Visit to Anglesey, Mon 3 July 2017

Herring gulls on the battlements of Beaumaris Castle

Finally set off for a birding trip to Anglesey with my friend Mags, after a couple of aborted attempts owing to poor weather. In fact it didn’t look that great as we left, but it turned out fine, and we completed our mission of visiting Puffin Island (by boat) and South Stack, seeing birds, wild [land-based] mammals (a hare and a rabbit) and marine life (seals, porpoises and [bottlenose] dolphins. A great day.

The two points we visited are on opposite sides of Anglesey

Our first point of call was Beaumaris, where Mags sussed out some of the shops while I wandered along the promenade. I expected to see gulls ands oyster catchers, but was surprised to see shelducks (apparently common there) and even a little egret wading in the  sea water.

Oyster catcher on the shore at Beaumaris

Black sheep of the family? Black-backed gull, surrounded by Herring gulls.

Unexpected shelduck, apparently quite common in Beaumaris

Poor picture, but I did see mergansers out to sea

Black-headed gull, starting to shed its summer plumage

And wandering around the waterside were other birds that don’t get their feet wet:

A jackdaw seeing what he can scavenge from the beach

A couple of young starlings enjoying the morning sunshine.

We set sail for Puffin Island and fortunately the sea was reasonably calm, so the Quell I had taken proved to have been unnecessary. I say the sea was calm, but all is relative – it was certainly not what a photographer would wish for as we dropped and rose into the troughs and crests of the sea.

Porpoises, accompanying our catamaran as we left Beaumaris

As we sailed towards Puffin Island we saw both porpoises (near Beaumaris) and bottlenose dolphins (near Puffin Island), in different places as apparently they don’t get on too well together. It’s very hard to take pictures of these marine creatures as they come out of nowhere very suddenly, and you’re lucky if you have your camera even pointing in the right direction, let alone managing to focus it. Above, a couple of porpoises; we saw dolphins aplenty, but never managed to get the camera on them.

Who could fail to be moved by this loveable grey seal?

What we did see was seals, and lots of them, lazing around the rocks of Puffin Island, and keeping company with large numbers of sea birds: guillemots, razorbills, puffins (obviously), shags, cormorants, etc.

Guillemots floating on the sea around Puffin Island

A couple of cormorants sharing the rocks with the seals and other birds

Gulls circled incessantly overhead, this one a lesser black-backed

A short walk back to the car in Beaumaris, and a final encounter with a young mallard:

A pathetically cute mallard chick swimming in the moat of Beaumaris Castle

And so we set off to South Stack, on the other side of Anglesey, on Holy Island. Our aim was to see Choughs (a lifer for me), and it was a repeat journey as the last time I had been there the mist and fog had been so thick I could barely see my own feet.

Choughs on the cliff tops at South Stack

There are not very many places in the UK where you can see choughs, but here on South Stack they are plentiful as the ground is ideal for their foraging style.

Razorbills on the cliffs at South Stack

Close-up of a Herring gull at South Stack

We had come to South Stack with the hopes of seeing certain birds; choughs (of course), ravens, rock pipits, stonechats and linnets were on the top of our list. We saw all of these (except the rock pipit, which we certainly heard) but only managed to photograph a few:

A juvenile raven flew over South Stack

A pipit, but sadly a meadow pipit and not a rock pipit

Poor photo, but just identifiable as a linnet in flight

And a bunny to boot:

Rabbit frozen to the path, in the misguided belief no one can see him as long as he stays still

So, a lovely day, with a curious epitaph. We stopped for a bite to eat in Holyhead on the way home. The light had more or less gone, but as we got out of the car we saw a rook, calmly strutting his stuff around the car park. 

The implication of this is that on one day we had seen all the English corvids: crow, rook, raven, jackdaw and chough. No hooded crows, but for that we’d have to go to northern Scotland or Ireland.

Flamborough Head, 4 June 2017

Two fulmars and a puffin at Flamborough Head

I visited Flamborough Head last Sunday with the Stockport RSPB Club. We visited the headlands near the old lighthouse, and then went up to the North Landing. It was a beautiful day, mostly sunny with a light breeze, and it was nice to get out of the city for the day

There are two lighthouses at Flamborough, the older (below) being the reconstructed chalk tower and the other a more recent construction.

The chalk tower near Flamborough Head. Built in 1669, this is the oldest surviving complete lighthouse in England

The chalk cliffs are home to a number of regular visitors and residents: mostly guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins. It is also on a main migratory route, so at certain times of the year you may see pretty much anything, especially if mist and fog forces unexpected landings. No little skuas recently, for that you need to go further north.

We saw four or five seals: it’s very hard to tell them apart in the water, so these are either common seals (Phoca vitulina) or grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). I’d plump for the common ones,  but what do I know?

We saw all the expected sea species: a selection below.

Juvenile fulmar flying over the calm water

Kittiwakes nesting on the cliffs at Flamborough

A razorbill, perched rather precariously on the cliff edge

A few more puffins

And we also saw a few land birds around the headland:

A meadow pipit (aka Mipit), in all his splendour …

A male chaffinch surveying all he owns …

And a rather forbidding jackdaw pausing between meals …

All in all, a very pleasant day spent with my new friend Mags and other good people at the Stockport RSPB.

A day at RECS, Wed 11 Dec 2017

Whenever I am in the city of Buenos Aires I like to take a trip to the Reserva Ecológica in the Costanera Sur (aka RECS). January visits are usually a bit hot and sticky, but on this occasion I was lucky: not only was the temperature a reasonable 24ºC but there was also a decent wind blowing.

Roseate Spoonbill (Sp. Espátula Rosada, Platalea ajaja)

I was lucky with the birds I saw too. You never know quite what you’re going to see at RECS, but I certainly wasn’t expecting a Spoonbill! Apparenty there are several around at the moment – this one was actually visible from the promenade outside the reserve.

Southern Screamer (Sp. Chajá, Chauna torquata)

I don’t recall having seen Southern Screamers in RECS before either, but as I said you’re never quite sure what you’ll see there. These two were also in the front lagoon, visible from the Promenade.

White-faced Whistling-Duck or White-faced Tree-Duck (Sp. Sirirí Pampa, Dendrocygna viduata)

I’ll let the remainder of the photos speak for themselves. They are only a small selection; I didn’t keep count, I very rarely do, but I must have seen 50-60 species in the five or so hours I was there. RECS really is a great place to while away a few hours when in the Capital.

Green-barred Woodpecker (Sp. Carpintero-Real Común, Colaptes melanochloros)

Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Sp. Chiricote, Aramides cajaneus)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Sp. Garza Bruja, Nicticorax nicticorax)

Great Egret (Sp. Garza Blanca, Ardea alba)

Snowy Egret (Sp. Garcita Blanca, Egretta thula)

Giant Wood-Rail (Sp. Ipacaá, Aramides ypecaha)

Muscovy Duck (Sp. Pato Real, Cairina moschata)


Anahí and the Ceibo tree

The Ceibo or Seibo tree with its beautiful red blossom was declared the national flower of Argentina on the 24th November, 1942. This Guarani story tells of where the Ceibo came from.

On the shores of the river Paraná there once lived an ugly old woman called Anahí. Ugly she might have been, and old she certainly was, but she was much loved in the tribe and still sang with the voice of an angel. In the summer evenings she would often delight her tribe with her songs; songs of the tribe, of the gods and of the land in which they lived. Life was plain and uncomplicated, and good for her and her people.

And then one day the white people arrived and took away their lands, their gods, their freedom. Many of the tribe, including Anahí, were taken captive, and spent several days locked up while their captors decided what to do with them.

Anahí did not lose hope and bided her time, keeping her eyes open for any chances of escape. Her luck came when one of her guards had had too much to drink and fell asleep close to the bars of her cage. Anahí was able reach the keys which he had hanging on his belt and she used these to free herself. As she opened her cell door and tiptoed to freedom the guard was lying on the floor, moaning and groaning in his sleep.

He must have noticed her, because he suddenly started shouting and the noise alerted other white men, who came to investigate. Anahí could hear the sound of voices and footsteps approaching, and although she had wanted to free the other prisoners she felt this was not now an option, and that it was better to get away while she could and see later what she could do to help the others.

Anahí hobbled out of the prison and stumbled through the prison garden, through the fields, through the woods, across streams, until she reached the thick forest. Tired and frightened, she rested there. But luck was against her; the white men had brought dogs who could smell her presence. They took little time to find her, and the men dragged the old woman to a clearing where they tied her to a thorny old bush.

Some soldiers gathered dry wood and built up a pyre around Anahi’s legs. The wood was slow to burn but eventually the fire took, and flames began to encircle the poor old woman and then climb up her frail body.  This was to be her fate.

What happened next was a miracle. As she stood there, unconscious, her aged body sagging against the ropes and her head twisted to one side, her limbs slowly began to meld into the tree which she was tied to, and the two became one.  And the bush did not burn, in fact it seemed oblivious to the fire, or rather it seemed to relish the flames as it grew greener and stronger.

The flames slowly died out as all the wood the soldiers had gathered was consumed, and there, in the place where a wizened old thorn bush had propped up Anahí’s body, had sprung to life the most magnificent tree, in full green bloom and all ablaze with bright red flowers. The shrivelled bush and the ugly old woman had fused into a beautiful, colourful tree that before long, with help from the birds and animals, multiplied itself and can be found today throughout the land.

Trip to Chile, 19-21 December 2016

I took four days off to visit Chile, scheduling two nights on the Pacific coast and one in the Parque Nacional Puyehue. On the Pacific coast I stayed at Bahía Mansa (visiting the uncommercialised villages of Pucatrihue, Maicolpue and Trill Trill). On the third night I stayed on the shores of Lago Puyehue, within striking distance of the entrance to the National Park at Aguas Calientes.

The weather was absolutely appalling, with only occasional patches of viable light. Using these I managed to get a few shots, but only two lifers: the choroy (slender-billed parakeet), Enicognathus leptorhynchus, and the remolinera araucana (Dark-bellied Cinclodes), Cinclodes patagonicus.

Adult and juvenile Southern Pudu, Puda puda

On the first day I had the good luck to see a couple of Pudu, the smallest deer in the world. Apologies for cruddy photo: I was so excited when I saw them, and had so little time to grab a shot that I forget that I had been shooting video and didn’t reset the camera to photo – result, very artistic but not very clear. It wasn’t helped by heavy rain either.  I was very lucky to see these creatures; they are classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List and are not at all easy to find.

carancho (Southern Caracara) Caracara plancus

The first set of photos is from the coast. I’m not too sure why this carancho is paddling around on the shoreline; perhaps he has aspirations to become a wader.

garza blanca (Great Egret) Ardea alba

ostrero negro (Blackish Oystercatcher) Haematopus ater)

Playero Trinador trinador (Whimbrel) Numenius phaeopus

cabecita negra austral (Black-chinned Siskin) Spinus barbata

golondrina patagonica (Chilean Swallow) Tachycineta meyeni

jote cabeza negra (Black Vulture) Coragyps atratus

The weather in the Puyehue National Park was pretty much unforgiving. I did drive up to a volcanic crater but it was cold, wet and misty, with little to see. A highlight was at the bridge on the way in, where I saw a family of torrent ducks working their way down the river.

pato de torrente (Torrent duck) Merganetta armata

Although I was familiar with the Austral Thrush I had not seen such splendidly coloured juveniles before.

zorzal patagonico (Austral Thrush) Turdus falcklandii)

choroy (slender-billed parakeet) Enicognathus leptorhynchus

remolinera araucana (Dark-bellied Cinclodes) Cinclodes patagonicus

paloma araucana aka chilena (Chilean Pigeon) Patagioenas araucana

Finally, as I was leaving, I saw a delicately woven humming birds nest – a slim canister in a place that was very hard to get a lens into – it’s amazing how these tiny little things already have the long beaks they will need to feed themselves. They are the picaflor rubí (Green-backed Firecrown), Sephanoides sephanoides

Despite the weather, it had been a worthwhile trip.

In retrospect: trip to Argentinian Central Sierras, September/October 2016

In September and October 2016 I combined giving talks at the Argentine English Teachers’ [FAAPI] Conference in San Juan and the South American Bird Fair in San Isidro, Buenos Aires with a thirty day road trip through much of central Argentina. I drove through the provinces of Neuquén, Mendoza, San Luis, San Juan, La Rioja, Córdoba, Santa Fé, Buenos Aires and La Pampa.

Lifers from trip

I seem to have photographed 147 different species, 22 of these being lifers. I certainly saw quite a few more which I didn’t or couldn’t photograph. I include the lifers only for the record.


14 March, 2016 – Pennington Flash

I revisited Pennington Flash with only two hours available, so divided my time between the Bunting Hide (with feeders) and the Teal and Tom Edmondson hides (for water fowl).

The Bunting hide was lavish in its food offerings, with perhaps the cheekiest little bird being this cute long-tailed tit.


Long-tailed Tit

In fact there were lots of these tiny little birds – they really are delicate little things, and very attractive.

160315 long tailed tits 4 Pennington Flash

Long-tailed Tits on feeder

Food tables were also well attended:

160315 blackbird Pennington Flash

Blackbird (male)

160315 bullfinch m&f Pennington Flash

Pair of bullfinches (male at left)

And even a moorhen had hopped onto a food table

160315 moorhen on bird table Pennington Flash

Moorhen, unusually at food table

Other passerines were around the feeding area: chaffinches …

160315 chaffinch f Pennington Flash

Chaffinch (female)


Chaffinch (male)

… a nuthatch …

160315 nuthatch Pennington Flash


.. a cheeeky reed bunting …

160315 reed bunting m 4 Pennington Flash

Reed Bunting (male)

… and a Blue tit.

160315 blue tit Pennington Flash

Blue Tit

Water fowl seen included: shovellers

160315 shoveller m&f 2 Pennington Flash

Male and female shovellers

… teal …

160315 teal Pennington Flash

a teal

.. and, skulking in the undergrowth, a water rail …

160315 water rail 3 Pennington Flash

Water Rail (half hidden}

… who eventually revealed himself

160315 water rail Pennington Flash

Water rail out in the open

Finally, as I was leaving, I saw a male gadwall swimming on the big lake at the entrance.

160315 gadwall m Pennington Flash

Gadwall (male)


21 February, 2016 – Tophill Low

I went with the Stockport local RSPB group to Tophill Low, south of Scarborough on the Eastern Yorkshire coast. It was a pleasant outing but very overcast and it rained all day. In between the rain showers I was able to take one or two photos.

tophill Low

Tophill Low nature Reserve

This was a mixed site – woodland and wetland – but I only really saw water birds. Here’s a male goldeneye taking to the skies.

160221 golden eye 2 Tophill Low

Goldeneye taking to the air

And here again, with a lady friend

160221 male and juv female golden eye Tophill Low

Male and juv female Goldeneye

A Greylag Goose, one of many we saw ..

160221 greylag goose Tophill Low

Greylag goose

Plenty of curlew around today …

160221 curlew Tophill Low

Curlew at the water side

The highlight of the day was a pair of scaup on one of the reservoirs – we knew they were there, but were also –with the aid of spotting scopes– actually able to find them. Here’s a male scaup quacking up a storm about something.

160221 scaup m (foreground) & f Tophill Low

Scaup in the distance

There were plenty of teal on the water – here are a few on a mudbank, with other assorted ducks and swans.

160221 teal (Anas crecca) Tophill Low

Mixed waterfowl on a mud bank – mainly teal

Swans a plenty too – here’s a Mute Swan cygnet from last year in juvenile plumage and black beak.

160221 mute swan juv 2 Tophill Low

A juvenile mute swan

And to finish off, a bit or mallard woohoo – clearly they thought it was spring already.

160221 mallard woohoo Tophill Low

A pair of mallards engaged in a little woohoo

18 February – RSPB Leighton Moss

It was a sunny day and I decided to take the train up to Silverdale, to visit RSPB Leighton Moss. I spent a few hours there and took one or two pictures (see below).

Nothing special, and this is just a photographic record of the some of the birds I photographed on this day (I saw many more species which I did not record).

160218 great tit RSPB Leighton Moss

Great Tit

160218 black-tailed godwit RSPB Leighton Moss

Black-tailed Godwit (in foreground) with Redshank in rear

160218 black-tailed godwit 3 RSPB Leighton Moss

Again, Black-tailed Godwit (in foreground) with Redshank in rear. This time the Godwit has something to say for himself.

160218 redshanks 10 RSPB Leighton Moss


160218 redshanks 34 RSPB Leighton Moss

Redshank again

160218 marsh tit 2 RSPB Leighton Moss

Marsh Tit

160218 marsh tit RSPB Leighton Moss

Marsh Tit again

160218 tufted duck 12 RSPB Leighton Moss

Tufted ducks on the prowl – the second from the right is a bit manky, probably a hybrid.




Martin Mere, 29 January 2016

As always, click on a photo to see in slide format, or scroll down for normal view.

My first birding outing back in the UK was to Martin Mere, near Southport. I suppose the plat du jour was the recently hatched Grey-crown Crane:

160129 grey crowned crane juv Martin Mere

Juvenile Grey-crowned Crane, Martin Mere

Here’s a reminder of what mother crane looked like, with a close up below of the colourful plumage.

150807 Grey-crowned crane 2 Martin Mere

Grey-crowned crane – adult

160129 grey crowned crane feathers Martin Mere

detail of feathers, grey crowned crane

Here’s a Northern Pintail – looking crisp as the weather I experienced on this visit …

160129 northern pintail Martin Mere

Northern pintail

… and a few friends from Argentina, first the Southern Screamer …

160129 chaja Martin Mere

Southern screamer

and below, the Chilean Flamingo …..

160129 chilean flamingo 2 Martin Mere

Chilean flamingo

… and finally some Muscovy Ducks.

160129 muscovy ducks 2 Martin Mere

Muscovy ducks

Moving outside the collections area, I didn’t stay very long on this visit as I mistimed train connections, but I did attend feeding time for the Whooper Swans, a main feature of Martin Mere. Below a close-up.

160129 whooper swans 1 Martin Mere

Whooper Swans

160129 whooper swan 2 Martin Mere

Whooper Swan, close up

Other wild birds I saw included a snipe  about his business …

160215 snipe 2 Martin Mere


A glorious robin singing his heart out ….

160215 robin Martin Mere


A shelduck …

160215 common shelduck Martin Mere

Common Shelduck

A greenfinch …

160215 greenfinch Martin Mere


Quite a few reed buntings

160215 reed bunting female Martin Mere

Reed Bunting (female)

160215 reed bunting male Martin Mere

Reed Bunting (male)

And, back on the shoreside, a lapwing

160215 lapwing Martin Mere

[Northern] lapwing

A grey Heron …

160215 grey heron Martin Mere

Grey Heron

And a ruff, sadly not in breeding plumage but I’ll be back!

160215 ruff 4 Martin Mere