Chiffchaff

Chiff, chaff, chiff, chaff, chiff chaff…

The little bird insistently called out from somewhere within the nearby hedging trees in Wirral Country Park. Eventually I managed to locate it singing away, showing just enough to take a photo. Of course, it was a chiffchaff, named onomatopoeically.

A second chiffchaff gave a better opportunity, caught in action singing away..

Then looking down.

Greylags up close

Greylag geese are pretty common in UK. These two have taken up residence on Knutsford’s Moor Pool.

The background of clouds and blue sky was fortuitous. You can see from the patterns on the water that one goose is turning while the other is stationary.
Close up you can see the bird has a ruff, and the beak is coloured not only orange but also pink, as is the eye liner.
From above the feathers are attractively patterned.

Herring gull investigating

A visit to the English seaside has always featured herring herring gulls, which are both an attraction and a bit of a nuisance when they steal food. Over recent decades some have moved inland, finding food quite plentiful there, as they are omnivores. But I think their preference is still to be by the sea. This one, at Mortehoe in Devon, was looking for food at the local teashop.

Despite this versatility, herring gulls are on the UK red list of endangered populations.

The astute observer will notice that the verticals and horizontals are not quite right – one of the hazards of impulsive candid shooting, which was on this occasion not easily corrected by editing.

Magpies in the spring

Magpies are common in UK, and can be a bit of a pest, thieving food intended for other birds. But catch them in the right light and they can be rather beautiful, like the above recent shot from Tatton Park.

They are particularly active in spring, with spells of amorous behaviour interspersed with avid feeding from what they can find in the ground.

Common gallinule

We’ve been fortunate to visit Brazos Bend State Park in Texas a number of times over the years. Apart from the more exotic birds (from a European perspective) there appeared to be plenty of coots and moorhens, just as on most lakes in the UK.

However, the loquacious and overactive ‘moorhens’ did not appear to behave at all like those in UK. Yes this was usually the mating season around March, but surely these were not the same species. A web search shows that they are common gallinules, which were given a separate categorisation from moorhens only in 2011. Their mating behaviour is quite spectacular!

Brazos Bend State Park, 2019

See related posts moorhen, purple gallinule.

Moorhen

Moorhens are one of our commonest water birds, and indeed are quite common worldwide, under names such as marsh hen or common gallinule. These members of the rail family appear fairly undistinguished, so are not first choice photographic subjects. I’ve tried over the years, but he result is usually not particularly impressive.

Here a strong low afternoon sun brought out the brown colours in the body, which usually appears black.

Shadow of rail on rail
2021 Knutsford

Their gait is quite ungainly, which does make for an interesting profile when backlit.

2020 Shakerley Mere

Water, ice and snow

The recent cold spell means that Shakerley Mere is part frozen, giving rise to patterns of water, ice and snow.

The common resident black-headed gulls sunbathe on the ice, awaiting walkers with food to offer.

Of course, at this time of year their heads are not black.

The gull on the right shows the dangers of bleaching from the low winter sun.

Goosanders at Shakerley

Our recent walk around the local Shakerley Mere showed some unusual visitors, in addition to the usual ducks, Canada geese, grebes, swans and the odd heron. There were cormorants in the trees, but also three unusual ‘ducks’. It soon became apparent that these were not dabblers, as they sped around the lake much faster than a mallard, diving under water for periods in the manner of grebes. Their speed made for difficult photography. This was the best one, at the limits of my pocket superzoom.

These are goosanders, also known as common mergansers in the US. Their long serrated ‘saw bills’ are ideal for catching fish.

According to Wikipedia these are seaducks, equally at home in salt and fresh water.

Lesser black backed gull

There are lots of gulls on Knutsford’s Moor at the moment, almost all black-headed gulls, as on the featured image. Then there is a single larger gull, which stands out from the rest, does its own thing, and is treated with some suspicion by them. It is not one of the gang.

This is a lesser black-backed gull, featured in the following images, standing on the ice. The excellent information given by the RSPB shows that this particular bird is in its second winter

Click to see as slideshow.

The lesser black-backed is typically half as big again as the black-headed variety, but significantly smaller again than the great black-backed gull. See also Cornell Lab info.

The heron and the swan

For less than a minute this grey heron and mute swan faced off on Shakerley Mere. They were perhaps in each other’s way. I managed to pull compact camera out of pocket and take this before the confrontation ended, the heron backing off. The heron seemed to be hissing at the swan, but I couldn’t capture that moment.

The limpid water gave rather good reflections of the individual birds.

Brent geese galore

Another mass of migrated birds we recently found at Cley and Salthouse Marshes in Norfolk was these Brent Geese. The white patch on the neck is distinctive of this bird.

These appear to be dark-bellied Brent Geese, which migrate back to their breeding grounds in the tundra of northern Siberia via the Baltic in April. The other sort are light-bellied, and these migrate the other way, to Iceland and then Canada.

According to Wikipedia these are also known as Brant Geese, after the genus Branta. Apparently, the Brent Oilfield, off the Shetland Isles, is named after these geese.

Whilst we were watching, these geese stuck together, occasionally flying off in unison to a nearby field, almost taking turns with a herd of cows to feed on a particular area. Maybe there is some synergy there.

European robin 2

The European robin must be our most friendly bird in the UK. This one, in Devon recently, was just sitting around inquisitively, fearlessly waiting to be photographed.

The colours look very fresh, so this is probably this season’s bird, but must be a few months old (see eg post on Robin juvenile.)

Of course, this bird was traditionally called ‘robin redbreast’. Why? Because the colour orange was only recognised as distinct from red from the 16th century, when the orange fruit had been introduced. That’s what Wikipedia says…

The apple crop

Our small apple tree in a raised border by a fence usually has a crop of 20-30 smallish apples. About half of these are usually riddled with bugs and/or bird peckings. I don’t use any pesticides.

This year I recently picked the ‘crop’ – just ten apples, but each rather larger than usual. This summer’s weather must have somehow encouraged this by shining and raining at the right times, as I’d hardly bothered to thin them out.

The funny thing is, there were no blemishes on the apples, no peck marks, no bugs, no caterpillers, no sawfly larvae, no aphids… Now this is scary. We know about declining numbers of insects, but NO BUGS AT ALL? And no birds fancying a tasty peck? Even the army of slugs enabled by the lack of deterrent couldn’t be bothered to climb up.

I have never known such an occurrence before. Another piece of evidence of the alarming reduction in the natural world that is taking place before our eyes. What will future generations say when they look at David Attenborough’s films and literally cannot believe their eyes, and that this wonderful biodiversity was all lost by negligence?

So yes, there are more important things than unblemished apples.

 

Egyptian goose

What was this unusual pair of ducks or geese with eye patches, a ring around the neck and attractive variegated wing colouring, an unusual sight on the lake in Tatton Park?

egyptian goose pairIt seems that they are Egyptian geese, related to the more common shelduck. Egyptian geese were originally introduced into the UK as an ornamental species and now established in the wild.

egyptian goose specimen

Striking birds!