RSPB Reserve at Burton Mere - 31 Mar 17

Made another visit to the truly excellent RSPB Reserve at Burton Mere. Friendly, helpful and knowledgeable staff and a range of pools to attract a wide-range of species with blinds and hides to view the action. Not too good for woodland species but many pass through.

The view from the Visitor Centre window across the Dee to the Welsh Hills. Despite the local industrial units the wildlife seems to thrive on the reserve.

On the salt-marshes at nearby Parkgate there were plenty of Pink-footed Geese still to depart for their breeding grounds in Siberia. There is no hurry as it will be frozen for at least two months yet. There is less contrast on their upperwing than is shown by Greylag Geese and, of course, the bills are not all orange as in Greylag. Any White-fronted Goose would show even less contrast on the upperwing.

This landing shot shows the bill pattern better against the green background of the marsh. We also see the tail pattern.

This was rather a puzzle until I could get a good close-up look – a pair of Teal having a cuddle.

Breeding time is a time for fighting for dominance amongst these drake Mallards.

While breeding time for Tufted Ducks means that drakes are in ‘full tuft’.

A fine breeding plumaged Little Egret. Note the ‘aigrettes’ from the back as well as the head streamers and those hanging from the breast.

Giving it a trifle more exposure and we can see the blue-grey bare skin at the base of the bill. This goes red in the courtship period. It is also one way of ensuring this is not a vagrant and almost identical Snowy Egret from the Americas where this bare skin is yellow. Snowy Egrets have much more extensive yellow on the feet and legs but that would not be obvious on a bird, as here, in deep water.

Here is that blue-grey bare skin in close-up.

And with the wind catching the head-plumes.

From this angle the head and neck look somehow ill-proportioned.

That is a mean-looking spear. Note the eyes looking down the bill.

Good to know all that action resulted in at least a snack.

A pair of Moorhens get amorous: it is that time of the year.

No mistaking those very upturned bills and the pied plumage – (Pied) Avocets. Now which way are we going?

Perhaps we will all go this way.

A Black-tailed Godwit still in winter plumage. The long more or less straight bill and the solid black tail are the main clues here as we cannot see the legs. The similar Bar-tailed Godwit’s bill is slightly more distinctly curved upwards and the tail would not appear so densely black even when the wings are folded.

This is a more typical view!

Here a bird is in flight showing the black tail and the prominent white wing-bar that the Bar-tailed Godwit lacks. The rufous tone to the breast of this bird shows it is coming in to breeding condition.

Not sure whether this is the same bird but the rufous shows well here

And not just on the breast – some rufous feathers along the flanks and in the wings too.

This is a bit of a shame as I was trying a different camera and it was set, by mistake, to ‘special effect’ rather than ‘sports’. So the best photo of this mating pair of Black-tailed Godwits has come out rather like a wood-cut.

This is another ‘red-shanked’ wader but quite different from a true Redshank. The bill is significantly shorter and there is a pale area around the face. For me the main ID feature is the rather large and loose feathers on the back. This is a Ruff. It will be some weeks before any males acquire the ‘ruff’ of feathers that gives this species its name. Otherwise size is the easiest way to sex non-breeding birds though this is tricky with a lone bird. My vote would be for the larger male.

This would seem to clinch the ‘male’ hypothesis: the duck Teal is a few inches longer than a male Ruff which is largely compensated for by the Ruff being closer (a displaying pair of Black-headed Gulls is also in the shot). The ‘loose’ feathers of the Ruff are well-shown here.

Well they were a long way away. The front bird here is a winter-plumage Spotted Redshank, when the plumage is anything but ‘spotted’ and is a paler grey than that of the (Common) Redshank standing behind it. One helpful feature visible here is the pale supercilium on the Spotted Redshank. The bills are different lengths and slightly different shape but that is of no help with these sleeping birds.

There were many hundred (Common) Redshank present and here are some of them. There are at least two obviously larger waders and the right-hand one is acquiring the rufous breeding plumage of Black-tailed Godwits (two drake and a duck Teal and a drake Shoveler in the foreground; a drake Gadwall and two Black-headed Gulls in the background).

And here is a single bird somewhat closer. A few darker feathers of breeding plumage are appearing in the breast and flanks.

Another super-long-range shot. The black ‘W’ mark across the wings helps identify this as a first year Little Gull. We see very few of this species inland but for some reason the Dee and Mersey Estuaries sometimes see many 100s, though usually passing ‘out-to-sea’.

‘On water’ ID features for this gull in first year plumage are the small bill, the black nape to the small rounded head, and the angled black mark along the flank made by the folded black ‘W’ we saw in the flight shot (Tufted Duck behind).

On this slightly different angle the flank mark is less obvious. We see the size against the (Common) Redshank that dominate the shot (with a Canada Goose, a pair of Shoveler, two drake and a duck Teal and an adult Black-headed Gull: careful examination reveals a Black-tailed Godwit in front of the Canada Goose).

A much better flying shot as it disputes with an adult Black-headed Gull.

These two birds spent some time with the Little Gull apparently trying to land near the adult Black-headed Gull that was defending its ‘spot’. In this shot we see the red legs of the Little Gull.

A close-up of a first-year Black-headed Gull.

A full adult breeding plumaged Black-headed Gull in flight.

There is a breeding colony and all these are adults.

Breeding colonies are noisy places full of sparring gulls.

A Black-headed Gull take-off.

This pair of adult Black-headed Gulls partially open their wings to acknowledge each other as one of them flies in to their chosen nest site.

Another pair of adult Black-headed Gulls full of the joys of Spring.

These two adult Black-headed Gulls have a less ‘clean’ white area around the eye. I cannot explain why and can only assume they have yet to come in to full breeding condition. Plumage-wise second year birds look the same as adults as far as my books are concerned.

Another gull ID picture. The two on the right are adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Behind them is a smaller gull with a rounded head, dark eye and relatively weak bill – classic features of Common Gull (a bird that is distinctly uncommon in the eastern parts of Shropshire). Here is a first-year bird with brown showing in very worn wing-coverts. Compare the size with the Lesser Black-backs.

Here on its own and in better light we see its features more clearly but we lose the size-comparison.

One of the many singing Chiffchaffs: few were cooperative and posed like this. In willows, as here, one might be tempted to think Willow Warbler. Their songs are very different but the ID features of pale lower mandible, rather ill-defined supercilium and dark legs all point to Chiffchaff.

Photos of birds against the light are hard even with ‘spot-metering’. This Chiffchaff in full song was hard to resist. Note the yellowish wash on the lower throat, across the breast and in the undertail.

Technically a better shot but lacks the oomph of the singing bird.

A Goldfinch of course


This is a Brown Rat. This species has a rather bad press. I think they are rather cute and do a good job clearing things up. It is hardly their fault that they carry some rather nasty parasites.

Here we see Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum). An introduction to the UK it is considered a pest by some. Rather similar to our native Ramsons (Allium ursinum) the vernacular name gives a clue to its identification – the stem has a triangular cross-section. The flowers of Three-cornered Leek hang down and are bell-shaped (a bit like a white bluebelle) whereas Ramsons are held upright in star clusters.

(Ed Wilson)