11 Dec 2017

Cold weather movements.

We've had the coldest spell of weather for several winters. Temperatures have been below freezing in our part of Cheshire with snow and sleet falling as a result of storm Caroline passing directly over the UK and sucking down cold arctic air.

The cold weather has resulted in a big increase in the numbers of winter thrushes and starlings feeding in the field opposite the house. A nice surprise came yesterday in the form of a small flock of Snipe that had presumably moved from somewhere colder and spent the day feeding around the edges of the flooded pond.

I counted 9 in total but there may have been more hidden away. This is only the 2nd sighting of Snipe I've had since we moved in last December and the last bird was in the spring.

4 Dec 2017

Number 97. Redshank

Following on from the recent Dunlin the wet field opposite the house has now attracted species No. 97 for the house and garden list. With the field being full of gulls after having farm yard muck spread on it I've been checking through them on a regular basis all weekend.  Friday afternoon I spotted this Redshank feeding around the edge of the pond and it remained all weekend.  Photographed at extreme range through the telescope- probably about 400 m!

29 Nov 2017


Its great when a plan comes together. When we first moved into our new house I was keen to attract some winter thrushes into the garden by leaving the windfall apples from our very old and gnarled trees on the ground. last year our builder asked if he could take some for his pigs and ended up taking the lot so no thrushes!  This year I've been collecting them in buckets (to stop my son & daughter in laws labrador puppy eating them!) and have been spreading a few around - its worked. We've had a few Blackbirds and Redwings feasting and at the weekend a couple of Fieldfares dropped in.

They were extremely aggressive towards the other birds and very protective of 'their' apple. They were also extremely wary and it took an hours wait  in the wet and cold, crouched down behind a wall, to get these photo's.

25 Nov 2017

Caw. Will you rook at that!

One of the benefits of our new home is, being in the country and surrounded by pasture, we get to see lots more Rooks. They really aren't the most attractive of birds but in sunshine their iridescent plumage is stunning. We've been getting a lot coming to pick up grit off the lane in front of the house. They're usually very shy and as soon as you open a window and point a camera out they're off. Today  I persevered and got these shots.

Theres also a large flock of Jackdaws including one that looks good for an eastern race bird with a large white collar. It didn't stick around but hopefully it'll come back and I'll manage some kind of photo.

20 Nov 2017


There's been a massive influx of Hawfinches into the UK this autumn and Cheshire has had its fair share with flocks of up to a dozen being reported. Everyone around me seemed to be adding Hawfinch to their patch lists but despite many hours diligently searching the skies and with my ears tuned in there wasn't even a sniff!

With a family wedding Saturday, at which I was best man, there wasn't going to be anytime to continue the hunt this weekend! Sitting in bed at 6.45 am Saturday morning, with a mug of tea and browsing the news on the iPad before contemplating cooking scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for the bride-to-be and chief bridesmaids breakfast, I heard a familiar call. Jan nearly spilt her tea as I yelled 'Hawfinch' and leapt to the window. There it was sat at the top of a black poplar tree in our back garden! Grabbing the handily placed binoculars I watched it calling softly to itself before rushing to grab the camera for a record shot........ It flew whilst I was out the room.

This was only my 2nd Hawfinch in Cheshire following a showy bird at Marbury Country Park in January 2009 - see here

We had a couple more garden visitors that did actually stay long enough for a photo.

13 Nov 2017

A garden surprise.

I've been trying for more Redwings over the last week or so without much success - mainly due to the weather.  I've caught 2 more in between the hail storms and heavy rain.

A few hours Sunday afternoon resulted in one Redwing and this young male Blackbird. The Blackbird is a calendar year bird and has moulted all its greater coverts and one of its primary coverts. There's loads feeding on hawthorn berries in our hedges at the moment but all the berries are right at the top so the birds aren't coming low enough for mist netting. They've been joined by 2 Mistle Thrushes as well. It was easy to see what the Blackbird had been eating s it promptly regurgitated two hawthorn berries as I had it in the hand.

Despite not being successful with the Redwings I still managed 20 + birds with 4 Goldfinches, 2 Greenfinches and 4 Long-tailed Tits in the total. If the weather had been better and I'd put the nets in a different place rather than sited for Redwing I think I'd have easily had 100+ birds.

We spent Saturday morning ringing at Barry's and caught a nice female Blackcap!

With over 130 birds ringed between 07.00 and 12.00 it was a busy morning.

6 Nov 2017

Local patch birding.

With a large influx of Hawfinches currently taking place in the UK and other places in Cheshire having multiple sightings I spent a lot of time overt he last weekend out and about searching and listening for one of these steroid enhanced chaffinches. Seemingly they don't exist in my part of Cheshire. We have a yew tree covered in berries, supposedly one of their favourite foods,  in the garden and a hundred metres down the lane there is a massive one attracting flocks of feasting Blackbirds. Zilch. Nothing.

However I did get a new patch and garden tick with 4 Whooper Swans flying south. Given that we can see Moel Famau and must be in a direct line with the Dee Estuary and have Pinkfeet flying over daily it wasn't really a surprise but they were still nice to see.

Another unexpected garden visitor was a Moorhen strutting across the back lawn. We can see them in the pond opposite the house but this is the first time one has visited the garden.

After torrential rain the weather cleared Sunday afternoon and with a number of Redwing buzzing around I decided to stick a mist net up in the garden and sure enough I caught a single Redwing. I think  I would have had more if it wasn't for bonfire night and a children firework party starting in the neighbours garden. Next time I'll also re-position the net and spread a few more windfall apples around.

This was a young bird of the Scandinavian  iliacus race.

See here for a comparison between the Icelandic & Scandinavian races during my recent time on Fair Isle.

26 Oct 2017

Back to reality.

Its been a week since our return from Fair Isle and its back to the reality of work, darker nights and more local birds. The weathers been pretty poor but yesterday was a nice calm still day and one of our local Great -spotted Woodpeckers seemingly took the opportunity to bask in the sunshine on a tree close to its favoured feeder. In this sequence of photo's you can actually see it gradually getting sleepier and closing its eyes. It remained like that for awhile before flying off. Its one of the juvenile birds I ringed a couple of months ago and you can see the ring on the left leg. It can now be sexed as a female as its attained its adult plumage and has no red on the head. I know its one of the juveniles because I haven't ringed a female in the garden.

It certainly appeared that she was basking and dozing in the sunlight and stayed like this for a good 10 minutes.

The calmer weather has meant the Little Owl is again making its presence known and the darker mornings mean we are now hearing it calling from the garden in the mornings and the evenings.

The calmer weather has also meant Redwings have arrived from further north in large numbers and the nigh skies are now full of their 'tseep' calls.

I added a new species of bird to the new patch list during a rare respite in the weather earlier in the week when an evening stroll with Jan produced the goods with a flyover Crossbill!

With the vegetation beginning to die down and water levels rising I can now just see small patches of water in the pond opposite from a bedroom window. It'll be interesting to see how this winter compares with last winter and how many species of wildfowl I can get on the house list!

20 Oct 2017

Fair Isle 2017. Day 6. Nutmegged!

Conscious of the weather we'd been checking several times a day and were concerned that we might have to leave early if it looked like flights were going to be delayed. Wednesday dawned clear and still and walking the trap round with Richard it was apparent that there had been a huge clear out of thrushes during the night.

Walking the gully trap Richard flushed a Water Rail into the catching box and asked me to remove it before he opened it again to catch some of the small passerines still in the trap. Water Rail can be quite vicious and he was concerned it would attack some of the smaller birds in the catching box. Unfortunately the box door wasn't quite closed enough and there was just enough gap for the bird to squeeze through....... it flew past Richard and into a small pool so after removing the other birds we walked the trap again and found the Water Rail. It promptly bypassed me and nutmegged Richard before flying out of the gully.
After breakfast our worst fears were realised when Doddy knocked on my door and told me Dave Wheeler had been in contact and unless we left today it was unlikely we'd be able to leave before Monday as the weather was closing in and there were no weekend flights this time of year. Unfortunately we also had to leave within the hour! Wit hMark, Jase and Chris all having weekend commitments it was decided we'd have to go and after packing our bags, saying our goodbyes and loading the van we decided to walk to the airfield.

With a couple of good mainland birds the lads were keen to see (Rock Thrush and Two-barred Greenish Warbler) we decided to head straight  home rather than staying the extra day on Shetland mainland.

Ringing Loganairs help desk I was told that we could change our flights at Sumburgh airport as it would be cheaper than doing it through him. Arriving at the airport we were told we couldn't do it and a tense hour or so ensued with calls going backwards and forwards until it was finally resolved at no charge. Loganair really have to get their act together if they are to take business from Flybe.

We were all sad to leave Fair Isle but have already booked to go back next year. One day I will see Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler.

 Payney birding a geo

Distance walked: 13.2 km - a fair bit of that was spent pacing up and down getting more and more angry and frustrated at Sumburgh airport! Thanks to Lyndsey at Sumburgh for eventually sorting our flights for us!

Fair Isle 2017. Day 5. The day of the Swans.

Tuesday dawned clear and bright and eager to get out we set off as soon as we could after breakfast. News from 'down south', where Fred & Andy were staying at Springfield, was that there had been a good arrival of birds and it was looking promising. Straight away we knew the day was going to be special. Whooper Swans, Pinkfeet, Barnacle and Greylag Geese were streaming overhead making the most of the good weather to migrate. A spectacular sight.

Greylag Geese above, Whooper Swans below:

Fred & Andy had found a Grasshopper Warbler earlier and although they'd assured us it was 'just a gropper', news from Chris that it was very grey looking made us decide to have a look. Finding  Chris and Ken searching a few ditches looking puzzled we split up to search a wider area and sure enough a locustella warbler shot out from our feet before diving in to cover again. Eventually it perched up long enough to get good views and confirm it was indeed 'just a gropper'.

Jason had stayed at Quoy talking to one of the locals and when he joined us he told us that he'd had an interesting looking locustella in the ditch alongside the road so we all decided to head that way. One of the other Obs residents had also seen it briefly and thought it looked good for Lanceolated Warbler but despite our best efforts it wasn't relocated - with a number of culverts nearby it had probably shot up one of them.

Whilst chewing the fat and nattering amongst ourselves and deciding what to do next a male Siskin plonked itself down and started feeding unconcernedly alongside us.

A showy Garden Warbler, obviously tired and fresh in, was devouring crane flies alongside the road and we watched this for awhile before heading north to the Obs for a welcome shower and dinner.

Distance walked: 21.2 km