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Following an already successful morning down the road at Leasowe Lighthouse with the putative ‘Iberian’ Wagtail, which if accepted by the higher powers would be the 2nd for Britain. It was a quick dash across the boarder to North Wales in an attempt to connect with a lingering flock of Eurasian Dotterel on the Great Orme in Conwy. After the short drive and a brief walk the birds where in sight and despite having a 400mm lens, the birds walked up so close at times the lens just couldn’t focus! Utterly incredible, seeing your own reflection in the birds eye as it scoffs a worm down.

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

Eurasian Dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)

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A series of shots from Sefton Park, Liverpool of a 2nd winter Iceland Gull that has become a regular sight around the parks main lake. Not my first Iceland Gull of the year, most of my visits to Warrington since late January have proved successful, in connecting with the towns returning Iceland Gull.

2nd winter Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

2nd winter Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

2nd winter Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

2nd winter Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

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Elliot's Birding Diaries - An avian .. by Elliotsbirdingdiaries - 5M ago

Turn back the clocks to the 23rd January and in the town of Stranraer at the southern point of Loch Ryan, Dumfries and Galloway, an adult Ivory Gull was found exhausted in a garden. The monotypic species is the only member of the genus Pagophila that originates from in the high Arctic where it has a circumpolar distribution through the Nearctic and Pelearctic. In Britain, the species averages one record a year with most relating to birds in the northern isles and mainland Scotland, though some venture further south such an individual shot in Cornwall in 1874.

Following the discovery of the exhausted and underweight individual, it was handed to the Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Centre from the SSPCA as they were unable to identify the species and the centre had previous experience with Ivory Gull. In 2007 a bird was brought into the centre, though unfortunately the bird died as a result of gape worms. Since that encounter the centre were not going to take any chances, so as well as helping the bird to gain weight via a diet of sprats it also given antibiotics and wormer. When the bird was brought in it weighed only 368g, a bad sign given how the minimum weight for an adult female is 448g and 500g for a male.

Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea) – Image by Michael Sinclair.

Following the birds arrival on January 23rd, it wasn’t until the first of February that the bird was moved into an aviary and took regular baths which by the 6th, it was flying well enough that the staff made the decision to make plans to release the bird. Two days later it was confirmed that the site of release would be Stevenson Point, Ayrshire on the 11th of February and after 19 days in rehabilitation in the centre, the bird was released.

Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

For most Monday was not an ideal date for a release, though for myself along with young Scottish birders Andrew Russell (@AndyRussOrnitho) and Michael Sinclair (@mikes_nature) it worked a treat. Before its release time of 1300 the three of us met up at Stevenson Point for our first proper introductions, as previously I’d only had brief encounters with both; Andrew at Spurn back in 2016 for the Siberian Accentor and Micheal at BTO Bird Camp’17. The wait was soon over when the trio of us caught sight of the Hessilhead van approaching…

Left to right: Elliot, Michael and Andrew. Image by Zul Bhatia

Before the bird would be released,  a group of volunteers assembled to collect donations for the rescue centre, which given how twitching has a bad stigma attached to its definers; it was great to see the majority of the 150 strong crowd donate. Hayley Douglas from the centre presented a brief speech shortly before the release of this arctic beauty, who informed us that with permission from the BTO, the bird had been fitted with a metal and darvic ring – yellow 2E86. Then it was down to Andy and Gay, the owners of Hessilhead, to open the lid and for the crowd to let off a gasp in total captivation.

Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea) – Image by Andrew Russel.

No matter how much you may prepare yourself to witnessing an Ivory Gull, when you finally set your eyes upon one it simply takes your breath away. The sheer purity of beauty of this gull is incomprehensible and to me surpasses every other of the 700+ species of bird I have set my eyes upon. Hand on the heart, the best bird I have ever seen but unfortunately the moment of short lived. Once the top opened the gull burst out and landed on the ground, for probably half a minute at the most before it took grace and flew to the gull roost assembled on the nearby beach. Here, it spent a quarter of an hour washing and being mobbed by Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and European Herring Gull before it flew north, the last we saw. Since then there has been no further reports of the bird.

Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

For some the release of the Stranraer bird was a long awaited life tick, though not for all. Leading up to the birds release debates where taking place on multiple platforms regarding weather or not should people going to see the bird, have the right to ‘tick’ it. As it stands the British Ornithological Union (BOU) have no set criteria to what people can and can’t tick, so currently it is a case of your list, your rules. Personally as a man of ethics, the Stevenson Ivory Gull won’t be going onto my life list – why? Despite it being the best bird I have ever had the good fortune of seeing, it would have died if not taken into care. Therefore the bird is not in a fully wild state and for me, seeing a bird that otherwise would be dead if not taken into care doesn’t make the grade of mine, Andrews or Michael’s list.

Adult drake Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)

Adult female Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)

Proceeding a fruitful scan of the sea off Stevenson Point that produced Common Eider, Red-throated Diver, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser,Harbor Porpoise and Great Northern Diver, I headed inland in search of Greater Scaup. As Andrew said at the point, a well performing flock of ten Greater Scaup where present on the flood pool at Auchenharvie Golf Course which seemed to be a little oasis: Common Snipe, Tufted Duck, Common Goldeneye and European Stonechat, as well as a several darvic ringed European Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.

Afterwards, the rest of the day was spent checking the local harbor, sea watching with the Isle of Arron in the background whilst trying to collect the codes of darvic gulls a a meat processing centre. In short, an unforgettable and refreshing day out with a star bird and great company; you can’t really ask for much else.

Thanks for reading,

E.

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Elliot's Birding Diaries - An avian .. by Elliotsbirdingdiaries - 5M ago

Following trips to Spain and Brazil (posts to come) earlier in the year, the British Year List was somewhat behind others in which I am having a year listing competition with. The last few additions to the year list consisted of Iceland Gull and Bohemian Waxwing in Warrington whilst an afternoon a Parkgate proved more than productive with Water Pipit, Jack Snipe and the over-wintering Eurasian Bittern.

4cy Iceland Gull (L.g. glaucoides) – Warrington, Cheshire 30.01.2019

Based on the Wirral peninsula I am very fortunate to have the North Wales coastline on my door-step, which in winter is a magnet for seasonal birding. At the time of writing this post on the 6th of February there is Hawfinch, Snow Bunting, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Black Redstart, Rosy Starling, Long-tailed Duck and Red-necked Grebe scattered across the North Wales coastline. Given the number of species around including the resident specialties Red-billed Chough and Black Guillemot, a tour along the North Wales coastline isn’t something you can really turn down.

After kick starting the day with a 04:34 wake-up call, it wasn’t long till I arrived at my first port of call for the day just in time for the sun to light up another day on planet earth – Rhyl, the Liverpool of Wales. On a sub-zero arrival into the town a quick search for the wintering Black Redstarts round the seafront proved fruitless, however down stream on the River Clwyd the story was very different with 52 species (eBird list) in total including the wintering female Long-tailed Duck and a handful of Great Cormorant (ssp. sinensis). The latter according to eBird is a rarity to the area, though as it is with most cases of the taxa across Britain and Ireland, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was simply under recorded. Now Rhyl was done and dusted the choice simply remained between which to choose first between the Rosy Starling in Llandudno or the Red-necked Grebe at Bangor. The initial plan as most people would, Rosy Starling, though given the tide times and Toby Carter‘s urge for me to connect with his find, couldn’t say no – Red-necked Grebe.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)

After meeting Mr. Carter at the station who’s studying Environmental Conservation at Bangor University, we walked to the Pier to start the tour of Toby’s new patch. Shortly after arriving on site it took a couple of minutes to relocate the bird which haven showed well in the morning, proceeded to drift down the Menai Strait following some construction work on the pier, before Toby and I caught it bombing it up the channel once the workers had finished. I’d heard the bird was showing well, but nothing could have prepared me for the views Toby and I were treated to, utterly magnificent!

In addition to the Red-necked Grebe: Common Goldeneye, Rock Pipit, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Greenshank where also noted – eBird List.

Adult winter Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

Adult winter Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) – Image by Toby Cater

Statistics gathered by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) show that roughly 55 Red-necked Grebe winter in Britain waters each year, the majority of which are scattered along the east coast. Elsewhere, the species is an uncommon or winter visitor with a handful of the winter population over-summering and on occasion breeding as was the case in Scotland and Cambridge in 1988. Having seen Red-necked Grebe on several occasions in Lothian, Aberdeenshire and now Gwynedd, in Cheshire it’s a species I have yet to encounter. Records show that since the peak of their occurrence in Cheshire during the late 1970’s where 28 individuals were documented between 1975-1979 (Rare and Scarce Birds of Cheshire & Wirral’17), the species has been on a steady decline as it has been across its winter and breeding range.

Easily imagine a White-billed Diver, Spotted Sandpiper or Barrow’s Goldeneye showing up here someday.

Now with both Long-tailed Duck and Red-necked Grebe under the belt it was time to hitch the train down to Llandudo, to end the day on a Rosy Starling and finish with a hat-trick. Something that after an hour walking round the back alleys of this seaside town soon came about, as myself and two other observers eventually connected with the bird in the gardens along Victoria Street. If as the starling wasn’t enough then a scan of the waters in Llandudno Bay produced several new birds for the year with Great Northern Diver and Black Guillemot. Whilst overhead a flock Red-billed Chough calling was something to put a smile on any birders face and after that, it was time to pack the Viking gear away and call it a day.

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) with 2cy Rosy Starling (Pastor roseus)

In total the day trip featured 70 species, a good catch-up with an old friend and brought the year list up to 124 species; Tom and Tate, better watch out.

Thanks for reading,

E.

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After a few days in hospital, was glad to be back out on my feet and in the field. Currently a Common Loon has taken up residency at West Kirby, whilst a recent WeBS produced a handful of Purple Sandpiper at New Brighton. Elsewhere, Britain’s 9th Royal Tern showed it’s self up at Traeth Dulas, Anglesey. After picking up George Thomas, the pair of us headed up for a days touring of Anglesey.

Royal Tern twitch…

On arrival at Traeth Dulas with a crowd of twitchers including some familiar faces, it appeared that the Tern had done a runner; but despite the tern not showing we still had a good day. Common Loon and Red-throated Loon showed well off Traeth Dulas, whilst a short trip up the road brought us to the long staying female Lesser Scaup at Mynydd Mechell which showed a treat. Distant scope views with Tufted Duck and Common Goldeneye for company, but still a treasure and a species which I’ve been waiting a while to cross paths with species. My 327th British lifer and George’s 199th bird species of the year in Britain, she was an absolute beauty.

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

Following the Lesser Scaup and no sign of the Royal Tern, thought we’d try our best to get George his 200th British bird of the year. A scan of the RBA app showed there to be pretty much bugger all on Anglesey, Black Redstart, Common Loon and Slavonian Grebe was all that was on offer. So then, a short drive up to Bae Beddmanarch to attempt to bag Slavonian Grebe for George’s 200th bird. After a good half hour of patrolling the area, eventually we nailed a stonking Slavonian Grebe which a hysteric George happily announced as his 200th species for the year! In addition to the grebe, several Great crested Grebe were also in the bay with a Common Sandpiper, ‘pale-bellied’ Brent Geese, Common Greenshank, Mediterranean Gull and last but not least, the one and only Ken Croft! In all, a great days birding and twitching with some great birds and an upcoming star in the world of birding for company – happy days!

Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

Thanks for reading, E.

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Back on home turf today, so it’d rude not to drop by the marine lake at West Kirby for the Great Northern Diver on site. A description species to the waters of the Wirral peninsula, one mostly encountered off North Wirral in Liverpool Bay, though every so often inland records do occour in West Kirby and Birkenhead. The latter is a site which I’ve been fortunate to find two at during my years patching Birkenhead Docks.

Great Northern Diver/Common Loon (Gavia immer)

Unlike most birds that turn on inland sites, the bird which had taken up residency in West Kirby was an adult, with just a few minor reminiscence of its summer plumage. As do all divers, or loons for the non-British readers, do on the marine lake, the bird gave brilliant views with on three occasions down to five meters. As well as the Great Northern Diver (aka Common Loon), on the lake another site rare was also present, Little Grebe which remind distant.

Great Northern Diver/Common Loon (Gavia immer)

Thanks for reading,

E.

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We’ve all had it, going through the records and finding species we could have if we started off a year or so before we got in the game. For me growing up in the north west, that ranged from the likes of Caspian Tern, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, Ross’s Gull, White-tailed Lapwing and the list is endless…what it does include something called a Little Swift. The latter has the reputation of not being the most twitchable of species, so when news came through that the 30th record for Britain & Ireland popped at Hartlepool Headland, which isn’t a million miles away from where I am for uni, I had to hatch a plan.

1cy Little Swift (Apus affinis)

Thanks to Andrew Kinghorn, the birds roost was located which left me with two choices A). Get the first train down in the morning which would get me to Hartlepool for 0930, then followed up by an hours walk to the site, or B). Catch a nap then get the last train to Hartlepool, hope to see the bird roosting then stay up till the morning to gain better views. Well, those who know me will know that I’m not the most ordinary of folk, so I took the latter option. After all, have to be in it to win it.

1cy Little Swift (Apus affinis) 1cy Little Swift (Apus affinis)

Following the grand total of a three and a half hour journey, all at a total of £19, the sight I was greeted with was remarkable to say the least. Under the eves of a house on the headland of Hartlepool, Redwings calling overhead with the north sea eroding the shore line just meters away. Here I was, in the dark, alone watching a Little Swift asleep with the birds white rump being lit up by a nearby street light. What an experience, one of the most memorable twitches I’ve been on to date.

1cy Little Swift (Apus affinis)

Patrolling the area for the night recording for Noc Mig, it got till 0500 when the crowds started coming in: Austin Morely, Liam Andrew, Jacob Spinks, Tom Tams, Erik Ansell, Frank Goulding, Beth Clyne and Lucy McRoberts to name a few of the faces on site. It wasn’t till around 0730 that the bird departed from roost and spent several hours bombing it up and down the prom, slicing its way through the air at come moments no more than a few inches from observers.

1cy Little Swift (Apus affinis)

Sadly, no sign of the Pallid despite hearing a second hand report of it still being present. But when you’ve got a Little Swift, a flipping Little Swift that’s so close that you don’t even need optics to see the pale fringing to the upper and lower coverts that age it as a 1cy. That’s when you know you’re having a good day. At this point I should say hats off to Sam Viles the finder who when watching the Pallid Swift fly up one end of the prom, to only return back down with a Little Swift, he had the self find to last him a lifetime.

Thanks for reading,

E.

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A quiet evening in was disturbed when images emerge on twitter of a 1st winter male Pied Wheatear on the seawall of Meols, Cheshire! A first for the county and the first BBRC Wheatear sp. to occur on the Wirral peninsula following multiple Desert Wheatear in Lancashire and North Wales. Given it was a county tick I couldn’t afford to miss out on and I had my day off university, time for another trip back home to nail this stonking bird…and to collected a Eurasian Woodcock which had been blown out the sky by fireworks the night previous.

1st winter male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)

One of the best aspects of twitching is for me the socialisation of it. Indeed it was brilliant to meet up with some of the Wirral gang and a few faces I hadn’t seen in a while such as Eddie Williams, Jeff Clarke, Steve Hinde, Allan Conlin, Rob & Fiona Bithell and Bardsey’s very own Steve Stansfield. But this bird, it was something else! From the images that had been posted on Dee Estuary Birding, the bird seemed to be showing well. But on arrival it was just simply ridiculous, at one point when I was catching up with S. Stansfield it flew towards and landed several inches away from it, close enough to to pick up yourself! It’s the best bird I’ve seen in the county this year. But it’s a shame to hear that as I’m writing this report a small group of photographers have placed down meal worms in order to get ‘the views they want’, when there is no need for it. It’s worth mentioning that during the five hours I was on site, not a single person brought out or even suggested the ideal of putting out artificial food.

1st winter male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka) 1st winter male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)

On another note, it had been suggested by a few later on that this ‘Pied’ Wheatear, could infact be the much rarer ‘Eastern’ Black-eared Wheatear due to its boarder black tail band. But as much as I wish it was one, I’m afraid it’s not as the black tail band does fit within variation that is shown Pied populations and others features that are pro Pied include the black throat extending to the scaps and the base feathers to the mantle are black.

1st winter male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka) 1st winter male Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)

Once the rain front hit it was time to call it a day and head back home to collect a Eurasian Woodcock that had been taken out by fireworks, before getting the train back up to Carlisle in preparation for a full day of Uni.

Thanks for reading,

E.

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Following my talk at Bangor Bird Club ‘Cornell – The American Dream’, I did plan to head straight back up to Carlisle for Uni. However, as the trains where offline I had to re-book for the evening which meant I had a day to kill, and where else better than my old patch – RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands.

The day previously on the reserve had been fairly productive as a pair of Jack Snipe showed well from both Marsh Covert and Inner Marsh Farm, whilst a Water Pipit had been seen earlier in the day with a 1cy Hen Harrier bombing it right past Marsh Covert in the afternoon. However, today wasn’t quite the same. Walking into Reception there was no masses of gulls like there was yesterday, of which I picked four Med Gull, but a single adult Med Gull was still present. Having bumped into Tony on route to Marsh Covert we had our usual chat which concluded in that it seemed like a quiet day on the reserve…never judge a book by its cover.

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)

Having departed from Marsh Covert where only a pair of Ruff where present, which was when I saw a rather excited Keith Duckers and it soon transpired that there was one flipping good reason for him to be as excited as he was…BEARDED REEDLING!!! A pair had been heard and seen briefly at the Reed Bed Screen, but when I legged it up the trail to see them there they where, right out in the open, both male and female. Just simply one of the most remarkable birds I’ve seen this year and on the reserve its self!

Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus)

Bearded Reedling are as you can tell not something we get that often in Wirral and Cheshire. They’re a scarce irruptive visitor to the county (92 records to date), which have bred on two occasions, both at Neston Reedbed. Given that this pair have remained at the reserve for over a week, who’s to say that they won’t stay the winter and you never know, might breed. For a good ten minutes the pair performed superbly well for the crowd on site before departing to another part of the reserve out of view. After that, they were only seen once briefly in flight.

Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus) Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus)

Arriving back at the visitor centre to meet local Birder Andrea Thomas, bombed it down soon as I messaged her about the Reedlings, I was then stunned by something that just blew the Bearded Reedlings right out the water! Now, having been birding the Dee estuary for the last 4 years I’m used to seeing Hen Harrier, I’d safely call it the best place in the country to see them. But, in all that time the closest you’d get would be no more than 20 or 30 meters, if your lucky then might get them less than that! But out of nowhere a ringtail came in off the back of the scrapes and went in for the kill…Common Snipe was its choice. That in its self is enough to make anyone’s day, but when the harrier continued to head towards the hide having made the kill, not head to back of the scrapes to eat like the harriers usually do. That was when things began to hot up. Because it just coming closer, closer and closer until it no more than five meters in front of the hide and that was it landed in the vegetation on the Reception Pool. For me and the other observers who’d seen the Bearded Reedlings, despite them being a MEGA, a site first, showing brilliantly amongest other things.

1cy female Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) 1cy female Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) 1cy female Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

At this point Andrea’s son George arrived on site only to find out he’d just missed this incredible experience, gutted as you can imagine and well the day didn’t get much better either. There was no sign of the Water Pipit or Jack Snipes at either Marsh Covert or Inner Marsh Farm and despite giving it a good go, no more sign of the Bearded Reedlings. Despite all this every cloud has its silver lining and in this case it was when the day became a hat-trick. As not only did I have my best views of Hen Harrier and Bearded Reedling, but rounding it all was my best ever views yet of Merlin, Europe’s smallest Falcon.

1cy female Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) 1cy female Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

The female/immature bird popped up in a tree whilst I wasn’t looking which observers called, ‘HOBBY’! But being November I took a look myself through George’s scope and sure enough, pretty nice views of Merlin. Which moments after I set eyes on it through the scope, the bird departed and flew straight over our heads. HAT-TRICK! I’ve been visiting RSPB Burton Mere..

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Having nailed pretty much the last of my long lasting bogey-birds over the last year and a half, over the moon to pin down the last one, Gull-billed Tern. A species which I’ve dipped 4 times in the last 5 years, which most frustratingly has included the last several records for my home county, Cheshire.

1st winter Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica)

A pair of 1st winter Gull-billed Tern turned up at Hanson Quarry, Northumberland over two weeks ago. Though due to complications news was only released the last few days when I was back in Cheshire visiting Luke for a surprise Birthday. Thankfully the birds stuck about, which is unusual given the species reputation as a one day wonder. After catching the train to Hexham then a 3hr walk, the Terns where now in sight, making them the 323rd species of Bird I’ve seen in Britain.

1st winter Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) 1st winter Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica)

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