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.

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