10 Nov 2014

Poms & Barred Warblers

As is often the case it was two phone calls form Steve that formed the basis of two memorable birding experiences this weekend.

The first came Friday morning when he rang me to say Derek had rescued an injured Pomarine Skua on Hilbre which seemed to have a wing strain and couldn't fly properly. He was driving across in his Landrover to pick it up and Derek was keeping it overnight before handing it to the RSPCA if there was no improvement in its condition. I jumped at the chance of seeing one of these skua's close up - they're a description species in Cheshire and most of the time you just see a shape careening after a hapless gull or tern out at sea in stormy conditions. Breeding in N Russia they're a scarce but mostly annual visitor in small numbers with only a handful of records each year.

The bird appeared bright and feisty so we hope its just wing strain. I took the opportunity to take photo's showing some of the relevant identification features including undertail coverts, underwing pattern and bill colour. A beautiful bird and hopefully it will recover and be released off Hilbre to continue its southerly migration.
 Juvenile Pomarine Skua showing typical bi-coloured bill
 Upper tail coverts and tail with central projections

 Underwing pattern
Undertail coverts

I'd arranged to meet Steve at his house Sunday and drive across to Hilbre to undertake the regular WeBS count which also coincided with a Brent Goose survey. It was a beautiful day and we used the Landrover as a platform from which to count the Brent's as the tide was flooding.

 The eventual number was 95 and we got a very accurate count over the high tide when all the birds were loafing around on the sea. We also counted family groups and it was good to see a few juveniles still associating with their parents.

A seawatch counting numbers for the WeBS survey was very successful with good numbers of Red-throated Divers, Common Scoter and Great-crested Grebes numbering in the hundreds for each!

Passerines were well represented with flyover Skylarks whilst the bird feeders in the Obs garden attracted two Goldfinches.

The amount of red on the face of the bird above and the colour of the nasal hairs strongly suggest its a female.  There were a few unringed Robins around and a Song Thrush suggesting there had been a small movement of these species locally over the last few days.

The tide had fallen enough for us to leave the island by 15.15 and after dropping Steve off I headed home to wash the underside of the Landrover and get some food. Just as I'd finished at the jetwash Steve made his second memorable call.

'You might want to turn round and come back as Tony Bell's found a Barred Warbler in his garden'
Bugger. By now the light was beginning to fade and I had doubts that I'd get back to West Kirby before the bird went to roost. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. After all this was a Cheshire lifer for me. After a quick pit stop at home I was thundering back along the M53 and arrived at Tony's to find Steve, Degs, Steph, Andrea & Colin all watching the bird from Tony's kitchen as it pecked at an apple on the tree in his garden. I didn't take my camera as I didn't think it would be showing quite so well! Photo below by Steve Williams and nicked from his twitter feed.

Another photo below courtesy of Colin Jones:

Tony is a founder member of Hilbre Bird Observatory and many thanks to him for allowing us all into his kitchen to view this bird. Although not rare in a national sense and probably best described as scarce passage migrants they are commoner  on the east coast but pretty scarce on the west.

The significance of this Barred Warbler? It was my 300th species in Cheshire & Wirral. I started birding in the county when a student at Manchester University between 1979 -1982 and this year have added three new species to my County list: Barred Warbler, Night Heron and Little Bunting. Over the years I've also found one new County species myself which was the UK's 10th Iberian Chiffchaff and been present when another was found and caught on Hilbre - Red-flanked Bluetail!

No comments :