24 Nov 2019

Pinkfeet flying over house.

The yelping of Pinkfooted geese in the late autumn and winter is something I look forward to hearing every year. We are very lucky as our house is directly on their flight line from their roost on the Dee Estuary to their feeding grounds.

The numbers on the Dee have increased dramatically over the last few years and at times we can have several thousand passing overhead.

18 Nov 2019

Strange pipits

It's a strange thing when some birds can't be identified to species level without DNA. As our knowledge increase more and more cryptic species are being uncovered and 'identified'. I don't know how I feel about this to be honest as some of the recent splits seem arbitrary to say the least - the Western form of Eastern Yellow Wagtail can be confused with the eastern forms of Western Yellow Wagtail. It feels almost as if every birders kit will have to include a DNA sampling kit in the future.
When a strange Pipit turned up in Cornwall recently that didn't appear to conform with any of the known vagrants everyone was left scratching their heads. A sound recording was analysed and unbelievably came back as Paddyfield Pipit - as species never recorded before in the western palearctic and a normally sedentary, or at best, short distant migrant in its range of India, Malaysia, Thailand & Indonesia? A faecal sample was collected and sent off for DNA analysis and the results are still being awaited..........

Questions have been rightly asked about how on earth this bird got here - 6,000 miles from its normal range. It was in heavy moult with very abraded out er primaries so there were theories that it was an escape. The moults not a problem, I've seen Meadow Pipits with similarly worn outer primaries at the end of the breeding season and Paddyfield Pipits normally undertake their post breeding moult in November on their wintering grounds.

So, what is it? Paddyfield Pipit seems so extreme that I couldn't bring myself to believe it was one. Surely the sonogram must be wrong? But, apparently, sonograms never lie...........

I couldn't really summon the enthusiasm to go all the way to Sennen to see a bird I had no idea what it was and resisted for several weeks until Fred decided he was going and offered me a lift.

Thats how I found myself at stupid o'clock in the morning (2.15 am) heading along the M56 to meet him at his office before heading to Cornwall in his car. We spent a leisurely journey reminiscing about other twitches with numerous stops before arriving on site at around 09.30 to be met with some glum faces. Incredibly nearly 3 weeks after the bird had appeared we weren't the only ones still looking. The bird wasn't around but realising we were probably in the wrong area we moved to an area where the bird had previously seemed to prefer and within seconds we'd seen it! Waving the others over we pored over  the bird trying to make our own minds up.

To me it looked more like a Tawny Pipit than a Richards Pipit. I'm not sure if the crown streaking is to heavy for Paddyfield Pipit and yet the newly moulted median coverts looked good for Richards Pipit. In short, I still don't know what it is but if the DNA confirms the sonogram as Paddyfield Pipit its an incredible record.

Unfortunately, a day or so after we visited, it appears the bird had a run in with  a local cat. Although it seemed to have escaped it wasn't seen the following day so it appears that the moggy had another more successful attempt.

11 Nov 2019


Whilst trying (unsuccessfully) to catch some Redwings in the garden one evening recently I caught this 1st calendar year, Euring code 3, male Sparrowhawk. He really was a tiny dainty bird.
He was followed closely by a 2nd calendar year female. A much bigger bird. This one was subsequently re-trapped a few days later and is obviously a regular visitor to the garden. Look at the colour of the eye on the 2nd calendar year bird compared to the 1st year bird and then compare it to the known adult further down.

Ringing at Janes a few days later we re-trapped an adult male that had been initially ringed by Al Hitchmough in his West Kirby garden on 1st March 2013 and then subsequently controlled on 13t hApril 2013 on Hilbre. This was the first time it had been re-trappped since that date.

Obviously there are plumage differences but the two photos show quite nicely how the eye colour gets oranger as these birds get older. See here for a photo of the same bird when it was re-trapped on Hilbre in 2013.

This male is at least 7 calendar years old. The oldest recorded in the BTO ringing scheme is 17 years old so he's got a long way to go!
Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus     17 years 1 month 11 days
EF80696Nestling Female28-07-1982   Micheldever: 51°8'N 1°14'W (Hampshire) 
Freshly dead  (hit by car)08-09-1999   Pennington, Lymington: 50°44'N 1°33'W (Hampshire)   49km   SSW   17y 1m 11d (Map)

2 Nov 2019

Ringing on Fetlar

Before we went to Fetlar I had the idea of taking a mist net and doing some ringing in the nicely enclosed garden of our accommodation. Contacting the ShetlandRinging Group  I found no one was active on Fetlar so there wouldn't be an issue. Thanks to Rebecca Nason & Phil Harris I was able to borrow some poles.

With Jase being a C permit holder it seemed an ideal opportunity. We'd decided to bait an area with bird seed in the hope of attracting migrant finches and buntings and it certainly worked! initially we only got House Sparrows and Starlings down (Shetland race zetlandicus) but also caught severa lRobins, Blackbirds and Shetland Wrens. These birds are huge compared to our Wrens and again are a separate race (zetlandicus) so it was nice to see them in the hand. The Wrens are bigger and darker than the ones we see at home.

After a day or so we attracted the 1st Brambling and eventually the flock built up to 60+ birds. We ringed 23 in two short sessions first thing on the morning and just before dusk.

Bramblings are really beautiful little finches and it was a privilege to catch so many. Hopefully we'll get a few in Cheshire this year.