Burton Mere RSPB Reserve - 20 Jan 18

Today I visited the RSPB Reserve at Burton Mere on the Wirral. Continuous slight rain and low cloud made for poor visibility an some less than inspiring pictures. The best of the bunch included this fly-by of three Whooper Swans. They typically show more yellow on the base of the bill than the other species of ‘wild’ swan that visits the UK – the Bewick’s (or Tundra) Swan. Not easy to tell at this range and in these conditions. However Bewick’s Swans are significantly smaller than other swans at that would have been obvious.

This fine drake Teal came close-enough to provide some colour.

Certainly a place to see egrets: here a Little Egret showing plenty of breeding condition ‘aigrettes’ hanging from the breast and over the tail. The blue-grey lores (above the base of the bill) will change to orange when breeding starts.

A different bird: ‘aigrettes’ only showing on the back of this bird.

A Grey Heron standing sentry.

Other than flocks of Lapwing the commonest wader here at this time of year is Black-tailed Godwit. In the foreground a first-winter bird with pale fringes to its feathers. Behind an adult – they can, as here, look surprisingly grey.

A group of juveniles. The bird in the right foreground is showing its ‘black tail’ and white rump.

A single juvenile feeding.

Moments later it opens its bill. I am always surprised to see that waders can open their bill mostly just at the end. It is essential that species feeding by probing can do this – they need to able to grab food detected deep underground.

The only other wader I managed to catch on camera (apart from the Lapwings) was this distant Dunlin. Easy to identify by its dark belly patch in the breeding season: less so at this date. The size and the proportionately long and slightly decurved bill are the best clues.

Later I moved to Parkgate, which overlooks the salt marshes along the Dee Estuary. High tide is best, though today was a neap tide and birds were still too far away. This first-winter Great Black-backed Gull made a fly-by. Can be identified by size and lumbering flight. In the photo we see the large all-dark bill and relatively unmarked head. Another ID feature is that the dark trailing edge to the wing ‘disappears’ on the inner primaries. This would not happen on a Lesser Black-backed Gull which would also show two rows of dark feathers on the trailing edge of the wing – the greater coverts as well as the secondaries. A Herring Gull would have noticeably paler outer parts to the inner primaries – called the ‘window’.

Good to see were the typically chaotic flocks of Lapwing. Have you ever tried counting a flock? They are forever changing formation and direction.

Here we go: back again.

Perhaps we were right first time.

Best sighting was a VERY distant Marsh Harrier. We see (against a rather industrial landscape) a very typical silhouette as it hunts over the reeds. We can just about make out the pale head on this bird.

A rather scruffy bird moulting its tail-feathers. Some pale in the primary coverts from below perhaps suggests an immature male, but at this range and light conditions it is not possible to be certain.

Even more distant! The bird was joined by another and they sparred for a while. It may be my imagination but the bird on the right seems to be carrying prey. During courtship the males of most birds of prey will present prey items to their intended partners and pass it to them on the wing to show they will be capable of providing food for the brooding female and eventual off-spring (a bit like buying/preparing your girlfriend a meal and exchanging forkfuls of food?)

(Ed Wilson)