28 Jun 2017

Owls about that then.

Looking out of our bedroom window the other evening after I disturbed the Little owl sat on the adjacent garage roof. It flew to the large black poplar at the back of the garden and balefully turned its back on me. Sneaking out I got the camera from the study and sneaked back in and very quietly opened the window. He (I know this as if you look very carefully you can see the rings on the left leg) turned round,glared at me and then carried on with his observations allowing a few photos.

Amazing pattern on back of head makes it look like its still looking at you. Wonder if this is an anti-predator device. I've found dead Little Owl predated by a Sparrowhawk locally so it may well be.

26 Jun 2017

Puffin Island - Cormorants and Guillemots

The SCAN and SEGUL groups headed to Puffin Island again yesterday with the aim of ringing Guillemot chicks and Cormorants as well as whatever other Razorbill and Shag chicks we could find. We even managed a few gulls as well!

As the weather forecast was initially poor we did the colonies in reverse order to the normal routine, starting with the Guillemots and finishing the day with the Cormorants.

There were good numbers of Guillemots and we managed to catch / retrap a few adults as well. Guillemots and Razorbills take a specially shaped 'auk' ring. Because of these species flat tarsi the ring has a flattened base and has to be closed using a special technique compared to conventional rings. Its hard, noisy and smelly work ringing in auk colonies on cliff faces!

 Guillemot chick - this one was to small to ring
Older chick showing a perfectly fitted clip auk ring expertly fitted by Ros.

We managed to ring a few gulls as well  - mainly Herring Gulls but also three bruisers on the form of Greater Black Backed Gulls

We don't catch many Puffins on Puffin Island although the numbers are slowly increasing. Catching two was a bonus and a new species for a couple of the trainee ringers present. I'm always amazed at how small these auks are compared to the Razorbills and Guillemots.

Suffering from a damaged tendon in my left thumb and being left handed meant I wasn't confident in climbing the chimney to another part of the Guillemot colony. Getting down wasn't an issue but getting up again might have been! Consequently I took a small team to a site with easier access to find a few more Razorbills (and Puffins!) before the whole team met up again for the highlight of the day.......the cormorants! Think Jurassic Park meets ringing team and you'll get the picture. Cormorant chicks look like Pterodactyls and bite like Velociraptors. With a sample of 250 to ring of which 50 were to be colour ringed, after an already gruelling day, wasn't going to be fun. The large stainless steel L rings used on Cormorants  have to be overlapped slightly and aren't easy to close - especially with tired hands so it was with some relief that Steve announced we'd finished the lot!

By now the sun had come out and we were all pretty sunburnt, sweaty and filthy dirty. With the boat arriving to collect us at 18.30 we'd spent the best part of 10 hours on the island and ringed approximately 900 birds.

I arrived home sore and stiff around 20.45, threw my dirty clothes in the garage, grabbed s welcome hot shower and then a well deserved cold beer.

23 Jun 2017

Nature in tooth and claw

Or in this case - beak!
Ravens and gulls are scavengers and will eat carrion. They don't kill livestock unless its severely disabled and probably dying anyway. We've had sheep in the fields behind and in front of the house and recently one animal seemed to want to commit bovid suicide by drowning itself in the pond. Three times in one day it got in and was rescued and eventually drowned overnight. The Ravens were soon on the scene with three birds feasting. Not a pretty sight. The farmer wasn't sure of the issue as he'd checked the animal for maggots. Gruesome, but a fact of life for sheep, where the rear end becomes dirty before they're sheared and can result in a maggot infestation. They enter the water for relief from the maggots.

It reminded me of a similar occasion where a sheep succumbed during the winter - this time it was a pair of Greater black-backed Gulls that made the first incision and the Ravens followed.

Below are Ravens feeding on the latest casualty.

19 Jun 2017

Little Owls - who can resist!

More Little Owl shots of the birds behind our house whose young have now fledged! The male bird has started singing again and last evening I spent about an hour watching the birds fly from tree to tree and occasionally drop on the ground for some tasty snack.

 Adult Little Owl.
Fledgling Little owl.

I bumped into an old friend yesterday I hadn't seen for 31 years. He lives in the village and told me he and his wife had a Barn owl hunting over the filed behind their house recently - I've been hoping for one in the field opposite the house so its nice to know they're around.

14 Jun 2017

Little Owl success

One of the Little Owl boxes I put up with Barry's help on a local farm was used again this year. Initially the female was sat on 5 eggs but when we came to ring them there were only three pullus in the box. Steve joined me with his kids as Thomas, his eldest is my ringing trainee and it was the first time he'd ringed Little Owl. A subsequent check of the box revealed all three have fledged successfully.

The box will need a good clean out later in the year as it really was that filthy and rancid on the inside.

I haven't don much ringing at home as I've either been to busy with renovations or the weathers been to windy or wet. Recently, however, we had a small fall of warblers in the garden following a rain shower so I put up an 18ft net. I wasn't the only one interested in the warblers as the first bird out of the net in broad daylight was this male Little Owl. The picture in the hand illustrates how small these little predators are.

 To be hunting so early I assumed he must have young in the nest we can see from the house so I decided to abandon the ringing session. Last weekend I finally saw one of the fledgling Little Owls sat outside the nest hole with one of the parent birds nearby. Another breeding success!  

5 Jun 2017

Puffin Island - 1st trip of the year.

I recently went to Puffin Island with SCAN and the Seabird Ecology Group of Liverpool University. No ringing for me this trip as my main task was to try and photograph as many Razorbill rings for our long term study on adult survival rates. Photographing the rings is more accurate than recording numbers in a notebook as they can then be verified on the computer screen later.
See here for last years report.

It was a beautiful day and I managed a good number of leg and ring shots of Razorbills. Photography was a bit challenging as the sun was reflecting off the rings at certain angles but between Steve & I we probably managed 60-70 different ring combinations.

As usual I couldn't resist a few 'artistic' shots when the circumstances allowed.

One of the more recent avian features along the N Wales coast has been the increase in Eider numbers and Puffin Island hosts a population of around 40 of these sea ducks with the majority spending their time loafing around the beach area! The increase here correlates with an increased number of sightings off Hilbre

 Greater-black Backed Gulls nest on the island and are pretty aggressive towards anyone getting to close to their nesting site. Luckily I was wearing a hat as I got hit several times by birds dive bombing and making contact.

 Guillemots are the commonest breeding auk and there are a few Bridled Guillemots which is a form of Guillemot that gets commoner the further north you go. Here they are very scarce.

 Herring Gulls also breed on the island but aren't as aggressive as their bigger cousins.
 This unfortunate Herring Gull has a massive tick infestation around its face

 Kittiwakes are also part of a long term study and are colour ringed as adults. Hers AXJ at its nest site.

 Puffins have increased in numbers since rats were eradicated from the island although there aren't huge numbers. They're probably the most photographed seabird on the planet but who can resist.......I can't!


 Adult Shag drying in the sunshine

 Sub-adult Shags. Non breeding birds born last year (Euring 5) showing the worn pointed feathers on their backs and duller eyes.

The next trips coming up very soon!

2 Jun 2017


Another mammal thats becoming increasingly scarce is the Hedgehog so I was pleased to see one in our garden on several occasions recently. Grey Squirrels are the bane of my life and are constantly destroying even supposedly 'squirrel proof' feeders by gnawing through the metal. Occasionally they hit the jack pot and the destroyed feeders spills its contents on the grass- this is what happened the other day and the Hedgehog must have decided to come and make the most of the feast rather than sleeping during the day.

Although it initially curled up after about 5 minutes sat in the pouring rain it became confident enough to start sniffing around before trundling off into the hedge.

Its really nice to see it snuffling around the garden.