30 Sept 2019


We've recently returned from a holiday in Madeira. Although more of a family holiday I wanted to see the island endemics - Trocaz Pigeon & Madeiran Firecrest. Checking details, costs and old trip reports it soon became apparent that my best bet was to book a one day tour with Wind Birds. See their website here

I contacted Catriona and arranged for her and Hugo to pick me up from my hotel to join the small group of other birders on a day tour.

Following a nice drive across the island where Hugo told us lot about the history and wildlife in general we arrived at a site for Trocaz Pigeon and within minutes we were watching this island endemic high up on the laurels clinging to a cliff face above us.

Not the best shot but all I could manage holding my phone up to Catriona's scope. The first endemic in the bag!

Next up Madeiran Firecrest and we moved to another site where we found a family group of this little regulus.

Whilst at this spot we also had good views of Atlantic Canary and the Madeiran sub-species of Chaffinch.

Another interesting sub-species we saw during the course of the day was the local Grey Wagtails. Quite distinctive with a darker mantle and more prominent supercilium.

Stopping for lunch at a seaside restaurant we had time for short sea-watch and saw Cory's Shearwaters streaming past in the distance. Moving on we went to another site for Spectacled Warbler and Bertholets Pipit and also added Long-tailed Blue butterfly to the day list.

A great day and we ended up with a relatively small list of birds seen by UK standards but one which included both Madeiran endemics and a number of sub-speices. We also saw both Plain & Pallid Swifts, the Canary islands / Madeiran form of Kestrel, Buzzard, Red-legged Partridge (introduced), Whimbrel, Turnstone, Yellow-legged Gull and probably the rarest and loneliest bird on Madeira - a solitary male House Sparrow that was frequenting the grounds of the hotel we were staying in!

I even got dropped off back at the hotel in time for happy hour!

19 Sept 2019

More Starling action

We've had a few more whoosh netting sessions in Jane's front garden since my last post about the subject. See blog post here.

Its interesting to see how they are progressing with their post juvenile moult and the latest cohort have virtually completed their primary moult but still retain a lot of their juvenile plumage - especially around the head.

We recently caught only our second adult bird. An adult male in stunning plumage. Starlings are unusual in the fact that the adult feathers are generally more pointed than the juvenile ones. In most other passerines it's the opposite way around. The throat and upper tail covert feathers are a good ageing feature as can be seen in the photos below:

Above: Adult male Starling showing pointed upper tail covert feathers.
Below: Juvenile Starling showing rounded upper tail coverts.

Catching an adult Starling gave us the opportunity to check another ageing characteristic- tail shape and the presence of a diffuse black sub-terminal band in the adult bird. See below left with juvenile on the right. Adults have broader tail feathers in common with other passerines. Think steak knife and butter knife!
Now most of the juvenile birds are attaining most of their adult body feathers its easier to sex them on the shape of the white markings on the breast feathers. The presence of an interoccular eyering isn't always conclusive and in the odd case where its poorly defined the shape of these spots can be the deciding factor. Males have more pointed 'arrowhead' shaped markings whilst females have borader and rounder markings. See below with female on the left and male on the right. These are very obvious individuals.
It's not all about the Starlings. We were more than happy to let Helen ring this adult Carrion Crow that couldn't resist the amount of food left out to attract the Starlings. According to the BTO online records only 2 adult Carrion Crows were ringed in Cheshire last year!
Not everyones favourite bird but beautiful glossy plumage when seen close up.

Once again thanks to Jane for the  use of her garden, suppling tea and cakes and carrying out repairs to whoosh nets (and mist nets!). Also to John & Helen for their assistance in ringing and scribing.

13 Sept 2019

Seawatching off Hilbre - 4th September 2019

A classic sea-watch with a strong WNW gale blowing birds into Liverpool Bay. At one point the winds were logged at force 11 and we were stuck in the seawatching hide as waves crashed over the narrow neck of rock behind us. Not that we wanted to leave. The number of birds passing us was incredible.

It was a record day for Arctic Skuas with 101 being recorded with the previous highest recorded number being 72 in 1987!  Of course the main target during these autumn gales is Leach's Petrel and the day didn't disappoint with 29 being logged during the 6 hours we were in the hide.

Although Arctic Skuas were the most numerous recorded we completed the full set of these pirates of the seas with 9 Bonxies, 2 Pomarine and, the undoubted highlight, a sub-adult Long-tailed Skua. This was initially identified as a juvenile but subsequent information suggests its a 2nd calendar year bird due to its long tail projection.

Above: Long-tailed Skau. Below: Pomarine Skua

The Arctic Skuas included both dark and light phase birds and a number of juveniles - see below:

Above: Dark phase Arctic Skua. Below: Light phase Arctic Skua

Bonxie photos below:

As well as Skua's and Petrels large numbers of Gannets and Kittiwakes were recorded and it was good to see a number of juvenile Kittiwakes.

Juvenile Kittiwake below:

Another highlight were 3 Grey Phalaropes - the first I've personally seen off Hilbre for a number of years.

A classic Hilbre sea-watch and probably the best one for a long time.

9 Sept 2019

Autumn Ladies tresses - the last British orchid of the year

Gop Hill, site of an ancient burial mound, in N Wales is also home to the last of the UK's flowering orchids. The aptly named Autumn Ladies Tresses. This year the site has hosted thousands if not tens of thousands of flowering spikes so me and Mark P arranged to meet up after he'd finished work for the short trip into N Wales. It was literally 30 minutes a way from home!

Sure enough, as far as the eye could see, there were the flowering spikes of Autumn Ladies Tresses.

This tiny orchid is a specialist of nutrient poor calcareous soils and it was noticeable the plants were found on areas where the topsoil had eroded and moved further down the slope leaving a very thin layer with little competition from other plants. This is another species that is classed as near threatened and has disappeared from over 50% of its range in the UK.

5 Sept 2019

One Booby prize I was pleased to receive!

When the UK’s 1st Brown Booby, a bird I’d only seen previously seen in the Caribbean, turned up in Cornwall I shrugged my shoulders and dismissed it as we were in Madeira. After a couple of days receding news of it showing well off St Ives there was negative news. It had gone. C’est La Vie.
Sat at the airport in Funchal news came through it had been refound the other side of the county at Kynance Cove! Or had it? Photographs appeared to show a different bird. 
The bird had apparently gone to roost so plans were made for an overnight trip to Cornwall with friends. At the last minute (literally) those plans fell through due to a family illness in the family of our designated driver so at 11pm I suddenly found myself filling the car with fuel and arranging to meet Steve just off the M56 for the overnight trip to Kynance Cove - somewhere I hadn’t been since I went with most of my cousins in 1982 when my grandparents (who lived in Hayle close to where the first sightings of the Booby were!) celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.
After waiting in the dark for the sun to rise, & the first birds to start moving, expectations were high but as the air warmed up doubts started creeping in.
I was cold and had wandered off round the cliff tops to look at the other side of the bay when I heard a shout and people waving. The Booby had flown directly underneath me and was heading towards the assembled crowd! A breathless dash back along the coastal path &, against all expectations, I was watching a Brown Booby in the UK!
A great supporting cast of Chough, Balearic Shearwater, Manxies and (for Steve) Sooty Shearwaters. Many thanks to Steve for taking the wheel for a few hours on the way back and to his youngest daughter, G, for baking home made chocolate Brownies!!!