31 May 2015

Hale the crex.

News filtered out last week that a Corncrake had been heard singing on private land with no access in Hale. Corncrake used to be a fairly common breeding bird in Cheshire during the 1940-50's but, like over most of its former range in the UK, has now become a vary scarce visitor and there hasn't been a singing bird for many years. Nothing more was thought about it as being private land there was little hope of being able to gain access. still continued coming out and then photos started coming out with the message 'private land with no access'.

It wasn't until I'd returned from Somerset on Friday that I found out from friends that the bird was actually being heard and occasionally being seen from Carr Lane - a public road! The last time I saw or heard Corncrake was on Iona in 2007 so I was pretty keen to see this bird as it was also a county first for me.

Within minutes of arriving and peering into its favoured field the crex was picked up singing and then  it was seen furtively moving through the long grass. For the next hour it was seen and heard almost constantly as it followed a Grey Partridge around whilst a small but appreciative audience admired it from behind a hedge.

With singing Corn Bunting & Yellow Wagtail it was like a hark back to 60 years ago when such sounds were common in the county. We'll never know if this is bird is from one of the east coast re-introduction schemes or a genuinely displaced bird from the Hebrides but with a showy bird recently on Shetland mainland and another crex on Anglesey it appears we've had a small influx! It'll be interesting to see if news filters out about anymore locally.

29 May 2015

Little Owls at last!

Three years after we installed our first Little Owl box on a local farm they've used it to breed in! In previous years they've resolutely refused to nest in it but used it for roosting in. A few weeks ago we checked the box and found an adult female sitting on eggs so we went back last Sunday to check progress and ring any chicks present.

There were 5 and all in good health with plenty of fat. The inside of the box was rancid with prey remains and there were earthworm on the ledge in front of the box so they are obviously getting well fed.  We also ringed the adult female and carefully put her and the youngsters back in the box where she settled down quite happily.
Little Owls are declining massively for reasons no ones really quite sure about. I know of 3 pairs locally but this is the only pair using a box.

Here's a photo Barry took of one of the owls peering out of the box when they were roosting in it last year.

26 May 2015

Puffin Island with SCAN

We made our first SCAN ringing group trip to Puffin Island this year last Saturday to start a new RAS colour ringing scheme for Shags. For details of the BTO's long standing RAS (Re-trapping Adults for Survival) scheme see here

For a change the boat picked us up from Penmon Point rather than Beaumaris and it was a grey and overcast start to the day.

A short hop across to the island and we were soon battling our way through the undergrowth to the ringing sites. SCAN are also undertaking a Razorbill RAS and my priority for the day was to try read and photograph has many Razorbill rings in the field as possible. Of course I took the opportunity to take other photos as well but ended up with at least 50 confirmed ring numbers and some we  are still hoping to decipher. To do this meant slowly moving around the cliff top ledges and waiting patiently until the birds moved into a position where the ring could be seen and the number read.
Steve had been to Puffin the previous week to attach some data loggers to a few Razorbills. Once these birds have been recaptured a week or so later the data can be downloaded and this will tell us how long, how far and where the birds go to forage for food. This kind of information is vital at a time when many of our seabird colonies are in severe decline. I saw several of these birds.
Razorbills are fantastic birds close up and you can easily see where they got their name from. An adult gives you a nasty bite!

The Shag RAS colour ringing project got off to a good start and I picked up several colour ringed birds during my sojourn along the cliff tops including this male A:B inspecting his ring!

Male Shags bark at you on the nest and moving along the ledges I'd quite often get barked at by a male sitting tight on his nest whilst the female was off fishing or preening somewhere.

Many of the Razorbills had eggs beneath boulders and overhangs. Guillemots tend to lay their eggs on open ledges so we were very careful not to disturb them and risk the eggs getting predated or pushed off the ledges. This bird had decided to lay right out in the open and I don't rate the eggs chance of surviving to long!

No trip to Puffin Island would be complete without seeing at least one of its namesakes!

Fulmars and Kittiwakes are also back on their  breeding ledges although probably not on eggs yet.

The gull colony was particularly active and I was bombarded wit ha steady stream of guano from above whenever I happened to be in the vicinity. The greater Black-backs were particularly aggressive and I got 'hit' on numerous occasions as they did their best to decapitate me. Luckily I had a 'hoodie' on and spent most of the time with my head covered.
Adult herring Gull giving me the evil eye. 

The gulls eggs were fascinating due to the variation in colour between nests of the same species and also within the same nest. Some of the nests had hatched and others were beginning to 'chip' with the chicks egg tooth just being visible.

Gulls egg chipping:

With the boat picking us up at 16.30 we just had time to relax on the beach and watch the Eiders and seals for half an hour in the sunshine. Another fantastic day and I feel very privileged to be able to get so close to some fantastic birds. The company wasn't bad either..................

22 May 2015

Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove is now becoming an extremely endangered species. When I was living in Suffolk as a kid they were fairly common and training to ring at Wicken Fen meant I got to ring a few! They stopped breeding in Cheshire probably around 2003-04 with the last birds being at Rixton Clay Pits.
Since then there have been very few birds that have stayed long enough to catch up with. The three that have have all been in the same paddock at Leasowe lighthouse!

Al Conlin co-found one on Friday 15th may and as  'd already planned to leave work early to go and check on breeding Swallows at a local farm I took a slight detour to the Wirral!

Its amazing how small these doves are and why the Maltese would want to slaughter them every spring in their thousands is beyond me! There's more meat on a butchers pencil. The photo below shows the Turtle Dove next to a Wood Pigeon to give an indication of scale.

The dove showed well but was always distant with the best views being  from the path to the kissing gate although this was obstructed by trees.

Finishing up at the farm around 6 pm there were plenty of Swallows flying into the out buildings but no active nests yet. Arriving home I'd just got out the Landrover with the camera over my shoulder when I heard the local hirundines alarm calling. That usually means a raptor and sure enough I looked up in just in time to see a Hobby powering over the house!


Luckily the Turtle Dove hung around until Saturday and I went for a second look with Groucho before heading across to Hilbre as the tide ebbed.

There were fantastic numbers of waders with at least 2,500 Dunlin and a few summer plumaged Sanderling among them. Star find was this Curlew Sandpiper that I just managed to photograph in flight as an errant dog caused the whole flock to fly off.

We also counted at least 23 Little Terns fishing in the gutter before they headed altogether across the island and away towards the breeding colony at Gronant.

There were very few migrant passerines around with only a female Wheatear provided any photographic interest.

18 May 2015

Garganey on Gowy marshes

The Cheshire Wildlife Trusts reserve on the Gowy marshes is a fantastic reserve and one which I don't visit as often as I used to. I'm doing some survey work on one of the farms along the Gowy river for CWT and when I heard a couple of Garganey had been seen recently on a pool adjacent to the farmland I'm surveying I decided to take a quick look. Sure enough there were a pair of Garganey! They flew immediately they saw me but circled round and came back within a couple of minutes.

Fantastic little birds and our only summer migrant duck.

With singing Lesser Whitethroat and Reed Bunting it was a pleasant evening to be out A quick trip to the farm to chat with the farmer about access to check for Swallows nest and I was home within the hour.

14 May 2015

First Spotted Flycatcher of the year.

An early start Sunday as we arrived on Hilbre around 06.20 on a blustery day. There weren't many migrants about but the appearance of a female Redstart in the Newton trap around 09.00 filled us with some optimism.
This was the first female caught so far this year! There were plenty of other birds around though with the numbers of Dunlin & Ringed Plover building up before they head north to their breeding grounds. Singles of Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone & Grey Plover were also recorded.

As usual it was the gulls that gave it away - they go mad when a bird of prey is spotted and quite often their clamouring means an osprey or harrier is passing overhead. Today it was a Short-eared Owl that Alan picked up over Middle Eye being pursued by the gulls and mobbed by the resident crows. It appeared to have been roosting on the beach as had a piece of seaweed wrapped around its talons before it managed to shake it free.
 Note the seaweed trailing behind the bird.

It behaved rather strangely - initially it headed towards N Wales but then came back along the west side of Hilbre and headed out towards the windfarm before eventually heading back towards us and flying low over the sand east towards Red Rocks and then coming around again gaining height before disappearing north west.

There was a strong passage of hirundines with good numbers of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins coming in off the sea. Three Swifts were also seen along with several fly-over Yellow Wagtails. The island is becoming covered in flowers with the Thrift just beginning to open fully. it'll be amass of pink blooms in a week or so.

The south end is covered in Bluebells whilst the irises on the cliff above Niffy bay are also in full bloom.

Invertebrates were well represented with the obs garden being full of Garden Tiger moth caterpillars with the occasional Yellow-tailed Moth caterpillar also being found.
The best was saved to last though as, on our last round of the heligoland traps, we caught our first Spotted Flycatcher of the year!

With the RNLI inshore lifeboat on exercise around Hilbre their launch and recovery tractor unit was seen racing up the gutter.

There's  obviously been quite a movement of Spotted Flycatchers over the last week as I had one in my garden for a brief few minutes earlier this week. A garden first! I caught sight of it through the kitchen window whilst eating my dinner but every time I went to the patio doors with the camera if moved off. I got one poor record shot and despite a search around by the pond after dinner it couldn't be relocated.