17 Nov 2018

Eider, Hilbre

I forgot about these photo's of Eider on Hilbre! One of the features this year on Hilbre has been the number of Eider loafing around the island. On quiet days sitting in the Obs we specualte as to whether these birds are from the population at Walney in Cumbria or Puffin Island, Anglesey. Puffin Island is probably closer and the population there is increasing.

These photos were taken back in September and show a sub adult male and a juvenile - probably a male from the whit beginning to show through on the breast although that may just be misplaced feathers.

Wherever they come from they're always a nice addition to the Hilbre day list!

9 Nov 2018

Pied Wheatear - a potential first for Cheshire & Wirral

When Richard Ashford took some photos of a late Wheatear at on the sea defences at  Meols on Monday and Tuesday this week and forwarded them to Richard Smith little did he know what he'd found. Richard circulated them and Steve's  immediate reaction was 'shit, thats no Northern'

Other photos showing the tail pattern confirmed it as potentially Cheshire and Wirrals first Pied Wheatear.  Potentially as one of the Hilbre Bird Observatory founder members recalls finding one with the late John Gittins but it was never submitted.

Steve put the news out on the local WhatsApps group Tuesday night and cue much angst amongst the Wirral and Cheshire birding fraternity. A major rarity on our doorstep for two days and nobody had realised. Would it be there the next day? With a trip to Somerset later on the Wednesday I set the alarm for 6 am and aimed to get to site just after 1st light.

Tuesday night was wet and miserable so it was hoped the bird would have roosted and still be there in the morning. Luckily it was and Al C, who lives within a mealworms throw of the site, put the news out the bird was still there as I was driving up the Wirral peninsula.

Expecting the bird to have moved further along the coast, perhaps into the dunes or pony paddocks, I put my wellies on only to pull up behind a line of other cars and have the Pied Wheatear land on the seawall next to me. That was the pattern for the next hour or so. The bird was completely unconcerned by its growing crowd of admirers, dog walkers, cyclists or parents walking their children to school. It would flit over the sea defences to reappear a few metres away. As the light improved slightly so my photos got slightly better.

It was feeding well on small black flies that were probably hatching from the rottens seaweed on the beach just below the sea defences. It was also seen catching wasps.

My only concern when I viewed the photos was that the tail pattern (see out of focus shot below) was closer to the illustration of Eastern Black-eared Wheatear in Collins but I think everyone is happy that it is a Pied Wheatear and looking closely you can see the scaly mantle feathers.

Amazingly the Wirral hasn't had a Desert Wheatear! Now we've had something even rarer. Over the years I've seen Desert Wheatear on the beach at Crosby, on the beach at Rhyl and an adult spring male at Irlam, Greater Manchester. All around us but not yet here. Surely that must be a good bet soon.

23 Oct 2018

Catbird video

I've just editied a short video I took of the Lands End Gray Catbird taken last Wednesday. Brilliant as the bird was in cover when I took it but I'm pleased to have got anything at all seeing as I'm pretty crap at hand holding the phone to the scope.

As of today (Tuesday 23rd October) the bird is still present and has probably been the bird of the year so far.

A garden regular

This male pheasant has been a regular garden visitor for the last two autumns we've been in the house. It obviously knows when the pheasant shooting season starts (1st October) and 'retires' to our garden to avoid getting shot. Pheasants aren't released on the farmland near us but the farmer does allow rough shooting on his land so this bird knows where it'll be safe.

Although introduced and not truly wild its still a stunning bird to see regularly in the garden.

17 Oct 2018

Not a Saturday Catbird.

When a Gray Catbird turned up on Anglesey on Thursday4th October 2001 I was the other side of the World trying to cope with the searing humidity of wearing a suit to meetings in Malaysia. The bird was mired in a certain amount of controversy as it was typically elusive and there were allegations and counter allegations as some people claimed to have seen it on the Saturday when the majority didn't. A good friend, now sadly deceased and greatly missed, saw the bird on the Saturday and had to put up with years of malcontent form the disgruntled majority who didn't see it on that day claiming the lucky few had seen a Blackcap.

Roll forward 2018 and with an abortive attempt for a first for Britain on the Monday news broke late of a 2nd Gray Catbird near Lands End in Cornwall.  Family comes first and a recent bereavement meant I couldn't make the journey down at first light on Tuesday. Luckily I had the offer of a lift to get there and back on Wednesday (today) so I quickly decided it was worth a punt.

Meeting up at 00.45 with my elective chauffeur we made good progress and arrived on site in darkness around 06.45. One of the prospects I relish about these twitches is meeting up with old friends I hadn't seen for years but the talking had to come later. More importantly was the Catbird still here?

A tense 45 minutes ensued as it got lighter before Mark Sutton shouted he'd got it perched up in blackthorn around 60 m away. Everyone got on it before the bird flew towards us and landed in scrub willows around 15 m in front of us. From then onwards it showed exceptionally well on occasions before diving into thick cover and reappearing further down the line of assembled birders.

Great. This skulker was showing really well and I hadn't bothered bringing my camera as I was expecting brief views only and the weather forecast said it was going to rain whereas the bird performed in sunshine! Arse, as our good friend would have said.

I'd even left the digi-scoping adaptor in the boot of the chauffeur driven limousine and had to rely on hand holding my phone to the 'scope to get any record shots.

A great day out and for once the motorways were relatively painless. Many thanks to my anonymous chauffeur for doing all the driving.

Now maybe those sourpusses who've been chunnering on about the Saturday Catbird since 2001 can finally lay their demons to rest.

16 Oct 2018

Choughing Nora

A great couple of hours local birding after the disappointment of not being able to get to Fair Isle and dipping the White-rumped Swift in Yorkshire. There've been a few Choughs seen in Cheshire and Wirral over the years but most have been flyovers or very brief stayers. Thank you to whoever reported this bird near Caldy today and thanks for Steve for putting the news out! A Cheshire and Wirral first for many people including me.

A bird was seen and photographed recently on Hilbre but that one had a green colour ring on one leg. This bird is a different individual as its un-ringed.

When the news came out I was at home but 30 minutes later I was yomping the short distance along the beach to where Al & Steve were watching the bird on rocks below just north of the Dee Estuary Sailing Club.

I don't think there'll be any issues getting this through the Cheshire rarities committee.

24 Sep 2018

A longe overdue trip to Hilbre.

After the seawatching bonanza of the past week when storm Ali graced us with her presence a plan was hatched to spend a day on Hilbre and do a bit of seawatching over the high tide last Sunday. Although the prolonged gale force winds had receded the Met Office was still showing that the wind would gradually increase during the day so with Mark P meting me at my house and picking up Steve on the way through we set off to relieve the early shift of Alan & Colin.

It was great to be back on the island even though the seawatching was bit dismal with only a handful of terns, auks, Kittiwakes and Red-throated Divers to show for our endeavours. A couple of rounds of the heligoland traps resulted in another Robin being ringed as well as a late Chiffchaff.

Other summer migrants were represented by two Wheatears whilst autumn finch passage was represneted by three Goldfinches that spent the high tide feeding on seed heads around the paddocks.

Wader numbers are building up and as usual Oystercatchers are the commonest bird.

The long staying sub-adult male Eider put in an appearance and has been recently joined by a juvenile bird. We've been speculating where these birds originate from. Eider used to be a regular but scarce visitor to the N Wirral coast but recently they've been much commoner. This seems to coincide with a population increase on Puffin Island suggesting they've come from there rather than the colony at Walney. Perhaps the presence off Hilbre of a juvenile Shag as well on Sunday has some relevance as they also breed on Puffin Island and we've had a few ringing recoveries from there.

All in all a bit quiet bird wise but still a great day and it was just nice to be out and about for a change.