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16 May 2018

Hobbies from the garden!

Last year we were lucky enough to have a pair of Hobbies spend some time in trees behind the house.  Initially there was only one and I picked it up firstly on call. Closer scrutiny showed there were two birds and for a week or so they showed almost daily then went quiet............

This year I hoped they'd return and sure enough I picked up a familiar call on Bank Holiday Monday. A bird was calling from the top of a large oak tree but couldn't be seen. As  I watched a second bird flew in carrying prey but I couldn't see what it was.After watching for awhile the 2nd bird flew in again and both birds displayed before drifting off high together.

With sunny weather Saturday I spent most of the time in the garden with one ear and an eye listening and watching for the Hobbies. Sure enough that keening call started but I still couldn't see the bird. I assumed it was the male calling proclaiming his territory and trying to attract his mate. When a 2nd bird did arrive they both put on a bit of an aerial display before disappearing.

An hour or so later and the keening started again. This time the bird was sat in a dead oak in full view albeit about 300 m away and I managed to get some distant shots and video.


Assuming this was the male bird imagine my surprise when a 2nd bird appeared and mated with the 1st bird!

The first bird was obviously a female and she'd been calling to her mate. I stayed watching for over an hour as both birds then rested on the dead tree before flying off together.







Both birds below - the female is top right and the male bottom left of tree.



A fantastic experience and a privilege to see these birds from our garden.

13 May 2018

Wildflower gardening

Once of the aims in our new garden was to keep some areas wild for pollinating insects. We've duly bought wildflower plug plants in a couple of areas and even transplanted yellow flag irises that were dug up and left on the verge when the ditch opposite the house was cleared. They're now establishing themselves in our ditch!

Leaving areas un-mown where we've planted wildflowers has had an added benefit - we've found a small patch of Wood Sorrel growing in a shady area and even a Common Spotted Orchid rosette - hopefully it will flower. Other plants we've encouraged rather than treating as weeds are lesser celandine, dandelion & ladies smock - great for Orange Tip butterflies.
 Wood Sorrel
Spotted Orchid

Plants we've deliberately planted have been native bluebells, red campion,  ox-eye daisy,  betony, cowslip, greater knapweed & harebells. Hopefully when they all flower they'll attrtact more butterflies and bees.


 Cowslip
 Daisy
 Dandelion



 Blue Bells
 Ladies Smock
 Lesser Celandine
 Primrose - past their best now! 
Red Campion beginning to flower.

Hopefully all these will set seed and we'll have the start of a small wildlfower garden for years to come.

7 May 2018

Bird ringing at Wicken Fen - a nostalgic look at the past.

I was amazed to find the old ringing reports from the Wicken Fen Ringing Group on line. This is where I undertook a lot of my early ringing training with my trainers Mike & Margaret Smith. I started training in September 1976 but the earliest report with my name in as a member is 1977.

Its hard to believe it was over 40 years ago! I got started as I'd found a birds leg with a ring on in an old abandoned shepherds hut (with cast iron wheels - that would have been valuable these days!) in our local woods. I contacted the BTO expressing an interest in ringing and before I knew it I was having my first taster session - one of the first birds we caught was a Kingfisher.

See here for links to the online reports from this era.

I've still got records of all the birds I ringed at Wicken Fen &  (Linneage Woods, Suffolk) - going back to 1976 and including Yellowhammer (5), Nightingale (1) and Turtle Dove (3). Birds that are now nationally scarce and that I haven't ringed since those early days.


1 May 2018

New bird for the patch list - Sedge Warbler.

Migrants are still thin on the ground locally with only small numbers being recorded on my regular walks or from the garden. Whitethroats are back in but I've yet to see a Sand Martin & I've only seen 1 Swift & 1 Lesser Whitethroat. A new (unringed) male Brambling visited the garden briefly at the weekend but since then it appears all the winter visitors have now gone apart from a couple of Lesser Redpolls visiting the feeders.

A Wheatear dropped into the field opposite the house on Sunday evening but the star bird of the weekend was the first ever patch Sedge Warbler singing Sunday morning from a field of oilseed rape.


The resident Coots have hatched 7 young and the male has been aggressively chasing off any other bird that dares venture near the pond.


I've ringed very few Blue or Great Tits over the last couple of months and a check of the garden nest boxes Sunday revealed that only 4 appear to be occupied. Two Blue Tits are on eggs whilst a 3rd nest is abandoned. A single pair of Great Tits are also on eggs. Blackbirds built a nest in a bramble bush but abandoned it when 'the beat from the east' hit. They're now building a new nest 1m from our dining room window so hopefully this one will be more successful,

24 Apr 2018

Snow Goose - A Cheshire 1st?

Snow Geese have always been a potential pitfall for ardent county (or national) listers. Widely kept in collections theres now several well established feral breeding populations in the UK  from where a lot of our birds seem to originate from. Add to this mix the spectre of escaped farmyard hybrids and the picture becomes very confusing.

With increases in Pink-footed Geese numbers wintering on the Dee Estuary - up from a couple of hundred about a decade ago to now well over 8,000 - rarer geese such as Whitefronts and the occasional Bean Goose have becoming more regular. The thought among regular Cheshire and Wirral birders was that one day we may get a contender for a genuine (wild) Snow Goose.

About 2-3 years a go I had an all white goose fly over me in Chester with Pinkfeet. Not having my binoculars with me I couldn't get enough detail to be confident in the identification so put the news out as possible Snow Goose incase it could be picked up elsewhere.

Roll forward to 2018 and roll up Barry Barnacal who found what seems to be the real deal with a flock of 2-3000 Pinkfeet off Denhall Quay yesterday. A quick post work visit was in order! It appears that this bird must have arrived in over night as the flocks had been checked the previous days and there wasn't a sign of it. Its pretty obvious and stands out like a sore thumb. Its un-ringed, free- flying and has the correct amount of black on the wing tips.



The number of times I've scanned the flocks flying over the house in the mornings and evenings hoping to find a Snow Goose...............hopefully one day.

Snow Goose is considered by some authorities to be two distinct races - Lesser & Greater Snow Goose based on size and geographical separation although the large degree of overlap makes this a bit dubious..  Both have two colour morphs. The so called blue morph and the white morph. This bird is obviously a white morph! Blue-morph birds are rare among the greater snow geese and among eastern populations of the lesser.

Heres a few photos of a bird that visited the Lancashire Mosslands a few years ago, a blue morph bird with Pinkfeet near Nairn, Scotland in 2004 and two white phase birds on N Uist in 2013 seen whilst twitching Harlequin Duck. See here




As I was almost passing the door it seemed rude not to call in at nearby Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB to try for the long staying Wood Warbler. A scarce bird in Cheshire and Wirral and now (probably0 sadly lost as a breeding species. The bird was very elusive giving only a short snatch of its beautiful trilling song and calling infrequently. I managed to pick it up as it flitted around the canopy and returned home well pleased. To cap off a fine day I got home to find an Oystercatcher in the field opposite the house - the first one of the year and the first one on the ground as previous ones have all been flyovers.


23 Apr 2018

Newcomers on patch

Things are hotting up on the patch at the moment with summer visitors at last beginning to come through, albeit in small numbers.

The last few days have seen me record the 1st Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and House Martin from the garden and the pond opposite the house hosted a pair of Mute Swans for all of 10 minutes one morning!


As well as the summer migrants some of the wintering birds a re still hanging on and following on from last weekends small influx of Lesser Redpoll several more birds visited the feeders outside the conservatory window. These weren't ringed so I know they're new birds.



The local Little Owls appear to be on eggs as what I assume is the male is roosting outside the hole most of the time. With the recent good weather its bee no show almost continuously.





16 Apr 2018

Finches on the move

At last some fine(ish) weather conducive to migration! Summer visitors are beginning to arrive in good numbers and some of our winter visitors are beginning to move. There's been a marked increase in finches visiting the garden with predominantly Chaffinches and Goldfinches numbers increasing.

I managed to do some ringing over the weekend and set 3 nets up in the garden. Highlights included the first ever Jay I've ringed, in either this garden or our previous one, and the 7th Great Spotted Woodpecker to be caught in a week. Only one was a re-trap from last year. I know there are occasional influxes into Shetland from Scandinavia in the autumn so are these returning birds? Amazing when you think you've only got a pair of birds visiting the garden and then suddenly find its at least 7 individuals.



Jays are beautiful birds but rather feisty. The eye colour is fantastic but that hook tipped upper mandible can cause some damage  to the unwary ringer!

We'd had a female Brambling visit the garden recently so when I heard a Brambling calling with the Chaffinch flock I assumed it was the same bird. I was wrong  - it was a cracking 2nd calendar year male!


Redpolls have been very scarce this year and I hadn't even seen one locally until this weekend when a small group suddenly turned up. I ringed 4 and there were at least 2 other un-ringed birds seen on Sunday afternoon. All the ringed birds were 2nd calendar year birds and there was only a single male. It was interesting to see the variation in 'poll' colour with 1 bird having a orange / yellow poll rather than red.




Amazingly I caught very few Blue Tits and Great Tits suggesting that they've either moved away now the breeding season is in full swing or they've suffered high mortality during the recent cold spells of weather. It'll be interesting to see how numbers have fared nationally when the ringing statistics are collated.