29 Mar 2012

Blackcock & muppets.

I woke way to early this morning and rather than trying to get back to sleep I headed off to N Wales a short distance from the office to get to a Black Grouse lek site before dawn so as not to disturb the birds. Arriving in darkness I sat with the window open listening to Black Grouse and Curlew calling all around me. Fantastic. A few more cars pulled up behind me. No problem - everyone sat quietly savouring the atmosphere and as the dawn broke the grouse started becoming visible. A late comer in a faded red Corsa pulled up and blocked the road. The inevitable happened and a car coming the other way on the single track road couldn't get through. The muppet in the red car couldn't reverse for toffee and ended up hitting another birders car and nearly putting his car in the ditch. Suddenly the silence was broken by cries of 'woah, woah, woah' and the slamming of car doors as the muppets passenger got out to try and direct him. Cue all the Black Grouse flying off into the distnace before the light had got good enough for any really good photo's.

If anyone knows who it is please arrange a collection for him to have lessons in fieldcraft and driving and possibly report him for wilfully disturbing a schedule 1 breeding species. Oh yes, amd let me have has registration number as I've found out he's dent the door of the other car!

Driving further along the moor I came across two more leks but both were much further away. With the morning well and truly spoilt I headed for the office for a warming coffee and a days work.

28 Mar 2012

More migration action.

The anticyclonic weather conditions covering the UK has meant some fair weather for our summer migrants travelling back from Africa. The big fear is now that the dry conditions will mean little insect food for them when they arrive here to rear their young. The clear skies at night have meant there has been a touch of mist early morning meaning that migrants get grounded and the small area of trees around the house has been ringing to the song of migrant Chiffchaffs every morning for the past week.

Hilbre has had its share of migrants wit ha good passage of Chiffchaffs continuing but finch numbers have been exceptional - Redpolls in particular!

It has been interesting to see these birds in the hand and following the Mealy (Common) Redpoll last week we've caught another bird that may or may not be either a 'Greenland Redpoll' (rostrata) or 'Icelandic Redpoll (icelandica). Either way both are races of Common Redpoll.

The photo below shows the typical undertail coverts i.e. streaky,  of Lesser Redpoll compared to the Mealy in my last post.

Its also been interesting to check the'poll' colour of these birds and they range from orange through to red. They are gorgeous little finches.

Other finches are also passing overhead and we've been catching the occasional Greenfinch such as this adult male.

Wheatear passage so far has been slow but I was lucky enough to ring this male bird born last year undertaking its first return migration. Its awesome to think how far these migrants are travelling.

25 Mar 2012

Mealy, mealy nice bird.

With news from Hilbre all week about good numbers of migrant warblers and finches passing overhead and being grounded I was looking forward to escaping the decorating for a day and going across Saturday. We weren't disappointed. With S E winds and overnight mist it soon became clear when we arrived just after dawn that there had been a 'fall'.

Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs were everywhere and Redpolls, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Siskins and Greenfinches were circling overhead and dropping onto the Island as they couldn't see the Welsh coast and even the West Kirby shoreline was barely visible.

The ringers were kept busy. Fortified by endless brews we caught new birds every round with the majority being Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs. After the passage of mainly male Goldcrests a couple of weeks ago these were mainly females with a solitary male being ringed. A handful of Redpolls were caught including this cracking male Mealy with completely unmarked under tail coverts.

As the morning progressed the number of new birds caught inevitably tailed off but there was one more surprise in store. Virtually the last round of the heligolands produced this beauty. The first Willow Warbler of the spring.
Other signs of spring passage included such Hilbre scarcities as Wood Pigeon (12), Jackdaw (3) and Tree Sparrow (1). All in all a good day to be out and about.

22 Mar 2012

On this day in history...

Cornwall 2009.
Eyes to the skies. Heres hoping for one on Hilbre......

19 Mar 2012

Signs of spring.

Spring passage has begun with Hilbre having a trickle of Goldcrests for the last week or so that turned into a deluge last Wednesday when over 200 were on the Islands of which 78 were ringed and there were two 'controls'. Amazing considering the total number of Goldcrests they've ever ringed in March is 450 is and the main passage isn't expected until April! On the same day the first Chiffchaffs and Wheatears of the spring were caught. A Chiffchaff singing in our garden on the 17th was my first local spring bird.

Saturday was spent in the company of other gull enthusiast with Martin Garner on Arpely Tip and Richmond Bank grilling the gulls and learning the fine details of separating first winter argentatus Herring Gull from argenteus. A brilliant day out with some mates whom I hadn't seen for awhile. All of us would be considered as competent birders but it just shows your never to late to learn.

Highlights included 3 Iceland Gulls (adult, 1st winter & 2nd winter), 3 Yellow-legged Gulls (adult & two first winters & a fourth year type Caspian Gull.  Any body interested in learning more about gulls should spend a day with Martin. Another interesting bird was  a fuscus type Lesser Black-backed. Very dark mantled, long wings and short legs. If only it had had a Finnish colour ring!

 1st winter Iceland Gull.

 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull.

Caspian Gull - not the best shot but it was one.

After a day out in the field Saturday I planned to spend Sunday doing chores around the house but waking up to a beautiful sunny day put paid to that and I got over to Hilbre around 10.00 after following the tide out. Not many birds around but two House Sparrows were a typical spring passage bird.

An unusual adult male Blackbird was caught around midday - a fantastic looking bird with a white eye patch.

All in all a good weekend with the England Rugby team beating Ireland at Twickenham and coming second in the 6 Nations courtesy of a dodgy disallowed try against the eventual winners Wales and Liverpool beating Stoke to progress to the semi-final of the FA cup.

13 Mar 2012

Signs of spring.

The garden birds are actively singing and beginning to show signs of nest building. The Robins been helping itself to coconut matting from the bottom of last years hanging baskets, A pair of Dunnocks are busily chasing each other around the garden and performing their wing flicking display. Great Tits and Blue Tits are exploring the nest boxes and Grrenfinches are wheezing from the tops of the tallest hawthorns.

11 Mar 2012


A work party on Hilbre saw us reapairing one of the Heligoland traps that had suffered from the winter storms in time for the spring migration. The fence separatign the main track from the private paddocks was also repaired using the winch on the front of the Landrover to pull the posts upright before post-crete can be sued to fill in behind them. All in all a sucessful days work made all the more rewarding with a traditional Hilbre fry-up!

For those of a technical nature wondering why the bonnets up? It's to stop the windscreen getting smashed if the winch cable breaks!

The repairs were carried out just in time as a small passage of Goldcrest materialised on Sunday with three birds being ringed. Also caught was a female Greenfinch but star birds were a male Eider that drifted down the east side on the flooding tide (and which was later seen with a female on the west side of Middle Eye) and a Puffin flying back out the Dee Estuary as the tide ebbed.

Its a shame we didn't get a closer look at the Eider as now I've cropped the photo those frontal lobes look orange..........

1 Mar 2012


Met up with Mr Payne at Frodsham yesterday afternoon for a chance to photograph a couple of Short-eared Owls that had been showing ridiculously well. Whilst there we managed to connect with a couple of early Avocets a couple of Marsh Harriers and a fine drake Red-crested Pochard originally found by Frank at the weekend. Beautiful spring sunshine and a couple of very cooperative Owls. What more could we have asked for?

At one stage one of the birds caught a smallish mammal. At first glance it looked like a rat but I think the colour is to rufous brown and I can't see a long tail. The owl landed on a post with the animal and then flew into some long grass and appeared again without it making us wonder if it had cached it to eat later.

Leavign the birds to do their stuff I headed for home whilst Mark headed off to change some more nappies................................................