17 Apr 2011

A weekend to savour

.Just got back from a three day stint on Hilbre and what a memorable few days. Good birds, good food, good wine and malt whiskey and great company with a steady stream of friends and visitors joining the core crew over the period.

Knackering though with pre-dawn starts followed by a fried Hilbre special breakfast around mid morning and a large meal late evening - courtesy of our beloved wives who cooked us Chili, Curry and Lasagne to tide us over!

Birds ringed included two Tree Pipits, three Greenland Wheatears, good numbers of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and a surprising number of finches. We even caught a Goldfinch wearing an aviary ring that we removed and released unringed.

 I even managed a photo of one of the Tree Pipits in the field after it was released but it was Sundays bird that was the most surprising - it was heard calling and then singing from a roof and then a small bush in the entrance of one of the heligoland traps from where it was duly removed for ringing.

Saturday night saw a fantastic sunset followed by a clear night sky in which Saturn and its rings could be clearly seen - even some of the moons were discernible.

Birds aren't the only interest on Hilbre. Many people come over for the seals and for once the elusive Common Seal was showing well allowing comparison with a nearby sub-adult Grey Seal.

Grey Seal below:

A fantastic few days and it was great to see so many friends including N Wales birder Marc Hughes and his son Aled.

10 Apr 2011

Finishing where I started.

A good week for migrants locally this week starting with an Osprey over the Gowy water meadows Monday evening. The bird appeared to come into roost about 1/2 mile away from where I was on the canal towpath just as the light was fading. Sunday morning I got another one being mobbed by Carrion Crows over the house!

I occasionally check out a local pool along the road to the municipal recycling centre as I keep saying this will be where I'll get my first local Cetti's Warbler. A Bittern took up temporary residencee during the winter cold spell. Dropping some glass off at the recycling centre I stopped to view the pool and listen. The first bird I heard? A Cetti's Warbler. They seem to be colonising Cheshire along the Manchester Ship Canal and this site is really close to that corridor.

I've been back since and heard the Cetti's again so hopefully it'll find a mate and stay to breed. The pool also hosted a pair of Gadwall and  7 Tufted Ducks and later in the year will also be home to Reed & Sedge Warblers. All in an urban environment!

Plenty of activity in Stanney Woods with a few Blackcaps & Chiffchaffs already on territory and a couple of passage Willow Warblers singing. Willow Warblers have also made it  to the garden and this week two have been heard singing early morning. Star bird in Stanney though was this Treecreeper valiantly trying to manoeuvre twigs twice its length into its nest site behind some loose bark. I found the nest as I was walking Molly and went back later with the camera.

Hilbre was the focus of attention Saturday and an early morning trip showed promise as a south easterly had been blowing all night and there was a slight mist over the Great Orme. Sure enough there were migrants  on and over the Islands with the star bird being a male Redstart found by Frank on the cliffs at the south east corner. Other birds on the island included Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and this Grasshopper Warbler retrapped from the previous day. It's obviously refuelling before continuing its journey and was found to have gained weight.

Passage overhead was strong with Redpolls, Goldfinches hirundines and lots of White / Pied Wagtails. Amongst these was my first Yellow Wagtail of the year and my first Whimbrel. A few finches were attracted by the feeders and two Redpoll's were ringed.

One of the hightlights of the week was attending a talk given by Martin Garner - Martin's enthusiasm for birds extends from finding rarities to studying commoner species and trying to identify races in the field. His talk was excellent combining just the right amount of thought provoking hard facts and humour. His impression of a Manx Shearwater in flight compared to Yeukolan Shearwater was hilarious!

3 Apr 2011

Ringed Ouzel.

Weather conditions looked promising for a few migrants on Hilbre Saturday wit ha south easterly overnight and rain early morning. Sure enough I was woken at 04.00 by thunder and lightning. Not quite the spring showers I'd anticipated. Eventually hauling myself out of bad at 6.00 I gave a disgruntled dog her breakfast and a quick walk before loading her in the Landrover to pick up the rest of the days team in West Kirby. Not before I'd got a new garden bird for the year with a flyover calling Oystercatcher unseen in the dark.

Leaving the foreshore it started raining again and on arrival to the Obs it became apparent there were a few phylloscs around with my first Willow Warbler amongst several Chiffchaffs in the garden and Wheatears on the cliff tops. A Tree Pipit (the first of the year) buzzed overhead and a few hirundines flew through

 Quickly grabbing binoculars we set off for the first round of the morning and hadn't even shit the garden gate behind us when Steve was off and running. He'd seen a thrush sized bird with a long tail disappearing over 'Bluethroat Ridge'. I saw a dark shape drop out of the corner of my eye and the unspoken message was 'Ring Ouzel'.

We couldn't find the bird at the south end and reasoned it may have darted below the cliffs up the east side. Reaching the first of the heligolands it was clear we'd had a fall and it was all hands as we caught Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Goldcrest, Blackcap and Wren.

There were plenty of Wheatears around sheltering in the paddocks on the east side away from the wind which had now veered to a brisk west. It was as we were walking through the paddocks that Colin picked up a bird flying up from near one of the heligolands - as it flew towards us I saw the white crescent! As Steve was out of sight I yelled as loud as I could 'Ring Ouzel overhead' hoping he'd pick it up. He did and there were congratulations all round. A Ring Ouzel in spring is a star bird anyhwere but on Hilbre its extra special.

Continuing our work the Ring Ouzel was seen several times in paddocks or gardens but was very flighty. We'd hoped it would enter one of the helgoland traps but as the morning turned to afternoon and the sun came out it appeared we were going to be out of luck. There were a few birders on the island - the scouting party for the main group who'd miscalculated the tides and were stuck on Middle Eye for the duration - and we were able to show them a few birds in the hand.

The best was yet to come though. We'd just started walking through the SK trap on top of the east cliffs when I saw a black bird shoot out and down over the cliff. 'Oh dear' I uttered loudly but it was indeed a Blackbird and unbeknown to me Steve had heard a bird in the catching box and raced forward. Like a magician with a rabbit he pulled a Ring Ouzel from the sleeve! I'd never seen a Ring Ouzel in the hand and even better Steve & Colin allowed me to ring it! What a stunning looking bird. (Sorry John). We informed the birders present and let them have a look at the bird befroe we released it in one of the more inaccessible spots.

There was a steady trickle of birds through and we caught a few more warblers along with a Blackbird and Songthrush. Eventually two Wheatears were trapped and colour ringed as part of a long term Hilbre study. A pair of nice 2nd calender year birds. An estimated 25 passed through during the day.

By now the trapped birders had made it across and were mortified to have missed the Ring Ouzel having been shown pictures by the rest of the group. Luckily a few got to see it as it seemed to settle down and enjoy the sunshine.

Another great day and the first real fall of the spring.

2 Apr 2011

Spring forward, fall back.

Spring forward, fall back - the old menomic for remembering to change from GMT to BST. The lighter evenings mean I've been able t oget out after work. Checking the fields over the last few nights was rewarding with good numbers of Pied Wagtails and a handful of White Wagtails following the plough. Sure enough, as predicted, a single female Wheatear joined the throng of Wagtails and Meadow Pipits midweek.
The local birds are full of the joys of spring and are busy proclaiming their territories or, like my garden Wrens and Blackbirds, nest building.

This Goldcrest seems to be celebrating not only the spring but having survived the harsh winter.

With Primroses in full bloom and the Blackthorn beginning to flower theres no turning back now.