28 Feb 2022

On me Meds

Mediterranean Gulls only started breeding in the UK 60 years ago and have gradually been expanding their range northwards. It seems like only a few years ago that they were still rare in Cheshire but now they're firmly established as a scarce breeder. 

The wet pastures around the village attract good numbers of gulls during spring and autumn and since we moved here in 2016 Mediterranean Gulls have bee nan annual occurrence among the throngs of Black-headed Gulls. Even so this year has been exceptional with at least three different birds seen feeding on earthworms. I know theres at least three as one has a red darvic, one a white darvic and one is unringed! All three are adults and unfortunately I've not been able to read the engravings pn the rings. A shame as I doubt they'll have been ringed in Cheshire! 

Below is a short video of one of the birds followed by a couple of still photos of the red and white darvic ringed birds.

Red darvic ringed Med Gull

White darvic ringed Med Gull

Below is another short video of the unringed bird:

As far as bird days go this year has been the best I've had since we moved here with seven days when I've seen Mediterranean Gull from the comfort of the house! 

20 Feb 2022

Zygodactylous feet

 Most perching birds have three forward facing toes and one rear facing toes - so called anisodactyl feet. Some species such as owls, woodpeckers, cuckoos and parrots have what is termed zygodactyl feet where two toes face forward and two toes face backwards. In the case of woodpeckers it helps them grip when climbing and with owls it helps holding prey whilst in parrots it gives them a huge amount of dexterity when holding and eating food. As a ringer the commonest  zygodactyl feet  I see is in the Greater Spotted Woodpecker such as this bird in the photo below. This adaptation, along with their stiff tail feathers makes then perfectly adapted to climbing tree trunks.

I've also been lucky enough to ring a few Owls and the same arrangement of two forward and two rear facing toes can be seen in the photo of a Little Owl ringed in our garden below. ou can see from the talons how this adaptation allows them to grip prey. With two forward and two rear facing talons imbedded in flesh an unfortunate rodent is unlikely to escape

Although I've not been fortunate enough to ring any parrots on any of my Australian trips I've managed to photograph a few but very few of the photographs show the toe arrangement. I manage to find one of a Rainbow Lorikeet I photographed in Merimbula a few years ago that shows two forward facing toes but not the two rear ones! 

Swifts have pamprodactyl feet where all four toes face forwards. This adaptation allows them to cling to vertical surfaces to roost.

Its incredible how different families of birds have evolved to have different arrangements of toes suited to their lifestyle and feeding behaviour. 


15 Feb 2022

Snow Goose on the house list.

A few years ago Barry Barnacal found a Snow Goose on the Wirral that arrived and departed with Pinkfooted Geese - see here for details on that bird. Roll on early February 2022 and another turned up in the same location with Pinkfooted Geese. Given geese can live for many years was it a returning bird? I couldn't get to see it when it first arrived and after a bit of sleuthing I found out the 2018 bird hadn't been submitted and wasn't recorded in either the county bird report for that year or the county rarities database - despite photos of the bird being all over social media it wasn't deemed worthy of a record as a rarities form hadn't been submitted! It's now been added to the county data base..........

Heres a short video I took off that bird. It arrived with Pinkfeet and left a few days later so theres no reason to think it wasn't a genuinely wild bird

I had this mad idea that, given the numbers of Pinkfeet that fly over our house, I may get it on the house list! Sometimes the most seemingly mad ideas come to fruition. The bird seemed settled on wet fields at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB which is about 8 km in a straight line from me. It occasionally took flight with the rest of the geese and at times was reported heading towards chester before circling round and returning back. 

With huge skeins of geese suddenly flying round and coming close to us before circling back towards the Dee surely I'd be able to pick it out. Sure enough after two days of watching and waiting I picked it up distantly with Pinkfeet before it dropped below the tree line and onto Burton Marsh. What a house tick! 

Hearing from Steve it was showing off Burton Point and having arranged to meet my old friend Andy at Parkgate later I decided to leave earlier and meet up with Steve and Colin for a quick look.

It was easy enough to spot although distant and with a supporting cast of two Barnacle Geese, three whooper swans and a calling Cetti's warbler it was a great little trip out. Coupled with a Titanic Plum Porter at the nearby Harp the day got even better! 

With a large feral breeding population on the near continent the status of Snow Geese in the UK is always going to be difficult to determine. Its no longer a BBRC rarity and is now considered by county rarities committees. Unless someone finds a ringed bird and manages to read the ring number from Canada you're never going to know the true origin but the fact the two cheshire records have both arrived and departed with Pinkfeet surely strengthens their credentials as a wild bird.

6 Feb 2022

Old friends and old haunts.

One of the first people I met when  I started at Manchester University was Andy Swash. I vividly remember sitting in the bar with Andy one Friday evening, soon after I'd joined the bird club at freshers week at Owens Park students residence when in rushed a highly excited Paul Jepson with news of an Arctic Warbler in Hartlepool cemetery. At that time they were a really rare bird in the UK.  The conversation went something like this:

'Andy theres an Arctic Warbler at hartlepool cemetery. I'm leaving tonight to get there for first light. Are you coming'

Followed by: 'who are you'

Introduction from Andy.

'Are you coming as well'

'Umm,yes! "

Four of us crammed into Pauls VW Beetle and duly arrived outside the locked cemetery gates at stupid O'clock the following morning. Three of us settled down in the Beetle to get whatever sleep we could and Paul slept in a sleeping bag alongside the car in the gutter...........

We didn't get any rest. A nearby dog kept us awake all night. A voice from the gutter uttered the immortal words we were all thinking:

'Can't somebody kick that f***ing dog in the b*ll*cks!'

Sometime after a council official came and unlocked the gates and I was soon watching my 1st Arctic Warbler. I seem to recall seeing my 1st Yellow-browed Warbler the same year.

After that introduction I soon became a regular member of the twitching team and another trip took us to Tregaron Bog in mid-Wales which, at the time, was the only place to see Red Kite in the whole of the UK! How times have changed! Another trip took us to Falmouth Bay for Forsters Tern while another saw us at Loch Ryan for King Eider! A longer trip took me to Vorran Island, South Uist for a long staying male Stellers Eider that eventually stayed for 12 years!

We also took regular planned trips to Suffolk, Scotland and Wales for birding weekends with the Manchester University Bird Club. Roll forward to the end of 1981 and Andy, who was a year above me, graduated and moved away. I graduated a year later and moved abroad and so we lost contact. We finally met again at one of our old University lecturers, Dr Mike Hounsomes, funeral in Devon about 5 years ago

Thanks to local birder Steve Holmes, who's been friends with Andy for many years, we finally got to meet up and go birding again. 41 years after the last time! 

We met at Parkgate on a cold and blustery day made all the more bearable by a fabulous display fro mthe wintering raptors on site. Fly by sub adult male Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin and Short -eared Owl were the highlights but large numbers of Pinkfooted geese whiffling down to settle on the flashes in front of us and several Great White Egrets were a close second. Along with the biggest flock of Lapwings  (probably 2,500+ )  that I've seen for many years it was a great few hours birding and reminiscing.

sub adult male Hen Harrier

female Marsh Harrier


Short-eared Owl

Andy's career path took a different direction to mine and he's now a successful author with a number of books to his name. I was really touched when he presented me with a copy of his latest book complete with a lovely inscription in the front.

After so many years it was great to catch up and hopefully well have many more birding trips together in the future.