29 Mar 2019

Canon netting at Altcar

Following on from our two successful canon netting trips last year targeting Knot and Grey Plover, as part of a long term study into these species moments and decline, we went back again on the 22nd March this year. Once again the plan was to catch , ring and colour flag as many Knot and Grey Plover as we could.

A big tram assembled early at the Altcar military base gatehouse and after signing in we set off in convoy through the base and down to the foreshore where a brisk onshore breeze was blowing as the tide began to rise. Three nets were set with cables being run to a base camp further back in the dunes before we headed back to the vehicles to meet up wit ha few late arrivals, grab some food and change into warm clothes and waders!

With time pressing the main body of the ringing team set off to base camp to sit it out until such a time that the spotters told us to fire the canons at which point we'd make our way to the net and lift it up the beach out of the water and cover the birds with hessian sacking to keep them calm before extracting them and placing them into safe and warm holding cages before ringing and processing. That was the plan anyway! The best laid plans can always go awry.

Steve kept us informed by radio and as the tide rose lots of birds arrived in the catching area. Anticipation was high and the message was received to arm the firing box when suddenly we heard the noise of hundreds of waders wings beating the air - a Peregrine had flown straight down the beach and spooked all the birds which promptly flew off!

A decisions was quickly made to dash out and reset the nets higher up the beach as quickly as possible to try and make a a catch on the falling tide. At least it wasn't raining as this entailed another long wait in our dune hideaway. Once again Steve kept us informed by radio  - a few birds retuned and the signal was given to arm the firing box..........and fire! Success.

Not a huge catch but successful none the less and with so few Grey plover ringed annually in the UK a catch of 71 Grey Plover of which 65 were new birds and 6 re-traps from last year.

Totals were as follows (From Richard Du Feu)

BAR-TAILED GODWIT - 1 adult, now colour ringed
KNOT - 16.  1 retrap from 22/09/2017. All adults
DUNLIN 7.  1 control probably from mid-Wales (All adults)
SANDERLING- 1 control from Kinmel bay (Adult)
GREY PLOVER - 71.  2 aged 5, the remainder all adults

Grey Plover are fabulous birds ( I remember seeing my 1st ones on Mersea Island in Essex in the late 60's as a kid when we lived down there) and it was a good opportunity to look at the moult in these birds. Grey Plover have curious moult and many arrest their moult during the winter - see paper here:

Most of the birds were adults but there were two young birds hatched last calendar year (Euring 5). These are identified by the gold spangles in the plumage - very reminiscent of an American Golden Plover.

 Juvenile Grey Plover open wing and head shot below. The gold spangles are very noticeable in the head.

Compare this with the adult below:

The catch included fewer Knot than we'd hoped but the ones we caught were duly ringed, flagged and processed. Previous sightings from this flagging project have been incredible and it is hoped the data collected can assist in the future conservation of this declining species. For more information on declining wader populations see Graham Appleton's 'Wadertales' blog here.

A single Bar-tailed Godwit was also colour flagged.

Last year we did several and incredibly one turned up on Hilbre a few days later.

Ultimately a successful day but a very long one! After setting the alar at 05.30 I eventually got home around 17.00 dirty, tired but happy and ready for a beer! 

24 Mar 2019

The value of ponds

We get an amazing amount of wildfowl on the pond opposite the house - despite the local farmers efforts to fill part of it in and deter them (he reckons they pass on worms to his sheep but I reckon its just bad husbandry as the animals don't have access to clean drinking water apart from the pond which now contains the remains of at least two dead sheep....).

The numbers aren't as high as last year when we had torrential rain meaning the field flooded but in this short video there are Teal, Canada Geese, Shoveller, Mallard, Heron & Coot.

The Heron is hunting Great-crested Newts. Another reason to value this pond. Now if only I could acquire the field........

Everyone looks at WeBs counts on large local watercourses but the value of the smaller water courses, such as this pond, are overlooked. When the numbers are combined these small ponds hold a significant number of wildfowl.

21 Mar 2019

Ghost Crab

On our recent Caribbean  cruise we spent a number of days lounging ashore on the beach! A great opportunity for me to catch up with the local Ghost Crabs.

These scavengers burrow in the sand above the tidal zone and scuttle away from you and into their holes if they feel threatened.

Their 'foot' prints were everywhere and you could easily find their burrows by following the trails. Amazing creatures.

12 Mar 2019

Green Iguana - back to the Caribbean

Back to the Caribbean for this blog update. One of the surprises of the trip were the number of large Iguana's encountered on a beach in Guadeloupe - including one individual that was quite happy being fed by hand!

Several were over 1.5 m long and when it looked as if it was going to rain they retreated up the palm trees and into the coconuts until the rain passed over and then came down from the trees again.

I've seen these reptiles in captivity so it was great to see them in the wild but surprising to see them so close to an area of high human activity. The local hotel had wire frames covering small pants with signs saying they were covered to protect them from the Iguana's.

They've been introduced to some islands in the Caribbean and are considered pests but, for me, they were great to see.

7 Mar 2019

More Eider photo's from Hilbre.

Hilbre is currently hosting three Common Eider including a stunning male and two females. Who can resist taking photos of these beautiful sea ducks?

It'll be interesting to see if they move off soon or whether there may be a first breeding attempt for the island!

4 Mar 2019

Falcated Duck added to the British list!

At long last Falcated Duck has been added to the British list.

See announcement here

It looks as if the Exminster Marshes bird is also going to be accepted and I photographed that bird on the 30th November 2006 on the way to see my parents.

All that’s needed now is decisions over a few more wildfowl. Surely Ross’s Goose is due a review and  a long awaited elevation in status?