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!

Southern screamer

The southern screamer is a large South American wetland bird. What is it doing in the UK? This pair are at the Wildlife and Wetland Trust’s Martin Mere centre, now reopened for a limited number of visitors. The centre contains specimen birds from all over the world, as well as providing the space for thousands of local and migrating birds.

We were lucky to find the birds in photo-posing mode, rather than screaming at all and sundry.

Unlike geese and ducks this bill is not designed to filter water; they mostly feed on vegetation. These birds are thought to be the ‘missing link’ between wildfowl and game birds.Read More »

Black Swan

Black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise and has a major effect, based on the observed historical fact in Europe that black swans did not exist.

I guess we could call covid-19 a black swan event, although it was actually predicted that such an event would happen at some time, which was always ‘in the future’, until it wasn’t. Of course, globalised trade made this black swan event a worldwide phenomenon pretty rapidly.

Globalisation also means we can now see black swans in Europe without travelling to Australia. This one was at WWT Martin Mere, caught in the act of biting off chunks of reed.

Jay

English jays are usually careful to stay hidden, unlike their black crow cousins and magpies. This one stayed around on the grass at Anderton Country Park just long enough to take a photograph before he flew off.

jay

These are also known as ‘brown jays’ or ‘old world jays’ to distinguish them from more colourful variants, such as the American blue jay.

Cuckoo flower

The other day we heard our first cuckoo of spring, in fact the first for several years, in Anderton Country Park. Cuckoos were ubiquitous in my youth, but alas no longer.

We then saw these small white flowers by the canal, which I had seen other years and been meaning to look up. What a surprise, when they turned out to be cuckoo flowers – so named because their appearance tended to coincide with the hearing of the first cuckoos!

cuckoo flower

Quick… heron overhead

You know that moment when you suddenly see a large bird flying towards you, grab the camera, switch on, point and shoot as it passes quickly overhead? Usually the result is a blurry picture of empty sky. I got lucky with this grey heron at Anderton Country Park.

grey heron overhead

Of course, the lighting is pretty impossible, and it’s nothing like the great shots done by the pros with their expensive equipment and oodles of stalking time (this was during a walk with my Panasonic TZ200 pocket-size superzoom). Just try this great blue by Ted Jennings or this one. Follow him!

Mr Blackbird’s bath

After Mrs Blackbird’s bath it was her partner’s turn the other day. The technique involves dipping the tail in, then dipping the head in, and then the wings, each time splashing furiously.

I really wanted to see his eye more clearly, so crept round the garden to get the sun behind me. He flew off, but soon came back to complete his ablutions. A bit of a show-off really.

Click twice to see an image full screen. In the last image the tail flicks water up as the beak submerges.

Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron is a very large bird, the biggest heron in North America. We seem to come across the odd solitary bird fairly frequently when in Houston, in typical expectant pose waiting for signs of fish. These examples were in Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza Park and beneath the bridge taking the I10 freeway over Buffalo Bayou. Amazing that this bird happily fishes while hundreds of cars and lorries thunder overhead.

The Audubon site gives good information on the vulnerability of this and other birds to climate change. Assuming that food sources hold up, they should still be around Houston for future generations.