Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Two Different Days

Saturday morning was glorious, with clear skies and a light south-easterly wind, and as there was a tide, I headed to the Point for a bit of a sea and a vis watch. However, if I fast forward an hour and a half, I was walking away from the Point and I bumped in to Ian who said to me "that's not a good sign", and I replied, "it was crap"! Ian asked me whether that was the sea or the vis, and I said both! So, what happened?

Even though it was a glorious morning, there was a heat haze at sea, it's often the case at this time of the year when you get the temperature variation between the relatively warm sea and the cold air, making any observation of birds difficult. The crystal-clear conditions vertically, meant that virtually all of the vis was so high, that it was undetectable. 

The view from the Point across Morecambe Bay towards the Furness peninsula

In fact, the only vis that I recorded were two Grey Wagtails and six Skylarks that were barely visible! The sea was equally quiet with just nine Eiders, 33 Common Scoters, a Red-throated Diver and five Shelducks. An Atlantic Grey Seal bobbing up and down as the tide ran in, could also be added to this list. 

I decided to have a look in the cemetery, just in case there was anything of note migrant-wise, although I knew there wouldn't be! Looking resplendent in the morning sunshine were three Small Copper butterflies, that actually made my morning! Every time my shadow passed over them as I tried to get closer with my camera, they were off! So, I had to stretch my arms out not to cause a shadow, and to get the sun behind my camera.
 
 
Small Copper

As I was watching the Small Coppers, all the Starlings started alarm calling, and a male Sparrowhawk shot through; superb! I never tire of observing these cracking little raptors! I had another barely visible group of seven Skylarks heading south-east, and in addition to this a Greenfinch, five Alba Wags and a Chaffinch headed in the same direction.

Surprisingly there was two grounded migrants, two Goldcrests!

Yesterday, I was at the pools before first light for a ringing session, and as I unloaded my gear from my car under six oktas cloud cover with 5 - 10 mph SE wind, I could hear Redwings calling. I don't know how many were involved, I could just hear them. Even though they are heralding the approach of Winter, I do love to see and hear them at this time of year. In fact, they epitomise Autumn to me!
 
The Starlings are still roosting, and numbers might have just crept up a bit, as I had two waves of about 2,500 birds exiting the roost, so 5,000 roosting is a tad more than last time. 
 
Probably as a result of me parking fairly close to the scrape in the half-light, I spooked the 70 or so Greylag Geese that were roosting on the scrape, and in fact that is the first time that I have known Greylags to roost on there. Talking of geese, for the first hour that I was on site I could hear Pink-footed Geese calling, probably moving on from their estuarine roost. Then I had a group of 73 birds that looked to be dropping on to fields on the other side of the river, and then c.500 birds were in the air, presumably flushed by something or somebody!
 
I had very little vis, again, so two different days, but still little vis. The vis I did record comprised of an Alba Wagtail, two Grey Wagtails, 26 Woodpigeons, a Carrion Crow, seven Greenfinches and two Linnets.
 
The only grounded migrant I had was a Goldcrest, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker and six Long-tailed Tits made it into my notebook.
 
I ringed twenty birds as follows:
 
Robin - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 2
Great Tit - 2
Chaffinch - 2
Goldfinch - 1
Coal Tit - 3
Blue Tit - 3
Greenfinch - 6
 
Cetti's Warbler
 
Coal Tit

I was going to go to the pools ringing again this morning, but when I got up at 5:45 a.m. I could see that it was quite foggy, and this would lead to next to no birds, and soggy nets, so I saved it for another day.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Back To Back

Sunday and Monday saw me having back to back ringing sessions at the pools; Sunday with Alice, and Monday on my own. On Sunday we had 4 oktas cloud cover, with a light easterly wind, and on Monday I had clear skies with a light southeasterly. However, on both days the wind strength increased quite quickly, and affected our catching rate.

For ease, I have combined the ringing totals for both days below (recaptures in brackets):

Greenfinch - 18
Dunnock - 1
Chiffchaff - 1 (1)
Long-tailed Tit - 1 (5)
Robin - 2
Chaffinch - 1
Goldfinch - 2
Lesser Redpoll - 2
Reed Warbler - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Blackcap - 2
Robin - 1

 
Lesser Redpoll
 

On both days there was some vis, and as always when you are ringing, you inevitably miss birds that are going over. For the vis totals I have done the same again, and amalgamated the totals for both days. It's not just me being lazy, but also it makes them look more impressive! 

My vis totals included (flight direction between east and south); 190 Meadow Pipits, seven Grey Wagtails, four Alba Wags, four Skylarks, a Goldfinch, eight Woodpigeons, a Jackdaw, 32 Greenfinches and nine Chaffinches

Raptors were thin on the ground with just a female Sparrowhawk on Sunday, and a Kestrel on Monday. A few Snipe are now starting to arrive and use the scrape, and over both days there was about nine. A couple of Cetti's Warblers called from the wet scrub, and Pink-footed Geese called, but remained unseen. 

Starlings are still roosting, but numbers have now dropped to somewhere in the region of three thousand. And that just about sums up both days. It looks like it will be weekend before I am out again, and then for the fortnight after that I have cleared my diary so I can get out birding every day over those two weeks, weather permitting that is!

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Two Fs and Two Bs

For one reason or another, Gail and I haven't managed to get away for our usual week or two in Scotland, so this past week we had a few days out indulging Gail in her passion for history. Gail is the historian, and I'm the natural historian, or at least I try to be. 

Sometimes at historic sites there is some natural history on offer too, if you just take the time to look. This was the case when we visited one of our favourite monastic sites in Cumbria earlier in the week, that of Furness Abbey. Set on low ground, and surrounded by woodland, there is usually some wildlife interest as well as the fantastic historic interest of the site.

 Furness Abbey
 

It was a warm day, and there were lots of common butterflies on the wing, including very fresh individuals of Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshells, and a few Speckled Woods as well. Lots of common woodland birds were calling from the surrounding woodland including 'ticking' Robins, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Great Tits, Wrens, Jays, Goldcrests, Blue Tits and Nuthatches

Small Tortoiseshell above & Speckled Wood below

                                                                                           
 
There is a brook that runs through the monastic site, that has been canalised in places, and revetted in the local sandstone. However, it is quite wide with natural vegetation and here we had a Grey Wagtail feeding in the sunshine. 

Grey Wagtail
 

After we had our fill of all things monastic, we headed to one of our favourite reserves in Cumbria, Foulshaw Moss, in the hope of seeing a few 'dragons' and Lizards, and if we were really lucky maybe an Adder or two. On our way there driving through Lindal, we had a White Stork fly across the road, which got us both quite excited, until we realised that we were very close to the South Lakeland Zoo!

Foulshaw Moss (above & below)


 
There were one or two Covid restrictions at Foulshaw, such as a one-way system on the board-walk, and because of the one way system, a couple of areas weren't accessible, understandably so. We didn't manage to see any Adders, but we did see a couple of Common Lizards and plenty of both Black and Common Darters

Common Lizard (above & below)


 

Black Darter

Common Darter
 

We did see one distant Osprey, which we were told was the last remaining youngster of the year that was still hanging around before it's departure to Africa, and the only other raptor species we had was in the form of five Buzzards. Other bird interest included Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Sparrow, Siskin and Coal Tit

We treated ourselves to coffee and cake at Low Sizergh Barn Farm Shop & Cafe, and to make sure we had earned the cake, we walked their farm trail first. There were more Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells on offer, and a calling Marsh Tit was a nice addition to the day list if we kept one! 

The two Bs referred to in my Blog title are Brougham and Brough Castle, two of the many estates of the wealthy medieval Clifford family. Gail filled her boots again with some more history, but there wasn't much natural history on offer at these two sites. They are however set in the beautiful landscape of the north Pennines, so that made up for a lack of natural history.

 

Brough Castle

Brougham Castle
 

In the short windows that we have been at home this week, I have noticed numbers of Meadow Pipits heading south over the garden, and the last few days have seen Pink-footed Geese arriving high from the north. 

Pink-footed Geese arriving this afternoon
 

It's looking changeable from Wednesday onwards, in fact at the moment the weather synopsis looks interesting over Tuesday night into the early hours of Wednesday, and it might just ground a few migrants. We'll see!

Monday, 14 September 2020

10 out of 10

It blew at weekend, not storm force, but certainly close to a hooley, and I was out at first light both days at the Point. For that, I will give myself 10 out of 10 for effort, especially as it was my birthday on the Saturday, but there was no cigar; the cigar being a Leach's Petrel! I've seen hundreds of Leach's Petrels over the years of course, but I never tire of seeing these pelagic sprites. They are impressive birds, only the size of a House Martin, and yet they winter out in the south Atlantic! I've said it before, that I view the sea as the closest wilderness to our far from wild lives, and Leach's Petrels to me epitomise wildness.

Saturday dawned with a force 5 - 6 westerly wind, and six oktas cloud cover. A few waders were on the beach at high tide and these included 84 Oystercatchers, 105 Sanderlings and 50 Knots.

There was a movement of Gannets west, but they only numbered 13 birds heading out of the bay. Two Fulmars flying west was nice, with one a fair way out, but so obvious with that large white head, and long, straight wings. The other bird was closer in, and I had cracking views of it over some slack water between the shore and the shingle island.

Eight Pink-footed Geese battled southwest, a long way out, and they were the first Pinkies I have seen this Autumn. If you remember, I heard some last week, but didn't see them.

A summer plumaged Red-throated Diver was a stonker, but the best for me were the four Arctic Skuas that performed the full repertoire of Arctic Skua flight action. The first Arctic Skua I had, I picked it up harrying Sandwich Terns. It never ceases to amaze me, that a bird that weighs nearly twice as much as a Sandwich Tern is capable of out-flying it! The second Arctic Skua, was climbing high into the sky as it headed west, something you expect to see when they are heading east in to the bay in Spring, preparing for an over-land crossing to the North Sea. And the third and fourth Arctic Skuas, were actually heading in to the bay and flying low over the sea with a shearing action, not too dissimilar to a large Shearwater.

The best of the rest included four Sandwich Terns, a first calendar year Kittiwake, seven Shelducks, a Manx Shearwater (getting late now), two Razorbills and 350 Knots crossing the border from Morecambe to Liverpool Bay.

 Shelducks

Even though it was windy, a few Meadow Pipits and a Grey Wagtail battled west.

Sunday dawned with full cloud cover with a force 6 west-southwesterly wind. The wind strength and direction was better, and it had blown all the day before and overnight, but the poor visibility in the inner bay bothered me, and after two hours of very little, I was right to be bothered.

From a sea-watching perspective, all I was rewarded with for two hours observation, was a Razorbill, eight Common Scoters, a single Arctic Skua heading out of the bay at a rate of knots, an Auk sp. and a Gannet. That was it! There were a few waders on the shore as the tide ran in including 48 Oystercatchers, three Curlews and 70 Sanderlings.

I had three Grey Wagtails this morning, but they were certainly off-passage, and not heading anywhere fast.

The forecast is looking good all week, and Gail and I are going to have a few days out in the great outdoors, and there's a chance of some ringing at the Obs mid-week.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Fourteen

Yesterday, Graham and I met at the pools at the Obs at 0600 for a ringing session under 6 oktas cloud cover, and it was calm. Perfect conditions for operating mist nets, and I had the cloud cover that I had wanted over recent weeks.

I was fairly confident that there would be a few migrants around, as yesterday morning was the first calm morning for some time, and with the cloud cover, I thought there could be a few grounded migrants as well as birds on the move. When we were putting the nets up, there was very little calling, and I began to wonder if my hunch had been correct.

As the morning progressed, we began to catch, and by close of play at 1000 we had ringed 35 birds of fourteen species, as follows:

Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 2
Reed Warbler - 3
Robin - 2
Blackcap - 1
Goldfinch - 2
Reed Bunting - 1
Blue Tit - 2
Greenfinch - 11
Chiffchaff - 2
Long-tailed Tit - 5
Blackbird - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Great Tit - 1

 Long-tailed Tit

As usual the Starlings exited their roost shortly after we had the nets up, and I think their numbers had decreased as I estimated around 8,000 birds. This is usual for the site, as they don't roost here during the winter, it is only a late Summer/early Autumn roost.

There was some vis this morning, just dribs and drabs of Meadow Pipits, Alba Wags and Grey Wags in the main. At one point we could hear some Pink-footed Geese calling, but unfortunately couldn't see them to give them a count.

 Meadow Pipit

In addition to the birds ringed, grounded migrants included Stonechat, Goldcrest, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat. Raptors were thin on the ground with just a couple of Kestrels present.

 Willow Warbler

There was very little on the scrape other than four Mute Swans and 23 Mallards. No Curlew Sandpipers that seem to be turning up everywhere this past week.

It's going to be more of a sea-watching weekend coming up, rather than a grounded/vis/ringing type migrant weekend, so as the tides are early morning, I will be out having a look on the sea.

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of August. Two new species for the year were ringed in August, and these were Shelduck and Pied Wagtail.

Below are the top 5 ringed during August, and the top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year.

Top 5 Ringed in August

1. Willow Warbler - 32
2. Goldfinch - 25
3. Reed Warbler - 21
4. Blackcap - 12
    Linnet - 12
    Whitethroat - 12
    Greenfinch - 12
5. Tree Pipit - 11

I suppose technically, the above is actually a top 8!

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Linnet - 128 (same position)
2. Willow Warbler - 87 (up from 5th)
3. Pied Flycatcher - 73 (down from 2nd)
4. Sand Martin - 63 (down from 3rd)
5. Blue Tit - 60 (down from 4th)
6. Great Tit - 56 (same position)
7. Blackcap - 45 (same position)
8. Goldfinch - 44 (up from 9th)
9. Reed Warbler - 35 (up from 10th)
10. Chaffinch - 28 (down from 8th)

Monday, 7 September 2020

Data Memories - Part 2

It's a good job that I am taking a retrospective look back at the totals of individual species that I, and others in Fylde Ringing Group (FRG), have ringed over the years, as I haven't got much to report of late. Showery and blustery weather is mainly to blame, and also the state of the tides. If there had been a series of early morning high tides over this past week, I would have bene out sea-watching, but they have been around midnight/early afternoon or after midnight! They are big tides too, so the tide goes out a long way, and when you are watching on the border of Liverpool and Morecambe Bay, it is more like sand-watching! It is possible to sea-watch at low tide further down the coast, but it means standing without any shelter and getting sand blasted! So, I'll jump into my time machine instead, and write part 2 of my data memories.

We have ringed very few wildfowl over the years, and the numbers that we have ringed (4 Teal, 37 Mallards & 3 Shovelers) have been mainly caught when we have been ringing Snipe. However, two Tufted Ducks do appear on our totals, and these were courtesy of a project we were involved in with Kane Brides of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), and that was colour ringing Coot, or 'black gold' as Kane likes to refer to them as! I say we, but mainly it was 'young' Craig from our group that took the lead.

 Tufted Duck

Most of the 119 Coot that we ringed, were ringed from 2010-12. On one occasion Ian and I joined Craig and Kane, at the same park incidentally where we ringed the Grey Herons, to assist in catching and ringing Coot. Now, I say 'assist' as that was the intention, but both Ian and I were useless at catching Coot, and I put that down to us both being more elder statesmen than the young whipper-snappers with lightning reactions, of Craig and Kane. The Coot are caught by hand, and you have to be quick to pluck them from the water.

 Ian in position to catch, or perhaps not catch, Coots

On this particular day in January 2010, Kane managed to catch a Tufted Duck by tempting it with some grain, and managing to catch it under-water! That was the second and last Tufted Duck ringed by FRG, and I don't think we'll be adding any more to the total of two ringed any time soon!

Over the years we have ringed a few raptors, mainly pulli from boxes and nests for Kestrel, and from mist nets (with the odd brood of pulli) for Sparrowhawks. Our totals number, 167 Sparrowhawks, 94 Kestrels and two Merlins.

 Kestrel

Most of the Kestrels have come from boxes that we have up at various sites from farm buildings, to woodland, to the science block of a public school, but one brood of Kestrels that we ringed nested in an old Carrion Crow's nest. My long-time birding mate Ian was/is a great tree climber, and he found a brood of Kestrels in a woodland that he regularly birded, that formed part of his daily birding circuit. The nest looked a long way up to me, but Ian confidently said that he could climb up to it, no bother. And he did! And that is the only brood of Kestrels that we have ringed that wasn't in a box.

 Ian climbing said tree!

These raptor totals evoke other fond memories, and one of them being about a dear friend of mine, David, who passed away earlier this year. David came to ringing later in life and he trained with us around 1990 when he had taken early retirement from a life-long career in education. One of the sites that we ringed at during the winter months was a site called Singleton Hall, and I can remember at the first Christmas David was with us, he brought us a bottle of The Singleton single malt whisky as a thank you. He was always a generous and thoughtful man.

It is in connection with raptors that I mention David, and specifically Hen Harriers and Merlins. I wasn't involved in the ringing of the two Merlins that are on our totals, but it did evoke memories of David. Once David became a qualified ringer, he became involved with and lead to projects in Bowland in Lancashire. These were a colour ringing project on Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls at a breeding colony, and ringing Hen Harriers and Merlins in conjunction with the RSPB and Natural England (NE).

 Hen Harriers

David was always inviting me to join him ringing Merlins and Hen Harriers, but I always seemed to have other commitments. Then one day, everything fell into place and I joined him in the fells to ring a brood of Merlins and Hen Harriers. We also fitted wing tags to the Hen Harriers, something I had never done before, or since. What a privilege! So, thank you David.

 Merlins

That brings part two to a close, and part three will follow later in the week.

A few nights ago, I ran my moth trap for the first time in a while and I only caught sixteen moths of three species; 11 Large Yellow Underwings, two Light Brown Apple Moths and two Silver Ys.

 Silver Y

I'm hoping that I can get out birding/ringing later in the week, and if I do, I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Data Memories - Part 1

This is a post about ringing, or perhaps more to the point, it is a post about the memories that cold, stark ringing data can evoke.

Sounds and smell can transport you to a place, or an event, in an instant when that sound or smell triggers a memory, and it can be a very strong memory. For instance, when I used to own one of those smelly waxed Barbour jackets, the smell of it transported me to Long Point Bird Observatory in Canada. It wasn't that I didn't wear that coat anywhere else, but at Long Point I wore it every day for several months. The sound of Black-headed Gulls calling, places me in the Public Hide at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, as a teenager birder in the late 70s/early 80s. I only have to hear a Swallow singing, and I am in a reedbed in late evening, catching roosting Swallows as the, then, loop tape blasts out Swallow song to concentrate the birds towards our net rides.

There are many examples that I could quote, but I think that you get the picture. Every year for my own interest I produce the annual ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group (FRG), a group that I joined as a founder member back in 1984. The group's records actually start in 1983, as that was when my ringing trainer moved to the Fylde area and started ringing birds at Clifton Hall, near Preston. Mark was then ringing under the auspices of Leigh Ringing Group, and it was in 1984 that he took on three trainees, me included, and Fylde Ringing Group was born.

The FRG totals were up to date, up until the end of 2016, so over the past couple of days I have brought them up to date up until the end of 2019. It was a bit of a mammoth task as we shifted recording systems for the ringing data with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in 2017, from Integrated Population Monitoring Reporter (IPMR), to Demography Online (DemOn), and not all the historical data is on DemOn. So, to cut a long story short, with a combination of both systems, the FRG ringing totals have been brought up to date.

Ringing produces lots of scientific data on bird populations that is used for conservation purposes, besides all the biometric data that gets recorded, there is also just the pure totals of how many birds have been ringed, whether that is on a national scale, by site, by individual ringer or group. As I was updating the tables of the total numbers and species of birds ringed by FRG, it evoked lots of memories. Certain totals for some species, or certain individuals ringed decades ago, evoked lots of vivid memories, and just for no other reason other than pure indulgence, and nostalgia for me, I'll touch upon a few of those species and memories here.

In fact, I sometimes wonder whether writing a blog is a form of therapy. I think it was Steve, who writes the stonking blog North Downs and Beyond, who was ruminating on this topic some time ago, and he said that he would write his blog even if nobody read it, as he found the whole writing process cathartic, and I have to agree.  

Anyway, I digress, so back to those data memories. We, that is FRG, have ringed 118,890 birds of 116 species. Not a huge total, about 3,300 birds a year, but nevertheless fairly representative of a small band of ringers.

Back in the early 1990s we had the opportunity to ring some Grey Heron chicks at a fledgling Heronry on an island in a local municipal park. At this stage a number of the trees that the Herons were nesting in were quite low, and it was possible to access the nests with a ladder. The only problem was getting the ladders to the island! The Council kindly offered us the loan of one of the rowing boats that members of the public can rent out for leisure purposes on parts of the lake. Now, the boat was nowhere near as large as the ladders, so how would we get the ladders, plus ringers on the boat and across to the island?

 Grey Heron

The answer was for one of us to row across to the island with a rope attached from the boat to the mainland. After disembarkation at the island, the boat could then be pulled back to the mainland. There was also a rope attached from the boat to the island, so the ladders could be tied to the boat and pulled across to the island. Once the ladders were unloaded, the empty boat could be pulled back to the mainland, and a couple of ringers could board and commute across to the island.

Now, if you haven't popped your head into a Grey Heron's nest then I would recommend that you never do, unless you want a grievous assault on your olfactory senses. In short, the nest doesn't half pong! It is littered with dead uneaten fish, amphibians, small mammals and various remains of! Plus, a good healthy coating of guano to boot, adds to the aroma. Anyway, it was a great experience and we ringed seven healthy chicks.

We have a bit of a history in our early days, of ringing birds on an island. At the marine lakes at Fleetwood, on the only lake of the three lakes with an island, Greenfinches and House Sparrows used to roost during the winter months in an area of Privet hedge. 

Greenfinch

Back in the 1980s our ringing trainer, Mark, thought it would be a good idea to try and catch and ring them. Peter, one of my fellow trainees and long-standing birding friends, had an inflatable dinghy we could use. The only problem with the dinghy was that it had a slow puncture! So, when you made it across to the island you had to blow it up, by mouth, before making the return journey to the mainland with the birds. Similar to the Grey Heron experience, and this pre-dates the Herons, we tied a rope from the island to the boat, to the mainland, so it could be pulled back and forth.

 House Sparrow

To date FRG have ringed 382 House Sparrows and 8,030 Greenfinches, and a good percentage of these totals comes from this period. We have also caught good numbers of Greenfinches in the Autumn when they are moving on 'vis', and Ian and I have had great success over the years pulling them down at the coastal farm fields within the Obs recording area. It's interesting to note, that on nearly every occasion we never recorded any Greenfinches going over, until we switched on the MP3 player, and then they would descend from the heavens towards the player. The magic of migration!   

Of course, these data memories also bring back memories of friends and fellow ringers, a veritable cast of characters that have swelled the ranks of FRG over the years.

I have suddenly realised that this is already quite lengthy considering I have discussed just two species from my data memories, so it is my plan to serialise these tales. Don't worry, I'm not going to comment on all 116 species, just the ones that evoke the warmest memories. Part two will be coming sometime soon-ish.