20 Mar 2023

A first for Hilbre

A cracking couple of days at Hilbre Bird Obs coincided with good conditions for migrating birds and it seemed the bottleneck holding them back had been broken - all over the country Wheatears and Chiffchaffs were reported flooding in. 

Chris was already on the Island when we arrived Friday morning and had reported several Wheatears  - our first of the year & the first for the Wirral. We arrived just in time to see him ring a young female Sparrowhawk that had been trapped in one of the heligoland traps.

Once the Sparrowhawk had been ringed and duly processed we took a walk up to the north end where we it seemed Stonechats were everywhere. Stonechats are perhaps annual on Hilbre but having 8 together is unprecedented. Similarly, large numbers were reported on the nearby mainland. As well as the Stonechats the late arrivals were pleased to see our first Wheatears of the year. Robins were also seemingly on the move with at least 10 on the island.

One of the Stonechats had found its way into a heligoland trap and was taken back to the Obs for ringing and processing.

Birds were moving overhead all morning - Skylarks, Woodpigeons, Stock Doves, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch were all logged. Unfortunately Al & Steve had to get back to the mainland for appointments so I drove them off to West Kirby. Arriving back on the island Chris had the kettle on and was making a brew. Stepping out of the Obs to check on our sons dog, who'd come with me and was having her breakfast, I heard a single call which momentarily had me stunned. Not really believing what I'd I calmly walked back inside and announced 'I not joking, but I think I've just heard a Bearded Tit'. Cue a mass exodus. A few seconds later the Bearded Tit started calling loudly we all heard it. We couldn't see it though. It appeared to be in the pittosporum in the Obs garden so Chris walked around from the top gate an I walked through the bottom gate - just in time to see it streaking away from us low over the bracken before diving over the top of the cliff at the south end.

Calling up Matt, the ranger, as reinforcement, we spent the next hour searching both Middle Eye and Hilbre to no avail. A quick search of the historic records showed it to be a first for the island. 

Still buzzing the next day I was replacing a leaking heater hose on the Landrover and getting regular updates from Hilbre. Al had found a Black Redstart. Another good spring record and not one recorded annually. Steve rung me saying the Black Redstart was still present when they'd had to leave. With the Landrover fixed and a free afternoon ahead of me I arranged to pick him up and we both drove on to a very busy Hilbre - the good weekend weather had attracted a lot of visitors. 

The Black Redstart was still showing and I managed a few distant photos.

We also managed to catch another one of the Stonechats for ringing.

Although calm, with very little wind, there was a storm brewing to the west and it wasn't long before it hit us - forcing most of the visitors to depart in a hurry back towards the mainland. Sitting in the Obs, drinking tea and ruminating on events we waited for the storm to pass and watched in amusement as departing visitors hurried away. 

After the rain had passed we ventured out but it appeared that most of the birds that had been present had moved off, with the visitors, as the storm broke. Doing a round of the traps Steve heard a call and stopped to check the only privet bush on the island - a Long-tailed Tit. Another scarce bird for Hilbre. Not only that but there were two of them!  They slowly worked their way down the line of bushes and into the heli trap where they ended up in the catching box and were taken back to the Obs for ringing. The last time I'd seen a Long-tailed Tit on Hilbre was February 2011! - see here

The final bird of the day was a Redwing, that had been seen and heard on the island earlier, that was caught in one of the heli traps. A lovely bird to finish off a great couple of days ringing and birding.

9 Mar 2023

Hilbre - 1st visit this year!

A combination of being in Australia and then the Landrover being off the road for a couple of weeks has prevented me going to Hilbre this year  - until yesterday! Arranging to pick Steve up at the relatively civilised time of 8 am we stayed over the high tide. 

A great day with wildfowl being the theme of the day. Thirteen Goosanders were at the north end before the tide flooded along with a male and female Eider. The Goosander were pairing up with the males circling their chosen females to stop other males barging on on their romance. 

There were plenty of Common Scoter on the sea and they also appear to be pairing up and flying around in small flocks. Several birds chose to see out the high tide on the sheltered west side away from the cold easterly wind.

As the tide flooded more Eider appeared and we had a count of seven - including the adult males and two sub-adult males. These drifted with the tider and ended up off Middle Eye along with the Goosanders.

The Brent Geese numbers are dropping but there were still plenty around the islands. It won't be long before these remaining birds start heading off to their arctic breeding grounds. Other birds on the sea were a handful of Red-throated Divers and Guillemots.

It was good to see fifteen Purple Sandpipers feeding along the rocky foreshore along with at least two hundred Turnstone. These will also soon be heading off to the Arctic to breed. Other waders present in good numbers were Redshank, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Dunlin & Knot whilst two Bar-tailed Godwits and a few each of Sanderling and Ringed Plover made completed the wader species recorded on the day sheet.

Our Rock Pipits are beginning to attain their summer plumage and there were a number of unringed birds present with the resident ringed birds. 

Several Blackbirds were present and its hoped they'll breed again this year. Apart from the resident Wrens there were very few other passerines about although a friendly Robin has taken residence in the Obs garden.

A great day despite the cold weather and I arrived home in flurries of sno.

27 Feb 2023


As part of a long term project I was out with the SCAN ringing group at Rhos-on-Sea a couple of weekends  back canon netting wintering waders  - in particular Turnstone. We've been colour flagging these for a number of years and the aim was to fit more flags on any Turnstone caught. 

A successful morning with a total catch of 112 birds comprising a few Oyster catchers and Redshanks and a good number of Turnstones. Some of which we'd 'flagged' in previous years. One of the re-trap Turnstones was first ringed in 2005 - imagine the kilometres its flown back and from its Arctic breeding grounds during that time. 

Redshank having total head & bill measurement taken

Above & below : Turnstone flags

The beach at Rhos - on - Sea was quite busy with people walking and enjoying the February sunshine. Our ringing activities generated a lot of interest and we had a constant stream of people coming up to see what we were doing. It's brilliant engaging with members of the public and showing them birds in the hand - especially the children. At times I feel this public engagement is almost as important as the data we are collecting

All in all a great mornings work.

17 Feb 2023


Australia possesses some truly unique wildlife. Not least are a group of egg laying mammals called monotremes. There are two species of monotreme in Australia. The star of many wildlife documentaries, the Duck-billed Platypus and the lesser known Echidna. The Echidna resembles our hedgehog in that it has a protective body armour of spines. However the resemblance is superficial. Apart from laying eggs, as opposed to the normal mammalian trait of giving birth to live young, Echidnas have forward facing claws on their front feet and backwards facing claws on their rear feet so they can quickly dig themselves a burrow and escape danger. They also have a four-headed penis! Don't ask me how that works. My biology degree didn't extend that far as to study the sex lives of Echidnas but theres an explanation here: Echidna

I've been lucky enough t osee both species of Australian monotreme and on our most recent trip we came across an Echidna ambling along the side of the road. When it realised we were close it started digging its way into the bank. Deciding to wait until it felt safe enough to move on I waited whilst my wife walked on. After 40 minutes waiting in the baking sun I gave up. Photographer 0 - Echidna 1. The only photo I got was of a spiny ball half buried in a roadside embankment.

A few years ago, on a trip to Merimbula, we were fortunate to find an Echidna outside our apartment. That one gave much better views.

They're truly remarkable little animals and I can't help smiling everytime I see one. An egg laying mammal with a four headed penis. How ridiculous! 

5 Feb 2023

Swallow Shrikes

 Woodswallows are a group of Australian birds whose hunting  habits closely resemble those of shrikes - they perch up and launch themselves to catch flying insects or will pounce on prey items on the ground. They'll often eat their prey whilst still in flight. There are several species in Australia but the ones I've seen are the Dusky, White-breasted and White-browed Woodswallows. 

The commonest around where our daughter lives is Dusky Woodswallow and I was lucky enough on our visit to find several pairs feeding recently fledged young.

Above: Adult Dusky Woodswallow

Above & below: juvenile Dusky Woodswallow

30 Jan 2023

Owl Finches & Diamonds.

Australia has a number of 'finch' species and many of them are pretty spectacualr looking. One of the commoner ones I've seen in the past is the Red-browed Finch. We had a number of these coming to drink at the creek at the bottom of our daughters garden during our recent visit - especially on really hot days! 

Further afield, on my temporary adopted local patch, an area of bushland reserve designated I85, I found both Diamond Firetail and Double-barred Finch. Double-barred Finch are sometimes called Owl Finch due to their facial resemblance to the face of an owl. I didn't realise how scarce they were locally as I'd seen them a few years ago at our daughters first house about 30 km away. Whilst  in Australia I submitted all my records via eBird and gor an email fro mthe local breeding atlas co-ordiantor asking me to verify the sightings as it was out of the known range for the species. I was photographing Honeyeaters at the local dam when a Double-barred Finch flew in and landed on the fence in front of me.

I visited this area almost daily and always on foot as it was only 15 minutes walk from the house. On subsequent visits I saw a total of five Double-barred Finches including several juveniles. A nice breeding record and one that caused a minor local twitch with people travelling from nearby towns to see these birds and the Diamond Firetails.

The first Diamond Firetail I saw was in a a weed filled field feeding on seeds on the ground. 

A subsequent trip had one coming to drink at the dam and from there on I saw them almost daily  and again proved breeding locally with sightings of recently fledged young.

Juvenile Diamond Firetail

It was amazing to see these colourful little birds and I slowly began to pick them up on call. It was nice to contribute to the local breeding atlas and to enable local birders to see this species, some of whom had never seen them before.