28 Jul 2015

Garden Tigers.

Whilst over at Hilbre recently Gavin had the moth trap running and was inspecting the contents. Among the many small brown jobs were a number of stunning Garden Tigers. Their caterpillars have been every where this year so its not surprising there are so many adults around.

More good news from the island has been the confirmed breeding of Rock Pipits for the first time in living memory. Breeding was suspected last year when an adult bird was seen carrying food and this spring we had a displaying and singing male. More recently a pair of birds was seen carrying food (the male was ringed in the winter) and this week there have been sightings of recently fledged young.

I've been pretty busy recently with my sons wedding and with my daughter, granddaughter & son in law over from Australia so birding has taken a back seat - apart from the garden stuff! The recently fledged Blackbirds are back after going missing for a couple of weeks and are still begging off their parents. There is also an unringed juvenile and a different female so it looks as if two neighboring pairs are currently looking for worms on our nicely wet lawn!

22 Jul 2015

Fledglings everywhere.

It looks as if , despite a slow start, the garden birds are having a successful breeding season. There are lots of juveniles around whilst most of the adults are in post breeding moult and keeping fairly well hidden. Our garden Blackbirds look as if they're embarking on a 3rd brood and the Robins have just fledged their 2nd brood with 3 spotty juveniles being ringed.

Interestingly I've recently caught two juvenile Great Tits with consecutive ring numbers ringed as pullus in boxes installed on a nearby farm. Although only a few hundred metres away it shows these young birds are dispersing into gardens for a readily available food source even though they were born and fledged in prime 'natural habitat'.

Although some of the most recently fledged birds are still in full juvenile plumage there are signs that others are undergoing their post juvenile moult and beginning to attain their adult feathering. This Blue Tit has already moulted most of its lesser coverts and has replaced them with blue adult ones and its also dropped most of its juvenile greater coverts and the new ones are still growing.

17 Jul 2015

Blackbirds. Sneaky little blighters.......

We've had one Blackbirds nest in the garden this year wit ha single chick fledged and one addled egg. I saw the female carrying nesting material into a hedge but there was no nest and they went quiet. Sitting in the garden recently I saw the male sat on our garden roof, head cocked to one side with a beak full of worms eyeing me warily. He was watching me watching him and it was only when I looked away but surreptitiously watched him out of the corner of my eye that he eventually flew into the top of another one of our tall hedges! I watched him and the female on and off for the next 24 hrs but couldn't see the nest from below. Checking with some tall step ladders I found a perfectly concealed nest in the pyrocantha with four well grown young ready for ringing.

For the next week or so until they fledged I was like a paranoid parent. Every morning around 06.00 I'd hear Magpies around the house & I'd get up and patrol the garden to scare them off. When the young got larger you could hear them calling as the parents arrived at the nest so I draped some garden net over the top of the hedge to stop predators getting in from above.

The female came down every evening for a dip in the bird bath and then sat in a birch tree preening before settling down to brood for the night.

The local cat got a good soaking with the hose pipe as he sat with his back towards me leering at the nest from our garage roof - it hasn't been back since. Eventually the young Blackbirds fledged - I could hear their calls from the depths of the hedges surrounding the garden.

I haven't seen them since but hopefully a couple will survive the attentions of the local cats. The adults appear to be going back into stealth mode and I suspect they might be trying for another brood.

13 Jul 2015

Tirrick, tirrick

Tirrick is the Shetland name for Arctic tern. These amazing little birds undertake one of the longest migrations of the avian world. They fly here to breed and then spending the winters in the southern hemisphere racking up tens of thousands of air miles per year. They're feisty little things and prone to attack you if you get to close to their colony.

I was lucky enough to be asked along recently to ring some Arctic Tern chicks on the Skerries off the Anglesey coast where a study is being involving colour flagging adults and ringing chicks. Only one visit to ring the chicks is allowed each year to avoid disturbance to the colony and the team comprises three ringers who have to ring 500 chicks in the shortest possible time. Already the scheme has thrown up some interesting  results!

Consequently  I found myself meeting Steve Dodd at 08.15 and transferring to his pickup for the journey to Holyhead marina and a rendezvous with the supply boat that takes stores and relief wardens across for the RSPB.

The  forty minute  boat journey  across was uneventful although the previous days winds resulted in quite a sea swell. As we approached the islands we started seeing more birds with auks, terns and the occasional gannet and Manx Shearwater. Nothing really prepares you for the sites and sounds of a full blown active tern colony and the noise was deafening.

Making our way up to the lighthouse we were constantly harangued by angry terns and had to be careful where we walked as there were young chicks and nests with eggs everywhere.

Once we arrived we were briefed on the days plan and set off with the wardens to round up tern chicks in different parts of the colony. We worked different parts of the colony and collected the chicks in plastic boxes so they could be released back into the colony in the area from which we'd collected them. The whole time we were subjected to the noise and aerial bombardment of  3000 pairs of angry terns.

Once we'd ringed our sample of 500 terns chicks it was time to beat a retreat to the lighthouse and enjoy a well earned brew and a piece of sponge cake kindly made and provided for us by Georgina. Awesome!
Whilst we had our lunch  I took the opportunity to get some photo's of some colour flagged adults. In the last two years 100 adults have been marked with individually lettered flags so they can be monitored in subsequent years. Questions such as do they use the same nest site and do they remain faithful to the same mate could be answered.

As well as 3000 pairs of Arctic Terns there are 1000 pairs of Common Terns breeding on the Skerries although the two colonies stick to defined areas. There are two Roseate terns in the Common Tern colony that have bred with Common Terns and we were lucky enough to see one of these birds.

6 Jul 2015

Hummingbird Hawk Moth on Hilbre & a Gull-billed tern

The weekend started off amazingly well with a Gull-billed Tern being found at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB. Unfortunately I didn't get the message until 7 pm but managed to get across from N Wales to the reserve just before it closed to catch up with this Cheshire (and national rarity) 5 minutes before it flew never to be seen again!

For the last couple of weeks Hummingbird Hawkmoths have been regularly seen coming to the Valerian on top of the cliffs on the east side of Hilbre. As Saturday was forecast sunny but breezy I took the opportunity to go across to the obs to do some maintenance work and try and see one of these amazing moths. Unfortunately the stiff breeze meant they didn't show as well as on previous occasions and it was hard getting a good shot with the 500 mm lens.

As well as the Hummer I also found a pair of mating Buff-tips on the Obs fence and numerous migratory Silver Y moths were flying around. Another Buff-tip was found on the Obs balcony.

They're amazing looking moths and cryptically camouflaged to look like birch twigs although they also closely resemble a discarded cigarette end!

Its just as well there were plenty of invertebrates to keep me occupied as birds were scarce with only the resident Linnets and Meadow Pipits being obvious.

I also managed to find a Linnets nest with two beautifully marked eggs.
All in all a very pleasant day with plenty of work done and some interesting sightings.