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SNOW BOARING#2 the night they came home…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by abrandreth

Early morning, its not quite dark and its far from warm – but the wild is a hardy beast, so off we go, pre brekkers to get the traps back (regular readers will remember we baited and set camera traps to capture the beast…)

Jeff and Paul retrieve a trap with some footage of ‘something’ and a further trap that showed a white screen, but they thought the first one had fox at New Fancy – bugger!

‘Soudley Ponds’ beckoned – known as a good site for Boar signs on previous trips by the family Miles and they weren’t wrong! Slots and wallows and snufflidge marks all over the shop…

Myself and young Chris got fed up with paths and disappeared into the woodland on a mission, lots of Sweet Chestnuts and a distinct boar feel and we soon displaced some large mammals that moved on just in front, suddenly one broke cover – a Roe Buck and two females.

Halfway through manoeuvres I pointed out the unmistakable sound of another Goshawk proclaiming territory – superb!

After a quick chat with another local, walking a large hound and astounded that we hadn’t seen a boar – the family saw them all the time.

Despondent the B Team left for sunny Slimbridge and further details can be had here:

http://cheshiremammals.blogspot.co.uk/

However after a quick rip off bagette encounter and a rude man in a shop at Beechurst, we cut our loses and went with my suggestion – Symonds Yat here we come for a crack at one of GBs most enigmatic raptors.

Once more the only disappointment was the freezing wind chill as two magnificent Peregrines tussled in the air then jostled for position on the ledge opposite the watchpoint:

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And a brace of Fallow Deer in the woods for the grand finale

So to sum up was the Forest of Dean a disappointment?

Not when we checked the 1am Fox footage in the cold light of the Breakfast table:

http://www.ben-miles.co.uk/My_Blog/Entries/2013/4/8_Not_another_Boaring_weekend.html

 

Enjoy – we did!

NEXT UP: the French have a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to birdin’…

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SNOW BOARING part one…

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2013 by abrandreth

Apologies for delay,work,life and a holiday got in the way,but back on track and ready for the Summer migrants – but whatever happened to the FOD Boars…

So, after a mixed visit to Moore it was off to the borderland marshes of the Forest of Dean after a week that saw Fridays first before we set off – the closing of the Widnes/Runcorn Bridge due to falling Ice and Snow, in the 49 years the Weasel has walked the land a first!

So off we jolly well go the A-team on a mission – Warrington’s own Ian Reaves and father and son team Ben and Chris Miles (check out his blog too: http://www.ben-miles.co.uk/My_Blog/My_Blog.html)

Would we see the Boar?

After meeting up with the other group – the Family Hill, including Cheshire Mammal group current chair, Paul and Ecologist and top all-rounder Jeff Clarke

6.30 am and it’s on the road to New Fancy Watch point and Speach House – pre Breakfast!!!

Usual Wild Boar chase ensued and tracks and signs a plenty,

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but no Boar, so a compromise with a super Full English featuring Gloucester Old Spot sausages and back on the road to Cannop Ponds for a shedful of Mandarin Ducks –20 plus with this superb female to boot:

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A quick flirt down the path and a target species spotted and shouted by the Woozle – one to get the pulse flowing in the sub-zero temps as a pair of Northern (if you must!) Goshawks paraded their wares like a tin pot Korean psychopath!

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Big of hip and scalloped of wing with an unmistakable silhouette (unless you’re on ‘Bored’ Forums!) as they patrolled the killing fields and an encounter with the top avian predator of the woods – SORTED, pressure off…

A Kingfisher and a sparrow hawk encounter later and it’s time to set up a camera trap in an obvious boar feeding area for this evening:

A botched entry at New Fancy (barriers up and lots of cars and dogs) and Clarkie suggests a trip to church for a crack at Hawfinch, a big heavy set thunder god of a finch, which the great Lars Jonsson drew with a suggestion of an angry Kray Twins portrait:

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Jeff’s got good ears and fairly soon after a walk around the churchyard we get onto the biggest flock of Hawfinch any of us have seen in the UK, with around 20 birds in a mixed flock with Bramblings and other finches, I must go to church more often!

I toddle around looking for more Haws and the party splits to set another camera trap and finds some reptile evidence as Ben proudly displays a female adder skin, headless and probably dispatched by a Boar – was the trail getting warmer?

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Fully aled and fed we go out on technical manoeuvres – shining a big torch through woodland via car as the snow falls all around, some deer, an owl and a distinct lack of Obelix’s favourite snackette – to the morrow…

Slim Pickens

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 14, 2013 by abrandreth

Struggling for the fix this week folks,what with work,birthdays and long dark nights the search for the predator has been difficult.

A morning meeting in Frodsham saw me delayed by the mournful cries of the local sparrow hawks as the female shot through like a bullet,rising on thermals above the wood and passing the male,small and tucked as she rose into the sky dance.

The breath taking display flights of one of my favourite species served to do what it as achieved every time through the years of woodland wanderings and lifted my spirits high,recharging my batteries as the frost glistened on the path.

And today’s journey to work and who’s lurking on the street lights after the crossroads,looking for the souls of virtuoso blues men,but my mate ‘Drackulus’ the common buzzard,not seen him for a while and always a bonus as his silhouette brightens any days travel…

The weekend brings possibilities before the BBH (big boar hunt) as we bird Moore
Nature Reserve – full report forthcoming.

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Ziggy Zaggy, Snorty Pig and the Grey Ghost of the Borderlands…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2013 by abrandreth

In a couple of weeks myself and a group are traveling to the Forest of Dean, for another crack at one of Britain’s most controversial mammal species – a re-introduction with a propensity for damage and a bad attitude – the Wild Boar.

The weasel has had a couple of attempts at this species and come close a few times, both here and in the forest habitat in Normandy,but the quarry is proving to be very elusive…

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Last August myself, Shellster (Mrs Weasel) and Ian and Andrea made the pilgrimage and dipped again, but the place was bulldozed and most areas showed the unmistakeable signs of the big pig and kin:Image

Boar are large, unpredictable beasts with a fearsome reputation and a varied diet, big males can weigh up to 120 kg,have a length of a metre and a half and carry a set of formidable tusks,extinct in the wild since the 17th Century, this is one species you do not want to startle.Escapes have populated feral individuals into mini herds, but considering their size, and probably owing to their persecution by hunters, they are notoriously difficult to see.

We spent a week in and around the area,taking time out at night and early morning – to no avail.

It was my first visit to the area, despite hearing good reports from people who had visited before, and its close proximity to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Reserve.

Its a great place for Predators too, from Adders on a few reserves, to one of Britains only designated Raptor Watchpoints for the Grey Ghost – the mighty Goshawk, which despite looking for at New Fancy, I was the only one to see as a female bird broke cover in front of me, as the other members of the party came up the long route,(after I had gone hunting for Mr Ziggy Zaggy – a basking Adder on the way to the point) but later on this month they should be easier with hopefully spectacular early morning undulating flight displays to find a mate, and I defy anyone who wouldn’t be impressed by that.

Goshawks are one of my favourite Raptors,extremely difficult to call and seperate from the Sparrowhawk (especially males) but anyone who has seen footage of the bird hunting rabbits ON FOOT through a forest that was broadcast by the BBC a few years back, like a mini T.Rex cannot fail to be enraptured by the beast.Look for a Buzzard sized Sprog with a set of big white hips that looks like its on ‘the Big One’ at Blackpool Pleasure Beach with a big white supercillium above the eye that gives it a Batman like scowl and thats your beast!

I’ve got a hot date with one in a few weeks time!

New fancy supplied us with our only Reptile sp. a couple of Common Lizards, including the ‘Starless and Bible Black’ youngster and his mum, below:

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It was nice to put a family with a young lad onto them as they basked in the sun, with the unmistakeable call of passing Common Crossbills overhead. A brief appearance in the morning of a passing Hobby was a bonus too, probably enroute to Africa, the red trousered little killing machine tazzed through the local Ravens like an Exocet!

Middle of the week saw us at the wrong place at the right time – we parked on the wrong side of Symonds Yat (who’s Archaeological remains contained a family of Hyenas and a Sabre Tooth) and after a 2 hour traverse of a muddy stretch of river bank and a light lunch with a boat across the Wye we approached the rock and watchpoint and soon got onto the resident Peregrines and their near full grown chicks, and a spectacular food pass,another site for Goshawk and a great point to view mammals from afar, but alas no Boars in sight and we even dipped the deer.

A brief morning where rain stopped play (well actually the car needed attention!) was probably for the best after staying up drinking whisky and watching the Perseid Meteor shower (superb!) after a trip with a bat detector to a farm pond (Daubs/Noctules/2 Pips/Long Eareds and an unfamiliar Myotis sp.) and a half hour of Owl teasing (to be explained in a later post!) and a butchers in Hereford Cathedral of the Mappa Mundi (and it was only a Thursday!) meant that the last day was a trip to Slimbridge.

Bird of the Day went to a badly Digiscoped Wood Sandpiper (with a standard Common Sand:)

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Expensive but full of quality birds (Buzzards/more Peregrines and a very close up male Kestrel), when Shelly, who is just embarking on her birding journey says to all and sundry in the hide, and me especially “erm, do Badgers come out in the daytime?”

“no”

“Well, why is there one running along the fence here where the cows are?”

Blimey Charlie, she’s right too! as a very harassed looking Brock exits stage left, after a good staring at from a couple of British Longhorns, into a ditch and swims off scattering wildfowl as he goes!

An unexpected end to another great day.

Anyway Round Two happens on the 22nd of this month – keep watching the skies and checking the Weasel – a full and frank report on my return…

LEIGHTON BUZZARDS (and a quality cat fight!)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2013 by abrandreth

 

(In which the Weasel heads North and ends up in a raptorfest…)

 

Early start enroute to Hadwins and across the Moss from Crosby to the M57,tales of Short Eared Growlers and Iron age spearheads – a place I need to return too methinks…

 

And on to another moss,Leighton Moss an RSPB reserve near to Silverdale in Lancashire and home to some very interesting birds and mammals and in the middle of an HLF facelift that will bring in more visitors,although numbers would probably be down owing to the snow flurries that met us on the approach via the M6.

 

Nuthatches and Greenfinch in the car park and on to the feeding station for a grab at Brambling,seen already this year but always a quality bonus from a bird table,anyway we dipped but managed a sprightly male Bullfinch along with the usual suspects.

 

Down to Lillians hide,a warm and comfy experience compared to most,with a fine selection of quackies including Tufties,Gadwall,Teal and a few Goldeneye,a few gulls and a couple of Snipe in the shallows.

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In the past I have seen both Bittern and Otter, but today no such luck.

 

Onwards and downwards as we noticed a fine selection of Scarlet Elf Cup fungi on the way too the next hide, down to Griesdale, dipping on Cettis Warbler in the process!

 

 

This is all very well but the Weasel is here for one main reason and suddenly one appears to the left of the hide – MARSH HARRIER – a superb bird of Prey that didn’t used to be available to British birders in the Winter but now,thanks to Climate Change and food availability we have overwintering Marsh harriers and on this occasion we have at least three in the air at once,two males and a stunning female showing a bronze head and extensive epaulettes – slighter than a Buzzard and a real acrobat of the skies, what a bird!

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A quick check over the back fields and hills shows a number of circling raptors with a distinct V shaped profile,common Buzzards.

 

After a dinnertime snow shower in the Public Hide we decided to give Woodwell a search and look for the star bird, Hawfinch, which I always describe in Lars Johnson’s ‘Birds of Europe’  depiction as resembling the Kray twins!

 

Disappointed again I suggest a stop off at Wharton Crag, where a Raven is constantly cronking and agitated, but 20 minutes gives us no Peregrine and just as we are about to leave from behind the rock comes a fast and furious male peregrine with hunting on its mind as it makes a beeline for the Estuary,follow that bird!

 

The Allen Pools next and a bonus early sighting on the list as one of the waders is Identified as a Spot Red, along with several other bog standard Redshanks – cool.

 

Just as we settle down I spy a low flying flash of electra blue – can only be a Kingfisher, i shout at the last minute and only me gets onto the bird – bugger. Luckily the Shellster refinds it and Andrea gets my scope on it and many folk in the hide get their first ever glimpse of  the River King and its otherworldly colours.

 

Just then,before we gather breath, the female harrier arrives and quarters the outer marsh, as she traverses the ditches and dykes, she is suddenly harried herself by a very large female Peregrine who upends underneath her and she manages to give her the slip,perching on the ground,whilst the Peg enters a bank of rough grass and rushes and looks towards us with her head constantly moving and her barrel like chest and massive muscle to compensate for her wings hitting the air at 90 MPH shines out like a beacon.

PEREGRINE middle of vegetation

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HARRIER

 

 

 

 

Apologies for the poor pic, digiscoped through a hide at around 2 miles out:

 

Where do we go from here,how do we top that?

 

Easy a sneak back to the Tim Jackson hide for a crack at the deer as dusk settles in…

 

Well ‘no eyed deer’ (sorry!) but Andrea needs a fag, Ian accompanies her outside (ever the gent) and both burst into the hide shouting ‘Barn Owl’ as my first for the site travelles over the top of the hide and hunts over the reedbeds – fantastic!

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Last, but by no means, least Mrs Weasel asks what the bird is in the fork of the tree, its difficult,big and brown,erm straggly,erm,erm, it exits showing a full hipped white flash and a tell tale silhouette – female Sprog, and this Sparrowhawk was not for hanging around and exited left as the 12th Little Egret flew past to the roost.

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A fine day in the company of Predator and Prey wasn’t over yet, as the junction of the M6/M58 saw a mighty fine, healthy Dog Fox slink in front of the car and into the side vegetation,Saturday night under the plastic palm trees,Fox out for the night Weasel and crew home to bed.

Best laid plans…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by abrandreth

Checked the forecast and Sunday seemed to be the best of the weekend, and with the prospect of using my new super dooper 500MM lens I was looking forward to a predator fest.

So Saturday shopping then – no biggie,needs must etc Mrs Weasel couldn’t make up her mind and so bound for Cheshire Oaks,bit of shopping and Pizza on the menu.

Just alighting on the top span of the Bridge – Peregrine,rather large and streaky,Juv Female? difficult to confirm at this speed but ‘spooking Pigeons for fun’ as LALOWs Dave McGrath would have it – good start on a non-birding day!

Circumnavigate Runcorn Hill (home of the Common Lizard) and onto the Weston Expressway and up onto the M56,linear progression towards Frodsam Marsh (which has another good blog written by Billy Morton) and what do we see but a very fast male Peregrine blasted through and went across to the viaduct (which was one of the first places I knew locally for breeding Little Ringed Plover)

Then just before the turn off for Chester and at least two Raven,long of wing and diamond shaped tail – coming across the marsh and direct comparison with the local crows and jackdaws – cool!

A great day considering – even the Pizzas where good!

Roll on Sunday – Sigma 170-500 on the D20, all batteries fully charged and ‘ERROR 99’ie: no show for the camera and lens,spend next 2 hours or so emailing and asking mates and being directed to the same message boards – nightmare.

So,after expecting great things – disaster! Took my 200mm and spent a few hours stalking Waxwings (again!) tried 4 separate known sites and finally connected on the Old Town Co-op car park,and got these shite record shots – oh hum.

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Nil raptors,so tried the bridge – nil and went to to Spike where there were more Waxwings reported,dipped and took these shots of a psychedelic goose – courtesy of boat reflections in the cut.

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Anyway other opportunities coming up – a trip to Leighton Moss – a boaring weekend in the Forest of Dean and a talk from the Weasel on Mustelids for the mammal society annual do – WATCH THIS SPACE…

PS getting sick of dead badgers on the way into work 4 in the last few weeks going back and too to work, I wonder whether this spell of flooding is causing displacement.

PPS a mate tells me that my new route crosses paths with a Barn Owl – wait till Sigma re-chip that lens and I’m there.

DOING THE TREBLE…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2013 by abrandreth

Doing the Treble…

 

at the moment my journey to work is around the 18 mile trip,with plenty of traffic jams and bridges to negotiate!

 

So, if you find yourself in a similar dilemma take a Weasel tip and do the local Raptor treble (well you didn’t think it was all about footy surely?)

 

3 quarry species achieved this morning: Kestrel,Common Buzzard and a cheeky ‘Sprog’…

 

the tally?

 

KESTREL

 

‘Tall Trees’ A49 crossroads – resident Kestrel always around if good weather and you know what to look for,medium compact raptor,sideways drop from street lighting rig and a flappy,shallow quick wingbeat and getting a scarce sight locally,unless you know a breeding pair (which we obviously keep to ourselves)

 

This bird last week brought up a mixed flock from the stubble field and up and over the high hedge,with the unmistakeable white rump of a orange stained Brambling gave me another year tick!

 

In Weasel related history the first raptor that floated the boat, me and a mate looking for ‘Kezzies’ along the back fields to Cronton,hopping hedges and fording ditches as we went.

 

Back to those crossroads and a dilemma,straight on or right?

 

Straight on  would give us a chance at the Buzzard who perches on the old Northwich ‘roman’ road,or,Left would mean a chance of BOPs (birds of prey? c’mon keep up at the back!!) through the village of Weaverham…and last week we did have a Sparrowhawk glide through and up and over the village sign by the Stables…

 

Just then a look ahead and a big ole’ steam-powered lorry goes right – on it is,but, we dip the Buzzard – buggeration!

 

Now in a fug and wondering why we made this schoolboy error, when, low slung and dirty, a male Sprog rattles practically through the wheel arch of the Weaselmobile after a free lunch from a passing passerine! Result!!

 

SPARROWHAWK

now then, one of my favourite creatures full stop, the Sparrowhawk/Sprog/Sprawk (if you must)

 

An accipiter,with a recognised range of hunting techniques,from perching and ambush predation,to hedge hugging and flipping over at the last minute,to acrobatic burst of energy at low heights,to upwardly mobile displays and flock bothering (try that mouthful when the Vicar comes around!),this light weight despoiler of bird tables,ever alert,dashing glide merchant is unparalleled for sheer open mouthed raptor rapture!

 

Close to my heart as ever this little beauty perched up outside chez weasel lair last Valentines day: apologies for poor shots but my main priority was to not disturb,

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He stayed around for about half an hour or so then vanished during a brew break – the best of presents!

 

Anyway onwards and upwards (we will return to all things ‘Sprog” in a future post or twelve!) – Bring on the BIG boys,around the corner and out of Barton to run down the hill past the Antique Dealers and what do we have,throwing the full Bela Lugosi stance perched in the trees opposite the big bank that smells of Garlic at the right time – a

 

COMMON BUZZARD

 

now,I often say that as a young birder we would blag our way into a gentleman’s car if they where going birding in Wales just to see one of these magnificent Bomber Command BoPs – now they are 10 a penny – everywhere,even over my urban house on a sunny day (although the first time was a toast dropper on a Sunday morning).

 

BTO told us of a 800% rise in numbers and I could well believe it,having travelled sometimes to Llandudno junction to tick one!

 

The only Cheshire ones we knew shortly after were at (Ritchie) Blackamore Wood on the way into Frodsham (a yellowhammer/corn bunting fest too!) up Ellis Lane.

 

These big laborious raptors are superb,not pretty,not nippy – the Avro Lancaster of the Bop world,heavy set,soaring,broad short head – with that unmistakeable v shaped wing profile with a well chiseled dark carpal joint a dead give away – but this one was just sat in a tree waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting rodent or piece of offal/corpse – the UK vulture and a fitting end to the treble!

 

PS if we didn’t get that we could have had a Merlin – not uncommon in Winter in these river valleys in Cheshire,fluked a Peregrine over Winnington rec or spied a big female Peregrine on the Runcorn Bridge span – all options, and summer brings wandering Kites (not far either!) and the chance of a Hobby carving through the landscape.

 

UK Birds of Prey – you’ve gotta love ‘em! And once again the predators raise your spirit and prepare you for the hard slog of everyday mundanity.

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