Saturday 31 January 2009

31st January 2009

A very inhospitable day with such a biting wind that even the birds found other places to be. The only Brents located were 92 sheltering north west of the whaleback, and waders were almost completely absent and may have found more comfortable places to reside (see photo of Redshanks and others by the sea wall of the marine lake).
A couple of Song Thrushes and a Robin seemed to be the only passerines on the island, and a male Red-breasted Merganser on the sea was likewise unopposed for the observers attention.

(JE) photos JE

Friday 23 January 2009

22nd January 2009

The 3 dark-bellied Brents were still present along with a count of 136. Counts have been pretty steady (with a slight increase) since the turn of the year, but we have definitely had a 'turn-over' of birds.

A male Peregrine hunted the waders around the islands which included 3,500 Oystercatcher, 2,000 Dunlin, 316 Curlew, 60 Sanderling and 18 Purple Sandpipers. The Curlew count was typically around Little Eye which also saw 280 Shelduck.

However, the highlight of the day was an all-time record Cormorant count of 1,678 birds that were seen moving out of the estuary around high tide.


Wednesday 21 January 2009

21st January 2009

Talking point of the day was the cliff fall on the west side of Middle near to the south end. Some massive slabs and other rock debris bore witness to the substantial nature of the collapse which involved a fair length of the cliff. No doubt the recent frost assisted the inevitable.

Three dark-bellied Brent (right) (out a total of 136) were an increase on sightings during the last two weeks and therefore some are probably new arrivals. The blue and red Dublin ringed bird was again seen in the flock with the pales.

Very quiet on the sea, just a single Red-throated Diver, a Shag, a Great-crested Grebe and male and female Common Scoters (left).
A large count of 752 Cormorants flew out at dawn and 180 Shelduck were south of the islands, while counts of waders as usual were difficult at low tide but 15 Purple Sandpipers and 11 Grey plovers were of note.

Not much change on the ground, 5 Song Thrushes, 2 Blackbirds, a Dunnock, 2 Meadow Pipits and 3 each of Robins and Wrens. A Rock Pipit at the north end that had been previously ringed was new in today. Both Peregrine and Kestrel were around at some stage.
(DB,ME,CJ) photos CJ

Saturday 17 January 2009

17th January 2009

Bright and sunny but very windy today but not much activity on the island with just 3 Song Thrushes found, although a Merlin as well as Peregrine and Kestrel were present, one of the two former probably being responsible for the 2 Turnstones kills discovered.
The red and blue ringed Brent was among 127 birds (including one dark) counted today.

Friday 16 January 2009

Redpolls revisited

Many thanks for those who contacted me about the Redpoll spp.

The reason why the Redpoll spp on 9th May was not sub-specifically identified at the time is that the wing length was outside the range in Svensson for male Mealy Redpoll ('Flammea') and at the very bottom of the range for female Mealy Redpoll (and therefore much too short for 'Rostrata' - North Western Redpoll). Apologies for not putting that in the original post but I did not have the information to hand.

It might not be clear from the photos in the original post that the bird contains red markings on the face and breast - although nothing like one would expect from a male Mealy (the male Mealy on 9th May was an adult and this bird is a first year).

The reason the bird was photographed at the time was because of its unusual appearance. Whilst it shares a number of features with Lesser Redpoll (three of which were caught at the same time) - including wing length, brownish upperparts, some buff underparts etc. It also shares some features with Mealy - 'appearing' large, having white wing bars, grey streaking on upperparts, white vent, grey around the face, pale greyish rump (with some pink). And other features with North Western - large bill, straight (if not convex) looking culmen, brownish upperparts, white wing bars, buff on underparts, heavy streaking on buff background on flanks - lacking extensive pink on breast associated with male Mealys.

An interesting bird nevertheless which went down as an unusual Lesser Redpoll at the time ...

Maybe this spring we will get some more interesting redpolls - which adds a new dimension to birding on Hilbre - prior to 2008 there was only one previously documented record of Mealy Redpoll on Hilbre; during 2008 we had three!

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Repoll Review Part 1

Spring 2008 was excellent on the island for the capture of redpolls - the iPod was used to attract flyover redpolls into the Obs garden. In amongst good numbers of Lesser Redpolls there was a sighting of a Mealy Redpoll (6th May) and the following Mealy was later caught on 6th May:

Then on the 9th May the third Mealy of the spring occurred when the following male was trapped (left with Lesser Redpoll right):

Redpoll Review Part 2

Then later on 9th May 2008, another redpoll was caught and after some investigation was thought to show some features of North Western (or Greenland) Redpoll - however its wing length is too short even for Mealy (despite appearing very large) - which is no doubt why it caused confusion at the time and why it was photographed! See photos below, any comments welcome (email

Compare these with Lesser Redpolls from earlier years:

All photos SW except Lesser Redpoll above by CJW

Sunday 11 January 2009

10th January 2009

A magnificent sunrise before the wind strengthened and the temperature rose ahead of the Atlantic fronts from the west arriving to relieve the cold spell.

Five new thrushes were ringed including 2 Blackbirds, 2 Song Thrushes and a Redwing (right). Redwings are normally a bird of very early spring or late autumn at Hilbre, and indeed this is the first individual ringed at Hilbre in January for 30 years and only the seventh ever in this month (others were 1 in 1959 and 5 in 1979).
Birds recaptured today were a Dunnock (below) first ringed in October 2007 and the Blackbird and Meadow Pipit still present from last week which seem to be in good condition despite the hard weather.

The Brents were not showing well and only 117 (including 8 young) were counted, no colour ringed birds could be found.

(JE) photos by JE

Thursday 8 January 2009

Colour-ringed Brent Geese

"HDRB" (letters H and D on Red ring on right, Blue ring on left respectively) - was ringed as an adult male on 2nd August 2007 at Axel Heiberg Island, Arctic Canada before appearing on 27 October 2007 in Dublin Bay and spent that winter in the area last seen on 9 March 2008. He then re-appeared in the Dublin Bay area on 6 November 2008 and was last seen there on 7 December 2008. We believe he arrived at Hilbre on 9 December 2008 and was still present on 7 January 2009. This is the first sighting of this bird away from Ireland.

"X3YY" - was ringed as a first summer male on 14 May 2007 in Iceland (on passage) last seen there on 22 May 2007, he appeared at Strangford Lough on 19 October 2007 and was seen there the following day before disappearing and being found at Foryd Bay (North Wales) on 27 February 2008 before moving to Beddmanarch Bay (Holyhead - Anglesey) on 14 April 2008. He definitely arrived on Hilbre on 6th January 2009 but may have been present since 1st (see below).

"XXYY" - great news is that having last been seen at Hilbre on 14 March 2008 and having been seen in Anglesey between 27 March and 14 April 2008 she reappeared back at Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, on 22 October 2008 (presumably after a summer in Canada to breed) she may appear back on Hilbre soon (although she was reported by a non-member as back on 1st January 2009 and we are investigating that sighting).

Many thanks to Graham McElwaine of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group for all the information and a very prompt response to our sightings.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

7th January 2009

An early morning visit enabled confirmation that the two colour-ringed Pale-bellied Brents were still present and their sequences logged for posterity (see photo above). The Brents numbered 140 included 4 dark-bellied birds today. Other records included a single female Common Scoter and a single Song Thrush.

We have sent off the details of the two new colour-ringed Brents and await a response.

(BSB) Photo by BSB

Tuesday 6 January 2009

6th January 2009

A superb day all round the highlights included 478 Black-tailed Godwits just south-west of West Kirby Marine Lake (inside our recording area) that included a colour-ringed bird. This bird was ringed in Iceland as a chick in July 2005 and has subsequently been recorded at various places in Lancashire (including Leighton Moss, Newton Marsh and Marshside), Cheshire (various inland sites during 2006 including Sandbach and IMF) and Heswall and Thurstaston Shore last winter (November 2007); however that was its last sighting (over 12 months ago).

It was a colour-ring extravaganza (!) today - TWO colour-ringed Brent Geese are now in the flock on the island (red and blue which has been present on and off since 9th December 2008) and a new bird with yellow colour rings on each leg. This latter bird may have been present since 1st January 2009 as one with two yellow colour rings was reported by a non-member on that date albeit that was reported as 'XXYY'. However, the bird today is definitely not the returning female XXYY.

XXYY first arrived at Hilbre on 10th November 2005 and has been seen each winter subsequently and we eagerly await her return this winter...she was ringed on passage in Iceland in May 2005 and has also been recorded in Hampshire, Anglesey, Northern Ireland and Iceland (again on passage where she was retrapped) as well as on the breeding grounds in Bathurst Island in Canada in July 2007. She has not been seen at Hilbre since 14th March 2008 (after which she was on Anglesey until 14th April 2008 but has not been reported subequently).

The Brent Geese flock peaked again at 139 pales and 2 darks.

A Little Egret continued to be seen around the islands and wader numbers were excellent for the Low Water WeBS count.

(DB & WRS)

Sunday 4 January 2009

4th January 2009

Another - or the same - Short-eared Owl was seen flying towards Middle Hilbre from Pinfold.


Saturday 3 January 2009

3rd January 2009

The Brent enjoyed the sun today despite the continued cold spell, and the temperature managed to rise to zero degrees.

The first bird ringed this year proved to be an adult male Blackbird, one of 4 on the island today together with 2 Song Thrushes (including the partial albino).
The Blackbird was in good condition having plenty of body fat.
Also caught was a Meadow Pipit first ringed as a juvenile here in August 2007. Some of the breeding Meadow Pipits undoubtably go to the mainland in winter, some possibly travel further south, as ringing recoveries will hopefully confirm.
(JE) photos by JE

Friday 2 January 2009

2nd January 2009

Another good day's observations which included over 1,000 Sanderling (the highest count this winter) as well as 600 Knot and 2,000 Dunlin. The other highlight was a Short-eared Owl which flew from West Kirby saltmarsh out to the main island at dusk - perhaps they are roosting on the island? There have been at least 25 Short-eared Owls on the Dee marshes this winter so more records will surely follow as high tides or frost push them off the marshes.


Thursday 1 January 2009

1st January 2009

The New Year was greeted by good numbers of waders and wildfowl. The Pale-bellied Brents had reached 131 plus 2 darks but there was also evidence of cold weather movement with 3 Lapwing flying west, a female Pintail, 41 Wigeon and 9 Teal. Waders included 150 Grey Plover and 2,000 Knot by Little Eye. A single Peregrine hunted the islands.


1st January 2009

Most Exciting Hilbre Birds of 2008

At this quiet time at the beginning of a new year we look back to a few highlights of 2008.
Pride of place must go to the Bluethroat that thrilled all who saw it during its day-long stay on 21st May, probably the most desired of the birds never to have graced the islands.

Another first for Hilbre was the Dotterel found on 27th September, unfortunately not
photographed (photo left is the bird at nearby Leasowe in September 2004).

A Rough-legged Buzzard visited Hilbre on 6th November after being seen briefly on middle the day before.

Two Mealy Redpolls were in the obs garden on 6th May and another was trapped on 9th.

And the first Black Redstart for some years was ringed on 30th October.

Best wishes to all for 2009 and hoping (and expecting) more nice surprises will come our way !

photos CJ,PGW,SRW