29 May 2018

Puffin Island 2018.Part 1.

I recently went across to Puffin Island, Anglesey with seabird researchers from Bangor & Liverpool University and the SCAN ringing team. Meeting at Penmon point we were ferried across on a beautiful warm may morning. My job on this first visit was to photograph as manny Razorbill rings as possible for the re-trapping adults for survival project (RAS). Often the ring numbers are difficult to read and we've found its best to photograph them and read them on the screen rather than relying on checking with binoculars and writing down.

With a bit of patience, by sitting quietly on the cliffs, the Razorbills get used to your presence and you can get good close up photos with a telephoto lens. We generally try to get around 50 re-sightings this way.

Its not all about the Razorbills though and I usually sneak a few other photos in - especially of  the Puffins.

The breeding season is a couple of weeks behind previous years and most of the species were on eggs. Unfortunately it looks as if Kittiwakes are really declining here and we didn't find any that had started nest building yet. Fulmars appear to be doing well though with several pairs seen.

Shags are way behind with their breeding season and most nests had eggs or very small young.

The gull colonies seem to be doing well with a few small Herring Gull chicks around and lots of nests with 'chipping' eggs. Many other birds were still incubating.

Razorbills and Guillemots were all incubating and it was fascinating to see the variety in colour between the predominantly blue Guillemot eggs and the white Razorbill eggs.

Historically it was thought the eggs of these species were pear shaped so that they would spin on their axis rather than rolling off the ledges. New research suggests that this isn't the case and that the real reason maybe to keep as little of the egg in contact with the substrate to stop the developing embryo being starved of air. The nesting ledges can get horribly messy with guano and the shape of the eggs ensures there is minimal contact.

A great day and a tiring one  - my Fitbit told me I'd climbed the equivalent of a 147 flights of stairs!

16 May 2018

Hobbies from the garden!

Last year we were lucky enough to have a pair of Hobbies spend some time in trees behind the house.  Initially there was only one and I picked it up firstly on call. Closer scrutiny showed there were two birds and for a week or so they showed almost daily then went quiet............

This year I hoped they'd return and sure enough I picked up a familiar call on Bank Holiday Monday. A bird was calling from the top of a large oak tree but couldn't be seen. As  I watched a second bird flew in carrying prey but I couldn't see what it was.After watching for awhile the 2nd bird flew in again and both birds displayed before drifting off high together.

With sunny weather Saturday I spent most of the time in the garden with one ear and an eye listening and watching for the Hobbies. Sure enough that keening call started but I still couldn't see the bird. I assumed it was the male calling proclaiming his territory and trying to attract his mate. When a 2nd bird did arrive they both put on a bit of an aerial display before disappearing.

An hour or so later and the keening started again. This time the bird was sat in a dead oak in full view albeit about 300 m away and I managed to get some distant shots and video.

Assuming this was the male bird imagine my surprise when a 2nd bird appeared and mated with the 1st bird!

The first bird was obviously a female and she'd been calling to her mate. I stayed watching for over an hour as both birds then rested on the dead tree before flying off together.

Both birds below - the female is top right and the male bottom left of tree.

A fantastic experience and a privilege to see these birds from our garden.

13 May 2018

Wildflower gardening

Once of the aims in our new garden was to keep some areas wild for pollinating insects. We've duly bought wildflower plug plants in a couple of areas and even transplanted yellow flag irises that were dug up and left on the verge when the ditch opposite the house was cleared. They're now establishing themselves in our ditch!

Leaving areas un-mown where we've planted wildflowers has had an added benefit - we've found a small patch of Wood Sorrel growing in a shady area and even a Common Spotted Orchid rosette - hopefully it will flower. Other plants we've encouraged rather than treating as weeds are lesser celandine, dandelion & ladies smock - great for Orange Tip butterflies.
 Wood Sorrel
Spotted Orchid

Plants we've deliberately planted have been native bluebells, red campion,  ox-eye daisy,  betony, cowslip, greater knapweed & harebells. Hopefully when they all flower they'll attrtact more butterflies and bees.


 Blue Bells
 Ladies Smock
 Lesser Celandine
 Primrose - past their best now! 
Red Campion beginning to flower.

Hopefully all these will set seed and we'll have the start of a small wildlfower garden for years to come.

7 May 2018

Bird ringing at Wicken Fen - a nostalgic look at the past.

I was amazed to find the old ringing reports from the Wicken Fen Ringing Group on line. This is where I undertook a lot of my early ringing training with my trainers Mike & Margaret Smith. I started training in September 1976 but the earliest report with my name in as a member is 1977.

Its hard to believe it was over 40 years ago! I got started as I'd found a birds leg with a ring on in an old abandoned shepherds hut (with cast iron wheels - that would have been valuable these days!) in our local woods. I contacted the BTO expressing an interest in ringing and before I knew it I was having my first taster session - one of the first birds we caught was a Kingfisher.

See here for links to the online reports from this era.

I've still got records of all the birds I ringed at Wicken Fen &  (Linneage Woods, Suffolk) - going back to 1976 and including Yellowhammer (5), Nightingale (1) and Turtle Dove (3). Birds that are now nationally scarce and that I haven't ringed since those early days.

1 May 2018

New bird for the patch list - Sedge Warbler.

Migrants are still thin on the ground locally with only small numbers being recorded on my regular walks or from the garden. Whitethroats are back in but I've yet to see a Sand Martin & I've only seen 1 Swift & 1 Lesser Whitethroat. A new (unringed) male Brambling visited the garden briefly at the weekend but since then it appears all the winter visitors have now gone apart from a couple of Lesser Redpolls visiting the feeders.

A Wheatear dropped into the field opposite the house on Sunday evening but the star bird of the weekend was the first ever patch Sedge Warbler singing Sunday morning from a field of oilseed rape.

The resident Coots have hatched 7 young and the male has been aggressively chasing off any other bird that dares venture near the pond.

I've ringed very few Blue or Great Tits over the last couple of months and a check of the garden nest boxes Sunday revealed that only 4 appear to be occupied. Two Blue Tits are on eggs whilst a 3rd nest is abandoned. A single pair of Great Tits are also on eggs. Blackbirds built a nest in a bramble bush but abandoned it when 'the beat from the east' hit. They're now building a new nest 1m from our dining room window so hopefully this one will be more successful,