Saturday, 27 February 2010

Formby & Marshside

A 100+ mile round trip to a couple of my favourite haunts proved more than a little bit disappointing today.
If you were to believe the weatherman and unusually I did today, then this part of North West England was just about the only part of the country to be promised long periods of sunshine!

My first stop of the day was Formby Point, where the first couple of hours were spent on a fruitless search for the last remaining Red Squirrels, which although said to be making a slow recovery from the devastating Squirrel Pox Virus, numbers could be as low as 40.

It really is a heartbreaking situation in one of the last remaining 'strongholds' for the species in England and the speed that the disease has spread is frightening.
Here is a photograph I took of a Red at Formby in late March 2008...

On that day, there were dozens of Squirrels seemingly in good health, all around the pine woodland.
I returned in February 2009 and on that cold winter's day the situation looked dire, with notices posted around the site and wardens telling me that no Squirrels had been seen for weeks.

I suppose you have to put your faith in the experts when they say things are improving at Formby, but after visiting the site on a number of occasions in happier times and witnessing the situation twice as it is in the last 12 months, I can't help feeling no small amount of despair at the plight of the Formby Red Squirrel.

My quota of the promised sunshine was used up in the heavily shadowed pine woods at Formby and by the time I had walked the woodland path to the sand dunes and the sea beyond any evidence of clear blue Sky's were long gone!
Coastal bird life was very quiet...Small groups of Oystercatcher and Knot passing overhead looked unremarkable against the dark grey Sky's.
On the shore I was expecting to see Sanderling and Dunlin at least, but had to settle for the odd Herring and Black Headed Gull.
I wasn't overly optimistic when I got in the car and headed up the coast to Marshside on the southern tip of the Ribble Estuary.

Marshside is perhaps my favourite RSPB Reserve and has been good to me over the years, but sometimes you just get that feeling that it's not going to be your day...
Large numbers of wildfowl were as usual present at Marshside, but rather frustratingly from a photography point of view the birds seemed to favour the far reaches of the Mere!
Teal and Wigeon were in abundance, but these birds which would be regarded as 'prize spots' at my local patch are as common as Mallards at this time of the Year in this part of the world.

As I've mentioned before, my 'buzz' is to get the photograph and although it was a pleasure to see a distant Merlin 'raise' large flocks of wildfowl far across the Mere, I still left Marshside on a bit of a downer.
When in this part of the country, I usually always visit Martin Mere as well as Marshside...These two great sites are only a few miles apart, but as the grey sky's became heavier, the first drops of rain fell and already very cold from a biting sea breeze, I decided to call it a day.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Today, the plan was to have another attempt at the Mountain Hares in the High Peak, but once again I was foiled by the weather!
Light overnight snow locally and a forecast of fog and heavy snow in the Peaks were enough to make my mind up.
It's been very frustrating lately...Just when you think it's safe to make plans, this very hard winter bites back at you!

I probably won't get another chance to get up into Derbyshire again for a couple of weeks...Weather permitting, I'm off on a couple of trips to Merseyside next weekend and I'm also hoping to get some more shots of the Little Owls if we have some sunshine in the next few days.

So just a short walk down the Vale in the snow this morning and despite the weather, there was plenty of activity in the hedgerows...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

County Listings

Reddish Vale has come up trumps this year for visiting species of wildfowl...So far we've had Shoveler, Wigeon and today Pochard stopping off.
OK, not mega rare birds granted, but still very important birds for the County Lister's to record and not very common for Stockport!

When I spotted today's Pochard, I immediately sent a text message to John Rayner, who has volunteered to take on the task of listing the Boroughs birds this year.
I had promised to let John know of any unusual sightings on my local travels and he soon arrived at the Vale to take a look at the new arrival.

Although I've always been very passionate about birds, I've never been one for keeping lists and counting different species...For me the 'buzz' is about getting a decent photograph and being outdoors with nature.
I do however admire the work that folk like John do very much and I'm fully aware of how important it is.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Little Owl

After my trip to the Vale this morning, I drove back towards my home and decided to go on another recognisance mission to spot the Little Owls.
After the cold start to the morning, I figured that there was a good chance of seeing one today because I know they like to sun themselves on the farmhouse rooftop!

After parking the car, I set off on the half mile or so walk down the farm track and on arrival at the farmhouse looked up to see that the missing chimney pot had been replaced by something much more pleasing to the eye...

I mentioned yesterday that I have planned a couple of projects for the year...

Project 2 is something that can only take place in the spring and summer months because it involves migrant birds...That's all you're getting for now, but all will become clear when the time comes!

Project 1, I can reveal is something that will be ongoing throughout the year and possibly longer...I have set myself the challenge of finding and photographing every species of Owl in the Greater Manchester Borough of Stockport...My local patch as it were!

Quite a daunting task really and I'm not 100% sure how many species there are in Stockport, although I'm confident that there are at least four. I'm not going to settle for 'record' shots, I really would like to get some very nice detailed images of the Owls, so this is why I think it's going to be quite a long adventure.

A request for your help please...

Now I have found a good site for the Little Owls, I'm fairly confident that I'll be able to tick them off the list in the next month or so.

However, I'd be very grateful to hear from any local residents who know of any Owl sites in the Stockport area.

Actually, not just Owls...I'd love to hear about any interesting wildlife such as Foxes, Badgers and of course any unusual bird sightings.

You can reach me via the contact page of my website...

*Reports of sensitive species will of course be treated in the strictest confidence.

Many thanks


On Golden Pond

A misty, frosty start gave way to beautiful morning sunshine providing the kind of light that

photographers dream of today at Reddish Vale.

Today's forecast was for cloud, but I've always been one for just getting up early and judging for myself how I think the weather will turn out...This morning, the lack of cloud and crisp frost were obvious signs that it was going to be a great morning to be out with the camera!

Two new Mute Swans seemed to have settled very nicely now at the Vale...Although sadly this seems to be at the expense of the recently orphaned Pen which had returned alone after a short absence last week.

The poor young bird was nowhere to be seen today and I learned earlier in the week that the new arrivals had 'seen her off' a couple of times, only for her to return...I guess the aggressive and very natural behaviour of the newcomers and particularly the Cob finally got the better of our young Pen and she has left for good.

Another piece of worrying news from the Vale is a Kingfisher sighting I made on January 10th may have been the last reported sighting of these beautiful birds at Reddish...The harsh winter may well have taken it's toll on this local stronghold.
I'm praying that the birds have moved a little further down river and will return once their favoured feeding areas are ice free.

My favourite place to photograph at the Vale is the smaller of the two main Mill Ponds because when conditions are right and the sun is rising in the morning sky, you get this incredible golden glow across the water at one end of the pond.
Sometimes however, there simply aren't the birds there to take advantage of these conditions so it can be frustrating waiting for something other than a Coot or Mallard to show.

This morning I was hoping one or two of the very shy Goosander would come into range of my lens, but as usual they stayed at the far bank only occasionally moving tantalizingly towards me before heading back to their safety zone.

One bird that didn't let me down though was one of my favourites, the Tufted Duck.
I have always found Tufted Ducks engaging little creatures and I can watch these birds for hours whilst they dive repeatedly underwater for food.
They really are very beautiful looking things too...

I mentioned Mallards earlier in the post and reading back, I don't want to give the wrong impression...I absolutely love these very common ducks and just like the humble Robin, I can never resist the opportunity of photographing them...

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Flying Visits

A prior family commitment made short my time for birding today, but I still managed a couple of flying visits to sites close to my home, late this afternoon.
Not the most pleasant of days weather wise with dark grey skys and the ever present threat of rain, but I really wanted to check out a sighting I had made Wednesday evening...
The sighting in question was of a rare visitor to these parts the Barnacle Goose.
This lone bird flew into Etherow Park about a week or so back and he seems to have made himself at home.

How long the new arrival will stick around for is anybodies guess, but Etherow has a habit of attracting unusual species of wildfowl and many of them decide to stay for good.

My other stop today was at a location even closer to my home which is home to a pair of Little Owls.

This pair show very well some days and not at all others...Today unfortunately was the latter!

These little Owls are to be the first species of a little project I've set myself for the year...In fact I've set myself two bird related challenges this year and I shall post the details of both at a later date!

Although disappointed at not seeing the Owls today, the walk back across the fields did provide pretty decent views of a group of 3 Lapwing who were digging around in the mud for morsels.

Always nice to see Lapwing in their traditional farmland habitat...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Winter Sunshine

I've been a bit busy today, but managed a quick trip down to Reddish Vale at first light.
After the tragic death of the Cob Swan last week I wanted to pay a visit and see how his orphaned Pen was getting on...Sadly she was nowhere to be seen.
I was told earlier this week that two new Swans had visited and the young Pen who had been very distressed since the loss of her father, seemed to get on very well with the new arrivals.
Although the two left alone that day, I'm thinking perhaps they returned and the Pen decided to take off with them.

It was still a little dark for photography when I first arrived at the Vale, so I had a walk around the Mill Ponds to see what was about...13 Goosander, 16 Tufted Duck and a pair of Wigeon were the highlights.
The promise of winter sunshine had brought out quite a few Anglers and as the sun came up, I knew this was bad news for me and my hopes of capturing some of the notoriously shy Goosanders!
The light was beautiful at times and despite being a little disappointed about the Goosander, I made the most of it by photographing a few of the more common residents...

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A Sad Goodbye To An Old Friend

I learned with great sadness today about the death of a Cob Mute Swan at one of my local patches Reddish Vale.
The bird had been shot through the eye with an air weapon last week and tragically had to be put down a couple of days later.
Words fail me when I think about the kind of poor excuse for a human being that could carry out such a vile and barbaric act.

I had grown to love this particular Swan over the last few years...He really was quite a character and I photographed him on many occasions.

Worryingly this isn't the first shooting of this kind at the Vale...One of a breeding pair of Great Crested Grebes was killed last spring and I hoped that was to be an isolated incident.
I am told by Phil Kinsey who runs the Reddish Vale website that the Police are taking the death of the Swan very seriously and the local media are showing a great interest in the story...I'm just praying that a conviction is made because I feel very strongly that there is not enough emphasis on wildlife crime in the UK.

Phil has posted a report along with some poignant photographs here...

For more information about wildlife crime and how to report it, please visit...