Thursday, 28 May 2015

100 up

I'm sure that I didn'tyt dream several years ago a conversation between myself, John Badley and Paul French about our respective garden lists and who would get to 100 bird species recorded. Well Paul moved away leaving John and I to race to the target. We have both been in the high 90's for a while but I have the delight of winning the speedboat prize we agreed on all those years ago. Well I think that's how the story went anyway!

Well I did make it to 100s species before John and the honour went to a calling male cuckoo that was around the estate calling early on Saturday morning.

Having moved into our current house on 2007 we have been steadily improving our garden for birds and wildlife adding a pond and masses of borders and shrubs. A small pond attracts stuff into drink and bathe. Probably the most important aspect to getting a good list is the fact we live in a bungalow meaning that we are not surrounded with other houses and there is lots of sky to watch. This is ideal for watching raptors and scanning through then winter goose flocks flying over.

Ringing in the garden has certainly helped and has added several new species to the list.

So what have been the highlights....

Little egret - flyover in 2009
2 records of both mute and Bewick's swans
Brent goose - 11 over in December 2007
Gadwall - 3 on 2010. The lack of any real water close by means the wildfowl list is only 9 species
Red kite is a regular sighting and probably bred nearby last year
Merlin - 1 in 2008
Pheasant - only 1 record in 2009
Moorhen - 1 in the garden over the last winter
Stone curlew - very lucky to have these breeding nearby and can hear them flying over the house on warm summer nights. Can even hear them from bed!
Green sandpiper - 2 in 2014 Like with wildfowl, very few wader species have been recorded with 7 so far
Turtle dove - 1 in July 2007
Waxwing - several flyover records to date
Ring ouzel - 1 flushed out of the garden in October 2013
Firecrest - singing male for a morning in May 2014
Spotted flycatcher - 2 records, one in 2008, one trapped and ringed in 2014
Marsh tit - 1 ringed in 2011
Nuthatch - 1 in 2010
Tree sparrow - 2 flyovers in February 2011
Crossbill - 1 in 2008

I have also decided to complete the Patchwork Challenge 'competition' this year from the garden with the aim of getting to that magical figure of 100 species. Now that has been achieved the next aim is to get as big a list as possible. Nearly 5 months into the year and the list stands at 54 species.

Not a bad effort really :-)

Pics of spot fly and reed bunting

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Fine phalarope

Like most wetland sites along the east coast we seem to be having a very poor spring for waders. So far we haven't recorded a wood sand this year and currently there hasnt been a ruff in May! Black tailed godwits have been non-existent along with dunlin. Water levels have been perfect for the last month so at least that reason can be ruled out ;-)

With a slight change in the wind direction, this week things have started to pick up with 2 Temminck's stints, a movement of tundra ringed plovers, 2 little stints and 5 little gulls.

Things improved further this morning when a radio message came through of a red necked phalarope on the fresh marsh. Having been too busy to go straight out for the stints (unlike others) I did dash down to check this one. The guy who found it actually saw it fly in from the east and drop down in front of him!
Despite the poor morning light, the bird showed well only 30m from the path but got increasingly mobile and spent most of its time in the middle of the marsh.
The light was very poor but I did manage to get a couple of poor phonescope record shots

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Streaky Shrike

After a very spring-like day which saw an almost constant raptor movement and the arrival of a good number of summer migrants, I decided to stop off in the Choseley area on the way home and check for wheatears on the ploughed fields south of the barn.

The best area is from the bend in the road to the south of the barns were there is a small area when you can park and watch. As i pulled up I noticed a pale bird in the hedge about 100m away. I was very surprised when I got my bins on it that it was a great grey shrike, not what I was expecting!!!!

I managed to get a few record phonescope shots before the bird moved further away along the hedges. At first I though the bird was actively on the move and it kept heading east long the hedges but eventually it stopped about 300m away and spent the next hour dropping down onto the field edges catching insects.

Couldn't quite believe my luck that I had the bird to myself despite putting the news straight out. Cheeky little self-find too

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Ringing Uganda

The last four days of our recent trip to Uganda were with a friend of our Roger, who has been living in the country for the past few years working with Nature Uganda and undertaking ringing activities throughout the country. We were lucky enough to join up with him at two of his sites. which involved two morning’s ringing in Mpanga Forest and two morning’s ringing at a small site in Lutembe Bay.

The first site was called Mpanga Forest. As the name suggests, it was a forest site and we were ringing along the edge of the woodland. It was relatively quiet for ringing, with a small number of lovely birds, but it was a welcome change of pace and eased us into the ringing gently as the initial 10 days of our tour had been very intense. The habitat at Mpanga where we chose to site the nets was forest edge and nets were erected the night before and were safe in-situ until we left. We only ringed a small number of birds but it did give us the opportunity to look at the different feather wear and moult strategy of different species.  Although we didn't get to catch many birds, the ones we did were smart. White throated greenbul, red crowned robin chat, olive sunbird, green twinspot, green hylia and yellow throated tinkerbirds were all ringed during the two days.

Our next site was called Lutembe Bay, the complete opposite to Mpanga. The area had sadly been degraded from when Roger first stared ringing there with much of the scrub being cleared for new developments but there was still several areas where we could ring. Due to the number of people and animals in the area, the nests could be left up and had to be erected every morning. ot too bad a job with three of us.  and nets were erected in the dark on both mornings. Habitat was relatively open scrubby bush, with small trees and swamp/marsh nearby. Our recce when we arrived showed that there were lots of birds about including several species of weaver and plenty of palearctic migrants. We were excited when dawn came and we got the nets up.

The first net round was truly unbelievable for the number and variety of birds, with weavers, sunbirds, bee-eaters, kingfishers and a stack of other birds, many resident and also a good number of migrants heading north. 
If Carlsberg did net rounds, then then I'm sure they did this one!!

There were so many highlights over the two days. At least 5 species of weaver, red cheeked cordon-bleu, didric cuckoo, 2 species of kingfisher and bee-eater and 3 species of sunbird to name a few.

Also interesting to see were these very stocky reed warblers, whinchat and tree pipit, all on the move north with good fat scores. It was also good to catch some of the very pale grey willow warblers that were of one of the eastern races. In the field they confused me to start off with their plumage tones and dark legs but the biometrics said willow warbler not chiffchaff.

Over the four days ringing at the two sites we handled well over 100 birds of 43 different species, crazy but a great experience. 

Roger has been working to establish a permanent ringing scheme in Uganda and it would be excellent to see his work continue and especially the development of the young Ugandan ringers has been training.

Pic 1 - white throated greenbul
Pic 2 - grey backed cameroptera
Pic 3 - yellow throated tinkerbird
Pic 4 - red crowned robin chat
Pic 5 - olive sunbird
Pic 6 - green hylia
Pic 7 - red chested sunbird
Pic 8 - common waxbill
Pic 9 - African pigmy kingfisher
Pic 10 - blue breasted bee-eater
Pic 11  - didric cuckoo
Pic 12 - green headed sunbird
Pic 13 - copper sunbird
Pic 14 - snowy crowned robin chat
Pic 15 - willow warbler
Pic 16 - whinchat
Pic 17 - grey capped warbler
Pic 18 - black headed gonolek
Pic 19 - red cheeked cordon bleu
Pic 20 - yellow whiteeye

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

African Adventure

Most of the best trips seem to come from a chance conversation and this recent one was no different.

We didn't really think he was serious when Roger said 'why don't you come to Uganda ringing?' A few months later our flights were booked!!

Roger recommended a local guide called Harriet (let me know it you would like her details) and things were sorted. She organised all the accommodation, transport, access to the parks, pretty much everything.

We were very fortunate to end up with two guides along with our driver. This really helped us to reach a total of 428 bird species in 2 weeks.

The accommodation was very good and varied from 4* to long drop toilets and outside showers. Not a problem at all.

Transport was good although many of the minor roads were poor. There wasn't too much travelling apart from a couple of long drives (4 & 5hr drives) although there were birding stops along the way.

I am planning to post a few reports on the different areas we visited and the birds and wildlife seen in the coming weeks

Pic 1 - sunset over Lake Victoria
Pic 2 - 50,000 over this lake. An amazing sight
Pic 3 - our final supper. Fish & chips Ugandan style
Pic 4 - the very swish Primate Lodge in Kibale Forest
Pic 5 - we crossed it at least twice
Pic 6 - forest birding
Pic 7 - Ugandan town

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A bird in the hand

One of the great things about my job is the interaction with visitors to the reserve. Its not good all the time and it does get a bit wearing the same moans all the time but when you get the opportunity to inspire people its the best feeling in the world.

Last week, as part of our half-term activities, I put on a couple of short ringing demonstrations by the visitor centre. A couple of feeders and a 20' mist net were enough to catch a nice selection of birds. Mainly tits were caught but greenfinch, goldfinch, long tailed tit and robin were different.

The ringing was a fantastic way to capture the imagination of people and show them common birds up close for the first time. It is always great to see the smiles on the faces of the children and they especially love it when the blue tits peck me hard!  It is also a great opportunity to talk about the important role that ringing plays in bird research and conservation and to encourage people to support the work of the BTO and RSPB.

We had a really nice email from a visitor that really made my week saying how their family had been inspired by their visit :-)

Monday, 9 February 2015

Magical Grouse

The whole reason for heading over to North Wales was to see the lekking black grouse. I have seen them several times in Scotland and northern England but never in the breeding season.

We left our hotel before dawn and climbed up into the local hills. The fog on the drive up wasn't great but thankfully the roads were clear of snow.  Thanks to Alan D we found the right spot to park and straight away could hear the strange bubbling and hissing calls before it had even got light. A magical sound :-)
Thankfully the birds were close to the road as the viewing conditions were rubbish, windy with low cloud.
As it got lighter, more and more males could be seen strutting their stuff on their favoured little patch of ground with their tail feathers spread and white undertail coverts fluffed up. Several times, intruding males caused a full on scrap. Most of the birds were males with 13 of the 15 being males.

We thought we would drive across the moorland road to see if there was any clearer weather but sadly it was just as bad. We did bump into another lek with at least 18 lekking males.

By the time we got back to the original site, all the birds had moved off. Can't grumble with 33 black grouse in a couple of hours!

The rest of the morning was spend on the Dee and the Wirral.

1st stop was Burton Mere Wetlands where on arrival in the visitor centre a ringtail hen harrier was hunting over the marsh. The main target was a roosting long eared owl that gave great views to about 10m! Several whooper swans and a stack of pinkies were nice.

Final stop of the trip was 'wonderfully scenic' seafront boating lake in New Brighton to twitch the 1st winter laughing gull. Typically it was present when we arrived but after a few minutes it was picked up circling around the local shops. Eventually it dropped right down in front of us and gave fantastic close views. A British tick for me :-)
Just when we thought the trip was over, 2 purple sandpipers flew into the jetty to roost with the redshank.

A great way to end a great trip. Special thanks to Ruth and Alan for their help in finding some quality birds.

Pic 1, 2 - murky black grouse leks
Pic 3, 4, 5 - Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB reserve
Pic 6, 7 roosting long eared owl
Pic 8 - New Brighton boating lark
Pic 9, 10, 11 - 1st winter laighing gull
Pic 12 - one of two roosting purple sandpipers