Saturday, 22 August 2015

A glance at Woolston Eyes

On my last day, Hazel and I went to her local reserve, Woolston Eyes, for a short visit (as my train home was booked for early afternoon). This permit-only reserve, which I visited in April, is famous for its breeding Black-necked Grebes. They're gone now but there were a few other nice things to see. The rain of the day before had finally abated but it was rather grey and cool with just the odd sunny spell.

On the way towards the main hide, I noticed this Honey-bee sitting on a leaf and furiously trying to clean white pollen off its head and thorax.

The source of this white pollen was Himalayan Balsam, a beautiful but invasive non-native plant which unfortunately has more than a foothold here. Clearing it while it's flowering can be counterproductive, as mature seed pods burst when lightly touched, hurling a new generation of seed in all directions.

Another pretty pink flower, but this one's a native. Rosebay Willowherb, pretty much looking its best at the moment.

And, enjoying a bit of willowherb nectar, an unidentified moth.

Another insect. This one I thought was the longhorn flower beetle Rutpela maculata, which I've seen before, but on investigation later I found that it was the fractionally rarer Leptura quadrifasciata.

 And so to the hide. We looked through the screen at the bottom first, and there was the Great White Egret that's been here a while. However, in between us seeing it down here and then climbing the stairs up to the hide proper, it flew off, and we didn't see it again.

 A small crowd of birds on the shoreline nearest us - three Black-tailed Godwits, a Teal and a juvenile Black-headed Gull.

Another juvvy Black-headed, this one screaming at an uninterested adult which may or may not be its mum or dad. Also on view from here (but distantly) were a Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper, plenty of Lapwings, and a scattering of Teals, Gadwalls, Shovelers and Mallards.

A Blackwit moving from A to B. What a gloomy day.

A few late Swifts drifted through.

We left the hide and wandered through the meadowy areas, now full of neck-high plants, including some sunflowers and some wheat, which are presumably planted here to provide winter food for songbirds. Pity it wasn't a prettier insect that posed on this wheat head.

HERE is a prettier insect, though she is starting to fray and fade at the edges - Meadow Brown.

One or two dragons appeared in the few sunny intervals. Here's the best I could do with this high-flying Migrant Hawker.

The walk back wasn't too eventful. We found a couple of Blue-tailed Damselflies.

And last of all, a Buzzard trying to gain height in skies that had gone back to cloudy grey.


Wednesday's walk was in the Peak once again, this time along the river Dove from Hartington village. It was a very pretty five- or six-mile route through the dale, and we had sunshine for most of the time we were out.

A juvvy male House Sparrow in the village.

We followed a footpath into fields and soon arrived at one of those little spots that was just bristling with birdlife - a row of three hawthorns with all sorts of things jumping about in them. I saw Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Blue Tit, Wren and, best of all, a female-type Redstart.

The Redstart actually struck a nice pose for me before flitting off to a nearby hedgerow. Shortly afterwards a Buzzard drifted over, meowing plaintively.

The path presently entered a very dark area of woodland, and descended to meet the river. It was in this very shady area that we found our first Dipper, sitting on a rock having a preen. I took a few max-ISO pics but they weren't up to much.

Things then opened out and the sunshine was back. As soon as we moved out from the tree cover, a big flock of Rooks came over. These two black-billed juveniles were in particularly high spirits.

The trail followed the river for some distance, while on either side steep hillsides rose, making our path very sheltered as well as very sunny.

View along the river. I switched lenses for a moment when we stopped to chat to a pair of seriously well kitted-out 'togs'.

This young Grey Wagtail permitted quite close approach.

A Grey Heron waiting on a rock halfway up the hillside, hoping we would go away quickly so it could get back to fishing the river.

There were a lot of Mallards in the river, many of them pristine-looking eclipse drakes like this one.

We then found a trio of Dippers, and I spent an age taking pics of one of them while H and M walked on. The light was tricky - now and then the bird would move into a sunny spot but most of its preferred hunting areas were shady. However, I can't argue with how confiding it was - some of my shots are barely cropped, it was so close.

Brilliant birds. You won't find many birders who don't have a soft spot for Dippers.

The dale was also full of insecs. Unfortunately both of these hoverfly pics are over-exposed, because I forgot to change settings back from what I'd used for some of the landscape pics, d'oh.

Insect of the day - a Dark Green Fritillary. This butterfly kept me busy for some time and weaving in and out of a surprised flock of sheep as it playfully refused to settle for more than a microsecond, but eventually I ran it to ground.

Compared to the delights of the riverside stretch, the return loop was not so good. The path left the river and meandered along shady valley-sides. We found more Redstarts, but these were less confiding. Also numerous Kestrels. I was impressed by the state of this one's tail - I think it must be a male born 2014 as it still has one juvenile-type tail feather in there.

It began to drizzle as we walked down a steep road to rejoin the village, and by the time we'd finished our lunch in the lovely cafe there, the rain had really set in and stayed that way for the rest of the day.

Dove Stone

On Tuesday, Mike, Hazel and I set out in lovely sunshine, which was gradually replaced by a brooding steel-grey sky as we headed east. We stopped at Stalybridge to collect Jason, and carried on past Greenfield and into the rolling greenness of the Peak District. I know parts of the Peak District quite well, having lived next to it for three years. However, Dove Stone was a first for me. This is an RSPB reserve on the west side of the Peak, and takes in low ground, high moor and a couple of reservoirs.

We parked up and, while the other three went to the coffee van for drinks, I photographed this perky Pied Wagtail, plus (badly) some of the Swallows and House Martins that were racing overhead.

We took the main trail up (and it is uphill all the way, though not that steep in most places) to Chew Reservoir. You start out in the base of a steep-sided dale, at first in woodland and then on open grassland, with a river rushing along beside you. Gradually you ascend way above the river and eventually up onto the heathery tops. It was an exhilarating climb, which took our minds off the lack of wildlife.

What we did see, bird-wise, was mostly distant or too quick for pics - the latter category including at least three separate flocks of noisy Siskins at the start of the walk. Climbing higher, we saw a pair of Ravens, and several Kestrels. At one point I scanned the river below and found a Grey Wagtail in it. In some stretches the pathside was full of flowers. I was pleased to find one of my favourite flowers among them - Orange Hawkweed - though didn't notice the little caterpillar on it til I processed the photo earlier today.

I'd presumed that the raptor hassling this Raven was a Kestrel, given that we'd just that minute walked past our fourth Kestrel... but on massively cropping the very distant pics I saw that it was in fact a juvenile Peregrine.

An actual Kestrel, close to the top of the trail, taking a breather on a big rock.

As we did the last steep bit of path to the reservoir, it began to rain. There had been no sign whatsoever of my main target, Mountain Hare. It was difficult to be all that cheery about things. However, the view over the reservoir and across the wild rough grassy moor all around was uplifting in a very wild and moorlandish sort of way.

The reservoir itself is rather small and, like a lot of these upland waters, devoid of birds actually ON it, but there were some birds around it - another Pied Wag, a few Meadow Pipits including this one, and a few Swallows. The moor around looked highly promising for Mountain Hares but the weather didn't. We turned around and headed back down.

We'd not been long on the return path when a flock of Red Grouse appeared on our side of the trail. They then flew across the valley. Here's my rather lame attempt to catch one in flight.

On the far side, they were really too distant for pics but here's a female posing in typical grousey habitat.

A separate flock of Red Grouse flew over the top of where flock 1 had landed, breaking the skyline which turned them into (photographable) silhouettes. I must say that it felt odd pointing my camera at these birds, so controversial because a small number of people are so keen to point guns at them. At least they will not be shot at here, and hopefully nor would any Hen Harriers that chose to settle here and breed.

A blurry noisy Goldfinch, tucking into thistledown amidst increasingly heavy rain. We reclaimed the car with some relief, had a rainy day picnic inside it, and then drove on to Binn Green, a nearby site where H and M had previously seen Crossbills.

Crossbills mean pine trees, and while we found no Crossbills we did find another pine tree bird, this Goldcrest. The feeding station here was empty of food but Hazel chucked some suet pellets onto the bird table and was rewarded almost instantly by several visiting Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins. But the rain just got heavier, and in the end we gave up and went off to a very nice pub for the rest of the afternoon.

By hometime the rain had stopped and the sun was out. I spent an hour or so before tea in H and M's wonderful big garden, taking pictures of waterlilies, a Coal Tit that really wanted to show off its badger-stripe, and a Robin toying with a mealworm.

Pennington Flash

Here's my first post of four, from a recent stay Up North with Hazel and Mike. On the first day, we visited Pennington Flash, a site in Greater Manchester based around a large open lake, in hope of catching up with a long-staying adult Sabine's Gull. When we arrived at the country park/nature reserve at about 12.30pm on Monday, we already knew that the Sab's hadn't been reported that day, and that this meant it had probably gone, based on its reliable showiness from first light to dusk in previous days. The weather was changeable (and really it stayed that way all week) - some sun, some cloud, some breeze.

These are not the gulls you're looking for. The first hide, overlooking the main flash, was the one from which the Sab's had regularly been seen, but all that was there today was a crowd of Black-headed Gulls.

The main flash is very big and populated by manky Mallards, Canada Geese, Great Crested Grebes, Mute Swans, Coots and Lesser Black-backs as well as plenty of Black-headeds. I also spotted a couple of Common Terns.

We followed the circular trail, which led us away from the main lake and its associated playgrounds, golf course, and masses of children. When the sun came out we saw insects, including a Southern Hawker that hovered at face height in front of each of us in turn, inspecting us, before resuming its circuit of a small clearing. A stay in a hide overlooking a pretty and petite lagoon should have produced a Kingfisher sighting (we heard it) but didn't. Instead we watched a family of Mute Swans drift slowly into view from a hidden corner of the lagoon, to join a motley crowd of moulting Teals, Gadwalls and Mallards.

The next hide, overlooking a marshy sheltered patch off the main flash, offered a bit more. A moulting Gadwall drake trotted across a low soggy-looking island, while more distantly were Shovelers and Teals. A Green Sandpiper was picking its way around the island shores, while a Grey Heron hunted nearer to the hide - another seven or so herons sat in hunched postures at the water's edge. A Mallard duck and her lone duckling turned up. There was a pair of Stock Doves feeding on another bit of shore and a Woodpigeon was flying back and forth with nesting material.

None of the other hides produced very much, with one notable exception. The Bunting hide looks out over an expansive and busy feeding station. The various tables and hanging feeders are interspersed with a range of nicely thought-out natural perches, and everything is VERY close to the hide windows, making this very much a photographer's hide (especially if they have the sense to use a zoom lens). Stuff seen here - let's see if I can remember... Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Robin, Dunnock, Jay, Magpie, Stock Dove, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon, Nuthatch. And a Moorhen. And a couple of Grey Squirrels. And, allegedly, there are also Willow Tits visiting here, which I'd loved to have seen, but none showed up during our quite lengthy stay here.

The light was none too clever but it was still very easy to fire off a few hundred shots here and get some quite nice ones. From the top - Bullfinch, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Great Tit, Jay, Nuthatch, and a nice blue-eyed baby Woodpigeon.

We got back to the start, and gave the first hide one more try, but now there were a couple of workmen busy strimming out on the shore in front of it and all birdlife had departed. (I mistyped 'strimming' as 'stripping' then. That would have been a lot more interesting.)

One last pic, from the main flash this time - a Coot showing off its awesome flight skills.

I am not sure if I've visited this place before. I have the idea that I HAVE, back when I was at uni, and that I saw a Long-eared Owl here. But I'm not sure, and nothing about this visit felt familiar. It's clearly a pretty good site - I'm sure a lot of good wildfowl shows up in winter, and that feeding station is, hands down, the best spot I've ever been to for that kind of photography. The departure of the Sabine's Gull - well, that's a bit of a shame (for me, good news for the gull though as it really did need to get on its way), but I'm still glad we came here.