30 Sep 2015


A few weeks ago we had a good passage of Dunlin on the Wirral and driving across to Hilbre as the tide ebbed enabled me to get some good shots of a few as they fed completely unconcerned by the presence of the Landrover. It was good to see some juveniles among the adults and interesting to see the different stages of moult some birds were in. Some of the adult birds were still in a lot of their summer finery and others were nearly completing their moult.
 Juvenile Dunlin
 Juvenile Dunlin
 Adult Dunlin  - almost in full summer plumage still
 Juvenile Dunlin
 Adult Dunlin
Not a Dunlin! Juvenile Ringed Plover.
Most of the Dunlin looked like the S Scandinavian & western European race schinzii which ties in nicely with the Dunlin we caught in N Wales with SCAN a few weeks ago. I'm off to Shetland for a week now so hopefully will see some good birds & get some photos. 

28 Sep 2015

Contrasting weather.

A complete turn around in the weather this week with thunder storms and heavy rain over Hilbre being replaced over the weekend with brilliant sunshine!

In between there's been a steady trickle of migrants with Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs continuing to make fall on the island. The first of the wintering Brent Geese have turned up and Sunday saw a surprise in the form of a male Eider fly down the east side over the high tide along with the winters 1st great Northern Diver heading west towards N Wales.

Saturday saw me making the trip across from West Kirby after the mornings high tide as the main purpose of the visit was essential maintenance and scrub clearing around the heligoland traps. This is a constant exercise as left unchecked the brambles, blackthorn and sycamores push up through the wire mesh of the traps causing lots of damage which is expensive and time consuming to to repair.

The afternoon was enlivened by the appearance of an amphibious landing craft from the Mersey that proceeded to drive up the east side gutter and park on the beach at West Kirby!

Sunday I was up meeting Steve & Doreen before dawn and heading over full of expectation on a beautiful autumnal morning wit ha stunning sunrise and a bit of early morning mist.

Sure enough there had been a small fall and we caught a few Chiffchaffs and A Goldcrest but as the mist burnt off the birds left and headed towards the mainland with only the residents for company  - including this heavily moulting male Kestrel that had been re-trapped on Hilbre after being ringed elsewhere.

Quite what its feeding on I'm not sure as a fox seems to have been attracted to the island and appears to be in no hurry to move on. There haven't been many voles seen recently and the fox is probably decimating them.

As well as the Kestrel the resident Rock Pipits are still showing well at both the north and south end of the island whilst an incredible 160 Linnets are to be seen flying around between Hilbre & Middle Eye.

21 Sep 2015

Octopus on Hilbre.

Saturday was a beautiful day to be out and about on Hilbre so I arranged to meet Steve and take a leisurely few hours on the island. On the way over we spotted a Lesser Black-backed Gull behaving oddly. It was pecking at something on the sand and wouldn't move far even when we drove the Landrover up to see what it was.

We soon found the object of its attention - a dead Octopus and a prize find for a hungry gull. I've never seen an Octopus in UK waters so this was a new one for me.

Alan H was already at the Obs and had caught a couple of Goldcrests before we arrived. With the arrival of John Elliot we decided the weather was calm enough to put up a couple of mist nets and we soon caught a few more Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff. We also caught two juvenile Rock Pipits. This year they've bred on the island for the first time in living memory so these youngsters are quite historic!

Both were undertaking their post juvenile moult and later one of them caused some initial identification confusion by jumping about in the top of a pittosporum bush in the Obs garden. This unusual behaviour was soon explained when a large female Peregrine flew through the area.

Linnet numbers have  increased dramatically with a a high count of 120 birds. The only other migrant of note was a Common Whitethroat that appeared in the Obs garden but resolutely refused to be caught.

An excellent few hours with good company and plenty of tea and chocolate cookies.

14 Sep 2015

Oystercatchers & Firecrest.

The weekend started with an early morning rendevovous with the rest of the SCAN ringing team in N Wales. The target species was Oystercatcher and a large ringing team was gathered to help set the canon nets and ring / process any birds that were caught. The weather was pretty grim to start with but brightened up as the morning progressed. The birds were a bit skittish and the flock was a bit unsettled but eventually we made a good catch of over 500 birds - including an Icelandic 'control'. Unfortunately I was to busy to get any photographs as the priority was to ring, process and release the birds as fast as possible! A great day but I certainly felt like I'd spent hours in the wind and rain sat on a stony beach when I got home that evening!

I couldn't make Sundays session for Curlew as I had things that needed sorting out at home but when Steve told me he was going to Hilbre for a couple of hours in the afternoon I jumped at the chance and picked him up around 14.30 to drive across. There had been a few migrants around in the morning and we hoped a few would have dropped in over the high tide. Sure enough we saw and heard a few Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests. As we were walking the heli trap we could hear a crest moving in the sycamores ahead of us that sounded like a Firecrest. We couldn't see it but it sounded good! Sure enough out popped a stunning male Firecrest that I was very happy to be able to ring.

It was aged as a young male fledged this year by the pointed tail feathers.
Once ringed and released it spent the next hour happily feeding in the obs garden where the warm afternoon sunshine meant there were lots of small insects flying around for it to feed on. Although I've seen a few on Hilbre this was the first one I'd ringed. They're pretty scarce and by no means annual although they've become commoner over the last decade with a total of 25 caught since 1976 but 15 since 2000.

7 Sep 2015

Red-backed Shrike and some interesting ringing

The weekend started well with our first autumn ringing session in Barry's garden. I managed a few hours before leaving for work and at the end of the session an amazing 114 birds had been processed. A large number were Blue & Great Tits but there was a good number of Coal Tits and a smattering of other species to keep us occupied.

As well as the birds Barry had his moth trap operational and the haul included this Poplar Hawkmoth that happily posed on my fingers whilst it vibrated its wings to warm up.

I was out Friday evening when Steve rang to say Al Conlin had found a juvenile Red-backed Shrike at Meols so that had to wait until Mark Payne picked me up Saturday morning. Just as we'd finished a large fried breakfast I received a call asking if I could help with the final CES of the year run by Steve & Rachel at Maltraeth. Keen to see the site and perhaps get to see a few more acrcocephalus warblers than I normally see I agreed so Sunday saw me awake at 3.30 am to set off in the dark to Anglesey.

Although most of the acro's seemed to have departed we did catch a few Sedge & Reed Warblers as well as a selection of other warblers including two juvenile Lesser Whitethroats and a cracking juvenile Cetti's!

It was also nice to see a few Reed  Buntings around - all juveniles and showing the characteristic pointy tails of juvenile birds.
Back home by 13.00 I showered, changed and promptly fell asleep in the conservatory!

1 Sep 2015

Autumn movements

After a fantastic week in Majorca where we had Wryneck, Serin, Crossbill, Cetti's Warbler, Hoopoe and Sardinian Warbler almost daily from our hotel balcony we arrived back late Saturday afternoon to unsettled weather and the sounds of Meadow pipits migrating overhead! Sunday saw a Chiffchaff in the garden and a walk round the local patch on Monday in the rain produced a Stonechat and a flyover Golden Plover. It looks like autumn is definitely on the way!

Whilst tidying up in the garden I took the opportunity to erect a couple of small mist nets. Not many birds were caught but they did include this juvenile Great Tit that was ringed in the garden as a pullus in the nest box installed for House Sparrows high up on the garage wall! It was unusual in that it showed a moult contrast in the greater coverts as most Great Tits would have replaced them all by now. It was also moulting its tertials and tail which is common in Great Tits. The tail also showed growth bars / fault bars indicating that it had struggled to feed during the re-growth..

A nice surprise were two juvenile Coal Tits. These don't breed closer than Stanney Woods which is about 1.5 km away and are obviously dispersing birds. These had completed their post juvenile moult and showed a contrast between the new adult type inner greater coverts and the outer retained juvenile ones. One had 3 retained greater coverts and one had 4. Interestingly in this species the retained juvenile greater coverts are longer than the new adult ones.

Another sure sign of autumn and post breeding dispersal was the presence of a juvenile female Nuthatch!

Whilst in the garden I started thinking about how I could prevent Grey Squirrels destroying the feeders and eating all the seed. I came up with a cunning plant that seems to work. As long as the feeders are far enough from the tree trunk or another launch pad they can't jump and hang on.

Whilst we'd been away the they'd chewed through the stainless mesh of the peanut feeder so I wrapped it in 10 mm x 10 mm stainless weld mesh that s 1 mm in diameter. The birds can get their bills in but the squirrels can't reach the peanuts! The plastic bottles worked a treat and every now and then I heard a crash and lots of rattling as one of the rodents tried to reach the sunflower hearts and slid off. One nil to me I think.

19 Aug 2015

Ringed Plover and Dunlin - 1st autumn SCAN trip of 2015!

SCAN had a recent canon netting session in N Wales targeting Ringed Plover. The recce work showed there was a roosting flock of around 80 birds including some we'd colour flagged / ringed in previous seasons.

As usual in these circumstances I can't sleep when I know I have to get up early. At 3.30  I was wide awake and making a brew before leaving the house at 5.30 even though the meeting time wasn't until 07.20! My intention was to arrive at the meeting place early and do a bit of birding.

The weather, for once, was perfect with plenty of sunshine but a nice stiff breeze to keep it cool. The hedges were alive with roving tit flocks and the occasional Chiffchaff whilst a family of Mistle Thrushes searched for invertebrates in among the sheep. The tit flocks were joined by a number of chaffinches and the odd goldfinch whilst a couple of buzzards made low level passes across the fields.

Eventually meeting up with Steve & Rachel and the team we loaded the canon netting gear and set off to our designated beach to set the nets. Birds started arriving early although a peregrine spooked them. They soon returned  though I was given the job of firing the nets on Steve and Rachel's command.......

The wait seemed interminable as the birds hunkered down and slowly moved up the beach into the catching zone as the tide rose. At last the signal came to arm the box and fire on a count down of three, two, one....................


We made a successful catch and eventually caught 102 Ringed Plover, a few Dunlin and a single Turnstone. With the birds all extracted we set about the ringing and processing with biometrics being recorded for wing length, moult, total head and bill and weight. Each Ringed Plover was ringed wit ha metal BTO ring on the right leg and a red colour ring and orange flag with two letters / numbers on the left leg to enable field identification.

 Adult male Ringed Plover ringed and colour makred ready for release.
 Juvenile Ringed Plover showing scaly upperparts and dull head pattern compared to adult.
 Juvenile Ringed Plover
2nd calendar year Ringed Plover showing moult contrast in coverts.

The Ringed Plovers we caught are from two different populations with the birds overwintering in the UK already in full wing moult. A second population (tundrae) travels Africa to winter and delay their moult until they arrive in warmer climes. We caught a couple of birds with arrested moult which was interesting to see.

The Dunlin were interesting - they were all of the race schinzii that breed in Iceland & W Europe and winter in Africa. There were a number of juveniles caught which suggests they've had a fairly good breeding season.

 Juvenile Dunlin (above) showing buff tipped wing coverts and adult below with worn and faded coverts.

A great day out and a very pleasing catch.