Friday, 4 October 2013

Turtle Dove saves the day!

I'm moving back to uni in Oxford on Sunday so I decided to make the most of my remaining free time by making an early morning visit to Hilbre with Scott before the tide. On the walk out the conditions seemed perfect for migrants; there was a light breeze from the southeast and the island was coated in low cloud and drizzle. As we reached the top of Middle we noticed that the contractors, who had clearly never visited the island before, had driven along the west side of Middle Eye and both of their vehicles were now irretrievably entrenched in the thick estuary mud. Unfortunately, given the state of the tide, there was nothing that could be done and both vehicles were submerged as the water rose. The two dishevelled builders were confronted by their angry boss, who had driven out in a third vehicle via the correct route, before they started work removing scaffolding from one of the buildings. Definitely a day to forget for them.

The island seemed quite promising at first with a decent passage of Meadow Pipits overhead and a couple of Reed Buntings overhead. However this provided us with false hope and two successive rounds of the traps saw us fail to catch even a single bird. While on the island we received news from Red Rocks that the elusive Acro was showing well in the still conditions so after the second trap round we grabbed our stuff from the obs and headed for West Kirby. It was a good thing we left when we did as the tide came in faster than expected and we were forced to wade across the gutter between Middle Eye and Little Eye. One of my quietest trips to the island but a single Dark-bellied Brent Goose, the rarer subspecies here, was my first record for Cheshire. I also managed to capture this rather pleasant shot of the smaller islands from the obs balcony.

The view from the obs

On our wade back to the mainland news came through of a Turtle Dove at Leasowe Lighthouse, once again found by Wirral legend Alan Conlin. Turtle Dove is a rare bird in Cheshire occurring just about annually so we were both really keen to see it. We decided to give Red Rocks Marsh a brief go for the Acro but a freshening north-westerly breeze scuppered any chance of it showing. Slightly deflated we headed on to Leasowe Lighthouse. Here we were met with the ominous news that the bird had been seen to fly from its favoured spot half an hour prior to our arrival. At this point the day was looking to be a complete write off but we decided to wander down to Lingham Bridge anyway on the off chance that it might reappear. At the bridge we found one other observer unsuccessfully searching the area. At this point I was on the verge of despair when I noticed two doves fly out from a thick Leylandi hedge. The front bird was obviously a Collared Dove but the rear bird appeared to show rufous wings in flight. It alighted in a small tree and I quickly got my bins on it. BOOM! TURTLE DOVE on my Cheshire list! The birds beautiful deep rufous, scalloped mantle was immediately obvious and the relative lack of dark neck markings aged it as a 1st-winter bird. It then flew up on to the telegraph wires where it remained for over 15 minutes allowing observers to watch it at length alongside a couple of Collared Doves and a Woodpigeon. Scott even managed to run back to the car to grab his scope and was able to capture this phone-scoped shot as a result.

1st-winter Turtle Dove, Leasowe Lighthouse (c) Scott Reid

A cracking Cheshire bird and one that I'm unlikely to see in the county again, given the perilous national decline suffered by the species in recent years! Always nice to see even in its breeding strongholds, the bird salvaged what would otherwise have been a rather dismal day. Congratulations to the finder, Alan Conlin, for another great Wirral bird. Also thanks as ever to Scott for driving, although he is slightly to blame for me getting damp feet! A nice bird and a fitting end to a great summer of birding. Unless of course I foolishly try again for that Acro tomorrow.

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