26 Jan 2020

Curlew ringing with SCAN

Before Christmas the SCAN ringing group attempted a Curlew catch near Llanfairfechan. Curlews can be notoriously hard to catch and as part of the long term sampling of wader populations in the Lavan Sands area Steve was keen to catch a larger sample of Curlew.

The nets were set in an area known as the 'doughnut' which meant a bit of a wade across a submerged causeway when the tide was in! Whilst waiting for hight tide and the roost to develop we were treated t oa gorgeous sunrise over the hills behind us

Ultimately a decent catch was made and it included a Finnish controlled Curlew and a Bar-tailed Godwit.

 Below: ringing team attempting to cross back to the mainland without getting wet!

Sadly, as with many other bird species in the UK, our breeding Curlews are in steep decline. Winter numbers are boosted by migrants from northern Europe as ringing recoveries have shown. Long term monitoring, such as undertaken by SCAN, can help spot population trends and hopefully set in motion schemes to help such declines.

21 Jan 2020

Sandwich Tern movements.

I recently received an email from Steve about some of the Sandwich Tern chicks we ringed at Cemlyn  - see here for details.

We've recently had 2 more sightings from Africa:

AMY at Banc D’Arguin, Mauritania  01/12/19

ANX at Strand, South Africa  18/12/19

Neither were seen during the autumn, and represent their 1st sightings.

Along with previous ones in Gambia & Namibia – I’m pretty pleased.

These are pretty impressive movements for young birds in their 1st calendar year!

8 Jan 2020

Eastern Stonechat, Ashtons Flash, Cheshire

When news broke just before Christmas that Dave Bedford had found an 'Eastern' Stonechat on his local patch I hoped it would stay until I could get along. With a full on schedule including my father in laws 90th birthday and a first time Christmas visit from my mum and a party of 15 for Christmas lunch I was probably in danger of being lynched if I'd upped and left Jan to entertain everyone!

Eastern Stonechats are a conundrum - it appears the two species we regularly get in the UK can't easily be separated without DNA analysis and this bird was frequenting flooded scrub in an old lime bed which makes getting a DNA sample pretty dangerous. However, since I’ve been in Australia I understand a poo sample has been collected that may allow a DNA analysis.

Although the identification features are becoming better known there are still photos of birds that look like Siberian Stonechat that turned out to be Stejnegers and vice-versa.

I managed to get down with Mark Payne on the 28th December and saw the bird distantly on a number of occasions. My first impressions were that it was maurus or Siberian Stonechat rather than Stejnegers. The overall paleness and frostiness coupled with a peach coloured rump seemed a better fit for this species. Hopefully someone will be able to get a DNA sample for analysis to confirm.

Unfortunately it was too far to get any usable photos although others have had better luck when its been a bit closer. I did manage a bit of very distant video which doesn't really bring much to the identification party but if you look at the very end you can just about make out the very pale rump as the bird flies.

31 Dec 2019

Review of my birding year 2019

Not a spectacular year but a memorable one for many reasons. My first year as a fully retired birder! It still didn't mean I had anymore time though!

Highlights included the famous Shetland Tengmalm's Owl that put on a superb display for us at Bixter in February. See here for details here

A fantastic bird and probably on most peoples most wanted list.

Lifers were few and far between this year but it was more quality than quantity. I was in Madeira during when Britains 1st Brown Booby turned up but unbelievably a 2nd bird was found at Kynance Cove, Cornwall, whilst  I was sat in the airport at Funchal waiting for my return flight - subsequently I virtually got straight off the plane and drove to Cornwall overnight. See blog post here.

I had to wait until October for my next new species. Probably one of the least inspiring birds missing off my British list - Eastern Yellow Wagtail! Luckily this one was closer to home and we duly mafde the short trip to Cemlyn on Anglesey. See here

The final new bird for 2019 was also in Cornwall when, incredibly, Britains (and the Western palearctics) 1st Paddyfield Pipit was identified firstly by sonogram analysis and confirmed by DNA in November. Playing it cool Fred and I left it until the day before it departed (or was killed by the local cat) before making yet another overnight trip to Cornwall. See Strange Pipits.

My now annual Shetland trip took a twist this year with the sad destruction of the bird observatory on Fair Isle. We'd already booked flights so decided to try Fetlar  - a place we'd often talked about spending a week on and trying to find our own birds. We certainly did that when I turned up a male Siberian Rubythroat! Without a doubt the best bird I've ever found. A dream bird and my third (all males) in the UK and my third in Shetland!

Photo by Jason Atkinson.

Closer to home I added Puffin to my Cheshire list with a bird off Hilbre with the only other new addition being Siberian Stonechat in December. From a garden perspective I added both Little Egret and Barn Owl to the garden list (both had been seen on my local patch but not from the garden).

I've done a fair bit of ringing this year - including a memorable few days on Fetlar where we caught a good number of Bramblings in the garden of our accomodation! Not much ringing has been done in our garden but with the addition of a whoosh net endorsement to my permit we've spent a lot of time catching Starlings in Janes garden and House Sparrows with Barry. Later in the Autumn I used a lure to mist net Redwings and the whoosh net to catch and ring a few Fieldfares. Puffin Island trips are always a highlight and this year we were blessed with good weather. Other highlights included a trip to Cemlyn ringing Sandwich Terns and The Skerries for Arctic Terns.

30 Dec 2019

Goa, November - December 2019

For my wife's big birthday we went with her brothers and sisters to Goa. The first time any of us had been to India apart from work. We stayed at a fabulous hotel in South Goa which had its own golf course and extensive grounds full of plants, trees and lagoons. It was also right next to the beach with the sea one side and an estuary the other. Although not really a birding holiday I took my binoculars and camera intending to add as many new species to my word list as I could!

What a fabulous place. The hotel was outstanding and everyone was friendly and eager to help. Coupled with superb local food and wildlife what more could  I want. From our hotel room we overlooked one of the lagoons and were regularly visited by White-throated & Stork-billed Kingfishers whilst Green Beeeaters, White-breasted Swamphen & Indian Pond Heron were common.

 Green Beeeater
 Stork Billed Kingfisher - above & below

 White-throated Kingfisher

Indian Pond heron
Whtie-breasted Swamphen

What was really strange was seeing Common Sandpipers walking on Lilypads! A number of snakes were usually seen swimming across the lagoons and I identified these as  Checkered Keelbacks. The biggest was just over a metre long. Another common species was White-browed Wagtail, seen most days hunting for insects. 

Checkered Keelback
 White-browed Wagtail

Asian Kohl - male & female below.

Species such as Red Whiskered Bulbul, Little Spider Hunter and Purple-rumped Sunbirds were also common in the hotel grounds whilst the ubiquitous House Crows were everywhere.

Cattle Egrets roamed the grounds and scavenged by the swimming pool whilst Great Egrets and Little Cormorants were common. A familiar call registering with something deep in my memory turned out to be a Hume's Warbler.

The golf course hosted a pair of Spotted Owlets which could be seen hunting moths attracted to the lights alongside the path leading to the course.

The beach was fabulous with breakers crashing over the sand and flocks of Kentish Plovers dodging the waves and White-bellied Sea Eagles occasionally being seen hunting further out to sea.

We took a boat trip down the Sal River and out into the main estuary t osee dolphins and other wildlife. The crew handed out guide books and binoculars for people t ouse but most were more interested in the unlimited free booze! This proved to be a great trip with the estuary hosting Pallas's Gull, Greenshank, Redshank and a number of Terek Sandpipers. Brahminy Kites, Black Kites and Shikra were all seen well whilst a colony of Fruit Bats were one of the highlights - these could be seen feeding at night in our hotel grounds as well. I was particularly pleased to see Asian Openbill - a bird I'd hoped to see but we only saw one in flight.

Above: Asian Openbill
 Black Kite
 Black-necked Ibis
 Brahminy Kite - adult above, Juvenile below.

 Fruit bat.
 Western Reef Heron

A great trip with 79 species being seen of which a number were completely new to me. I'd certainly recommend going to Goa but be aware the level bureaucracy at the airport is almost enough to drive you mad!

21 Dec 2019


Following on from my recent success in catching and ringing Redwings feeding in the garden, I've had a bit of success with their larger Scandinavian cousins! Having a number of apple trees in the garden we've been getting a few each winter feeding on windfalls.  I've never had any success mist netting them in previous years but this year I've been using the whoosh net I've built with a remote release mechanism I can fire from the warmth and comfort of the conservatory. See blog post here about the whoosh net and how it works.

Fieldfares are extremely protective and territorial so its unusual to get more than 2-3 feeding in the garden on their preferred apple at the same time so I wasn't expecting to catch big numbers. So far I've caught three and three Blackbirds. All three Fieldfares were sexed as males based on the pattern of the black markings concealed in the centre of the grey crown feathers -- see photo below. Females have a much narrower black 'arrowhead'.

Two have been adult males (Euring age 4) and one a 1st winter (Euring age 3). Fieldfares are aged on the shape of the tail and the presence, or otherwise, of a moult limit in the greater coverts. 1st year birds will undergo a partial post juvenile moult in their first autumn but usually won't moult all the greater coverts so you can generally find a moult limit between the older juvenile feathers and the recently grown adult type.

 Beautiful birds and a real treat to see them up closely - I've not ringed very many as theyre usually difficult to catch.

14 Dec 2019


Redwings are one of the highlights of the birding autumn. For  me nothing epitomises the change of the season from summer to autumn than the first 'tseep' calls of Redwings passing over in the dark as they migrate from their Scandinavian and Icelandic breeding grounds to feast in our hedgerows over winter.

We are lucky to get them feeding in the garden on the numerous hawthorn and yew berries we have most years and I look forward to catching and ringing a few of these special little thrushes.

This year has been a good one with 1-2 caught most sessions when I've been able to put a net up either at dusk or early morning The bonus has been catching a few Blackbirds and a Song Thrush as well. The Blackbirds feel like they may be migrants. Big chunky birds with long wings and hefty weights.

The Redwings I've been catching are the Scandinavian race Turdus iliacus iliacus rather than the darker and more rarely seen Icelandic race coburni

See here for my experiences with both races on Fair Isle in 2017.

Above: Song Thrush - a 1st ringed in the garden although they are regular visitors

Note the juvenile type tail feathers in the photo above - nice and pointed. The bird below appears to have accidentally lost T5 & T6 on the left side of its tail and the new ones are adult type & much more rounded.

Above: Redwing showing how they got their name!