30 Aug 2010

Long-tailed Skua, Hilbre.

A strong N W overnight on the Wirral instantly gets local birders thinking of seawatching! That was exactly my thoughts whislt waiting with Molly for Steve to pick us up in the Landrover at 07.00 on a very blustery Sunday morning. No chance of staying for the tide but after a quick walk around the heligoland traps it was off to the seawatching hide for a spot of low tide viewing.

There wasn't much moving and it appeared the force 5 -6 blowing hadn't been prolonged enough yet to move any petrels in from the Irish Sea. A solitary Wigeon sheltered off the slipway and for awhile was the best bird of the morning!

Picking up a distant skua I got Steve onto it quickly as  Iwas struck how by how small and dainty it was - when it chased a Sandwich Tern the tern looked as big as it did. With a very dainty demeanour and attenuated rear end it looked good for juvenile Long-tailed Skua. Watching it for around 30 minutes we both agreed and the news was put out. A short while later it reappeared much closer and we watched it in flight and settled on the water. This time there was no doubt and we saw all the salient features to confirm it as in intermdeiate phase juvenile.

Just as we'd got back to the Obs for a cooked breakfast I got a text from Pete Kinsella to say he'd had an adult and an intermediate phase juvenile off Seaforth / Crosby between 07.00 & 07.30!

Leaving the island  I ventured back to Leasowe Gunsites where Pod, Al Orton & myself used the landrover as a hide for a seawatch over the high tide. Once again birds were few and far between and only on the ebbing tide did we manage to see anything at all. 5 Kittiwakes and 2 Arctic Skuas were all we had to show for 2 hrs effort. No petrels were seen off the Orme or Seaforth either.

The local rape seed stubble is proving a magnet for finches and a large flock of 30 -40 Linnets has already built up with a handful of Reed Buntings and Tree Sparrows thrown in. It'll be good if its left all winter but somehow I doubt it will.

The local Swans have had a successful breeding season with the adult pair on the Shropshire Union canal at nearby Stoak having six well grown cygnets. Coming out of the water to feed they weren't at all perturbed by our presence until the Cobb spotted Molly and we had to beat a strategic retreat.

25 Aug 2010

Long-billed Dowitcher, Neumans Flash

About time that Marbury lot found a decent bird rather than us Wirral lot finding them all the time.

23 Aug 2010

Hilbre special forces.

Special Forces have been training on Hilbre. It was revealed an Obs member had gone Commando to photograph a record flock of Goosander seen off Middle Eye Saturday. Either that or sincere apologies to any distraught grockle who was confronted by an underpants-less photographer crawling through the bracken! Read the story  here. Plenty of good birds to be seen off Hilbre this weekend but a real contrast in the weather conditions with Sunday almost summery.

The weekend started early with a healthy Hilbre fryup. Just what was required on a cold and wet morning. Bacon, fresh eggs and home made bread washed down with plenty of tea.

Some good birds were seen including a Greenshank in the gutter and 6 Little Egrets whilst seawatching resulted in a huge count of 750+ Manx Shearwaters, Gannets and a handful of Arctic Skua's. It was so damp even the Sea Slaters had ventured out and one was crawling up the outside of the seawatching hide.

Contrast this weather to Sunday's where a beautiful sunny day greeted the early risers who made it across to Hilbre before the tide. Once again seawatching was the order of the day but a few migrants made it to the Island before moving off.

A sunny day meant a healthier option for breakfast but amends were made on the calorific front when Mrs Williams sumptious cup-cakes made an appearance. Lovely.

The north end on a beautiful sunny Sunday.

Once again good numbers of Manx Shearwaters & Gannets were seen but Great-crested grebes and Common Scoter numbers were also increasing. Arctic Skua's predominated the kleptoparasitic scene but a single Bonxie was briefly seen mugging a Sandwich Tern off the west side.

Turnstone numbers are steadily climbing and the bright sunshine made them glow amongst the sandstone rocks.

Closer to home the hybrid Buzzard x Harris Hawk continues to beg from its parents near Stoak but refuese to come within camera range so I settled for another scenic shot of the Shropshire Union canal near Craughton moorings and a local Mallard.

More news on the Purple Swamphen last seen at Saltney at the beginning of the month.  ( read story here)  Despite attempts to catch it theres no definite proof it has been re-caught and it or another bird has pitched up a few miles away at a private fishing lake near Buckley where its been resident since the Saltney bird disappeared.......... Losing one bird is careless. Losing two is criminal. Its either a completely different bird from the same source (which contradicts the supposed owner saying he'd lost two but one came back of its own volition), the same bird thats relocated (makes you wonder if it was really an escape if its moved that far on its own) or the same bird thats been captured and re-released either by a caring member of the public or the 'owner' who wants shot. Either way its reported as coming to sweet corn along with the local Coots, Moorhens and Mallards. Good to hear its thriving whatever its origins.

19 Aug 2010


Found this little fella in the garden stuffing his face on spilt sunflower hearts in the middle of the afternoon the other day! Not much mention of mammals on this blog recently but we've got 5 -6 Pipistrelle Bats hunting over the pond adjacent to the house and amazingly a Weasel ran across the road in front of the house Tuesday.

An early morning start Wednesday courtesy of being woken up twice and then not being able to drop off again. Easier when I've had a few beers! Was out with Molly by 06.15 and plenty of visible migration. Star bird was my second flyover Tree Pipit within a week, a Yellowhammer and at least 40-50 Linnets including one flock of 30.

Other local news is that the escaped Harris Hawk has successfully mated with a Buzzard and we now have juvenile hybrids looking like Buzzards with white rumps. Oh dear. Bet the rarities committee will be kept busy rejecting Rough-legged Buzzard sightings from the M56 / M53 interchange area this winter.

16 Aug 2010

Syke's Warbler at last - or is it?

An early night last night was rudely disturbed by the mega alert going off. I knew what is was instantly. The possible Booted or Syke's Warbler in Northumberland had been positively identified as the rarer of the two recently split species. No point in going to sleep then and I lay waiting for the first calls..............

Having to go to work at least for a few hours I debated what to do until Pod Antrobus and Two Phones Et Al rang to say they were thinking of going. That made my mind up and we met around 12.45 in a layby off the M56 to start our long journey around the M62 and up the A1/M.  We made excellent time and arrived around 3 hours later to find the bird showing well but active all the time as it flitted from bush to bush. Everyone kept a respectable distance but no one could complain of the views we got even if it was hard to photograph with the small Sigma.

Mike Stokes texted me to ask if I planned to go for the Syke's to which  I replied I was actually watching it! Keep up Shropshire. You've got to move faster than that to match us Cheshire lot! As for the ASBO birders - not one in sight.

Although hardly staying still for more than a few seconds 'scope views were good enough to ascertain all the relevant identification features although the supercillium behind the eye looked a bit longer at times than that shown in Collin's! Still, better birders than me have seen the bird today and are happy with the identification.

Leaving site at around 17.30 we were safely home in Cheshire before it got dark. Another bogey bird off the hit list after the disappointment of missing one in Shetland by a matter of hours.

No. 460 BOU!

15 Aug 2010

In the bag!

Friday afternoon saw gale force noorth westerlies on the N Wirral coast the 'Good Shepherd' offered to look after one of his flock and go seawatching off the Gunsites. Not much happened before the tide began to ebb but we did see a couple of Arctic Skua's, a handfull of Kittiwakes and a single Manx Shearwater.

A relatively high tide was crashing over the lower path below the embankment but despite the stormy conditions birds were few and far between.

Contrast Friday with Saturday when the weather was much warmer. Taking Molly to Frodsham and picking up Mark Payne enroute we checked No. 6 tank before driving round to No. 4 tank. A single Marsh Harrier was seen distantly over the score but by far the best bird was a juvenile Cuckoo. Leaving Frosham we checked the gulls out on a field adjacent to the Gowy tip where Groucho picked up the first of two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls roosting on a recently harvested field adjacent to the road.  From here we met up with one of Wirrals finest at Meols where there were two adult Med Gulls on the beach before the rising tide pushed them off. From here we checked out  the groyne near the Leasowe Castle Hotel where a Greenshank roosted with the more usual wader species. Finally we ended up at Kings Gap to watch the waders coming back to feed as the tide receeded. A fly through 'unidentifed' brick red coloured wader was lost as it touched down but our intial identification as a possible Curlew Sandpiper was confirmed when we heard one had flown past Dove Point about 5 minutes earlier with a flock of Dunlin! Wader numbers are building up and we had a good number of superb summer plumaged Grey Plover and a juvenile Med Gull amongst the highlights.

Dropping Mark off for his train in Chester I decided to walk Molly along the canal towpath at Stoke making the most of the warm weather. Not much to see but at least the dog appreciated my efforts and the scenery is fantastic if you manage to ignore Shell Stanlow in the background.

A fall of migrnats on the east coast raised ourt hopes for Hilbre today. Awake early I walked Molly before leaving and logged a Tree Pipit flying over the house! A good sign. A very full Landrover (no room for Molly today) beat across the sand spilling some of its occupants out to walk Middle Eye as is the norm to check for any grounded migrants.

Hilbre from Middle Eye.

No sooner had we arrived at the Obs when I was greeted with a smiling group of ringers proffering a bird bag. Hmm. It was either something good they wanted me to ring or something really bad that would draw blood.

Luckily for me it was the former! As soon as I saw the bill I realised what it was and checking the hind claw confirmed it. A beautifully fresh young Tree Pipit. Checking the wing formula confirmed the identification and my day was off to a good start. Only about 10 have been ringed on Hilbre so it was a privelege for me to be able to ring this one. Thanks lads for cheering me up immensely after a difficult week.

As the weather became a bit hazy a small fall occured and soon after me asking John if Hilbre caught many autumn Grasshopper Warblers then Mr Jones proved he still has better hand eye coordination than any England goalkeeper in the World Cup and plucked one out of the SK.

Coupled with a few Willow Warblers and two Wheatears its another sign Autumn is definitely on the way.

9 Aug 2010

Another good day on Hilbre.

Managed another trip to Hilbre yesterday. An early morning yomp across the sands was in order and I arrived around 07.30 just in time for the first brew of the day! On the way past Middle Eye a Tree Pipit flew over calling and later a second bird was heard flying over Hilbre itself.

With a north westerly breeze not many migrants were expected but several Willow Warblers were caught and ringed but the focus of attention was once again on seabirds with the Black Tern still present and wader numbers continuing to build up. Suprsingly the Black Tern was frequently observed plunge diving for food at times beign completely submerged apart from its wing tips.

Its assciating with a group of Common Terns and seems to be copying their feeding behaviour!

The west side of the north end also provided good photo oppurtunitys for waders as a small group of Turnstone and Dunlin seem to favour this sheltered spot at high tide.

Who are you looking at?

The smell of the Chairmans Hilbre special fried breakfast being cooked attracted not only the Obs members but a roving Gannet that made several passes right alongside the Observatory.

Once more Auks were scarce but we did manage to find a single Guillemot on the sea and a dead Razorbill on the beach. One lucky visitng birder picked up a juvenile Black-necked Grebe before it flew off towards the wind farm.

6 Aug 2010

Autumn Migration!

Summers not offically over yet and already return migration is beginning on Hilbre. An early morning start saw the Obs crew bouncing across to the Island in the Landrover with a brisk south easterly breeze behind us. First things first for Kenny as he put the kettle on before we started our mornings work.

A small movement of passerines was evident with two Wheatears and a handful of Willow Warbers present. A single Blackbird and two unringed juvenile Pied Wagtails completed the count. Waders are returning in good numbers and it was great to see some juvenile Dunlin & Turnstone amongst them.

Amongst the Turnstones was this colour ringed bird returning after being first caught in the winter of 07/08. many of the Turnstones and Dunlin were still in breeding plumage.

Other waders included Redshank, Whimbrel, Curlew and Ringed Plover whilst a distant flypast Greenshank was a good find by 'South Easterly Jones'

Resident passerines seem to have fared well with juvenile Linnets and Meadow Pipits being caught and ringed.

Seabirds were present in good numbers with Manx Shearwaters and Gannets showing well off the north end. Once again we managed to moan a bird in - no sooner had someone moaned about the lack of Auks when we picked up a Razorbill splashing around in the waves. Other interest was provided by a juvenile Shag.

Star bird though was the Black Tern first found by Degsy yesterday and refound off the north end today amongst the feeding flock of Common & Sandwich Terns. A scarce bird this year in the N W - indeed the Country.

As the tide ebbed we drove off finding Little Egret, Peregrine & four stunning summer plumage Grey Plover on the way.

Aquick check of a largee Gull flock on fields adjacent to the Gowy tip earlier this week revealed an adult Yellow-legged Gull and a juvenile Med Gull amongst a flcok of 2-3,000 larids. Closer to home the local Moorhens are the proud parents of a third brood of youngsters. All the young from the first brood and most of those from the second brood have been chased off by the parent birds and this third brood consists of three chicks. I can't remember them ever having three broods before!