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23 Sep 2016

Linnet moult

We caught an adult Linnet on Hilbre recently just completing its main post-breeding moult. From the photo below you can see that nearly all the primaries are new, although some are still growing, but it still hasn't moulted all its secondaries.


It was also in tail moult. Looking at the amount of white in the primaries it was probably a male but we've been caught out before........

Another good bird was this juvenile Swallow that flew in through the open Obs door and ended up behind the curtains where I caught it by hand!


20 Sep 2016

WeBs day - Hilbre

It was a beautiful sunny Septembers day on Hilbre last Sunday and it coincided with the regular WeBs count - not that I was expecting to undertake this wearing shorts!

Wader numbers were good and the high tide meant many more roosted on Middle Eye and around Hilbre as they were forced off West Kirby & Hoylake beaches. The only problem was the continued disturbance by inconsiderate sea kayak-ers meant they got flushed on at least 3 occasions. Highlight was a Ruff picked out flying around with group of Whimbrel by Mark Payne.

Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Dunlin roosted on the west side of Hilbre and provided good views.


Thousands of Common Scoter were distant towards the wind farms and there were several auks  - including one Guillemot close in at the north end.
Despite the clear conditions there had been a small fall of migrants with Robins 'ticking' from the Obs balcony and a Goldcrest calling. We eventually ringed 3 Robins and a Goldcrest.

The only other passerine of note was a single juvenile Wheatear that spent the whole time at the north end oblivious to the artist and day-trippers that also stayed over the tide.

Wheatear keeping a close eye on the motorised hang-glider that buzzed the island much lower than it should have done! 

All in all a fairly quiet day but very enjoyable.

13 Sep 2016

Big changes ahead.

After nearly 18 years living in our current house and  30 years of living within walking distance of the four houses we've had since we got married we have decided to move house! Not a million miles away but to a more rural location with a much larger garden and loads of potential for encouraging local wildlife. It'll mean leaving the local patch I've worked for years although the new house is on the extreme boundary of my usual haunts - about 3 miles away as the bird flies.

It'll be a big wrench and I'll have to start feeding the birds to encourage more into the garden - there appears to be very few birds in the garden though the presence of 7 fruit trees augers well for winter thrushes......


IN our current garden I know where all the birds , such as the Blackbird, tend to nest and with a number of nest boxes up we have a healthy population of Blue & Great Tits. The damp patches filled with rotting logs attracts amphibians.


The new place currently doesn't have any nest boxes, any feeders and any wildlife friendly 'wild' areas' but the potential is there. We've even got plants to set aside some of the garden as a wild flower meadow and the tall trees at the back of the garden lend themselves to an owl box!

8 Sep 2016

Cliff Swallow!

Expectations had been high that the recent westerly winds might bring some Yankee vagrants to our shores. I can attest to the strong winds as our Florida flight arrived in Manchester 2 hours ahead of schedule aided by a strong tail wind that meant the seat belt warning lights remained on for about half the flight!

Sure enough news broke on Tuesday morning that a Cliff Swallow had been found on St Mary's. I didn't think anything of it as I was busy in the office and later in the week we were hoping to complete on a new house! However when news kept coming through that it was showing well I decided to start looking at options. I didn't fancy 3 hours each way on the Scillonian and most of the flights were already booked from Lands End. I ruled that out anyway as Lands End airport invariably gets fog bound! The best option was Newquay as there were no return flights from Exeter that would get me there and back on the same day. Unfortunately the Newquay flights were limited and I had to settle for a return flight that would only give me 2 hours on St Mary's....... Was this enough?

Fred kindly offered me a lift but it would have meant waiting at Newquay for 5 hours as he'd got an earlier flight so I decided to go alone with the intention of aborting the trip if the bird wasn't seen.

A sleepless night ensued as it always does when  I know I have to get up early and  I eventually got up at 4 am and decided to head off and beat the traffic and if necessary kip in the car for a few hours. I suddenly had a brain wave. As Fred's car was at Newquay I wondered if I could change my outward flight and fly from Exeter and cadge a lift with him from Newquay to Exeter as I knew we were both on the same return flight. Pulling over in Knutsford services I checked the flights on my phone. Sure enough there was an earlier flight from Exeter at 11.45 so I changed my outward flight and texted Fred to ring me when he woke up.

Feeling much happier I drove on and stopped at Taunton services for a cooked breakfast and a catch up with my emails before heading to Exeter with a hope that I might get a standby for an even earlier flight. The news that the bird was still there filtered through around 07.30 and I was definitely feeling confident. My luck was in - the kind lady at the Skybus check in desk rang HQ and I was told I could get an even earlier flight but I couldn't take any baggage due to the weight restrictions so I had to leave my rucksack of food and drink and my camera in the car.

As it happened we were late leaving Exeter due to a couple of elderly passengers going AWOL and As  I sat watching the safety briefing Fred texted to say all the hirundines had dispersed as the sun broke through. He also said Lands End was fog bound so no flights had made it yet and that there were only three people with him watching the bird.  I was hopeful that, with enough people travelling and the Scillonian due to dock that the bird would be re-found before we had to leave at 16.50.

The flight was uneventful and I tried to catch up on some sleep before landing at St Mary's airport. With no luggage I was first out of the airport and decided to walk slowly towards Porth Hellick and Lower Moors checking any groups of hirundines on the way.

I had only got to the T junction at the bottom of the access road before  I came across a group of Swallows sat on wires on Carn Friars Lane and stopped to check them out. F*ck, What was that! A hirundine with a pale rump and definitely not a House Martin slid across my field of view and disappeared behind a tall hedge. Bugger! I was pretty certain it was the Cliff Swallow but needed to be certain before I put the news out. Walking to the junction of Carn Friars Lane and Old Town (about 100m) Road I saw Matt Eades and Lawrence Pitcher walking towards me pointing skywards - Lawrence had also seen the bird briefly and now it was directly above us!!!!

Ringing Fred and then Chris Batty at RBA we watched the Cliff Swallow hawing over the pine belt by ourselves for about thirty minutes before the cavalry arrived. By now the bird had drifted further away and was closer to the airport and a few late arrivals who'd not seen the bird well headed up that way.

Fred, Lawrence, Matt and I decided to walk towards Porth Hellick pool to see the juvenile Temminck's Stint and lesser Yellowlegs that had been present before heading off to Old Town cafe for a sandwich and a celebratory cold drink!

With time pressing we said good bye to Matt and Lawrence who were catching the Scillonian and headed towards the airport. An uneventful journey eventually so me get home around 10.20 pm!

A great day and nice to catch up with a few old friends. I hadn't been to the Scillies for a few years since going for the Northern Water Thrush and Black & White Warbler ( See here & here and here for details of those birds) and I'd forgotten what a beautiful place it was.



6 Sep 2016

I've just got back from 2 weeks in Florida celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary (back in June) with all our kids inlaw-kids and grandaughter! A fabulous 2 weeks visiting all the theme parks with a fair bit of dining out and drinking going on as well. It wasn't a birding holiday but you can't help seeing wildlife in Florida!

Just before we went I spent some time on Hilbre over the high tide. A few migrant Warblers were caught including a Common Whitethroat which are always nice to see in the hand. Highlight however was the large numbers of waders that roosted around the island - return passage is in full swing! Amongst these was a Curlew Sandpiper and a colour ringed / flagged Ringed Plover found by Al H. A quick call to Steve Dodd followed by a photo to Rachel confirmed my suspicions that this was one of our SCAN birds ringed in N Wales. A great record and the first sighting of one of the flagged Ringed Plovers for Hilbre.




See here for some pictures of us colour flagging Ringed Plover with SCAN in N wales.

There were also a few Shags fishing around the island  - probably Puffin Island youngsters dispersing and pushed into Liverpool bay by the strong N W winds we'd experienced.


It was great to see Alan Wraithmell on the island before he emigrates to join Andy and the rest of his family to Florida later on this year. I probably won't see him again for a few years so good luck Al!


15 Aug 2016

Butterflies & Frogs.

Not amphibians but orchids. Mark met me at my office and we drove the short journey up to a site in N Wales where Frog Orchids had been flowering. I said had been as by the time we made the effort all the flowers had passed over and we didn't find a single one! We did find a few faded Chalk Fragrant Orchids though and a nice Autumn Gentian.


The nice surprise though was the number of butterflies with 10 species being recorded - Red Admiral, Greyling, Large White, Small White, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Common Blue, Small Heath, Peacock and Dark Green Fritillary.
 Common Blue
 Very worn Dark Green Fritillary
 Greyling
Small Heath.

We didn't find our target orchid species but it was a very enjoyable few hours messing about in the sunshine on a nice limestone escarpment.

9 Aug 2016

Blustery day on Hilbre.

Sunday was dry but pretty blowy with a force 5-6 whipping up the sand and stinging the legs on Hilbre. Perhaps shorts weren't such a good idea! The idea was to go over and do some essential maintenance work on the heligoland traps before the autumn migration period begins in earnest. Once that had been completed attention turned to the sea and the windy conditions meant there were good numbers of Gannets, Manx Shearwaters moving through. There were plenty of terns as well with the Sandwich Tern roost holding at least 400 birds. Little Terns were also present in good numbers - especially feeding in the gutter as the tide fell. Common Terns were also plentiful and a Pale-phase Arctic Skua appeared causing consternation amongst all the assembled sternidae.



Wader numbers are building up with several summer plumaged Turnstones back feeding at the north end. The high tide roost on Middle Eye held 7 Whimbrel and 8 Sanderling among the hundreds of Oystercatchers, Dunlin & Ringed Plover.


Juvenile Meadow Pipits and Linnets are flying round the island and one Meadow Pipit posed for photos before being photo-bombed by a bee!




With the planned work being finished and the tide ebbing there was just time for a traditional Hilbre brunch before departing for the mainland.