Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Hilbre Hoopoe

A glorious couple of days on Hilbre Island spent hoping to see a melodious warbler which was trapped early yesterday ultimately ended in failure on that score, but just as I was setting off to leave at 11:30 after five hours on the island this morning, I inadvertently flushed a hoopoe from the slipway at the southern end of the main island. I guess that it had been feeding under the cliff, it just flew up right in front of me looking like a huge butterfly and quite unmistakable, leaving me in a state of shock! Initially the bird flew out over the water and I thought it was leaving, but it turned and flew back over the rocks to Middle Eye where I watched it land. I ran back to the bird observatory to inform the two members who were present and we set off to Middle after putting out news and contacting others on the mainland.

At this stage we didn't expect the bird to stay long because the tide was receding on a beautiful, hot summers day and we could see crowds of people crossing over to the islands, which led us to believe that it's stay on Middle might not be more than a few minutes. Already as we crossed there were two groups of people on top of Middle but although we couldn't see the bird they didn't appear to flush it so we kept going. Once on top we split up and began our search for the bird. It didn't take long, it suddenly flew up from the west side and headed south towards Little eye, surely it was gone for good now but no, miraculously it turned and flew back along the shore towards us, eventually going past us and heading back to the main island. 

Pretty soon we were joined by many of the usual Hilbre regulars and we searched the main island, eventually finding the bird on the rocks on the west side. It was always flighty, I only saw it on the ground once. When it wasn't flying it was usually tucked into a cove or behind rocks and then it was a case of waiting for it to fly. On one such occasion it flew past us south but then doubled back and returned north, and later when I returned to the observatory building to pick up my bag it flew over the garden and along the east side before returning in the opposite direction a few seconds later.

It was the stuff of dreams for me finding a hoopoe on Hilbre, the 4th record for the island and the first for an amazing 30 years. Unsurprisingly it was a Hilbre first for myself and also for most if not all of the bird observatory members. The bird continued to show throughout the afternoon, with the last sighting at 5pm. High tide then prevented birders from accessing the island until the following morning and the bird was not seen again. Much better photos than mine can be found on the Hilbre Island Blog (opens in a new window).

It was amazing to watch a hoopoe flying across the seaweed covered rocky shoreline of Hilbre, looking like a giant butterfly, it even looked like it might land a couple of times. In fact it spent most of it's time on the shoreline, probably in part due to the number of people on top but also because the invertebrates on the seaweed provided the best source of food on the island.

The only time I saw it landed!

Pity about the vegetation.

Will it stay or will it go?

Waiting for the bird to show again. Thanks to Steve Williams for the photo.

I set out from West Kirby at about 5:45am today because high tide was at around 9:00am and I wanted to spend the morning on the island. By the time I eventually left I'd been there about eight hours! Yesterday I went on after the tide and spent about four hours on the island.

The weather both yesterday and today has been glorious, if a little hot at times (around 30'C). Apparently the wrong weather conditions and the wrong time of year to produce migrants on Hilbre.....

There is a  fine display of harebells in the obs garden.

Rock sea-lavender is a specialty of Hilbre and I make no excuses for overdosing on this plant when it is in full flower.

Just beautiful, doubly so when it is set against the red sandstone. How do these plants find enough nutrients to sustain themselves here? Is there a harsher environment than this, growing out of the rock in the ocean splash zone and taking the full force of the blazing sun. I guess that the intertidal zone is even more extreme, but this runs it a close second.

Little egrets are now a common sight at Hilbre and the presence of at least three around the islands along with a hoopoe this week gives the place a really Mediterranean feel at the moment.


Dancing small whites. Other butterflies on the wing at the moment include large white, large skipper, meadow brown and common blues.

Even without the hoopoe it was a decent day for migrants on the island. Quite a few passerines were caught and ringed including this juvenile blackcap and there was also a whitethroat in the obs garden.

Linnets seem to have had a good year with 50 - 60 birds on the island, many of which have been ringed.

Rock pipit.

Juvenile wren.

Juvenile wheatear.

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