31 Dec 2018

Review of the year 2018

2018 was a year of many changes for me personally. Jan & I were blessed with two healthy and beautiful new grandchildren, Penny & Oliver to join Lizzie but at the other end of the spectrum of life we lost my dad who finally succumbed to his vascular dementia. He was a major inspiration to me in both my professional life and and in his love of nature and the outdoor world.

There have been major changes in my professional life as well as I made the momentous decision to hand my notice in back in March and take early retirement at the end of this year.

Birding wise it was pretty quiet. The only 'lifer' for me involving a long distance twitch was Cornwalls famous Gray Catbird (note the deliberate American spelling!  A great day out and a lot of people were very happy after missing the Anglesey bird and the controversy surrounding that bird and a Saturday..................See  here for details of an epic day out.

The Royal Tern on Anglesey in December may eventually get split so potentially there will be two species of Royal Tern on the UK list (assuming the bird at Porthmadog in 2009 gets submitted and accepted as African Royal Tern). See here for details of the Royal Tern twitch.

Royal Tern photo's @ Malc Curtin

Apart from that my only other two new British birds were both 'armchair' ticks with the Cornish Dalmation Pelican and N Wales Elegant Tern being accepted onto the British list.

My Cheshire list increased by three this year with the addition of the superb Pied Wheatear at Meols (which was discovered a few days previously but not identified until two days later from photos) a Chough at Caldy and A Snow Goose at Neston with Pinkfooted Geese.

Another good Cheshire bird was the Bonepartes Gull found by Tim Kinch at Meols and then re-found on Hilbre by Chris Williams. Not a Cheshire tick for me but certainly the first for Hilbre! My first Cheshire Bonepartes gull was seen at Inner Marsh Farm RSPBin the evening of 20th May 2004 and didn't hang around. Luckily the more recent bird stuck around for the majority of people who wanted to see it.

Sadly our annual trip to Shetland / Fair Isle had to be cancelled due to bad weather and Dads funeral but I've already booked for 2019. However, I had my annual fix of small islands when I was invited to join the regular trip to Nan Ron to catch and ring Storm Petrels. See here for details of that superb trip.

Once I'd handed my notice in the company really went for their pound of flesh and work commitments meant I couldn't get to Hilbre as much as I'd liked to. Hopefully I'll be able to spend more time on the island in the next few years.

2019 will bring many changes for a lot of people We can only hope that there will be positive changes for our native wildlife. Heres wishing everyone a happy bird-filled 2019!

29 Dec 2018

Post Christmas trip to Hilbre

A beautifully mild Christmas Day & Boxing Day merged into one large family get together to celebrate the festive season. Following the noise and bustle associated with such gathering a bit of peace and solitude, if not goodwill, was called for so when Al invited me to join him on a trip to Hilbre to stay over the tide I jumped at the chance. Especially as there was the promise of home made hot pot!

Arriving at the Obs the wood stove was lit to dry the place and get rid of the moisture in the air. With the gas turned on and the kettle boiling it wasn't long before we were enjoying the first of many brews before turning our attention to the birds.

Once again we were struck as to how mild the weather was and with a flat calm sea and good visibility we spent a lot of time scanning the sea. A small number of Red-throated Divers were picked up with slightly more Great-crested grebes and several hundred Common Scoter.

Two Purple Sandpipers at the north end were joined by three more and eventually roosted  as they were forced off the rocks by the rising tide. I never get tired of seeing these little birds and its worrying that their numbers on Hilbre are declining so rapidly. Even I, a relative newcomer on the scene, can remember flocks of 20+ Purple Sandpipers wintering around Hilbre's rocky shores but now we are down to single figures.

As the tide rose the resident female Eider vacated her position on the Whale-back and was later seen roosting up on Middle Eye over the high tide along with several thousand Oystercatchers and good numbers of Curlew that had also been feeding along the seaweed covered rocks.

As the tide rose higher a flock of Ringed Plover flew around looking for a roosting site before eventually settling on the rock ledges to the west of the access ramp onto the island.

By now the short winter day was drawing to a close and the light was beginning to fade. Bellies full of Hotpot we scanned the shoreline and sea as the tide began to drop and eventually left the island in the dark to return to the mainland.

Another great day out and just the antidote to a manic couple of days over Christmas.

17 Dec 2018

Rigning Martin Mere WWT

I was lucky enough to be part of a SCAN team invited to help the regular Martin Mere ringing team catch and ring Whooper Swans and a few duck species at the weekend. Initially we were going Saturday but the weather deteriorated so a decision was made to go Sunday - only for the decision to be reversed again when a weather window opened itself up to an opportunity to revert back to Saturday!

Leaving the house at 5.30 Saturday morning, after a restless night ( I never sleep well when I know the alarms going off early), it soon became apparent that the weather was bitterly cold! I had ice on the inside of the Landrover windscreen. I soon warmed up though and and 90 minutes later had to brave the freezing cold again when  I arrived at Martin Mere.

With the team assembled a briefing was given by the ringer in charge and with everyone knowing their roles we started our catch.

We ended up with 73 Whooper Swans of which 38 were new birds and 35 re-traps from previous years. All birds were ringed and a 'darvic' colour ring added, aged, sexed, weighed and a wing length taken before releasing. They were wrapped in 'swan blankets' to keep them calm and the process was carried out with the minimum amount of noise and fuss by an experienced team. Sadly even several of these beautiful birds showed some evidence of past gunshot wounds.

As well as the Whoopers we caught 54 Shelduck - exactly half were re-traps with the oldest being from 2002. Another had been ringed in 2007 and not encountered since whilst yet another ringed in 2005 has had its ring read 20 times since then in the field.

I'd ringed Whoopers and Shelducks before but never Pintail or Coot so was really happy to get the opportunity to do so. Pintail are simply stunning!

As with other male ducks ageing depends on a combination of features - the presence or absence of juvenile tail feathers or median and lesser coverts and the demarkation between the colours on the outermost tertial.

From the photo below you can see the tertial has a distinct demarkation between the black and the 'pearl' and also has a very narrow fringe. This ages this bird as an adult male, Euring 4.

We caught one re-trap male Teal and the same ageing criteria can be used - again the border between the black and 'pearl' on the inner tertial is very clean and distinct making this an adult.

Coot are know to be wriggly, belligerent and scratchy and willing to fight each other and anything else that happens to upset them.  I'd never ringed one before but go the opportunity Saturday and was surprised at how small they were in the hand.  Small they may be but just look at those feet! 

Like the swans each Coot was fitted with a darvic ring to enable it to be identified in the field and released back on to the main mere. 

With the catch processed by 11.00 there was time for a quick hot drink and a chocolate biscuit before the predicted weather window closed and the heavens opened! A great experience and one I hope to take part in again. 

12 Dec 2018

Royalty visits the island of the druids.

Earlier this year a long staying American Royal Tern that had been on the Channel Islands shifted temporarily to the south coast. Royal tern is currently split into two subspecies - African and American. The Channel island bird had an American banding association ring on its right leg as did the Pagham bird so the assumption is they're the same bird. I wasn't to bothered as I'd seen) the N Wales bird in 2009 that I refound at Black Rock Sands, Porthmadog.
See crap photo below:

Many of the local N Wales and Cheshire / Wirral birders got to see this bird before it got dark but unfortunately it had gone the next morning only to reappear a few weeks later at Llandudno for a few short hours.

The feeling was at the time that this may have been of the African subspecies as there are subtle differences in structure  and also the bill size  / colouration.

However, the IOC, whose taxonomy the BBRC have adopted, have recommended Royal Tern be split into two species.

Cue wild-spread interest when twitter lit up to say a Royal Tern ringed on the right leg had turned up on Anglesey. Less than an hour from the office! With no time to get there on the day it was found (Monday) a Hilbre team made a tentative plan to travel on the Tuesday picking me up via Mold where my car was going in for a service.

News duly broke early that the bird was still there and the twitch was on. We made the journey in good time to find the bird had temporarily disappeared round a headland. After waiting for awhile  I decided to walk round the headland only to get a phone call about 30 minutes later to say it was back in the bay!

For the next few hours it foraged from bay to bay occasionally settling briefly and providing great views to the assembled throng of appreciative birders.

Photos courtesy of Malc Curtin.

The assumption is of course that this is probably the same bird that was in the Channel Islands as its ringed on the right leg. Apparently there is a paper in the offing that will give pointers to the separation of the two sub species in the field so it could be the previous N Wales bird could eventually be identified as African!

An excellent short twitch and many thanks to the Stig who drove and Mr Stato who's lovely wife provided the nourishment in the for mof home baked muffins and cookies!

10 Dec 2018

Unexpected item in the feeding area!

Not much happening recently bird wise due to work commitments. I managed to catch a couple of Redwing and Blackbirds in the garden before they demolished all the holly berries and moved on to the next food source.

A real garden 'mega' though this weekend when I looked out to se a juvenile Moorhen beneath the feeders. The nearest pond is several hundred metres away!