30 Apr 2013

Staying local

Friday evening saw me down at Neston reed bed until dark trying to ensure the local brain dead 'yoofs' don't set alight to what remains after the recent arson attempt. This is an annual battle to preserve the reed bed for breeding birds. A fantastic evening with no less than 3 Cetti's Warblers singing from various points, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Common Whitethroat and a Grasshopper Warbler. All was quiet on the front line and the only other people I met were dog walkers.

Saturday morning was taken up with domestic duties but I'd planned to spend the afternoon birding with Groucho - we ended up at Sandbach where a roosting Long-eared Owl had been discovered near the tip. A great bird for Cheshire these days. Sadly we received news of of a dead one found at Elton  the same day.  See Billy's Frodsham blog here:

With Groucho doing a Cheshire year list we headed towards Lyme Park for a nailed on Tree Pipit on territory......three hours later we finally stumbled across the non-singing pipit feeding on the ground before flying in to a nearby tree 'tzeeping' as it went.

Plenty of birds moving locally over the last few days. A search of Stanney Wood, on Sunday, for a passage Wood Warbler proved fruitless although I did catch up with the ultra elusive male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker for only the second time this year. A quick breeding bird survey resulted in two singing male Treecreepers, three singing Nuthatches and four Great Spots. Warbler numbers are always poor here due to the level of disturbance and only three male Blackcaps and two male Chiffchaffs were spouting their stuff.

On the walk down to Stanney I found a reeling Grasshopper Warbler in a ditch alongside the busy A5117. A really good local record and only the second 'patch' record of recent years. Twenty years ago they used to be fairly common in the fields around Stanney Woods that have now been built on.

The ploughed fields are sill attracting Wheatears and last night I counted ten on one and four on another- most were very distant apart from this smart 2nd calendar year bird that was merely distant.

Two Common Whitethroats were also found but weren't singing. No sign of any Lesser Whitethroats yet but the singing male Yellowhammer is still churning out his 'little bit of bread and no cheese' along the railway embankment.

25 Apr 2013

Rock Thrush

Coincidence or the alignment of the planets. Call it what you will but the fates were on my side today. I'd planned to go to Hilbre but going yesterday, to answer the emergency call, I couldn't do today due to meetings that I'd postponed yesterday.

Midday and I'm back in the office when the phone bleeps with a mega alert from RBA. Rock Thrush Spurn  - it had flown north so I sat and answered a few more emails. The next message had me packing up and making my excuses. 'The first twitchable one on the mainland for over 20 years' I told everyone before I slunk out the door. Before I'd even loaded the car Al Orton rang and said he'd meet me at the 'Bupa' on the M56.

Thirty minutes later we were heading east. With Al getting twitter updates every few minutes, except for a worryingly blank period of an hour, the journey sped by. A phone call informed us that our mates Groucho, Malc & Robbo were an hour behind us and we promised to keep them updated. We passed through Hull without incident and drove carefully along the lanes towards Easington  being mindful of the local police record of setting speed traps when there's a twitch on at Spurn. Sure enough there were at least two being set up as we went through.

Arriving in good time we pulled up in the Bluebell car park and straight out the car and onto the bird courtesy of John Pegdens 'scope - neither of us had time to pick ours up from our respective homes. Still, I had the camera.....................................

The bird showed well flying down from the fence line to pick up invertebrates in the grass but was always quite distant.
Another lifer and a grip back I'd been waiting for since the last twitchable bird on the mainland in 1995  - a male bird that graced Hunstanton golf course for 5 days in May. Another one of those birds that I'd had on my list of 'must see, drop everything and go for'. The old life list is creeping up towarss the magic 500 BOU and may be a bit closer if the current review of category D species resuts in any being accepted as category A. Falcated Teal, Marbled Teal or White-headed Duck anyone?

Head for the hills!

With Groucho doing a Cheshire year list and dying of the lurgy he picked up from his baby daughter I took pity on him and offered to drive (his car!) to the Eastern Hills after work to try and mop up a few of the specialities.

First stop was Tegg's Nose where we  located a singing Pied Flycatcher and a singing Redstart. Next it was off to nearby Wildboarclough in search of Dippers. We found at least 6 birds one of which posed for photo's. The colour ringing is part of an adult survival project.

Distressingly we came across an injured Buzzard that looked like it had been shot. The incident and photo's have been forwarded to the RSPB's investigation unit. Is it any wonder gamekeepers get a bad name.

Next we moved across to Danebower where we hoped to pick up Red Grouse. Sure enough within minutes we located at least a dozen birds but by now the light was fading fast.

We headed back to Trentabank Reservoir for dusk to try and catch up with a roding Woodcock. A quick scan of the reservoir was rewarded with 3 Mandarin (are you reading Pod?) and 2 female Goosander. Breedign art the Heronry and Cormorant colony is in full swing and there were nestlings calling everywhere!

As dusk fell we listened and soon picked up the distinctive pig like grunts and whistles of roding male Woodcock and we estimated at least 4 birds were present. With the Woodcock grunts and the prehistoric guttural calls of the Cormorants it sounded just like the Stretford end.

22 Apr 2013

Redpolls? Lump em.

After Fridays excitement of the Blue-winged teal expectations were high that another rare bird might be found locally with Hoopoe being casually discussed. Sure enough one was seen flying in off the sea at Red Rocks but, until now, hasn't been relocated.

Saturday saw us back before dawn at Barry's place in Burton for a final ringing session of the 'winter'. Scott Reid joined John & me for what turned out to be a fairly quiet session by Hesti standards but with some interesting birds. Winter was definitely a misnomer as the weather was gorgeous. Blue skies and sunshine - it was a pleasure to sit outside the ringing shed and feel the sun on your back for a change.

First up was a Magpie  - a garden first and probably deadlier with its mouth than Suarez as the cuts on my hand will bear testimony to.

A 2nd calendar year bird it rapidly introduced Scott to one of the perils of ringing when it managed a beak full of flesh. Next up was a long awaited female Brambling for John. Despite me trying to persuade him his wife wanted him home he refused to be swayed and managed
to ring this one himself. Bramblings are lovely birds and quite chunky close up.

Another Hesti garden first was provided by this Willow Warbler.
A few wintering finches were still around with a small number of Siskins and Redpolls present although the majority have now moved off to their breeding grounds. Amongst the Redpolls was this bird which the biometrics put in the 'Common' range. Redpolls are notoriously difficult even in the hand and the IPMR programme we use to input all the ringing data has an entry for Redpoll species as well as Common & Lesser!
It'll be entered as Redpoll sp.
A great day rounded off with a visit by Colin Wells and a bottle of Barry's stash of Islay bitters. Lovely stuff and just the thing to quench the thirst after a busy mornings ringing.
By contrast to Saturday Sunday's weather was pretty poor and most of it was spent helping with decorating at my parents in laws house. I did manage to get out for a quick walk between rain showers and picked up my first Sedge Warbler and Common Whitethroat of the year. As in Barry's garden the finch numbers are down but a few Siskins are coming in including this photogenic bird

A pair of un-ringed Bullfinches are also fairly regular  -  I ringed a pair last spring and these are obviously different birds. I've also had a few Redpolls visiting in the last week - a very rare visitor for me. I managed to catch 4 in a quick ringing session in the evening  - including a cracking male Common Redpoll. photo's to follow in another post.

19 Apr 2013

Blue-winged Teal, Garganey & Eider

Its been a good week for migrants locally but the change in the wind direction and the increase to storm force meant the emphasis on Hilbre switched to seawatching yesterday. A cracking day with two Eider being found on the tideline as the tide ebbed - one adult male and a sub-adult.

 Loads of Razorbills and Gannets had been displaced by the strong winds and there were a good number of Red-throated Divers as well as my first Common & Arctic Terns of the year.
A great few hours and the day got better as I went for a walk with Jan around the local lanes last night. Checking a ploughed field I found no fewer than 15 Wheatears that had obviously been grounded since the previous nights bad weather. The same field hosted a Whinchat and a Yellow Wagtail as well as several White Wagtails.

Arriving early in the office this morning I was busy in the workshop and found I'd missed half a dozen calls from Steve & Barry. Blue-winged Teal Burton Mere Wetlands!!!!!

A few quick apologies and the promise I'd be back within the hour and I was on my way.
A cracking full adult male alongside a Garganey for good measure. A Cheshire lifer for me. What a way to start the weekend.

 Plenty of Avocets at BMW and a good selection of waders with some nice summer plumaged Spotted Redshank, Dunlin, Black0tailed Godwit and Common Sandpiper to name a few.

14 Apr 2013

They're here!

A strange time of year when we are still seeing loads of wintering birds but the summer migrants are now pouring through. Thursday evening after work and I was beating the local patch looking for Wheatear or even better my first local Wheatear. Nothing! But suddenly a lone Sand Martin flew low into the wind as it beat its way north. My first of the year

 Friday afternoon and I'm off to Hilbre overnight to ensure an early start the next morning. Blackbirds,& Redwings had been caught all day and there was also a good passage of Robins and Goldcrests. As well as these birds the first Willow Warblers put in an appearance hirundines were at last moving through. We managed t catch another 4 Blackbirds and a few more Goldcrests late afternoon and were looking forward to a relaxing evening with a nice meal and a beer in front of the wood burning stove. The perfect antidote to a stressful week at work. That didn't happen.

With news from Allan Conlin that there were three Ring Ouzels on the golf course along Lingham Lane and with Steve having to go off to collect our tea we decided to pick up Chris on the way through Hoylake and check out the Ouzels, grab the chilli that had been made for us by Clare and head back to the Island. The best laid plans and all that......

Chris's phone was dead so we couldn't reach him but we arrived at Lingham Lane in good time and soon found the Ouzels.

Suddenly they took flight and all three flew towards us and then disappeared high and out of view. We'd seen them by the skin of our teeth. By now Chris had charged his phone and contacted us to say he'd found another Ring Ouzel down Park Lane so off we set.....only for the alternator light to come on in the Landrover. A quick look at the Ouzel and then it was bonnet up to find the remains of the fan belt wrapped around the fan.

Luckily I had a spare and limped to the Williams pad where Chris helped me over the next two hours to replace the fan belt. What should have been a simple job was made complicated by the fact the new belt seemed about an inch to short. Eventually we got it fixed and headed belatedly to Hilbre in the dark after grabbing our food and washing the worst of the oil & grime off.  Now I was worried a bout a rattle coming from the rear suspension............................

We were up very early and it soon became clear there had been a bit of a fall during the night. The first round of the heligolands produced Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, crests and thrushes.  There was even more good news when Chris rang to say he'd seen a Redstart at the south end of the island and we soon relocated it as it worked its way along the east side before promptly getting caught in a mist net. The first of the year.

What a little beauty  - a 2nd calendar year male. You can see the moulted inner bluish greater coverts from the photo's below.

With a good overhead movement of finches and a Tree Pipit it was turning in to a glorious day. It got even better when Steve spotted a Sparrowhawk seemingly roosting and digesting its latest meal inside the Newton trap.

It turned out to be a control having being ringed elsewhere and was another 2nd calendar year male. The prequel to this is that Chris photographed a Sparrowhawk on the Obs fence the previous day and then notice it was ringed! Surprisingly it stayed around obviously enjoying its diet of waders and migrants as you can see by the gore around its bill and nape.

With the tide on the flood it was time for me to leave. I had a quick look for a couple of Ring Ouzels reported at park Lane again before heading to the Leasowe Lighthouse café to meet up with Mark and enjoy a bacon butty and cup of tea before heading home.

The excitement hadn't finished though as Frank texted me to say Frodshams 2nd ever Firecrest was showing well between No. 6 & 5 tanks so hoping for some photos I headed off. Unfortunately the wind had picked up and it was beginning to rain so I didn't get the photo's I'd hoped for.

What a little gem.

Sunday had me debating whether to go to Hilbre over the tide but a phone call from my father in law  who'd had his garden wall pushed over and car vandalised during the night saw paid to that and instead I removed the rubble to the tip but still managed to find a male Redstart in bushes adjacent to the motorway! A quick call to the Ports finest & Al was on his way to twitch this local 'mega'.

The rattle under the Landrover turned out to be a loose shock absorber mounting where the bush and washer holding it in place had somehow disappeared leaving the nut in place and a very loose shock rattling merrily over every bump. And there's a few of those crossing from West Kirby to Hilbre.

9 Apr 2013

Is it here? Finally?

Well it looks as if the birds at least do think spring is here. Although the temperatures weren't exactly balmy the sun shone and some migrants made a belated appearance. There are still plenty of 'wintering' birds around though with good numbers of Siskins visiting the garden feeders. A short ringing session resulted in another 12 being caught. Considering I hadn't caught one in the garden over the preceding two winters that pretty good. The fat score of the birds shows some are fresh in whilst others like this fat boy below have obviously been filling their faces with sun flower hearts. This 2nd calendar year male weighed a hulking 19.9 g compared to the average 12 g.
We've still got 'wintering' Blackcaps and Bramblings visiting the garden as well. Fieldfares and Redwings look as if they've finally decided to start moving north and they've been gathering on local pastures to feed up on invertebrates now the permafrost has started melting.
 A trip to Hilbre on Saturday saw us arriving full of hope as dawn broke.Sure enough a walk round the island produced my first Wheatear of the year caught in one of the helioglands! A real surprise as we normally catch these in potter traps. A beautiful 2nd calendar year male of the nominate race.

Spreading its tail showing why the old English name is 'white arse'

The Islands daffodils are putting on a brave display despite the still cool temperatures and with blue skies you could almost believe it was warmer than it actually was.

Finally, to really prove spring was at least on its way, my first Sandwich Terns put in an appearance.

Leaving the island to the visitors streaming over after the tide I headed home and a walk later in the day (followed by a pint at the Bunbury) along the Shropshire Union canal at Stoak was rewarded with my first singing Chiffchaff of the year.

Sunday saw Mark & I making an abortive effort to see Lancashire's short staying Killdeer although we weren't unduly bothered as we'd seen the Shetland one a few years ago.

The night was spent on Hilbre ready for a dawn start Monday morning before work. Proof that spring might be genuinely here was provided by a continuing passage of Goldcrests and Meadow Pipits!

4 Apr 2013

Mossland specials

A quick trip over to Houghton Green Flash today with Mark Payne to see the Black-necked Grebe that had been present for a couple of days. Good views but always quite distant with the bonus of a Little -ringed Plover as well.

There were plenty of Wigeon around but not many other wildfowl and a nice pair of displaying Great-crested Grebes.

Next stop was the nearby moss lands where Mark hoped to pick up Grey Partridge for his Cheshire year list. We found a single bird wit hthe bonus of two Corn Buntings and numerous Yellwohammers & Skylarks.