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29 Sep 2014

Shanks & Curlew

Very topical given the Ryder Cup result over the weekend. Plenty of Yank shanks on the tee.
This weekend was a designated SCAN ringing group canon netting one and the target species over the two days were Redshank & Curlew.  Meeting at 08.15 Saturday morning near Penrhyn Castle, N Wales the team were soon involved in the hard labour of lugging the gear from the vehicles to the beach setting the nets and digging the canons in. its important to do this quite awhile before high tide so the birds aren't spooked from coming into roost by the presence of people. With the majority of the team hidden back in the woods a handful of us sweltered in the hide set up to observe the birds and fire the canons electronically when it was deemed safe.

Three hours in chest waders in a hessian hide in the blazing sun sat on  a rocky beach didn't do much for my joints but the spectacle and sound of the incoming Redshank as they retreated in front of the rising tide was a fantastic experience.

After a few nervous moments when it looked as if all the birds had been spooked by some unseen presence a good number returned and roosted in front of the nets shuffling up the beach as the tide continued to rise. With Steve declaring he was going to fire I was ready by the exit  waiting to sprint along the beach to help extract the birds and place them in keeping cages before ringing.

A fantastic catch with the bonus of 8 Greenshank  -a species I'd never ringed before.



The photo above shows a juvenile Greenshank born this calendar year. As well as the difference in the coverts you can see the smudgy grey in the tail compared to the all dark tail bands of the adult. It was a real privilege to see these beautiful waders close up.

All birds were duly aged, measured and weighed before release with biometrics taken for Redshank including tarsus and toe measurement, totalbill / head and bill length to try and determine what races are using the estuary in the winter.



A solitary Oystercatcher caused a lot of interest among the new Bangor University undergraduates who were attending their first ringing session.
It was good to see so many enthusiastic youngsters out with the group and here's the object of their attention. A lone juvenile probably male Oystercatcher with the blunt bill typical of a male and the brown (rather than red ) eye of a juvenile.

Total catch: 99 Redshank, 8 Greenshank, 4 Curlew and 1 Oystercatcher

A late night Saturday night with my sons future in-laws meant I wasn't up to early Sunday but still managed to join the ringing team for an attempt at catching Curlew - one of the most fickle and wary birds around. Another beautiful day in N Wales and another good catch! In recent years we've struggled to reach double figures with Curlew as disturbance from the coastal footpath means they don't roost as regularly on the inland fields as they used to. A catch of 50 birds was pretty good and included one re-trapped bird that was 27 years old - as Rachel said 'its older than half the team'.

 Juvenile Curlew do odd things and don't normally associate with adults on the roost so it was good to catch one and compare the plumage with the older birds.

Curlew can be sexed on bill length so this was one of the measurements taken along with recording the primary moult score and weight. Most of the birds were still in moult with only one adult having completed its annual cycle.



 Above: Steve checking the moult score .

Once processed the Curlew are released on the ground where they can take a run up prior to taking off. We make sure they have a clear pathway with no obstacles or people to deter them. This female (long bill) decied she wanted to walk over and have a closer look at what we were doing!


Note the Curlew keeping pens in the background where the birds are placed in the dark to keep them calm before ringing and processing.

We caught an interesting bird with an apparent old wing injury that meant it had still retained an old feather from at least two years ago. The feather was bleached and dead suggesting some kind of trauma had affected the very tip of the wing.

All in all a fantastic weekend.

26 Sep 2014

Hello, is that Phil.

Hello, is that Phil? That's how my surreal day started around 11.30 yesterday morning. The caller was Simon Hugheston-Jones from the RSPB office in Bangor. He'd been given my number by Colin Wells, site manager for the RSPB at the nearby Dee Estuary complex.

A member of staff from Lloyd Jones Engineering Merchants at Sandycroft had rung to say there were two Kingfishers trapped in their industrial unit above a mezzanine floor and even though the roller door had been left open the birds were trying to get out through non-opening skylights in the roof. This was about  15 minutes from my office and knowing I was a ringer Colin had suggested to Simon I may be able to help.

Firstly I rang Ken at Lloyd Jones to make sure the birds were still there and they were actually Kingfishers - they were and were!!!!. Next, knowing the sensitivity of the situation and potential licensing issues, I rang Allison Kew at the BTO. Allison rang me back after checking the situation and gave me the go ahead to catch the birds and ring them if I thought they were healthy enough.

Having to virtually pass the site on the way to a meeting the other side of Chester I arranged to call in to assess the situation and check if putting a mist net up inside the building on the mezzanine was feasible. It was pretty surreal seeing to Kingfishers buzzing around calling and bobbing up and down on industrial shelving units! The birds had created a lot of interest and visitors to the retail counter were being led upstairs to see them. I tired using the iPhone set to play Kingfisher call to attract them down from the mezzanine where they' d hopefully see the open roller door but they weren't having any of that so I arranged to go back later with a 30ft mist net.

Setting the net in what appeared to be an ideal place it soon became apparent the birds had other ideas. Leaving me with a cup of tea the staff who'd all been watching with interest backed off and left me to quietly watch the birds movements. After an hour of fruitless waiting the birds were showing a complete lack of interest to the recorded calls being played through a small speaker so I decided to move the net.

Within 10 minutes one bird had been caught and its calls attracted the second bird. Both were quickly removed from the net and taken outside where they were assessed to be fit and healthy so were ringed and processed before releasing in front of a group of staff and the local postie who'd seen them in the building earlier.


The birds were both young born this year and were sexed as a male and female. A small stream runs right alongside the industrial unit and my feeling is this was a territorial dispute with one bird encroaching on anothers territory. The resulting chase ended up with them both flying through an open roller door!




Its at least 5 years since I ringed a Kingfisher! They take a special ring that has to be overlapped precisely to fit the birds tarsus. They're not a usual ring used in everyday ringing activities at my sites but luckily I'd bought 10 just in case a Kingfisher ever turned up in the garden as I've seen them once on our local pond!

A great story and a good public relations exercise. Mind you I don't think they were bothered with the water left out for them or the open tin of sardines!

 After packing up my gear and chatting to the staff I was pleased to hear the birds calling as they whizzed up and down the stream as I returned to the Landrover. Hopefully they'll pay a bit more attention to where they're going next time they play chase through an industrial estate.

Many thanks to the local postman who was commandeered to take a few record shots with my phone just before the birds were released together. After seeing the birds earlier he turned up again later to check on progress and arrived just at the right time.

I've always had a soft spot for Kingfishers after moving to Suffolk as a kid in the 70's and finding a pair nesting on our local stream. I even wrote an article on them which was published in the now defunct YOC (Young Ornithologists Club) which was the junior section of the RSPB.

22 Sep 2014

Robins and 'crests

It was still dark when I drove across to Hilbre Saturday morning but as soon as  I arrived I could hear Goldcrests &  phylosc's calling. As the sun rose over West Kirby and the tide started flooding it soon became clear it was going to be a very warm and muggy day!


There had been a small fall of migrants and I ended up catching Robins, Goldcrests and Willow Warblers and a single juvenile Common Whitethroat.
Goldcrests always look so sad when you see them head on:

Four Greenland race Wheatears spent the high tide on the west side of the island but resolutely refused to get caught.


Sunday meant another early start as I was on Hilbre again early before the hightide. Once again,there had been a small fall of migrants with Goldcrests, Robins and Chiffchaffs being dominant.
Amazingly all the Goldcrests have been females apart from this solitary male.

A skulking bird seen briefly in the bracken and brambles had our hopes raised in the expectation of a Barred Warbler (so many seem to have arrived from Scandinavia this autumn) but that expectation evaporated when the bird eventually gave itself up as a juvenile Spotted Flycatcher.


A ringed male Kestrel controlled on Hilbre a week or so ago continued its stay and spent most of its time perching on flag poles or masts and dropping on prey rather than hovering.

One of the highlights of the day was the first autumn skein of Pinkfooted Geese calling overhead as they flew west over our heads. 90 birds were counted as they flew towards Wales.


Of note on the wader front were two Sanderling roosting with Dunlin on the east side. A photographer spent the duration of the high tide on Middle Eye so subsequently no birds roosted there and many spent the duration on Hilbre. Among the thousands of Oystercatchers was a single leucistic bird that has been seen for several years around the estuary.

A great couple of unseasonably warm days.
The presence of so many berries shows the seasons are marching on and we'll soon see the last of our summer visitors and start seeing wintering thrushes and finches passing through.

18 Sep 2014

Pipits & Chats.

Its that time of year when the autumnal mists start descending overnight and clearing as the sun rises. Migrant birds are also moving and with the wind forecast from the east expectations are high!



A quick trip to Hilbre before work was rewarded with two cracking birds added to the ringing totals for the year. A Rock Pipit had been hanging around the island for a couple of weeks and we often catch them in potter traps baited with meal worms. Breeding has never been proven in the Hilbre recording area in recent years although it has been suspected. Most of our birds are wintering or passage birds and some re-trap data has shown birds do return in successive winters.

Checking the mist net in the Old Obs garden we were surprised to find a Rock Pipit in the bottom shelf! A very unusual place to find one! Taking it back to the Obs it was aged as a calendar year bird (3), ringed and released. They're a very understated 'little brown job' but when you see them in the hand they're subtly quite attractive.



Usually we'd be more than satisfied to catch a Rock Pipit but the morning had another surprise for us when a Stonechat appeared in the bracken at the north end and was again caught in the Old Obs mist net! Although they breed at sites along the Wirral Coast they're a scarce visitor to Hilbre with only a single bird being caught in most years.


Again it was aged as a bird of the year and although the feeling was it was a young male we left it un-sexed.

A very pleasant couple of hours with a few Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff and Goldcrests being ringed along with a Common Whitethroat caught just as we were leaving. It was also good to catch up with Gavin who'd been staying a couple of nights and had run the moth trap allowing me to become reaqainted and familiarise myself with the different species as I haven't done much moth trapping for a few years now - like this Square-spot Dart!


15 Sep 2014

Firecrest Hilbre and a few other migrants moving through

Steve rang me Thursday to say a Firecrest was in the trapping area on Hilbre - one of my favourite little birds and always a pleasure to see (and ring!). It was caught later but still present on the island when I arrived around 19.00 to stay overnight ready for the expected fall of migrants at first light  the following day. Unfortunately the combination of failing light and the birds constant feeding meant I couldn't get any decent photographs as even maxing the ISO on the camera only gave a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second!

Sexed as a female in the hand she was very active and continued feeding until it was almost dark before roosting. With a clear night forecast between 11.00 - 04.00 it wasn't expected to stay and the next day was gone.

The next day it became obvious there had been a small fall of migrants with Willow Warbler, Chifchaff and Goldcrests being caught and ringed. Meadow Pipits continued to move through the islands in small numbers and several were caught in Potter traps baited with meal worms - including this young bird showing a good moult contrast in the greater coverts between the juvenile creamy tipped outer ones and the new olive fringed adult-type inner ones. It had also moulted most of its median coverts except one outer one.

As the tide flooded the Wheatears started arriving and by the end of the day we'd caught another 4 Greenland race Northern Wheatears to add to an already impressive annual total.

Saturday was spent carrying out maintenance work at home and doing some ringing in the garden, where there have been lots of Greenfinches and Goldfinches taking advantage of the food I'm putting out, so it was Sunday before I ventured over to spend the afternoon on Hilbre.

With few migrants around the emphasis was on photographing some of the roosting waders and other birds.

                                                          Curlew coming in to land calling
                                                                              Curlew
                                                                        Adult Dunlin
                                                                  Juvenile Dunlin
                                                                          Ringed Plover
                                                                      Close up of a Turnstone
                                                                              Whimbrel

                       Montage of a Herring Gull dropping shells to crack them on the rocks
                                                                               Kestrel
                                                     Oystercatchers flying off to roost.
                                                                             Meadow Pipit.

A single Chiffchaff and a juvenile Linnet were the only birds ringed.


As well as the photography I did a bit of maintenance and tidying up around the island making sure all the padlocks and hinges were oiled and working smoothly before this run of good weather ends.
                                 Sandstone weathering along the west side of Hilbre.

As the tide was late afternoon the sun was already setting before it had dropped enough for me to drive off allowing for one more artistic photo opportunity.