30 Jun 2015


I was extremely lucky to get across to Puffin Island recently. Unfortunately the dates proposed at the beginning of the year for seabird ringing have had to be changed because of the late start to the breeding season. I'd promised to take the ladies to Manchester Victoria railway station to catch the 08.50 train to Newcastle and the boat was leaving Beuamaris at 08.30! Luckily Steve arranged with Stan, the boatman, that I could join one of the tourist cruises and they'd drop me off later in the morning. Probably a wise move given the weather first thing as I shot across from Manchester to Anglesey in torrential rain.

Happily the weather improved and I was dropped off around midday and yomped around the island to join the ringing team on the far side where we split into two teams to search for and ring Razorbill pullus and any adults we could catch. It turned out to be a very successful day with 164 pullus and 17 adults being ringed and 19 adults re-trapped as part of the RAS project. In addition 134 Shag pullus were also ringed.

It was great to see a few Puffins but without time to use the camera I didn't bother taking it so had to rely on the phone !
 Puffins on top of the cliffs with Razorbills.
 Feisty adult Razorbill.
Young Razorbill.

Young auk chicks leave the natal cliffs before they are able to fly properly and join the adults on the sea. Many of the youngsters (like the one above) will have fledged before our next visit.

26 Jun 2015

Bee Orchid

After a couple of blank years I finally found a single flowering Bee orchid locally. Three years ago there were a number of flower spikes on a sunny railway embankment near where we live but for the last couple of years there have been none.  The day after I found it I went back with the macro lens before the local rabbits ate it!
They are one of my favourite wild flowers.

19 Jun 2015


Its that time of year when we start checking our local sites for swallows nests. A bit of a mixed bag at the moment with the breeding birds seemingly up to 3 weeks late in their nesting attempts. One of the farm sites along the River Gowy had only two nests of which one had 4 young and the other only 1. There was plenty of activity in other outbuildings and I'll go back in a couple of weeks to see if there are any new nests.

Better news from Hoylake though where we found 7 active nests on a farm that has been continuously monitored for over 20 years. This is more like the number of pairs that used to nest here after a disappointing couple of years when they were down to 5 pairs. One nest had young old enough to be ringed and two nests had newly hatched young. Other nests were still at the egg stage.

One nest site that used to be very productive was in the unusual position of being built on an old motor bike wheel hanging on a wall. This nest site hadn't been sued for a few years so we were pleased to find it has currently got new occupants!

 Photo courtesy of Steve Williams of yours truly inspecting the 'Bike Wheel' nest.

Below: hard to believe this little bundle will soon be heading off for Africa if it survives. One of 4 young Swallows ringed in one nest.

Another local farm checked had 7 active nests of which one brood was ringed and two more to small.The other  our nests still contained warm eggs.

16 Jun 2015

The worlds gone cuckoo

This year seems to be a particularly good year for Cuckoo's in Cheshire with up to three birds showing well at Frodsham and the first one ever seen flying over my garden a few weeks ago. I was out and about in Delamere late one evening recently and came across this male calling like mad.

With Crossbills, Willow Warblers, Yellowhammers, Garden Warblers and Blackcaps in the same area it made for a great couple of hours relaxed birding.

12 Jun 2015

Great Tit in poor condition and a Long-tailed tits nest.

A few weeks ago I caught this poor great Tit recently in the garden. It was  re-trap from 4 years ago so is a known age. It looks like it didn't complete its post breeding moult last year and the feathers are in very poor condition with faded and broken primaries. Whether this is age related or some other external factor we'll never know but it does highlight the pitfalls of using feather condition only to age birds in the hand.

At the same tame I took the chance of a fine evening to walk the couple of hundred metres from the house across to some farmland where I've recently installed some nest boxes. There are several ponds on this land which is all improved pasture. The ponds have breeding moorhens and / or Coot and attract the occasional Teal and on one memorable occasion, a few years ago,  a pair of Garganey.

Whilst checking the nest boxes I also came across this Long-tailed Tits nest built in a gorse bush.
A beautiful domed nest constructed from moss, lichens, spiderweb and feathers.

As you can see from a previous post the nest boxes have been very successful with at least 50 young fledging from 7 active nests.

The last brood was ringed last weekend and the smell of a freshly cut hay crop lingered in the air. I took the opportunity to sit by the pond and just breath in the lovely aroma.

The farm has a herd of jersey cows and makes delicious award winning ice-cream.

7 Jun 2015

Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalaropes are gorgeous little birds and always good to see. They're pretty scarce in Cheshire but we've had a good run of sightings over the last few years. One turned up at Sandbach at the end of May but I wasn't going to drive all that way! However, one turning up 10 minutes away at Burton Mere Wetlands was a different proposition and an adult female as well. Phalaropes are among the few birds where the females are brighter than the males and where the males do all the incubating and rearing of the chicks! Cheshires had a good run of Red-necked Phalaropes over the last 5 years with birds at Marbury, Sandbach, Frodsham and Burton Mere Wetlands weighing in with 3 in 2 years!

When I got down to BMW after work the bird was showing distantly from the main reception hide but then disappeared when a Buzzard flew over disturbing everything on the scrape. We heard it was briefly in front of the old Inner marsh Farm hide but had flown off before being relocated in front of one of the viewing screens. Needless to say by the time we walked there it had gone again. Stan decided to check the marsh Covert hide while John & I carried on to the IMF hide. Nothing!

There were a few Black-tailed Godwits in front of the hide but no sign of the phalarope and with time pressing I decided to leave only to quickly glance back out the hide window and see it spinning madly among the godwits! Ringing Stan I put the news out and took the opportunity to get some photographs - no easy task as the bird was constantly spinning like a top in the water as it fed on aquatic insects and larvae it had disturbed from the mud.

4 Jun 2015

Nest boxes.

The nest boxes I got permission to install on a local farm have been a resounding success with 7 out of 9 being used by Great Tits or Blue Tits. One early brood died possibly due to a prolonged wet period but the others have thrived and fledged. I've got permission to put more boxes up when I find the time to make some!

So far I've ringed about 50 young from these boxes which is a contrast to the ones I installed in our garden and the surrounding open space. Only one of these boxes is inhabited and I wonder if predation pressure from the local cats is becoming a severe problem.
Above - 10 baby Blue Tits around 4-5 days old
Above - the same Blue Tits a week later 
 Young Blue Tit ringed from the brood above showing feathers emerging from sheaths
 Above - 5 baby Great Tits with 'feathers short' ready for ringing.
Above - the same brood of Great Tits almost ready to fledge.

As usual I get an appreciative audience whenever I'm checking the nest boxes!

We also took the opportunity to ring some Jackdaw chicks in a box originally installed for Little Owls in Barry's garden. There were two healthy chicks who are obviously getting well fed and were quiet loud in their protestations about being removed from their festering nest.

Ringers around the country are reporting Blue & Great Tits are having a poor breeding season with small broods and many young dying in the nest. Hopefully a spell of warmer weather will give them a chance to try a 2nd brood.

Birds aside we've been doing some building work in the garden and removing some old paving slabs I put down as temporary steps 12 years ago we came across a lot of frogs which have been moved to a more suitable home beneath some rotting logs.