31 Dec 2021

2021 done and dusted!

I think everyone will be glad to see the back of 2021. Covid 19 lockdowns meant many peoples plans were severely disrupted and many of our plans were put on the back-burner! I managed 4 new species for the year taking my life list up to 531- new birds were Northern Mockingbird, Red-necked Stint and Belted Kingfisher! the 4th was an 'armchair tick' with the long overdue addition of Ross's Goose to the British list. Unfortunately I missed some really good birds by being either to slow off the mark or away! Sulphur-bellied Warbler was one such bird where I dithered about going incase  I couldn't get a boat to Lundy. Hindsights a wonderful thing and in retrospect I should have just gone as there were apparently plenty of seats available on various charter boats. I can't really complain at missing the Varied Thrush on Papa Westray as I was in the Maldives belatedly celebrating my 60th birthday trip that had been rescheduled from the beginning of the year. I ticked two of my most wanted of my all time bucket list on that trip - diving with Manta Rays and best of all Whale Shark!

Most of my birding these days is done within walking distance of our house. Unless I'm twitching something thats where  I prefer to be. An exception to this is our annual trip to Shetland (see write up here). I consider Shetland as my home from home and look forward to our annual sojourn every year. By no means a classic year but good company and we did find a few good birds.

The local patch is mainly improved pasture with some arable and a few ponds - one of which is conveniently opposite my study window and has my telescope trained on it most of the time! It has turned up some good birds and this year I added three new species to the house / patch list (all three were seen from the house!) - Red Kite, Cattle Egret & Goshawk! Looks like I'll have to submit a couple of county rarities forms! Another local highlight was the successful breeding of our local Little Owls. They hadn't bred successfully for three years since the original female was killed by a Sparrowhawk in our garden.

Ringing been a major part of my birding year with regular trips out with SCAN canon netting waders and ringing seabirds on Puffin Island. I didn't get to Hilbre as much as I'd like this year due to various other issues we've had at home but hopefully I'll get across more in 2022. I was on the island when the Melodious Warbler was trapped and ringed and that was a nice addition to my county & Hilbre lists! (see here)

Another highlight was a June trip to Shetland with some good mates. We didn't see the hoped for Orca but didn't do to badly! - see here. Breeding Red-necked Phalaropes and an adult Long-tailed Skua holding territory were pretty good. Coupled with an adult male Snowy Owl on Ronas Hill and some good company it was  memorable trip.

One of the major highlights of my year was undoubtedly my first trip to Bardsey with Chris to help install the Observatories solar system. A steep learning curve for me! Steve and Emma looked after us extremely well and we even got to ring some Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels. A write up on that trip can be read here). A fabulous place and I really don't know why I hadn't been across before.

So, what will 2022 bring? Hopefully we'll all be free of Covid19 and its various mutations. As parents of an Australian citizen we've got a special permit to enter the country and hope to go in February. Amy & Jeremy have bought us a hot air ballon flight as a Christmas present. Taking off from one of the local wineries and then landing for a champagne breakfast somewhere! Another one off the bucket list of things to do before I become too decrepit. Another bird on my all time wanted list is the Australian Regents Honeyeater and their new house is in one of the hot spots for this rapidly declining species. It will be looking like the needle in the proverbial haystack though with an estimated 300 birds left in an area the size of the British Isles! 

Again, we're hoping that a delayed trip to Africa will come off later in the year with a week on safari in the Masai Mara and a week in Zanzibar. I've already booked our accommodation on Fetlar in October and it'll be my 15th consecutive autumn on Shetland.

Heres wishing all my friends and family a Covid free and happy  new year. I'll see you all on the other side.

20 Dec 2021

Osystercatchers with SCAN

 I managed to get out canon netting on Saturday with SCAN with the aim of catching a sample of Oystercatchers and Redshank as part of the ongoing studies on Lavan Sands. An early start saw me up at 5.30 am having breakfast and filling flasks of tea before steering the Landrover west along the North Wales coast road to our designated meeting point.

Because of the early tide the nets had been set the previous night so it was just a case of driving along the farm track to the beach and waiting in the vehicles until the rising tide pushed the birds up the beach to roost. 

After a bit of a nail biting wait as the birds seemed unsettled we made a decent catch of 96 Oystercatchers and 6 Redshank. The Oystercatchers included an Icelandic control with a Reykjavic metal ring and colour rings! 

As usual it was interesting to see these birds close up and refresh knowledge on ageing based on eye colour, bill colour and leg colour. Juvenile birds (Euring 3) have muddy brown eyes and dull greyish legs whereas (depending on their exact age) adults have redder eyes and pinker legs. Juvenile bills are darker tipped than adults as well and generally duller.

Juvenile (3) Oystercatcher with brown eyes, dull dark tipped bill and 
grey / pink legs

Adult (Euring 8) Oystercatcher (furthest from camera) with ruby red eye and bright pink legs compared to juvenile (Euring 3) 

Of course theres a whole load of age groups in between and it enabled everyone to become familiar with these. Compared to small passerines waders are long lived birds and some species can be aged on plumage and soft part characteristics / colours way beyond what is normally possible for small passerines who generally attain full adult plumage after their first post breeding moult in their 2nd year. The adult Oystercatcher above (Euring 8), for example, is at least 3 years old and probably older. The bird below is a  second calendar year bird (Euring 5) hatched last yer. The eye isn't as bright as the Euring 8 bird above and the bill still retains a lot of dark pigmentation and the legs are dull.

Oystercatcher Euring 5 (second calendar year) with dull bill and legs but brighter eye than juvenile.

It was a beautiful and frosty December morning and it was nice to be out and see some familiar friendly faces. With all the birds processed the gear was packed up and I set off back home and a hot mug of tea to warm me up. 

13 Dec 2021

Storm Arwen and local birding

Storm Arwen caused a fair bit of damage in our village. Trees and power lines were brought down and several houses and farm buildings sustained serious structural damage. We escaped relatively unscathed suffering just a power outage for three days and a missing roof tile. The garden also escaped relatively unharmed with just a few branches being blown off some of our trees. Others had to be surgically removed with a chainsaw to save further damage to the tree. 

One thing we noticed in the immediate aftermath was an increased number of Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls. We only normally see flocks like this during the spring when they're moving to their breeding grounds. Since Arwen we're regularly getting 4-500 gulls feeding on flooded pasture in front of the house. As usual I check them all for either colour rings or something rarer. I was surprised to find an adult winter plumaged Med Gull with them as, again, this is a bird I usually associate with spring movements. 

This one had the bonus of being colour ringed but unfortunately never came close enough for me to read the darvics combination. Very frustrating.

I also picked out at least two separate metal ringed Black-headed Gulls but had no chance of reading those numbers either!

After our recent Cattle Egret (see write up here) and my comments about the scarcity of Little Egrets (even though they breed fairly close) we recently had two Egret days! One day I looked out of one of the the rear facing windows and saw two Little Egrets in with cows and the next day there was one. I'd never have thought 51 years ago when I started birding that I'd see Cattle & Little Egrets in the UK from our rural location. Actually, at nine years old I'd probably never even heard of them!

The gull flock also held this leucistic Black-headed Gull. A very striking looking bird and a useful pointer to the fact that the gulls returning each day were part of the same flock even if the Med Gull hasn't (so far) been seen again.

7 Dec 2021

A bit of garden ringing - winter visitors

 I love winter ringing in the garden. Especially early morning and dusk sessions trying to catch and ring the Redwing that come to fill their crops on our berry laden trees. I don't catch many but its always a thrill to catch one or two each session knowing they've come across from Scandinavia for the winter and will return there to breed in the spring. 

We also get an influx of Blackbirds from Scandinavia and northern Europe in the winter and the majority of these birds are identifiable in the hand by being distinctly bigger with longer wings and a heavier body weight. Young males also tend to have all dark bills such as this bird we caught and ringed at another local site.

Another Scandinavian migrant we've had in the garden recently was this male Brambling. Returning from having my flu jab I went out in the garden to fil the bird feeders and heard a familiar call from the top of a tall beech tree in next doors garden. No sooner had  I filled the feeders and returned to the warmth of the conservatory then this male Brambling flew in with a small flock of Goldfinches and Chaffinches! 

They're less than annual in our garden so it was nice to see one. Unfortunately it didn't hang around for long.

At the moment I'm not able to do any ringing in the garden as the village is in a bird flu 10 km surveillance zone with an outbreak at a poultry farm / processor in Mouldsworth. The second November running theres been an outbreak in the same area!