24 Jun 2022

First Puffin Island trip of the year

Wind has hampered ringing efforts on Puffin island this year with dates having to be hastily rearranged as the boat that ferries us across couldn't land us safely. Consequently it was a small team that made the first SCAN ringing trip of the year recently on a weekday rather than a weekend. 

The targets were Shag, Razorbill and a few Guillemot chicks. It soon became apparent that Guillemots and Shags have done extremely well but we struggled to find good numbers of Razorbills. Have the recently re-established rats begun to have an affect or did the first eggs fail? A lot of Razorbills were still on eggs.

Guillemots were everywhere and nesting on some extremely exposed ledges right on top of the cliffs. 

Razorbill egg

Guillemot egg

We did manage to ring about 120 Razorbill chicks and a few adults and hopefully there will be a few more to ring on our next trip.

The Shags were easier to find and we had no problem ringing our sample of 200 birds! It was quite distressing to see the amount of old plastic / nylon discarded fishing gear in some of the Shag nests yet others, less than a metre away had virtually none. Maybe theres a project there for someone tring to find out why some birds use this discarded material and some don't! 

It appears that the resident gull colonies are doing well this year and there were plenty of quite well grown Herring Gull chicks around as well as some newly hatched ones such as these pair that look like a set of fluffy slippers! 

We always try to stop for lunch at the old telegraph station and admire the view before the afternoons work begins. It was a stunning day and despite the aches and pains, scratches, cuts and bruises it was a pleasure just to sit for awhile and admire the view.

View across to Great Orme from the top of Puffin Island

A few pairs of Oystercatchers run the gauntlet of marauding gulls and nest on the island every year. Occasionally a youngster is found thats big enough to ring but this one was far too small! 

This is my 10th season helping ring seabirds on Puffin Island and, as I found playing rugby, the older you get then the longer the recovery time! I was still aching three days later!  

12 Jun 2022

Greater Butterfly Orchids

I recently took the opportunity to go with Alan H to his woodland site in N Wales where he rings chicks in a number of nest boxes and there were a brood of Pied Flycatchers ready along with several boxes with Great tits and Blue Tits. The added attraction was the wood held a good number of Greater Butterfly Orchids.

Unfortunately along with many other birds this year, the boxes hadn't faired well. We managed to ring a brood of Pied Flycatchers and Great Tits but another brood of Blue Tits were dead in the nest. its a recurring theme this year. I usually have seven occupied boxes in my garden .This year I've had four and brood sizes are very small. Two of my boxes were abandoned after a single egg was laid. Ringers throughout the country are reporting the same.

Greater Butterfly Orchids love calcareous soils and this woodland had plenty of exposed limestone and included the remains of an old limestone kiln where the stone was burnt to produce quick lime for traditional lime mortar.

Anyway, back to the orchids. Without really trying hard we found 30-40 spikes and they really are beautiful looking plants and nice t osee them doing so well at this site.

4 Jun 2022

Eleonora's Falcon

Eleonora's Falcon is one of those birds that, when the almost annual report of  a 'possible' comes through on the rare bird news groups, most birders roll their eyes. Theres been a grand total of 7 UK records - all since 1977 and none have been twitchable. 

Luckily a photo posted on Twitter as a Hobby being attacked by a crow at Sandwich Bay was soon reidentified as an Eleonora's Falcon. Maybe this one would stick? With a number of people out searching the bird was relocated the day we were leaving for a holiday with our two youngest granddaughters. Not an ideal scenario. 

As the days passed and it became apparent that the bird was settled and had got into a routine I dared to hope it would still be there when we returned.  It was and after agreeing with a friend, who'd also just got back off holiday, we met up with two of his mates and left for Kent at 3 am in the morning.

An uneventful journey sped by as we chatted about previous twitches we'd been on and birds we'd seen. As the time approached  7 am we went silent. News that the bird was still present had been coming out around this time so we waited anxiously on positive news. Sure enough the news came through just after the magic hour that the Eleonora's Falcon was roosting on the north side of its favoured wood.

By the time we'd parked up and walked round to the site it had moved to a willow where it sat partially obscured for the next hour and a half. The weather was beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky and getting hotter by the minute. A heat haze made viewing anything at distance an issue. A female Red-footed Falcon had also been present on site and this showed distantly on wires as it made sallies to hunt before returning to perch. 

1st summer Red-footed Falcon.

With several Hobbies hunting and calling Cuckoos it was a fantastic wildlife experience. Seemingly the conditions were now right as the Eleonora's suddenly decided to start hunting and we watched as this superb aerial hunter caught and ate dragonflies on the wing. At times it soared almost out of site before twisting and chasing down another unfortunate dragonfly.

We watched the bird drift away past the field where we'd parked the car so decided to head back and see if we could see it from there. When we arrived the bird had flown even further away and was very distant. It came back later in the afternoon after we'd gone and perched again in its favoured willow where, luckily, Cliff, who'd had a tortuous drive back from Shetland where he'd spent the week, got this photo when he arrived early evening.

Eleonora's Falcon was named in 1840 by the zoologist Giuseppe Gene after Eleonora of Arborea (c1347 - 1404) and is the Sardinian Islands greatest heroine. She led her troops in battle  but was a politician and law maker responsible for the Carta di Logu. She also exhibited foresight by passing laws to prohibit the taking of hawks and falcons in her dominion and to protect their nests. 

It exists as two colour morphs  - a dark morph and a light morph (this bird). It's a long distance migrant that breeds on Mediterranean Islands but winters in Madagascar. Two thirds of the worlds population of 
the worlds population breeds on Greek Islands. All the UK records have been spring / summer overshoots apart from a freshly dead bird found in October in Yorkshire in 1981.

As well as the stsr attraction I also saw another new species down at Worth Marshes. Marsh Frog! This species isn't native but was introduced into Kent in the 1930's but have become well established. Why it was introduced from the Mediterranean I can't seem to find out.

A great day out and thanks to Neill for driving.  Hopefully the Eleonora's Falcon will summer here now and give many others the unique oppurtunity to catch up with this beautiful bird of prey in the UK