About Graham Clarkson

Born & brought up in Marshside, I started birding there in the mid 1970s & made my first birding trip to Martin Mere in 1977. I've lived, worked & birdied in Abu Dhabi, Northern Ireland & Gloucestershire & I've spent time working in Kazakhstan & Madagascar. I enjoy birding my various West Lancashire patches, making frequent birding visits throughout the north-west of England and North Wales. I stray elsewhere in the UK & enjoy birding abroad from time to time. I'm particularly interested in wildfowl (especially pink-footed geese) with an interest in waders & raptors, bird counts & surveys & conservation. I'm trying to get the hang of photography & digiscoping - I'll get there eventually.

My degree from Edge Hill University is in conservation biology. I've guided on numerous birding days out & trips & guided birding holidays to Lesvos, Andalucia, Extremedura, Majorca, Camargue, Hungary, Finland & Florida. I enjoy showing people birds & habitats & helping them learn more about birds & enjoy birding. I'm currently involved with the Birdwatching and Beyond course at Edge Hill and a brand new venture; Skein Birding.

As well as birding I'm interested in captive breeding & reintroduction projects & zoos, how they're managed & how they contribute to conservation. I'm a proud Lancastrian & love the Lancashire countryside & landscapes. I'm an Evertonian & also keep up with what's happening at Southport, PNE & Bristol Rovers. Gardening, dogs (I have a Labrador & a Tibetan Terrier) and keeping chickens (especially Marsh Daisys & Scots Dumpy Bantams). Ruth & I have two marvellous boys who both love nature too. I hope you find the blog and subjects covered interesting; please feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Avalon heron heaven

I was recently passing through the Glastonbury area and took the opportunity to nip down to the Avalon marshes and have a nose around Ham Wall, one of RSPBs flagship reserves in that area. Wow, I wasn't disappointed. As I walked down the main track I could hear several Water Rails, Cetti's Warbler and at least two Bitterns. Several Goldcrests were singing and I saw two Chiffchaffs flitting amongst the willow scrub. I happened upon a few birders who were watching a Pied-billed Grebe and I enjoyed watching this rare American visitor (only my third ever in Britain) going about its business. I joined these birders to look for a drake Ring-necked Duck that has been in the area for a while (also a hybrid Aythya bearing a resemblance to this species......); a local birder had found the Ring-necked Duck and I enjoyed scope views (someone else's scope, I hadn't brought mine) of it amongst a group of Tufted Ducks and Pochards. I thanked the helpful birders and explained I had to be somewhere else and headed back towards the car park - on the way back  I heard at least another three Bitterns, many more Cetti's Warblers and Water Rails and saw three Marsh Harriers, a Bearded Tit and hundreds of Gadwall.

At the car park I decided to head out the other side and check out Shapwick Heath NNR and the flock of Great White Egrets that reside on the reserve. I wasn't disappointed, seeing eight Great White Egrets straight away; three in pink-legged, dark-billed breeding plumage, four in non-breeding plumage and a single that I thought was a first winter bird. Amazing to think that I twitched the first one I saw in Britain at Rutland Water back in the 80s - I would never have thought they would be breeding here! But then who would have thought that the Avalon marshes would have 30 booming Bitterns and that Cattle Egret and Little Bittern would be breeding in Somerset, with Purple Herons breeding in Kent and a productive Spoonbill colony in Norfolk? What next Glossy Ibis breeding, or maybe Night Heron? Both I reckon.......

But back to Shapwick Heath. A Little Egret and several Grey Herons were feeding with the Great White Egrets. Almost as good as the Ribble. Okay, just as good, but certainly very different. I'll be back to Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath early in the sunmmer, can't wait, a brilliant, bird-filled wetland. Love it.

Pair of breeding plumage Great White Egrets (right hand bird ringed) at Shapwick Heath, Somerset.
Five of the eight Great White Egrets at Ham Wall, Somerset.
Record shot of Pied-billed Grebe at Ham Wall, Somerset.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Southport coast birding

Chris Hughes one of the Ribble RSPB volunteers and a Birdwatching and Beyond participant joined me at 8a.m. at Weld Rd car park this morning for the WeBS count. Brian Hopkins and Dave Fletcher also took up thier repective posts and we set off counting. It was a morning to keep moving - the icy wind soon cooling you down when standing. Huge wader flocks were travelling up and down the beach between Southport Pier and Ainsdale, Chris and I right in the thick of it. Chris enjoyed the various challenges that counting moving, hard to identify targets presents and he certainly gave a good account of himself - nice one Chris! 

Some good totals today with highlights being; 2270 Dunlin, 603 Sanderling, 11600 Knot, 2260 Bar-tailed Godwit,  1355 Oystercatcher, 253 Grey Plover, 36 Ringd Plover, 2 Jack Snipe & 6 Common Snipe. A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and numerous Common Scoters offshore were good to see and both Brian and Dave saw a hunting Merlin, while  Dave also saw a pair of hunting Peregrines that Chris and I saw a single of. 68 Twite feeding along the top of the beach were a good end to a good, if cold, count.

Feeding Twite on the Green Beach, Birkdale. 10/03/13.
Straight after the count I nipped over to Steve Sweetnam's for a brew and bacon butty (that suddenly also had black pudding and a fried egg added......). Steve and I headed out to Marshside and quickly picked up a female Hen Harrier hunting over the saltmarsh, she alighted on the ground and disappeared from view and was joined by a male, who I only managed to get a brief view of.
Female Hen Harrier distantly over Marshside saltmarsh with the White Church at Fairhaven in the backgound. 10/03/13.
A female Stonechaton the sandworks was my first of the year, as was the Spoonbill feeding on Sutton's marsh. The reserve at Marshside really is a special place and the birding spectacle is superb at this time of year. Do try and visit if you've never been to this part of the Lancashire coast - I'll show you round.

Female Stonechat at Marshside 10/03/13.
Spoonbill showing full spoon at Marshside. 10/03/13
Steve and I searched for the Crossens Waxwings but didn't see them and then headed inland to check a heronry that I keep an eye on, 12 nests of which 7 had incubating birds that was good news. I dropped Steve off home and saw a couple of Grey Partridge and a flock of 85 Linnets on the way home. The final birding of the day was along Crabtree Lane, one of my regular dog walking routes - 48 Fieldfares,  14 Redwings  and a happy Labrador made that final effort worthwhile. A good day, I must do it all again soon.......

Saved by the Owl

Saturday morning was filled with optimism, a walk along Crabtree Lane produced 44 Tree Sparrows, 9 Corn Buntings, hundreds of Pink-footed Geese and a flock of Redwings. This optimisim carried through on the train to Kirkdale, the walk to Goodison and being sat in the main stand. 35 minutes into the F.A. cup tie and all optimisim had vanished without trace - I stuck it to the end and trudged back to Kirkdale where I bumped into my old WWT colleague/birding buddy Charlie Liggett. Charlie and I enjoyed a good old chat on the train and I dropped him off in Croston, less weary and with green shoots of optimisim returning. Ruth and the lads had gone down to Hereford for the weekend, so I decided to nip up the road to Martin Mere for a spot of  late afternoon birding. I really enjoy the evening roost flights at Martin Mere and I wasn't disappointed as 640 Whooper Swans on the mere were joined by incoming groups, ending with a total of 905. Skeins of Pink-footed Geese flighted in with 1840 counted. On the mere 19 Cormorants, 84 Oystercatchers, 660 Shelducks,175 Greylag Geese, 69 Ruff and 43 Pochards caught my eye. As the light faded I rushed over to Miller's Bridge to  check the gull roost; 4300 Black-headed Gulls were joined by 5 Lesser Black Backs and a single Common Gull, 52 Avocets tried and failed to hide themselves amongst the gulls. A pair of Redshanks, a pair of Ringed Plovers and 5 Black-tailed Godwits were noted, but a hunting Barn Owl stole the show, raised my spirits and restored my lust for life. Is there a more beautiful sight than a hunting Barn Owl at dusk?

Barn Owl from Miller's Bridge at Martin Mere. 10/03/13.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

North Wales wandering (again.....)

Steve Sweetnam called late last night and asked if I fancied birding today. Of course the answer was yes. So, early this morning Steve came round and picked me up and off we set for North Wales. The first port of call was to look for Black Grouse. Heading across the moors we heard numerous Red Grouse and after checking a couple of known sites we eventually found a group of ten lekking male Black Grouse against a distant hillside - a superb sight and sound, one of my favourites. Unfortunately the birds weren't close and it's simply not on to disturb this mega sensitive birds so I settled for some distant record shots.

Record shot of a male Black Grouse, Denbighshire, North Wales. 03/03/13.

Post lek we headed along the moorland road and parked up and watched a flock of Siskins feeding in larches. We bumped into a group of birders who asked us "have you seen the Shrike?", we replied "no, we're going for that later on", the answer to that was; "oh, there's one over on the hillside" Bonus! We enjoyed scope views of a fantastic, if distant, Great Grey Shrike and also saw another 18 Black Grouse. After the Shrike we headed off into Llangollen for breakfast, checking the the River Dee and seeing Dipper and a drake Mandarin before gladly filling our faces at the Cottage Cafe (highly recommended).

Dipper on the River Dee, Llangollen, North Wales. 03/03/13
Clocaenog forest called us and we met up with a host of birders who'd just seen Goshawks and despite a damn good try we failed to see any and low cloud moved in. The Great Grey Shrike that's been there for months decided to have a lie in so we decided to have a look at the Hawfinches up the road. Driving throught the forest we were amazed at the number of Ravens and watched Buzzards lazily flapping about, Fieldfares were in abundance and a lone Red Kite provided some excitement.
The drive to Llanbedr-y-cennin was brightened by several Goosanders on the Dee near Corwen and a heard of Bison in a field next to the A5. At Llanbedr-y-cennin we enjoyed banter with other birders and eventually saw five Hawfinches; ace big-billed rascals. For the last stop we decided on some duck action and made our way along the A55 to Llandulas. On Saturday a remarkable four Surf Scoters and 12 Velvet Scoters were recorded off there. Steve and I headed to the highest point on Station Road and began to scope the long black ribbon of scoters about 3/4 of a mile offshore. Steve did well and quickly picked up two drake Velvet Scoters and I quickly replied with a drake Surf Scoter, three more Velvets (two drakes and a duck) and a drake Long-tailed Duck amongst an estimated 15,800 Common Scoters. 190 Great Crested Grebes were also out in the bay, some displaying in the sunshine. Another decent day in the field, I'm grateful to Steve for his company and for picking me up; cheers!