29 Dec 2009

Review of the year.

With 2010 fast approaching its once again time to take stock & review the birding year! It’s been an amazing year for both national & county rarities. Who’d have thought that,  after missing the S Wales bird, another chance would come to see Glaucous-winged Gull so soon. The long(ish) staying bird of Teeside gave us the run around initially but then showed well after being picked out by Josh Jones who only saw the top of its head in a hollow. It gave those birders who’d had un-tickable views of the Welsh bird miles out to sea as the light faded a chance to redeem their lists……………

Second new bird of the year was Hampshire’s long staying White-throated Sparrow. After missing a Cheshire one in 2004 by a day I was keen to catch up with this American beauty. So keen I went alone on a Bank Holiday Monday arriving before first light and back home by midday.

Spring saw another bogey bird nailed – Great-spotted Cuckoo. Another long wait before it was finally relocated. A business trip to Birmingham was extended on news of a Collared Flycatcher at Portland. A long drive there but a euphoric drive home. Whilst there news broke of a Crested Lark at Dungeness so the trip was made a couple of days later with my Shropshire friends after which I jumped cars and returned to Cheshire with Malc ‘homeless’ Curtin who we found kipping in his car when we arrived at firstLight.

A major highlight of the year was our trip to S Africa with Al, Mark & Eddie. I won’t forget either the pelagic trip or the shark diving. A great trip, some brilliant birds and brilliant company.

We’d just returned from S Africa when a Royal Tern showed up in N Wales and a rapidly put together reunion twitch was organised by an even more rapidly driving Mr C. Within minutes the Wirral’s finest had shown the local guy show to find rare birds (only joking Marc)

Later came a holiday to Tenerife – not much birding done this year but I managed to get my advanced diving qualification whilst there.

Our annual trip Shetland planned for September was rudely interrupted y the presence of a Sandhill Crane on Orkney so my flights were changed and I diverted to Kirkwall (whilst Flybe somehow managed to route my baggage to Sumburgh despite me handing my original documents in to the check in staff at Aberdeen Airport and my boarding pass clearly showing Kirkwall). The crane showed well but the highlight for me was re-finding the Yellow-billed Cuckoo identified from photographs posted on the local bird news forum. Shetland duly delivered with a superb Taiga Flycatcher.

Widely predicted though it was the autumns Eastern-crowned Warbler still caught many on the hop. Staying for two full days after its initial discovery and subsequent re-identification we were there on day one. An easy twitch this one. Park, walk across a mown grassy area to the quarry. Sit down and view. Forget Joe winning the X Factor this bird is what really put South Shields on the map this year!

More locally Cheshire provided the goods in the form of an early January Hawfinch at Marbury. A Red Kite over the garden was another memorable occasion whilst regular visits to Hilbre have always been enjoyable. Other county ticks included Sooty Shearwater, Ring-necked Duck, Black-throated Diver, Slav Grebe, Stone Curlew, American Golden Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Red-rumped Swallow (a major relief after missing the bird in 2008). Quite a list! Other good county records include Allan’s Red-necked Phalarope found whilst we were out birding on the N Wirral coast and good numbers of Mealy Redpolls in Stanney Woods – twitched by some of Shropshire’s finest, whilst inner Marsh Farm weighed in with a brace each of Pectoral Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers and Wood Sandpipers!

BTO Atlas work has kept me busy in the field and always results in some surprises proving once again you’ve got to be in the field to find stuff (and not just cow sh*t). A colour ringed Alba wagtail discovered in December turned out to be from Strathcldye, whilst four Crossbills feeding on Ash seeds on Boxing Day on our housing estate were a fantastic sight but had disappeared by the time I’d returned with the camera.

Above all the year has proven to me that birding is a sociable hobby made more enjoyable when birds can be shared with friends. Long may it continue!

Here’s to 2010.

23 Dec 2009

The fourteen and a half pound budgie.............................

For those about to celebrate Christmas a timely warning on the perils of mixing drink with stuffing  and eating the traditional Christmas Turkey.

Many of you may not rmember Mike Harding as a stand up comedian. I heard this in the late 70's as a student in Manchester and it still crack me up now.

Be warned!

Anyway, back to the birds. A great day ringing yesterday courtesy of Barry Barnacal who opened his garden up for a crack Hilbre team for one of their regular catching sessions and kept us fortified with regular cups of tea. A fantastic 200 + birds were caught between dawn & dusk. Many thanks also to Mr Elliot, Mr Jones and Mr A N Other. 

Once again Blackbirds seem to be dominating our garden and seem to be roosting in the Laurel hedge. This male looked stunning amongst the icy leaves.

  Here's wishing all my birding friends a very Happy Christmas!
To all my Man Utd supporting mates - remember Fulham is a really nice place!

20 Dec 2009

Christmas comes early with another festive Richards Pipit on the Wirral!

Steve Williams alerted me to the presence of this bird on the salt marsh near the Harp pub / Denhall Quay as I was Christmas shopping in Chester! A couple of hours later and a few phonecalls and no one seemed to know who'd found it or knew anyone who'd seen it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained so I loaded Molly in the car and set off for Well Lane from where I intended walking down to the Harp to tire her out a bit so she wouldn't bother the hordes of birders.......................

No one! Except two lads smashing ice on the pools with a dog in tow. Deciding to walk the muddy path below the Harp car park to Denhall Quay the Richard's Pipit suddenly flew up in front of me and settled again about 20 metres away. Success! The bird flew around calling a few times but always seemed to come back to the same area. Amazingly the bird I found last year was only 4 days earlier and probably a mile or so away as the pipit flys. Well done to whoever found it and put the news out.

Still on the theme of pipits I made it to Frodsham yesterday to see the Water Pipit thats hanging around on a wet cultivated piece of land in the S E corner of No. 4 tank. It was bitterly cold with -5 registering on the car thermometer so not really a day for hanging around but thats exactly what I did. The Water Pipit showed well but numb nuts forgot his camera battery  - I'd left it at home charging and forgot the spares. other good birds included Water Rail and a Jack Snipe flushed from a trackside marshy bit.

The stubble fields near the house are still pulling in the birds with Skylark and a flock of Starlings joing the regulars that still includes at least 6 -7 Yellowhammers. The Redwings are still proving shy and hard to approach - unlike the Blackbirds who seem more concerned with filling their faces than the presence of either me or the dog. Meanwhile the local Buzzard kept a close eye on proceedings and caused occasional mass panic.

Back home, a pair of Bullfinches are visiting the feeders and greedily guzling the sun flower hearts whilst a male Sparrowhawk is still making regular forays.  Moving the feeders has lowered his kill rate though. Again from the house the local Little Owls can be heard calling as darkness falls.

15 Dec 2009

Colour ringed Wagtail

News on 'my' wagtail from Denis Elphick from the Slapton wagtail ringing project:

Many thanks for your e-mail and photo. It is a little difficult to determine the colours of the rings but it is clear that the colour ring above the metal ring on the right leg consists of two colours and is a bi-coloured ring. The colours seem to be red over lime. From that alone I can tell you that this bird was ringed at East Kilbride by Iain Livingstone/Charlie Howe of the Clyde RG. However, I am unable to enhance the photo sufficiently to determine the colour of the rings on the left leg (individual code) although the top ring (there should be two bi-coloured rings seems to have a blue comonent and the lower ring seems to be either Yellow over Yellow (i.e. all Yellow) or Yellow over Lime.

Denis goes on to say another colour ringed wagtail from the same area was spotted in the Northwich area earlier this year.

13 Dec 2009

Cold weather movements.

No, nothing to do with bowel actions, but the movement of birds in response to colder weather! The last 3 days have seen heavy frosts and cold crisp mornings followed by bright days and starlit nights. Many birds seem to be moving in response to this cold snap. The rowan trees at the front of our house are suddenly filled with squabbling Blackbirds and a couple of  Mistle Thrushes.

Within 3 days they've almost stripped two Rowan trees. Elsewhere other signs of cold weather movement can be seen amongst the birds feeding on the stubble. Friday was frosty but then the fog came down and didn't clear most of the day. Amongst the regulars on the stubble there were at least 10 Yellowhammers and best of all a Corn Bunting. A local first and a rarity outside their regular winter haunts in the rest of Cheshire.

Saturday morning was equally as cold but brighter and an early morning walk with Molly was made even more pleasant by the sheer number of birds around. Masses of finches, buntings, piupits and wagtails were feeding on the stubble and the early morning light gave some interesting photo oppurtunities.

Whilst scanning the wagtail and pipit flock I came across this coloured ringed bird. Luckily it flew on to a nearby barbed wire fence and I managed a few record shots. Hopefully I'll get some feedback as to where and when it was ringed from the BTO.

As if that wasn't excitement enough for one day it got better when a loose skein of about 50 Pinkfeet flew over heading towards the Dee Estuary.

Sunday once again was cold and frosty and again the lure of the stubble was unresistable. What it is to be so easily pleased! Unbelievably the Yellowhammer flock has now reached the dizzy heights of 12 and the whole area was a seething mass of feeding birds. Nothing different than on previous days but the Fieldfares will undoubtably move on as they've scoofed virtually all the hawthorn berries they've been feeding on over the last week.

Bullfinches have been remarkably conspicuous ofver the last few days as well. The hedge adjacent to the stubble fields has held 2 -3 recently whilst 2 have been regulars at the garden feeding station and Hilbre caught their first for almost 30 years on Friday.

10 Dec 2009

In the spirit of Christmas.

A sign of our increasingly paranoid H & S culture. Courtesy of Groucho Payne:

Health & Safety and Equality Considerations for Christmas Songs

The Rocking Song

Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;

We will lend a coat of fur,

We will rock you, rock you, rock you,

We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore faux fur, a nice cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative.

Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences.

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow

In a one horse open sleigh

O'er the fields we go

Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While Shepherds Watched

While shepherds watched

Their flocks by night

All seated on the ground

The angel of the Lord came down

And glory shone around

The union of Shepherd's has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.

Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer

had a very shiny nose.

And if you ever saw him,

you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence. A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

Little Donkey

Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road

Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period. Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles. The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

We Three Kings

We three kings of Orient are

Bearing gifts we traverse afar

Field and fountain, moor and mountain

Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as 'cash for gold' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher.

We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of RAC routefinder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption. Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Away in a Manger No Crib for a bed - Social services???????

6 Dec 2009

I can't believe its not butter......

Thats what I thought to myself as I surveyed the shaken but not stirred pint of milk I'd carried over to Hilbre in my rucksack Saturday morning. A late start meant I didn't leave the house until after 09.00 but yomping in double quick top not only brought a sweat on but made sure I got to Hilbre before 10.00!  With the tide being a high 9.5 metres we were then stuck on the Island until well after lunch.

All in all a relativley good day for the time of year. Few birds were grounded but a retrapped Rock Pipit and some relatively old Robins were interesting to see in the hand. A handful of Blackbirds, a couple of Song Thrushes and three Goldfinches made up the rest of the passerine interest. A short seawatch produced upto 5 Red-throated Divers, a few Scoter and a few Red-breasted Mergansers.

Star of the day though was undoubtedly the young Grey Seal pup found hauled out sleeping on the sheltered side of the Island. Intitially we thought it was dead until it showed a lively turn of flipper when we went to investigate.                                                                  

Leaving Hilbre just as dusk was falling there was no time to check out the redhead Smew at Rostherne Mere but plans we hatched for Sunday morning.

With no news I decided to go and find the bird myself! Several local birders had spent a few hours looking for it and were quite suprised to find I'd been watching it distantly as it swam in and out of the reeds. Pod Antrobus joined me just as the Smew disappeared back into deep cover but a 40 minute wait proved the patient birder gets the bird!

Meanwhile at my end of the M56 a brighter afternoon meant I was able to get out and about with Molly and we spent a productive hour in Stanney Woods followed by a walk along the edge of the stubble fields. Woodland management at Stanney means the hazel understory is being coppiced. Although the wood looks bare at the moment the renewed growth over the next couple of years should provide more cover for breeding Blackcaps &  Bullfinches etc.  A pair of Grey Wagtails have once again taken residence in the woods and can be found around the edges of the various ditches and ponds.

Large numbers of Redwings and Filedfares have moved into the hedges surrounding the farmland and are systematically scoffing the hawthorn berries! These birds are extremely shy and trying to get close enough for a photo is virtually impossible. Amazing when you think most of them have probably never seen people.


30 Nov 2009

Hung over.

Not much birding this weekend on account of a major birthday celebration and party for my lovely wife! Spent all day Saturday moving furniture, cleaning, putting up decorations and generally acting as Cinderella whilst the party girl went and had her hair done etc etc.....................

Sunday was spent tidying up after the masses had departed but I did manage a couple of quick trips out for Grey Phalarope.

A couple of hours spent exploring the stubble resulted in the usual suspects but included a single grey Wagtail & 20+ Pied Wagtails on a damper part of the field. At least 2 Yellowhammers are also still present amongst the Chaffinch flock.

Even better was a new garden tick! A Barn Owl sat on the conservatory roof hissing before flying off over t he roof tops towards the cow pastures. Very Harry Potter-ish!

Now a quick plug - I'm giving a talk for the Cheshire & District Ornithological Society at the Caldy Centre, Chester this Thursday from 19.30. Entitled 'A Chehsire Birders Year' it'll include loads of photographs from Cheshire as well as a few surprises from further afield. All welcome I belive and the entrance fee is less than the cost of a pint!

See you there.

22 Nov 2009

A horrible wet weekend

At least Friday afternoon was fine and I finished work in time to walk Molly along a sun lit lane flanked by stubble fields. The farmer has left the barley stubble for the winter and will plant it again in the spring. It just shows how such actions can result in local increases in bird numbers. The Chaffinch flock is getting bigger and now includes at least 2 Yellowhammers and 2 Reed Buntings. Another Yellowhammer flew that direction over the house at 10.00 am this morning. Great birds to see locally.

The rest of Friday afternoon was spent ringing at a private site on the Wirral where the highlights were this female Great-spotted Woodepcker and a Jay. Enough wounds to need the contents of a whole bottle of TCP later that evening...........................................................

Unfortunately the good weather didn't last and Saturday proved to be windy and wet. When the weathers this bad there's only one place to go birding in the Wirral -  Hilbre. So, accepting Mark Turner's offer of a lift we were on the Island a few hours before high tide with the benefit of being able to retreat into the Obs if the weather threatened  badly. First bird we saw was a Fieldfare leaving Hilbre and Heading towards Middle Eye. A good omen. Other grounded passerines included a male Blackcap and two Song Thrushes whilst Mark picked out 4 drake Scaup flying out of the estuary.

Fortified by hot teas and Holly T's excellent bacon sandwicheswe braved the elements for the seawatching hide. A steady stream of birds included two very photogenic immature Shags that spent most of the time close to the slipway, 3 Red-throated Divers, a handful of Guillemot's, Great-crested Grebes and good numbers of Common Scoter. Passerines were represented by small parties of Starlings coming in low off the sea. 

As the tide ebbed waders became more active and a total of 7 Purple Sandpipers were counted including this individual  - luckily I had water proofs on as to get these close shots I had to crawl on my belly over the wet rocks at the north end. Cracking little birds.

The Grey Seals were also very keen to get in on the act at least 4 indivuals bobbing around off the slipway. Mother and pup or amorous male and smaller female?

Fortified by more tea and no less than two packets of Chocolate Fingers we vacated the Obs in darkness and set off back towards West Kirby. A thoroughly enjoyable day despite the weather.

Sunday dawned as wet as Saturday so after a brief walk along the lanes the rest of the day was spent Christmas shopping. Hence another festive Robin.