27 Sept 2010

Another empid

News broke at lunchtime Saturday of yet another empid flycatcher - the second in three years following the Cornwall bird that I was lucky enough to see on its second day. Debate raged over whether or not it was a Least, Willow or Alder and later Yellow-bellied was thrown into the mix. Hmm. Not easy these N American Flycatchers. 

Pod decided he was going straight away but a little mental arithmetic later & I realised he probably wouldn't get to Blakeney Point before dark! (He didn't so stayed overnight).  Meanwhile two of Wirrals finest, namely two phones sue & Allan Conlin, hatched a plan to go on news Sunday morning as they'd both missed the Cornish bird.

The best laid plans always end up being changed and so it to pass that we were leaving at 04.00 to ensure we got a boat from Morston Quay rather than slogging our way across the shingle with the wind in our faces.

Somewhere in the early hours of the morning we hit a dead badger. Not the best thing to do in a low slung sports car. An ominous noise from the rear end suddnely manifested itself as a full blown graunching noise as it appeared the exhaust had dropped off. A few roadside repairs involving ripping off lumps of metal from the underside of the Black Beast and we rolled into town to find our original boat had been cancelled.

There was no news on the flycatcher aand it began to look s if the lads were going to dip again. Sitting in the car deciding what to do we decided to go and try for breakfst when a garbled message came through on the pager. A quick call to Will Soar at RBA confirmed the bird was still present!

Meeting Pod staring forelornly out to sea we reviewed the options before heading into town to try and find another boat. Luckily Steve got the number of Bishops Boats and a quick call later we were booked in and made sure Pod was on as well.

A fiver for the boat trip was good value when compared to the cost of the inter-island extortion of the Scilly's and the fifteen minute crossing went smoothly. Within minutes we were watching the empid dashing around its temporary plantation home.

After an hour watchign the flycatcher we went to look for a Yellow-browed Warbler nearby. We didn't see it but luckily for us we noticed another boat was pulling up with a party of school kids on a field trip. Even better the skipper, Jason, of Beans Boats, was good enough to give us a lift back without charging  but the few of us who got on board all put a few pounds in the collection tin on board!

With the weather now well and truly closing in we decided to head for home where we found the N West had been bathed in sunshine all day!

To me it doesn't matter that the bird may never be assigned to species. Its all about learning and seeing something new. Who knows, with new identifcation criteria and good quality photo's, it may be eventually identified.

25 Sept 2010


A real sign that autumn is on the way are the fungi shooting up all over Stanney Woods. One I look out for every year but smell more than find is the Stinkhorn which goes by the latin name of phallus impudicus for obvious reasons. The smell is a sweet sickly smell similar to rotten meat and they use this to attract flies to distribute the spores. Amazing things and the fruiting bodies develop from an underground 'egg' that can just about be seen from the photo's I took with the mobile phone this morning.
Birds are starting to move locally now and this week has seen a steady passage of Grey Wagtails over the house and the first Skylarks today. 

Whilst looking at last weeks Whiskered Tern at Inner Marsh Farm I caught up with the semi-resident Marsh Harrier again and the Hilbre Peregrine put in an appearance on Sunday.

19 Sept 2010

What a difference a day makes.

The Wirral seawatching team headed out to Hilbre after work on Friday to complete a marathon 48 hour continuous count of seabirds during the recent gales. Mr Conlin kindly provided the sustenancee in the form of spicy chicken thighs and wings whilst  Steve expertly drove the Landrover across the rutted foreshore, where the recent storms had churned the sand into ridges shapped like glacial morraine.

With good numbers of Leach's Petrels already being logged since first light it was our task to continue the count until dark. We counted over 200 Leach's petrels in the time we were in the seawatching hide - over 500 were counted during the day.  Mark 'Whipper' Gibson was on the edge of the East Hoyle Bank and phoned us to say he'd had a Sabine's Gull heading out to say. Within 10 minutes we picked it up out towards the wind farm and we later picked up two more together!

There were plenty of Skua's around with a Bonxie feasing on tideline corpses on the East Hoyle and Arctic Skua's harrying terns - including a stunning pale phase adult.
With global warming predicted to increase temperatures and the frequency of gales there is already talk of the winners and losers in the bird world as natural selection kicks in.
This Arctic Skua will certainly have an advantage and will probably survive to pass its genes on to a new generation -
As always the star birds are the Leach's Petrels and I never cease to be amazed at how they survive such a fearful battering as they've had over the last three days.
With daylight fading it was time to turn the camera west towards the spectacular sunset. Even whislt admiring the setting globe of the sun petrels were still passing by. Eventually it got to dark to see and we retired to the Obs for a celebratory beer before driving off the island in the dark leaving the petrels to their battle to survive another night.

Saturday dawned wet and miserable but a problematic tern first picked up at Inner Marsh Farm Thursday was relocoated and eventually gave good enough views to clinch the identification as a juvenile Whiskered Tern. A rare plumage for this species in the UK and one which most birders are not familiar with. The bird has a habit of mooching around the reserve for an hour or so and then disappearing somewhere on the outer marsh and I got bloody soaked going from the hide to the top path trying to relocate it a three hour period

Sunday's wind had switched right round to the south west and the sea was much calmer. A short seawatch showed how much difference a day can make with no petrels or skua's being sighted but two summer plumaged Red-throated Divers and a Greenshank were still good records. Luckily for those thae missed it Saturday (Steve!) the Whsikered Tern was still at IMF today. It's interesting that a juvenile Whiskered Tern was in Cleveland during August, then moved toShropshire for a day and then Rutland water. I wonder if this is the same bird?

16 Sept 2010

Fabulous Seawatching.

A fantastic few days on the Wirral for seawatching following prolonged north westerly gales approaching 8 - 9 at times. Firstly the two Al's (Conlin & Orton) scored heavily when Mr Conlin picked up a Little Shearwater flying along the surf line at Dove Point! A stunning find. Unfortunately I was in Munich but my phone went ballistic as the news was broadcast by RBA with people texting to see who'd seen it and if it was genuine. It certainly was.  As Al Orton eloquently put it - if it was wearing nail varnish we'd have seen it!

The same day Kenny Dummigan kept up his excellent track record and found a Wryneck nearby.  This proved to be very elusive but I eventually managed brief views yesterday and was able to put a visiting birder on to it before it disappeared out of the howling wind and back into the sanctuary of its favoured gorse patch along with Brer Rabbit and at least three Blackbirds who were also hunkered down for the duration. For all I know Lord Lucan or Shergar could have been in there as well.

The main event  however was the passage of seabirds past the N Wirral coast as the gales pushed them into the mouth of the Mersey and they tried to escape by hugging the coastline. Not ablee to join the Hilbre seawatchers I took the mobile seawatching hide  (see here ) to Leasowe Gunsites where a grateful Al Orton claimed sanctuary in the front whilst I used the rear widnows. It was so windy his VW golf was rocking like an old Quo guitarist and he was actually feeling seasick inside the car! Three tonnes of Landrover make a perfectly stable base. In fact after Hilbre and Jane Turners house its probably the third best seawatching hide o nthe Wirral - certainly the most mobile.

Birds were passing all the time and the highlights included firstly an adult Sabine's Gull picked up by Frank Duff and then a juvenile.  I found a Sooty Shearwater - a county 'lifer' for Al. The sama bird was seen by several other birders at Leasowe and then by Jane Turner from her lofty perch at Hoylake. Leach's Petrels streamed past for the whole duration of our watch and we also picked up two Storm Petrels, lots of Kittiwakes (including good numbers of juveniles) over thirty Manx Shearwaters, a Fulmar, two Bonxies, four Arctic Skuas, numerous Guillemots, a Razorbill and a few small flocks of Common Scoter.

Mark Turner picked up the Sooty Shearwater again briefly as it careened west, shearing into the wind and as far as the horizon you could see birds either battling into the wind or rocketing along in front of it as they gave up and went with the flow.

A fantastic spectacle but in many ways also very sad. Many of the birds appeared exhausted and were sat on the sand moribund.

We later moved to Dove Point where we again picked up what were probably the same two Sabine's Gulls and watched as squadrons of Leach's Petrels flew along the tide line as the sea receeded.

12 Sept 2010


Waders. Required wearing over this weekends high tides but also the generic name for a group of small shorebirds. The hightide Saturday morning coincided with a cloudy night so a session wader ringing on Hilbre took place.  By 11.00 pm Friday night the persistant rain had eased off and the wind had dropped - exactly as forecast for a change. With the aim of catching Turnstones as part of a long term colour ringing study and the intrepid team fumbled around in the dark before retiring to bed at 04.30 am Saturday morning well satisifed with a catch of 29 waders  - the majority being the target species with Dunlin & Ringed Plover also being caught. It was interesting to see the racial variation in Ringed Plover & Dunlin with bill length measurements of the latter giving some indication of their geographical origin. Even whilst concentrating on the waders there was time to note a migrant Song Thrush calling overhead and after 2 hours sleep it was obvious there had been a small overnight passage of passerines with the Island hosting several Willow Warblers, Robins, Chiffchaff & a Wheatear.  Great stuff.

Knackered after so little sleep I took it easy for the rest of Saturday only venturing out to check the stubble fields for any Lapland Buntings. No such luck and imminent rain forced an early retirement fro mthe field to the sanctuary of the conservatory where the inclement weather forced a Chiffchaff to take shelter in our garden.

The local birds are making good use of the garden feeders and most days there is a throng of finches amongst the usual tits with some of the adults still undertaking their post breeding moult - like this Greenfinch photographed through the window.
Sunday saw a return to Hilbre preceeded by a walk along Red Rocks saltmarsh just in case a Lapland Bunting had decided to drop in over night. Ever hopeful the only bird Molly & me managed to find was a very showy Wheatear.
Hilbre from Red Rocks and Seaholly.

Bird life was noticeable by its absence on Hilbre so a short seawatch was order of the day. The highlight being a colour ringed Oystercatcher picked up whilst counting waders on the foreshore - seawatching lived up to its name. All sea watching and no birds!

With few birds around thoughts turned to breakfast back at the Obs and with nothing of a feathered variety to photograph I tunred my attention to some artistic image taking.
A great weekend and many thanks to the lads for giving Janet a lift over Friday night and then driving her back in the dark so she could enjoy Hilbre for the firsrt time.

10 Sept 2010

Red-backed Shrike, Frodsham No. 1 tank.

Gave Molly  run out earlier to day to see a juvenile Red-backed Shrike at Frodsham. A county rarity this bird was found yesterday but the news didn't reach any of the local birders until almost 18.30 (it was found at 12.30). A good find and a minor twitch ensued with two phones et al coming from work along with Wirrals finest seafaring seabird expert, Kenny D, Groucho, Fairweather Frank, Al Orton  etc. Please note some real names have been disguised as I've a feeling they should have all been at work...................