30 Dec 2011

Review of the year 2011

I can't believe the year has gone this fast. So much has happened since the 31st December 2010. Jan & I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in June but went to Australia over Easter to meet up with Amy & Lachlan and dive the Great Barrier Reef. We then found out Amy was pregnant so will be Grandparents early next year! Joe graduated from York University and managed to get a job almost straight away and we lost our beloved Labrador, Molly, in August.

Amidst all this I've even had time for some birding!

The year started well with stunning views of an Oriental Turtle Dove in an Oxfordshire garden followed by a mad dash later in the spring for the (in)famous Hartlepool White-thraoted Robin but it wasn't until June that  I got my next UK 'lifer' in the form of a White-winged Scoter off Aberdeen. August saw me returning to the Scilly's after a few years absence to try my luck on a couple of pelagics. No new birds but great views of Wilson's Petrel and Great Shearwater. The trip was very poignant for me as Molly died whilst I was away. I knew before I got on the 'Sapphire' she was seriously ill after having a major stroke and it was devastating that I couldn't be there for her at the end although Jan gave her some of my clothes to rest on so she could at least smell me. She is sorely missed as she was virtually my constant companion over the last 3 -4 years of her life coming to the office and Hilbre with me and enjoying walks in Stanney Woods and Rivacre Valley. I haven't been to either of these places since she died.

A trip to Scilly's again in September for Black & White Warbler and Solitary Sandpiper was only marred by the disappointment of missing the elusive Northern Water Thrush. Still, Groucho & I couldn't complain with two out of three and a supporting cast of Blue-winged Teal, Semi-palmated Sandpiper & Lesser Yellowlegs thrown in.....................that attitude lasted about a week as the news came out almost daily on the Waterthrush. Unable to join the mid-week crew I went the following weekend with Al Orton. Success!

October saw us setting of for our annual trip to Shetland with anticipation running high. Surely this would be the year I finally got to see at least one of the Shetland specialities I hanker after? A great trip with 5 BBRC rarities seen - Pallid Harrier, Isabelline Shrike, Olive-backed Pipit, Buff-bellied Pipit and Black-headed Bunting. BUT, still no Lanceolated, Pallas's Grasshopper, White's Thrush or Yellow-breasted Bunting. Arse! Oh well it gives me an excuse to go back next year. I love the place and the flights booked already.

As usually happens something good turns up on Shetland AFTER we leave but this time it had the decency to leave it a week or so. What happens whilst I'm in Sweden? A frigging male Siberian Rubythroat turns up at Gulberswick that's what. The holy grail for a whole generation of aging birders and newcomers alike. It had to be done so I booked flights and set off for Glasgow airport for the flight to Sumburgh. Luckily I got news from Russ Hayward the bird was still there as I sat in the airport.
With such a Sibe 'mega' under the belt was there time for any more surprises? Yep. A Veery on the Isle of Muck Where the f*ck is Muck. Google proved its worth but, arse, another remote and virtually inaccessible Island. Where there's a group of desperate birders involved there's always a solution and luckily Pete Fowler enterprisingly put his catamaran the Orion at our disposal. Another major grip back after two turning up on Shetland the THE DAY WE LEFT three year ago!

So what of Cheshire? Well the year has been equally stunning starting off with two new birds in the form of Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper on the same day. A case of East meets West or East meets East?

A phone call from Steve Williams in June to say he'd caught a Blyth's Reed Warbler on Hilbre made up for the rejected one from Red Rocks.  With the bird in the hand and a full wing formula taken there's no arguments about this one.

 For sheer excitement and 'value' the Red-flanked Bluetail on Hilbre in October will take a lot of beating. Not only was it a first for Hilbre & Cheshire but also the first for the N W region and after being caught and ringed it stayed and performed to around 60 birders who waded across as the tide ebbed.

As the November ended thoughts turned to winter but there was still time for a couple of surprises. Scott Reid saw a Little Auk flying off Hilbre and I was lucky enough to be the only one in the Obs and relocated it briefly on the west side before it flew off. Not a Cheshire 'lifer' but a Hilbre one though.

Steve Hind came up trumps again with two Common Cranes on the salt marsh off Riverbank Rd, Heswall. I've missed several Cranes over the years including one that was seen over Marbury last year. This time I got there in time - 10 minutes before they flew! A small flcok of European Whitefronted Geese seem to have taken up residence at the RSPB's new reserve at Burton Mere Wetlands (BMW) and are a welcome addition to the Cheshire wintering avifauna. Whitefronts are scarce in Cheshire after the demise of the wintering flock on the Gowy Watermeadows in the 70's.

There's the year in a nutshell.  Eight UK  'lifers' with five of them being 'yanks' and one a sought after 'sibe' and five county 'lifers'. So what of 2012? We'll become Grandparents for the first time and have already booked to go to Australia in February. Good planning by Amy & Locky as I won't miss any of the spring migration on Hilbre! Hopefully Hilbre will turn up another spring goodie. Perhaps a Sardinian Warbler or an American sparrow of some sort.

29 Dec 2011


The first bird I 'controlled' on Hilbre was  Long-tailed Tit. The first bird I 'controlled' ringing in the garden was a Long-tailed Tit. The second bird I 'controlled'in the garden was a Long-tailed Tit.. Aggghhh - they're stalking me!

As part of our ringing routine we always do a few sessions in Barry's garden in Burton with the aim of monitoring and studying the survival rates of the local tit populations over the winter period. A great way to spend a winters day fortified with Barry's home-made sloe gin and Clare's soup and hot rolls along with numerous cups of tea as the garden shed is turned into a ringing station for the day.

As the title suggests - paranoia - they're following me! We caught a fantastic flock of 10 Long-tailed Tits and after ringing them released them altogether. Photo's courtesy of Barry Barnacal.
 Extraction team at work.
A bird in the hand - both adult and juvenile Long-tailed Tits undertake a full post breeding / post juvenile moult so at this time of year it is impossible to age them. House Sparrows have a similar moult strategy.
Releasing the Lotti flock.

Here's a couple of birds we caught in Barry's garden a month or so ago. We caught 79 birds yesterday including some relatively old Blue / Great Tits but on occasions we've caught 150 - 200 which keeps us all busy.

Many thnaks to Barry for inviting us to ring in his garden and for the sloe gi nand tea - not to mention the fine malt to warm the cockles as darkness fell!

27 Dec 2011

Not quite a Partridge in a pear tree!

Well, Christmas has been and gone for another year & I'm up early suffering from the effects of three days gluttony with a calorific intake to keep the average Inuit going for a month in Arctic conditions. Christmas is very much a family affair in our house and we've had plenty to do to keep the guests adequately fed and watered - including our feathered friends in the garden with this Wood Pigeon keeping a wary eye on proceedings in the kitchen from the safety of a garden conifer.

The garden has been full of birds and a short ringing session Christmas Eve resulted in 60 birds being caught of which only three were retraps and one of which - another Long-tailed Tit - was a control. It will be interesting to see where this one came from. Unbelievably the commonest bird was Goldfinch with 15 ringed and 1 retrap from a month ago. It's been good to see a few Greenfinches around as they've suffered badly over the past year and seem to be dying all over the place.

As well as doing some ringing I've also just sat and watched from the conservatory. Out of 7 Goldfinches on the feeders yesterday morning only 1 was ringed so that's at least 40 birds in total that have been visiting the garden this autumn. Another good bird seen was the first Blackcap in the garden of the winter although I've seen them nearby. The Moorhens have also been occasional visitors form the nearby pond.

19 Dec 2011

Happy Christmas

A festive Robin.
Happy Christmas to everyone I know and may the New Year bring good health and fortune.

I wanted to send some sort of holiday greeting to friends and family, but it is difficult in today's world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. So I met with my lawyer yesterday, and on advice I wish to say the following :

Please accept, with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non addictive, gen......der neutral celebration of the summer solstice holiday practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious / secular persuasions and / or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all .

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2012, but not without due respect for the calendar of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee .

By accepting this greeting, please be advised that you are accepting these terms :

This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable on the proviso that there is no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her / him or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. The wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Best Regards ( without prejudice )

Name withheld ( Privacy Act )

18 Dec 2011

December fayre.

I joined Mark for a couple of hours at Burton Mere Wetlands Saturday afternoon - most civilised. Standing in the warm reception building eating mince pies and drinking tea whilst watching a Short -eared Owl and the comings and goings of the wildfowl. The White-fronts gave a good display as they flew around over the building and we eventually tracked them down feeding on a field of winter wheat about 1/2 mile away. White-fronted Geese are pretty scarce in Cheshire these days but these have stayed awhile so hopefully the new RSPB flagship reserve in Cheshire will attract a regular wintering population. With Whoopers and Bewick Swans both being seen it really was a winter wildfowl extravaganza.

There have been loads of Buzzards locally feeding on invertebrates in fields of winter wheat and using the Landrover as a hide I managed shots of this bird  - one of four in the same field.

Sunday saw me picking up John and heading to Hilbre for first light on a stormy day. Not many birds around on the island but we did catch and ring another new Blackbird to keep the annual total ticking over. The inshore lifeboat crew were on 'exercises' and provided some good action shots.

Brent numbers have built up and today we counted an impressive 112 including 2 Dark-bellied individuals amongst the commoner Pale-bellied. There were good numbers of Turnstone, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers but no Purple Sandpipers today. We also watched some interesting behaviour from a juvenile Herring Gull as it dropped mussels on to the rocks to crack them .This behaviour is seen regularly but poses the question as to whether this juvenile gull has learnt from older birds or watched the Carrion  Crows do the same thing?

With half a dozen mince pies to fortify us along with numerous cups of tea it was a wonderful day to be out on the island.

11 Dec 2011

Extremely wet!

A solo trip to Hilbre this morning saw me leaving home in darkness but at least it was dry! By the time  Irneached the north end of the M53 the heavens had opened and I began to regret my decision to stay over for the tide. After a quick brew I decided sea watching was the order of the day  - despite the poor visibility.
It immediately became apparent there were huge numbers of Common Scooter present and these flew around a bit before settling down between Hilbre & Point of Ayr.
I estimated a minimum of 2000 birds were involved and patience was eventually rewarded with a male and female Velvet Scoter. Other good birds included two Gannets relatively close in that appeared to be fishing like the Cormorants and have a good degree of success. Red-throated Divers and Great-crested Grebes were also logged along with a single Guillemot.

Plenty of Cormorants were fishing on the sea so it was a surprise to find the juvenile Shag that's been hanging around forgoing the fishing for a spot of R & R on the cliff face.
Returning to the Obs cold and hungry I put a saucepan of soup on the stove and stood on the balcony 'scoping the sea. If only I'd stayed at the north end........................three stonking male Velvet Scoters passed close in heading west presumably to join the others on the sea.

As usual the Purple Sandpipers are obligingly photogenic with  up to 9 birds roosting over the tide in two different locations.

As the tide receded it was time to leave but just enough time to photograph one of the two Little Egrets fishing in pools along the reef.

So, despite the inclement weather it didn't turn out to be a bad days birding.

Finch numbers have built up at home and its nice to see a few Greenfinches amongst the Goldfinches and Chaffinches. The local Little Owl has also made another appearance  close to the house and could be heard calling about 100 m from the garden on Friday night whilst a Grey Wagtail appears to be wintering on the pond.