14 Apr 2022

Hilbre - a few more migrants trickling in at last

My last two trips across to Hilbre have started in the dark to get to the island at first light. A few migrants are beginning to pass through with Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap being ringed over the last couple of weeks. Wheatears are also on the move and birds of the Greenland race 'leucora' are starting to arrive.


Willow Warbler

Male Blackcap

Male Wheatear
Although spring is definitely here signs of winter aren't far away. A couple of Purple Sandpipers are still to leave the islands for their arctic breeding grounds and there are still a few Brent Geese hanging on. Snow on the Carnedd hills looking west towards north Wales was a distinct reminder that, at this time of the year, the weather can still be fickle.

One of the features of springs on Hilbre is a small passage of Wrens. Most of the resident birds are ringed during the year but every spring we get a number of 'new' birds passing through. Ringing recoveries as far away as north Lancashire shows these are passage birds. 

Eider were a scarce bird on the Wirral and the first pair bred last year. The long staying female seems to have moved on but theres a smart male hanging around and provided a good photo opportunity as it swam past the north end framed by spray from breaking waves.

The local Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits are displaying and providing good practice in ageing. As well as photographing birds in the hand they've also provided a few opportunities for photographing in the field. 
Rock Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Rock Pipit

Star bird for me, on my most recent visit, was this female Kestrel.  She's been hanging around the island for awhile and had been ringed previously. From photos I managed to read the ring number but it was caught in a mist net allowing us to confirm the number and the age. Its a 2nd calendar year bird ringed as a nestling on the Wirral in 2021. A very feisty bird that attacked me with both its talons and bill - hence the fish filleting glove! Kestrels are renowned for beign feisty. Sparrowhawks will use their talons on you but Kestrels use all the weapons at their disposal. I know how a vole feels now! 

After the last tow years of lockdowns and the islands being closed to the public by Wirral Borough Council its nice to start getting back to some sense of normality.

12 Apr 2022

Slime moulds

Whilst looking around the garden the other day we spotted this strange looking thing growing on a dead damson tree. Further examination suggested it was a slime mould. Slime moulds were once considered to be a fungus but are now regarded as a protozoa.They have a bizarre lifecycle as they start off with a single cell amoeboid organism that feed on bacteria and fungi. In suitable conditions these individuals coalesce into a plasmodial stage breeding partnership linked by interconnecting strands.

This stage doesn't last long and as the food substrate runs out they start producing spores - usually within a couple of days.

The one in the garden appears to be Reticularia lycoperdon - a first for me! Its also known as False Puffball or Cauliflower slime mould.

The photos below were taken on three consecutive days and by the third day you can see the brown spores developing. Amazing.

Day 1
Day 2

Day 3

4 Apr 2022

Hilbre - in praise of pipits

Meadow Pipits are a very underrated bird. They're little brown jobs that seem to be preyed upon by many of our raptor species. Merlins, Sparrowhawks, Hen harriers and even Peregrines are partial to a Meadow Pipit. They're also fascinating. Breeding on some of our most inhospitable terrain in the hills they'll move down to lower elevations in winter and a large proportion of the population are migratory. 

They're also interesting to ringers as they undergo a partial pre-breeding moult involving the median and lesser coverts an occasionally the inner greater coverts, tertials and central tail feathers. This makes ageing interesting and reliant on a whole suite of characters including an assessment of feather wear.

Hilbre has a small breeding population of Meadow Pipits and we get to ring quite a few each year. Even so it still takes time to get your 'eye in' when catching them in the spring.

In recent years Hilbre has also hosted a small population of Rock Pipits. Again, many dismiss these as 'little brown jobs' but close up the intricacies of the plumage are stunning. They're a much bigger bird than the Meadow Pipit and undergo the same pre-breeding moult (in addition to their post juvenile and post breeding moults). I was lucky ewnoufgh to be able to process two retrap Rock Pipits on my recent trip to Hilbre so was able to examine them closely knowing that they'd already been ringed and aged previously.

As well as the pipits we had a small smattering of migrants on the island with Goldcrest, Robin and male Blackcap being ringed.

Nine Purple Sandpipers were still feeding around the island and roosted over the high tide on the sheltered west side of the island away from the biting easterly wind. Other spring migrants included a male Ring Ouzel that flew up from the south end of the island over our heads and landed on the track before promptly disappearing beneath one of the fences. Despite an intensive search it was only seen once again, in flight, being pursued by the resident male Blackbird. I also got to see my first Wheatear of the spring!