it. Very clean. No moult. Tail a little tatty, else pristine. Neat creamy-goldy fringe along the upper coverts clinches it. NOT a female after all - it's a JUVENILE. Smashing bird. Full crop too, so I don't know what the gulls are worried about. Off high right now, past the cooling towers towards Gatewarth and Woolston and I lose it. Well, hooda thunk it. Mind has been so full of wader passage I never really thought about what other stuff could drop in... sept for Little Gull and terns. Still haven't had a Little Gull from here and just Common Tern... so far. NEXT year, I have a feeling I may be spending even more time at this little bend in the river!

Well, that was the highlight of my hour there - Marsh Harrier. No more waders. Just the single Common Sandpiper to keep me guessing and nothing on Norton Marsh Pool or Pumphouse Pool. Do I care? Nope. Coz thanks to the gulls, as is so often the case, I bagged a very nice patch bird. Useful things... gulls.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Antisocial Sandpipers...

Interesting the day to day ebb and flow of birds on the patch. On the river at Halfway House things seem to be in a continuous state of flux; the state of the tide and the prevailing weather mixing things up nicely. Just what a patcher needs to keep them on their toes. Take the patch Common Sandpipers for example. The first bird appeared on March 20th, then two more singles in the first week of April. During the next two week no sandpipers were to be found, but Little Ringed Plover moved through. Then in the last week of April there was the first clear influx of Common Sandpiper on the river - 4 birds that stayed together. This coincided with the first Greenshank, Whimbrel, Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper and 2 Avocets. The sandpipers and Greenshank hung around for about a week before finally moving on at the end of the month. Then, during the back end of May, Dunlin, Knot and Sanderling all moved through. After that, things went quiet until... end of June when 2 Common Sandpipers returned (presumabaly non-breeders) then nothing... until last week, when things kicked off again with the start of Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper return passage, the arrival of Dunlin and Ringed Plover back on the river and a steady build up of Lapwing.

Judging the numbers of Common Sandpipers using this small bend in the river has proved to be tricky though. They move around a lot, can sit tucked in along the river banks and use the canal as well as the river. They've become, therefore, a bit of a fascination. Are birds moving through in a steady stream or am I seeing a small group stopping over? Off the back of yesterday, I'm thinking the latter... and they're quite an antisocial bunch too it would seem. On July 13th I saw just 2 birds, by the 15th there were 4 and the next day I saw 5. Two birds seemed to hang around the western shore, 2 the eastern shore and 1 zipped about in the middle. What they didn't do was get together - ever! One of the 'couples' was an adult and juvenile. The single bird was an adult. The other 2 I've not got close enough to to tell. On the 17th, I saw just 2 together again and so had assumed the 5 I'd seen were passing through. Yesterday though, there were 5 again. New birds or the same 5? Well, they distributed themselves in exactly the same way as the 5 had done earlier in the week; 2 east, 2 west, 1 middle - so it looks like they're stop-over birds. Just goes to show how easy it can be to miss birds (3 it would seem on 17th) - even when you're scanning hard! It'll be interesting over the next few weeks to see if the Dunlin and Ringed Plover 'reappear' or if they've really moved on - didn't see any yesterday... and, how big this Lapwing flock will get. It's now at 474 compared to about 60 a week ago. You know, there's something pretty cool about the patch-scale comings and goings of stuff. Can't wait to see what the next couple of months brings :)

PS The Little Owls that frequent the first barn at Big Hand Ranch en route to the patch have clearly bred successfully - single fledgling in the gap on the roof yesterday.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

'Hats On' to the lovely Dunlin...

Mr Monkton may not have had Dunlin in mind BUT the two at Halfway House today were very hat-worthy! Damn blustery WSW blowing through today, though quite mild and bright. The resultant heat haze, however, combined with the wind AND a low tide made for somewhat more challenging conditions compared to yesterday! Nonetheless, if there were any waders lurking, I wanted them. If I've learnt anything patching, it's perseverence!

SO, after and hour wedged in my fezzie chair, scope braced against the wind and continually scanning every square inch of mud, Halfway House today offered up less than yesterday, but still from a patch perspective, a nutritious nugget of passage pleasure in the form of...

2 Common Sandpipers, 1 Redshank, 1 Ringed Plover, 2 Curlew, 22 Lapwing and 2 Dunlin.

Happy days :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

GRAND DAYS OUT #3 – St. Marks’ National Wildlife Refuge

Following on from Armadillos, pine forests and swamps (see previous GRAND DAYS OUT) thoughts turned to coastal shenanigans as the big Floridian adventure continued. As always, the account that follows is lifted straight from diaries and notebooks written at the time, except, of course, for [comments].

SO, today we are visiting St.Marks on the Gulf of Mexico [wonder how it is now in light of the BP spill…], about an hours’ drive south of Tallahassee. Route recommended was through the middle of Tallahassee and down the 61, but we opted for the scenic route via the 319 ring road then the 363 before going through Woodville and Wakulla. Stopped at gas station for Gatorade and a Hershey Bar then headed off. Almost immediately we hit road works [ road works Jim, but not as we know them…] and an unusual traffic control system. This comprised a girl in a pick-up truck (parked) holding a ‘STOP’ sign. We couldn’t see the other end of the road works so couldn’t figure out how she was going to know when to turn her sign to ‘GO’. About 5 minutes later another girl in a pick-up comes driving down the road towards us all, does a 360 and on the back of her truck is a sign that says ‘FOLLOW ME’. So we do. About a mile down the road is yet another girl in a pick-up with a sign saying ‘GO’. She then switches it to ‘STOP’ and the girl in the ‘FOLLOW ME’ pick-up starts back off down the road again! So, 3 people and 3 pick-ups to do the job of automated traffic signals – go figure!

St. Marks

Doesn’t take us long to find St.Marks which was basically a long road to a lighthouse with stop-off points along the way that looked out across swamp, reedbeds, saltmarsh and finally, the sea. Stuck our $4 in the envelope at the Toll Booth, popped the envelope in the box, hung the thingy from our mirror to show that we had paid and headed off down the road. First up was a bit of swamp - Stoney Bayou.

Stoney Bayou

No Alligators in it, but we did get juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron. The road here was covered in big blackish Grasshoppers, which thankfully, we managed to avoid mostly, by drunkenly zig-zagging the hire car down the road. Not so the swarms of Ghost Crabs we encountered further down the road – the crunching as we drove through them was gross! Next pull-in was by a reedbed and large lagoon where we got....


 Boat-tailed Grackle, several Least Bittern, Gull-billed Tern, and Least Tern. Least Bitterns were really cool – VERY small and dinky. Also spotted a Racoon foraging along a muddy channel through the reeds, but it vanished before I could get a photo. Did get a snap of a Rail that emerged briefly though, which we reckon was Clapper Rail, although at the time we wondered if it might have been Virginia Rail.

Clapper Rail

Great White Heron and Tricolored Heron were quickly added to the list as the Racoon popped back out and proceeded to amble across a shallow inlet alongside the road. Further along we picked up our first challenging passerine singing from within cover. Never saw it, but song fitted Marsh Wren. A couple of overflying Wilson’s Plovers was a bonus and we added a distant Willet for good measure. There were Swallows too flitting about, rusticolas with their peachy underparts.

Got to the lighthouse and parked up. Spotted a small Alligator in the lagoon near the ‘DON’T FEED THE ALLIGATORS SIGN’ – as if! Further out was our first Pied-billed Grebe – nice. Wandered along the coastal path and got Brown Pelicans and Osprey fishing out to sea and a few Laughing Gulls at the river mouth. There were a few fisherman here standing waist deep casting their lines which surprised us a bit, given that not far from them were two Alligators seemingly undisturbed by the brackish conditions. I was binning the anglers when my mate spotted a Bottle-nosed Dolphin near them. We watched it swimming in circles as its fin emerged bigger and bigger until its tail broke the surface and we realised it was a shark! No idea what species though – Mako? [Turns out there’s about 50 species of shark found in the GoM and my money’s now on it being a Bull Shark]. On the estuary mud were thousands and thousands of small Ghost Crabs, 1-3cm wide which, as you moved closer towards them, carpeted away just as quickly in perfect synchrony like a flock of birds…

Ghost Crabs

Was getting bitten by midges so headed back to the hire car. Driving back up the road we got Racoon again and this time I managed to digiscope a few blurry snaps. It had caught a huge crab and proceeded to munch its way through it – washing each bit as it went. Watched it for about 10 minutes.

As we headed off an Armadillo trundled across the road in front of the car and two long-winged birds were heading towards us high up calling ‘beek beek’. Nighthawks! They were joined by 2 more which we watched for another 10 mins as they hawked and dived from height in broad daylight – excellent views. Took a leak by a large pool and was a little perturbed midway through to spot a rather large Alligator watching me from the water.

Quickly got back in the car and continued on our way picking up Black Vultures and about 90 Double-crested Cormorants roosting on roadside pylons.

By now we were starving hungry and so decided to head back through downtown Tallahassee as the light faded, getting a few more Nighthawks en route and a dozen or so bats along the tree-fringed highway. Couldn’t find an eatery near where we were staying [go figure!] so ended up getting a McDonald’s in Wallmart! Tree Frogs calling everywhere. Knackered, but no peace for the wicked as up at 5.00am tomorrow to ring Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and tape-lure Bachman’s Sparrows!

Ah, the simple pleasure of patch passage...

Yesterday at Halfway House there were 4 Common Sandpipers - today there were not.

Yesterday at Halfway House there were 4 Dunlin - today there were not.

No... TODAY at Halfway House there was this...


FIVE Common Sandpipers (cracking views of adult and juvenile together), TWENTY NINE Dunlin (including the *4 'alpina' from yesterday and a flock of 25 un-raceable down river - highest patch count of the year), SIX Ringed Plover (highest patch count of the year too), FOUR Curlew (3 up on yesterday), 220 Lapwing (numbers building nicely) and a pristine juvenile REDSHANK!

And to cap all that, the Wren in my garden (see Tenacious T...) has hatched her rescued eggs!

Happy days :)

*Good size, lots of black on bellies, heavy breast streaking and quite long-billed. I'd even go as far as to guess they were 3 females and a male on account of one being a little bit dinkier than the others and it having a pale nape that contrasted noteably with its mantle and cap and which the other 3 lacked. Everything else was the same.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The early worm...

It’s been FAR too long since I was last at the patch – a whole week dammit! This morning then, I was determined to fling the pre-work window wide open and hit the patch as early as possible in order to catch as many birds as my worm would allow. As it turned out (as seems often to be the case, happily) those few hours first thing delivered a veritable smooregasbord of July birdage, despite the ever-shrinking water levels (see later).

I always check the barns for owls at the Big Hand Ranch as I drive by on early starts and so it was today. Pull over. Window down and... nothing peeking out of the hole in the roof of the first barn... and... nothing under the eaves of the second. Ah well, too much to hope for maybe. Decide to head straight to Halfway House as the pollen seems finally to have settled. Thank God! Driving off when... what’s that on the pill box? Bins up... Little Owl. Excellent! This methinks, bodes well. Change of plan, Pumphouse HAS to be worth a quick shufti first – THEN Halfway House. Sorted. Jay over the track by PHP and a quick check of the viaduct as I drive by yields... Peregrine – usual spot. Score!

Pumphouse Pool

Not bothering with coffee as this is a flying visit to check for any passage stuff. Grab my scope and I’m in the east hide (as usual). Kingfisher on his perch, 15 Lapwing scattered about the various shorelines, 2 Oystercatcher making a racket, 2 Great Crested Grebes snoozing down the far end with just 3 Tufties today and a male Pochard. There’s a solitary juvenile LBB Gull (looks like it’s been up all night) on one of the rocks and an adult Grey Heron on the other. A quick scan turns up 15 Coots and a lone adult with 4 new young. Talking of which, there’s a brood of 3 well grown Little Grebe young cheeping away and being attended by a parent and another chick about the same age, being attended by another adult in the SE corner – a brood split I presume. This lot started with 5 young, so they’ve lost one – shame. Hold on though there’s another brood! SW corner, adult with 3 new young. Wasn’t sure if there were 2 pairs as had only seen 3 adults. Guess the fourth must have been on the nest. Cool. Right, no passage waders tho, so I’m off to HWH.

Manchester Ship Canal (BB to HWH)

Car parked. Togged up. Off. Yellowhammer ‘chitting’ by the black and yellow gate. 2 young Willow Warblers mucking about, Chaffinch, Wren, Whitethroat. At the bend we have... Mute Swans. Three of them on the far side of the canal and... 13 Canada Geese. Hmmm. No Great Crested Grebes. 2 Sand Martins, no... 3 Sand Martins over, Greenfinch singing, Robintipping’, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Pied Wagtail calling somewhere, 2 Carrion Crows, 1 Magpie and 6 Swifts over. 2 Lapwing on the little muddy strip (but no passage waders – had Common Sandpiper here not so long ago). Kestrel. Chiffchaff. Further along there’s a bunch of Tufties... I make it 31... 7 more Mute Swans, 45 more Canadas, 2 white ‘Domestics’ and the family of 7 Greylags. 5 more Sand Martins over... but no Swallows or House Martins still and there’s a Sedge Warbler started up... and stopped... and there’s a Blackcap that’s content to keep going. What else? Another Goldfinch, another Chiffchaff, 2 more Greenfinch singing, 3 more Whitethroat, 4 more Wrens, a Stock Dove and a Jay over and I’m at Halfway House. Quick look across to Randall's Sluice before I set up and there's another 9 Mute Swans (that makes 19 on the MSC) and 9 Canadas (that makes 67 - numbers up).

Halfway House

Oi Oi??? That’s odd. Not a Shelduck in sight... not one... anywhere! That HAS to be a first I think. I mean, Shelduck are a given at HWH. I’ve never NOT had Shelduck here. Not that I’m desparate to see another Shelduck... don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying... it strikes me as odd. That’s all. SO... scanning left to right... Lapwing (15), Curlew (1), BH Gull (53), Common Sandpiper (yay!) off towards the canal calling, Grey Heron (1), Mallard (3) another Common Sandpiper low over the water from the other side of the river, following the first, Cormorant (1). Big bunch of gulls. Can I be bothered to go through them? Oh, go on then... for completeness; 167 BH Gulls (including 6 juvs), 195 LBB Gulls, 1 Herring Gull – yee haw! Singing stuff? Quiet this morning tbh – just Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Goldfinch, Blackcap, Song Thrush and Whitethroat. Overhead during my brief sortee I add 1 Gadwall, 1 Pied Wagtail, 6 Crows, 3 Magpie, 2 Swift, 1 Stock Dove, 50 Feral Pigeons, 3 Woodpigeons, 3 Goldfinch, a Cormorant and a male Pheasant. That’s it. Quiet, except for the hint of a suggestion of some passage from the Common Sands – thank you very much. Onwards! Now, as Duncan claims he’s prepared the marsh for passage wader viewing, least I can do is give his handiwork the once over.

Norton Marsh

En route, Brown Hare in Lane End Field. Screen hide – choppage but no birdage AND I still can’t see the dried up pool – ahem! Tower Hide – CAN see the dried up pool, but still no birdage. WE NEED RAIN!!! Yomp to Norton Marsh hide checking for Little Owl in Balloon Hut Field. Nothing. Norton Marsh Pool – aha! Something!! 2 Lapwing, 3 Woodpigeon, 1 juvenile BH Gull and... *2 Green Sandpipers,kloy-klee-klee’ – Exeelento! Very nice. Return passage has begun...

Norton Marsh Pool 30th June

TODAY!!! But there was still stuff on it.

Yomp back along the UMS paths yields the proverbial Paul Daniels save for Tree Sparrow, singing Yellowhammer and Skylark. No sign of any Stonechat in the Phrag Field, nor Little Egret in the trickling ditches. Do get a bonus Goldcrest in the tall conifer by the rebrick houses though (only regular spot for these this year - winter musta hammered em). Back at the car I get Treecreeper as I’m slinging stuff into the boot and then it’s a slow trundle in the old Volvo along the road past the White House, stopping every once in a while to listen for stuff and check for Hobby. No Hobby, but do get an unexpected Grasshopper Warbler reeling away in the thick of the Snipe Fields. Thought they’d all stopped. Willow Tit and a juv Great Spotted Woodpecker at the feeding station was all I add over coffee and nuts and then it’s...

Lapwing Lake

I can see; 18 Mallard, 1 Gadwall, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 13 Coot, 5 juvenile Moorhen and 1 Little Grebe with a brood of 3 half-grown young. That’s the lot!

Eastern Reedbed and Millbrook Pool

Now, it’s fair to say, I think, that the east end of the reserve is not a particularly pleasant bit of the patch during the dry summer months. For a start, it doesn’t tend to hold much; today just... 18 Mallard, 28 Gadwall, 2 Great Crested Grebes with 2 well-grown, but still stripey chicks, 7 Coots, a juvenile Grey Heron and... the Millbrook Mute Swans with their brood of 9, now well-grown cygnets. It’s also a bit sad looking. The reedbed has a kind of green dreariness about it at the moment – it looks ‘fatigued’. Millbrook Pool is even worse! Choked in green gloop it’s the swimming ground of just 2 Gadwall, a Mallard with 2 half grown ducklings and a Little Grebe with 3 well-grown young today. The wet flush in the NE corner is now and extremely dry clog of thick, knee-high vegetation. If there’s owt in there, it ain’t coming out! There’s a very bored looking Grey Heron wondering 'wtf have I done to deserve this?' Even the 17 Canada Geese seem to have finally given up and are lying in a heap. The only bright spot in this gloomy picture is a Kingfisher! Good on YOU mate! It’s probably the Pumphouse male.

Birchwood Pool

Last time I was here a week ago, the green weed was almost at the island (as you look out from the east hide), so I was curious to see if it had now reached the shore. Quelle suprise! It was back how it had been a week before that (see pix below – note dates).

30th June

5th July


Now THAT is weird - weedy ebb and flow in the space of 2 weeks??? Wonder if anybody has been out in a boat and hoiked a load of it out or summit? That’s incredible die-back, if that indeed is what it is... very strange! Maybe the Coots ate it... mystery.

Birdwise, not much going on compared to last time, although there are three bigish Gadwall broods here today (7, 9, 9) – only remember there being brood before. There’s 23 Tufties floating about but I can see only 1 brood of 2 half-grown ducklings... Other odds and ends... 2 Pochard, 4 Moorhen, 2 Grey Heron (incl. one lying down), 3 Mute Swan, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Little Grebe (no young), a herd of 59 Canada Geese and a sharp increase in Coot numbers signalling the start of the moulting flock build up methinks coz I reckon there’s about 65 of them here now compared to about 25 at the start of the month... watch this space.

Ground-nesting Heron

70 spp.

Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufty, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Pheasant, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, *Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Curlew, BH Gull, H Gull, LBB Gull, GBB Gull, C.Dove, S.Dove, F.Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Little Owl, Swift, Kingfisher, GS Woodpecker, Skylark, S.Martin, Swallow, P.Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, S.Thrush, Blackcap, **L.Whitethroat, Whitethroat, S.Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, R.Warbler, W.Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, G.Tit, B.Tit, W.Tit, LT.Tit, Treecreeper, Magpie, Jay, Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, T.Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, L.Redpoll, R.Bunting, Yellowhammer.

* 3 Green Sandpipers on Norton Marsh yesterday according to my patching chum
**Hillcrest Quarry