26 May 2017

RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands - the Camargue of the N West!

Unfortunately, despite living almost within sight of this site (as the bird flies its probably about 5 miles away),  I rarely get there. These days I prefer birding my local patch or going to Hilbre. However, news that Colin Wells had found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper piqued my interest and a day later the bird was still showing so I played it cool, went to Hilbre and waited until the crowds would have died down later in the afternoon before trundling through the lanes to Puddington.

The Buff-breastewd Sandpiper was showing well but distantly  - this was my 3rd in Cheshire following a bird at Frodsham in 1981 whilst still at Manchester University and a 2nd at the same site in 2012. Alas this one still wasn't close enough to get more than a record shot (unlike the birds we regularly see on Shetland!).

Although the Buff-breasted Sandpiper was the star attraction the real performers were the Great (White) Egrets - one was viewable from the Marsh Covert hide along with a Cattle Egret and Little Egret. Another Great Egret was showing well in a field of cows on the way back to on the reception centre. Both birds were in breeding condition as in non breeding condition the bills are yellow and the lores are paler rather than the vivid green these birds showed. At least one had well developed 'aigrettes'.

Record shot of Cattle Egret below:

Its hard to believe that both these species were, until recently, major Cheshire rarities and subject to scrutiny by the county rarities committee!

As well as the egrets other waders putting on a display included Black-tailed Godwits with one confiding individual feeding on blood worms close to the reception centre.

 Another bird that has only recently colonised Cheshire is the ubiquitous Avocet!
Again, these were once a major rarity in Cheshire with my first birds being seen around 2005 on the Weaver bend at Frodsham.  The RSPB have recently announced at least one pair of Cattle Egrets are breeding on site. With all these species and  singing Cetti's Warbler it really was like the Camargue.

21 May 2017

Back to Hilbre - up with the Lark!

An early tide meant an early start for the Hilbre regulars Saturday morning. Setting my alarm at 03.30 I was on the way by 04.00 and met up with the other s art West Kirby at 04.30. Despite the early start the tide was already quite advanced.

There were no grounded migrants apart fro ma single Wheatear but as the sun rose the Shorelark put on a good display. Whilst photographing the meadow Pipit below I couldn't work out what Alan was photographing to my left.

All was revealed when the Shorelark popped into my view finder!

 Unfortunately the forecast rain then materialised and we beat a hasty retreat to the obs before leaving for the mainland as the tide receded.

There were fewer waders than of late with just a few Dunlin, Oystercatchers, Whimbrel and Ringed Plover being logged.

18 May 2017

A trip to Hilbre and another Whinchat.

I managed another, all to infrequent, trip to the Obs recently and was lucky enough to ring this female Whinchat. So far this spring we've ringed three which is good going seeing as we don't catch them annually!

This one was aged as a Euring 5 (hatched last year).

There were a few Willow Warblers and Whitethroats around but Blackcaps have been very thin on the ground with one ringed so far this year.

An enjoyable day with good company and I got home in time to find this beast strutting around the garden as if he owned it!

14 May 2017

Shore Lark, Hilbre

I was intending to get up and join Steve on Hilbre this morning but a number of maintenance issues made me decide to stay home. Oiling oak doors is a messy business and  I had rubber gloves on so when the message tone on the phone kept going I ignored it. Luckily Steve is persistent and its only when  I recognised the ring tone devoted to Hilbre regulars that I realised it was something good! It was. The Islands first twitchable Shore Lark.

With my Landrover off the road for its rebuild I had to rely on Al H for a lift and he met me at West Kirby Marine Lake for the journey across to the Island where Steve and Colin were doing a sterling job of preventing people from flushing it. I'm glad to say that the public seemed to appreciate and acknowledge their explanation and didn't walk down to the north end and flush it.

A quick turn round before the tide flooded and I was home finishing my chores.
A great day and a well deserved find for Steve who puts in serious effort on the Island

10 May 2017

Little Owls

'Looks good round here for Little Owl' said Groucho when he first visited our new house last September. 'Never seen one in this area' I said. Blow me a couple of days later one pops up on the roof  calling. After that we had a few sightings but all the building work seemed to have scared him off.  Fast forward a few months and I heard a peculiar 'song' coming from trees in a field behind the house.   A Little Owl singing his love song is a weird sound and not one I'd heard much before so it took me awhile to figure it out (to me it sounds like a muted, softer Scops Owl).

Virtually every night we'd hear this strange little one note song but  I couldn't pin it down until one sunny afternoon I decided to scan the trees to see if I could see him sunbathing. And there he was  - about 100 m from our bedroom window in an old oak. Next there were two and now they're breeding!

Little Owls are one of my favourite UK birds, full of character and expression. I've got a painting by Cheshire born artist, Nigel Artingstall, that Jan bought me for Christmas a few years ago of a Little Owl perched on a fence post that captures the character and fierce expression perfectly.

They're a bit distant to photograph and I don't want to disturb them by crawling closer to their tree but I've managed a couple of phonescoped shots.

 Both Little Owls outside their nesting hole.

8 May 2017

The pond that keeps on giving.

When we bought this house in September last year I had no idea that the pond we can see across the fields from an upstairs window would be so attractive to birds! I'd hoped for a wader or two but this spring has so far exceeded my limited expectations. I'd hoped for a Green Sandpiper or possibly a Redshank but last week we had a Ruff (see previous post) and this weekend was the turn of a Little-ringed Plover that spent a few hours around the pond margins before sunset.

Interestingly the Ruff and the Ringed-plover have turned up after lunch which means getting any decent phone-scoped shots is impossible as I'm looking into the sun. I check the pond every morning to see if anything has dropped in over night but afternoons seem to be the best.

With spending the whole weekend working in the garden I logged an impressive list of 45 species which is the highest total count for the year so far. These included the L R P and my first Swift of the year and both Lesser and Common Whitethroats in the front garden.

3 May 2017

Garden mega.

If you're in and the birds in, its on, if you're out and the birds in, its on,  if you're in and the birds out, its on, if your out and the birds out, its not on. So said our old mate Pod about birds on his patch list. Sadly he passed away last year but this mantra of his holds true.  Consequently my new garden list stands at 81 species with a new one being added last night from the front bedroom window overlooking the pond / flash about 300 m away. The new patch lists is 83 with the only species not being seen from the garden being Kingfisher and Barn Owl. Not bad since we moved in last December. With the water receding and the ducks departed  I was hoping for a wader - a Green Sand or a Redshank.  Never did  I expect an adult male Ruff in full breeding attire!!!

Apologies for the quality of the photo's but they're taken through the 'scope at 40 x magnification and virtually full magnification on the phone. The heat haze didn't help either.

Surprisingly the Heron was only the 2nd record and it spent an hour or so catching newts. We have plenty of young Smooth Newts in the garden but the distance was to great to identify the species it was catching. A pair of Tufted Ducks also showed up briefly.
The previous day (Bank Holiday Monday) revealed two Wheatears feeding around the margins of the pond - surprising as I'd have expected them n a nearby ploughed field that  I hadn't had time to check yet. Given the timing and the size and colouring of the male I'd expect they were probably Greenland race, leucorhoa.

There seems have been an influx of House Martins and Swallows overnight with noticeably more around the village. A walk around the lanes revealed Whitethroat, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff all on territory. The Little Owl was singing late last night and I'm pretty sure the female must be on eggs - a box I put up a few years ago on the Wirral has a female sitting on 5 eggs!

2 May 2017

Good fall of migrants on Hilbre.

I'd arranged to go over to the Obs late morning and stay over the tide - I wish I'd got up earlier. There was the best fall of birds on Hilbre for several years with the star bird being a Wood Warbler followed closely by a Tree Pipit. However, there were still birds arriving as I drove on and joined the rest of the ringing team and I arrived just in time to process this lovely 5 male Whinchat (Euring code 5 - a bird born last year). A first for me (Photo courtesy of Al H).

Willow Warblers were very where with an estimated 120 on the island with more being caught right up until the time we left at 17.00. There were several larger, paler birds which were probably from more northern parts of their range. Steve William's photo below shows the differences quite well.

Other birds ringed included the first Whitethroats of the year and a Linnet. If it wasn't so windy and we could have put  couple of mist nets up we may have easily ringed 100 birds but we finished on 80 with one control Willow Warbler.

There was plenty of activity on the sea as well with large numbers of Dunlin roosting around the island. A phone call from Jane Turner had us scanning the sea for a flock of Black Terns she'd picked up from her window and we eventually found a flock of 10 feeding on the tide line. Later we had 4 closer down the west side. A drake Eider put in an appearance and there were a few Red-thraoted Divers - including a couple of summer plumaged birds. Terns were the theme of the day as far as sea-watching was concerned with the first Little And Arctic Terns of the year being recorded as well as Common & Sandwich Terns.

With the Bluebells in flower and the Thrift just beginning to flower the island is beginning to look stunning. A feature of Hilbre is the wallflowers which seem to have become naturalised around the old buildings and these are also in full flower.

A great day and I arrived home suitably knackered and wind burnt but happy.

26 Apr 2017

Garden Robins

We are lucky in having two pairs of Robins nesting in our new garden - conveniently one in the front and one in the back. Even more conveniently the front garden pair have nested in a dwarf conifer right in front of the window!

They only laid two eggs and I originally thought they'd deserted but when I checked on returning from Oz there were two young.  We had a wet spell and maybe that deterred the female from laying if she couldn't find enough food.

The youngsters have been duly ringed and both adults had already been ringed and I took the opportunity to photograph them through the bedroom window.

24 Apr 2017

Another Siskin control

I've just received another Siskin control from the large number  I ringed in the winter 2015-2016. This one was controlled in N Wales recently.

 That's four controls from around 160 birds ringed during that winter. Two have been returning birds that have been caught in gardens on the Wirral and now N Wales.

17 Apr 2017

Back to the UK

We've just spent a fantastic two weeks in Australia visiting our daughter, son in law and granddaughter and helping them move into a fabulous new house where, every morning, I spent an hour or so on the rear deck overlooking the hills behind the house and watching Nankeen Kestrels catch grasshoppers with Crimson Rosella's, Eastern Rosella's, Kookaburra's and Wedge-tailed Eagles among the supporting cast. One downside of long haul trips is the jet lag and two nights later I'm still waking at stupid o'clock. This morning, despite staying up until 10 pm I woke at 2 in the morning and eventually gave up at 5! A blessing in disguise as I'd never have seen the pair of Tufted Ducks that hd dropped into the pond / flash opposite the house. A garden and new patch tick no less. They didn't stay long and were chased off by the resident Coots but they, or another pair, turned up with reinforcements in the form of a 2nd pair, a few minutes later. They to were chased off but the Coots don't seem to bother about the Teal.

The heavy rain earlier this morning dropped a few migrants in with Willow Warbler and Garden Warbler both in the garden and at mixed flock of at least 100 Sand Martins and Swallows hawking over the pond.

Since we've been away 2 pairs of Robins have hatched young in the garden and one nest box has a Blue Tits nest with eggs. Other boxes are being inspected. A Carrion Crow has built a nest at the top of our Scots Pine whilst a hare has made regular appearances in the field.

31 Mar 2017

Unexpected item in the bagging area!

Hilbre's 4th record of Pheasant was seen by Steve on Wednesday wandering between Middle Eye & Hilbre. Its assumed these birds come across from Red Rocks - the last record coincided with some extensive 'management' work and it looks like the same has happened again this year. Either that or its a genuine returning migrant - a bit like my Siskin mentioned in my previous blog post. Its an interesting record as the bird would have had to travel across at least a mile of open mud and sand or indeed water if the tide was in.

Anyway, I found myself on Hilbre yesterday to meet up with a local guy who's making a short video presentation for his journalism course and wanted to film an interview about bird ringing and hopefully a bird being ringed. Things certainly didn't look hopeful with the wind being in the wrong direction and heavy rain! A quick walk round the heligoland traps revealed this:

The bird was picked up and released in the open where it ran off at full speed without uttering a sound. We did eventually catch a couple of birds with a new Robin and a female Chaffinch being ringed so Danny got his video footage.

30 Mar 2017

Nice Siskin control

I've recently had a nice Siskin control of a bird I ringed in January last year (2016) controlled in a Hilbre members garden by a Hilbre ringer in February this year!

It makes you wonder where it had been in the intervening year.

27 Mar 2017

Little Grebes.

A beautiful sunny spring weekend in my part of Cheshire with Chiffchaff singing in the garden, a Robins nest with two eggs and Great 7 Blue Tits nesting in the boxes I've put up! The Little Owls have been basking out in the early evening sunshine just before it sets and we can see them from the windows.A Great Spotted Woodpecker spent the weekend drumming in a nearby oak and we had another visit from a singing Treecreeper. The whole weekend was spent in the garden replacing rotten fence posts to stop the sheep getting in and generally tidying up.

The pond opposite the house, once again, provided the star bird(s) though - a new house and patch tick. A quick glance early morning Sunday to see if any waders had dropped in over night was rewarded by the presence of a pair of Little Grebes!

Other pond visitors over the weekend included a single male Shoveller, Teal, Coot (now nest building) , Canada Geese, Greylags and a pair of Lapwings. Sunday was a real bird filled day with 40 species being recorded either in or from the garden. The total now for the new patch stands at 70 species for 2017.

20 Mar 2017

A brief visit to Hilbre

Its months since I've had the chance to go across to Hilbre - work & house renovations have got in the way! Luckily I got a chance last week and joined the rest of the regulars to spend the tide over on the island.

Many waders have already left for their breeding grounds but Middle Eye held an impressive number of Curlews whilst the Brent Geese gave good views as they serenely swam down the east side. Only two Purple Sandpipers were seen but there were plenty of Common Scoter around and a male Eider put in a distant appearance.

It was a beautiful sunny day with plenty to see - not many spring migrants but typical early spring fare with overhead migration of alba wagtails and finches. The first Bumble Bees and butterflies were on the wing with both Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock being recorded.