22 Jul 2023

Black-winged Kite

 Black-winged Kites are stunning little raptors about the same size as a Kestrel. In Europe, they're resident in southern Spain & found throughout Africa. They have recently been expanding their range northwards with regular sightings in France. Its long been mooted as a bird that'll turn up in the UK so when a 'probable' was reported on a post alongside the A14 in Suffolk from a moving car on the 16th April it wasn't a real surprise. There was no further sign of this bird until it, or another was photographed in rural mid Wales on the 18th April just an hour and a half away from home! Like a few others I traveled down and spent a few hours searching likely spots but the trail had gone cold and there was no further sign. 

Roll forward to July 17th when it was found at Hickling Broad in Norfolk. Family commitments and a day at the open golf meant I couldn't get to see it until Thursday. Returning from a meal out after the golf I found Malc had been messaging and was thinking of travelling down over night to get to Norfolk at first light as the bird had been seen going to roost. 

There was no point in trying to sleep as we were meeting at midnight and after an uneventful drive down to Stubb Mill we arrived just before 4 am to find it already getting light! We also met up with fellow Cheshire birder, John Gregory, who'd missed the bird the previous day, and had stayed overnight in Norfolk. It was a cool morning with quite a bit of mist so we wrapped up warm and set off for the short walk to the raptor view point where we were greeted by a fiery rising sun sun but poor visibility due to the mist. This was going to be an issue.

Several hours went with only a couple of Cranes and a Marsh Harrier to show for our patient waiting. Suddenly phones started pinging with the message on WhatsApp that the kite was visible from Horsey! With no sign of the mist lifting soon John, Malc & I decided to jump into Johns car and view from the Horsey side. 

 At this point I was wishing I hadn't so many warm layers on as the walk / run from the car park was probably 2 km  - not fun in warm clothing carrying several kilos of optical equipment. Sweaty and breathless we arrived to a point where there were a few people looking through a gap in the hedge at the Black-winged Kite sat in a small bush with a Woodpigeon for company! Many thanks to the birders there who let us look through their scopes. Viewing was very limited and although it could be seen with binoculars only those at the front with a slightly higher elevation could get it in a telescope. 

The photos above were taken through someones scope with my phone whilst the ones below were taken with my camera but have been massively cropped.


As the sun burnt off the mist the news came through that it could be seen from Stubb Mill but very distantly.

Suddenly the bird flew and we watched it fly away from us and out of sight. Unfortunately it flew across our path behind some trees several hundred metres away so the only flight shots I could manage were of it flying away from us.

Hoping we'd see the bird as it came of its roost early morning I'd promised Jan I'd try to be home in time to look after our youngest grandaughter for a couple of hours whilst she attended a school event with her four year old sister! I made it home twenty minutes before Jan had to leave, starving hungry and tired after being up for thirty four hours without sleep. I still managed to mow the lawns before falling asleep on the couch and eventually sleeping solidly for over nine hours in bed! A great bird and many thanks to Malc for taking his car. 

Since we saw it the bird moved to Suffolk and is currently in Essex. It looks as if it's heading south and possibly looking to travel back to mainland Europe. Given the current weather I don't blame it! 

18 Jul 2023

Puffin Island

I always look forward to Puffin Island ringing trips. Being on an island surrounded by auks, gulls, cormorants & shags is kind of magical - despite the stench and the noise! Kieran joined us for this trip and, he, along with Chris met me at my place early morning before we drove over to Penmon Point, Anglesey to meet up with the rest of the team and take the short boat journey across. Unfortunately, after weeks of dry weather, we had heavy rain in the early morning which meant the guano covered rocks were particularly slick and smelly! 

Despite being eradicated a few years ago rats have now recolonised the island. Either by swimming across or jumping from boats! Despite us reporting them 3 years ago the enforcement agencies have been very slow in moving forward and getting another eradication programme sorted. Hopefully it'll be started soon as evidence of rat predation was everywhere with many young Razorbills, especially, being predated along with eggs. Considering the island hosts breeding colonies of amber listed Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls this reluctance to do anything quickly seems remarkable.

We still managed to ring 101 young Razorbills and another 19 new adults and retrap 17 previously ringed birds. One of these was particularly exciting. When I checked the ring number I knew it was quite old as the ring started with an M. Bizarrely suffix M was issued before K. From a previous ring reading trip I'd had a K suffix bird that was at least 20 years old so knew this must be older. In fact it was ringed in 1997 as a chick on the island! 

We also ringed 115 Shag chicks along with two new adults and one retrap. Adult Shags are amazing to see close up although the youngsters don't look any where near as smart yet.

We also ringed a few Guillemots although the bulk will be left until a future visit. Bridled Guillemots are scarce on Puffin Island but get commoner in colonies further north. It was nice to actually see one in the hand! 

Photo by Chris Williams

Its always nice to catch a Puffin. A few pairs breed o Puffin Island but we don't know how they'll fare this year with the rat problem. Eggs and pufflings in burrows are very vulnerable to rat predation. We catch a handful each year so it was good that we managed to get one for Kieran to ring. 

A good trip and despite the early morning rain the weather was kind to us.

Unfortunately a subsequent trip was aborted due to signs of birdflu on the island. Hopefully many of the young birds and adults would have already fledged and will return to breed in the future. a sad situation and its horrible to see so many of our seabird colonies suffering the affects of this devastating disease.

6 Jul 2023

Rock Pipit colour ringing project Hilbre

Rock Pipits are fairly common on Hilbre in winter and over the last few years we've had a small breeding population Many of these birds have been ringed but the problem is they have to get recaught by a ringer to get any subsequent data on survival or site fidelity. To make birds more identifiable in the field we've registered and got permission to start a project fitting indivudually lettered darvic rings to the right leg. Hopefully these will be more easily read in the field and provide more data to help us understand the population dynamics of this species on the island.

The small breeding population  is supplemented by passage birds from Scandinavia during the spring and autumn. We have previously controlled a Norwegian darvic marked Rock Pipit. We have long suspected that some of our passage birds are of the Scandinavian race ‘littoralis’ and this control bears this out.

Scandinavian Rock Pipits are a feature of the Dee estuary during the winter but we don't know if some oof these birds are using Hilbre as a staging post or whether it is a separate wintering population with noo interchange. Hopefully we can answer these questions and a a few more.

The aims of the project are to:


  • Study adult survival rates and site fidelity of the resident population.
  • Monitor the breeding population due to increased visitor footfall to the island.
  • Dispersal of fledged young of the resident population.
  • Find out if our population shows site fidelity.
  • Determine origin of spring and autumn migrants and what proportion of these over winter on Hilbre and what proportion use the island as a staging post.
  • Whether there is any interchange between birds that winter on the mainland with those on Hilbre.

At the time of writing two birds have already been colour ringed and and one (CAB) has already been re-sighted in the field on Hilbre with the ring read at close ranges using binoculars. 

4 Jul 2023

Do you think they'll recognise me.....Black Guillemot, Hilbre revisited

After seeing my first ever Black Guillemot on Hilbre earlier this year (see here) I've been spoilt over the last cpouple of weeks as one seems to be over summering around the island. Bizarrely its been nhanging around with Oystercatchers. Roosting up with them on the Whaleback and flying off with them to settle on the East Hoyle Sandbank as the tide encroaches. Its even roosted with them on Middle Eye over the high tide before fishing of the east and north sides of Hilbre as the tide ebbs. Its quite aggressive towards the Oycs and often charges them with its bill open if they get to close.

Spot the imposter

With birds now breeding as close to Hilbre as the Great & Little Orme Black Guillemot is bound to become a more regular visitor and a walk around the base of the cliffs has revealed a number of old rains and holes in brickwork that could make suitable nesting holes! 

Its probably a 2nd calendar year bird based on the brown primaries. Juveniles undergo a partial moult just after fledging and a partial moult into their first adult plumage in the following spring. Adults undertake a full post breeding moult so their primaries would be much fresher and less faded.

Hopefully this bird will stay for awhile longer and give more local birders to connect with this Cheshire  scarcity.