29 Jan 2021

Local birding and local wildlife

There really hasn't been much to blog about recently. Life seems to be whizzing by without us actually seemingly achieving anything.  Because of the current lockdown we've been restricted to exploring the lanes around the house. In reality its the border of my local patch so I'm recording sightings every day.

One advantage has been I now know where our local Yellowhammers seem to be roosting and can almost guarantee a sighting if I walk past a particular field as its getting dusk. At least 4 birds have been present n occasions suggesting the local breeding population is just about hanging on.

Torrential rain during storm Christoph resulted in floods in the village and lost of soggy fields. The pond opposite attracted a pair of Mute Swans and they seem to like it at the moment as they've stayed a week. A few days ago I heard a Coot flying over at night and the next day there were three back on the pond. They arrive to breed and then disappear again when the pond begins drying out after they've finished breeding.

The floods have also attracted a lot of gulls and searching through them I managed to find both an adult and 1st winter Med Gull. Always nice to see but unfortunately nothing rarer! 

There have been hundreds of Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls along with a few Herrings and a single Lesser black-backed Gull. The photo quality is poor as the photos are generally taken with the phone held up against the 'scope through a very rain soaked window! 

With the daylight hours increasing and signs of spring, in the emerging Snow Drops and Winter Acanites, birds are beginning to sing and our local Mistle Thrush, Robins and Song Thrushes seem to be singing almost non stop. Other birds are beginning to explore potential nest sites and this Great Tit was spotted checking out one of our garden nest boxes. 

The local Little Owl is proving elusive and keeps changing roost sites. I'm not sure if they're getting pushed out of their preferred tree by Grey Squirrels or Stock Doves (both have been seen entering the hole) but they've been seen roosting in our neighbours garden and at their old nest site. I woke one morning to the sound of the Little Owl calling very close and realised it was in next doors garden but it still took me an hour or so searching before I found it partially hidden in an old oak. The next day it was back outside its favoured haunt but hasn't been seen for a couple of days. We did see a pair of birds together so its good to now we may once again have a breeding pair.

Its been a good start to patch year listing and the arrival of a male Blackcap on the feeders has put the total up to 67. Not bad for an inland site. 

12 Jan 2021

Local birding 2021 - lockdown No. 3

So here we are in another lockdown. To be honest I'm not surprised. It was always going to happen. It doesn't matter how many lockdowns we have we can't completely eradicate the virus and it only takes a small number of people in the community to be carrying the virus for the whole cycle to start again.  The year has started with a major milestone birthday for me - spent at home with a bit bit of garden ringing and a brisk walk in the frosty weather around the local lanes. We've also welcomed a new granddaughter into the World  - a pretty traumatic experience for our daughter-in-law who was kept in hospital for three days after the birth so we looked after their 2 year old and dog whilst our son spent the time in the hospital with his wife and new baby. An eventful two weeks! 

The frosty weather made a welcome change from the wet and wind. Good numbers of winter thrushes seem to have relocated from snowbound areas further north and east in the UK sand the local fields are full of foraging Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds. Good numbers of Blackbirds have been visiting the garden and at one point I counted 13 together. I've ringed a few and have also added a new species ringed for the garden - Mistle Thrush. Although they're fairly regular visitors and there are at least two pairs in the village, I've never ringed one in the garden before. A beautiful bird and this one was aged as a 2nd calendar year bird.

As well as the Mistle Thrush I've caught and ringed a Fieldfare - again, fairly regular in winter but last year was the first time I'd ringed any in the garden. This one was aged as and adult female based on the amount of black in the crown feathers. See here for more information on sexing Fieldfares.

Its not all thrushes though and I recently caught a Collared Dove.

Again, a common enough garden bird but very wary and not easy to catch & ring. 

I'm using a whoosh net for which I have an endorsement, rather than a mist net at the moment as the thrushes generally manage to get out and the collared doves invariably do. A lot of the Blackbirds have long wings and are quite heavy suggesting they may be continental birds and hopefully I'll get a ringing recovery or control to prove this.


1 Jan 2021

Goodbye & good riddance 2020

What a crap year for everyone. 2020 started off well for us with a trip to Australia to see the grandchildren but even in early January there were rumours of a new Covid virus in China. I think, along with the whole World, we thought it would get contained over there. How wrong we were. Our first major pandemic since Spanish flu just after the 1st World War hit Europe hard. With the first lock down 'of a couple of weeks' in March morphing into a major shut down of the whole UK and subsequent periods of relative freedom followed by more lockdowns normal life has taken a major backseat. The cycle of lockdown and then periods of relative sanity was always going to happen until either we got a vaccine or the whole country had herd immunity. 

I consider myself lucky that we've escaped relatively unscathed with our immediate family still working and healthy. The fact we live in a rural area has meant that we've been able to get our prescribed daily exercise walking the lanes round the village which, coincidentally, is also my local birding patch. 

Spending more time local birding had meant that I've added 6 new species to the patch list. Grasshopper Warbler, Red-legged Partridge, Whimbrel, Ring-necked Parakeet, Golden Plover and Stonechat.  The partridges were seen twice approximately a mile apart unless there are two pairs. The Stonechat and Golden Plover were long overdue given our proximity to the Dee Estuary. The Whimbrel, Golden Plover & R N Parakeet also made it onto the garden list! In addition Tree Sparrow was also a garden tick. They used to be fairly common in this area with a breeding colony around 0.5 km away in a straight line but I haven't seen one in the area since we moved in 4 years ago.

An undoubted highlight of local birding was having a Barn Owl take up temporary residence in a tawny owl box in the garden whilst the long hot spring meant we could enjoy the garden and our garden nesting birds had a good head start - all except the Blackbirdds and Song Thrushes who's early nesting attempts failed as they couldn't find enough worms to successfully raise their young.

The lockdowns and travel restrictions put a major obstacle in the way of twitching nationally but during a break in various lockdowns we did manage to get to Shetland for a week in September and then a few days in October where I finally got to see Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler in the UK. (Photo copyright Jase Atkinson).

Another trip was managed to Stiffkey to see the UK's first record of Rufous Bushchat for 40 years and see one of those annoying splits, Stejgeners Stonechat.(Photo copyright Chris Griffin).

Covid restrictions meant the usual SCAN canon netting trips and trips to Puffin Island were cancelled and to cap it all a bird flu outbreak in Frodsham meant I had to stop ringing for a few weeks as we were within the 10 km surveillance zone - just as good numbers of winter thrushes descended on the garden to gobble up the berries I'd been nurturing all year! The Covid pandemic meant Hilbre was closed for a period of time so we missed the bulk of the spring migration until Wirral Borough Council relented and allowed a skeleton Obs team to operate under strict protocols.

To everyone out there - here's to a better 2021. Stay well and hopefully I'llsee a lot of you sometime soon.