21 Dec 2020


We regularly get Sparrowhawks coming through the garden and I've ringed several since we moved here. I recently found evidence that one had been using one of our old moss covered apple trees as a plucking post. Whilst on the phone one day I noticed this gorgeous male Sparrowhawk sitting in our oak tree. A quick goodbye and an end to the conversation and he sat long enough for me to quietly open the window and get a few photos. 

This bird isn't ringed so isn't one of the ones I'd already ringed in the garden

We recently had some sad news about a Sparrowhawk we'd re-trapped in Janes garden - see here.
This venerable old bird was recently found in a Hoylake garden with a broken wing and leg and unfortunately had to be euthanised by a vet. A sad end for a fabulous bird.


8 Dec 2020


I've been neglectful of fungi over the years. Sometimes  I make the effort to try and identify them and other times I pass them by without a second thought. This year seems to be a good one and I've found several locally to us and in the garden which I've taken the time to try and identify. There are so many it's really quite difficult to remember any but the commoner ones.

Candle Snuff  - so called because as it gets older it has black bases and looks like a candle wick that has been snuffed out. See below: 

King Alfreds Cakes o na dead ash stump - said to resemble King Alfreds burnt offerings. 
Shaggy Inkcap.
Sulphur Tuft.

Fungi come in all kinds of guises and some are parasitic on insects. I found this dead pollenia fly (thanks Gavin) in the garden that I didn't recognise. It was striking with black and white zebra bands. Googling black and white striped flies and found out it was a kind of fungus, probably Entomophthora muscae, that infects the fly and then kills it as the fruiting bodies burst through the thorax resulting in the dramatic black and white banding.
It just shows - you're never too old to stop learning! 


 With the current lockdown ended I made the trip up the Wirral and across to Hilbre recently and stayed the tide. The weather started off being pretty miserable but brightened up and allowed some good photographic opportunities with the regular wintering waders and the ever present female Kestrel

Purple Sandpipers are one of my favourite birds and certainly my favourite wader. I remember seeing my first ones on the sea defences at Lowestoft as a teenager whilst twitching a Franklins Gull. As well as the Franklins I also ticked Glaucous Gull & Little Auk the same day! 

This years seems to be a good one for Purple Sandpipers with better than usual numbers being reported in some regular wintering sites. Hilbre appears to be following this trend as we have currently got 15 around the island compared to single figure numbers for the past few years. They're remarkably confiding and sittign quietly as the tide dropped enabled me to get some really close photos as they worked their way towards where I was sitting.

With the high tide and disturbance from kite surfers on the mainland roosting spots for Oystercatchers were at a premium and as well as the 6,000 + roosting on Middle Eye there were nearly 2,000 roosting on Hilbre.

Bar-tailed Godwits are generally a bit distant but this one was feeding in the gutter just below the obs.
The stiff breeze meant the Kestrel spent a lot of time hunting voles and just hanging in the wind without having to mover her wings much to hover. At one point she was almost at eye level with me and completely unperurbed as she hunted the west side cliffs.

The changing weather And light conditions provided the opportunity for some artistic landscape shots as rain showers swept in from N Wales to the west and the waves crashed against the rocks.
Above: view of over the rocks to the west of the access track 
Below: My landrover parked at Hilbre Bird Observatory
Below: a rain storm approaching  from the west

All in all it was a good day on the island even though the days are getting shorter and truncated at each end. Getting home at 4 pm meant I was jet washing the salt and sand off the underside of the landrover virtually in the dark! 

14 Nov 2020

A rare chat and a rare bunting

 When news broke of a Rufous Bush Chat at Stiffkey, Norfolk my immediate thought was 'that won't stick around'. However it did and a number of people managed to see it the same day. Thinking it would disappear and I could forget about it I was surprised that it was seen again the next day. Turning down several lifts I eventually cracked and went down with Jase knowing there was also a Stejgeners Stonechat just down the road at Holkham Freshmarsh and a number of Red-flanked Bluetails nearby. With wintering geese already around in good numbers it made for a good day out whatever happened. 

When we arrived at Stiffkey it was obvious the bird wasn't on show. People were standing in the car park looking vainly out towards patch of sea- surrounded suaeda where it had been re-located the day it was found or standing in the stubble field right up against the game crop where it had been seen well the previous day. 

As the tide dropped we decided to go and check the suaeda out as there were lots of people standing checking out the game crop. After an hour or so it was obvious it wasn't there so we headed off to Holkham to look at the Stejgeners Stonechat. That was easy enough and as we were returning tho the car we got the news that the chat had just been seen in the game crop! Needless to say we rushed back to find the crowds had started returning and were again standing right up against the game crop. Asking them to move back and give the bird some room had the desired result and the majority of people did move. Unfortunately the bird still didn't show again and we reluctantly decided it was time to leave. Just as we were saying our good byes to friends I noticed a bird fly up from the field edge and dive into a tree. It looked good for the Rufous Bushchat but there was no further sign of it so I didn't mention itas the views were so brief. It preyed on my mind all the way home. Later that evening it transpired that someone else had seen it in the same area as me but he didn't put the news out as he didn't get his binoculars on it fast enough. 

The next morning the news came out early that it was still there and in the same area - the observer sent me a map with a dropped pin at exactly the same bush! Forgetting to even eat my porridge that I'd left in the microwave (my wife sent me a photo!) I quickly contacted Jase who was unfortunately at work and set off for Norfolk again......

The weather was appalling and when I arrived there were only about 10 people looking with as many again sat in their cars. Again people were right up against the birds favoured game crop so I asked them to move back. As the weather worsened people drifted away and I decided to walk the footpath between the game crop and saltmarsh as the bird had been seen here as well. walking slowly and softly so as not to disturb anything I walked along peering under brambles and overhanging bushes reasoning that any self respecting Bush Chat would want to stay dry! Boom! Suddenly there it was - it hopped up off the floor onto an overhanging bramble! Unfortunately, as the weather was so bad, I'd left the camera back in the car so I just took in the details before it disappeared back into the thickest part of the bush. During this brief encounter I'd  forgotten to breath so grabbing a quick lung full of air I ran back to the stubble field, squelching and sliding on the muddy path, to let others know. Despite waiting another two hours the bird didn't show again.

Above: the hollow where the Rufous Bushchat appeared and then hopped up onto the bramble stems at the back of the bush between the two dead cow parsley stalks.

As it started getting dark I decided to leave. Squelching back to the car I peeled off my sodden coat and fover trousers promptly getting a dollop of cold water down my neck where it had collected in the hood of my coat. With the heating on max, heated seats turned right up and wipers going full speed I sat off back to Cheshire a happy birder. Although I didn't get any photos my mate Chris Griffin got some superb ones earlier in the week which he's kindly allowed me to use. Cheers Chris! 

The bird was never seen again. When I saw it it was pretty bedraggled and my feeling is it probably died overnight.

Thinking there'd be no more twitches this autumn I was proved wrong when an Indigo Bunting turned up on St Agnes in the Scilly's.  Family commitments prevented me from going the next day but it was only seen up until midday so friends that had left Cheshire and got the Scillonian across were to late to see it. Taking a gamble that it might still be around Fred & I set off for the drive down to Lands End airport for the 08.30 flight to St Mary's from where we'd get a boat across to St Agnes. A gamble that didn't pay off......... there was no sign of the Indigo Bunting but I had some consolation in the form of my 2nd Red-eyed Vireo. Crazy as it seems, as this is one of the commonest vagrant American passerines with 146 accepted records up until the end of 2018, I'd only previously seen one - see here. This is mainly because I prefer to spend my birding holidays on Shetland where Red-eyed Vireo has only been recorded twice. They really are a Scilly's speciality. I've actually seen more Siberian Rubythroats than Red-eyed Vireos. Madness.

Hopefully autumn is now over and with another lockdown in place I can't see me going on another long distance twitch this year.

8 Nov 2020

Redwing season

 Each year I look forward to the arrival of Redwings and Fieldfares arriving from Scandinavia and Iceland. At night you can hear their calls as they pass overhead. Normally my first ones of the year are seen on my annual autumn trip to Shetland and this year was no exception. It was almost a month later that birds began filtering down to our NW corner of Cheshire and only more recently they began descending on the berry laden hawthorns in our garden.

Although I don't catch many I manage to ring a few every year at dawn & dusk and this year has been quite good for them. Interestingly the majority of the birds I initially caught were adults with a second wave of mainly juveniles. The ones I've been catching are the Scandinavian race 'iliacus'. Redwing arrivals sometimes coincide with big arrivals of Song Thrushes and I caught two recently  - the only two I've caught in the four years we've lived here! 

Redwings can be aged by the white tips to the greater coverts and tertials. Adults have plain greater coverts and tertials whereas young birds have the white tips. The shape of the tail feathers is also a help in ageing as it is with most passerines. Younger birds have more pointed tail feathers whereas adults are rounder.

Above: Redwing Euring age 3 (1st calendar year) showing white tipped juvenile greater coverts.
Below: Redwing Euring age 3 showing white tips to tertials.

Above and below: upper and lower tail photos of juvenile Redwing tail showing how narrow and pointed the tail feathers are. Comparew this to the adult lower down.

Below: adult Redwing tail showing broad blunt tail feathers.

From the photos above you can also see the variation in the dark centres to the undertail coverts. Bothmthese birds are the same Scandinavian race and the Icelandic race, coburni. See here for details of a trip to Fair Isle where we caught both races side by side.

Both Song Thrushes were young birds identifiable by the 'rose thorn' patterned tips to the greater coverts and median coverts.

It's great to see Song Thrushes in the hand again. Although we've several pairs breeding locally that feed in the garden they're very secretive and don't come in when theres activity outside! 

Below: mist nets set in the garden for Redwing.


29 Oct 2020

Colour ring sightings off Hilbre

 A pretty grim day, weather wise, saw me driving across to Hilbre for a couple of hours as the tide ebbed. There'd been a notable increase in winter wader numbers and several Grey Plover were feeding along the edge of the gutter fairly close to the vehicle track.

Checking them, as I always do, for colour flags or colour rings, I came across a bird we'd ringed at Altcar in march 2019 with the SCAN ringing group! See here for a report on that trip. 

Littler is known about Grey Plover and the catch we made on that day was the biggest for many years. They breed in the arctic and may winter in Africa or Southern Europe. Remarkably we've had a number of sightings from the birds we marked that day which all helps towards our understanding of their movements and helps towards future conservation efforts. Although I didn't get a photo of the bird in the hand I did have a photo, on my phone, of AL still on the string of flags to be used! 

Brent Goose numbers are building up and we get a number of colour ringed birds most winters so I checked the flock and found this bird that was ringed on the breeding grounds in Arctic Canada and first seen off Hilbre in December 2019. Its amazing to think this bird has flown the best part of 7,000 miles since it was last on Hilbre! 3,500 miles to its Arctic breeding grounds and 3,500 miles back to Hilbre.

Most winters we get a couple of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and I found a group of three among the Pale-bellied. It was only when I checked the photos later I realised one had a metal ring! It'll be an interesting winter project to try and read this ring and find out the history of this bird.

So, no birds ringed but an interesting and worthwhile trip. 

Below: Storm brewing over the north of Hilbre looking towards the old lifeboat station.

22 Oct 2020

In praise of rosa rugosa

Rosa rugosa is native to eastern asia and is growing wild all over Shetland. Its dense thorny cover makes ideal cover for tired migrants and the large hips are a good food source for a number of species of warbler and finch. The fact that it has pretty flowers and large ornamental red hips makes it a commonly planted hedging plant that'll withstand all kinds of weather conditions. Its so attractive to birds that I'm planting a hedge of it in our back garden! 

A rosa bed on shetland has the same attraction to birds and birders as an iris bed. Its always worth checking and most gardens have patches or hedges of it and occasional rogue patches that have grown up in field corners - such as the patch favoured by the recent pallas's Grasshopper Warbler on Whalsay we saw recently.

Whilst waiting for the rarer warbler to make an appearance we watched numerous Blackcaps coming to feed on the large rosa hips. At one point there were probably 8-10 Blackcaps feeding in this small patch.

Elsewhere, on Yell, we watched a Hawfinch chewing its way through the hip to get to the seeds.

It's known as an invasive plant in some areas but on Shetland its role in providing food and cover for migrant birds shouldnt be underestimated.

16 Oct 2020

The disappearing Tennessee Warbler - the highs and lows

Following on from my previous post and the excitement of seeing the Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler this post is about the polar opposite feeling. 

We'd arrived on Shetland knowing there was no sign of the Tennessee Warbler but seeing one of the target birds was adequate compensation. To be honest if someone had given me the choice I'd have chosen the pallas's Grasshopper Warbler over the American wood warbler. 

After staying at the excellent Brae Hotel for the night we decided we'd go to Yell in the vain hope the Tennessee could be re-found. Whist enjoying a 'full Scottish' breakfast (like a full English but with square sausage we got news that there was an Arctic Warbler about five minutes from our hotel and on the way to the ferry terminal. With Steve still needing Arctic Warbler in the UK and refusing to travel for one as he'd ringed them in Hong Kong we called in and had great views of this little phylosc

Arriving on Yell decided to give the site at Burravoe a go for a couple of hours the day after we'd seen the locustella. No joy but it was nice to meet up with the finder, Dougie Preston, again and have a chat with him. 

Deciding to go back to Whalsay and revisit Jason's old patch we got the ferry across knowing that John had found a Red-flanked Bluetail - another formerly scarce Siberian vagrant that has now become more regular. As we arrived and drove up towards Skaw we saw John with has camera and stopped to find the Bluetail was in the Skaw plantation. Within minutes we saw it and then watched it for the next hour whilst if flitted back and to from the plantation to the quarry on the opposite side of the road.

I've seen a few of these beautiful little chats in the UK  - all have been 1st winter birds and the inly males I've seen was whilst working in Finland for a few months after leaving university. Still probably the best encounter with hte species was with the one we found and subsequently ringed on Hilbre. See here.

With Jason and Steve deciding to go and look round Jasons old patch I decided to go for another look at the Pallas's Grasshopper warbler so set off on foot. I hadn't got very far before I got a frantic call to say that, unbelievably, the Tennesee Warbler (or another) had been relocated right at the northern tip of Yell and was showing well in a thistle bed!

It would be almost dark before we'd got there and the journey involved getting the ferry off Whalsay and ten driving to the ferry terminal to get across to Yell but it was worth a try. Imagine the frustration to receive news that the bird had flown off high just as we were about to disembark on Yell. We drove to the site anyway and met up with Al, Malc & John who'd got there just in time and see the bird for around 30 seconds before it flew! 

Deciding there was a good chance  it had gone to roost we decided to come back the next morning and had an early night to ensure we got the first ferry back to Yell. Driving through Cullivoe we saw Bill Aspin pointing into a garden and stopped to hear the news that he'd seen the Tennesee Warbler five minutes ago in the garden but taken his eye off it and couldn't relocate it! Aghhhh. Despite searching the original site in the thistle bed three times in case it had flown back there and spending the remainder of our time on Shetland searching all the gardens and suitable habitat around it was never seen again. 

Our search was enlivened by a Merlin seen chasing a Lapland Bunting as I was walking the mile between the two sites and searching every garden a, ditch and  bush and a Hawfinch devouring the hips of rosa rugosa in one of the gardens in the same terrace that Bill had seen the Tennesee Warbler.

There had been an obvious influx of these large Finches overt he last couple of days with quite a few being reported. There had also been a major influx of Blue & Great Tits as well with a flock of six Blue Tits and a Great Tit in Cullivoe and several more being seen at other locations on the islands.

We were understandably despondent at having to leave but had time to call in quickly at Sumburgh head before we handed the hire car back to see a Shore Lark that had ben hanging around the lower carpark.

Even though we missed the Tennessee Warblemasde it very successful.r it was a great trip and for me personally the opportunity to finally see Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler