24 Jul 2012

Hilbre Flowers and a bit of hard graft.

The sea-watching hide at the north end of Hilbre has withstood the weather for over 26 years but was beginning to show its age. A team went over yesterday with the view if replacing the old plastic coated steel roof wit ha purpose made stainless steel one which was bolted down and then covered in black bitumen. Job done! A bit dodgy in the high winds at time though. Just in time for the autumn sea-watching season.

Although not a birding trip we still managed the occasional Gannet and  I took a few shots with the phone of some of the Hilbre plants.

Sheeps-bit Scabious.

Buck's-horn Plantain

Rock-sea Spurrey.
Rock-sea Lavender.

 Sea Purslane.

19 Jul 2012

Gyr Crakes

One of the best:

17 Jul 2012

Sunshine for a change.

Friday night saw us at Chester races in the rain celebrating my sister in laws birthday  and  I was surprised to see so many House Martins swooping low over the course. There were several hundred but I couldn't see any insect life flying around but something must have attracted them.  By contrast the weather improved Saturday but it meant a day spent in the garden tidying up rather than birding. It wasn't until Sunday that I managed to get across to Hilbre for a few hours after the tide where I met up with Derek, Steph and volunteer warden John.

Not much to report as far as passerines are concerned but we did have a nice adult Kittiwake of the north end before the crowds arrived.

Waders are beginning to return after what must be assumed to be a dismal breeding season and a flock of 11 Whimbrel flew in off the north end and rested for a short time on the east side.

A few of the scarcer plants on Hilbre are in flower with both Rock Sea Spurrey and the endemic sub species, celticum, of Rock Sea Lavender that is found in only 5 places in the UK. Other plants very obvious at the moment are Sea Purslane which is an evergreen shrub and Bird's-foot Trefoil. I remember doing a project at University about the cyanide content of the redder flowers of Bird's-foot Trefoil and how it may be commoner in wetter areas as protection against slugs & snails. For some information on the plants dirty cyanide bombs see here.

Burnet moths may also feed on this plant and utilise the cyanide compounds for their own defence - see here.

All clever stuff designed to keep us amused during the quiet migration months. After a few hours and with visitor numbers increasing by the minute we left and I managed a couple of hours local birding at Frodsham No. 6 tank where an odd looking Black-tailed Godwit had caused some consternation.

13 Jul 2012


I got a phone call last night from a friend who'd been asked to help a neighbour as she'd found a dead bat in her loft. It dropped out and freaked her out when she opened the hatch. I went round to inspect the loft with a big torch to check if there were any others. There weren't and it looks as if this juvenile simply starved to death after coming in to shelter from the awful weather. Bats are probably suffering as much as our insectivorous birds in these wet conditions. Their prey of night flying insects and moths simply won't be available if it rains.

A real shame but a good oppurtunity to have a close view of this special little mammal.

Edit: Many thanks to Andy Cook who has hand reared orphan Pipistrelles and points out this is an adult. Babies are born June - August and would be furless until September. Adults have a body around the size of a 50 p piece and babiesa 5 p piece. It looks as if this bad weatehr is really taking a toll on some of our wildlife.

12 Jul 2012

A summers day.

After a fantastic day of cricket at Old Trafford on the Tuesday and a few beers it was an early start Wednesday to get across to Hilbre for the long planned visit by staff and students of Birkenhead 6th form college. At last the sun came out and it really seemed like summer had arrived.

We managed to catch a few Linnets and Meadow Pipits to show everyone what we do rather than just talking about it and all our guests seemed to enjoy their visit.

Bird of the day was a ringed male Stonechat that was on the Obs fence when I first arrived but then moved to the shletered east side for the rest of the day. It was ringed on the left leg so was probably one of the ones we've ringed over the last couple of years which has been seen at Redrocks this year.

Sandwich Tern numbers are building up nicely and a few juveniles are beginning to make an appearance.

All in all a very pleasant day rounded off by checking the Swallows nest on a local farm where two second broods are now being incubated.

8 Jul 2012

Babies galore.

At last the weather took a turn for the better and an afternoon trip to Hilbre for the tide showed that at least some of the birds have overcome the torrential conditions and are feeding young with both Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits seen carrying food.

With a beak full of moth you can see the Meadow Pipit eyeing up the fly coming in from the left!

Plenty of other action on the foreshore with a flock of Black-tailed Godwits (a Hilbre scarcity) showing well, if not distantly off the east side, with a small flock of summer plumaged Knot before flying north.

As the tide ebbed the terns returned to roost on the sandbanks but we noted only two juvenile Sandwich Terns amongst the flock of 40 ish.

The Lady Of Hilbre was on an exercise and made a pass down the east side with Mr Chairman at the Helm! A great sight and a wonderful growl from the big marine diesels.

Juvenile birds dominate in the garden with the usual fare at the feeding station now supplemented with a juvenile Greater -spotted Woodpecker. Unfortunately the Blackbirds have again predated by Magpies and I found a predated yolky egg on the lawn as proof of their anti-social behaviour.

5 Jul 2012

On this day in history.......

Sooty Tern, Anglesey!
5th July 2005.

This was the day it was first found amongst the tern colony at Rhosneigr, Anglesey. It wasn't nailed as a Sooty but put out as either Sooty or Bridled Tern. Despite a search of the surrounding areas it wasn't seen again. Until.....................

The next day I was standing on a canal towpath in Wakefield, Yorkshire watching an adult summer plumage Sabine's gull come to bread with the local Black-heads when I received a call from N Wales birder John Roberts to say it was a Sooty Tern and had been relocated offshore amongst the tern colony on the Skerries. There was no access but it was being arranged and we'd have to look into chartering a boat. Cue pandemonium as the news filtered through on the pager and birders ran for their cars.

A group of us including Jono Williams, John Gregory, Mark Payne, Al Orton and Malc Curtin met at Malcs old pub (The George & Dragon) to discuss tactics and try and get a boat chartered.

Success! Early next morning, the 7th July 2005, we were on our way to Anglesey to meet our skipper to take us on the 1 hr journey to the Skerries. Phone calls were made to bosses and work colleagues phoning in 'sick' on the journey.  There was a nervous wait when it emerged that two of our party had decided to try and view the bird off a nearby headland and were late turning up but we were soon chugging out to sea. Unfortunately it transpired our skipper hadn't got a licence to carry passengers and some of the other boatmen had reported him to the Coastguard so he wasn't keen on hanging around so the b@**r@ took our money, spent 10 minutes on site and set off back to port without so much of a glimpse of the bird which had apparently flown off.  It showed up whilst we were on our way back. Arse!

Luckily for us Jono took matters into his own hands and rang another boatman he knew who was willing to take us out again. This time our skipper was licensed. Were we in or not? Decision time. With my daughter playing in a school concert that night I knew I was pushing it and would be in serious doo doo if I was late but calculated that I might just make it....... I was in.

We shot round to the next small harbour where we found a desperate group of birders trying to hijack our boat! Luckily the skipper was as good as his word and when we pulled up he told the others we'd pre-booked although there was room for a couple of others.

We were on our way. This time, being a licensed boat, there were no problems and after an anxious wait the Sooty Tern flew in over our heads and landed on the rocky outcrop amongst its smaller tern brethren. What a stunning bird to see in brilliant sunshine off the coast of Anglesey.

A group of happy birders set off back to port with the skipper making us all a brew whilst Captain 'Pugwash' Williams steered the boat. I managed the concert, albeit looking like a Swan Vesta with a completely sunburnt head. Luckily it was in the Town Hall which had a bar and tow pints of cold beer went down in double quick time. Ahh, the memories.........

As a footnote the Sooty Tern then proceeded to show to all and sundry at Cemlyn but I still wouldn't have missed the excitement of our trip out to the Skerries. Even though I paid twice for the experience.

1 Jul 2012

Sea watching

With strong winds blowing thoughts turn towards the coast and a bit of seawatching so for the last two weekends we've been sat in the hide on Hilbre in a S W watching and counting.

Last Saturday was pretty good as we had a sub-adult Pom Skua and a few Arctics along with the expected Terns, Manx Shearwaters and Gannets...... loads of Gannets!

Friday night saw us back on Hilbre for a late evening seawatch. No Skua's this time but fantastic numbers of Gannets and Terns and over a 150 Manx Shearwaters logged.

Saturday saw me undertaking some gardening duties for my father in law but I managed a couple of hours ringing in the garden with the highlight being this cracking male Bullfinch  - one of the pair to go wit hthe female ringed a couple of weeks ago. The first juvenile Chaffinches and Goldfinches have also made an appearance and at least one pair of Robins has succesfully raised a brood somewhere nearby. House Sparrows also seem to have been successful with a few obvious juveniles still with a yellow gape inhabiting the depths of our neightbours hawthorn tree.