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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.



6 Sep 2018

A bit of garden ringing

We've had good numbers of Greenfinches and Goldfinches in the garden recently - flocks of 30+ for each! With the wind dropping at the weekend I put a mist net up in the garden to ring a few. Interestingly I've ringed quite a few Greenfinches and Goldfinches in our new garden with only a single re-trappped Goldfinches and no Greenfinches.

A lot of the Goldinches are still in full juvenile plumage suggesting the species has had a good breeding season with several broods. Others are more advanced and have almost completed their post juvenile moult.

Many of the Greenfinches have completed their post juvenile moults but some, like this juvenile female below, are still completing theirs - this bird is moulting all its greater coverts.


Great Tits seem to have fared better than Blue Tits locally and I'm catching more juveniles of the larger species. Most have almost completed their post juvenile moults with the majority having replaced their greater coverts already and actively moulting their tertials and tails.

Just as I was packing up a large 2nd calendar year female Sparrowhawk hit the net alongside my head causing an outburst of fairly choice language. It certainly made me jump! Luckily I soon recovered as it certainly wouldn't have stayed caught for long. My 2nd in this garden in the two years we've lived here. I wonder if this is the bird that predated one of our local Little Owls in the garden?


I had a new patch / garden tick at the weekend with a flyover Spotted Redshank heading towards the Dee estuary. The last new patch bird I had was a Sedge Warbler in the spring!

3 Sep 2018

Romany of the BBC

One of the biggest influences on my early life as a budding naturalist was the books my father had written by the Rev George Bramwell Evens who broadcast wildlife programmes on the radio as "Romany of the BBC".

See here for more information: here

The stories of his adventures with his spaniel Raq exploring the countryside in his horse drawn romany caravan or 'vardo' absorbed me for hours and I read and re-read these books many times. Sadly, although they are still in my fathers bookcase, they are now in very poor condition having been handled by children and grandchildren many times over the 70-80 years or so since they were published.

The "vardo" was located in his memorial garden in Wilmslow Cheshire for many years but then moved to a permanent home in a museum in Bradford - see here for details on the Romany Society's homepage.

The BBC Radio also did a 'Witness' programme on Romany as a pioneer of wildlife broadcasting and this can be heard here.

I was reminded of all this recently when I visited my parents and saw the books lined up in the bookcase.

21 Aug 2018

Bonepartes Gull, Hilbre.

Whilst I was away on Nan Ron Tim Kinch found an adult Bonepartes Gull at Hoylake. The last one  I saw in Cheshire was at Inner marsh Farm RSPB in 2004.  Present for only one evening it was a Cheshire and Wirral first for many people. I wasn't to worried about missing the Hoylake bird but as the return date from Nan Ron got closer  I began to hope it would stay - they're always a good bird to see. Even better was the news  Chris Williams (Hilbre Chairman) had found it in the gutter off the east side of Hilbre - a first for Hilbre!

Luckily the bird was still present on Saturday morning and any plans I'd made about sorting out all my camping gear and unpacking the car went further down the priority list as plans were made for a quick visit to try and see this fantastic addition to the Hilbre rare bird list. Even better, Andrea was staying over at the Obs and had put the news out early and she put me straight on the bird when I arrived. It was always a bit distant to get more than record shots but it showed continuously.








All we need now is a Franklins  on the Wirral and we'll have the set of small N American vagrant gulls.

19 Aug 2018

Storm Petrel ringing Eilean Nan Ron, 2018

This year was the first year I've been able to make the annual Nan Ron ringing trip to catch and ring Storm Petrels. Over the years the team has ringed 11,093 Stormies (including our total for this year of 710 new birds. See Bob Harris's blog here for the history behind ringing on Nan Ron.

Nan Ron is off the northern most tip of Scotland and is completely deserted apart form a few wild Soay sheep left over from when the last inhabitants left in 1938. At one time it was a thriving little community comprised of solid stone built houses and include a school house. The buildings are slowly decaying and each year a bit more damage is done by the wind and rain.

To get there involves taking a boat from the small harbour of Skerray and then a 20 minute trip across to the island where everything then has to be manhandled up a steep slope to the campsite. There were steps all the way down to the small quay but half of these got washed away in a storm a few years ago.

All your food and water has to be taken across as there is no suitable freshwater on the island. Consequently boot of the car was packed tight before  I set off last Saturday for the 8.5 hour drive to Kyle of Tongue where we were staying overnight and all meeting up before setting off for Skerray the next morning.

 The good ship 'Goldcrest' heading back to Skerray after dropping us off.
We had to wait until the tide dropped sufficiently so we could manhandle the luggage up the missing staircase.

After pitching the tents and generally making ourselves at home we had an explore of the island and its buildings. Bonxies breed on the island and we noted a few chicks so made a plan to come back the next day and ring them. Unfortunately the first nights Storm Petrel ringing was cancelled due to bad weather so everyone had an early night.

 Breakfast Nan Ron style - porridge ready pots!
 Campsite viewed as the sun was setting.

The view from my tent on a rainy first evening.

The next day we found and ringed three Bonxie chicks and were treated to distant flypast by a sub-adult White-tailed Eagle. Kenny Mac had brought his large spring trap and this was baited wit ha whole herring and duly caught an adult Bonxie which I was able to ring and get 'bonxied' by way of a reward. It got me through three layers of clothing and left a big bruise on by tricep. From the size of the gape on the almost fully fledged bird below you can see why they can swallow a Puffin whole!




Below: adult Bonxie keeping an eye on proceedings.

The first evenings Storm Petrel ringing started at 11 pm and finished at around 4 am the following morning. In that time we caught and ringed a total of 459 new birds. Working in the dark to extract the birds they were then taken to the nearby ringing station where they were ringed, aged and sexed (if possible) before releasing. Fantastic little birds and the first time I've had the privilege of getting up close to them.


They may look fragile but they're as hard as nails spending most of their lives out at sea and only coming ashore to breed.

The next night we caught another 200 birds but the following night we only managed 32 before the wind menat we had t obring an ealry halt t oproceedings. The relatively early finsih meant we had time to stand around the tents having a chat and a drink and admire the milky way and shooting stars overhead. A faint glow to our north turned out to be the northern lights -a first for some of the team.

Breeding birds are scarce on the island and over the week I recorded 35 species - mostly those you'd expect such as Meadow Pipit, Snipe and Wheatear but with the unexpected surprise of a Barn Owl roosting in one of the old buildings and apparently hunting Storm Petrels at night although we did find a long dead Short-tailed field vole proving there are other sources of food on the island. Most of the auks had deserted the nesting ledges but there were still Fulmar chicks and a lot of juvenile Shags around.

The island flora is typical of an acid upland peat bog with plenty of heather, including some patches of Bell heather and Cotton grass. One surprise find was avery late flowering Heath Spotted Orchid which might be the first record for Nan Ron.


 Cotton grass
Bell Heather

Heath Spotted Orchid

We did find some shrivelled carnivorous Sundews but the recent dry weather meant the boggier areas of the island had virtually dried up along with the plants.

The White-tailed Sea eagle was seen again on several occasions and was discovered to be roosting on the nearby island of Neeve. Although distant it gave prolonged views on several days and even though the Bonxies got up to investigate they were wary enough to give it a wide berth. 

 Neeve


The photos don't do it justice but these were taken with a 400 mm lens from about 1 km away and then cropped in! They really do fit the description of a flying barn door.

When not ringing, sleeping or eating we had time to explore the island and its buildings and enjoyed a boat trip round the island and into some of the sea caves with Andy (who'd taken us across and came back to give us the opportunity to see the island form the sea).







 The old school house.



A fabulous place and experience and I hope I'm able to go back again another year. We had a small team of 5 experienced ringers which made for a good team. After packing the tents up on Friday morning Andy picked us up just after 11.30 and I eventually left Skerray around 12.30 and made it home after a 9.5 hour drive only stopping at Inverness to top up with fuel! I'd been dreaming of a hot shower all the way home and that was the first thing  I did. The second was to open a cold beer - unpacking the car had to wait until Saturday! 

Many thanks to  Kenny Mac, Bob Harris, Alan Heath and Kevin Henderson for making it such a great trip.

18 Jul 2018

Arctic Tern ringing on the Skerries.

I was lucky enough to be able to go back to the Skerries recently to help ring Arctic Tern chicks with Steve & Rachel. Its a fantastic experience and northing quite matches the noise and smells of a busy tern colony - especially when they are as feisty as Arctic Terns. Hats are essential otherwise you'll end up wit ha head like a pin cushion from those needle sharp bills. Even better  - we took a high speed trip over in a rib this year rather than the usual supply boat. The sea was almost flat calm and it was quite disconcerting to see that it appeared to curve downwards towards the boat. An optical illusion obviously but weird to see.

We only ring 500 of the chicks as there is a limited window of opportunity to limit disturbance. After we'd ringed the requisite number of chicks we retreated to the Lighthouse where we filled time waiting for the rib to return by photographing the terns or reading leg flag. They really are photogenic little birds. I even managed a close up shot of a tern chick just emerging from its egg.








16 Jul 2018

Butterflies

The warm weather has certainly helped our local butterfly population. A couple of years ago I found my first Ringlets locally as part of the species continued expansion into Cheshire. See here.

This year there are more than ever and a walk along the cycle path adjacent to the railway line a few hundred metres from the house was rewarded with good numbers of Ringlets along with Comma, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Large White, Small White, Speckled Wood, Small Skipper, large Skipper and 2nd generation Holly Blues.

There are also more Grasshoppers than I can ever remember finding locally.