18 Feb 2019

Short-eared Owls, Parkgate

I spent a few hours at Parkgate yesterday afternoon, raptor watching, as one does on a bright winters day. What a treat! An adult male Hen Harrier put on a show along with a sub-adult male and a ring-tailed Harrier. Several Marsh Harriers were also present and wherever you looked there seemed to be great White Egrets.

A female Sparrow Hawk and a single Peregrine also put in an appearance and the air was filled with the calls of Pink-footed geese that moved about the marsh in small parties.

Star birds though were the three (possibly four) Short-eared owls that appeared as it was getting dusk and put on a show for the assembled birders - at one point I even managed to photograph one of them with an unfortunate Short-tailed Field Vole that was destined to be reincarnated a a regurgitated pellet.

What a great way to pend a few hours!

14 Feb 2019

Patch tick! Gadwall

Jet lagged and freezing cold after flying back on a redeye from the Caribbean I looked out the study window contemplating whether or not to venture when i noticed a few ducks on the pond opposite the house. The water level is lower this year as the farmer has tried to drain the field so the birds are harder to see. Scoping the open water revealed a couple of Shoveller, a pair of Coots and a pair of Gadwall! A patch and garden tick!

Now I was glued to the window and over the next few hours added a few more birds to the patch year list - Greylag Goose (4), Grey Heron and Stock Dove (6).

Despite going AWOL, when the farmer severely pruned the tree they nested / roosted in, the Little Owl(s) remain in the area but I haven't been able to pin them down to a particular tree. The male has started singing again so hopefully they'll breed again. I've had a chat with the farmer and he's given me permission to put up on nest box as long as its high enough not to interfere with his flail when he's hedge cutting. It's probably to late this year but I'll get one made and installed ready for next year.

9 Feb 2019

Caribbean Cruise

To celebrate my early retirement from full time employment we booked a Caribbean cruise in late Jnauary  and early February. Although not a birding holiday I did go armed with a guide book, binoculars and the camera - unfortunately I had no room for a big lens and had to make do with the 50-125 mm zoom. We visited a number of islands including Barbados, Antigua, Bequai, British Virgin Islands (Spanish Town and Road Town), Gauadeloupe, St Barths, Grenada, St Kitts, St maarten& St Lucia.

I was amazed by the lack of seabirds in this part of the world and we only had a few Brown Boobies and a solitary Red-footed Booby keeping us company on a few days. We saw very few gulls or terns and most of those were in ports - Royal Tern and Caspian Tern being the commonest.

Magnificent Frigatebirds were seen most days we docked but were usually distant but on one occasion a pair came close to the ship enabling me to get a few photos - females have the white heads and chest.

Star bird of the trip for me was Red-billed Tropic birds. As we went on a kayaking trip to Greater Bird Island (Antigua)  I didn't take the camera!  It was amazing birds flying over our heads.

Bananaquits were everywhere and probably the commonest bird we saw.

A couple of trips further inland to forested areas produced birds such as Lesser Antillean Bullfinch and Pearly-eyed Thrasher.

Humming birds were fairly common and we saw two species - Antillean Crested (top photo below) and Green-throated Carib. Both were extremely difficult to photograph with such a small lens!

On one of the trips into rain forest habitat we picked up a Bridled Quail Dove which I understand is pretty scarce and hard to see.

Other common birds seen were Carib Grackle, Common Ground Dove, Zenaida Dove, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Gray Kingbird, Shiny Cowbird and Black-faced Grassquit.

 Common Ground Dove
 Gray Kingbird
Zenaida Dove.

Wading birds were scarce with the moat regularly encountered being the ubiquitous Cattle Egret.We did see the occasional Snowy Egret (mainly in the mangroves) and a couple of Little Blue Herons including a showy bird fishing on the beach on Bequia (St Vincent & the Grenadines).

The only waders seen were a few Turnstone on Barbados whilst raptors were extremely scarce with only a single Osprey and Red-tailed Hawk being seen.

A great trip and a few birds added to my World list!

21 Jan 2019

2019 patch year list off to a flying start........

New Year saw me laid up wit ha bad back so most of my birding was done from the warmth and comfort of the house with the occasional foray into the garden. Never the less I finished New Years Day with a reassuring total of 37 species including only the 3rd record of Bullfinch since we moved here in December 2016. This time a beautiful male!

Although we've had very little rain and the pond opposite the house is nowhere near as full as in previous years it has attracted a few good birds and so far I've had Mute Swan, Shoveller, Teal, Lapwing and Coot pay a visit.

Although the Little Owl has deserted the usual hole after the farmer cut off all the lower branches of its preferred nesting / roosting tree using a flail (!) it is still somewhere locally and can be heard most nights and seen occasionally.

At the end of the 2nd week of January the patch total stands at a modest 55 species. By the end of January 2018 my total was 64 species and I've, hopefully,  still got a few relatively easy ones to get.

Heres to another successful year of patch birding!

14 Jan 2019

First trip to Hilbre of 2019

An early morning start saw us arriving at the Obs just around dawn. With the high tide just after 11 am there was time for a walk around the island before a good cooked breakfast. Initially we only found 5 Purple Sandpipers feeding at the north end but as the tide rose and they went to roost they were joined by two more. The bird in the video below spent a lot of time preening before settling down to roost.

Two Eider loafed around before settling to roost on Middle Eye. One has a damaged wing and has been around for awhile but the other is uninjured.

The sea was quite quiet with only 3 Red-throated Divers and 27 Great-crested grebes being seen along with around 300 Common Scoter.

Several Song Thrushes have been overwintering on the island and both were caught in the newton heligoland trap The first had originally been ringed on Hilbre on the 1st December 20128 but the 2nd was a new bird. We also caught a female Blackbird and these represented the first two birds of the new year to be ringed on Hilbre. Both first winter birds.

Heres to another successful year for Hilbre Bird Observatory and its small band of dedicated volunteers.

8 Jan 2019

First SCAN trip of 2019 and an Icelandic surprise

With good weather forecast the decision was taken to have a night time wader ringing session along the N Wales coast to try and catch a sample of Redshank as part of SCAN's long term study.  Nets were set over water slightly inland from the coast and as the tide forced the birds of the foreshore we started catching good numbers of Redshank with a smaller number of Oystercatchers, Curlew three Black-tailed Godwits. Despite being on a number of wader canon netting and mist netting expeditions with SCAN over the last 8 years these were the first Black-tailed Godwits I'd seen close up!

Among the Oystercatchers caught was a bird that was ringed in June 1982 (the month and year I graduated from University! ) and not subsequently caught again since. This makes it 36.5 years old. Not the oldest Oystercatcher ever recorded but very close to the UK record:

Haematopus ostralegus
43yrs 4mths
Killed by bird of prey
GB & Ireland 
SS 88071
36yrs 11mths
Found dead

Bird of the night though was a Redshank bearing an Icelandic ring. Only the 3rd one caught by the group and probably only about the 10th ever in the UK. 

Another highlight, given my involvement with Hilbre Bird observatory, was the recapture of a Redshank we colour ringed an 2007 (and subsequently re-caught again by SCAN in 2010), making this bird at least 11 years old.

A great nights ringing and I eventually arrived home at 2.30 am and fell into bed fully clothed with the alarm set for 6.30 the following morning for a trip to Hilbre!

31 Dec 2018

Review of the year 2018

2018 was a year of many changes for me personally. Jan & I were blessed with two healthy and beautiful new grandchildren, Penny & Oliver to join Lizzie but at the other end of the spectrum of life we lost my dad who finally succumbed to his vascular dementia. He was a major inspiration to me in both my professional life and and in his love of nature and the outdoor world.

There have been major changes in my professional life as well as I made the momentous decision to hand my notice in back in March and take early retirement at the end of this year.

Birding wise it was pretty quiet. The only 'lifer' for me involving a long distance twitch was Cornwalls famous Gray Catbird (note the deliberate American spelling!  A great day out and a lot of people were very happy after missing the Anglesey bird and the controversy surrounding that bird and a Saturday..................See  here for details of an epic day out.

The Royal Tern on Anglesey in December may eventually get split so potentially there will be two species of Royal Tern on the UK list (assuming the bird at Porthmadog in 2009 gets submitted and accepted as African Royal Tern). See here for details of the Royal Tern twitch.

Royal Tern photo's @ Malc Curtin

Apart from that my only other two new British birds were both 'armchair' ticks with the Cornish Dalmation Pelican and N Wales Elegant Tern being accepted onto the British list.

My Cheshire list increased by three this year with the addition of the superb Pied Wheatear at Meols (which was discovered a few days previously but not identified until two days later from photos) a Chough at Caldy and A Snow Goose at Neston with Pinkfooted Geese.

Another good Cheshire bird was the Bonepartes Gull found by Tim Kinch at Meols and then re-found on Hilbre by Chris Williams. Not a Cheshire tick for me but certainly the first for Hilbre! My first Cheshire Bonepartes gull was seen at Inner Marsh Farm RSPBin the evening of 20th May 2004 and didn't hang around. Luckily the more recent bird stuck around for the majority of people who wanted to see it.

Sadly our annual trip to Shetland / Fair Isle had to be cancelled due to bad weather and Dads funeral but I've already booked for 2019. However, I had my annual fix of small islands when I was invited to join the regular trip to Nan Ron to catch and ring Storm Petrels. See here for details of that superb trip.

Once I'd handed my notice in the company really went for their pound of flesh and work commitments meant I couldn't get to Hilbre as much as I'd liked to. Hopefully I'll be able to spend more time on the island in the next few years.

2019 will bring many changes for a lot of people We can only hope that there will be positive changes for our native wildlife. Heres wishing everyone a happy bird-filled 2019!