I picked up Bazzo (great to see him out in the field again) and Alan Wright and pulled out of Southport for 7am-ish today, just in time to enter the yawning maw of the M58/M6/M56 rush hour and grind very slowly south eastwards towards Beeley in the Peak District.
Grey, damp drizzly conditions and clouds of car-poo created a depressing December fug, so that most of the smaller towns on the southside of Manchester looked like the type of places where Waxwings came to die.
We pushed on and I pulled into Beeley just over three hours later, nabbing the last parking space at the excellent Dukes Barn Outdoor Activity Centre, where quite splendidly the lingering Dusky Thrush was feeding in the wet grass in the orchard behind the building in the murk.
Fine views of it on the deck – a really striking critter, with a lightning strike super and surprisingly dark chest and paler undercrackers.
Suddenly it flew off over the rooftops of the village, calling like a particularly soft-voiced Fieldfare – more “chuck chuck chuck” than “chack chack chack”, but still loud.
We waited for an hour or so in case it returned, but then it was relocated by one of the 399 other birders wandering round the picturesque Peak District village (pretty, but oddly difficult to find the road out of….very Royston Vasey) feeding in hawthorns in fields down Pig Lane.
We had great views of it perched up there – scope filling, and in many ways looking a whole lot better than it did on the deck – what a face…and look at those chainmail underparts.
Usual dire photographic efforts from yours truly, but I was there for the bird, not the picture.
We were done by 1230 and I drove back home up considerably quieter roads, getting into Southport by 1445.
Couldn’t have asked for more help from the good folk of Beeley – bacon baps, coffee, help parking – marvellous, and as for on-site directions – well, you couldn’t really fault ’em…
The blue skies and bright sun lured me out and down to Marshside mid-afternoon in a bid to ease myself back into winter.
Thousands of Pinkies up at Crossens Outer, but while they look cool wheeling about, you need ’em on the deck to work through, and while the birds did pitch down, they were a bit too far off to ‘scope effectively.
It didn’t stop me from trying though, as Little Egrets, Wigeon and Teal buzzed about as I got re-acquainted with familiar smell of carbon monoxide and the drone of engines.
The Golden Plovers on Crossens Inner and Marshside Two were frequently freaked by Merlins, while Mipits and Skylarks got the same treatment on the seaward side.
Actually raptors were pretty good for a quick afternoon stroll – a fine ringtail Hen Harrier (seemed a small one, a male mebbe? it was a fair distance from me, although was hunting quite close to the road); Marsh Harrier on the edge of the vegetation north of the Sandplant, two Merlins, a Kestrel and a Peregrine.
Couldn’t see any Cattle Egrets though, perhaps they were sheltering from the cold somewhere sensible.
Raw cold, grey Saturday skies _ I’m not going out there.
Far better to push on with this site’s sister blog, the imaginatively titled Birding Ecuador 2016, which over the next few weeks I plan to fill with blurry pics of colourful neotropical birds, beasts and landscapes that Trops, Mike, June and I bumped into over the last month south (and north) of the Equator.
Hope you enjoy it… the link to the thing is on the right too.
I may even venture into the grey outdoors here again tomorrow – if I can find sufficient thermals and a stash of spray paint to brighten up our birds.
The jet-lag is easing, the bites aren’t quite as swollen and I’ve only got about 1,000 images to go through from a storming three week birding trip to Ecuador with Mike Stocker and June Watt, and that elusive lost man of the rainforests, Tropical Thomason.
We survived Amazon green hell, a spot of altitude sickness in the Andes, collapsing roads, psycho-drivers and some of the friendliest folk and most beautiful scenery this side of the Pecos.
Birding was top notch with 526 sp seen between us.
Here’s a few of the countless highlights, although I did find the Cock Of The Rock above a tad vulgar…
57 sp of Hummers ranged from the brutish Giant Hummer to the dazzlingly beautiful Velvet Purple Coronet.
I’ll do a full blog on the adventure of course and post a link on here once I get it started, in the meantime here’s to Torrent Ducks, Black Faced Ibis, Oilbirds and Rufous Bellied Seedsnipes.
And with eight species bagged, it would be rude not to look at the Antpittas from a Giant Antpitta called “Maria” to an impossible Rufous Crowned Antpitta that goes by the improbable name of “Shungalita” and lives at a chocolate factory.
And of course, there will be Andean Condors…
Hope you enjoy it – makes a change from a sub-zero November, updates to follow.
It’s a long way away certainly, but with a fair wind and a bit of luck we’ll be back in just about one piece soon.
Amazonian rainforest and towering Andes are admittedly a bit different from the Ribble, but birdin’ is birdin’ wherever you are.
So as usual, the usual question – what have we missed while we’ve been away?
Please let me know via the “comments” thingy….is there lots of good winter birding out there, or is the December festive behemoth lumbering unrelentingly onward….
Any Bewick’s anyone? – must try and catch up with one before 2016 is out, although making do with smart Snipe would be just fine too.
See you soon….
I was watching the Red Legged Partridges out on Plex on a recent sunny evening as they dust bathed and began tuning up their truly daft “song” if that’s the right way to describe the racket.
Weird to think I had to go all the way to Norfolk to see my first one as a kid – it was a tick many moons ago alongside Pec Sand and Red Backed Shrike as I recall, while the grown-ups were hoping for heavier score.
Now Red Legs are almost as much of a traffic hazard on Plex as the lycra-clad lunatics that love the place ever since the tracks got all respectable and resurfaced.
And Greys are few and far between.
It got me thinking about numbers and biomass – all grown-up issues that Mark Avery can explain far better than most.
Do the bazillions of Red Legs have an effect on Greys? Anyone know?
I’m sure I read somewhere that Greys were more susceptible to pesticides, but that they were also the dominant species where the two meet, but I can’t remember.
“He’s out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field …”
He has been way out in the paramo, rainforest and who knows what else for far too long, now it’s time to track down Tropical Thomason.
He was last seen SO long ago, it was in the days before Sibe Accentor became merely an autumn scarce.
Most recent reports have him papping Swallow Tanagers on the Dia de Muertos down Mindo way, so the trail is still quite warm (in fact it may be very warm by the time we land, positively scorching from what we’ve heard)…
A few record shots of him have emerged from this never-ending South American odyssey of course, but it’s a bit like seeing images of Bigfoot, you’re never quite sure if it’s the real deal or not…
Nah, that’s defo not him – this is far more likely to be Trops (except with substantially less hair of course):
At least we know what we’re looking for now, and hopefully we’ll be catching up with him before you can say Black-capped Donacobius… you keep him talking Mike, I’ll get the net.
Back soon, toodle-pip.
I’ve been struggling to work out why the sunflower hearts have been disappearing so fast in the feeders at Dempsey Towers recently; while Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches are back for the winter, they’re not here in sufficient numbers to account for the feeders emptying so quickly.
The answer came bouncing down the garden this morning, ignoring pine cones, nuts, berries etc to leap up and display its usual flash acrobatic skills.
Impressive in its defiance of gravity, this Red Squirrel has actually been around the Towers for a month or two now, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it hammering the sunflower hearts – what’s wrong with the peanuts in next door’s garden???
The Siskins will not be amused if they turn up again in a month or two.
If it keeps on scoffing the seeds at this rate I anticipate a slightly slower moving Red Squirrel by the end of winter.
With my best adventure kecks freshly pressed and (almost) ready for action far, far, away, I wanted to see if my battered old ‘scope was still up to digi-scoping duties, given the lens is covered in more scratches than a Chris De Burgh record once any intelligent person has had their hands on it for any length of time.
While my P900 is great and far more grown-up and everything (and far cheaper of course than scratching ‘scope lenses to pieces on a regular basis), you can’t beat a bit of digi-scoping, so the long staying Snow Bunting on the beach at Southport seemed a good subject to test out getting back into bad habits again…
I nipped up at lunchtime today and the bunting was feeding on the foreshore below the seawall up at the Fairway end of Marine Drive.
It was frequently hassled by Pied Wags, so flew about a bit, but I just sat and waited for the bird to trundle back up the beach towards me, which it did after a few minutes.
What’s not to like about Snow Bunts?
Trilling call, classy “arctic” vibe and fine feathery baggy troosers too.
The bird seemed happy in its own universe most of the time, but froze whenever it heard the small finch flock twittering overhead, as if it equated the calls with a threat.
Generally ignored me though, which seems to be the norm these days.
I left it happily munching seeds around the clumps of old salicornia (get me, okay, marsh samphire) and saltmarsh grass.
A few Twite with Linnets on the beach here too, but only four or five that I saw, while two Goldcrest were moving through the marram at the back of the Marine Drive car park before I pulled out – autumn passage is still seriously on the go then.
In Southport briefly at lunchtime today and I noticed a flock of finches bouncing over the seawall and dropping in by the West Lancs Yacht Club.
A quick look revealed a flock of about 40 birds, mostly Twite, with a few Linnets thrown in.
Flighty as hell, they appeared to be returning to the roof of the yacht club, presumably there’s a handy puddle of water up there for thirsty Twite.
A few perched up on the old fenceline behind the sluice for a moment or two, then they were away again off beyond the seawall.