30 Dec 2015

Review of my year - 2015.

What a momentous year 2015 turned out to be. As well as some fantastic new birds we had our son’s wedding and a visit from our daughter, granddaughter and son in law from Australia! We’ve gained a wonderful daughter in law. Last year I made it into the 500 BOU club and this year I’ve added 4 more species to that list with potentially a 5th if the Chestnut Bunting gets accepted.
The first new bird of the New Year was actually on the first day of the year! A Little Bustard had been found New Year’s Eve near Fraisthorpe, Yorkshire. I didn’t get the message until late and we were on a family night out. Luckily Al Orton picked me up at some unearthly hour of the morning and we arrived at first light to find the bird was still there!
I had to wait until April for the next new addition and again it was the dream team of Orton & Woollen that made the overnight trip to the Scillies for the UK’s 2nd Great Blue Heron. A pretty boring looking bird but a stunning location and fantastic weather.
The autumn was relatively quiet although we had a fantastic week on Fair Isle where for the 2nd year running we found a BBRC rarity – this time a Paddyfield Warbler. No new birds and no hoped for Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler but we’ll be back on Fair Isle next autumn so fingers crossed.
It wasn’t until the middle of October that another new species was added to the list  and this time it was with Steve Williams that I made the return trip to Lewis to meet up with Tony Marr again and get fantastic views of the male Wilson’s Warbler he’d found behind his house. A 2nd for Britain no less following a bird a few years ago in Ireland.
There was then a flurry of activity with yet another island trip. This time it was Papa Westray for a potential 1st for Britain in the form of a very confiding juvenile male Chestnut Bunting. Again Al Orton was my partner in crime but joined this time by Sean Cole, Chris Bromley & Stu Butchart. There have been other records of this species in the UK but all have been rejected due to the possibility of escaped cage birds. However, this one turned up at the same time as an influx of Siberian vagrants such as White’s Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat and Blyth’s Pipit so it has good credentials.
Within a couple of weeks I was off again - this time, thankfully, more local but probably not as scenic! Incredibly a Crag Martin was found flying around the crooked spire of St Mary’s Church in nearby Chesterfield. There have been around a dozen records of this species in the UK and most have been one day stayers. The only twitchable bird was at Flamborough in 2014 and I happened to be in Australia!
More locally, in my adopted home county of Cheshire, we made national news when a very confiding juvenile laughing Gull was found at New Brighton. Another county first was found by the intrepid Lighthouse crew who walked out to the tides edge at Hoylake to scan the huge flock of scoter that had congregated in the hope of finding something interesting. They did and several trips later I added Surf Scoter to my county list. Incredibly over the weeks the flock was found to contain possibly 9 birds and with Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck amongst the same flock of 20,000 + Common Scoter many people added, with patience, more than one species to their county lists!
I’ve been active on both Hilbre, ringing with the Bird Obs and undertaking WeBs counts and with SCAN, where we had a pretty good season on Puffin Island and some good canon netting days. Garden ringing has been quiet with fewer birds ringed than last year due to the terrible weather we had in November which meant the nets weren’t opened once!

What will 2016 bring? Hopefully a spring Blue Rock Thrush somewhere slightly more accessible than Cornwall and for the autumn? A Fair Isle Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler would be a nice find.

24 Dec 2015

Great Northern Diver

I finally managed to catch up with the juvenile G N Diver that had taken up residence on West Kirby Marine Lake! The bird is feeding well and catching plenty of small crabs. Although I've been over to Hilbre several times recently and passed the marine lake the weather wasn't conducive to sitting around trying to photograph a bird that spends a great deal of its time submerged.

Although it caught several crabs whilst I watched it ate them underwater. It appeared to catch them, surface and then shake them with its head underwater before swallowing them. Washing the mud off?

If you look carefully at the bill there's a notch on the lower mandible about halfway along. I've never noticed this before and wonder  if the bill has been damaged or if this is normal.

21 Dec 2015

Redshank in the pouring rain

Talk about biblical rainfall! SCAN's recent canon netting weekend coincided with one of the wettest Saturdays I've ever been out in. After 3 hours sleep I woke up groggily and had some breakfast before heading along the A55 to Bangor in the dark.  We managed to set one small net in the hope of catching some Redshank and ended up with a reasonable catch of  174 'shanks and 5 Oystercatchers. The rain did ease off a bit but not for long.

Rachel, Steve, Molly & me spent 3 hours cooped up in a leaking hessian hide waiting for the tide to rise and push the waders within range. With all the moisture around it wasn't surprising that the firing box wouldn't work at the critical moment entailing a frantic dismantling and drying of components to get things working. It was a case of fingers crossed when the firing button was pressed but it worked!

After extracting the birds and putting them in warm dry keeping cages we were able to ring and process in the relative comfort of a nearby hide. All the Redshank were ringed, aged, moult scores taken, tarsus / toe measured, bill to feather and total head measured and finally weighed. These biometrics are important as they enable us to determine where these birds might have originated from. Some were re-traps with the oldest bird being ringed in 2002!

                             Dave checking the ring on a Redshank ringed by a new recruit.
  The weather was dark and dismal we had to use head torches in the hide to see properly!
                               Susan measuring total head with a pair of vernier calipers.
                                           Redshank tarsus / toe measurement.

Once all the birds had been processed and the data recorded it was time to pack up and head for home with all the Landrover windows steamed up. Wet clothing was hung in the garage where it was still drip drying 2 days later and I managed a couple of hours sleep before heading out for a Christmas dinner dance.

This was the last SCAN trip of the year and I'm already looking forward to next years sessions.

16 Dec 2015

Hilbre hosts Avain Ecology Christmas day out.

When Fred Fearn contacted me about potentially visiting Hilbre and the Bird obs with his staff for a a pre-Christmas day out I jumped at the chance of taking a day off to meet him and his team that included old friends Pete Antrobus and Colin Davies. My mother in law kindly agreed to make mince pies for everyone and I set off in the dark from West Kirby to open the Obs and light the stove before the visitors were expected to arrive around 10.30.

Despite the lingering mist there was a beautiful sunrise and with little wind and no rain the omens looked good for a successful visit.

A walk around the north end and trapping areas revealed a small overhead passage of birds with a Snow Bunting and Skylark both heading south. Small numbers of Starlings also flew low over the island.

After the arrival of Fred and the team and the consumption of tea (or coffee) and mince pies we all walked back to the north end where an adult male Long-tailed Duck was picked up in flight followed quickly by 3 Goldeneye. The roosting Purple Sandpipers put on a good show as did the resident Rock Pipits. A flock of Wigeon flew down the east side and a Peregrine harassed the waders on Middle Eye. As the waders were shuffled about by the persistent falcon a leucisitc Oystercatcher was picked out and duly photographed by Pete Antrobus.

As the tide ebbed and we sat on the obs balcony (or by the fire in Emma's case!) Pete picked up a Great - northern Diver exiting the estuary. We thought this might have been the marine lake bird finally departing but it proved to be a different bird.

Eventually the tide dropped far enough to leave the island and the visitors departed after taking a group photo at the south end courtesy of Colin who set his camera on a timer.

With the light fading and time pressing as I had to drive to Somerest the same day I didn't stop to check for the Snow Bunting on Little Eye - I wish I had as Colin found a cracking Lapland Bunting! Dohhh.

10 Dec 2015

Stanney Woods lnr

I flew back from Germany yesterday afternoon and arrived home in daylight so decided to take a walk from home to Stanney Woods - a round distance of around 4 miles. A lone male Lesser-spotted Woodpecker has held territory here for the last few years but this year I've only seen him once and he didn't drum or call in the spring. From 2004- 2008 a single pair of Marsh Tits bred but unfortunately they seem to have disappeared. The problem was there was very little understorey to encourage birds to breed and even commoner migrants such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap have declined spectacularly in recent years - probably due to increased disturbance from people walking dogs as the wood is now surrounded by houses. The local rangers started a programme to coppice the old hazels and clear some of the larger trees to help the understorey develop. Hopefully this will encourage more birds to breed here.

The photo below shows quite nicely how the coppiced hazel is beginning to regenerate and form a new understorey:

Although I didn't find the Lesser-spotted Woodpecker I did find the usual woodland residents including Treecreeper, Nuthatch and greater-spotted Woodpecker. Star birds were a pair of Bullfinches that inhabit a specific patch of woodland with plenty of understorey including hazel and holly.

I spent a bit of time looking for Birds-nest Fungus but unfortunately didn't find any. Birch trees are common here so Birch Polypores are relatively common.

There are a few ponds in the wood as its historically a 'wet wood' - these have a few alders surrounding them so I checked them out for Redpoll. Sure enough a single Lesser Redpoll was feeding and calling right at the very top of one of the trees. In previous years, when there's been an influx of Mealy Redpolls there have been flocks of up to 20 of this species.

All in all a nice  way to spend a couple of hours after being cooped up in meetings or airports since last weekend!