27 Jul 2020

Puffin island trip

With lockdown movements eased in Wales, earlier this month, a very small team of ringers managed to get across to Puffin Island  with a view to ringing Kittiwake chicks and whatever else was still unfledged.

All other field work had been cancelled due to the Covid19 outbreak and we were all interested to see how the islands wildlife had fared. First impressions were that most birds had a had a good breeding season. A combination of the population boom in the rabbits and the dry spell earlier in the year meant the vegetation wasn't as tall as usual and it certainly appeared that the gulls had had a good breeding season.

Most had fledged and were hanging around close to the cliff edges but a few remained and we managed to ring  a number of Herring, Lesser black-backed and Greater black-backed gull chicks. The Greater black-backed are impressive and from the size of their bills you can see why they can make short work of a Puffin or rabbit!

The best time to ring gull pulli is when the primaries are showing as you can then be certain whether you're ringing s Herring or Lesser black-backed!

The number of rabbit holes everywhere means you have to watch where you're walking even more than usual but bodes well for an increase in the Puffin breeding population and possibly even colonisation by Manx Shearwaters. Its always a pleasure to see a Puffin close up and we managed to ring one adult and a puffling.

A few auk chicks were still on the cliff ledges or under boulders but most had already departed. This young Razorbill will soon be leaving its ledge. The young leave before they can fly and make their way down to sea to join their parents.

Unfortunately, for another year, Kittiwakes have had an extremely poor year with only 8 pullus being ringed. Three adults were ringed and we had a worthwhile number of colour ring sightings.

Quite a few Shag chicks remained and a concerted effort resulted in 50 youngsters ringed.

Part of the purpose of the trip was to get as many colour rings and metal rings read in the field as possible to provide data for ongoing studies. In this respect we gained a useful number of field sightings so the trip was worthwhile.

With the weather forecast to deteriorate early evening we called the boatman to collect us around 5pm  - just in time as driving home the rain started!  It was good to get to Puffin Island again and hopefully next year we'll be able to undertake more ringing work on the island.

18 Jul 2020

White-legged Damselfly

White-legged Damselfly only colonised Cheshire in 2007 and is still quite scarce. A good number were recently located on the Llangollen arm of the Shropshire Union canal near Swanley. It was a new species for me so when Mark P and Malc said they were going to try for them I decided to go with them - a nice little run out. With the weather forecast looking brighter in the afternoon we decided to meet around 13.00 and once we found the right place (!) the Damselflies were easy enough to find in the bank side vegetation and we saw at least a dozen individuals including 3 mating pairs. 

As well as the White-legged we also saw several other species included Blue-tailed Damselfly and numerous Banded Demoiselle.

Unfortunately the Demoiselle's never came close enough to photograph with the macro lens!

We also recently made a trip to Delamere Forest to look for White-faced Darter and were fortunate enough to see 2-3 of this rare Cheshire species. They've been reintroduced into the Delamere lakes and seem to be slowly gaining a fragile foothold.

A search for Downy Emerald Dragonfly was less fruitful but we did get cracking views of Large Red Damselfly.

11 Jul 2020

Lammergeier in the Peak District, oh my Lord!

Lammergeiers have been subject to a a captive breeding & release programme in the Alps for a number of years and there is now a self sustaining population that have been successfully breeding since 1997. See here for details of this long standing project to bring the Bearded Vulture (another name for the Lammergeier) back to the Alps where they'd become persecuted to extinction.

Young birds are prone to wandering before they settle down to breed and four years ago one ended up  on Dartmoor after first being seen perched on rocks alongside the River Severn in South Wales. It was extremely elusive and very few people got to see it.

Roll forward to 2020 when a sub-adult bird was photographed over Alderney - hopes were high it would fly the short distance across to the British mainland  but the trail went cold until it was seen flying over the midlands heading north. The assumption was that it would end up in the Peak District. That proved to be correct with several sightings since early July. The foul weather hadn't helped and it was only in the last few days since the weather cleared up that people returned to the Peaks to start looking again!

I was planning on going myself Saturday (today) but didn't hold out much hope as it was being very elusive and being seen very irregularly. All that changed Friday afternoon when Dan Pointon saw it seemingly land in a remote clough on the Howden Moors. Dan drove round and walked the area and found it roosting on a cliff and stayed with it until almost dark

That put a completely different perspective on the plans. We now knew where it was rather than looking for a needle in a haystack so plans were made to get there as early as possible and wathc it on the roost as dawn came and then, hopefully, watch it fly.

Not bothering going to bed I eventually met up with Fred, Malc & Mark for the relatively short journey down the M56 towards Tintwhistle and Glossop and on to Strines where we arrived around 3.30. An hours walk we were told........

Setting off before the sun had risen we expected to be on the site by 04.30. A steep climb and a beautiful sunrise was enhanced even more by sightings of Nightjar and roding Woodcock whilst higher up towards Back To we had our first and only Red Grouse.

 Fred, Malc & Mark looking back down the path towards where we'd parked the car at Strines.

The bird was roosting on the nearside of a clough with a footpath running along the top. However, the fear was that anyone getting close to the edge would flush the bird so the plan was to carry on further and then leave the path and head across the moors to a viewing point on the opposite side of the clough. By this time the sun was well and truly ip and we'd been yomping for an hour and forty five minutes laden with camera's, telescopes, tripods , food and drink!

We were still several hundred metres away when the bird took to the air! Luckily for us it had a fly round and even fed on a sheep carcass before settling off towards Back Tor. It only settled for a few minutes before it headed back towards us and dropped into its roost site again where it proceeded, over the next 2-3 hours, to put on a show - preening, crapping and even regurgitating its last meal and re-eating it again.

What a bird! I can honestly say seeing a wild bred Lammergeier in the UK is up there with the best experiences birding I've ever had.

The Lammergeier eventually took off again after a fell runner followed the footpath directly above its roost site and flew around before settling on another ridge about 1 km from where we stood and then flying out of sight.

More than satisfied with our views we set off for the long slog back to the car, but not before I managed to lose my footing and slip into a bog up to my knees and fill my wellington boot with smelly brown peaty water. It was a soggy, squelchy walk back the way we'd come. In total we'd walked 16 km with an elevation gain of 412 m. A great day.

6 Jul 2020

Stock Doves

Stock Doves are the daintier and prettier relatives of the Wood Pigeon. Unlike Wood Pigeons, whose nest is a random collection of intercrossed sticks that barely looks strong enough to hold their eggs, Stock Doves nest in holes in trees and take to boxes easily. We had a pair take over a Little Owl box a few years ago and despite the attractive appearance of the adults the young are plug ugly and their box hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. They're absolutely rancid!

Above: young Stock Doves in a Little Owl box at Barry's place.

They nest near us but we rarely see them in the garden. They've inspected the Tawny Owl box we've got but I think the constant disturbance puts them off nesting. They have started visiting in the early morning or late evening and feeding on spilt seed beneath the bird feeders. They're very wary and if they see the slightest movement in the house they're off. Trying to get a photo from outside was impossible so I eventually managed to get a couple through the window.

Even more satisfying - I managed to ring one. A garden first.

Pigeons and doves moult throughout the year and can be difficult to age. This one was a 2nd calendar year (Euring 5) bird based on some of its browner retained juvenile median coverts and some older very worn & faded primaries.

1 Jul 2020

Pied Wagtails

Pied Wagtails are regular visitors to our garden and in the last couple of years they've bred on a neighbours property but bring their newly fledged young to feed here. We also get a good passage in the autumn and winter and a few years ago I found a colour ringed bird, that had been ringed in Scotland, feeding with a flock on a flooded stubble field. See here for details.

Both our male and female local pair were ringed by me earlier in the year and both birds were present when the first brood of young wagtails fledged in early May. There was obviously a second brood as we've had another brood of 3 recently fledged young being fed by both adults in the garden. Intriguingly though the male bird is ringed but the female appears to be a new unringed bird.

The pair seemed to take responsibility for feeding individual young that begged whenever the parents came near with a beak full of insects. What happened to the original female I'll probably never know but its likely she was predated either by a cat or the local Sparrowhawk.

The Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) is a race of the nominate 'White" Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba) that breeds on continental that is a common bird on passage in spring and autumn.

Pied Wagtails are relatively straight forward to age in the hand as they normally retain some juvenile greater coverts after their post juvenile moult. The male bird was aged as a 2nd calendar year bird (Euring 5) as he had a single retained juvenile greater covert thats duller and browner than the neighbouring adult type. He's done pretty well in his first breeding season to fledge two broods!