22 Jun 2023

Hummers & Skippers

A hot few hours spent on Hilbre recently was made more bearable by the presence of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth nectaring on Red Valerian on the east side cliffs. They're fairly regular on Hilbre during hot summer days and this was our first of the year.  Steve & spent quite a bit of time trying to photograph this amazing day flying migratory moth. 

They literally look like Hummingbirds and often get mistaken for one. The length of their proboscis is phenomenal.

Whilst watching the 'hummer' we spotted another small butterfly which we immediately identified as a skipper. I'd found Essex Skipper in 2021 - see here - and first thought it was one of that species due to the black underside of the swollen tip at the end of the antennae. But, when we sent the photos to Gavin, he pointed out the hook tip to the end of the antenna that confirmed it as Large Skipper. The first confirmed Hilbre record since 1987! 

Although relatively quiet for birds the Sandwich Terns gave good views as they fished just off the north end and a squadron of greylag Geese treated us to a flyby.

Best of all, from my point of view, was the reappearance, albeit distantly, of the Black Guillemot thats been hanging around recently. Only my 2nd ever sighting on Hilbre and the first was only a couple of months ago! 

17 Jun 2023

Little Egrets, Herons and Cormorants.

We went back to the colonies recently to ring more of the tree nesting Cormorants & Little Egrets. On our last trip we found an accessible Herons nest with chicks to small to ring so were hopeful they'd be big enough on our return.

All the cormorants are colour ringed with an orange darvic - we use green darvics on Puffin Island. It was interesting to compare the two colonies. The ones on Puffin are cliff nesting so we can ring quite well developed young whereas with the tree nesting ones they ring slightly smaller chicks as they don't want to risk the bigger ones jumping out the nests prematurely!

The weather was hot and humid, following the thunder storms the previous night, and the smell of ammonia form the guano was all pervading and blocked out any thing else! The arm moist air meant the Horseflies were out in force - wearing waterproof trousers and a long sleeved top was akin to some kind of medieval torture. I certainly sweated off some weight! 

Young cormorants squirt poo incredible distances and walking beneath the trees definitely required a hat! They also regurgitate semi-digested fish over you and it was interesting to note that number of the fish were freshwater species - despite the colonies proximity to the Mersey estuary. We definitely found at least one Perch! 

Darvic ringed cormorants from a previous trip. 

Paul fitting a darvic by opening it up until the two edges touch and then slipping it over the foot & 'clicking' shut.

We went back to a few Little Egrets where, again,  the young were to small to ring last week but should have been a good size. One nest was unfortunately predated. Little Egrets have the same projectile poo and regurgitating habits as Cormorants and it appears their diet consists mainly of shrimps! 

Brood of Little Egrets ready for ringing

I'd never ringed Little Egret before last week so it was a real treat to get to ring a few more today. I'd never ringed Heron either so was surprised to find they have green skin like the Little Egrets. Not such a vivid green though. Like the Egrets they're adept at clambering through the branches surrounding their nests.

I was a rare privilege to ring these Herons as they're the first ones ringed at the site for 15 years! 
Another great day and I got home around 16.00 and immediately stuck all my cloths on a hot wash cycle! 

12 Jun 2023

Azure Damselflies

Our small garden pond has been hosting at least three pairs of Azure Damselflies again recently. The hot weather and bright sunshine has made them very active and I've been watching them pair up and oviposit. There have ben a number of teneral adults and during the early spring we also found a number of larvae.

Tenerals are newly emerged adults and are much paler and almost tranluscent in appearance. They get darker with age and it can take days or weeks to develop their full colour.


9 Jun 2023

Dragons and Damsels

Not some fairy tale or even about Game of Thrones but about Dragon & Dasmselflies! I took a trip to the old Mollington golf course, thats been deserted for some years, withMark,  primarily to look at the Southern Marsh Orchids and Bee Orchids that grow there. Planning has been given for 6 houses on the site of the old clubhouse and as part of the mitigation the developers are saying they will develop the old course as a public amenity area. 

What struck us was the sheer number of Dragonflies and Damselflies in and around the various ponds on site. The warm sunny weather has certainly helped them proliferate. 

Azure Damselflies were by far the commonest but we also had Blue-tailed and, a new one for me, Red-eyed Damselfly.

Red-eyed Damselfly

Blue-tailed Damselflies were also present but I couldn't get a clear enough photo.

Black-tailed Skimmer is also fairly common on site and we saw good numbers of this species that has gradually extended its range north and westwards.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Four-spot Chasers were by far the commonest of the Dragonflies and gave good views as they patrolled their territories and occasionally perched up.

Four-spot Chaser

We are also saw several Emperor Dragonfies and these also occasionally perched up allowing good photo opportunities.

Emperor Dragonfly

A great site with lots of potential - if the developers keep their word and get it right! There were plenty of Common Blue butterflies on the wing and we also came across a day flying Mother Shipton moth.

As well as the orchids and invertebrates the site holds good numbers of Red listed bird species- especially Linnets, but there was also singing Grasshopper Warbler & Greenfinch. Common Whitethroats were everywhere and this is an Amber listed species along with singing Sedge Warblers, Willow Warbler, Bullfinch Song Thrush, Wren & Dunnock! 

Sedge Warbler

4 Jun 2023

Enchanted woods & little green goblins

 I went back with Al recently to the woodland reserve in N Wales to check on the Pied Flycatchers nests we'd monitored last trip. The dry weather has meant the young have thrived nd we ringed a total of 31 young from 5 broods. The woods are a typical Welsh woodland, hanging from the side of a hillside with a good mixture of deciduous trees. Despite the hot weather the interior of the wood was cool and the sound of birds going about their normal daily activity surrounded us. As well as the flycatchers we heard Goldcrest, Bullfinches, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush and Nuthatch. In a months time the Greater Butterfly Orchids will be flowering although with a prolonged spell of hot weather forecast they may not reach that stage.

From here we drove back to Cheshire where we'd had an invite from Paul & Kieran to assist with the ringing of Cormorants and Little Egret chicks! I remember twitching Little Egret when they were still a rare bird in the UK. Now they've spread everywhere. I ring Cormorants annually on Puffin Island but these were a tree nesting colony rather than a cliff nesting colony so I was interested to compare the sites. One obvious difference was that you can't ring the young when they're to well grown otherwise they'll try and flee the nest. On Puffin Island well grown young leave the nests and form creches on the cliff tops. 

All the Little Egrets and Cormorants were colour ringed to aid identification in the field. I'd never ringed Little Egret before so this was a treat for me. They're surprisingly agile and clamber around the branches surrounding the nest. They're also green! Like little Green Goblins with long fingers and toes - I'd never realised this before as you usually only see them as adults and fully feathered.

A great experience & I'm looking forward to the next trip where we'll be able to ring a few more of these amazing birds.