30 Nov 2021

Cattle Egret. New for the garden & patch list.

Despite being common on the Dee Estuary, and at nearby Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Little Egret is remarkable scarce on my local patch with only 4 records in 5 years living here. One of those was of multiple birds (3) seen flying past the study window so as a consequence its on the house and garden list! 

Cattle Egret is very scarce with most of the records coming from Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB (BMW) or Wirral. BMW is about 11 km in a straight-line from us and slightly north west. It was one of the last species I expected to add to the house list anytime soon!

Storm Arwen hit us hard Friday night and we lost power around 11 pm. Saturday morning dawned to devastation all around us. Apart from no power and a missing roof tile we escaped quite lightly but the garden was strewn with fallen branches. A neighbouring barn had lost its roof and many trees were blown over. Once the storm abated the weather became bitterly cold and as we didn't have power the central heating wasn't working. Trying to keep warm working in the garden I took a break, made a brew and took it up to the study to check on the gulls I'd noticed in the field opposite the house. Even without binoculars I could see one bird that stood out glowing white compared to the larids.

Getting the binoculars on it I was stunned to see it was actually a Cattle Egret and it was doing what Cattle Egrets do the World over! Hanging around with cattle and snaffling insects that they disturbed in the grass.

Cue panic as  I tried to get a record photo / video before the bird disappeared as all around us chainsaws were working removing fallen trees blocking the lane and that had fallen across power lines.

The bird stayed for about an hour before disappearing. I didn't see it fly but next time I looked up it, and all the gulls, had disappeared. A great local record and some reward for being without electricity for nearly 3 days. That puts the garden list up to 111 in 4 years of living here.

26 Nov 2021

What a belter of a Kingfisher

In October 1979 I started as an undergraduate studying biology at Manchester University. That same year a Belted Kingfisher turned up at Sladesbridge Cornwall. Although it stayed for awhile it was pretty elusive and getting there would have entailed a long hitch from Manchester to Cornwall. Stupidly I never made the effort. If I'd known then that there wouldn't have been another one in the UK until 2005 I'd have made more of an effort but at the time I was a conscientious student.

For years it had been on my most wanted list of birds to see in the UK. With several birds being seen in Ireland and in Spain the hope was one of these birds would migrate and make it to the UK. April 1st 2005 saw me skiing in Andorra with my wife and two kids. A message about a Belted Kingfisher at Shugbourough was viewed as a April fool hoax. Only it wasn't and most of my Cheshire compatriots made the short journey to Shugborough to see this Jackdaw sized Kingfisher. It's a Mega in so many ways.

April the 2nd dawned with many disappointed faces as the bird had gone. Only to be relocated later that day in Yorkshire. Again it eluded the masses before finally pitching up in Peterculter, Scotland where it showed from the 4-8th April. We arrived home from Andorra on the 9th. Another one missed.

Roll forward to April 18th 2018 when one was found on the Scillies and seemed settled at Porth Hellick. Surely it would be 3rd time lucky? Al Orton and I thought so as we drove through the night to Cornwall and get a flight from Lands End to St Mary's. Or so we thought. Bad weather meant the flight was cancelled and we had to get the ferry from Penzance. Surely the bird wouldn't have moved on in such bad weather? It had and another opportunity was lost. 

Unbelievably a fisherman dangling his maggots on the River Ribble just north of Brockholes NNR in Lancashire videoed one using his phone on 9th November this year. We were there within a couple of hours of the news breaking but despite staying until dark there was no sign until the 14th November when it was reported again from exactly the same spot. Again, birders turned up but failed to find any trace. How could a bird this big and loud disappear? With no more sightings we pored over OS maps to look at areas where there was access to the river bank and where a Belted Kingfisher could possibly hangout. Despite us, & lots of people searching large stretches of the Ribble, there was no further sign.

When a Long-toed Stint was reported in Cumbria it took quite a bit of sleuthing by a few people to determine where it might be. I'd missed the Yorkshire bird in October as we were on Fetlar. We'd arranged to drive straight there after getting off Shetland only for it to disappear the very day we were going. Keen to catch up with this ultra rare stint I arranged with Chris we'd drive to Carlisle in the hope the bird would show and access could be arranged. As we passed Brockholes on the M6 Chris jokingly said he had a good feeling about the day and that he fully expected to get the Long-toed Stint and then the Belted Kingfisher on the way home! Unbelievably the news came through from RBA that the Kingfisher was showing well in exactly the same spot when we were only 20 minutes from Rockcliffe Marsh where the stint had been seen! Deciding to carry on we soon found there was no viewing on site, no access and no sign of the bird.....

With news the Belted Kingfisher was still showing well we decided to cut our losses and head back down the M6 to Brockholes. News kept coming through that it had moved but was still showing, next it had been flushed, by who or what we didn't know, but eventually at 2.20 pm we pulled up in the crematorium carpark and raced down to the river bank down a very steep muddy embankment. Distant it may have been compared to the views people had earlier but finally after 42 years I had my Belted Kingfisher. We watched it move around a bit before at around 2.50 it flew upstream and wasn't seen again.

What an incredible end to a long wait! Hopefully its now getting into a more regular routine & there'll be another chance to catch up with this spectacular bird. Surely it will overwinter in the area now? 

22 Nov 2021

SCAN - Dunlin & Redshank

After being away for the first SCAN canon netting session of the winter I was more than happy to make the early morning trip across to North Wales to meet up with the rest of the ringing team in an attempt to catch a good sample size catch of Dunlin & Redshank. Donning enough layers to keep an Arctic explorer warm I was soon sweating walking across the marsh to the designated meeting point but knew I'd appreciate the extra layers once we'd been sitting in the same spot for a few hours! 

A team had already set the nets at 06.30 so all the rest of us latecomers had to do was get comfortable and listen to the briefing given by Richard.We could hear birds moving the other side of the embankment we were ensconced behind and Steve gave updates over the radio. 

With a boom that made a few people jump the nets were fired and we were off running to the catch site to lift the net onto higher ground and cover the birds to keep them calm whilst we extracted the catch into holding cages ready for processing. 

A great catch of 620 Dunlin and 24 Redshanks was duly ringed and processed. There were quite a few retraps from previous ringing sessions and a few controls - including two Dunlin ringed in Norway and a SCAN bird that had acquired a darvic ring in Poland! It'll be interesting to see where this bird was ringed.

Many of the birds were juveniles and these were identified by the retained juvenile feathers in the wing - not to be confused with retained breeding plumage in adults! Some were very subtle and others, such as this bird below, a lot easier with distinct buff tipped coverts visible in with the adult type with grey /white fringes.

Redshank are beuatifully marked and very understated birds. Close up the intricacies of the plumage become apparent as most of the time people see them as little brown and white waders with red legs as the fly away calling after being disturbed. Known as the 'sentinel of the marshes' they're usually the first waders to give an alarm call and fly off when something disturbs them. Again, it was good to get my eye in on ageing them as I hadn't seen one in the hand (due to Covid restrictions in 2020) since 2019!

Juveniles (Euring 3) are identified by their retained tertial(s) which are saw toothed and white edged. As usual with feathers the white parts wear more quickly and the tertials look ragged. Some birds also retain some of their juvenile inner median coverts with a white tip and dark subterminal band.

All in all a great day and the unseasonably mild weather meant we enjoyed a bit of late November sunshine.