29 Aug 2011

Stormy weather

An early start this morning saw me trundling over to Hilbre in a Landrover laden with the makings of a fried breakfast for the members (and junior member) brave enough to stay over night in the force 6 -7 that was blowing in from the N W.  Plenty of birds to view on the way over including this Cormorant with a metal ring on its right leg. Not one of ours but probably from one of the colonies in N Wales.

Unsurprisingly, given the conditions, passerines were virtually non existent and the only migrant was a heard but unseen Willow Warbler calling forlornly from the shelter of the east side.

Seawatching was the order of the day and we were rewarded with a distant Pom Skua harassing gulls and at least 8 Arctic Skua's and a distant Bonxie. At one point we had 4 in the air together including a pale phase bird.

Two juvenile Kittiwakes a few Common Scoter and the usual terns completed the round up. No Petrels (or Gannets) but Autumn is just around the corner..................................

Meanwhile on the garden feeders the Goldfinch numbers are gradually increasing with 10 present yesterday including 2 juveniles. Greenfinches are also making a welcome return and there are now a handful of Chaffinches present. Interestingly the number of adult Blue & Great Tits have increased - probably as they've been lying low until their moult has been completed.

27 Aug 2011

Changeable weather

After not being able to get across to Hilbre for nearly 3 weeks I was keen to make up for missed time this Bank Holiday weekend. Unfortunately the weather hasn't been kind (so far) and Friday afternoon there were definitely more Obs members than birds!

Still, there has been a trickle of movement with plenty of Wheatears, a few Willow Warblers and Robins along wit ha Garden Warbler to keep us occupied. Star bird was a young female Sparrowhawk, surprised off its Turnstone breakfast, that ended up in one of the Heligoland traps before sinking its talons nicely into the Chairman's fingers. Ouch.

It was later seen having another go at the Turnstones before investigating the potter traps.
Wader numbers are increasing with lots of Turnstones, Dunlin, Knot, Ringed Plover and a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper along along the ridge between Middle Eye & Hilbre. A handful of Whimbrel are also still present.

Sea watching was limited but a Guillemot was hauled out on the west side and was later found Saturday afternoon stranded on Little Eye. A resuce mission was rewarded with much squawking and stabbing with its lethal bill beofre it swam strongly out to sea from the north end of Hilbre.

In contrast to Friday, Saturday was predominately wet but even so we still caught 2 new Robins and a Willow Warbler. A NW force 5 meant seawatching was in order, albeit form the Obs balcony in easy reach of a supply of Chocolate Cookies and copious mugs of teas. Despite these other distractions we did see a Bonxie as well as a handful of Gannets and Common Scoter.

24 Aug 2011

Iberian Chiffchaff accepted - first for the county!

In April 2004 I found an Iberian Chiffchaff at Dibbinsdale lnr, Bromborough, Wirral - about 10 minutes from my house. Most people who saw the bird agreed on its identification and sound recordings were made. It's had a rough ride being accepted due to:
  • The orignal submissions and recordings being lost!
  • Some dispute over the presence of colybitta like elements in its call / song.
Luckily further research and analysis of Iberian Chiffchaff calls in a paper by J,. Martin Collinson & Tim Melling (Identification of vagrant Iberian Chiffchaffs - pointers, pitfalls and problem birds' BB 101. April 2008 174 - 188) has meant its finally been accepted. As the current secretary of the BBRC (Nigel Hudson) says ' its famous enough to have its own name 'The Dibbinsdale Chiffchaff'.

This is a county first and potentially only the 9th or 10th record for the UK.

17 Aug 2011

Scilly's pelagics. Day 4. Monday.

No pelagic today. Time to pack the camp up and head for home. Not before a few hours birding though. Debate raged over where to have breakfast before scouring the Island for an elusive Beeeater that had been present for a couple of months. Eventually we decided the Old Town cafe would be slightly less crowded than those in Hugh Town. What a decision. Sitting outside waiting for my 'Builders Special' bacon, sausage and egg sandwich drinking a cup of tea when my finely tuned ears picked up the sound of a Beeeater calling overhead! We watched it as it flew towards Peninis Head and appeared to land. Lifer number 4 for the Meehan. Unbelievable.

Splitting up we scoured the island for new birds but only succeeded in a fly over Green Sandpiper, Reed Warbler and Blackcap. Searching Peninis head for the Beeeater was fruitless but did provide us with good views of the Scilly's endemic sub-species of Speckled Wood. Another highlight was a pod of at least 200 Common Dolphins seen form the Garrison.

Finally it was time to depart on the Scillonian and after a few more hours sea watching where the highlight was a pod of Orca's, an Ocean Sunfish, a couple of Balearic's and some Storm petrels we arrived back in Penzance for the long drive through the night to Cheshire where I finally got to bed around 02.00 on the Tuesday morning. A great trip and well worth  the effort.

Scilly's Pelagics. Sunday. Day 3.

Up early again and raring to go I received a phone call from Jan with some very bad news. Molly had had a stroke. Joe was on his way back from York but it looked as if this was finally the end of the road for the poor old girl. With a heavy heart I couldn't join in the banter around the tents and even considered not going on the days trip. Jase gave me a typically blunt talking to and I reluctantly decided to go. There was nothing  I could do to from the Scilly's and Jan didn't think she was going to last more than a few hours. She was just waiting for Joe to arrive before calling the vet. Devastating news and my heart really wasn't in it.

The weather was perfect for holidaying but not so good for the birds. Drifting and chumming produced very little - not even a European Storm Petrel but we did get good views of a marauding Bonxie and Joe took the opportunity to set out some shark lines in the hope of catching some Blue Sharks for tagging and releasing.

A large Blue Shark was seen around the boat and we caught a tiddler. Just as we were about to give up drifting and chumming and head towards a distant trawler in the hope of finding more birds the big one took the bait and after a monumental struggle was landed and found to be 8ft long and in excess of 140 lbs. Sinking its teeth in to the Sapphires wood work it wasn't in any mood to let got and had to be man -handled back in to the sea.

It took an hour or so to reach the trawler and even from a distance we could see there were plenty of birds including this gull trying to swallow a Gurnard.

By now the weather was really hotting up and layers were being stripped off. The first good bird we saw was a Sooty Shearwater sat on the sea so Joe stopped the boat and drifted closer to allow us all to get a closer look.

Great stuff and it got better. A Great Shearwater appeared and had obviously applied for and got an equity card  as it gave a show none of us will forget.

Heading for St Mary's my phone bleeped. I'd left it on to receive messages from home but out at sea there's no reception. We must have gone through a small area of reception as it was a message from Joe to say Molly had passed away peacefully at 10.58. Just as I was reading this sad message  the shout went up 'Dolphins' and a pod of around 20 -30 of these amazing cetaceans frolicked in the bow wave for a good 30 minutes. I couldn't bring myself to photograph them but sat watching them in the sunshine reflecting on a great loss and feeling upset that Jan had had to deal with the situation alone.

 Bob Flood proving he could probaalby sleep on a washing line.

Chris Griffin and Jase Atkinson. Jase telling me how many Wilson's we'd seen Friday night.

On reaching shire my first priority was to ring home.

Scilly's Pelagics. Saturday. Day 2.

Bleary eyed I woke at 6.00, exited the tent, grabbed a quick shower and got the stove on for a morning brew and fill flasks. Today looked a better day weather wise and we have a full day on the sea to enjoy / endure.

With the camp tidied and clothes safely folded away(!) the whole group descended on the Co-op enmasse to stock up with provisions. Meeting the Sapphire on the quayside at 08.20 it was soon obvious a few faces were missing from the previous night. Bob outlined the plans for the day and we were soon heading out to sea passing a feeding flock of juvenile Med Gulls on the way out. An adult Pom Skua flew past obviously on a mission  to be somewhere else.

Higgo gave Matty tips on how to prevent sea sickness - gems like holding a £5 note between his teeth. Steaming and chumming was followed by drift and chum. Plenty of birds but no Wilson's. We were beginning to feel a little smug.

News of a trawler within an hours steaming had us heading that way with ships dog, Bella, leading the way. Meanwhile crew members Master Bates and Seaman Stains looked decidedly green around the gills. A Sooty Shearwater soon got them moving again though.

With Higgo still chumming, fag in hand, as we steamed we continued to attract birds. Best of all was a Balearic Shearwater that graced us with its presence for about 10 minutes before heading off.  So much better views than sat on some cliff top looking for birds miles out to sea.

Continuing to head towards the trawler the weather changed for the worst and it started raining as the sea swell increased. Whilst everyone was watching the stern of the boat for birds in the chum slick I suddenly spotted a Great Shearwater sneaking past us on the port side. Feck - it nearly got away unseen. Another lifer for quite a few of the lads on board.

Matt Eades picked up an adult Sabine's Gull briefly in the wake before it to headed past us in the general direction of the trawler now visible a couple of miles off in the 'mizzle'. Another lifer for Matty Meehan.

Reaching the trawler it was obvious there were lots of birds around it and it wasn't long before Bob found a Great Shearwater. amongst the commoner gulls, Gannets & Fulmars. This time everyone had prolonged views. Great stuff.

With the day virtually over we headed back to St Mary's but not before one more candid photo opportunity of the Payne at rest. A close Ocean Sunfish provided fishy interest and Jason's impression of it swimming will go down in the annals of history.

With the ground still seemingly moving under our feet we staggered up to the campsite before hitting the local pubs for a well earned few pints and some food.