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27 May 2016

Born in the USA.

A very apt title for this post and many thanks to Steve Williams for the inspiration for the title. When a Black-billed Cuckoo turned up recently on  N Uist my interest was piqued as this is a massively declining species in its American home range with only 14 accepted UK records up to 2014 with the last twitchable one being a 3 day bird on the Scillies in 1982! As with its close relative, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, autumn birds don't tend to survive more than a day so you'd have to be very near to where it was found t have any  chance of seeing it. Because of this I wasn't unduly worried. It wouldn't be there the following day....................Anyway, I had other commitments! Including attending Bruce Springsteen in concert!

Contrary to all expectations the bird survived. Possibly autumn birds are immatures who find the long sea crossing to much whereas a spring bird is already much more street wise and stronger having survived its first winter. Whether this bird arrived in gales somewhere in southern Europe and has followed its natural urge to migrate north or whether its a spring overshoot is open to conjecture. It doesn't matter. It was over here, surviving and eating our caterpillars.

As the length of its stay wore on my interest began to increase. Surely this major unblocker couldn't survive until after The Boss's concert............. I had High Hopes.

Plans were hatched and thanks to some Working On a Dream and terrific organisation from Stuart Brown I found my self meeting up with him, Steve W and Andy at my house after 3 hrs sleep and with my ears still ringing from listening to Bruce and the superb East Street Band to drive over to Notts where we were due to meet up with Stuart Butchard and fly up to N Uist. A tense wait whilst the pilot prepared the plane ensued as there was no news o the bird. Luckily it was still there and the news eventually came through at 08.00 and we were on our way! Trying to forget the words of Bruce's song I'm going down I tried to relax and catch up on some sleep before we arrived at The Promised Land. We had a light hearted moment when Stu lost a £20 note (I actually dropped it) and the wind took it across Benbecula airport followed by Stu doing his impression of The E Street Shuffle to much hilarity from us all.

I'd got a few car hire numbers and before we took off I arranged a car for us at Benbecula airport. Everything went smoothly and according to plan. No Pink Cadillac but a functional Vauxhall Zafira One third of our journey completed. We were on site  and hoping! Some local birders were watching one of the few vegetated gardens and we strolled over to discover the bird had flown in a few minutes prior to our arrival. Another tense period ensued before the bird suddenly pooped up infant of me before promptly disappearing back into the garden before everyone had a chance to see it. With nerves now dissapating as we'd now completed the 2nd third of our quest - actually being the bird - we endured another 30 minutes peering into the undergrowth before the Cuckoo suddenly appeared o the opposite side of the grade and performed for the small crowd by catching and eating caterpillars along the fence line seemingly not worried by our presence or the presence of the house owners working in the garden.



This was one bird I truly didn't expect to see in my lifetime let alone in the spring. After literally stumbling across a Yellow-billed Cuckoo a few years ago on Orkney I've now seen all 4 of the Cuckoo species recorded in the UK. See here for that bird.

The bird became very active and moved along the fence line before flying off to several other gardens to feed.

 At one point it got mobbed by the resident Meadow Pipits who were clearly programmed to recognise it as threat before flying off to another garden where the local Starlings gave it a hard time.



It was great meeting up with old friend Stuart Taylor who works for the RSPB on The Hebs and armed with information he gave us we managed to see some of the other local specialities before heading back to the airport for our flight home

This was uneventful and  I managed to doze off a few times on the plane before driving the team back to Chehsire after saying our goodbyes to Stuart Butchard who was heading back to Cambridge. Mission accomplished - a game of three thirds had been successfully completed and  Celebrated with a cold beer. A proper job!


A great day with good company (thanks guys), some good birds, beautiful scenery and fabulous weather. Whats not to like?



'The team'. Glory Days indeed.




20 May 2016

Nest boxes

It's the time of year where garden ringing takes a bit of a back seat as all the wintering birds have now dispersed to their breeding grounds. Attention turns to ringing pullus (chicks) either in open nests or boxes. It'll soon be Puffin Island season as well where we'll hopefully be ringing lots of auk, cormorant, shag & gull chicks. In the meantime there's boxes of blue & great tits, house sparrows & robins to concentrate on. As stated in a previous post my local boxes are having mixed success this year but there have been some successful nests!

 Nest box predated by Great-Spotted Woodpecker
 Blue Tit pullus @ 2 days old.
Great Tit nest - beautifully lined with cow hair.

I have an endorsement to my ringing licence to ring young birds in the nest and monitor the boxes as part of the BTO's nest record scheme.

15 May 2016

Nightingale & Nightjar

What a brilliant day last Thursday was! Firstly I'd dropped my car off at a local garage in Mold and was walking back to the office when I heard a Nightingale singing in some scrub between the road and the local sewage works. I didn't realise at the time but it was a first for Flintshire and quite a few people managed to hear it up until dusk - I don't think anyone actually saw it despite a number of people trying to tape lure it closer. There was absolutely no need for doing this and it's becoming a common problem. People don't have the patience to wait quietly for birds to start singing by themselves and playing a recording back is only going to cause the bird undue stress. Numpties! 

Whilst still on a bit of a high over the Nightingale Steve texted me to say he and Col had found a Nightjar on Hilbre - only the 3rd record and the first for 40+ years. Not having a car was a bit of a problem but luckily Kenny Mac & Al H had 'twitched' the Nightingale from Shotton and offered me a lift. Making my excuses I quickly left the office and we arrived on Hilbre to find a small crowd of Obs members viewing the Nightjar which was roosting in a small silver birch adjacent to the Obs southern most boundary fence. Stunning! 



10 May 2016

Red Kite!

I've been working in China for the last week so nothing really to report on the local birding front. I managed to catch a pretty horrible stomach bug whilst out there and couldn't eat anything for the best part of three days. Feeling a bit better Sunday I headed out to check some of my nest boxes near the house with very mixed results - out of 16 boxes checked three had birds on eggs, one brood of Great Tits were ready to ring and one brood of Blue Tits (in my garden) were dead in the box! Given the recent good weather and the fact the chicks were only 1-2 days old I'm not sure what happened - even if one parent had been killed the other would have tried to carry on feeding them. Very strange.



Walking the fields gave me an opportunity to pick up on a new Lesser Whitethroat territory - one that has been used in previous years and there were at least two more Common Whitethroats singing. Swifts were also new in and I had a rare flyover Yellow Wagtail.

Back to work on Monday and as I was travelling home for a dentist appointment I saw a distinctive raptor silhouette being mobbed by local Carrion Crows about 1/2 mile from my house and well within my local patch boundaries! A RED KITE!!!! I subsequently discovered one had flown down the Mersey estuary earlier so it may be that bird.


4 May 2016

Another Siskin control

Another good Siskin control of one of the birds ringed in my garden this year.

28 Apr 2016

Iceland Gull, Hilbre

A great find by a visiting birder and thanks to Al H ringing us as we drove across to Hilbre Steve & I managed to stop and view it from Middle Eye before it flew north.






The highlight of a generally quiet day - apart from Andrea's whiskey fruitcake!!

21 Apr 2016

Marbury sur la mer

A great visit with Mark Payne to Marbury Country Park last weekend. With such a range of habitats this gem attracts a lot of attention from local birds. Within minutes of leaving the car we'd heard a Cetti's Warbler swearing at us from reeds alongside the brook. Arriving at the viewing screen we soon met up with Pod and whilst nattering about life in general we picked up an unseen Med Gull on call. It dropped in on to an island infant of us and was joined by a 2nd. The pair then proceeded to put on a display for the assembled throng with the occasional flight and a bit of bullying towards the local Black-headed Gulls. A superb sight.
 2nd calendar year Mediterranean Gull with black in wing tips.
 This bird also had some black in the wing tips but it wasn't as noticeable. This can be highly variable so this was probably also a 2nd calendar year bird.
 Courtship feeding and presenting with bits of vegetation.


Mark picked up the pair of Garganey that had been reported over the previous couple of days and they soon emerged from deep in the reed bed and swam across the pool to promptly go to sleep on one of the islands!


All in all a great little run out with my first Reed Warbler of the year as well!