Friday, 29 June 2012

Frank Lake revisited

Frank Lake

On our last visit in 2010 Frank Lake was one of my favourite spots.  A large open body of water in the prairies about an hour south of Calgary.  Reedy fringes and wet grassland make this a must for any birder.  We started at the large hide and were soon watching dozens of Black-necked (Eared) Grebes with their young right underneath our watching position.  Forster's Terns were nesting nearby and White-faced Ibises and Franklin's Gulls were flying back and forth to their nesting areas. Out on the open water 2 pairs of Western Grebes floated lazily with their chicks and large rafts of Redheads were present.

Black-necked (Eared Grebe)
Forster's Tern
  Before leaving we heard a Sora Rail but failed to call it out in the open and also added Willet and Wilson's Phalarope to our list.  A sudden commotion as we headed back to the car saw the Forster's Terns chasing off a young Black-crowned Night Heron.  We moved on around to the east shore of the lake and drove down a quiet track past some farms.  We had great fortune to find a Western Kingbird on overhead wires but could not get any pictures.  Parking up here I walked down a lane to a point where lagoons and reeds spread out on either side of me.  Several Black-necked Stilts, Killdeers and Lesser Yellowlegs were feeding in shallow areas with about 30 Wilson's Phalaropes.  The reversed  activity of the sexes meant that I only noticed one female but the rest were all males presumably looking after eggs or young.  I would guess most had hatched as I did get a glimpse of a couple of chicks.  Willet called overhead and hordes of Gadwall, Blue-winged Teal and Shovelers were everywhere.  I walked back to the car and I noticed a small orange-headed sparrow on a post.  A quick glance with the binoculars revealed a Le Conte's Sparrow a new species for me.  I raised my lens but once again failed to get a shot.

Black-necked Stilt
Male Wilson's Phalarope
We continued our tour around the lake checking prairie fields.  A pair of Marbled Godwits were displaying over one damp field and close scrutiny of small birds revealed quite a few Horned Larks and Vesper Sparrows.

Horned Lark

Vesper Sparrow
We moved on to the western shore but added little else except for a friendly Eastern Kingbird.

Eastern Kingbird
We left the lake and heading back there was one more exciting moment as a Swainson's Hawk perched on a post with its prey.

Swainson's Hawk with prey
We shall certainly come back to Frank Lake before returning to the UK.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Five Days in Waterton Area

Cameron Lake, Waterton Lakes NP

Sorry for the silence this last few days but we have just spent five days in the extreme south of Alberta in the Waterton area.  The Waterton Lakes National Park is perhaps the best known site in this area and we gave it a day and a half.  The weather at first was very wet but we did get some warm sunshine.

American Bison

On the first morning we checked out the Bison enclosure where wild animals are confined to a large but fenced off area.  Checking out this site we encountered lots of Mountain Bluebirds and some more Cedar Waxwings.  We moved on to a lake near the entrance to the Park and were delighted to pick up Sandhill Crane, Common Loon, Bufflehead and Bald Eagle.  Later that first day we encountered an extraordinary performance by about 300 Cliff Swallows.  After a heavy shower they were feverishly collecting fresh mud for their nests.

Cliff Swallow gathering mud

The Park itself was pretty poor for watching birds but the only place where we saw both Grizzly and Black Bears.  Most of the wildlife seemed to be on the outside.  The best wildlife experience of our trip was a couple of visits to the home and garden of Joan & David Glaister.  Joan is a naturalist and great enthusiast living in a remote but beautiful house with a magnificent garden and best of all dozens of bird feeders.  Here were many of the local species including some specialities such as Cassin's Finch, Black-headed Grosbeak and Red-naped Sapsucker.  More of these visits perhaps later.

Joan's garden
Male Cassin's Finch
Male Black-headed Grosbeak
Red-naped Sapsucker

All in all an excellent experience staying at  a cottage at Dungarvan Creek and enjoying the exceptional hospitality of Eileen & Bruce Russell.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Canada Again

After a gruelling days travelling we finally arrived unscathed in Calgary, Alberta and joined my son Jeremy and his family.  It is always great to meet up with Jeremy, his wife Saskia and our grandchildren Morris, Tara and Holly.  My first chance of some birding was earlier this afternoon when with Morris we took a walk around the Weaselhead Trail.  Calgary has some fantastic birding sites and when in them it is hard to believe you are within the limits of Canada's fastest growing city.

Arriving at the parking lot we moved down through a scrubby hill where White-throated Sparrows sang their dreary songs and approaching the river Yellow Warblers took over the chorus.  At the bridge the large colony of Cliff Swallows was very active and a Spotted Sandpiper called from the river.  Crossing the bridge we came across a superb small group of Cedar Waxwings "flycatching" from riverside trees.

Cedar Waxwings in riverside trees
Watching these beautiful birds was fascinating and there were good opportunities for photographs. Overhead  a Red-tailed Hawk and a Swainson's Hawk sailed by.

Cedar Waxwing
Moving on through scrub and mature forest we heard more Yellow Warblers and found a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds.  Later on an oxbow of the Elbow River we encountered a female Goldeneye but little else except a calling Northern Flicker.  We were heading for a particular clearing and getting there we waited only a minute or two before a pair of Calliope Hummingbirds showed up.  The male was most obliging and sat around in the open flashing his scarlet throat feathers.  This tiny creature is the smallest hummingbird in North America.

Male Calliope Hummingbird.
We headed back to the car as rain clouds threatened noting American Goldfinches and a Downy Woodpecker flying over.  Two Least Chipmunks also allowed close observation.

Least Chipmunk
As spits of rain fell we had a quick look at Glenmore Reservoir.  In the gathering gloom we could see at least 6 Great Blue Herons, c40 Canada Geese and a superb adult Bald Eagle sitting at the water's edge.  Then it was back home for a welcome supper.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Bits & Bobs

Violet Sabrewing hummingbird - one of the species in Chris Packham's Secrets of a Living Planet

Better weather today and a Willow Tit put in an appearance in the garden on the fat ball feeder.  The Great Spotted Woodpecker family also add to the entertainment. Did you all catch Chris Packham's new series Secrets of a Living Planet on relationships between species.  The first one was on rain forests and some incredible stuff on the survival of the Brazil nut tree, an orchid, a bee and a tiny rodent called an Agouti.  Also some great shots of rain forest birds. Check it out.

Clarke's Nutcracker - one of the species we will be seeing later this week.

Tomorrow afternoon we head off to Gatwick to fly off to Calgary, Alberta, Canada on Thursday morning.  We are visiting our son Jeremy who lives there with his family.  We will have three weeks to catch up with our growing grandchildren and watch wildlife in the Rocky Mountains and the prairies of Southern Alberta.  This will be our second visit so we will be looking to see some new areas and hopefully a few new birds.

Friday, 15 June 2012

No Good News for Tywi Birds

Little Ringed Plover

After a brief lull the dreadful wet, windy and cool weather continues.  The River Tywi water level is rising fast for the second time this summer and this means that having lost their eggs in the first flood any repeat clutches look destined for disaster as well.  Nationally important species like Little Ringed Plovers may struggle to rear any significant young at all.

Sand Martins

Sand Martins nest in good numbers in the banks of the river and as the water rises they too could be flooded out.  This is a worrying time for all wildlife in the valley and if early summers continue to produce such dreadful weather populations could suffer. We must hope for better news.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Moths get together

Giant Peacock Moths mating
 In my postings from France I have mentioned the enormous and impressive Giant Peacock Moth which frequents our area from late April.  Our neighbours John and Hanny who live close to us have just send a photograph of a pair apparently mating.  A really interesting photograph.  A sad day for the male who will die pretty quickly afterwards.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Songbirds on a Balmy Day

Cetti's Warbler - photo by Sandra Stewart

I managed an hours walk at Kidwelly Quay today in very warm and humid weather.  It was also still so birds were singing.  Reed Buntings were the most prominent with at least three males in song.  two Reed Warblers and a Whitethroat added to the chorus but the most noteworthy were 2 Cetti's Warblers singing by the Kymer Canal.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Woodpeckers about

Today was the first time for the Great Spotted Woodpeckers to bring their young to the garden.  We only saw one juvenile at once and that may be all they have after very wet weather over the last few days.

Great Spotted Woodpecker - juvenile
 I took a walk around my neighbours farm where 14 Greylag Geese flew over in usual V formation.  Blackacp. Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were all singing and a pair of Bullfinches were also noted.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Owls after a day of Sport

I have been a real couch potato today.  I have tried to watch Test match cricket, French Open tennis, Australia v Wales rugby and 2 Euro 2012 football matches.  I managed to see most of all.

Barn Owl - photo Brian Barker

Feeling guilty I took a short walk of about 100 metres up the lane by our house and was absolutely chuffed to find 2 Barn Owls hunting over the meadows.  I saw the birds several times but did not see them catch any prey so I was not able to ascertain where they might be nesting.  My neighbour Rob has put up several boxes but did not think any are being used.  They obviously now have young so we will keep looking.  Two Tawny Owls also started up quite a racket from the wooded areas making the whole experience very enjoyable.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

No Birds just Bees

Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

While we were at the Jubilee Party on Monday I noticed an interesting bumblebee which was visiting the vases of flowers on the tables.  I managed a photograph and thanks to Barry Stewart I now know that it is Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum a species which has colonised the United Kingdom over the last decade.  It favours using bird nest boxes and can turn up in even small urban gardens.  This appears to be the first record from north of Carmarthen. Check out

Monday, 4 June 2012

Party Time

What a weekend.  Very indifferent weather with perpetual rain yesterday but at least fine if a bit cool today.  We celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee by going for lunch to a friend Hilton's farm high up in the next valley.  We were joined by friends new and old.  It was a wonderful occasion and I was persuaded to brighten myself up and get in the spirit.  I did my best and even put on my OBE medal something I have never down since receiving it in 1999.  Officially it is supposed to be worn with "Morning Dress" but I thought it was the right day and so I risked being put in the Tower of London by wearing it on my red smock.

Need I say more?
Sitting in a superb garden by splendid woodland with a glass of Minervois red there were birds to observe.  First Red Kite and then Buzzard sailed effortlessly overhead,  and then a pair of Swifts nesting in the roof of the old house had us guessing as to how they could possibly stop from their break neck flight to avoid hitting the wall.  House Sparrows chattered away, Swallows sailed lazily overhead and Blackcap, Song Thrush and Wren sang continuously.

View from our walk
 After our lunch we all walked up higher to admire the superb views towards the Brecon Beacons and find tadpoles in a small puddle before returning for coffee, tea and icecream.

Friday, 1 June 2012

What about Pheasants?

A Splendid cock Pheasant

Now there are really good laws to prevent the introduction of exotic species to the UK.  The debacle of Victorian times has left us with hordes of Canada Geese, Grey Squirrels etc..  Populations now so big that eradicating them is nigh on impossible.  The law also states that if you catch a Grey Squirrel then you may not release it.  It has to be put down.

Grey Squirrel

Where am I going with this you might ask?  Well if the laws are now strong enough to prevent anyone introducing alien species to our precious countryside how come landowners can release 40 million Pheasants into the countryside every year and apparently only shoot 15 million.  Surely this mass of semi domestic alien fowl must have an adverse effect on our native species?  Does the law not cover Pheasants?  Maybe because they have been around a long time some clever shooter has had them accepted legally as a naturalised species.

Should we be concerned?  Should we the nature conservationists be carrying out research to find out what the effects of these birds are?  Should Pheasant shooting be restricted to "wild birds" that have been at large for generations? In the Netherlands I understand this is the case with new releases not permitted.

I think these are all reasonable questions from a nature conservation point of view.

At least it is my belief that no protected native species should be legally removed for the benefit of field sports or any other commercial activity.

Am I dreaming?