24 Sept 2022

Hilbre for the equinox

A busy few weeks meant I hadn't been able to get across to Hilbre but, after catching up on everything around the home and garden that needed doing since we came back off holiday, I finally made the trip yesterday and stayed over the high tide. Part of me was hoping for a Yellow-browed Warbler but in the main I was just looking forward to getting out, doing some birding and trying out the new camera.

Equinox day turned out to be a beautiful September day with a cool NNW breeze and sunshine. The sea was very quiet with just a few Common Scoter and a couple of Gannets being seen.

The dry summer has meant the resident Linnets have had a good breeding season. At least 100 birds were commuting between the islands feeding on the seed heads of Thrift and Rock Sea Lavender and taking advantage of the freshwater puddles on the main track to have a spruce up.

With no one else on the island there was no disturbance and a flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover took the opportunity to roost over the high tide at the north end.

Robins are a spring and autumn migrant on Hilbre and the small run of birds continued with another new bird being caught and ringed. The only other passage migrants were small numbers of Rock Pipits - possibly including some Scandinavian birds  - and two photogenic Wheatear.

Gull numbers are also building up after their breeding season and there were a number of photogenic juvenile Herring Gulls around the island along with several Greater Black-backs.

Signs of autumn are everywhere. The brambles are laden with blackberries just waiting for a Barred Warbler! Hops are flowering in one of the heligoland traps and I like to think they were planted at a a time when there was a pub on the island so they could brew their own beer! 
A lovely quiet day but it was just nice to be out and about. I got home in time for a late lunch and spent an hour cleaning the sand and salt off the underside of the Landrover.

12 Sept 2022

MigFest 2022

Since 2013 Spurn Bird Observatory having been running their autumn migration festival - see here for information. Its a slick well run event with lots of things to see in the main marquee and interesting lectures to go to. There is art work, 2nd hand books, birding holidays, the oriental bird club, RSPB, British Birds magazine, Rare Bird Alert (RBA) & optics (Swarovski sponsor the event but Opticron also have a stand and both had lots of visitors trying out the rangers of binoculars and telescopes on dispaly)  - as well as huge quantities of food prepared by the incomparable Spurn ladies. Who can resist a bacon and fried egg bap or a hot sausage roll with a mug of tea for elevenses! Theres also guided walks for adults and youngsters and information about all the birds being seen around the Spurn recording area.

I'd never been before but this year the Bird Observatory Council (BOC) were having a stand in the marquee for the first time and I agreed to go and help Chris Williams, in his capacity as BOC Secretary to help man the stand. See here for more information on the work of the BOC.

We'd left it too late to get accommodation but luckily one of Chris's mates had a VW camper van we could use. Unfortunately my return dates from FLorida were changed so rahter than 2-3 days to recover I literally got home on the Thursday late morning and headed for Spurn with Chris on Friday morning.

On arrival we called in at the Obs to find out where we were setting up our mobile home only to be told there was a Citirne Wagtail showing just up the road so we forgot about seeting up camp and walked back the couple of hundred meters to where the 1st winter Citrine Wagtail was loosely associating with Pied Wagtails. A good start to the weekend.

After setting up camp and the exhibition stand, we headed for the nearby pub for a pint and some lunch where we met up with old friends and caught up on everyones news whilst watching the sun go down over the Humber.

After being subjected to some bad influences we decided to stay in the pub but moved inside as we'd booked dinner for 7 pm!  Even more bad influences kept us out until the pub closed so it was a weary couple of BOC representatives who crashed out in a surprisingly comfortable van for the night. 

Up early the next morning we decided to make a brew. Chris had brought along his trusty 25 year old camping stove ran on meths or ethanol. Sitting listening to Meadow Pipits migrating overhead and the occasional Robin ticking or fly over Yellow Wagtail I was looking forward to my first brew with anticipation..........

It was gross. The worst thing I'd ever tasted. Thinking Chris had used one of his unusual tasting herbal teabags I gave it for him to taste - he promptly spat it out and was retching in the hedge much to my amusement as he thought I was being fussy about my tea!. What he didn't know is the ethanol had leaked and leached into the aluminium kettle. This caused much hilarity as the story was recounted over the weekend but luckily Dan Rouse (Tadorna tours) came up with a solution. Boil the kettle with salt water as this reacts with the ethanol. Three boils later we were back in business with yours truly being the guinea pig! 

Making our way to the main marquee in our official BOC polo shirts we had time for a walk round and a second breakfast before people started arriving. It was lovely to meet up with old friends and meet new ones. What was especially pleasing was to meet the number of young birders ranging from 9-15 who were keen to talk to us and ask questions. A barbecue at the end of the day was followed by another trip to the pub where we were entertained by Sharon Garner singing and playing her guitar. What a beautiful voice. Many people will know her sadly departed husband, Martin Garner, who was instrumental in starting MigFest along with Andy Bunting. 

Sunday morning arrived along with an eagerly awaited non toxic brew and a slight overnight mist before we set off to the stand. What a day! Not only did I end up buying two of Ray Scally's fabulous paintings, joining the Oriental Bird Club, buying a copy of Mark Thomas's Birds of Buckton and a new telescope(!) but we saw some excellent birds. First up was a Pallid Harrier picked up by Tim Jones from the 'big sit' on the tower that literally flew over our heads. There was a bit of discussion for awhile as to whether or not it was a Pallid or a Montagu's Harrier and what age it was but one of Ray's photos clinched the I.D and we were asked by Rob Adams to load it onto my laptop and show it on the screen we were using to show the BOC presentation. This caused so much interest we were then asked to annotate it showing the key identification features which generated even more interest! 

Next up was radio message about a Honey Buzzard which Chris & I got onto straight away as it powered through low. There was more confusion here as there was a kettle of seven Common Buzzards thermalling and many people didn't see the Honey Buzzard. Luckily a second one was seen later in the day although distantly. Wit hGrey and Yellow Wagtails flying over continuously and the occasional Tree Pipit in with the hordes of Meadow Pipits it was certainly a migration festival!

It wasn't only about the birds though. One of our old Cheshire birding mates who has recently moved to Easington brought in a Hummingbird Hawkmoth he'd caught in his moth trap for people to see.

A great weekend and well worth the effort in going. Hopefully I'll be invited to represent the BOC again next year but after everyone hears about how good this years event was I'm sure there'll be a long list of volunteers.

Thanks again to Spurn Bird Observatory for hosting the event and the countless volunteers who made the whole event so enjoyable. Hasta la vista Spurn.