11 Oct 2016

Cosmic mind blowing accentor.

When the RBA mega alert went off a few days ago I was busy up to my elbows in concrete so I didn't pay it more than a passing glance - 'Alpine Accentor, Shetland...'  At least thats what I read it as. It was only when Fred texted me to see if  I was interested in flying up with him that I realised what it actually said was SIBERIAN ACCENTOR! A first for Britain no less but widely prophesied by the wisemen and keyboard warriors. This was one bird  I really wanted to see so rapid arrangements were formalised and  I met up with Fred, Malc and Simon in a dodgy lay-by just off the M6 at 05.00 and drove us to the airfield.

With a clear night forecast on Shetland none of us were really confident the bird would still be there but 'who dares wins Rodney' and all that - we had to try! At least we didn't have to get on the plane if the bird wasn't still there. We'd stopped for a pee and a brew when the news came through just after daylight the bird was, against all expectations, still there so we phoned through for a hire car at Sumburgh airport and boarded our plane.......... For those who know me well I'll tell you the story of the flight when we meet up but suffice to say it was reasonably 'eventful'.

On the way up we had spectacular views of the British countryside and passed close to Fair Isle where I'll be taking up temporary residence for a week in the not to distant future.

Landing safely and somewhat relieved at Sumburgh we all dashed to the loo and then picked up our hire car for the short drive to where the star of the trip had taken up temporary residence. As we drove up we saw people moving towards us and it had transpired the bird had flown from one quarry to the one we were right next to. A quick reverse into a parking spot by Fred and we were soon watching this stunning little Siberian gem from the edge of its favoured quarry as it fed on insects in the sunshine.

What a fabulous spot and a fabulous bird.

Now some pics of the star of the show:

With time pressing we reluctantly left and headed back to the airport via a Buff-breasted Sandpiper that had turned up in a field with a flock of Golden Plover. The journey home wasn't as eventful as the outward journey and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset. I eventually got home, knackered but happy, around 8.30 pm.

3 Oct 2016

Newts and the beginnings of a new garden list.

Noot much birding or ringing for me over the last couple of weeks as we start the renovation work on our new house! First job was to replace the old rotten shed with a new one and in doing so we found these small newts beneath one of the rotten floor panels. Smooth newts?

As there is no pond in the garden they must have come from one of the ponds in the adjacent fields. These ponds are also home to Coot & Moorhen which can be seen from one of the upstairs windows.

A Little Owl has paid several visits, at dusk, calling from the roof! When we first saw the house one of the things I remarked on was the lack of birds in the garden - despite the amount of cover. I've put up a couple of feeders and now we have a flock of at least 30 Goldfinches visiting along with a few Chaffinches and House Sparrows. A Raven is a regular visitor to the cattle feeding troughs in the field opposite as is a Grey Wagtail so things are definitely looking up!

We can see Moel Famau in the distance so may be its time to start scoping for Black Grouse..............
There's been a good passage of Meadow Pipits and a few Skylarks overhead and the new garden list is now up to 51 species and we haven't even moved in yet! I'm pretty hopeful we'll get Barn & Tawny Owl and theres always the migrants next spring.

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!