31 Jan 2016

Dunlin and Ringed Plover - 1st SCAN trip of 2016.

Last weekend was the 1st SCAN weekend of the year. A 5.50 meet had me setting the alarm at 3.30 grabbing a quick  breakfast and driving to meet the team in the dark to set two nets in the hope of catching a sample of Dunlin. It all sounds simple but sometimes things don't work out as planned & we don't make a catch.

With the nets set we hunkered down in our allocated positions and waited for daylight and the high tide to push the birds towards the catching area.

I lay out of sight on the sand watching the sunrise over the Welsh hills ahead of me and listening to the sound of the birds beginning to move and trying to keep warm in the cold wind. Notice the SCAN radio on a lanyard around my neck that Steve used to ensure I was still awake!

After a fair bit of 'twinkling' the nets were fired and we made a reasonable catch of Dunlin wit ha few Ringed Plover for good measure. Four of the Dunlin were controls ringed at other places including this bird ringed in Poland.

Other controls came from Finland, Sweden and Norway showing once again the critical importance of international conservation efforts and not just in our own country. All birds were ringed (or had their ring numbers recorded if they were controls), aged, wing length and weight measured and total head + bill length along with bill length to feathers written down. These measurements will help determine the sex of the birds and in some case, their racial identification. Females have larger bills than males so I assume this long-billed bird is female.

Two processing teams were set up sheltering behind tarpaulins tied to a convenient fence! As is often on these SCAN days members of the public showed an interest  and the time is always taken to show them birds and explain what we are doing.
It was nice to see some of the Ringed Plover we'd colour flagged in previous seasons re-trapped. They're beautiful little birds and a pleasure to see in the hand.

A great 1st trip of the year and nice to catch up with some of the 'regulars'.

26 Jan 2016


A few Siskins have turned up on the garden feeders along with a couple of Redpolls. Not as big an influx as a couple of years ago but a small flock of about 6-8 birds. I've ringed a few over the last week or so and its noticeable that, since the short cold snap, Blackbird numbers have built up with up to 6 in the garden together.

 Female Siskin above. Male below.
 2nd calendar year siskin (Euring 5 ) showing moult contrast in greater coverts
 2nd calendar year Siskin showing tail feather shape - pointed and worn in this age group (unless they've lost their tail and regrown / moulted it for some reason).

Male Siskin  - stunning little finches

Siskins are pretty little finches but nothing compares to an adult male Lesser Redpoll with its flaming red poll and red breast. One of the Redpolls ringed was an adult male.

Of the Blackbirds caught and ringed one male had its hind toe missing from its left leg. The birds were pretty hefty with wing lengths and weights suggesting they maybe Scandinavian birds.

Another good bird and a good continuity record, was the male Sparrowhawk  ringed in 2013, that  I  re-caught just before Christmas and again last week.

I'm taking part in the 2016 patch challenge again and working the 'patch' around my house of around 3 square km. The best bird so far has been a Short-eared Owl flushed from a marshy area that sometimes holds Snipe! The arable land and pasture making up most of the patch is saturated and the mild weather means there have been no large mixed flocks of finches and buntings.

21 Jan 2016

Red-breasted Mergansers

As well as hosting the long staying juvenile Great - northern Diver West Kirby marine lake has attracted several Red-breasted Mergansers recently. I took the opportunity to try and photograph them when I got back off Hilbre recently.

They're beautiful ducks and great to see close up as we generally see them miles out on a seawatch from Hilbre.

I also played around with trying to photograph them early morning with the sun behind them.

Of course I couldn't resit the diver when it appeared so got some backlit shots of that as well! 

18 Jan 2016

A nice day for a WeBs count.

It wasn't a spectacular WeBs count but it produced some nice birds! With an early tide I knew I had to leave the foreshore in the dark by 07.30 am at the latest. As it happened I couldn't sleep so made my way across to the island at around 05.30 and sat listening to the waders moving around me in the dark.

As dawn broke Cormorants started flighting out to the open sea from their roost further up the estuary. In 1 hour between 08.00 and 09.00 I counted over 1,800 birds. As the tide flooded wader numbers started building up on Middle Eye with Oystercatchers and Curlew being the dominant birds. The leucistic Oystercatcher photographed on the 14th December by Pete Antrobus was again present. Niffy Bay held a good number of Turnstones with a minimum of 114 roosting on Lion Rock - including the old faithful colour ringed bird from 2008/9 season.

Its hard to imagine how many miles this little bird might have flown in its life backwards and forwards from its Arctic breeding ground to faithfully return to Hilbre for the last 6 or 7 years.

A seawatch was productive with a male Long-tailed Duck picked up sat on the sea with a small flock of Common Scoter but there were very few divers or grebes.

Three duck picked up flying directly towards me from the wind farm ditched in to the sea and were identified as Scaup. They quickly took off again and flew down the west side of Hilbre allowing some photos to be taken.

Once relatively common off the Wirral they've now become increasingly scarce. I remember vising the area, whilst at Manchester University, to see flocks of several hundred Scaup.

A small group of Brent Geese roosted over the high tide at the south and for some reason the Brents were well scattered so a proper count wasn't possible.

As the tide ebbed waders started leaving their roosts and three Purple Sandpipers were counted at the north end along with a handful of Redshanks.

With the weather forecast turning colder in the next week or so perhaps we'll get a few scarcer sea ducks moving down from the north?

As I was leaving there was just time to catch up with the long staying Great-northern Diver on West Kirby marine lake. This bird is showing really well on occasions as it sticks mainly to the north end of the lake fishing for crabs.

11 Jan 2016


Around Christmas I re-trapped this lovely male Sparrowhawk whist ringing in my garden.

I ringed it as an adult on 7th December 2013 and in May 2014 the ring number was read in a garden by birders who live about a km away from me. Its great to have this kind of data on birds such as this.

Here he is again in the original photo taken on 7th December 2014.

There doesn't seem to be much difference except that in the recent one there seems to be more rufous colouration on the breast.

7 Jan 2016

More on the Pallas's Warbler

I managed to get across to Heswall earlier in the week with the intention of trying to photograph the Pallas's Warbler whilst the sun was out! Thinking it would bea bit quieter I was soon proved wrong when  I rounded the corner to see about 30 people by the sewage treatment plant gates!

With plenty of midges around there were at least 4 Chiffchaffs and numerous Goldcrests  feeding along the hedgerow separating the sewage works from the private track. Viewing was difficult but improved dramatically when a United Utilities van pulled up and opened the gates and allowed the birding throng to view the hedge from inside the sewage works!

The warbler was soon picked up in the hedge and was in view almost constantly. Realising it was working its way back up the hedge towards us I slipped out and stood near the entrance to the private track! Bingo.

The Pallas's Warbler popped up about 10 metres away and sat out in the open for an all to brief period allowing a few shots.

 Nice view of the diagnostic yellow rump!

4 Jan 2016

A damp start to the new year.

Bloomin weather! Since the 1st of January when we had a very rare frost we've had nothing but rain!
Most of my birding has either been walking the local patch or ringing. However, I've managed one mini twitch for my 2nd Cheshire Pallas's Warbler found by Steve Hinde at Heswall sewage works on Saturday afternoon. Al Orton rang me around 15.30 but it was to late to get there before dusk so  I went Sunday morning.

The weather was appallingly wet and the bird was quite elusive and distant so I didn't get any photo's. It was great to see some familiar faces again though. My 1st Cheshire Pallas's Warbler was also a winter bird and was along a railway embankment in Congleton in 2004/5.

Between rain showers I put the mist nets out in the garden. Highlight was the first Lesser Redpoll ringed in the garden since last winter.

Although most of the birds were Blue & Great Tits I did catch a new Great-spotted Woodpecker along with a retrap from 2 years ago and a few Goldfinches including this young male showing the typical tail feather shape of young birds that haven't moulted their tail feathers.