30 Dec 2012

Review of the year 2012 - the year the blockers fell.

This year has seen some major blockers fall and some major milestones our lives. In January Jan & I became Grandparents when our daughter, in Australia, gave birth to a gorgeous little bundle called Elizabeth Rose. We travelled as a family a couple of weeks later and spent two weeks with Amy, Lachlan and the baby. Just before we left news broke of a Common Yellowthroat in S Wales. Plans were hatched to drive straight from Manchester airport when we arrived home at 14.00 on the Friday. Realising a) I wouldn't get there before dark and b) I'd be completely knackered I saw sense and took Phil Lockers offer of a lift from J15 of the M6 early Saturday morning. Jet lag meant I was awake early doors anyway! A cracking bird and good views eventually although I got a bit pissed off when the bird popped out right in front of me, as I was crouched down with the camera only for some numptie to almost bowl me over as he rushed forward and blocked my view.

I had to wait until April for the next potential lifer when a punitive Thayer's Gull turned up in Lincs. Travelling with Fred Fearn we had good views of this bird and await with bated breath to see if it's ever split and accepted as a full species.

A good Cheshire bird and a County lifer in the form of a Black-winged Pratincole at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB was the next good bird. Found on 3rd May Steve Williams & I convinced ourselves the bird we picked out partially obscured as the sun set wasn't the Pratincole as that had been seen flying away in the opposite direction. Next morning a dawn trip to Hilbre was hurriedly postponed as a 6.20 phone call announced the Pratincole in the same place as the bird we'd dismissed the night before. To be fair we could only see its head at about 1/2 mile range in fading light.

A trip to Norfolk to celebrate Mark Payne's birthday in May turned up some good birds with Red-backed Shrike and  Red-breasted Flycatcher but star bird was a cracking male Blue-throat on the way home at Doxey Marshes, Staffs.

No sooner had we got back from Norfolk on Sunday night then the next biggie of the year turned up in Herefordshire - an adult Cream-coloured Courser. No hesitation with this one after missing the previous two UK records. A stunning bird in a stunning location. Anyone for golf?

No sooner had the dust settled on this bird then I was off again. Orphean Warbler at Hartlepool headland in the same area as last years White-throated Robin and caught by the same ringers!!! A one day bird and a major grip back being only the 6th UK record and the only twitchable one since the Scillies bird in 1981. I say twitchable advisedly - it only stayed one day.

The next mega turned out to be a lifer and a County tick! Little Swift at New Brighton. A lifer 20 minutes (well it was that day!) from home. A fantastic little bird that showed down to centimetres (literally!) in the pouring rain. I missed the Derbyshire bird by 20 minutes and wasn't in the country for the last long stayer in Notts.

Great stuff. What more would the Year of the grip back bring? Well I had to wait until September for Rich Bonser to give the heads up on a 'Long-billed Dowithcer' photographed at Lodmoor RSPB, Dorset. Sure enough it turned out to be the UK's 2nd Short-billed Dowitcher and the news broke as I was on the way to Devon for a meeting. Happy days!

With news slowly filtering through of at least 9 male Baillon's Crakes singing in the UK during the spring (the majority were picked up during a national survey of singing Spotted Crakes) my hopes were high for a twitchable autumn bird. Sure enough a juvenile was found at Rainham Marshes RSPB and thanks to Howard Vaughan and his band of volunteers we were able to get into the hide by 07.30 on the 12th November. Boom.

Towards the end of September I was on a business trip to Sweden. It always happens. A phone call from Steve ' have you heard about the peep'. Allan Conlin had found either a Semi-palmated Sandpiper or Western Sandpiper at Hoylake. B*llocks. Luckily for me the bird stayed until Friday but not only that a White-rumped Sandpiper was found the same day. Another two good birds for Cheshire despite the torrential rain.

Once again I embarked to Shetland in early October hoping for a Lanceolated or Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler. Once again I got a kick in the proverbials as a Lancie was present for almost 3 weeks on Fair Isle but a combination of bad weather and plane breakdowns prevented us getting there. There'll be another.............................................................

Following on from Shetland I spent a weekend on the Scilly's with Mark Payne and Pete Antrobus where we met up with Malc Curtin to help celebrate his 60th birthday. With Al Orton, Robbo, Ian Barber, Allan Conlin and Steve Williams all on the islands it made for a good few days birding, reminiscing and enjoying a few beers.

As I write this I'm currently in Australia enjoying Christmas and New Year with the three girls in my life. I wonder what 2013 will bring.

17 Dec 2012

Hybrid sparrow.

Back in October when we were on Shetland I found a 'Tree Sparrow' on the north mainland near Luna. For once the sky cleared of rain and a small flock of House Sparrows flew in to a nearby hawthorn hedge. Almost immediatley I picked up a 'Tree Sparrow'. This is a rare bird on Shetland. Getting the other lads on it I ran back to the car to get my camera only to have the flock fly over my had as  Ireturned. The 'Tree Sparrow' was easily picked up on call amongst the House Sparrows. That would have been that if Chris Griffin hadn't been quicker off the mark than me and managed a couple of shots before the birds flew. Closer examination shows what appears to be a Tree x House Sparrow hybrid. Probalby rarer on Shetland than the real thing!

Note the chestnut head, white cheek patch and dark spot behind the ear coverts all typical of Tree Sparrow but a closer exmination showed a grey fore crown......

13 Dec 2012

More Waxwings than hot dinners.

6 Waxwings kept an eye on proceedings from the safety of our neightbours garden Friday afternoon whilst I worked on Mrs W's car. By the time I was in a position to grab the camera a Sparrowhawk had spooked them and they never returned.

Tuesday I found a flock of 100+ near Queensferry as I drove from the office to Chester to pick up some essential bits for the Landrover!

Wednesday I get a phone call from Steve to say he's got 3 in his garden and could I got up there pdq with my rings as he didn't have the right size. 45 minutes from the office to home, collect the ringing box and then get to West Kirby was pretty good  I reckon. As was my first Waxwing in the hand.....

Ageing and sexing Waxwings is quite easy in the hand and can even be done in thefield. This write up from the Grampian ringing group explains how.

7 Dec 2012

Tits & crows

Back to Barry's garden in Burton this week for a days ringing as part of Johns study on the over winter survival rates of Blue Tits. We caught over 100 birds of which a staggering 50% were Blue Tits. Of these the ratio between adults and juveniles was approximately 50:50. It was nice to catch one of the Great Tits we'd ringed back in the spring as a pullus and in keeping with my control of a Great Tit last weekend we also controlled two Blue Tits.

 Ringers with hands full of tits.

There has been a lot of talk about Jay movements recently on 't'internet' as they seem to be seeing all over the place this year. The question is whether these are genuinely part of an influx from the continent or local birds searching for food as our acorn crop seems to have failed.

With Barry reporting up to 4 birds in his garden it wasn't long before I was asked to give blood in the cause and extract then ring a Jay - one of two we caught. These birds were definitely locally bred as Barry has seen two adults and two juveniles. It will be very interesting to see where these other birds originate from and hopefully a few ringing recoveries from UK ringed birds this winter will help answer the question and go someway to settling the debate.

 The Jays revenge.
Honour satisfied it posed for a picture.

All photo's courtesy of Barry Barnacal.

3 Dec 2012

Purps and divers

The weekend got off to a good start Friday afternoon when a couple of hours ringing in the garden prodcued a control Great Tit. (i.e a bird ringed somewhere else by another ringer). A bit of investigation  by Mr Elliot determined it had been ringed at Shotton Steelworks - a distance of around 10 km I reckon and a good indication of where some of my garden birds are coming from / getting to. Its amazing to me that I'm retrapping birds that I haven't seen for over a year in the garden despite regular ringing sessions.

A late night Friday saw me texting Mr Payne at 4.00 am Saturday morning confriming I WOULD be up and around to go to Hilbre over the tide Saturday morning.  As promised  I was up after 3 hours sleep and ready to go when he arrived just after nine. A beautiful cold Decembers day saw us in the seawatching hide in a NNW Force 5 for a productive few hours.

Amongst good numbers of Red-throated Divers Mark picked up a relatively close Black-throated Diver which proved to be difficult to get on to amid the swell. After a few moments panic I got good views as it alternatively appeared and then disappeared. Through the 'scope and with such good light, it was possible to see the nape was actually dark grey and not black. The bird eventually disappeared beyond out view as the tide flooded but we picked it up again, more distantly, as the tide ebbed and it was last seen flying towards the windfarm.

A small wader jinking in from the west had me yelling to Mark to get on it quickly just before it pitched down on the water amongst a group of gulls - a Grey Phalarope! Sadly we think the loafing Herrings and Greater Black-backs might have polished it off as an hor-deuvre.

Unusual numbers of Teal were seen in small groups but with one big group of 30 and it later transpired that Leighton Moss was frozen so we assume this is where they'd disperesed from.

As the ebbing tide exposed the rocks off the end of the slipway the Purple Sandpipers started returning and we spent a bit of time checking them and the Tunrstones for colour ringed birds.
A quick bacon and fried egg sandwich for lunch and it was time to leave.

27 Nov 2012

Desert for Dessert

An opurtunity presnted by a brief break from the torrential rain and a delayed meeting provided me with an excuse to have an early lunch and take the short trip to Rhyl to see one if its more famous recent residents - a female Desert Wheatear.

Despite the forecast break in the weather it was still windy and miserable but, thankfully, not raining. The star of the show performed well and it was a shame someone wasn't there to video the bird running towards the camera!!!

The N West has a decent record with Desert Wheatear and this is about the thrid for N Wales. In addition there was a very confiding male bird on Crosby beach around 2007 -see below and a spring male in Greater Manchester.

The bird suppressed in Cheshire is best not discussed.......

26 Nov 2012

Winter thrushes

With a clear night Friday came the unmistakable calls of Redwings & Fieldfares passing over the house. A quick check of the weather forecast showed early morning mist. Ideal for a small fall on Hilbre. Unfortunately the tide was against us so we had to leave it until late morning to get across. The effort was worthwhile though with  small number of migrant thrushes and finches ringed - including this Fieldfare. One of only a very small number ringed on Hilbre over the last few years.

The Fieldfare was aged as a 1st winter male on the pattern of the crown feathers and the retained juvenile greater coverts.

The Goldfinches were educational as they were a first winter female (left) and adult male (right)

In addition to the Fieldfare we also ringed a Song Thrush and a couple of Blackbirds.

Whilst we were on Hilbre news came through that a late Wheatear found Friday at Rhyl had indeed been re-identified as a female Desert Wheatear after local birders suggested it would be worth a second look due to the late date. Well done Rob! That's yet another Desert Wheatear for N Wales and yet another one that's missed us!

21 Nov 2012

More Waxwings.

Found 26 Waxwings yesterday near the office in Mold. Went back for the camera but unfortunately the weather was crap and they were feeding in a private garden and occasionally roosting up in a tall tree so pictures not brilliant. Still, theyr'e always brilliant birds to see and brightened up an otherwise dull trip to the post box.
There's quite a few Rowan berries adjacent to our house where I'm expecting Waxwings but these short November days mean I'm leaving for work in the dark and returning in the dark. Hopefully I'll get some this weekend.....................

20 Nov 2012

All about waders

A great day Saturday spent on Anglesey with the SCAN ringing group rocket netting waders. Three nets were set at different locations to try and catch Curlew & Ringed Plover. Although not hugely successful we caught a small catch of Ringed Plover and Dunlin in one net and Curlew in another. The weather turned out to be beautiful and it was just nice being outside in such a glorious location in good weather.

Sunday saw me solo on Hilbre over the tide as a group of students from Salford University Wildlife Photography  Society were visiting. Once again the weather was beautiful and I was able to show them a Song Thrush being ringed and a re-trap Blackbird. Stars of the day though were the Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers that fed at the north end just before and after high tide.


The two regular colour ringed Turnstones were seen including this bird from winter 2007/2008. Just imagine the miles its flown back and forwards to its breeding grounds!

Most of the Purple Sandpipers flew off to Middle Eye to roost but one individual showed exceptionally well for everyone at the north end of Hilbre.

Also of note was a single Blackcap that remained stubbornly in the bracken at the south  end - probably hiding from the marauding male Kestrel that made repeat appearances throughout the day.

13 Nov 2012

Waxwings & Geese

The weekend started exceptionally well with a flyover Waxwing, calling, over the house as I left for work Friday morning. Despite seeing it or another later in the afternoon and searching all the local haunts I didn't refind it. With good numbers now in Cheshire & N Wales I'm pretty sure it won't be long before they find the nearby Rowans.

With the tides being a bit early for a dawn trip to Hilbre Steve & I decided to make the most of a sunny Saturday afternoon and went over for a few hours at low tide. Brent Geese numbers are on the increase and the first wintering Purple Sandpipers have arrived with a maximum of 11 being seen so far.

With fine weather again Sunday we took the opportunity to take a long walk exploring some of the local footpaths. Winter thrushes were prevalent along with a good sized flock of Chaffinch's but no Brambling's.

8 Nov 2012

Don't tell them your name Pike.

A classic Dad's Army sketch with Ian Lavender as the hapless Pike being berated by Captain Mainwaring played by Arthur Lowe. This was a Pike of  different nature. Jack.

Wit hone of our regular days ringing scheduled yesterday in Barry's garden in Burton I was expecting to handle a good number of birds but never anything fishy!

That changed when Barry appeared with a Pike, caught locally, that he wanted to photograph as part of his long term project to photograph every species of British fish! Problem was how to transfer a mean, lean piscine biting machine from a dustbin full of water to an aquarium for its modelling assignment?

Only one answer. Roll the sleeves up, risk getting a finger bitten off and grab it behind the gills keeping well away from the pointy bits in its mouth.

Photo courtesy of Barry Barnacal.

Being the youngest (!) with the fastest reflexes(!) the job fell to me. Actually it was quite docile and after its photo shoot it was quickly returned to a local pond. The finished photo looks pretty good!
Photo courtesy of Barry Barnacal.
As well as the piscine excitement there were plenty of birds to keep us busy as part of our study into survival rates of Blue Tits. Eleven species of bird were caught including two re-trap and two new Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two re-trap Nuthatches and a party of Long-tailed Tits.
Female Great Spot actually ringed in my garden recently.
The Long-tailed Tits were very interesting as three of them were re-traps from December 2011 when we caught a party of 9. The ring numbers were almost consecutive and between ringing they've dispersed, presumably bred and now flocked together again for the winter.
It was noticeable that the numbers of birds were generally down on previous years - especially Blue & Great Tit numbers. Its to early to say yet if this is due to a poor breeding season but hopefully our next two planned sessions over the winter will shed some light on this.
With a local twitch for a Black Redstart just a mile down the road a flyover Crossbill and several hundred yelping Pinkfeet overhead it was a memorable day. Thanks to Barry for the hospitality and the photos!
1st year female Goldfinch courtesy of Barry Barnacal

5 Nov 2012

Coal Tit invasion.

There seems  to have been an invasion of Coal Tits into the UK recently. Looking at the blogs linked to the BTO's ringing demographic site many ringers are reporting unusual numbers of Coal Tits at their regular ringing stations. We even saw a few on the Scillys' a couple of weekends ago - an Islands 'mega'  - including several of the presumed hibernicus or Irish race.

Coal Tits are a regular but scarce winter visitor in my garden and despite ringing there for over 18 months I'd never caught one. Until this weekend................................

Suddenly I caught three in one session including this primrose looking one that I assume is hibernicus. With a yellow wash to the cheeks and a lemon rather than apricot / buff tinge to the underparts it certainly looked the part.

With bright sunshine instead of rain I took the opportunity to walk one of my regular haunts and explore the stubble fields in the hope of finding a rare pipit. Donning wellies I walked the flooded fields (they do look good for a Richard's or something rarer) and was disappointed with a haul of 5 Meadow Pipits and 2 Skylarks although the local Buzzard performed well.
An adjacent field must have just been sprayed with slurry judging by the  number of Common & Black-headed Gulls it attracted but despite diligent searching I couldn't find either a Med Gull or a rare Yank.
We were commenting on Hilbre that we haven't had a passage of winter thrushes on the Island yet with only a single Song Thrush being ringed recently. I'd noted that there hadn't been the usual numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares flying over the house yet this winter and all the hedges are still laden with hawthorn berries. Just as I was returning from my perambulations a large mixed flock of Redwings and Fieldfares flew over from the east and disappeared towards Wales. The first big flock I've seen.

Hilbre was very quiet on Sunday with no new birds being ringed. The weather was fantastic but bitterly cold. As well as the lack of seasonal thrushes we've also noticed a distinct lack of sea ducks.