Little though for the day – When is a tit not a tit?

 

Long Tailed Tit on Feeder

When it’s a Long Tailed Tit.

Long-tailed tits are in fact members of the Aegithalidae family.

A wonderful bird to see in the garden, they usually arrive en mass, mob the feeder, flit about in the trees for a short while and then disappear faster than you can say point-and-shoot-camera. Above is a pic of a lone straggler, which moments later skittered off to follow its flock, too.

 

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I did not know that the coot was “near threatened”.

The Eurasian Coot (fulica atra) has found itself a decent niche on the enclosed basins at Salford Quays. The coot is a close relative of the moorhen, and coots are the largest of the Rallidae or Rail species in the UK. They are sociable birds, and there is a little group of them numbering between 6 to 10 that are resident on the Quays year-round (well, for the past 2yrs that its been my lunchtime circuit) and can be seen swimming about the small enclosed basins and diving to pick at the weed and algae.

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Coot Preening

The coots are joyous to watch, because they dive down into the water with a little flourish, and then ten or so seconds later buoyantly reappear on the surface in another location, like a ping-pong ball released from the bottom and surprised to find itself plonked back on the surface. Their gloriously yellow outsize hooves are perfectly adapted for the uneven floating island sanctuaries of reeds that have been provide for them in the basins on Salford Quays, and earlier this year they were accompanied by their curiously flame-headed young, though how many of those have now matured, and how many have been predated I am ashamed to say that I do not know. Better records promised for next breeding season! During the breeding season coots are very territorial, but the rest of the time they placidly float about together.

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Coot Preening

What I did not know is that the Common Coot is considered to be a near-threatened species by the IUCN and has been undergoing a “moderately rapid population decline” due to (amongst other things) hunting – they are hunted for sport in Europe, they are also susceptible to petroleum pollution and wetland drainage, however in the UK the primary threat is predation by the much (rightly) maligned American Mink (I have inserted a pedestrian link there so that I don’t get sucked down an internet wormhole of non-native bastardry, to which I am admittedly susceptible).

 

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Francis Basin with its floating reed-islands is a little coot haven.

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Gulls at Lake Megabowl

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In the 90s, the price of a round of bowling ensured that an outing to Megabowl, that holy temple of sweaty shoe hire,  retained the status of an exotic event. My family, as a herd, was always sceptical of any special occasion that might warrant a wild frivolity like leaving the house en masse, and nearly as dubious about birthday celebrations, so my experience of Megabowl was limited to rare invites to other kids’ birthday parties. It always retained an air of mystery….and slight foreboding.

(Celebrations in our house are nuclear and cake-based, with accompanying candles on the occasion that someone haS the forethought to locate them and dig them out – usually with much aggravated cursing. As I get older, I find this a perfectly sound festive strategy.)

Then the internet took over the world and the cinema and the Megabowl struggled to compete with the convenience of not leaving the house for overpriced chips, popcorn and slushies. So, now, where Warner Bros., Megabowl, Chiquitos, Deep Pan Pizza &c. all stood, is a levelled arena of disused concrete, derelict and heavily fortified against caravans.

The rain yesterday morning was torrential, and it was well into the afternoon that I reluctantly ventured out into the receding drizzle on an errand. From the supermarket carpark opposite, former-Megabowl had become a wide and shallow Lake Megabowl, and on it were a happy crowd of assorted gulls. I don’t know if they are usually there after a serious downpour, but it takes a PROPER deluge to flood the place and at this time of year the rainwater evaporates fast.p1000472.jpg

This morning curiosity got the better of me, and after an early-morning trundle around my local patch, during which I saw a lovely bull finch and also the kingfisher, some goosanders, a greenfinch and a cormerant, I decided it was worth cycling up to see if there were any gulls still hanging about that might be prepared to be photographed.

P1000477As expected Lake Megabowl has now reduced in the July sunshine back to The Megabowl Puddle. As I pedalled closer, what from a distance might have been birds, on closer inspection turned out to be a scattering of bricks and rubble. At approaching midday, and disappointed I coasted the bike the length of the site, just to be sure the gulls weren’t hiding, but there was nothing doing, until some movement caught my eye, and at a squint I could see that a handful of gulls were sunbathing on the warm concrete in the middle of the site.

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So I got the shots that I came for. No surprise fancy waterbirds, in fact, not much water, but some contented gulls that appear to have found a safe haven amongst the flattened and cleared rubble of Megabowl where they have a 360 view, warm concrete, an intermittent lake, and a nearby rubbish dump. If you’re a gull, I bet a summer residence doesn’t get much better than that!

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Local Patch, Sunday: Springwater Park.

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Bullfinch

 

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Thrush

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Goosander

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Bee with its head in a flower

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Morning Dew, 6am.

 

 

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More Cormorants …because they’re fabulous.

More shots of the stars of my lunch break… Mancunian Cormorants, – the finest out there.

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Photograph of the Year: Three Headless Waterbirds. Level Up!

This group of cormorants look to have staked out a pretty solid territory along the floating water barrier at the end of one of the larger disused quays. According to the BTO they can be seen on both coastal and inland waters, and we have a native species carbo, and a European sub species sinensis, that is (according to a superficial Google survey) most likely to be found in SE England, so I’m going to assume that these are the more common residents.

It’s July now, so I have missed their April breeding plumage, which is a shame. I will have to wait until next year for that.

They swim low in the water with their necks upright, and sort of jump-dive down to catch fish from the water’s surface. All species are fish-eaters. Perhaps surprisingly, most sources that I have read say that they do not have waterproof feathers, and this  allows the cormorants to dive very deep, as buoyancy is greatly reduced. However, I have also read that the opposite is true, so I’ll just leave that can of worms hanging there.  When they return to the surface they can often be seen perched with their wings outstretched to dry them out, – they look just like little pterodactyls.

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Sitting Low in the Water

Cormorants also have a yellow/orangy area behind the lower mandible and at the top of the neck, which becomes more brightly coloured and “showy” during the breeding season (which, as I am reliable informed, I have just missed).

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Cormorant in Flight

There is no real reliable scientific distinction between cormorants and shags, and looking about the internet information mine-field, this appears to be a can of arbitrary worminess at least the same height, breadth and depth as the one that I opened earlier, concerning their waterproof (or not) plumage. Either way, the mothers’ meeting on Salford Quays is appears to be comfortably within the cormorant bracket.

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Dive

The Handbook of Birds of the World counts 42 different species of cormorant (&/shag). So, that’s a good life-time’s work if I ever wanted to see them all! Today Manchester, tomorrow the world!

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Tandem Watching

Juvenile plumage is lighter on the breast and brown on the wing and back, adult plumage is more uniformly dark.

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Tandem Preening

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Salford Cormorants

Just some pictures of Salford’s Cormorants. They may not be the prettiest ball of feathers out there but I think they’re absolutely joyous birds. Like little, slippery Pterodactyls, these reptilian looking waterbirds have real character. I hung around all lunch-hour, one arrived but despite my patience didn’t “hang out it’s wings to dry” for me. Maybe next time.

 

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Brockholes – Lancashire Wildlife Trust

Just off junction 31 of the M6, Preston, Lancashire, Brockholes is a former sand and gravel quarry. The site opened in 2011 and is looked after by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. It’s a wonderful site, nice and quiet, it covers 102ha. of land and water with several walking trails. There is a main glass-fronted hide looking out onto Number 1 Pit, and several smaller hides dotted about the other pits.

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Brockholes Floating Visitor Centre

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Lapwing

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Canada Goose

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Obligatory Mallards

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Heron

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Black Headed Gull

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Juvenile Robin

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Pheasant

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Common Sandpiper

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Crow

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Hoverfly

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Common Blue Damselfly tandem (mating) pair

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Damselfly (no I.D.)

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Red Admiral

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Gatekeeper Butterfly

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Red Admiral

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Small Tortoiseshell

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Burnet Moth

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Gatekeeper Butterfly

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