25 Jun 2012

Puffin Island

I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to ring with the SCAN ringing group as part of the long term study of seabirds on Puffin Island off Anglesey this weekend. For information about this study see here

The purpose of this particular visit was to ring Cormorant chicks in the morning and then move onto to ring auk chicks in the afternoon.

Meeting up with the team led by Dr Rachel Taylor and Steve Dodd we boarded our boat at Beaumaris and headed off in the rain (whats new there then) to Puffin Island where we landed on the only shingle beach and worked our way up through the steaming undergrowth towards the nationally important Cormorant colony.

Wear your oldest closed advised Steve and he was right to do so. With a target of 200 Cormorant chicks to ring we were soon covered in regurgitated fish and whitewash. These Cormorant chicks have tremendous range when squirting sh1t from their rear ends! The smell and noise was indescribable and the whole colony had a Jurassic feel  - it almost felt you were in a colony of pterodactyls. Young Cormorants certainly don't win any prizes in the beauty stakes -see below.

Moving through the colony I took the opportunity to grab a couple of scenic shots with the compact.. The big camera definitely stayed at home!

The good news is that since the rats were eradicated 10 years ago Puffin numbers have increased to around 40 pairs!

Reaching our lunch point we sheltered from a stray shower in the ruins of an old building that reinforced the historic ties between this island and Hilbre. Both have buildings originally built and owned by the Liverpool Dock company around the 1840's

By now were were all covered in evil smelling guano and regurgitated fish paste. I'm so glad I didn't pack tuna sandwiches! As lunch finished the sun came out and we started exploring the cliff ledges and boulder fields for auk chicks. Razorbill chicks lead solitary existences under boulders whilst Guillemots have creches where a few adults look after a large group of youngsters whilst other adults are out fishing. With large numbers of Herring, Lesser-black backed and Greater black-backed Gulls nesting and marauding its a sensible strategy.

With auks living to over 40 years and having odd shaped tarsi special 'auk' rings are required and Rachel patiently showed us how to fit them checking each one to ensure we'd done it correctly.These rings are incredibly hard and take a fair bit of effort to close properly and by the end of the days ringing my arm muscles were pumped like Popeye on his 4th can of spinach.

Amongst the young birds we caught a few adults  - mainly re-traps but some new ones to ring like this adult Razorbill. By name and by nature - it caught me nicely through three layers of clothing and drew blood just below my left nipple! It hurt like hell. Hence the very apprehensive look. You can see the evil gleam in its eye. It had tasted blood and wanted more. I was also very fortunate to handle a 'bridled' Guillemot but unfortunately the camera was stuffed in the ruck sack at the top of the cliff.

By  contrast the chicks were impossibly cute and I soon became immune to the overpowering stench and noise and thoroughly enjoyed the process of clambering down cliffs and dangling on ledges surrounded by thousands of calling Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins and Kittiwakes. Its really good to see this colony is doing well and productivity is high. I wonder if it has anything to do with the marine conservation area surrounding it........... the relevant authorities please take note!

Cute Razorbill chick and shit covered ringer.

Before we left the island there was also the chance for me to ring a few Shag chicks - a bit smaller than the Cormorants but just as deadly from both ends.

Finally it was time to head back to the beach where we'd stashed the rest of our gear and head back to Beaumarisl eaving the, by now sun, soaked island and its birds in peace. What a magic place and I hope I have the good fortune to go again.

22 Jun 2012

Little Swift, New Brighton

As is our want during quiet periods Steve & I were only discussing Little Swift last weekend and be-moaning the fact we both still needed it for our British lists after missing the last one in Derbyshire by 20 minutes! The previous one to that was the 2005 Norfolk bird and after just returning from Cornwall I just couldn't get there. I was away for the Notts bird......Hence the moaning.

Whilst watching hundreds of Common Swifts last Saturday over Frodsham with Frank & Mark we even moaned then that it was about time a rare Swift turned up. Every year there are hundred of Swifts at Frodsham and every year they are searched through in day, one day.

That day was today! I'd just got in from work and was talking to Jan on the mobile when Mark Turner rang. I rung him straight back .

'What've you got'

'Little Swift, New Brighton'

'Oh fc*k, I'm on the way'

Cue pandemonium as I fled the house and shot off up the M53 to New Brighton making and receiving calls (on the hands-free!) as I went. I arrived shortly after Al Orton to find Steve & Chris there with Mark, Barry and Colin - a proper Hilbre day out!

The bird was showing unbelievably well in the rain which helped to keep it low. At times it was buzzing around our heads and then it flew out into the middle of the Mersey before flying along the beach below us! Amazing stuff.

The story of how it was found was even more amazing. Mark had gone to renew his foreshore permit and a guy stopped him and asked if he knew anything about Little Swifts cos he thought he'd seen one. Where says Mark. There says the guy as it flew over their heads! Right place right time. Another bogey bird buried in the year of the grip back......

18 Jun 2012

Rose-coloured Starling and Montagu's Harrier!

A wet and miserable day Saturday was compounded by the annoying squeak we couldn't trace on the Landrover developing into a full grown problem when the prop shaft universal joint gave way. Luckily I'd just made it back from a trip to Frodsham to join Frank & Mark but then spent a couple of hours lying on my back in the wet trying to resolve the problem - not! Hopefully the spares will arrive today. Frodsham was very quiet apart from the  Swifts and a sub-adult Hobby.

By contrast Sunday was a much better day and with Steve deciding on a fathers day birding trip with Thomas I jumped in to go and see the Rose-coloured Starling that had turned up at Rhos-on-Sea a mere 30 minutes west from us! I'd predicted a local one earlier in the week and I still need this bird for Cheshire. By contrast N Wales seems to have either a secret breeding colony or an in-exhaustible supply from a cage somewhere. They've had at least 7 in the past 10 years.

The Rosey Starling showed exceptionally well in the front garden of a local house - chasing House Sparrows away from its preferred fat balls and occasionally having a fly round. It was easily viewable from the opposite side of the road with no need to get any closer! Many thanks to the residents for putting up with a load of birders (and interested passers by strolling down the prom) looking directly into their front garden.

What a stonker!

With a free afternoon and the Starling safely on Thomas' list it was decided to head across the Mersey and try for the long staying adult male Montague's Harrier so after a quick trip home for lunch I met up with Steve again for the short journey to Altcar. With only an hour or so to spare we'd given up hope and had left the site, where most people had stayed waiting for it to return, when Steve suggested checking out an areas about a mile away. Out the car. First bird I saw. Distant in the heat haze but our target bird. Ringing a few mates who'd we'd just left we waited for the first to arrive before racing for home. Late but not to late.

11 Jun 2012

Summer days.

An improvement on the weather this weekend and once I'd finished tiling and decorating duties it was time for a bit of relaxed birding both at home in the garden on Hilbre.

Not many birds around on Hilbre but with the Great Orme scoring a Woodchat Shrike on top of Bardseys and the Lancs one a week or so ago we still live in hope..........not much but a little.
Attention turned to the insects buzzing around Hilbre with few birds to see. My first Painted Lady of the year, Sexton Beetle and a few Cinnabar moths were on the wing whilst the moth trap yielded a handful of the commoner species including this stunning Buff Tip that sat on Lottie's hand.

A short ringing session in the garden was rewarding as I caught a female Bullfinch with a well developed brood patch suggesting the regular garden pair are nesting nearby. A check of the Swallows nests at John's local farm where he's been ringing them for centuries confirmed numbers are down with only 4 nests this year one of which contained young old enough to ring, one with very small young and two with eggs. They are much later than in previous years.

A trip with Barry to inspect our Little Owl box revealed one resident stood in the corner with its eyes shut hoping that if it couldn't see us we couldn't see it.

Apart from that a Hobby over the house in yesterdays evening sunshine was a welcome addition to the garden year list.

8 Jun 2012

'I'm tired and I'm fed up, I wanna go home'

News of an adult Roller at Aldbrough, Yorkshire broke over the Bank Holiday weekend. I've seen Roller in the UK before so was quite chilled about it - until I saw the photo's being loaded on the Internet! When Steve rang and asked if I fancied a trip Thursday afternoon I buckled.
Unfortunately the weather was dire. We left Cheshire in pouring rain and it got heavier as we crossed the Pennines. The initial forecast for the Hull area was sunshine and showers but that changed en-route to heavy rain. For once the forecasters were spot on.

We arrived at the designated spot to find we were the only idiots there. Scanning the fields briefly I picked up a hazy water-blurred outline sat on the mud that could only be the Roller so we wandered down only to find the turquoise blob had disappeared. Despondently we wandered back to the car. Deciding to check the wires and trees on the opposite side of the road I suddenly noticed Steve flashing the headlights frantically - the Roller had suddenly appeared on a wooden post about 50 m from us.

We watched it in the torrent as it coughed up a pellet and eventually flew into the trees on the opposite side of the road from where it appeared to drop into the hedge to roost. A stunning bird in flight but the poor light meant I couldn't get a focus lock.

It looked thoroughly miserable and I couldn't help thinking of the Beach Boys song ' The sloop John B'.

6 Jun 2012

Ring-necked Duck, Frodsham No. 6

Caught up with this bird today and was initially thrown by its appearance. It took me a long time to convince myself it was actually a Ring-necked Duck and not a hybrid! The bill pattern wasn't as striking as some I've seen but was present and correct although faint.
The flanks were speckled and not smoothly grey and the wing bar looked a little to bright on the secondaries at times but in retrospect that is probably due to the light. The head shape is right and the chestnut collar around the neck could be seen on occasions when the bird stretched its neck.

My initial thoughts were 1st summer male but checking with B.W.P moult begins in May to July so it could be an adult drake starting its moult. Or it could be a 1st summer!

Whatever, a cracking find by Mr Moreton.

 Head profile spot on for R N Duck .
 Flanks streaked but clear demarcation between white spur and 'grey' flank.
Bill pattern faint but present.

 Note grey inner wing bar on secondaries but browner outer wing bar on primaries. Dark markings on outer secondary could denote 1st summer bird?
 You can just about make out the chestnut collar

This is my second for Cheshire following the Astley Mere bird in November 2011.
See pic below and you'll see what I mean about the bill markings.

Finally the crappy pic below was taken at Avonmouth sewage works in December 2006 but again shows the striking bill pattern.

Bits and bobs

After last weeks excitement and good weather things changed dramatically over the weekend. Plenty of good birds in the N W region such as Greenish Warbler at Walney, R N Duck at Frodsham and a whole plethora of rarities on Bardsey where they greedily, in my opinion, laid claim to a Woodchat Shrike, Common Rosefinch and Melodious Warbler over the jubilee Holiday weekend whilst Hilbre (for all our efforts) got nothing! Even the good weather departed with Saturday particularly wet and miserable.

A brief seawatch Saturday from the sheltered westerly side of the Observatory revealed an adult Gannet, two Manx Shearwaters and a handful of Arctic Terns amongst the Common Terns fishing on the flooding tide

With an improvement Sunday I decided to spend an hour or so photographing Great-spotted Woodpeckers in Stanney Woods.

Both the holes in the first picture were excavated this year and it looks as if the nest chamber from the top hole has broken through into the bottom one. The young could be heard calling and I reckon they're about  7 -10 days old.

Tuesday was a better day on Hilbre but there was still a strong breeze. Nothing spectacular but the ringing totals kept ticking over with a couple of juvenile Linnets and a Spotted Flycatcher being caught.

A trip to South Road pool was rewarded with a singing Garden Warbler - a scarce bird in my part of the Wirral and a pair of Shelduck with the small Tufted Duck flock. I keep checking this pool in the hope of a rare aythea and with a drake Ring-necked Duck being seen Monday and Tuesday at Frodsham I'm convinced one day it will happen. That's what keeps us going..................................