25 Nov 2011

Snow Bunting

I managed to get away for an hour or so this afternoon and headed to a very windy Red Rocks to try and photograph the Snow Bunting thats been resident for the last week. The wind was gale force but by hunkering down low I got fanrtastic views as the bird fed unconcernedly on the strand line occasionally  flying on to the rocks if a dog walker came to near.

24 Nov 2011

Bugling cranes

A text from Steve alerting me to two Common Cranes viewable from Riverbank Road, Heswall had me dashing from the office and heading home for the camera before setting off on the short journey up the Wirral.
Arriving on site I found the RSPB out in full force along with finder Steve Hind and a handful of other locals. After viewing the birds distantly through  Colin's 'scope I set the camera up incase the birds decided to fly. They did! They took off calling to each other before flying a bit closer and heading off inland to the east. A fantastic sight and a Cheshire tick for me.

22 Nov 2011

A Veery, Veery good bird in a Mucky kind of place

When news broke of a Veery in Muck, Highland I immediately looked at the map. After missing two on the Shetlands a couple of years ago I was keen to catch up with this diminutive American catharus thrush. I'd never heard of Muck but Google informed me it was a remote Inner Hebridean Island with 35 inhabitants, no airport and only a three times per week ferry service. Hmm. Didn't look as if I was going to get there especially as the only ferry on consecutive days was Friday and Saturday otherwise it meant a 2 -3 night stay. News that the bird was showing exceptionally well didn't help!

Luckily a local skipper, Pete Fowler, made himself available with his catamaran, the Orion,  to ferry birders out to Muck from Mailag so with Fred doing all the planning we set off Sunday evening from Cheshire and headed north through the rain to the port of Mailag. Seven hours and several close encounters with Red Deer jay walking later we arrived tried to sleep for a couple of hours parked on the quayside. Impossible. The crescendo of snores from LeDonis and The Apprentice kept Groucho., Fred & myself from snatching more than the occasional bit of shut-eye. Forget forty winks this was about one.

As dawn got closer a few other birders turned up including my old University mate Graham Megson and Brian from Ellesmere Port!. In total there were 14 of us hardy souls and we were soon and being treated to hot drinks and a stunning sunrise.

Malc doing his best Jedi impression.

Unfortunatley the weather was pretty dire but as predicted the rain decreased from torrential to a horrible drizzle as we arrived. Pete, our skipper, had phoned through to the finder of the bird who informed us that the Veery was still there and showing well! Great news and even though a close scrutiny of the weather over the previous couple of days had us believing (hoping) the bird wasn't going to move off there was still the possibility that it could have been taken by a cat as happened to one unfortunate Veery that arrived on Shetland.

There's only one road on Muck and it led across the island to our destination at Gallanach Farm where the bird had been feeding on a muck heap and commuting between there and the farm house garden.
Thirty minutes later we'd yomped the width of the island and immediately spotted the Veery feeding on the shit heap. Totally unconcerned it rooted around for grubs or insects from the steaming midden whilst an appreciative group of birders watched in silence. No mobile phones or pagers bleeping on this twitch - mainly as they didn't work!

By now the drizzle had changed to a full blown down pour and with optics and camera's steaming up we left the Veery to its dung heap and headed back to the port where Pete was waiting for us. Just time for Fred & me to pose for the obligatory photo. Not only a British tick in the Veery but also an Island tick.

By now we were all pretty happy but knackered. The journey back to Malaig was uneventful but despite detouring close to Aigg the weather meant we didn't see any Golden Eagles but we did see a couple of Great Northern Divers. Taking it turns driving we got through Glasgow ahead of rush hour and arrived back in Cheshire 22 hours after we'd initially set off.

19 Nov 2011

Another fantastic day on Hilbre.

A force 5 south easterly gale greeted me as  I drove across to Hilbre at dawn today. A quick round of the island before sticking the kettle on was rewarded with a Merlin chasing a Chaffinch around the old lifeboat station at the north end. The Chaffinch escaped by flying up the chimney and was subsequently found sheltering about half way up! A male Chaffinch and female Greenfinch were caught for ringing.

The Brent's showed well at the north end with at least two Dark-bellied amongst the Pale-bellied.

A Short-eared Owl was flushed from long grass just north of the old obs garden and flew out to sea being relentlessly pursued by gulls before heading back towards the mainland. A group of visiting students from Salford University led by Scott Reid managed to see it along with the other semi-resident species such as the Rock Pipits.

Star bird though was a Little Auk seen by Scott flying past the north end before being lost to view. I legged it up from the Obs and after a frantic search found it about 100 m off. Leaving Scott to keep an eye on it I retraced my steps at similar speed back to the Obs to fetch my camera! Unfortunately just before Steve arrived from the mainland it flew south west never to be refound.

With the Landrover crammed with students wanting a lift off I'd just left West Kirby when Steve contacted me to say a male Black Redstart had been seen off Caldy steps. Retracing my route I met him and Thomas and we soon relocated the bird flitting around the rocks of the sea defences in the setting sun.

Brilliant stuff. I stayed until the sunset and watched the bird go to roost in bushes just north of the steps and managed to get an atmospheric shot of a flock of Knot in a red sunset.

15 Nov 2011

Richards Pipit

Found at Leasowe by the Wirrals premier Richards Pipit finder Mr A C.
Flight views only as its lurking in the long grass.

Virtually annual now on the north Wirral coast and follows on from one on Hilbre last month.

More on my controlled Long-tailed Tit caught in the garden at the weekend. It was ringed in Birkenhead on 13th October 2010 so its travelled around 18 km. The spooky thing is it was ringed by the same person who ringed the first control I caught on Hilbre. Yes, you've guessed it. Another Long-tailed Tit. Spooky or what!

13 Nov 2011

More autumn fare.

The autumnal theme continued on the Wirral this weekend. Firstly a trip to Hilbre Saturday where a small trickle of passerines was overshadowed by the build up of the more typical waders and wildfowl - including a nice flock of Wigeon.

Most of the waders were roosting on the sheltered west side but only 8 Purple Sandpipers were counted today.

A late Greenland Wheatear caused momentary panic in the half darkness of predawn until better views were obtained as the sun rose higher. It was eventually trapped and colour ringed as part of our long term study.

A whopping great bird compared to the smaller Northern Wheatears.

The resident colour ringed Herring Gull was again present with its partner and showed well as the tide ebbed.

Once again a few finches were present over and on the island with several small parties of Goldfinches, a few Chaffinches and a couple of Greenfinches taking temporary refuge over the high tide. The Goldfinches seemed to prefer the thistle heads rather than the seed we've provided!

A quick trip to the newly opened Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB at dusk was rewarded with Jack Snipe but no Great White Egret or Glossy Ibis. What a cracking new addition to compliment the RSPB reserve at Inner Marsh Farm. Congratulations to all concerned. In fact I was so impressed I stopped of for a pint on the way home with Steve & Barry to celebrate!

I've been doing a bit of garden ringing recently and caught my first control today - a Long-tailed Tit. It probably hasn't come far but it was nice to see!

10 Nov 2011


A great couple of days on Hilbre with a good passage of Blackbirds being logged. At one point Tuesday there were estimated to be 40+ on the Island and others appeared from the north end literally dropping out the sky. An early morning trip in darkness to beat the tide Wednesday was rewarded with more Blackbirds and a small passage of Chaffinches. Most of these birds are assumed to have come from the continent as they are generally bigger than our resident ones.

Amongst the commoner Blackbirds there was the dd Redwing and a single Fieldfare that found its way into a mist net in the Obs garden and was ringed as a 1st year female.

As well as the birds ringed Obs staff were kept busy monitoring other species either on the island or on the sea. The Purple Sandpiper flock has grown to 15 birds fro m5 last weekend and a Great Northern Diver flew down the east side before doing a U turn and heading north again out to sea. Star bird though was the juvenile Pom Skua found by Degsy eating a dead auk whilst sat on the sea. As it drifted out with the tide a couple of mainland based Obs members managed to twitch it.

All this and a malt whisky followed by bacon sandwiches for (late!)breakfast!

5 Nov 2011

Indian summer.

A beautiful couple of days in Cheshire saw me on Hilbre for both Friday and Saturday in glorious sunshine. A few birds were caught including a smart 1st year male Blackcap and the more expected November Song Thrush and Blackbirds. Visible migration was the order of the day and even before I'd left home I had Skylarks and Siskins flying over at first light. Hilbre had a small movement of Skylarks passing over all day and a few finches including a party of 7 that dropped in and toured the island for a few hours.

One of the Blackbirds proved to be equally photogenic posing in the Obs garden.

Plenty of activity out on the mud and sand with wader & Brent Geese numbers beginning to build up. All three of lat winter colour ringed Brent's (including the one ringed in Arctic Canada!) have returned and there were also two Dark-bellied Brent's amongst the more normal Pale-bellied birds. A few Purple Sandpipers have returned and the maximum count to date has been four birds. The colour ringed Little Egret has also made a return appearance fishing in the gutter.

A real surprise for me was meeting up with one of my old University lecturers - Derek Yalden - who came too Hilbre Friday for the first time with his wife Pat. He was cerebrating his 71st birthday and decided to visit Hilbre as he'd never been before. Derek is well known for his work on breeding waders on the Pennines and I  (and many other students) spent many hours traipsing the moors with him doing breeding surveys for Golden Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Common Sandpipers and Dunlin. He was also my 3rd year project supervisor and it was a real pleasure meeting up with him. Even though I hadn't seen him since I graduated in 1982 I recognised him instantly when he came up to ask about the seals! His real interest is mammals and he is president of the mammal society. Brilliant!