30 Apr 2023

Back to Altcar

We made it back to Altcar Army base to canon net and flag waders as part of an on going study. A previously planned attempt was cancelled as the gods of wind and rain combined to create a high tidal surge which meant there was no beach for the waders to roost on!  This time, however, the conditions were almost ideal. An offshore wind combined with a hight tide and reports of plenty of birds roosting on site.

Arriving at the base with Chris we soon signed in and waited for the rest of the team to assemble before driving to the site where we set 4 canon nets. From then on it was a waiting game with a small team  of 'lifters' lying quietly in the dunes just behind the nets so we could get there quickly and start lifting when and if the canons were fired. The rest of the team would drive down from the car park where spotters were keeping an eye on the birds moments around the nets to make sure we were  safe to fire

All great in theory if the birds play ball. We could hear birds coming into roost all round us and at one pount had a good number in the catching area but it wasn't safe to fire as there were birds in the air above the net. Still we waited  - then a Sparrowhawk flew through and put everything up! The birds were jittery and and started dispersing so people were dispatched to try and 'twinkle' them back along the beach. Finally on a falling tide a catch was made. I didn't hear the canons fire as I'd been dispatched further dow nthe beach to try and twinkle birds along. Wearing fleece line trousers and chest waders I jogged down the dunes for 20 minutes before emerging on the beach and gradually working my way north again. I didn't have any radio reception and couldn't raise any one on the phone but I guess my mission was successful as when Chris did ring me he told me the team had made a good catch. I reckon I lost 3-4 kg in sweat!

When I eventually arrived back at the catching site I found a very happy team! A good catch had been made of the target species - Knot and Grey Plover  - meaning a meaningful sample could be flagged. We also caught good numbers of Dunlin and Sanderling.

Provisional totals from Richard were:

Grey Plover. New 29.  Retrap 1

Ringed 2019 ~35 sightings since ringing, all around Altcar

Sanderling. New 44.  Retrap 3 

Dunlin. New 366.  Retrap 3 

Knot. New 224.  Retrap 6 
SR77834 - ringed 22/09/2017 Altcar, no flag, no resightings
SK04281 - ringed 27/05/2021 Ainsdale, no flag, no resightings
SR77354 - ringed 30/03/2018 Altcar, was this reflagged? 
SR74747 - ringed 17/01/2010 Penmon Quarry, Beaumaris, no flag, no resightings
SK15325 - ringed 11/09/2022 probably Ynyslas point, TTM flag, only recently first seen
SV56511 - ringed 28/10/2022 Hoylake

A lot of the birds were attaining their breeding plumage and looked stunning - especially the Knot who certainly lived up to their full English name of 'Red Knot'

Hopefully there will be as many sightings of these birds as ones we've previously flagged and the data will provide us with more information about their migrations and stop-over points to aid with their conservation. 

Grey Plover are one of my favourite waders so it was a treat to see them close up. A summer plumaged Grey Plover looks like a dandy highway man with its black mask and silver spangled plumage - the Adam Ant of the wader world. They're very distinctive in flight with the black axillary feathers creating a black 'armpit' which is very visible

The Dunlin were interesting as we had two distinct races in the catch. the majority were schinzzi that winter in the UK but a few were alpina that winter further south. In summer plumage schinzzi has mantle feathers fringed yellow / red (left hand bird in photo below), whilst alpina has mantle feathers chestnut fringed (right hand bird in photo below)

Its always nice to see Sanderling in the hand and some of the birds caught were beginning to get their summer plumage.

All in all a great day and it was good to catch up with old friends - some I hadn't seen since before Covid! I got home shattered and went straight to the fridge for a cold beer to celebrate a successful day.

24 Apr 2023

A luscious locustella

Locustella warblers are fascinating birds, primarily because of their generally skulking habits and their 'reeling' songs. Locustella luscinioides, or Savi's Warbler, is no exception and it takes a tuned ear to differentiate its reeling song from that of Grasshopper Warbler. Kudos then to the guys that found the recent bird at our local RSPB reserve literally 10 km from my home. News broke on a Bank Holiday Monday when we were visiting family in N Wales but I wasn't to concerned as most singing birds tend to stay a few days at least. The last one I saw was in N Wales in 2019 where it was on territory from 14th June until 25th July. See  here for details on my sightings of that bird. I started getting concerned though when friends messaged me and said the weather the next day was going to be awful so decided to go that same evening once I'd dropped Jan off at home. 

It was very windy and showery when I arrived but armed with the advice not to stand near the 'reedbed screen' (where people were apt to congregate and chat making picking out the Savi's song above the wind even more difficult) I positioned myself about 50 m away and waited....and waited. Picking up a snatch of distant song I was happy enough that it was the Savi's but decided tio stay until the reserve closing time at 8 pm as there was supposed to be a break in the weather and the sun was supposed to shine for a short while. 

There weren't many people there when I arrived and they gradually drifted away until only Mark, Greg & I were left. Mark left and no sooner had he done so then the sun broke out and on cue the Savi's started singing & even gave a brief view as it flew across a channel in the reeds to sing from another hidden position! 

Luckily Mark was still at the car park and hurried straight back, sans coat, in time to hear it reeling away. I even managed a recording with my phone.

As closing time was fast approaching and it had begun to rain we left and headed for the car park and home. Another new species for my Cheshire list  - thats two already this spring! 

As far as I know there have been  3-4 previous records of Savi's Warbler in Cheshire with none since 1994 so this was a very welcome record for many county listers.

13 Apr 2023

A partridge on Hilbre

No sooner has the dust settled on an amazing run of new birds on Hilbre then yet another comes along in the rotund shape of a Red-legged Partridge! These small game birds were introduced to the UK for shooting and have now become naturalised in many areas. The last Hilbre one was during on of the many Covid lockdown when Wirral Borough Council closed the islands to all visitors. However, those living local to Hilbre were allowed to walk out along the foreshore to the beach below the islands and stare upwards. A bizarre ruling by WBC! Consequently I missed it but hoped the bird found recently would hang around. 

Luckily it did and three days after it was first seen I managed to add another species of game bird to my Hilbre list in addition to the Grey Partridge and Pheasant already on there!

3 Apr 2023

Another Hilbre tick for me!

Incredibly, following on for the recent Bearded Tit and multiple Black Guillemots, I had another new species for Hilbre in the space of three weeks! Not the most inspiring species as their status is clouded by feral breeders, exotic escapes and possible migrants from the feral breeding populations in Holland and Germany - Ruddy Shelduck! 

No sooner had we arrived on Hilbre I'd gone to put the kettle on when Mark shouted he'd found 3 Ruddy Shelducks on the tide edge! As the tide dropped they followed it out and eventually joined the flock of nervous Brent Geese who didn't like their presence at all. Being a Hilbre rarity it created a bit of interest from the regulars who all managed to see them from the mainland. 

Theres currently a review into the status of Ruddy Shelduck in the UK by the BOU so these birds were added to the list of sightings and an email record duly submitted. See here

See here for an article on the status of Ruddy Shelduck in the UK by Birdguides. The Hilbre birds coincide nicely with the peak time for genuine overshoots for Dutch birds..........being a small 'flock' may also help their credentials.......but they may also be the regular birds seen on the Mersey Estuary or even those that have been seen regularly in North Wales.

Whatever their origin they brightened up an otherwise quiet day bird-wise.

Moving Swiftly to the Alpine region of North Wales.

There has been an unprecedented influx of Alpine Swifts in the UK and Ireland this spring with some sites hosting multiple birds. The last Alpine Swift I saw in the UK was whizzing around the Fox & Hounds pub car park in Barnston, Cheshire in 2006! 

Hopes were hight that the current influx would result in another Cheshire record and sure enough, whilst we were on Hilbre, two turned up for a brief stay in Hoylake. Try as we might we couldn't get onto them from Hilbre. Earlier that same day one had been seen over opposite side of the Dee and Mersey confluence at Point of Ayr! One also found at Conwy in North Wales and the second day of its stay coincided with me having offered to drive Chris to Queensferry to pick up his Landrover...........already partly on the way to Conwy! 

Plans were made that included meeting up with Steve and we were soon heading in the rain to an uninspiring industrial estate just off the A55 North Wales express road at Conwy.

It wasn't long before we were watching the largest of the more regular swift species that grace our shores with their aerial prowess hurtling over a Yodel depot on a typically grim industrial estate - it was probably wondering why it hadn't stayed in the balmy spring weather of the Mediterranean! 

Mission accomplished we headed back to Cheshire still wondering how we'd failed to see one over Hilbre!