Sunday, 3 November 2013

Hilbre Bird Observatory and the Birds Of Wirral

Female Blackbird

I was very pleased to be invited to Heswall Hall in September to give a talk about the Hilbre Bird Observatory. This article outlines what I said and gives some more recent news on sea bird migration at Hilbre that happened soon after.

I focused on migration, not just what happens at Hilbre but also how the people of Wirral can influence migration through feeding birds in their gardens. For instance, the migration strategy of Blackbirds in the North West of England has been altered by people feeding them in the winter and so they no longer migrate to Ireland.

Willow Warbler trapped at the Hilbre Bird Observatory

The Willow Warbler was trapped on Hilbre and the Blackbird shown is a female breeding in a Wirral garden.

The picture of the White-tailed Eagle being chased by a Buzzard was a lucky and unusual find these days. However Anglo-Saxon place names in Wirral, such as the Arno in Birkenhead, refer to eagles. Consequently the people of Birkenhead, a thousand years ago, were probably a lot more familiar with them than we are today. This echoes my theme in the talk, things are rooted in the past, have direct connections with it, but are continually changing.

In my talk I pointed out the influence of the weather, in particular the wind, on everything that takes place on Hilbre from the size of the trees, through breeding success, to which birds turn up. There is a fifty year old Sycamore Tree that is only 3 metres tall and Swallows often fail in breeding attempts because the wind removes flying insects. The wind direction is key to migrants getting to the island at all, there needs to be easterly winds for passerines to turn up.

There is an exception to that rule though and suitable conditions arrived four days after my talk. The wind went to the north west and reached gale force. In Autumn we know that sea birds migrate south through the Irish Sea but we need westerly gales to get them close enough in shore to be able to see them.

Hilbre is probably the best place in England to see Leach’s Petrel and this Autumn confirmed this. The gale produced shearwaters, skuas, a Slavonian Grebe and the first Brent Geese of the winter. A lot of the skuas are first year birds and it is very unusual to see an adult Long-tailed Skua at Hilbre.

However this year’s gales produced an adult and one of our technophiles was able to get a picture of it though his telescope on his i-phone. Technology has made it possible to share pictures and news as it happens and Hilbre aims to do this through its blog,

Do keep a check on what is happening.

John Elliott

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