Saturday 9 January 2016

Melverley - Whooper families

Here's the long overdue images of the younger members of the Whooper Swan population wintering in the Melverley floods area January 2016. Starting off with part of one of the three family groups amongst the dispersed groups of adults....

The bill pattern in most of the youngsters - typical whooper colouration beyond the nostril in a shade of rather dirty white.

Individuals can of course be recognised by the patterning of the black on the bill and the same families could be picked out as they moved around. They also kept together and tended not to mingle with others.

A few random individual juveniles....

The plumage in the vast majority of juveniles a mottled soft grey....

A gull hoping in vain for a free handout?

And the submerged crop in the field was the reason they were all quite happily settled down here!

Quite a mouthful!

The most interesting family which eventually approached within range had two clearly more advanced juveniles with pink marked bills and completely white plumage! Are these just 'older individuals' or do the other families include more juvenile birds / possibility of Scandinavian origin. It's a strange mix. Icelandic Whoopers are known to develop white plumage more quickly than their Eastern counterparts.

They were munching away at the crop too!

Here's the bill pattern of these two... The first a 'black base yellowneb' and is the lower one evolving into a 'darky' with the extensive line of continuous black up the bill? You can see speckles of yellow pigment beginning to appear which will eventually be complete later this year.

And a lovely nodding pose to end up with!

Repeated counts gave consistent results:

Lone or paired adults without young - 19
Family of two adults with four juvenile - 6
Family of two adults with three juvenile - 5
Family of two adults with two pink billed juveniles - 4

Whilst Kris and myself got a combined count of '38' mostly distant and mobile Whoopers on the 5th, the maximum count was consistently 34 thereafter....

Whatever is accepted, 34 individuals has to be the biggest gathering of Whooper Swans within Shropshire, in recent years certainly that I've ever seen and presumably a combination of the usual returning Whoopers to the Melverley area coupled with those normally gathered at Caersws?

A fantastic Swan spectacle and with flood water reaching epic levels the following day, access to the area was not possible to enjoy them again! Shame Kris missed the 'close up' day too but I have no doubt he was more than happy with what with what Kathmandu had to offer!

Melverley Floods - Yellow-legged Gull

I couldn't resist posting this distant image of an adult Yellow-legged Gull in flight whilst taking a moment off swan count duty!

Back to the Swans.....

Melverley floods - Whooper Swans

This was my fourth successive day cruising the floods and it was business as usual on the wildfowl front but the gull numbers were plummeting. It was also my lucky day! Apart from one brief encounter at dusk with a family of Whoopers, they were normally 100's of metres away! As I approached of the best vantage points, there were at least ten Whooper Swans within decent range! I parked up in a gateway.....


Lots of photo opportunities as they had clearly 'accepted' me!

Swimming ever closer to me!

And feeding on the submerged crop....

One individual having a preen!

And eventually, close enough for close up crops!

I had hopes of trying to photograph every individual but with them criss crossing, I settled for a random approach.

Indigestion inducing quite big tuberous roots... attempts at swallowing!

A common problem!

Getting two in focus was a challenge!

But finally lead to the images of the session!

Images of the juveniles to follow and I finally managed to get an accurate count of the family groups! Coming shortly!

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Melverley floods - wildfowl and gulls galore!

Floody marvellous day's birding with Kris Webb today cruising around the flooded fields centred on Melverley. Highlights included an amazing scene at out first stop with astonishing number of ducks, estimated counts at one spot alone included: 1,500 Pintail, 1,200 Wigeon, 70 Shoveler, 200 Teal, 3 Tufted Duck, 70 Goosander. I picked out a single Pink-footed Goose amongst the 250 or so Greylag Goose and 100 Canada Geese. Who know what else may be lurking as much of the habitat can't be viewed!

This sign is almost a tourist attraction, if you can get to it?

I'd walked in wellies to it, question is would Kris make it?


The local AA vehicles were always on hand?

Driving around the Edgerley / Melverley area, every now and then a cloud of gulls would appear in the sky but getting close to them was pretty tricky with most of the connecting roads in the area impassable. We did find a couple of spots to check out the huge flocks, mostly Lesser Black-backed Gull (est 5,000), Black Headed Gulls (est 3,000) just a few Herring Gulls (est 30) and amazing 9 Yellow-legged Gulls (6 ad, 1each 2w/3w/4w).

Here's the nearest of the adult YLGs - through this gate but still not very near!

One of the biggest surprises which got my heart racing was a distant possible white winger. Tom Lowe had picked a possible Iceland out, a a few days earlier. This bird was luckily on the ground abut when scoped turned out to be a leucistic Lesser Black-back Gull. A bit disappointing we hadn't struck Iceland / Glauc but still a cracking bird!

We eventually found a place to view the Whooper Swans near Edgerley after grinding to a halt with impassable roads.  38 were seen with even more Pintail, Wigeon etc plus 9 Shelduck!

Returning to the favoured site late afternoon, one family of Whoopers were feeding close to the roadside, adjacent to a gate. We managed to park up and sit quietly..... the light was seriously dropping however.... Here's one of the adults

Plus two of the youngsters.....

Hand held shots usuing Kris's shoulder while he used the window of the car! Wild swans are nervous and looks like we've been rumbled? Adult plus 1 juv disappearing......



A lucky moment indeed!