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17 Dec 2014

WeBs weekend

A trip to Hilbre was in order Sunday to undertake the regular WeBs count. High tides were early morning and mid afternoon so the count was done at low tide. The weather started off being beautifully sunny with a fantastic sunrise behind me as I drove across to the island.
 Above: looking south east at low level back towards West Kirby Marine lake.
 Below: Rear view mirror shot

Below: the view ahead of me towards Hilbre.
 Below: looking back from the west side of Hilbre.
Apart from the few resident species there were no passerines around and very little on the sea! As the tide began to flood parties of Common Scoter were seen but only single Great-crested grebes & Red-throated Divers. Still, it was nice to be out and I took the opportunity of taking a couple of photos from the top of the air raid shelter and at the north end.

Below: looking north(ish) towards the Buoy Masters store with the newton heli trap by the stone wall

Below: Looking back towards the obs wit the Landrover parked on the drive.
 Below: Newton heligoland trap.
Below: the old lifeboat station bathed in early morning sunlight and reflecting a warm glow off the sandstone.
I lit the old wood burning stove in the Obs and left the windows open to air the place and provide somewhere warm to sit with a mug of tea and reflect on yet another year nearly over......


10 Dec 2014

The big godlewskii

Birds turn up in the strangest places! Who'd have thought a flooded field earmarked for development in the middle of a Yorkshire Industrial estate would host a mega-rare Blyth's Pipit (Anthus godlewskii). Well Jonny Holliday pulled the proverbial long eared leporidae out of his top hat with this one when he found a Blyth's Pipit on his local patch. With only 22 accepted records and many of these being one day birds on offshore islands this was always going to be a popular bird if it stuck around. It did and had the added bonus of only being an hour and a half away meaning Steve & I had the luxury of waiting to see if it was present for a 2nd day before meandering across the Pennines to Wakefield.

Unfortunately the only views we could all get were of the bird in flight but these were sufficient to identify the bird and coupled with its distinctive call made the identity unambiguous.

The species breeds from southern Transbaykalia  (Russia) and eastern Manchuria south to Tibet & winters in India and Sri Lanka so what it thought  of a cold industrial estate in Yorkshire heaven only knows.

Although there have currently only been 22 accepted UK records there have been three Blyth's Pipits (including this one) seen in the UK this autumn so I hoped one would turn up and give me a chance to catch up with one.

No photo's of this bird by me  - I didn't even bother taking the camera! I did get a photo of Jonny though that shows the difficult habitat the bird was frequenting.

Waiting at home until the news came through that the bird was still present gave me the opportunity to photograph the stunning sun rise  from our kitchen.


What does this Blyth's Pipit and my Levi jeans have in common?

I'll leave that for you to work out...................................

8 Dec 2014

Dunnocks & Long-tailed Tits.

With a family get together in Somerset planned for the weekend there wasn't any real opportunity to do much birding. Finishing work by 13.00 on Friday was a bonus and meant I was able to put a mist net up in the garden for an hour or so before it got dark. We've been gettign a party of Long-tailed Tits passing through a couple of times a day but so far I'd only managed to catch and ring one. I'm particularly interested in these birds as the first two controls I caught in the garden were both 'Lotti's' caught in the same week! Since then I've caught a few ringed in previous years so was interested in seeing if any of the current group were ringed or if it's the same group passing through daily.

Thew first bird caught was a young Dunnock that I'd ringed earlier this spring and could still be readily aged by its muddy brown iris.
As with a number of species Dunnock eye colour gets darker with age although this isn't always a foolproof criteria for ageing them. This one was a known age retrap and had a muddy brown eye so aging was straight forward.

Compare the eye colour to the adult I ringed in the spring:
Another interesting bird was this Blue Tit showing a broken 2nd primary - yet another bird with poor quality feathers. This has been something of a feature this year with other ringers commenting on the same thing.
I did manage to catch  10 Long-tailed Tits including 1 retrap - a bird  I ringed last month! Interestingly there was also a retrap Coal Tit associating with the Lotti's. A scarce bird in my garden but I've ringed a few this autumn although I haven't seen one for a few weeks. Hopefully they might pull in a wandering Yellow-browed Warbler over the winter!
Garage ringing station

4 Dec 2014

Kashmir Redstart

A much better sounding name than Eastern Black Redstart of the form phoenicuroides. This form is being touted as a potential split and given full species status rather than being just a race. It was only accepted onto the British list in September this year 23 years after the first was trapped and ringed in November 1981 at Dungeness, Kent. Another bird accepted at the same time was one that graced Wells, Norfolk in 2003.

Fast forward to November 2011 (there's a theme developing here - a true November bird!) when one turned up in Margate, Kent and another on Holy Island, Northumberland. I couldn't get to either!

Low and behold one turns up on Scilly a few days ago and another in Scalby Mills, Yorkshire.
Plans were made and a business trip to Leeds meant I was fortuitously within striking distance if the bird was still there. It was and I saw it!






It was a bit more elusive than it had been and was ranging further afield being seen in the next street but returning to its favoured garden once every 2-3 hours. A cracking little bird and well worth seeing even if it never gets elevated to full species status.

2 Dec 2014

Brent's & Blackbirds

I managed a quick trip over to Hilbre Sunday after the early morning high tide. A beautiful morning with clear skies and a dazzling sunrise and hardly a breath of wind although it clouded over a bit later.
As  I drove up the south end slip I disturbed our resident rabbit. This venerable old beast has been a solitary resident for at least three years now and has adapted with a thick furry coat. Later he or she came out to enjoy the last rays of sunshine by the 5 bar gate and seemed unperturbed by the day trippers that passed on the main track.
There seemed to have been a small fall of Blackbirds with at least three unringed birds flushed from bracken by the air raid shelter. One of these was caught in the Newton heligoland trap and seemed to have accidentally lost its tail which was regrowing. I can't believe it would still be growing it from its post breeding moult.

Brent Geese are one of my favourite birds. I remember when  I was around 8- 9 being taken by my parents to Mersea Island off the Essex coast and seeing my first Brent's. They undertake astonishing migrations and over the years Hilbre's flock of Pale-bellied Brent's has grown to around 200 birds and colour ringed birds have been present that have been coming to the island for several years such as HSWB below:
The history of this bird is well known and is taken from the Hilbre blog here.

 This bird was ringed at Dungarvan Pitch and Putt Golf Course, County Waterford, on 18th December 2008 and was first seen at Hilbre on 12th November 2010 having been at Strangford Lough, County Down, that autumn until 20th October and has returned to the islands every winter since (along with the Canadian ringed bird 'HDRB' also present this autumn). Thanks, as always, to the Irish Brent Goose Research Group for the information.

So for at least 6 years this smallest of our geese has been flying backwards and forwards from arctic Canada, probably via Iceland, to N Ireland and then across to Hilbre. A journey of around 3,500 miles one way! Awesome.

As with other geese and swans Brent's migrate in family groups and these often stick together on the wintering grounds. It was nice to see such a family group comprising of 3 juveniles and a par of adults on the whale-back. The juveniles are easily picked out by the pale fringes to their mantle feathers.
As the morning progressed more people ventured out from West Kirby and the Brent's were disturbed and flew off to a quieter place.
Passerines  were scarce and apart from the Blackbirds only the resident Robins, Wrens and Dunnnock's were noted.
Dunnock basking in the winter sun
As the crowds grew it was time to leave and already by early afternoon the sun was beginning to get lower in the sky towards the south east.


28 Nov 2014

Pond Life.

Few shots during sunnier times of birds coming to drink at Barry's pond. Went to try and photograph a Grey Wagtail but sods law meant it didn't come down to the pond whilst  I was there. Plenty of Greenfinches and Gold finches though.




24 Nov 2014

Talking tertials

Saturday saw a 3.15 wake-up call as I was going across to Bangor to join the rest of the SCAN ringing team attempting to canon net Redshank & we had to meet up at 05.45 to set the nets in the dark! With high tide around 10.30 we didn't have the luxury of setting up in daylight!

We had the nets set pretty quickly and the majority of the team settled down in the hide for a long vigil as dawn broke and the tide rose. Once again luck was on our side and we made a good catch comprising 126 Redshank, 8 Dunlin & a single Curlew.

It was a good opportunity to look at ageing the Redshank something generally done by the state of the tertials. Juveniles (age code 3 born this year) generally have very worn tertials with the weaker white 'teeth' worn away so the edge resembles a bread knife blade -see below.


Very occasionally these can be so badly worn that very little white is visible at all. This can cause confusion making the bird look similar to an adult although other plumage / bare part characteristics can be used to determining the correct age. Juvenile Redshanks generally have paler legs than adults and are a yellowish orange.


Adult tertials shown on the bird below:


There is a racial separation based on size between populations of Redshank with birds from further north (Iceland & Scandinavia) being bigger than our British birds so measurements were taken to help determine the origins of these birds wintering in N Wales.

A number of juveniles were quite 'runty' and we caught one unfortunate bird that had a severe case of rickets - see below. A couple were very undersized and underweight and if we have a cold winter they'll be unlikely to survive.

A great session and we were finished and packed up by 12.00 - enough time for me to catch up on some sleep in the conservatory!