29 Aug 2013


With the family over from Australia I haven't done much birding over the last few weeks. A quick mid afternoon trip to Hilbre in glorious weather saw a juvenile Blackbird and a young Common Whitethroat being ringed. A bank-holiday weekend trip to see my parents in Somerset was spent mostly at Lyme Regis with our granddaughter. My parents do have Green Woodpeckers visiting the paddock next to the house though and they were a regular morning sighting. Back home there have been a few migrant Chiffs and Willow Warblers dropping into the small copse by the pond and making occasional forays into the garden.

Highlight of the last few days though was this little Hedgehog:

I answered a knock at the door to find a young girl standing there who I didn't recognise. Apparently she was the girlfriend of a neighbours son and had been given my name to help rescue a young hedgehog in their garden as they were concerned their Jack Russel would kill it.

It was vey undernourished but when we got it into our garden I mixed up some Weetabix with milk and a load of peanuts and sultana's and within minutes it uncurled and filled its face before trundling off into the hedge. It was still in the garden at 10 pm last night rooting amongst the flower beds. Hopefully it will put on enough weight to survive hibernation.

16 Aug 2013

It's a f@#king Fea's!

Jase Atkinson and I had travelled down to Cornwall Tuesday night to spend three days ringing at Marazion Marsh as part of the on going study into the migration patterns of the endangered Aquatic Warbler. As a kid my grandparents lived at Hayle and I remember seeing Aquatic Warbler here several times during my teenage and University years. Sadly they are probably now less than annual.

Unfortunately the weather was pretty grim and we woke up Wednesday morning to heavy rain and an overcast sky. No ringing today then!

We faffed around the campsite for awhile before heading to Marazion to confirm what we already knew - the weather was shit.

However, the wind was S Westerly albeit only about force 3-4 so with an improvement in the clag forecast we set off to Gwennap head with the intention of  a bit of seawatching before meeting Mark Grantham back on site at 13.00.

Once we'd dodged the inevitable tourist traffic, mainly Germans who are used to nice straight autobahns and not lanes built by mischievous and drunk Cornish Piskies, we were pleasantly surprised to arrive at Porthgwarra as the sun started shining. Almost immediately we saw a close Basking Shark that cuased great excitement to another German tourist who yelled across ' you have seen a basking shark yah, ver is it please.....'

Arriving at Gwennap head we found several other birders hunkered down and it soon became obvious that there was a steady trickle of birds moving. There were lots of Manx Shearwaters but the occasional Balearic and Sooty Shearwaters and a single Cory's Shearwater. Jase picked out a distant Storm Petrel before losing it in the slight swell and we were entertained by at least 5 basking Sharks in the bay below us.

                                                       The famous Runnelstone.

Leaving site at 12.15 we headed slowly back to Marazion to meet Mark and discuss strategies for the next couple of days and then decided to head back to Gwennap as experience off Hilbre and other seawatching sites has proven there is often an early evening movement of Shearwaters - it's not a coincidence that Joe Pender's evening aboard the Sapphire from Hugh Town often score with a biggie and we were mindful that a Fea's Petrel had been seen on the Monday evening. One thing you expect from seawatching is expect the unexpected...................

Surprisingly the place was deserted. There were no other birders present so we had the place to ourselves. Hunkering down in a prime spot we settled in to the routine of seawatching - scan, scan and scan again.....

Once again a trickle of birds moved through from east to west with the bulk being Manx Shearwaters but also the occasional Balearic and Sooty Shearwater. Around 16.40 I started feeling the chill and made a mental note to suggest we pack it in around 17.00.

Then it happened! Around 16.50 I picked up a distinctive looking bird flying in from the east on a line with the Runnelstone. It had gleaming white underparts but all dark underwings. I had my suspicions what it was but yelled to Jason to 'get on this bird quick, it's got all dark underwings'.
It was so distinctive he got on it straight away. Neither of us said anything for a few seconds until I voiced my thoughts 'it's a f###ing Fea's isn't it'. Punching the air with both fists raised and yelling 'YES' at the top of my voice meant I lost the bird momentarily but Jase continued to watch it and give a running commentary of its plumage and actions. I got on it again after a few seconds and we continued watching it for a couple of minutes as it turned south west and headed into the breeze shearing as it went along and turning into the sun to allow us to pick out the distinctive 'M'.

What a fantastic experience. We were still buzzing when we reached the campsite and celebrated with a barbeque and an early night ready for the next mornings ringing..................Not before I'd written my notes up though.

12 Aug 2013

Garden babies.

From a disastrously slow start to the breeding season it looks as if the late onset of summer has allowed our garden birds to rear late  broods. The garden feeders are heaving with young birds and a couple of ringing sessions has resulted in all juvenile birds and very few adults

A juvenile Great-spotted Woodpecker has been visiting daily - the first juvenile I've caught in the garden after ringing adult male and female last winter. As well as the red crown young birds can also be identified by their eye colour. The iris on this bird is brown whereas on an adult it is red.

The only exception to the 'juveniles only' ringing totals was this male House Sparrow. A small colony is just about hanging on locally and I've decided to give them a boost by making some sparrow-sized nest boxes & I'll give some to the neighbours as well as putting up a couple on the eaves of our house.

Most of the juveniles are now undergoing their post juvenile moult. The Blue Tit in the following photo's is moulting its head and its greater coverts. The median and lesser coverts are also moulted These will now be the recognisable blue rather than the grey / green they leave the nest with.

A late brood of Blackbirds has appeared with three young and two adults feeding on the rapidly diminishing Rowan berries. The female Blackbird was ringed last December so I was pleased to catch the male. He hadn't started his post breeding moult yet but his feathers were pretty tatty and worn.

5 Aug 2013

One Swallow makes my summer

I've just returned back from a fantastic week in Tenerife with Mrs W and her sister and her boyfriend. Not much serious birding but some good sightings none the less. My main priority wasn't the birds but the diving as  I hadn't been for a couple of years and needed to keep my qualifications up to date. I had a great couple of days with the highlights being a school of 200 + Barracuda, close encounters with Green Turtles and finding a Seahorse - apparently rarely seen off Tenerife.

Whilst away John emailed me to say he'd ringed another couple of broods of Swallows on the farm at West Kirby and would I like to join him on Sunday to ring the final brood and try and catch a few adults. Would I ever.

We've developed a cunning plan to catch the adults after trying unsuccessfully to 'flick' them for a few seasons. We now stick a 3 m mist net up in the out buildings and over the last couple of years have caught a few adults each season.

The photo's below were all taken by John Elliot apart from the last two:

 Me inspecting one of the nests in the 'Tractor Shed'
 Swallow pullus

Highlight of the day was catching adult male Swallow Y158601, first ringed by me on 22 July 2012 and re-trapped this year 12 June 2013 and 4 August 2013. It was an adult when ringed in 2012 so is at least in its 3rd calendar year and could be older. Its hard to imagine this little bird has made the return trip from S Africa a minimum of twice in its life and returned to the same farm in West Kirby. You can imagine it arriving in S France and thinking this is far enough!

Another interesting thing about this bird was its very rufous underparts - see my photo's below:

Compare it to another adult Swallow ringed at the same site on the same day.

Good luck little birds & hopefully we'll see you back again next year.