27 Mar 2023

Black Guillemot!

Black Guillemot is a rare bird off the Wirral coast with perhaps one or two records per year. Most are seen off Hilbre but unfortunately they don't seem to hang around and they've never been around when I've been on the island. My luck changed though when Al picked up two bobbing around on the sea as the tide started to flood. We thught they may drift in with the tide but they just disappeared. This constitutes the 2nd and 3rd record for Hilbre this year. To soon to predict a change but seeing as they breed on the Great Orme, Which we can see distantly from Hilbre, perhaps they're getting commoner? Unfortunately we couldn't get any photos due to the sea swell. This was my 320th species for Cheshire & Wirral.

We've had a great start ot the spring with an amazing number of Stonechats present on the island with several more being ringed. Northern Wheatears are moving through and I think this year will be a record year for the number ringed. 

One of the features, on Hilbre this time of year, are the waderspassing through as they head north to their arctic breeding grounds. Some high tides, coupled with a pretty impressive storm surge, has meant many are roosting on Hilbre as there isn't any foreshore or beach for them to use.

These can give incredibly close views as long as they aren't disturbed. Unfortunately many people are ignorant of the fact that they're disturbing roosting birds when they move around the island. Several hundred Dunlin were disturbed by a couple who decided to sit at the top of the cliffs at the south end and have a picnic over the high tide whilst a Ringed Plover Roost was disturbed at the north end folowing a similar incident.

Luckily there are a few areas on the island without public access and some waders will use this when theres no available beach.

Another feature of spring at the Obs is Chris's cooked breakfasts! Something to look forward to and energise us when there's maintenance work to be carried out on the heligoland traps - this time the SK where two lengths of galvanised chicken wire had to be replaced.

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.