Thursday, 19 March 2015

A gull sandwich

Three or four times a year I go up to Manchester to present to the Co-op on how good or bad their advertising was. The debrief on their Xmas advertising coincided with a spell of really nice weather and some nice birds around the North-west so I decided to make a trip of it.
I left the house at 04.15 on Wednesday and ploughed my way up the M40/ M6. It wasn't a great drive as it was pretty foggy but the lack of traffic helped and I was at my first stop by about 08.15. This was New Brighton which is along the coast from Liverpool. The target was a laughing gull which has been around for 3 or 4 weeks and is a UK, but not world, lifer for me. It was one of those typically glamorous locations for twitching - a rather scruffy looking boating lake with a Morrisons and Iceland on one side and some dodgy looking bingo parlour on the other.

Anyway, as I was on a tight time-line as I had to get to Manchester to do my presentation I didn't even bother with coffee but got my kit out and scanned the gulls. There were a lot of small and large gulls about but it wasn't too difficult to pull out the laughing gull.
You can see how it stands out against the black-headed gulls. This one is a juvenile bird and should be in the USA. Not a good first effort at migration!!
It first of all flopped off the rail onto the water
and then decied to come back and sit on the rail surrounding the lake. It let me get really close so you can get good detail on the key identification features - the giant black bill, long dark legs, sooty-grey mantle and the start of if its dark head, although still needs a bit of working on.

So, after grabbing a well deserved cup of coffee I said goodbye to my lifer and headed off to Manchester. In case anyone is interested the Co-ops Xmas campaign worked very well and even if I say so myself I was on fire presenting!!
Two o'clock had me on the road again. Next stop was in theory 45 minutes away at Burton Mere but Manchester seems to have a unique set of traffic lights designed to annoy the hell out of you! Anyway, by about 3.15 I got to the reserve. It is an RSPB wetland reserve and quite a new one. I was expecting something small but the car park had about 30 cars and there was nice visitor centre. In the centre was a very nice lady who gave me directions to what I had come to see - a long eared owl. One had been roosting for a few weeks almost in the open. It was straight-forward to get to, follow the path for about 20 minutes and look for the people with cameras. Indeed that was exactly what it was and the owl was sitting in the bush. However, I had forgotten to check my camera and hadn't noticed the battery was dead! So, I yomped back to the car and changed battery before yomping back again. Keeps you fit I suppose!!
The leo was still there, almost motionless in a hawthorn bush and totally ignoring everyone and not moving even when a train went past about 30 yards away . Not easy for photos as it was in deep shade but it was so motionless I still managed to keep a sensible ISO and slow speed.

Lovely bird and I stayed there about 30 minutes and saw it blink twice I think!! Seemed very unperturbed by everyone anyway.
A good day and from here I was taking Thursday off in Anglesey and so I set off to stay near South Stack at the Trearrdur Bay Hotel, which if anyone is round there is very good and perfectly located. A large gammon steak and red wine finished off a very good if tiring day!

Thursday dawned with a beautiful day. Totally still and clear and actually warm! First stop was South Stack which is famous for its choughs. These look superficially like crows but have long curved red bills for probing like a wader for grubs. They are birds now limited to the Welsh and Cornish coasts. I got to the car park and got my gear out and was looking around the cliffs wondering where would be the best place to find them - by the cliffs, on the tops, in the rocks???
The answer was, on top of the telephone post behind me!!
Two of them were sitting just warming up in the sun. Basically they sat there for 20 minutes. I got right underneath them and they totally ignored me. So, not great photo wise but they are lovely birds.

Elsewhere on the reserve the seabird colony was in full swing. Guillemots and razorbills packed the cliffs together with fulmars and kittiwakes. Shags were on the rocks. In the gorse, meadow pipits and stonechats were all in full song. It was a truly beautiful place and a totally gorgeous day.

After chilling for a bit and watching the world go by I set off my next stop, Cemyln Bay. The target was a lapland bunting but it hadn't been seen the day before so I wasn't hopeful. It took me about 30 minutes to hop across the island. The weather was getting better and better and by the rime I got there it was not even jumper-on temperature. The bay is quite small and not much was around. The bunting had gone, confirmed by a local birder who said it was almost eaten by a whippet two days ago!! Aren't dog walkers wonderful.
There were a few waders around, including purple sandpipers and grey plovers. oystercatchers and ringed plovers.
One nice bird was my first wheatear of the year. I also got a possible otter in the bay but it disappeared never to be seen again, almost certainly therefore proving it was an otter!!!
My final stop on the way home was along the Welsh to Pensarn where an iceland gull was showing well.This is one of the "white-wingers" recognised by the lack of black in their wings. They stand out even at distance as being very different to the other gulls and are gulls more of the high arctic and occur in the UK in winter.
Again it was still perfect weather and the sea was almost glassy. The gull was sitting in a rather scruffy carpark!! Just like it's cousin the day before it as really confiding. Most of the time it was just sitting on the pebbles on the beach.

You can see the typical look of the bird - very pale, brown mottling on the back and wings, pink legs and crucially totally white wing tips. The only confusion species is glaucous gull but they are real brutes like greater black-blacks and this is more like a small herring gull.
When not on the beach it came into the car park to drink out of a rather horrid looking puddle.

You could get very close, a lot of the time with my 500mm lens you had to back off! Eventually it would get bored with you though and fly off, but only a few yards, although that did give you the chance to see see it in flight.

Elsewhere there was a very large scoter flock offshore, a few hundred birds at least. They were so far out you couldn't make out if there were and velvet scoters amongst them.

A really good two days. One lifer, ten new birds to the year list taking me to 158, some cracking photo opportunities and all in beautiful weather. What more can you want!!