Saturday, 18 August 2012


Summer really started for me back in early May with a quite exceptional day on Hilbre Island. I documented this day with words and pictures in a post to this blog called "Wheatear Bomb".

As we close in on autumn (by alluding to the death of summer I mean in a breeding bird sense - I intend to squeeze as much as I can from the remains of the 'easy' season), another fabulous day on the island provided a neat bookend to my summer.

Hilbre smouldered under the August sun, looking as fantastic as usual....

Tallest of tall skies were suffused with thrifty clouds, and from these skies fell birds. Lots of them.
This 'fall' concerned one species in particular, Willow Warblers. Back on our big day in early May they were the most numerous of a varied cast of downed migrants, today they were almost the only migrants on show. By the end of the day more than 700 had piled into this tiny bunch of rocks at the head of the Dee.

In the paddocks that are pock marked with gone-to-seed umbellifers dozens of these charming little warblers were darting about looking for insects, the petrol to power their engines on a journey to African wintering grounds. As the guys from the bird observatory zipped between traps in an effort to catch and ring as many as possible, I unzipped the camera bag, deployed the kit and settled in for half an hour with the birds.

The birds kept beady eyes on me while I studied their behaviour and photographed them, but always managed to concentrate on their feeding. Seconds after I caught this Willow Warbler staring me out, it reached around the stem on the left of this frame and picked off the unsuspecting fly resting there.

There were several birds in a shady corner of the paddock working some stems, feeding hungrily enough to allow me a close approach. They lingered long enough for a few frame filling shots...

My peaceful time with the birds was abruptly halted by a cry from Degs from the Obs.

"We've caught the canary!"

The bird in question was not an escaped pet but a partially albino or leucistic Willow Warbler. It lacked the greenish beige pigments that the other birds had but retained the yellow colouration. In the hand it looked beautiful, a mixture of pure white and sulphur yellow.

Like the other birds caught that day it was delicately measured, weighed then carefully ringed. This unusual individual was then photographed by anyone with a camera/phone. A bird like this certainly doesn't turn up every day so it was well and truly "papped" like a celebrity.

Once ringed and admired the bird was released back to join the feeding frenzy. I had time to take in the scene for a little while longer. I tried to find our 'canary' in the gardens of the cottages for a shot in the wild as opposed to the hand. I didn't get one but did get plenty more of its more appropriately attired cousins...

All to soon an on-rushing tide ushers me from the birds, but I can't help feeling so lucky to have been on Hilbre for 2 stellar days either side of summer. It is hard to imagine that the birds I leave behind on the islands will soon be hawking for bugs under African skies, and I won't forget my encounter with the 'canary' for some time...

As autumn hoves into view more days like this are possible on the muddy banks of the Dee.

I can't wait.

1 comment:

  1. Great photographs and such a lovely little bird! I am going to have to make more of an effort to get out to the island given I live in West Kirby...

    Only just found your Blog so will be following it regularly.

    West KIrby