31 Dec 2016

Review of the year.

I'm siting here writing this on New Years Eve in sweltering heat in Wodonga, Australia where we've spent the Christmas with my daughter Amy, her husband Lachlan & granddaughter Lizzie. I'm surrounded by the calls of Galahs, Crested Pigeons, Eastern Rosella's and Rainbow Lorikeets. The only familiar sound are the House Sparrows cheeping in the yard!

2016 has been a momentous year for many good reasons but many bad. From a personal point of view Jan & I have moved house and now, hopefully, will have a home and garden that the family will get as much enjoyment from as we will when they all come and stay - once we finish renovating it hat is! Any house where you get Little Owls on the roof and Pinkfeet flying over daily has got to be good in my opinion.

One real sad event was the death and funeral of our good friend Pete Antrobus at an indecently early age. He will be sorely missed by all of his family and mates.

From a birding perspective one of the undoubted highlights has been the trip to Australia and the opportunity to band (ring) once  I was here. More locally I found the first Nightingale for Flintshire a couple of hundred metres from my office and on the same day saw the 1st Nightjar on Hilbre for over 40 years! Surprisingly I've seen no new birds for Cheshire this year although there was a retrospective tick when the peep found by Al Conlin several years ago was finally accepted as a Western Sandpiper. All credit to Al for his perseverance!

Our now annual trip to Shetland saw Chris, Fred, Mark and me once again on Fair Isle and we plan to  return again in 2017. Just prior to that trip Fred and I travelled to Shetland for a long anticipated first for Britain - a Siberian Accentor. Who'd have thought when we sat on the plane home that this was the start of an unprecedented influx of 12 birds with over 200 being seen in western Europe this autumn.

This year has also seen the arrival of a few birds I never thought I'd see in my lifetime in Britain - the first of these was a Black-billed Cuckoo on the Western Isles .

This bird has decreased massively in the USA and the last two UK records haven't been twitchable. This bird stayed for nearly a month.

Next up was what could be the UK's first accepted Purple Swamphen that turned up at Minsmere before moving north to Lincolnshire.

The Dalmation Pelican that turned up in Cornwall didn't inspire much enthusiasm but I caught up with it on a trip to Somerset to visit mum & dad. Time will tell whether this will be accepted as a truly wild bird but I don't hold out much hope.

I had to wait a few months until the next new bird but a trip to Scilly to catch up with a Cliff (cheers Fred!) Swallow was well worth the effort. Another major grip back! As was the Dusky Thrush that was found in a Derbyshire orchard. Another bird on my most wanted list. The Chestnut Bunting we saw on Papa Westray last year has been accepted as the 1st record for the UK and was a retrospective British tick.

Hopefully the Blue Rock Thrush currently entertaining the masses in Gloucestershire will hand around until I get back!

Heres to 2017. Time for another beer and check the beef thats slowly cooking n the barbeque!

29 Dec 2016

Banding (ringing) in Australia!

For a couple of years now I've kept in contact with Mark Clayton, an Aussie ringer of many years standing, who rings regularly at a site called the Charcoal Tank  - a local nature reserve near the town of West Wyalong and about 3 hrs north of where my daughter lives. The 213 acre reserve consists of  critically endangered mallee and mallee–broombush vegetation and is a fragmented remnant of this type of habitat. Knowing I was coming over for two weeks at Christmas Mark kindly arranged a post Christmas ringing trip and I arranged to meet him on the 27th December and stay over night at nearby West Wyalong with a view to banding again the next morning.

I got to site around 13.00 on the 27th to find that Janet and Mark had already had a good mornings ringing  with 70+ birds caught. Three mist nets were placed near standing water along a drainage line linking three man made dams on the site. With the temperatures soaring during the Aussie summer months any standing water attracts birds to drink. A fabulous place with birds everywhere and Mark was able to identify them all by call. He even got me a new bird for my fledgling Aussie list when we flushed two Painted Button Quail as he was showing me around the site. I also saw several Swamp (Black) Wallabies on site.

That first afternoon I got my first experience of ringing Australian birds and their techniques - although the ringing equipment is identical to ours and the rings made by the same UK manufacturer (Ponzana) there are difference in the naming of the ring sizes. Their size 1 is our AA and their 2 is the equivalent of our. They don't follow the Euring ageing system and  use a modified calendar year ageing system. Many of the adult birds were in post breeding moult meaning I had to get my eye in quickly again recording moult scores.

That first afternoon I ringed Silvereye, White-eared Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater and White-plumed Honeyeater. A good start!

 White-eared Honeyeater - adult in full wing moult

Juvenile White-plumed Honeyeater
Brown-capped Honeyeater.

After checking in at my motel I met the rest at a local Chinese restaurant for dinner before trying to get some sleep ready for an early start. With the weather considerably cooler there weren't so many birds coming to drink and as the morning progressed the wind also hampered mist netting. We still managed a good number of birds before eventually packing up around 10 am. Species caught included Peaceful Dove, Eastern Yellow Robin, White-throated Treecreeper, Rufous Whistler and the star bird for me - Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo - a tiny cuckoo!
 Peaceful Dove
 Female Rufous Whistler.

 Juvenile White-throated Treecreeper.

Eastern Yellow Robin.

Finally the star bird for me - the Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo.

After we'd packed up the ringing site and checked for any rubbish Mark kindly took me to the nearby Buddigower nature reserve for a bit of birding. The team also band at this much larger reserve that consists of grey box, mugga iron bark and white cypress are found growing on lower slopes. Areas of blue mallee, bull mallee, green mallee and congoo mallee are found on low gravelly ridges. 

Buddigower NR

After an hour or so Mark dropped me off back at my car and I headed slowly back to Albury stopping occasionally when I saw groups of birds alongside the road. I soon added Apostle Bird, Blue-bonnet and several other species to the trip list! 

A great experience and with an open invitation to join the team again its something I'd really like to do more of in the future. I might even do it properly and borrow a tent or a swag! 

20 Dec 2016

Garden birding

House renovations have taken up almost all of my free time recently and Sunday was no exception. Unlike previous weekends though, where the emphasis has been on working inside the house, the forecast good weather meant I had to forgo the last SCAN cannon netting trip of the year, get the big ladders out and concentrate on painting around the windows where new render had been applied and pointing some of the roof tiles.

This gave me the chance to note the number of species seen throughput the day and I ended up with a fairly impressive 51 including two new species for the house list -  as flyover Peregrine and a Lesser Redpoll on the feeders!  The Little Owls appear to be roosting in a neighbours garden and both can be quite vocal during the day.

Unfortunately there aren't many windfall apples for the thrushes to feed on as one of the builders asked Mrs W if it was alright to take some for his pigs. He took the lot, including those still on the trees and was last seen loading three black dustbins full on to his van. The few remaining apples attracted up t o6 Blackbirds and a stunning Fieldfare that stayed long enough for me to run inside, grab the camera and fire off a couple of shots from the bedroom window.

The typically muddy entrance to the cow field opposite and the presence of a feeding trough and puddle of water have attracted a Grey Wagtail and up to four Pied Wagtails. These were joined by at least two Meadow Pipits.

All in all a good day and the new house list stands at 66 species since we bought the place in mid September.

13 Dec 2016

Chestnut Bunting accpeted ont oCat A of the BOU list.

Kerching. Armchair tick.
The Chestnut Bunting that turned up on the small island of Papa Westray in October 2015 has been accepted onto the British list as the first record. No doubt previous records will now be reviewed and it may end up being relegated to a more lowly position. Another great trip with good mates and another island visited.

See here: Chestnut Bunting, Papa Westray

6 Dec 2016

Dusky Thrush.

Oh my. Oh me. What a Christmas cracker. When a photo emerged Sunday night of a Dusky Thrush at a private site in Derbyshire my pulse quickened ever so slightly. Steve and I had been discussing the possibility of a wintering bird being discovered sometime with so many records in the last few years. All have been one day birds though - including the bird in Margate that Jason & I dipped as he was laying our new kitchen floor and I didn't want to leave him whilst I waltzed off to Kent knowing he also needed the bird. Consequently we travelled down the next day and the bird was gone. See here. Nearly all the recent records have been one day or even one hour sightings apart from a Devon bird which was present for a week but the news wasn't released until after the event. My hopes weren't high that it would still be around Monday and events were conspiring against me even if it was. Jan had my car as hers had developed a fault and been back at the dealers for a week. They were expecting it to be available on Monday but couldn't promise a time. I had to go and pick her up and take her to collect her car so wouldn't get away until Tuesday at the earliest.

As it happened the bird was still there Monday morning and the dealer phoned to say the car was available from midday and the builders we were expecting at the house at 4pm phoned to say they couldn't make it until the Tuesday. Could I possibly make it?

With binoculars permanently in the car but no camera or scope I did a quick search on google maps. One hour, forty minutes fro mChester to Beeley in Derbyshire. I'd be there with a couple of hours before dark.... With regular updates I went for it! I hit the first snag just outside Macclesfield where an inconsiderate tractor driver loaded with straw bales kept a queue of traffic stretching a mile long behind him for over 10 miles! Cursing all things agricultural I could do nothing but grit my teeth and wait until he decided he'd had enough fun and pulled off. The next more serious hold up was crossing the snake pass where a major incident had just taken place with a lorry turing over. Two helicopters and numerous emergency vehicles were present but luckily we were diverted down a single track road where cars being diverted in the opposite direction caused passing chaos.

The sat nave was now showing 2.5 hours!!! Eventually I arrived at the designated spot, parked up and within 5 minutes I was watching my first ever Dusky Thrush. A bird on my most wanted list.

Photo's courtesy of Alan Hitchmough

It was feeding in an old orchard and was coming down to feed on windfall apples. The local Blackbird took exception by its presence and chased it off whereby it would land in one of the fruit trees and wait until the coast was clear again. Fantastic views and a generally well behaved crowd. What always gets me at these events though is the constant loud voices. I think people have forgotten how to whisper.

A great local(ish) twitch  and with news coming put later that it had possibly been present for at least 10 days hopefully it'll over winter and allow others to catch up with this beautiful Siberian vagrant. What a fabulous early Christmas present.

28 Nov 2016

Bitterly cold in N Wales.

 I was out canon netting with SCAN Saturday on the coldest morning of the year so far. -3C the thermometer in the car read when  I left home and it didn't rise much higher all day!

With an early tide it was an early catch and I was packed up and home just after 1 pm. We caught just after dawn and once the birds had all been safely extracted and placed in holding cages we packed up the gear as the sun was rising.

It was a good mixed catch of Redshank, Oystercatchers, Dunlin and Turnstone with some good re-trap data being obtained.

 Beautiful adult Redshank
 Euring 3 (born this year) Redshank with pale spots on edges of tertials almost worn off

Above: Otstercatcher Euring age 8 (meaning it was hatched at least three years ago with deep red iris.

A great mornings work but after only 3 hours sleep the previous night I was glad to get back, grab a shower and get some hot food.

17 Nov 2016


It seems our new house (which we've yet to move in to as we are still carrying out renovations and decorating) is on the flight path for skeins of Pinkfeet travelling backwards and forwards to the Dee estuary. Every morning we get them flighting over at first light and in the evenings they fly back in the dark.

Its a fabulous sight and sound to hear.
We've also had several large skeins of Greylags and the ubiquitous Canada Geese fly over.
Although we haven't moved in and I haven't spent much time birding in the area we've still amassed a garden list of 59 species in since September. Now I've put up some bird feeders we are getting good numbers of Chaffinches and Goldfinches along with a solitary Brambling that showed up a week or so ago but hasn't been seen since. The Little Owl is still regularly heard if not seen and we've also heard Tawny Owl from the garden.

Although I've not seen Fieldfares or Redwings on the fallen apples they've been in the trees at the back of the garden so I'll keep hoping. A Blackbird roost is developing in the front garden Rhododendrons so I'm hopeful that, when I get time off from decorating, the garden will prove to be a productive ringing site.

14 Nov 2016

November gem

John & me we ringing at Barry's place on the Wirral recently. There were good numbers of birds - especially goldfinches and we had a good couple of hours before rain stopped play! Barry had never see na Firecrest in his garden despite a very extensive garden list so imagine my surprise when one popped out of a bush in front of me and got caught in the mist net as  I was extracting another bird. John was kind enough to let me ring it!

They're always a treat to see in the hand!
Other species caught included good numbers of goldfinches, chaffinch, coal tit, goldcrest, blue tit , great tit, nuthatch, robin, dunnock and blackbird.

7 Nov 2016

Fair Isle. Part 5. Rare Wheatears.

Our last morning on Fair Isle was spent recovering from a late night session in the bar the previous night. In the case of Mark he didn't even venture outside. Fred, Chris & I were made of sterner stuff though and set off with our packed lunches in beautiful sunshine. Nothing much was found and there had bee na bit of a clear out of birds. We were nearby when Lee caught a Waxwing in the plantation trap though.

Mark and Chris were departing that evening on the overnight ferry to Aberdeen whereas Fred and I were spending a night with Becca & Phil in Lerwick and flying back the next day to Manchester. After a short flight to Tingwall we left the other two and drove south to try and catch up with the Pied Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear and Desert Wheatear that had been found within close proximity of each other the previous day. Time was tight but we managed to see all three and a Northern Wheatear before the light failed.
The Isabelline Wheatear (above) was always distant and although the Pied showed reasonably well. Unfortunately the light was to poor for photography at the Desert site but that showed the best of the lot and was incredibly confiding.
The following Day Fred & me headed to Bressay for a mooch round before heading back to Sumburgh and our flights home. A great trip and we've already booked for next year1

3 Nov 2016

Fair Isle. Part 4. Stejnegers Stonechat?

Yomping an average 15-20 km each day in full waterproofs, carrying a rucksack with food and drink and binoculars and camera makes you hungry. Lucky the food at the Obs is good and simple. A full cooked breakfast with porridge, toast and marmite set us up for the day. Packed lunches included a cold drink, fruit, chocolate bars and sandwiches whilst the shop provides supplementary rations and they've placed a kettle and tea / coffee making facilities in their garage for birders to use for a small charity donation - a fantastic base to dry out and rest for awhile of the weathers bad!

We got into a routine of breakfasting then heading out for the day whilst others returned to the Obs for lunch. Anyone who sees the rarities reports coming out of Fair Isle or Shetland who thinks its easy birding is very misguided. Its very hard work - easy enough if you stick to the roads but going through mires, ditches and across moors is where you'll find the majority of the birds. The assistant wardens put the hard miles in on a daily basis during their extended stay.

Anyway, back to the birds. We'd been watching an Olive-backed Pipit and a couple of Little Buntings in Shirva thistles when Chris spotted a chat heading up the fence line. He followed it and found it to be a Whinchat but in doing so found a Siberian Stonechat. It gave people the runaround for awhile before settling into a routine - he'd got a nice shot of the white rump and Nigel Jones (BBRC member) got a nice shot showing the black auxillaries. So, hopefully, this'll get through and be our 3rd consecutive year where we've found a BBRC rarity.

With multiple Pine Buntings, several Olive-backed Pipits, a possible Siberian Thrush (seen by Gary and Clive in flight and never seen again!), Dusky Warbler, Pechora Pipit and a host of scarcities, hopes were high that the week would bring a 'mega' rarity.

Sure enough we got a message from Kieran to say he'd found a Siberian Stonechat, possibly a Stejnegers, at South Landing. With this form being a potential future split we were keen to see it and spent many hours over a couple of days photographing it and watching whilst it evaded capture (it was eventually caught and ringed just after we left and a feather sent away for DNA analysis).

One of the features of this form is the ginger rump which I managed to capture in flight as the photo's below show.

It stayed faithful to the beach where it was obviously finding plenty to eat along with good numbers of Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Rock Pipits. What was totally unexpected though was a Fair Isle 'mega'  - a Blue Tit!!! Chris was 'pishing' the Stonechat and a Blue Tit popped up.

Logan had found one a few days earlier in one of the geos so it was probably the same bird. Living on Unst Blue Tit was a lifer for him!

Thousands of thrushes arrived during our week along with more Woodcocks than I've ever seen. Each day we'd flush 10-20 along ditches, beside dry stone walls and even on top of the cliffs. I've never seen so many Song Thrushes in one place either and amongst the commoner thrushes we found a couple of Ring Ouzels. Goldcrest, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs made up the bulk of the warblers seen as we'd missed the peak movement of Yellow-browed Warblers. However a couple still lingered and gave good views as they flitted along the stone walls.

 Male Blackcap flopping amongst the roadside vegetation - Blackcaps look floppy and you think theres something wrong with them buts thats just how they are.
 Male Siskin feeding on dandelion seed head.

Yellow-browed Warbler!

31 Oct 2016

Fair Isle 2016. Part 3.

One of the features of Fair Isle is how remarkably tame some of the migrant birds are - most of them will probably never have seen humans before. We were lucky that our trip coincided with the arrival of good numbers of geese and at one stage we were able to compare Pinkfeet, Tundra bean and Eurasian Whitefronts in the same field from less than 100 m away.

 Tundra Bean Goose.
 Tundra Beans with Pinkfeet.
Eurasian Whitefronted Goose.

Another feature is the number of Starlings and House Sparrows still present on the island. The resident Starlings are a distinct race (zetlandicus) but numbers are boosted by continental migrants in the winter. House Sparrows are really common - unlike near where we live. The crofting agricultural techniques and grazing land suit there requirements.

The scenery is fabulous and on a sunny day there is probably no more beautiful place in the British Isles. Towering cliffs and geos, moorland, pasture land and small crofts......

As well as rare birds it was nice to catch up with a few scarcer birds we don't often see in Cheshire. Whilst we were on Fair Isle at least one and possibly two Great-grey Shrikes were present with one being ringed whilst we were there and a second one the day after we left.

During our stay there was also a small influx of Shorelarks - a scarce bird on Fair Isle but even scarcer on Fair Isle as AW, Lee Gregory, needed it for his Fair Isle list!