30 Dec 2012

Review of the year 2012 - the year the blockers fell.

This year has seen some major blockers fall and some major milestones our lives. In January Jan & I became Grandparents when our daughter, in Australia, gave birth to a gorgeous little bundle called Elizabeth Rose. We travelled as a family a couple of weeks later and spent two weeks with Amy, Lachlan and the baby. Just before we left news broke of a Common Yellowthroat in S Wales. Plans were hatched to drive straight from Manchester airport when we arrived home at 14.00 on the Friday. Realising a) I wouldn't get there before dark and b) I'd be completely knackered I saw sense and took Phil Lockers offer of a lift from J15 of the M6 early Saturday morning. Jet lag meant I was awake early doors anyway! A cracking bird and good views eventually although I got a bit pissed off when the bird popped out right in front of me, as I was crouched down with the camera only for some numptie to almost bowl me over as he rushed forward and blocked my view.

I had to wait until April for the next potential lifer when a punitive Thayer's Gull turned up in Lincs. Travelling with Fred Fearn we had good views of this bird and await with bated breath to see if it's ever split and accepted as a full species.

A good Cheshire bird and a County lifer in the form of a Black-winged Pratincole at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB was the next good bird. Found on 3rd May Steve Williams & I convinced ourselves the bird we picked out partially obscured as the sun set wasn't the Pratincole as that had been seen flying away in the opposite direction. Next morning a dawn trip to Hilbre was hurriedly postponed as a 6.20 phone call announced the Pratincole in the same place as the bird we'd dismissed the night before. To be fair we could only see its head at about 1/2 mile range in fading light.

A trip to Norfolk to celebrate Mark Payne's birthday in May turned up some good birds with Red-backed Shrike and  Red-breasted Flycatcher but star bird was a cracking male Blue-throat on the way home at Doxey Marshes, Staffs.

No sooner had we got back from Norfolk on Sunday night then the next biggie of the year turned up in Herefordshire - an adult Cream-coloured Courser. No hesitation with this one after missing the previous two UK records. A stunning bird in a stunning location. Anyone for golf?

No sooner had the dust settled on this bird then I was off again. Orphean Warbler at Hartlepool headland in the same area as last years White-throated Robin and caught by the same ringers!!! A one day bird and a major grip back being only the 6th UK record and the only twitchable one since the Scillies bird in 1981. I say twitchable advisedly - it only stayed one day.

The next mega turned out to be a lifer and a County tick! Little Swift at New Brighton. A lifer 20 minutes (well it was that day!) from home. A fantastic little bird that showed down to centimetres (literally!) in the pouring rain. I missed the Derbyshire bird by 20 minutes and wasn't in the country for the last long stayer in Notts.

Great stuff. What more would the Year of the grip back bring? Well I had to wait until September for Rich Bonser to give the heads up on a 'Long-billed Dowithcer' photographed at Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset. Sure enough it turned out to be the UK's 2nd Short-billed Dowitcher and the news broke as I was on the way to Devon for a meeting. Happy days!

With news slowly filtering through of at least 9 male Baillon's Crakes singing in the UK during the spring (the majority were picked up during a national survey of singing Spotted Crakes) my hopes were high for a twitchable autumn bird. Sure enough a juvenile was found at Rainham Marshes RSPB and thanks to Howard Vaughan and his band of volunteers we were able to get into the hide by 07.30 on the 12th November. Boom.

Towards the end of September I was on a business trip to Sweden. It always happens. A phone call from Steve ' have you heard about the peep'. Allan Conlin had found either a Semi-palmated Sandpiper or Western Sandpiper at Hoylake. B*llocks. Luckily for me the bird stayed until Friday but not only that a White-rumped Sandpiper was found the same day. Another two good birds for Cheshire despite the torrential rain.

Once again I embarked to Shetland in early October hoping for a Lanceolated or Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler. Once again I got a kick in the proverbials as a Lancie was present for almost 3 weeks on Fair Isle but a combination of bad weather and plane breakdowns prevented us getting there. There'll be another.............................................................

Following on from Shetland I spent a weekend on the Scilly's with Mark Payne and Pete Antrobus where we met up with Malc Curtin to help celebrate his 60th birthday. With Al Orton, Robbo, Ian Barber, Allan Conlin and Steve Williams all on the islands it made for a good few days birding, reminiscing and enjoying a few beers.

As I write this I'm currently in Australia enjoying Christmas and New Year with the three girls in my life. I wonder what 2013 will bring.

17 Dec 2012

Hybrid sparrow.

Back in October when we were on Shetland I found a 'Tree Sparrow' on the north mainland near Luna. For once the sky cleared of rain and a small flock of House Sparrows flew in to a nearby hawthorn hedge. Almost immediatley I picked up a 'Tree Sparrow'. This is a rare bird on Shetland. Getting the other lads on it I ran back to the car to get my camera only to have the flock fly over my had as  Ireturned. The 'Tree Sparrow' was easily picked up on call amongst the House Sparrows. That would have been that if Chris Griffin hadn't been quicker off the mark than me and managed a couple of shots before the birds flew. Closer examination shows what appears to be a Tree x House Sparrow hybrid. Probalby rarer on Shetland than the real thing!

Note the chestnut head, white cheek patch and dark spot behind the ear coverts all typical of Tree Sparrow but a closer exmination showed a grey fore crown......

13 Dec 2012

More Waxwings than hot dinners.

6 Waxwings kept an eye on proceedings from the safety of our neightbours garden Friday afternoon whilst I worked on Mrs W's car. By the time I was in a position to grab the camera a Sparrowhawk had spooked them and they never returned.

Tuesday I found a flock of 100+ near Queensferry as I drove from the office to Chester to pick up some essential bits for the Landrover!

Wednesday I get a phone call from Steve to say he's got 3 in his garden and could I got up there pdq with my rings as he didn't have the right size. 45 minutes from the office to home, collect the ringing box and then get to West Kirby was pretty good  I reckon. As was my first Waxwing in the hand.....

Ageing and sexing Waxwings is quite easy in the hand and can even be done in thefield. This write up from the Grampian ringing group explains how.

7 Dec 2012

Tits & crows

Back to Barry's garden in Burton this week for a days ringing as part of Johns study on the over winter survival rates of Blue Tits. We caught over 100 birds of which a staggering 50% were Blue Tits. Of these the ratio between adults and juveniles was approximately 50:50. It was nice to catch one of the Great Tits we'd ringed back in the spring as a pullus and in keeping with my control of a Great Tit last weekend we also controlled two Blue Tits.

 Ringers with hands full of tits.

There has been a lot of talk about Jay movements recently on 't'internet' as they seem to be seeing all over the place this year. The question is whether these are genuinely part of an influx from the continent or local birds searching for food as our acorn crop seems to have failed.

With Barry reporting up to 4 birds in his garden it wasn't long before I was asked to give blood in the cause and extract then ring a Jay - one of two we caught. These birds were definitely locally bred as Barry has seen two adults and two juveniles. It will be very interesting to see where these other birds originate from and hopefully a few ringing recoveries from UK ringed birds this winter will help answer the question and go someway to settling the debate.

 The Jays revenge.
Honour satisfied it posed for a picture.

All photo's courtesy of Barry Barnacal.

3 Dec 2012

Purps and divers

The weekend got off to a good start Friday afternoon when a couple of hours ringing in the garden prodcued a control Great Tit. (i.e a bird ringed somewhere else by another ringer). A bit of investigation  by Mr Elliot determined it had been ringed at Shotton Steelworks - a distance of around 10 km I reckon and a good indication of where some of my garden birds are coming from / getting to. Its amazing to me that I'm retrapping birds that I haven't seen for over a year in the garden despite regular ringing sessions.

A late night Friday saw me texting Mr Payne at 4.00 am Saturday morning confriming I WOULD be up and around to go to Hilbre over the tide Saturday morning.  As promised  I was up after 3 hours sleep and ready to go when he arrived just after nine. A beautiful cold Decembers day saw us in the seawatching hide in a NNW Force 5 for a productive few hours.

Amongst good numbers of Red-throated Divers Mark picked up a relatively close Black-throated Diver which proved to be difficult to get on to amid the swell. After a few moments panic I got good views as it alternatively appeared and then disappeared. Through the 'scope and with such good light, it was possible to see the nape was actually dark grey and not black. The bird eventually disappeared beyond out view as the tide flooded but we picked it up again, more distantly, as the tide ebbed and it was last seen flying towards the windfarm.

A small wader jinking in from the west had me yelling to Mark to get on it quickly just before it pitched down on the water amongst a group of gulls - a Grey Phalarope! Sadly we think the loafing Herrings and Greater Black-backs might have polished it off as an hor-deuvre.

Unusual numbers of Teal were seen in small groups but with one big group of 30 and it later transpired that Leighton Moss was frozen so we assume this is where they'd disperesed from.

As the ebbing tide exposed the rocks off the end of the slipway the Purple Sandpipers started returning and we spent a bit of time checking them and the Tunrstones for colour ringed birds.
A quick bacon and fried egg sandwich for lunch and it was time to leave.