21 Aug 2014

Essential maintenance and a Yellow-legged Gull.

Another trip to Hilbre this week to help Chris carry out essential repairs to the seawatching hide that had been badly knocked about during last Novembers storm surge. The surge knocked down a brick wall protecting the west side of the hide then  burst through the west side observation flap. As it had no where to go it pushed the front of the hide out of line and broke the hinges of the forward facing observation flaps. Its now all ready for the autumn season.

There wasn't much to see on the sea with three juvenile Shags being about the only birds out there! Highlight was me finding an adult Yellow-legged Gull roosting on the beach, with the Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls as I drove on following the tide as it receded.

Ringing was restricted to a single Robin and an island bred juvenile Dunnock.

16 Aug 2014

A late summers afternoon on Hilbre

Its been a few weeks since I was last on Hilbre and the fine weather Friday afternoon spurred me on to get over and joint the Chairman and family for a few hours spent lazing around on the island over the tide.

What a good decision! Not only was the weather good but we caught a few birds as well! Highlights were a Pied Wagtail (a new ringing species for me!),  a moulting Redstart and a REED WARBLER! A huge rarity on Hilbre but common everywhere else. IN the 60 year history of the Obs there have only been 8 records and I'd never see none on the island before. Having seen the mega rare Blyth's Reed Warbler on Hilbre I was a bit shocked to see it fly in front of me as I entered one of the heligoland traps and once back at the Obs we double checked the wing formula to make  sure it wasn't the rarer species.

Permission was also sought and granted to ring the 2nd brood of Swallows in the look out station and the Chairman duly ringed a brood of 3 young birds.

Wader numbers are building up and large numbers of Ringed Plover and Dunlin spent the high tide at the south end.

 Eat your heart out Daniel Craig. You never looked this cool stepping out the sea in your trunks.

 Many of the Dunlin are still in summer plumage with black bellies whilst the number of juveniles suggest they've had a good breeding season.

 A young Peregrine had a half-hearted attempt at trying to catch one of the roosting waders by flushing them off the rocks but they were wise to the trick and kept low over the water before returning to their ledges.

We also had time to practice our amphibious landing maneuvers in   readiness for the big autumn rarity. With the Chairman at the helm I took the opportunity to take a look at the Island form the sea - a view I'd not seen before.
A fabulous afternoon with a good variety of birds caught and seen Little Tern numbers are building up and as we drove off after the tide the gutter was full of them diving for fish.

11 Aug 2014


Fresh back from a few days with my family in Somerset I decided to spend a few hours ringing in the garden after a leisurely start to the day! Unfortunately the remnants of  Hurricane Bertha meant we had torrential rain and strong winds at times but there were patches of good weather that enable me to set a couple of mist nets.

Not many birds were caught but some interesting ones - a new juvenile Blackbird and only the 3rd Nutchatch I've ringed in the garden. Another unringed bird was also visiting the bird feeders later in the day.

The young Blue & Great Tits are making great inroads into my supplies of sunflower hearts and all have a healthy fat score with the furcular pits bulging.

The occasional juvenile bird, like this Great Tit was caught with fault barring on the tail suggesting a period of food stress during the nest stage. These feathers will probably be replaced during the post juvenile moult as Great Tits do moult their tails during this moult. if not it'll be during the post breeding moult next year and by then will be pretty battered and worn as the fault bars are a weak spot. it is possible that the bird may accidentally lose its tail and grow a replacement before the annual moult.
It appears that our local Goldfinches have successfully reared a 2nd brood as the adults are returning with more juveniles in tow.
The observant will note that the above photo is one I took a month or so ago before losing a finger nail on my right hand as seen in the other photo's! That was the result of banging my finger instead of a nail whilst repairing one of the heligoland traps on Hilbre.

4 Aug 2014

Back home

We've just had a week on Lanzarote - a family holiday not a birding trip but I managed a few bits and bobs as well as a couple of dives where we saw a large school of Barracuda and a diving tick for me in the form of a large Stingray! I've spent quite a bit of time on the Canaries over the years and have caught up with all the specialties and endemics so was chilled about spending to much time birding.

A delayed flight coupled with a security scare at Aricife airport meant we didn't get home until 5.30 am this morning! By the looks of it autumn migration has begun.....

26 Jul 2014

Probably the last few Swallows

I got permission this week to ring Swallows on another local farm. Although late in the season I hoped there might be a 2nd brood or two. I was right. One well nourished 2nd brood and another nest with eggs. The farm also has a good sized colony of House Martins & the farmer us keen for me to ring these as well!

I didn't need a ladder for these but stood on the back of an old sofa used by the farm dog! As soon as they heard me they started begging for food! 

18 Jul 2014

Swifts over the garden

The warm weather recently has resulted in huge numbers of flying ants locally and this has attracted the Black-headed Gulls and Swifts to feed over the garden. Some of the Swifts have been coming quite low so I stood on the lawn with the camera trying to get some decent shots as they zoomed overhead.

The first photo seems to show the bird has a bulging bolus of insects in its mouth as its throat is extended. I'm not sure if these are local birds or have come from further afield. They seemed to be hanging around unlike the large passage of 3-400+ birds that passed over earlier all heading in the same direction. Its frustrating trying to get flight shots as they're so quick! A fly over Raven was a bonus  but the real surprise was the Pipistrelle bat hunting in broad daylight around 5 pm. How did it know there was a hatch of ants?

The recent warm humid weather has led to a huge number of recently formed frogs exiting the local pond. At one point I counted over a hundred 2 cm long froglets  - I know this as the neighbours kids were collecting them in a bucket and moving them to the safety of an overgrown patch of nettles to stop the Magpies and Jackdaws eating them all.

I mentioned recently I'd bought a new macro lens. I haven't had much time to play with it but here's a couple of shots of a Common Poppy in the garden and an orchid in the conservatory. Its an awesome lens and as I get used to it I'll be using it to photograph insects.

16 Jul 2014

Sand Martins

I was lucky enough to join Richard, John & Mark this week on one of their evening visits to ring Sand Martins as part of a RAS (retrapping adults for survival) study on the River Lune.

It was a beautiful evening to spend  on the river bank with martins everywhere and the bonus of a fly through Hobby that grabbed one for supper before getting chased away by a screaming mob of agitated martins.

Common Sandpipers, Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Grey Wagtails also frequented the river sides and the surrounding pastures.
There are special guidelines for ringing Sand Martins at colonies and these are strictly adhered to. Two lines of nets were used and opened / closed alternately. I don't get to see these little birds close up very often  as they're usually only caught at colonies or at a roost site - neither of which we have on Hilbre! They are great little birds but pretty smelly after being in their burrows for the breeding season.

Some of the adults were controls from other sites and many females still had brood patches suggesting they were on 2nd or even 3rd broods for the year. Sand Martin ecology is interesting as once the juveniles disperse from their natal colony they visit other colonies and some of last nights retraps were from other colonies on the Lune.

Adults can be identified by their all brown feathering whilst juveniles have buff or rusty fringes to the tertials, coverts and rump.
 Juvenile (3J) Sand Martin with very rusty edges to tertiarys, coverts and rump
 Juvenile (3J) Sand Martin with paler edges to feathers.
Adult Sand Martin - uniform brown feathering although worn at this time of year.

After a couple of weeks fitting bigger rings to cormorants, auks, gulls, terns and Kittiwakes it was nice to get back to handling smaller stuff that doesn't bite or scratch! Sand Martin poo doesn't come out in quite the same quantities as with the seabirds.

Packing up just before 21.00 I was back home by 11.15. A great way to spend a warm summers evening.