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.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Surf's up

Headed out birding  this morning with Big Steve, Taffy Bowen and Scotch Frank. First port of call was the area of saltmarsh off Denhall Lane on the Dee estuary. The main objective was to see the recent Buff-bellied Pipit that's been there for a few days. It'd been seen when we got there at 9 a.m.but heavy showers made hard work of the first few minutes. We eventually picked the Buff-belly up, feeding with numerous Meadow Pipits along the thick line of tidal debris. It played  hide and seek and cos I seemed to spend lots of time getting others onto it I didn't make a decent photo of it. Plenty of other little tweety wufflers fed along the tide line and adjacent scrub including; 1 Siberian Chiffchaff, 2 nominate Chiffchaff,  1 Goldcrest, 6 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Redwing, 6 Blackbirds, 3 Stonechat, 1 unseasonal Wheatear, 65 Linnets, 4 Pied Wagtails, 2 Robins, 2 Wrens and 4 Dunnocks. A nice mix and a flushed at one point by a female Sparrowhawk. It was interesting to watch a Weasel collecting vole corpses and bring them back to cache in the same place; it flushed a Jack Snipe and was mobbed by many of the tweety wufflers.

Out on the salt marsh a distant ringtail Hen Harrier was nice and a few Little Egrets drifted about. Flocks of wildfowl and waders included Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Curlews, Wigeon, Teal and Pink-footed Geese. We make a decision to look for lunch, fuel and Surf Scoters. So, off to Llandulas we headed.

The Llandulas 'service station' just off the A55 is well known to birders and we headed there for some garage gack when Taff noticed a sign for a cafe - Oinky's cafe. Epic. We settled down for our dinner at Oinky's and it's fair to say we were all pleasantly surprised. I tackled an Oinky's breakfast (in spite of the dire pile of baked beans), Scotch Frank and Steve went for burgers and Taff absolutely hammered a chilli dog. Good work boys - proud of you all. It seems Oinky's have some eating challenges on occasionally, check their Facebook group for details. A handy North Wales food stop.

After Oinky's we set about the seriou business of helping Taffy Bowen to his first ever Surf Scoter. We headed up to the top of the cycle track off the Station Road beach car park and scoped out to sea in earnest. The warm sunshine and relatively flat sea made scanning relatively pleasant. A long black slick of Common Scoters were very much in evidence and after 5 minutes or so I jammed into 2 drake Surfies, much to Taff's delight. We enjoyed there for a while and while scanning for Velvet Scoters I jammed into a third drake Surfie, who eventually joined the other two. Persistence paid off and I picked out at least three Velvet Scoters. Not great views, but good enough. Others species of interest seen off Llandulas were Red-breasted Mergansers, Guillemots, Red-throated Divers, a single Great Northern Diver, two Fulmars and thousands of Herring Gulls, which came to roost on the beach. A falconer, who works at the local tip, turned up and asked us if we'd seen any falcons, turned our he'd lost a black female Saker x Gyr earlier, oops......

Loads of scoters out there. Honest 

Taffy Bowen connecting with new birds in the land of his father's and all that malarkey

Sunny Rhyl in the distance

Monday, 30 December 2013

Big Furry Felines

Sometimes through my work I visit different zoos and wildlife parks for meetings or to look a exhibit design etc. In September I nipped up to the South Lakes Wild Animal Park to discuss a couple of things and afterwards I had a wander around. As a youngster I was enthralled by all of the carnivores but especially the big cats and I used to love visiting places like Chester Zoo to see them. It's amazing to think that in my lifetime a couple of races of tigers have become extinct and also the rate that Indian tigers have decreased - a really sad situation. 

A few years ago when I did some survey work looking for White-headed Ducks in the Ilie delta, feeding into Lake Balkash, our guide Vladimir, told me that their used to be tigers there, that hunted the boar - I didn't believe him. I was recently reading about the extinction of Caspian Tigers and sure enough the Ilie delta was mentioned as a last stronghold, sorry Vlad! It got me thinking about the value of conservation projects, wildlife rescue missions and captive breeding programmes for tigers and wether earlier intervention could have ever saved Bali, Javan or Caspian Tigers. So it was heartening to read about the positive efforts by researchers, conservation land managers and zoos happening on behalf of Sumatran Tigers. The Sumatran Tigers at South Lakes had recently become infamous for the wrong reasons (I have genuine sympathy for the young lady that lost her life there), but it's always a privilege to see them up close. I took a few pictures of them and their feline cousins. Amazing animals....

A few photos of the pair of Sumatran Tigers at South Lakes

Male African Lion

Male Snow Leopard

Jaguar at South Lakes. 

Sunday, 29 December 2013

I've never felt more like singin' the blues

An interesting day today. Jacob and I walked Marty this morning and saw a couple of Redwings and a Buzzard at the park - always nice. Post dog walk we headed off to Goodison in nervous mood. We'd missed a couple of recent home games with other engagements taking priority. The home defeat to Sunderland was disappointing and I was worried today given that several key players were out and all credit to Southampton, they've been doing well. It's always a pleasure walking down Goodison Road, Jacob and I always take the same route, it's a ritual and greatly enjoyed in the sunshine this afternoon. 

The old lady in the sunshine

Piper at the gates of Goodison (blue tunes only).

Prior to the game we all took part on a moment of applause for all Evertonians who passed away in 2013. All fans in the Park End held up a placard in memory. A class act from a club that seems to be refinding its feet under Roberto's management. 

The Park End prior to the match.

The game was an interesting one, Seamus Coleman's goal testament to his speed, skill and threat. James McCarthy played fantastically - he was everywhere, a pleasure to watch. Gareth Barry and his family were sat near us and he must have been delighted at the progress his young protege is making. After the break Everton allowed Southamtpon into the game and paid for it with a superb strike by substitute Ramirez, 1.1. The mighty blues retained the lead quickly with some fast, attacking football resulting in a clinical and thumping strike for the hard-working and skillful Lukaku, 2.1. The game continued end to end, a decent game of football. Good to see Alcacaraz, a precise, passing, calm centre back, play well. I doubt Robles will oust Howard anytime soon, but he did okay. Bainesy played his part and it'll be interesting to see how he and Oviedo play together if given the chance. Good to see Roberto still in his brown shoes....

Only bird of note over the ground was a female Sparrowhawk being mobbed over the Gwaldys Street by a flock of Starlings. 

Really nice to arrive home with our friends Steph, Seth and Jethro visiting from Skipton. Lovely folk and a discussion about planning a weekend away in 2014 was very welcome. 

When Steph and the lads left we watched the second half of the Chelski game. As much as I find Chekski distasteful it was good to see them win against Alan Green's champions elect (how he must have sqealed on Radio 5). Nice for Everton to end the weekend in 4th, it's strange how twitter is free of Christmas Day league table standings today, but then it isn't Christmas Day  now is it? 

Anyway. Altogether now;  "I've never felt more than singing the blues when Everton win and the ***** lose. Oh, Everton, you got me singing the blues....

Saturday, 28 December 2013

South Coast Harbouring Arctic Beauties

News over Christmas about a confiding Brunnich's Guillemot swimming about in Portland Harbour in Dorset and an equally confiding White-billed Diver in Brixham Harbour, in Devon, set my pulse racing and temptation became too much last night. The chance of seeing both of the elusive arctic specialities caused Horwich based, Welsh birder Jon Bowen and I to hatched a plan. I rang round and texted and only persuaded my Burscough birding neighbour Frank Whitney to join us. I picked Frank up at 4 a.m. and we got to John's at 4.30 a.m. We set off straight away with John heroically driving. With just a single, brief stop near Bristol, the journey was uneventful, although subject to much verbal nonsense, and we arrived at Portland Harbour in good spirits at around 9 a.m., my good friend and WWT colleague Paul Marshall,  along with twitter, providing updates and gen. On arrival we bumped into Paul and immediately, albeit briefly, caught site of the Brunnich's Guillemot - mega! The bird showed on and off for about an hour and we enjoyed it, and a supporting cast, of 59 Red-breasted Mergansers, a Black Guillemot, four Razorbills, numerous Shags, four Great Northern Divers and two Black-throated Divers. Great stuff. We also bumped into Merseysdide/Lancs birders Chris Galvin, Neill Hunt, Jason Stannage, John Aitchison and Cllr John Wright - always a pleasure. 

Record shot of the Portland Harbour Brunnich's Guillemot. 28/12/13. 

Southport birder Neill Hunt 'getting comfy' 

Birders birding at Portland Harbour

More birdspotters. Yep, that's Chris Galvin on the rocks....

A great time was enjoyed at Portland and we decide to pop into RSPB Radipole to see what was about. We weren't disappointed, we saw the resident drake Hooded Merganser (of unknown origin) and a superb Glossy Ibis. 

Drake Hooded Merganser. Radipole 28/12/13

Glossy Ibis. Radipole 28/12/13

The Radipole stop was perfectly pleasant but we decided to scoot off to Brixham, a good two hours or so away. 

On arrival at Brixham Harbour we 'got onto' the White-billed Diver (and two Red-throated Divers) almost immediately, although it occurred to us that we were at the wrong side of the harbour. We followed a friendly local and walked out onto the harbour wall and entertained ourselves with more than satisfactory views of the White-billed Diver - a great bird and well worth the effort. We bumped into Jason, Neill and co again; a proper social outing. A couple of Black-throated Divers floated in the harbour, with other harbour birds including Shags, Turnstones and a Rock Pipit. A scan offshore produced numerous divers and Great Crested Grebes, a couple of Eiders and several Gannets. 

White-billed Diver. Brixham Harbour 28/12/13. 

Brixham and it's harbour

We enjoyed Brixham and it's avifauna and decided for a final hurrah searching for Cirl Buntings at Broadsands, a village close to Brixham. It only took ten minutes to drive there and we were delighted to be put onto the Cirl Buntings straight away. We counted 13 of them feeding on put out millet (great work) - a fine flock mixed in with Chaffinches, Dunnocks and Reed Buntings. Superb little birds and the first I'd seen in the UK since 2004. Lovely! Another social gathering ensued with the usual suspects. A brief sea watch produced 30 odd Great Crested Grebes, c. 20 Common Scoters and a Black-necked Grebe. A wonderful birding end to a wonderful birding day. 

Two drake Cirl Buntings and a Chaffinch. Broadsands 28/12/13.

John drove brilliantly, despite the distraction of the Bluebirds unfortunate end of match collapse, and we arrived safely back to Horwich at c.08.20 p.m. Two flat tyres wasn't ideal to come back to but I got Frank home safe and sound by 9. I've just tucked into some Aldi artichoke hearts and a bottle of Cotes du Down me Clacker and I'm 'made up'. 

Happy days.....

Thursday, 26 December 2013

So, that was 2013

Slimbridge sunset. Dec 2013.

I started off 2013 optimistically and for good reason; my health was rapidly improving and work was settling down after a difficult period, to the point where I felt I was actually achieving things. I blogged  regularly early in year, mainly bird related topics, but as my health deteriorated and work and home became hectic I lost interest and packed in at the end of May. It wasn't deliberate I just stopped posting and stuck my occasional pictures on Facebook and waffling on twitter. 

Despite the health, work and personal issues there were some birding highlights from the late spring onwards this year that I hadn't blogged about. Things that particularly stand out are the singing Greenish Warbler at Turton and White-spotted Bluethroat at Martin Mere, Caspian Tern at Rudyard Reservoir, Little Bitterns at Ham Wall, Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Hesketh Out Marsh, huge numbers of Pink-feet in West Lancs in October, and more recently Ross's Goose and drake Baikal Teal on the Ribble. I enjoyed some good birding days out with the Birdwatching and Beyond group and some great days with friends such as Steve Sweetnam and Martin McGill. WeBS counting, coordinating the Lancashire Pink-foot counts, booking speakers for the West Lancs Wildlife group, BirdTracking,  occasionally guiding walks and giving talks  and writing the goose section for LBR all kept me interested, but I did lose my birding mojo a bit....

It's all looking good now and I fully back in the birding saddle and raring to go, so I'll be posting more regularly and taking the Birdwatching and Beyond title to the limit with more blog posts on subjects such as zoos and captive breeding, general natural history, Everton and anything else that floats my boat. So, if you enjoy my random reports and opinions, bad photos and inane waffle welcome back and thanks for your support. 

View of the the Dee and Flintshire hills from Hilbre. Sept 2013.

Christmas in the Herefordshire woods

As convivial as I try to be during the festive period it's always good to get out for a couple of walks to have some p & q, stretch the legs, take some fresh air and enjoy nature. I've included a few photos of my walks in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. My wife's parents live in Hereford and its a great place to spend a couple of days. 

No unusual birds seen but always nice to see flocks of winter Thrushes, Siskins, Crossbills, Bullfinches,  Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Marsh Tits and Ravens. 

The Lugg valley flooded

Old man's beard growing the the hedgerows .

One of the paper bark Birches in Queenswood. 

Record shot of a Marsh Tit in Queenswood

Early morning in Haugh Woods

Guelder Rose berries in Haugh Woods

Birch twig in Haugh Woods

Path through Haugh Woods


River Lugg overflowing at Mordiford

Lugg bridge at Mordiford

Wild winds at Caerlaverock

On the penultimate shopping weekend before Christmas some of the birdwatching and beyond chaps and I headed up to WWT Caerlaveock for some wildfowl action. The strong winds and latterly, driving rain, literally put a dampener on things but we enjoyed the Barnacle Geese (c. 7000), 118 Whooper Swans, a drake Green-winged Teal, a first-winter drake Greater Scaup and a hunting Peregrine. 

Drake Green-winged Teal on the Folly pond. 

Barnacle Geese coming in thick and fast

First winter drake Greater Scaup from the Peter Scott Observatory

Pair of adult Whooper Swans struggling in a gale....

A few of the 118 Whooper Swans hunkering down in stormy conditions

Baikal Beauty

Although I try not to twitch I have to admit I was gutted to be away on family duty in Herefordshire on Saturday 30th Nov when news of a possible drake Baikal Teal on part of the local patch broke. But at least Everton won! I just couldn't get back home so consoled myself with a day birding in the Forest of Dean on1st Dec. It was well worth it with Great Grey Shrike seen at Crabtree Hill, quickly followed by between six and nine Two-barred Crossbills in the Kensley Lodge area. Several Hawfinches, c.20 Common Crossbills and 125 Lesser Redpolls provided a superb supporting cast to a decent morning in "The Forest".

My Baikal angst continued as I flew to Belfast to spend a couple of days working at WWT Castle Espie on 2nd Dec. Castle Espie is always a great place to work and brief moments spent birding looking over Strangford Lough were rewarded with Spoonbill (still very rare in Northern Ireland), Little Egrets, c.2500 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Peregrine, Greenshanks, Little Egrets, clouds of Dunlins, Golden Plovers and Lapwings, with rafts of Shelducks, Eiders, Wigeons and a few Red-breasted Mergansers offshore. Hooded Crows (a very rare visitor at home in Lancashire) are always a treat to see and a herd of Whooper Swans in the shadow of Scrabo tower was great to watch from across the lough. In a year living in County Down in 1991 I didn't see a local Barn Owl, so I was delighted to see one drift across the road near Killinchy - two Irish ticks in a day.....

Back home on Wednesday 4th and I  managed to get to see the Baikal Teal feeding amongst thousands of Wigeon along the Crossens channel, a cracking bird - well worth the angst to see one locally! I managed to see him twice more over the next few days and was also pleased that so many of the other local birders enjoyed seeing him. He had a decent supporting cast too; two Great White Egrets, a juv Ross's Goose, a juv Long-tailed Duck, Merlins, Peregrines, Marsh Harriers, Twites and the Ribble water bird spectacle. I recently delivered a talk 'Birding the Ribble Coast and Wetlands' to West Lancashire Wildlife and suggested that rare and scarce birds are ambassadors for sites and habitats; comrade Baikal really did prove that....

Record shot of first winter Drake Baikal Teal on Sutton's Marsh, Marshside 08/12/13