Monday, 21 February 2011

Ain't no sunshine...

I’ve always wanted to see WWT London Wetland Centre, but a visit there yesterday on a grey and drizzly day with the Bedford RSPB Group turned out to be disappointing - for a number of reasons.

Actually, although I mention the weather, that wasn’t one of them – it hardly ever bothers me. The whole day just wasn’t how I’d expected it to be. For one thing, the Centre was smaller than I’d imagined and, with an emphasis on catering for families, was also very busy – basically an urban park with a bird collection and a few areas of water.

However, on a more positive note there were birds to be seen, including Ring-necked Parakeets [with this slightly fluffed-up male showing why they’re also called Rose-ringed Parakeets]

… and Lapwings

… and, probably the best bird of the day, a female Peregrine Falcon seen from the Peacock Tower hide.

But overall, not the most satisfying day for me.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Last weekend Carolyn, Malcolm and I joined John, Pete and Geoff for four days birding in the Solway Firth area of southern Scotland [Friday-Monday]. Our base was in Kirkcolm, which is situated not far from the western shore of Loch Ryan and is ideal for reaching the best birding spots in this part of Scotland.

It was a long drive up on Friday but we managed to fit in a visit to WWT Caerlaverock before heading for our B&B, stopping on the way to watch forty plus Red Kites gathering to roost late in the afternoon.

A night’s sleep revived us all and next morning we set off before breakfast for a sea watch at Corsewall point, enjoying not only the sea birds flying round the headland but also a pair of Rock Pipits playing hide and seek among the boulders and gullies, and Hares chasing each other around the grounds of the lighthouse while its light shone into the blue early morning.

Loch Ryan was itself one of the best locations of the trip -a large sea loch with Stranraer at its southern end. We spent the best part of Saturday (and some of Sunday) at various points around it. Not only did it hold lots of birds but also in good numbers – including Long-tailed Ducks, Red-throated Divers, Black Guillemots, Eiders, and Scaup…

We all agreed that one of the best things about it was that we could get reasonable views of birds that are usually just distant dots on the sea - birds such as Common Scoter and Slavonian Grebe.

Common Scoter [top] with Slavonian Grebe

Slavonian Grebe

Later in the afternoon the pier at Stranraer was the setting for a spectacular Starling roost – difficult to estimate how many but we thought perhaps 15-20,000 birds. 

On Sunday morning we were on the way to Killantringan lighthouse near Black Head when a Short-eared Owl flew across the road in front of the cars and landed on a fence post in an adjacent field.

It’s always exciting to see owls - they’re such charismatic birds, but this one took on added interest when Carolyn pointed out that its plumage, and notably the facial disc, looked quite different to one seen in Oxfordshire last year - darker and more heavily patterned. For comparison, here’s the Oxon bird…

We thought it might be because they were different sexes, or perhaps one was adult and one a first year bird. Unfortunately none of the books we had gave us an answer - something to be researched, I think.

With so many outstanding birds to choose from we found it difficult to decide on a ‘Bird of the day’ each evening, let alone ‘Bird of the trip’. The Owl was a strong contender, as were the stunning male Long-tailed Ducks on Loch Ryan [regrettably just a little too distant for any decent photos], but my heart was won by these cartoon-like characters with a punky hairdo…

Male Red-breasted Merganser

I know they’re not particularly rare birds, but we had such good views (including one or two attempts at breeding display from the males) and they look so comical. How could you ignore them...

[He really deserves a closer look - just click on the photos].

To my mind, a worthy candidate for 'Bird of the trip'.