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.

Reed Bunting

This reed bunting was an unusual visitor to our garden today. In summer, these birds are more brightly coloured, the male has black head and bib, and they frequent reed beds and marsh grasses. In winter they can’t afford to be so choosy and are often seen on farmland and gardens.

reed bunting 1reed bunting 2

These birds are similar to sparrows, which we never see here these days (although they are around elsewhere in Knutsford). The notched tail, dark head and bib and white collar and underside confirm the rapid identification by my resident expert.

Quality of the photos is not wonderful. We spotted the bird through upstairs windows, and it was preferable to grab quick zoom shots through the panes, rather than open a window, which would almost certainly scare the bird off.

Fieldfare 2

There were several of these birds hiding in the bushes, and coming down to feed on the grass field at Brereton Country Park, whenever there were no dogs nearby. They look a bit like large thrushes, but are actually fieldfare, members of the thrush family. These are regular winter visitors to the UK, and are said to congregate in groups and feed together – similar to the behaviour of redwing.

fieldfare 2 1fieldfare 2 2

You can clearly see the characteristic white underside.

It was almost exactly one year ago that we previously saw fieldfare on the same field. See earlier post. It would seem that they are creatures of habit.

The Panasonic TZ80 in my pocket gave a slightly better zoom image than the TZ200 used last time. In theory, the TZ80 gives stronger zoom, and the TZ200 has a better sensor. For practical purposes there’s not a huge difference!

Sefton sundown

I spotted this silhouetted curlew on the rocks, against the backdrop of this sundown picture at Crosby, Merseyside.sefton sundown

The sun is not yet low enough to produce the longer wavelength reds and yellows, but as we drove into Southport, a bit further up the coast, these colours had become quite magnificent, but for only a short while.

sefton sundown 2

Quite a difference!

The metropolitan borough of Sefton extends from Bootle, on the edge of Liverpool, up the coast as far as Southport.

Redwing

Taking a short break while looking for raptors out over the Dee estuary at Parkgate, we took the dog for a short walk and happened across a largish group of (maybe 20) birds running about and feeding in a grassy field. They turned out to be redwing, easily identified by the reddish underwing.

Click twice to see an image full screen.

As is suggested by their shape and patterning, redwings are distant relatives of thrushes. These would be winter migrants to UK. According to Wikipedia, they often form loose flocks of tens or even hundreds of  birds in winter, often feeding together with other types of bird. We did notice a few starlings mixed in with them.

Neumann’s Flash

Neumann’s Flash was formed when a salt mine collapsed in 1873. The Northwich salt mines had expanded rapidly without due safeguards, so inadequate supports were left to hold up the ground overhead.

A chemical industry developed around the production of salt, so the enormous holes created by this collapse, and the even more dramatic collapse of the nearby Ashton’s Flash in 1880, were in the 1950s used to dump lime waste. After dumping ceased, nature gradually began to recover and since the 1970s the area has been gradually developed into a country park, now part of the Mersey Forest initiative. Yes nature will recover, if given half a chance. See the story here.

Today, this is a great area for walking and birding, joining up with the nearby Anderton and Marbury parks.

neumans sunset

The picture shows Neumann’s Flash from one of its three hides, with a fair sprinkling of birds on the water, as the sun slowly sinks towards the horizon.

The featured image is a crop of the central area.