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!

29 Dec 2018

Post Christmas trip to Hilbre

A beautifully mild Christmas Day & Boxing Day merged into one large family get together to celebrate the festive season. Following the noise and bustle associated with such gathering a bit of peace and solitude, if not goodwill, was called for so when Al invited me to join him on a trip to Hilbre to stay over the tide I jumped at the chance. Especially as there was the promise of home made hot pot!

Arriving at the Obs the wood stove was lit to dry the place and get rid of the moisture in the air. With the gas turned on and the kettle boiling it wasn't long before we were enjoying the first of many brews before turning our attention to the birds.

Once again we were struck as to how mild the weather was and with a flat calm sea and good visibility we spent a lot of time scanning the sea. A small number of Red-throated Divers were picked up with slightly more Great-crested grebes and several hundred Common Scoter.

Two Purple Sandpipers at the north end were joined by three more and eventually roosted  as they were forced off the rocks by the rising tide. I never get tired of seeing these little birds and its worrying that their numbers on Hilbre are declining so rapidly. Even I, a relative newcomer on the scene, can remember flocks of 20+ Purple Sandpipers wintering around Hilbre's rocky shores but now we are down to single figures.

As the tide rose the resident female Eider vacated her position on the Whale-back and was later seen roosting up on Middle Eye over the high tide along with several thousand Oystercatchers and good numbers of Curlew that had also been feeding along the seaweed covered rocks.

As the tide rose higher a flock of Ringed Plover flew around looking for a roosting site before eventually settling on the rock ledges to the west of the access ramp onto the island.

By now the short winter day was drawing to a close and the light was beginning to fade. Bellies full of Hotpot we scanned the shoreline and sea as the tide began to drop and eventually left the island in the dark to return to the mainland.

Another great day out and just the antidote to a manic couple of days over Christmas.

17 Dec 2018

Rigning Martin Mere WWT

I was lucky enough to be part of a SCAN team invited to help the regular Martin Mere ringing team catch and ring Whooper Swans and a few duck species at the weekend. Initially we were going Saturday but the weather deteriorated so a decision was made to go Sunday - only for the decision to be reversed again when a weather window opened itself up to an opportunity to revert back to Saturday!

Leaving the house at 5.30 Saturday morning, after a restless night ( I never sleep well when I know the alarms going off early), it soon became apparent that the weather was bitterly cold! I had ice on the inside of the Landrover windscreen. I soon warmed up though and and 90 minutes later had to brave the freezing cold again when  I arrived at Martin Mere.

With the team assembled a briefing was given by the ringer in charge and with everyone knowing their roles we started our catch.

We ended up with 73 Whooper Swans of which 38 were new birds and 35 re-traps from previous years. All birds were ringed and a 'darvic' colour ring added, aged, sexed, weighed and a wing length taken before releasing. They were wrapped in 'swan blankets' to keep them calm and the process was carried out with the minimum amount of noise and fuss by an experienced team. Sadly even several of these beautiful birds showed some evidence of past gunshot wounds.

As well as the Whoopers we caught 54 Shelduck - exactly half were re-traps with the oldest being from 2002. Another had been ringed in 2007 and not encountered since whilst yet another ringed in 2005 has had its ring read 20 times since then in the field.

I'd ringed Whoopers and Shelducks before but never Pintail or Coot so was really happy to get the opportunity to do so. Pintail are simply stunning!

As with other male ducks ageing depends on a combination of features - the presence or absence of juvenile tail feathers or median and lesser coverts and the demarkation between the colours on the outermost tertial.

From the photo below you can see the tertial has a distinct demarkation between the black and the 'pearl' and also has a very narrow fringe. This ages this bird as an adult male, Euring 4.

We caught one re-trap male Teal and the same ageing criteria can be used - again the border between the black and 'pearl' on the inner tertial is very clean and distinct making this an adult.

Coot are know to be wriggly, belligerent and scratchy and willing to fight each other and anything else that happens to upset them.  I'd never ringed one before but go the opportunity Saturday and was surprised at how small they were in the hand.  Small they may be but just look at those feet! 

Like the swans each Coot was fitted with a darvic ring to enable it to be identified in the field and released back on to the main mere. 

With the catch processed by 11.00 there was time for a quick hot drink and a chocolate biscuit before the predicted weather window closed and the heavens opened! A great experience and one I hope to take part in again. 

12 Dec 2018

Royalty visits the island of the druids.

Earlier this year a long staying American Royal Tern that had been on the Channel Islands shifted temporarily to the south coast. Royal tern is currently split into two subspecies - African and American. The Channel island bird had an American banding association ring on its right leg as did the Pagham bird so the assumption is they're the same bird. I wasn't to bothered as I'd seen) the N Wales bird in 2009 that I refound at Black Rock Sands, Porthmadog.
See crap photo below:

Many of the local N Wales and Cheshire / Wirral birders got to see this bird before it got dark but unfortunately it had gone the next morning only to reappear a few weeks later at Llandudno for a few short hours.

The feeling was at the time that this may have been of the African subspecies as there are subtle differences in structure  and also the bill size  / colouration.

However, the IOC, whose taxonomy the BBRC have adopted, have recommended Royal Tern be split into two species.

Cue wild-spread interest when twitter lit up to say a Royal Tern ringed on the right leg had turned up on Anglesey. Less than an hour from the office! With no time to get there on the day it was found (Monday) a Hilbre team made a tentative plan to travel on the Tuesday picking me up via Mold where my car was going in for a service.

News duly broke early that the bird was still there and the twitch was on. We made the journey in good time to find the bird had temporarily disappeared round a headland. After waiting for awhile  I decided to walk round the headland only to get a phone call about 30 minutes later to say it was back in the bay!

For the next few hours it foraged from bay to bay occasionally settling briefly and providing great views to the assembled throng of appreciative birders.

Photos courtesy of Malc Curtin.

The assumption is of course that this is probably the same bird that was in the Channel Islands as its ringed on the right leg. Apparently there is a paper in the offing that will give pointers to the separation of the two sub species in the field so it could be the previous N Wales bird could eventually be identified as African!

An excellent short twitch and many thanks to the Stig who drove and Mr Stato who's lovely wife provided the nourishment in the for mof home baked muffins and cookies!