29 Mar 2015

Merlin on Hilbre.

Last weekend Steve & I ventured over to Hilbre to have a few hours sea-watching over the high tide. A Merlin had been seen recently hunting around the islands and sure enough as I drove between Middle Eye & Hilbre it was seen crouched over a Turnstone it had just killed. Unfortunately it flew off before we could get photo's and a Carrion Crow forced it to drop its breakfast.

As we drove up the ramp to the Obs it was suddenly seen perched on 'Wheatear Hill' and we both managed to get some good shots  - in Steve's case some video as well.

Meadow Pipits were in full song-flight mode and it was nice to see one of our ringed birds perched up just outside the Obs gate. He was busy singing and trying to attract a mate despite the presence of the Merlin!

Later, at the north end, we watched a Rock Pipit and this to gave good views and allowed some good photo's to be taken.

The sea-watch was quite successful with good numbers of Red-throated Divers around. We also had the first Little Gulls of the year. The huge number of Common Scoters never fails to impress and we commented that there must surely be a Surf Scoter with them. All credit to Kenny D and Al C who found one a couple of days later by walking out towards the tides edge from the Hoylake lifeboat station! An excellent and well overdue addition to the Cheshire & Wirral bird list.

A small group of Redshank and Turnstone showed well as the high tide had forced them ff their usual roost. They weren't perturbed by our presence as they moved to higher and higher ledges as the tide flooded.

Back at the Obs for a cooked breakfast Steve found two drake Eiders from the balcony whilst the local male Kestrel carried on its crusade against the local vole population.

With time for a few essential repairs to the Obs balcony and some good birding it was well worth the trip across and to complete the raptor theme the long staying presumed escaped American Red-tailed Hawk showed well from Steve's drive as I dropped him off.

23 Mar 2015

Goldcrests on the move.

It was really planned as another maintenance visit as work needed doing to repair the Observatory steps, replace some missing roof slates and carry on the running repairs to the heligolands. However, when Chris & I got to Hilbre there was a sea mist surrounding the island and it soon became obvious there had been a small fall of Goldcrests. We eventually ended up catching 12 - all but one being males.

They really are beautiful little birds and its amazing to think these may be heading back across the N Sea to breed in Scandinavia. Its hard to believe that something weighing just over 5g can make that journey.

There was a lot of overhead migration as well as a few birds grounded. Both Reed Bunting, Collared Dove and Chaffinch paid the islands a visit and overhead Greenfinches, Redpoll, Goldfinches, Chaffinches & Jackdaws were on the move. A couple of Wood Pigeons were getting harassed by a local Peregrine and one dived into the SK heli to escape and was subsequently caught and ringed.

Smart birds and by no means annual on Hilbre. We'd gone from fitting AA rings weighing 0.04 g each  to an Fv ring weighing a mighty 1.96g!

Once the mist had cleared it turned into a stunning day. The Obs can be seen at the far south of the island and you can just about make out my Landrover parked in the drive.

With the majority of the planned work being finished it was time for a quick brunch in the Obs and enjoy a last brew with the Obs mascot, Pepper, perched on my knee.

20 Mar 2015

Night time wader ringing

The SCAN team led by Steve & Rachel had a nighttime wader ringing session in N Wales last night with the intention of mist netting a few waders before they leave for their summer breeding grounds. The target species were Curlew and Redshank so we duly found ourselves setting two lines of nets over two muddy pools as it began to grow dusk.

It was a beautiful night with stars shining brightly above us and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore as the tide rose and forced the waders off the mud and onto our muddy pools.

We caught a good number of birds with the majority being Redshank but around 25% of the catch being Curlew with a smattering of Oystercatchers for good measure. Star bird however was this smart 2nd calendar year (Euring 5) Snipe that I extracted from a mist net and was allowed to ring myself as I'd never ringed one before!

Ageing proved to be relatively straight forward with the adult median coverts having a dark shaft extending right to the feather tip whilst the retained juvenile feathers had the dark shaft falling short of the feather tip. It was pretty subtle and difficult to see under the light of a head torch though!

A beautiful bird and very cryptically camouflaged. Well worth the effort of missing my tea and getting home at 01.30 am for.

Ageing the Curlew and Redshank are more straight forward and features wear on the tertials. WHite bits of feathers wear much faster than dark bits and the retained juvenile tertials of a number of species have a distinct saw edge where the feather has worn away. Although adults can show some wear its never as extreme as shown by juveniles. Juvenile feathers are older than those of adults who will not long have completed a post breeding moult. Juvenile feathers are generally poorer quality than adults as well.

Check out the juvenile tertials on the Curlew and Redshank below:

 It was a great opportunity to see Curlews close up - Redshank can be very tame but Curlew are very skittish and are one of the first species to fly off if they see a human walking along the foreshore.

Another fantastic night but I was pretty shattered by the time I fell into bed. I pulled up on the drive to hear Robin, Blackbird & Wren singing at 01.30 am! I was up again at 07.00 and manged to get this photo of the partial solar eclipse from our back garden before leaving.

16 Mar 2015

Purple Sandpipers & Robins

It was WeB's count last weekend and I got over to Hilbre as the tide was on the flood to carry out the regular counts. There were literally thousands of Common Scoter milling around and taking flight in small flocks. Other highlights included Scaup, red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye. The weather was appalling when I first arrived with heavy rain making viewing difficult. As the tide peaked the rain stopped and it appeared we'd had a small fall of birds with 4 new Robins and a new Blackbird being ringed.

 All the Robins were 2nd calendar year birds (Euring 5) and had a recognisable moult limit in the greater coverts. The bird above had 7 old buff-tipped greater coverts contrasting with the newer adult ones that were olive green. Some adult Robins also have small buff tips to the greater coverts but the olive green colour, rather than brown, is a giveaway.

The bird above nicely illustrates the pointed juvenile tail feathers and the wear to the primaries associated with a juvenile bird.

12 Purple Sandpipers roosted at the north end over the high tide and gave some good photo opportunities.

A female Stonechat seen in the heavy rain earlier in the morning reappeared in the paddocks near the SK heligoland and was seen to be the ringed bird from the previous day.

12 Mar 2015

Iceland Gull, Pensarn

I managed a quick visit to Pensarn today to see the long staying juvenile Iceland Gull that's been frequenting the beach car park & coming to bread.

When I first arrived it was no where to be seen and a quick phone to John Roberts gave me directions to a nearby park where it was known to go for a quick wash. Unfortunately it wasn't there either so I returned to the beach to find Mike Baron with a loaf of bread and the gull milling around with the local Herrings & Black-headed Gulls. This is by far the best views I've ever had of Iceland Gull in recent years. Most of the ones we see in Cheshire are generally much further away at Richmond Bank or Gowy tip.

9 Mar 2015

Storm Cock

Years ago, probably more than I care to remember, when I was only 8 or 9 I started reading my Dad's 'Romany' books. Written by 'Romany', or George Bramwell Evens, they were about his travels throughout the UK in his old vardo or wooden romany caravan along with his horse, Comma, and his spaniel Raq. Although written in the 920's and 30's I loved these books and read and re-read them until they fell to bits!  They were beautifully written and followed his adventures observing the natural world around him whether it be Curlews on the moors (Out with Romany by moor & dale) or seabirds on their cliffs (Out with Romany by the Sea).

See here for a link to Romany.

One of the many things I remember is his description of a 'Storm Cock' singing from the top branches of a tree in a gale. Storm Cock was the old English country name given to the Mistle Thrush. One of our earliest breeders the  male is often heard proclaiming his territory in January or February.

They're not often caught and ringed and I'd never seen one in the hand before. I think the Merseyside Ringing Group only ringed 2 in the whole of 2014  and since the inception of bird ringing in 1909 less than 50,000 have been ringed natioanlly.

Imagine my suprise when the first bird out of the mist net at Barry's on Friday was a lovely Storm Cock. Luckily John had ringed one before so I had the pleasure of ringing it. As well as a first for me it was a first for Barry's although we regularly hear them and see them both in and around the garden!

They're a big bird in the hand! This one was aged as a 2nd calendar year bird.

Although we didn't catch as many birds as usual it was steady and there was time to explain some of the ageing techniques in more detail with the trainees present.

Unfortunately we caught several Chaffinches with the dreaded 'scaly foot' including this unfortunate male.

We also caught a female who seemed to be getting over the disease. The tarsus were thickened and she'd lost a hind toe but the scaliness had disappeared. I don't know if its possible for birds to recover from this disease but she certainly appeared to have done.

Once again, many thanks to Barry for letting us ring in his garden and to John for the organisation.

2 Mar 2015


Redpoll and Siskins have been conspicuously absent from the garden winter. Ringers have been noting it all over the country and the feeling is an abundance of natural food in the form of a bumper pine cone crop means they don't need to come into gardens. A few are beginning to move though with several heard and seen flying over the garden.

I was pleased to catch and ring this 2nd calendar year male!

 The small patch of red on the cheek shows it to be a young male whilst the pointed and worn tail feathers confirm the age. The primary tips are also more worn than you'd expect in an adult bird that had replaced its flight feathers during its post breeding moult. This was a bird born last year and is now Euring code 5.