31 Jul 2019

Colour flagging adult Arctic Terns on the Skerries

For the last three years I've been invited to help ring Arctic tern chicks on the Skerries but this year  I joined the team catching and colour flagging adults as part of a long term RAS (re-trapping adults for survival) project.  Common Terns have also been colour flagged in this colony and one of my jobs was to try and record as many as  I could so I duly sat myself on a rock with a telescope and scanned the colony. I managed to pick out 8 colour flagged birds and a colour ringed bird which is one from the Dublin Bay colony. Information below from Tara Adcock , one of the conservation team working on Common Terns:

PKE was ringed as a chick in Dublin Port in June 2015, on a structure which has been specifically set aside for breeding Common and Arctic Terns by the Irish Electricity Supply Board. If you're interested see this blog post (link below) about the Dublin Port Tern colony and our work in it; 

PKE has been spotted 11 times previous to your report, making it one of our most regularly sighted Terns, (I wish they were all so amenable!).  Last year it was seen once in Merseyside, Liverpool, once in Seaforth Nature Reserve, Liverpool and 8 times out your way in Skerries, where we had a report of it nesting on a helipad

Arctic Terns are truly beautiful birds even though they have the mentally of an enraged Rottweiler when you encroach too close to their territory. They will attack with machine gun calls and a razor sharp stiletto bill - a hat is a necessary piece of protection when working in the colony.

Below: colour flagged Arctic Tern. A re-trap from a previous year.

 Below: Rock Pipit carrying food.

All to soon it was time to leave the island and head back to Holyhead.

I was also lucky enough to see two pairs of Roseate Terns and its now been announced they've fledged 4 young.

25 Jul 2019

Cheshire Orchids

My trip with Sean to look at rare orchids in S Wales and Gloucestershire a few weeks ago ignited my interest again and when I heard that a site near Northwich held both Marsh Fragrant Orchid and Marsh Helleborine I arranged to meet Mark Payne after he'd finished work to check them out. Expecting a long hard search we were stunned to literally find both species everywhere. The Marsh Fragrants lived up to their namer and smelt fantastic whilst the Marsh Helleborine flowers close up were exquisite.

Marsh Fragrants above and Marsh Helleborine below.

A great spot and one we'll be returning to next year. In the meantime I've now got a Cheshire site for Dune Orchid.....

15 Jul 2019

Puffin Island. Data loggers and Auks

Visiting Puffin Island during the seabird research season is something I eagerly anticipate every year although the physicality of it is getting harder as I get older!

This year it seems as if the birds have had a good breeding year with large numbers of Shags, Cormorants, Razorbills and Guillemots being ringed and, yes, Steve caught the obligatory Puffin.

Razorbill chick ready to fledge. It'll hiopefully return as a breeding adult in 2-3 years time


 Bridled Guillemot. Rare this far south but commoner further north.

 Herring Gull eggs hatching

Seabird tracking and monitoring is important in our understanding of population dynamics and the environmental impacts affecting them. Research is carried out on Puffin Island using the latest techniques - including data loggers as shown below fitted to a Guillemot. These will be used to track the birds throughout the winter to see where they move to. For information on the importance of this research see the RSPB's site here

After an exceedingly hot and long day in the field it was a relief to get aboard Matthews boat and get a bit of a breeze! An hour and a half later I was home and enjoying a well deserved beer!

8 Jul 2019

Colour flagging Sandwich Terns at Cemlyn.

I recently got invited to help in a project colour flagging Sandwich Terns at Cemlyn lagoon on Anglesey as part of a new long term project to find out where these birds disperse to when they return as breeding adults. Last year the colony was devastated by an otter and the adult birds deserted. Where did they go? Did they attempt to breed at another colony? Would they come back this year? The answer to the 2nd question was yes they returned but no one knows where they ended up last year. With the installation of a predator proof fence the colony is doing well this year and in conjunction with the wardens plans were made to spend a minimum amount of time on the breeding island to mark as many youngsters as we could.

Although the water wasn't particularly deep in the lagoon we were towed across to the island in a metal punt by one of the wardens to minimise the disturbance of the bottom. This was quite a surreal experience!

Setting ourselves up in two teams we started ringing and colour flagging the young tern chicks gathered up by the wardens. We were limited to 45 minutes so with me ringing and Rachel colour flagging we worked methodically and as swiftly as possible. Sandwich Terns are quite docile compared to the machine gun approach of adult Arctic terns and we didn't get attacked by the adults at all. Below: Rachel applying the quick setting glue to a colour flag from her new highly prized metal syringe - so much easier than applying directly from the tube.

Sandwich Tern AEE. Hopefully we'll pick up some of these later off Hilbre as we get a late summer build up of Sandwich Terns.

With our allotted time up we'd manage to ring and flag 128 young Sandwich Terns and left the colony to return back to the wardens cottage for a debrief and tea and biscuits.
We look forward to receiving sightings on these young terns.

4 Jul 2019

Savi's Warbler and Gull-billed Tern.

The planets definitely aligned yesterday despite the day starting looking as if it was going to be a bit of a disaster. Rough seas aborted our planned trip to the Skerries to ring Arctic Tern chicks and I was already on my way to Bangor when Steve rang me to say the trip had been delayed until later in the morning. No problem - I'd been meaning to call into Cors Dydga RSPB reserve, when in the area, to try and see the long staying Savi's Warbler. The last one I saw in the UK was over 15 years ago and although they're pretty regular in the SE and SW they're not so common this far north. Once mooted as  a potential colonist they first started breeding in the UK at Stodmarsh in Kent which is where I saw my first one in the 70's whilst living in Suffolk with my parents. The breeding population has never really taken off if you'll excuse the pun........

Arriving at the small reserve carpark  I checked the song on Xeno Canto to refresh my memory of what this largish locustella sounded like in comparison with Grasshopper Warbler.

A few minute later on a beautiful sunny morning and already slathered in sunscreen for the Skerries trip I found myself standing looking over a pristine piece of wetland habitat! Reed Buntings, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers andf Blackcaps were singing already me but within a few minutes I heard the distinctive reeling song of the Savi's Warbler. A brief view in some scrub and it was gone. Unfortunately I didn't have a scope or camera with me as the bird then started singing more distantly. This was the pattern for the next couple of hours until a couple more people arrived, one of who had a telescope! I picked up the Savi's showing fairly distantly at the top of a dead reed stem and managed to get everyone on it and borrowed the ladies scope to take a record shot.

This was the pattern for the next few hours with people coming and going and me 'borrowing' scopes to get people on to the bird. Another call from Steve and another boat delay meant I got to enjoy the reserve for longer. Painted Lady, Ringlet, Meadow Brown all were seen from my viewpoint whilst Kingfishers called in the dyke behind me. With the boat trip being put back until 3.30 I stayed until hunger drove me back to the Landrover and enjoyed warm sandwiches and an even warmer cold drink before heading the short distance to Steves office where I'd no sooner pulled up when he rang to say the trip was off until Friday!

Meanwhile Steve Hinde had found a Gull-billed Tern off Thurstaston and as I set off for home I had this feeling of deja-vue as my last Gull-billed Ternin the UK was also a Wirral one and also found whilst I was on Anglesey - see here. This time it was Puffin Island and the tern was at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB. With news it was still present after the tide had receded I made the decision to go and try for it with a very quick detour off the main route to collect the camera from home.

Joining some familiar Wirral faces at Thurstaston I was soon onto the tern thanks to Al H letting me see it through his scope. Definitely a theme for the day as mine was still at home set up in the study and overlooking the pond opposite the house. It was sat distantly on the mud / sand but performed a fly past and came a bit closer allowing some distant photos.

As I said, the planets were aligned for me. No sooner had I got home then the alarm calls of our local House Martins caused me to look skywards in time to see a Hobby making a vain attempt to catch one before heading off across the fields. In the last two years we've had them earlier in the year displaying and calling behind the house but this year we were in Australia for the two week period they've usually been more active so this was my first local sighting this year!