Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Barn Owls And More

On Monday evening Alice, Gail and Me joined our good friends Robert and Diana at their farm near Garstang to ring some Barn Owl chicks, and perhaps some Kestrels. Robert and I climbed into the barn to check the box, and when I slid the inspection hatch open on the box I was greeted by three spangly Barn Owl chicks nearly fully grown, perhaps about eight weeks old. They were nice and calm so I carefully removed them from the box.

 Barn Owl (picture courtesy of Alice)

Diana runs various education visits at the farm and the children can learn all about the connections between farming and habitat management, and they also learn lots of interesting bush crafts in the woodland on the farm. On this particular evening Diana had a group of Brownies and they were keen to see the Barn Owl chicks being ringed. The girls were all really well behaved and kept very quiet so as not to spook the Barn Owls, and they were absolutely delighted to be able to get up close to such a beautiful bird.

The three Barn owl chicks were dutifully ringed and returned to their rather odorous nest box!

We checked the Kestrel box in the woods, but they had fledged. On the walk down to the wood we had a Grey Heron on one of the ponds, and four Tree Sparrows were counted along with a singing Blackcap.

A quick rewind to Sunday found Ian and I undertaking a ringing session in one of the areas of reedbed and scrub at the Obs. It wasn't as busy as the previous weekend, but we did ring 32 birds as follows:

Reed Warbler - 6
Blue Tit - 3
Blackcap - 3
Goldfinch - 1
Great Tit - 5
Lesser Whitethroat - 2
Sedge Warbler - 2
Robin - 2
Whitethroat - 1
Chiffchaff - 1
Wren - 2
Dunnock - 1
Greenfinch - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 1

 Sedge Warbler

From a birding perspective the most interesting/enjoyable sighting for me, was the flock of six Little Egrets that flew over shortly after first light. They were obviously flying from a roost somewhere to feeding areas on the coast or the estuary. I have mentioned many times before on here about being a birder of a certain age and remembering when Little Egrets were a local rarity! Hence my continued excitement about seeing them!

Saturday, 6 July 2019

It's Autumn

At the end of last week Gail accompanied me on one of my last round two plantation woodland survey sites. In a few days time I'll start the third visits that look to gather data on whether these new-ish woodlands provide foraging areas for dispersing juvenile birds from adjacent habitats. Anyway, I digress.

This particular site in the upper Eden valley, not a million miles from Kirkby Stephen, comprises of seven small tree planted compartments. It is fairly isolated in terms of how the newly planted areas fit in with habitats in the wider landscape, and as such the bird survey results have been fairly poor. However, with time as the woodland develops this should improve, it's just that initial colonisation is slower than other sites that have habitat linkages to the wider landscape.

'Ticking' Robins were a feature of this morning and there are several other occurrences in this lengthy post (apologies for that) that indicate that it's Autumn! I'm just going to give you the totals for this site as follows; three Willow Warblers, a pair of Oystercatchers with two young (not amongst the trees obviously), eight juvenile Blackbirds, nine Song Thrushes (including six juvs), 50 Lapwings (see Oystercatcher), three 'ticking' Robins, two Lesser Redpolls, a Coal Tit, a Mistle Thrush, two Linnets,  90 Black-headed Gulls (on recently cut adjacent silage field with Lapwings) and two Brown Hares.

Driving away from the site we had two sightings that are sadly becoming increasingly rare. First up was a pair of Curlews with three chicks wandering down the road! The second sighting was a Red Squirrel just as we drove into Kirkby Stephen that ran across the road in front of us. A Red Squirrel will feature again later.

A week ago today Alice, Ian and Me had our first ringing session of the Autumn in some of the reedbeds and scrub at the Obs. From a birding perspective all I can report is two Common Terns that went over calling southeast, four Swifts and a male Blackbird carrying food.

From a ringing perspective we did quite well and ringed 57 birds as follows:

Chiffchaff - 4
Long-tailed Tit - 10
Willow Warbler - 2
Great Tit - 3
Blue Tit - 8
Blackcap - 6
Whitethroat - 4
Lesser Whitethroat - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 7 (all juveniles)
Goldfinch - 2
Wren - 3
Greenfinch - 1
Reed Warbler - 4
Robin - 1

 Blackcap

Tuesday found me birding on the Solway near Rigg on the Scottish side. I had full cloud cover, with a 10 mph westerly wind and there were more signs that it was autumn.

Amongst the scrub along the estuary were three Whitethroats, three Linnets, a Song Thrush, four Willow Warblers (3 juvs), singing Blackcap and a singing Sedge Warbler. As the morning warmed a few butterflies were on the wing including thirty Ringlets, eleven Painted Lady's, five Meadow Browns and a Small White.

Out on the mudflats there was a selection of returning waders, again another Autumn indicator, and this selection contained 34 Lapwings, two Black-tailed Godwits, six Curlews, a Redshank and five Oystercatchers.

Other species that I recorded associated with the estuarine habitat included 53 Black-headed Gulls, four adult and eight juvenile Shelducks, ten Little Egrets, 32 Goosanders and 25 Mute Swans.

Earlier this week I finished off the last two of my round two plantation woodland survey sites. The first was near Wigton in north Cumbria, and the highlights included a Stock Dove, two Tree Sparrows, a Chiffchaff, nine Willow Warblers, a Song Thrush, a Goldcrest and four Blackcaps. 

Amongst the nettles at this site I came across good numbers of Peacock butterfly caterpillars and I have inserted a photo of them below.

 Peacock butterfly caterpillars

My week finished northeast of Penrith for more bird surveying, and it was more of the same with twelve Goldfinches, six Willow warblers, a Sedge Warbler, three Siskins, five Coal Tits, two Blackcaps, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, four Tree Sparrows and four Grey Wagtails.

Driving away from the site through some coniferous woodland I had to stop to let a Red Squirrel across the road, my second in a week! So it's definitely Autumn, and I apologise again for the length of this post!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Bardas On the Boardwalk

Towards the end of last week I had the penultimate site survey to do for the second round of breeding bird surveys I am doing, and it was a site near Kendal. The weather was glorious with clear skies and virtually no wind. I knew I was going to call at Foulshaw Moss after I had finished my survey so I was looking forward to that.

I didn't record anything earth shattering during my survey, but nevertheless it is still all important data, but what I did record included a singing Garden Warbler, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Tree Sparrows, a singing Chiffchaff, three Song Thrushes (including two juvies) and two Willow Warblers. What I haven't told you about is the juvenile Blue and Great Tits, the juvenile Blackbirds or the female Blackbird carrying food, which is what the surveys are really all about.

It was on to Foulshaw Moss and I was hoping for some Common Lizzard action, but I was mindful of the fact that it was just before 8:00 am and it might not yet have been warm enough for reptiles. I walked along a section of boardwalk where I recorded Common Lizzards last time I was here, and low and behold I had a couple of Common Lizzards! Then something caught my eye moving along the boardwalk, and it was an Adder! Or Marlies, Prags or Bardas if you prefer!

 Adder

The Adder moved quickly ahead of me and dropped through a gap in the boardwalk. I rattled a few shots off, and the best of these you can see above. I was as pleased as punch!

I think I have probably said before that the reserve is lowland raised bog and is managed for its botanical and invertebrate diversity and it is all about keeping it wet, and as such there are a number of glorious pools. Associated with bogs is Birch scrub, which is managed to prevent it drying the bog out, but it all adds up to some great habitat for birds too, especially wetland species.

 A glorious bog pool

A quick gallop through my bird totals saw me recording four singing Sedge Warblers, six Reed Buntings, ten Lesser Redpolls (it's all about the Birch for them), two singing Song Thrushes, three singing Willow Warblers, two Blackcaps (male & female), a Tree Sparrow, two Tree Pipits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Goldcrest, two Coal Tits and six Long-tailed Tits.

I was scanning the open moss over towards a conifer woodland and noticed a number of Swifts flying above the conifers. I counted them and was surprised to count 84 birds! They were obviously hawking a hatch of some aerial insects and I wondered how far some of them travelled to exploit this food source.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Old Scotch Road

In a recent Blog post I mentioned the fact that Gail has a passion for history, and she does, but I too love history. One of the subjects that fascinates me is that of droving, and the drovers that brought cattle across the border to markets in England.

There's a road that I like to drive along if I am going to Tebay, or more particularly Kennedy's Fine Chocolates in Orton, that is called the 'Old Scotch Road'. I leave the M6 at junction 37 and head east towards Sedbergh, but turn immediately left on to the Old Scotch Road. The reason I like to drive it is for the cracking views of the Howgills, and because of its history. It runs along and above the M6 heading north for perhaps a mile, and then veers away from that noisy, concrete, hellish arterial route!

Looking towards the Howgills from the Old Scotch Road

Sections of the road along this stretch are wide and have deep verges (more on this later), which is evidence that the Old Scotch Road was an old droving road. However, there is more evidence as this road has been marked on maps since the 1800s to the present day as Old Scotch Road.


This ancient route was known as the Galwaithgate (the Galloway Road), and it was referred to by that name in the 12th century. Most of the cattle were from Galloway or further north in Scotland, even the Highlands, and they were black like the current Galloway breed.

A large proportion of the cattle had the same drovers for the full journey to the south of England, and the Highlander in their plaid would have been a common sight on the Galwaithgate. When the Lancaster to Carlisle railway opened in 1846, it ensured that by 1855 cattle droving on the Old Scotch Road was no more.

 Galwaithgate

I'll come back to the Old Scotch Road shortly, but for now I want to have a quick rewind to first light Wednesday morning when I carried out my second bird survey at one of my plantation woodland sites underneath the shadow of Blencathra.

I set out under full cloud cover with a light ENE wind and good visibility. It would seem that generally speaking, or for a number of passerines, that it has been a good breeding season this year, and there was plenty of evidence for this during my survey. At the start of my survey in the first compartment I had a large Tit flock move through the trees and it contained at least 19 Great Tits and 21 Blue Tits!

A calling Cuckoo towards Blencathra was a welcome sound, and let's hope that they have had a good breeding season too. Other bits and pieces encountered during my survey included eleven Lesser Redpolls, six Siskins, a Sedge Warbler, a Mistle Thrush, a Reed Bunting, two singing Blackcaps, three Willow Warblers, a Goldcrest, two Grey Wagtails and a pair of Pied Wagtails with five juveniles in tow.

Back to the Old Scotch Road. On my way home from the north Lakes I decided to stop off at the Old Scotch Road and walk a section. I headed north along the road with the noisy M6 to my left (west) and upland pasture to my right (east). A late displaying Curlew reminded me that I was in breeding wader country, despite the pastures being a tad over-grazed, and any sense of wildness removed by the close proximity of the motorway.

 M6

I saw a female Pied Wagtail perched on a wall with a bill full of invertebrates, and she was probably waiting for me to pass before she slipped in to a crevice between the stones to a nest full of youngsters. This was followed by a male Blackbird with a 'gob' full of food, and I watched him flying high from the east over the M6 to the west side of the motorway, and he dived straight into a conifer plantation. This was obviously where his nest was located and it just shows how far they fly to forage and provision their chicks!

 Blackbird nest site

The ever present noise from the motorway made it difficult to hear any birds calling from the vegetation in the wide roadside verges, in fact it was a bit of an assault on my auditory senses, but a visual delight with the profusion of wildflowers and views to the Howgills.

I'm no botanist, but a quick squint in the verge as I walked along produced Foxglove, Meadowsweet, Red Campion, Oxeye daisy, Wood cranesbill, Heath bedstraw, Forget-me-not sp., Yarrow, Yellow rattle, Vetch sp., Commom knapweed, Greater stitchwort, Red clover, Kidney vetch, Self-heal and Hawkbit sp. to name but a few.

 Oxeye daisies

Wood cranesbill

It was overcast and as such there was no butterfly activity, but I did have a number of the day flying Chimney Sweeper moths. It was a pleasant hours walk, and I will probably call again on my way home from the north. It's just a pity that the motorway couldn't be moved!

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Post Holiday Mothing Session

The day after we got back from holiday I ran my garden moth trap, and this was the first time that I had run it for some time. I caught 33 moths of twelve species (more if I had counted the micros that rather embarrassingly I don't attempt to record!) as follows:

Heart and Dart - 20
Small Angle Shades - 1
Large Yellow Underwing - 2
Brimstone - 1
Dark Arches - 2
Flame Shoulder - 1
Buff Arches - 1
Green Pug - 1
Gothic - 1
Garden Carpet - 1
Marbled Beauty - 1
Bordered Sallow - 1

Bordered Sallow

 Buff Arches

Malt Whisky Country

Gail and I are just back from a week in Northeast Scotland. We stayed in a cottage close to the village of Aberchirder (pronounced Aberhirder) in Aberdeenshire. Everywhere we went when we were chatting to people, and they asked where we were staying, we would say "near Aberchirder", and they would say "oh near Foggieloan or Foggie"!

I decided that when I got back I would look up what Foggieloan means. A quick search on Google and I found www.foggieloan.co.uk On this excellent website I came across the following:

"When Alexander Gordon, the laird of Auchintoul, decided in 1764 to found a planned village he selected a spot at the south end of Auchintoul Moss. Here there was a fermtoun called Foggieloan (from two Gaelic words foidh (peat moss) and lòn (meadow), so Foggieloan means peaty or boggy meadow, so he gave his village the same name.

In 1799 the estate was bought by John Morison of Bognie, who renamed it Aberchirder after the Thanes of Aberkerdour who lived at Kinnairdy Castle overlooking the River Deveron in earlier times. However, the popular name of Foggieloan – often shortened to Foggie – has survived for over two centuries, and has been incorporated in the motto of the coat of arms".

So there you go, that's why it's still known as 'Foggieloan'!

The Moray area is known as malt whisky country, and driving around in a week over a relatively small area we passed no less than nineteen distilleries; Tullibardine, Glen Dronach, Glen Livet, Glenfiddich, Tormore, Cragganmore, Ballindalloh,Cardhu, Aberlour, Glen Grant, Speyside, Glentauchers, Chivas, Strathisla (visited this one and purchased a bottle of single malt!), Macduff, Glen Moray, Dallas Dhu, Benromach and Glendullan! We need to go back and sample more!

Our cottage was situated mainly within an arable area, with some permanent grassland, heather moorland, Gorse scrub and wet woodland. Typical of northeast Scotland. A short walk along the lane on our first evening produced a singing Sedge Warbler, a juv. Dipper along the burn, ten Sand Martins, four Yellowhammers and twelve Lesser Redpolls.

Sunday's are always a fuuny day on holiday so we had a mooch along the coast calling in at various fishing villages/town such as Banff and Portsoy. At Banff three Goosanders flew past the harbour, whilst ten Eiders were on the sea and two juvenile Rock Pipits on the shore.

 Some views from Banff (above &below)


Portsoy Harbour

There was a very healthy Sparrow population at the cottage and I had brought some seed with me, so I put some out every morning in the garden. The owners of the cottage lived in a cottage adjacent to ours and they maintained a well stocked bird table, so I knew that when we went home and stopped feeding they would be in good hands. The sparrow flock peaked at 28 House Sparrows and four Tree Sparrows, and the numbers were similar to this all week.

Most evenings at the cottage we had several bats flying around the garden and a couple of Tawny Owls calling from some nearby woodland.

We had an afternoon in part of Abernethy NNNR, Dell Wood in fact, near Nethy Bridge. We did about a five mile walk through the forest, but it was very quiet as woodlands are at this time of year. It was just fantastic being in Caledonian Forest with it's open Scot's Pine dominated structure and dwarf shrub field layer. We did have a few birds (but none of the Abernethy specialists) including six Goldcrests, a Garden Warbler, eight Coal Tits, a Chiffchaff, eight Willow Warblers, six Siskins, a Lesser Redpoll, three Treecreepers, a Jay, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a female Bullfinch.

 Abernethy Forest

River Nethy

Below are just a few snaps taken during our week in northeast Scotland. Gail has a great passion for history so we usually spend most of our time looking round historic sites, as the pictures below testify!

Balvenie Castle

 Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth

 Corgarff Castle 

 Fort George (above & below)


 Fyvie Castle

 Huntly Castle

Friday, 14 June 2019

All Work And No Play

Gail and I have a week in northeast Scotland coming up, not too far from the Moray coast and the eastern Cairngorms for that matter, so we are looking forward to that. So I thought I would try and slip in a quick blog post before I get too busy with preparations for our holiday, but I'm afraid it's been all work and no play of late.

Other than carrying out the final round of checking our nest box scheme it's been work related bird surveys that's kept me out in the natural world, and given me my birding 'fix'. All the survey work has been in Cumbria, and it has been a bit of a mixed bag.

First up was one of my plantation woodland sites near Wigton, and it wasn't a bad morning weather-wise just over a week ago on the morning of my survey with just 3 oktas cloud cover, and a light southerly wind. For the official survey I use an amended Common Bird Census (CBC) methodology and record the species, number and activity of birds that are utilising the habitat found within the planted areas. In my notebook I just record the stuff that I think is of interest to me from within and outside the survey area.

So with this in mind my observations included three Chiffchaffs, two Blackcaps, eleven Stock Doves (an unusual Stock Dove featured at my next survey site), a Yellowhammer, a Song Thrush, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Tree Sparrow, two Willow Warblers and a Goldcrest.

My second plantation woodland site was near Penrith and it was a tad quieter here with just nine Stock Doves and a Tree Sparrow of note. I've posted a couple of pictures below of one of the Stock Doves, and look closely at it's bill. The upper mandible is very long and down curved, probably as a result of the lower mandible virtually being non-existent. Whether this has been the case since it hatched, or perhaps a growth defect over time, or maybe even some kind of trauma I'm not sure.

 Stock Dove (above & below)



My final survey was in northwest Cumbria overlooking the Solway Firth. I've grown quite attached to this site as I surveyed it twice a month from October - March, and have just completed the second and final breeding bird survey.

Looking across the Solway Firth to Dumfries & Galloway

It was glorious day when I was here with just two oktas cloud cover and a light southeasterly breeze with views over to the Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland.

I'll just jump straight in with a list of my observations; ten Skylarks, nine Linnets, 19 Meadow Pipits (two carrying food), 16 Whitethroats, 26 Goldfinches, four Stonechats (including one juv.), 317 Starlings, a Blackcap, three Song Thrushes (two juv.'s) two Willow Warblers and a male Kestrel.

There was quite a few spikes of Northern Marsh Orchid scattered about the site and a couple of Bee Orchids, always lovely to see.

 Northern Marsh Orchid

Last weekend Gail, Alice and Me carried out our last visit to our Pied Flycatcher nest box scheme. We just had two broods to ring and a few boxes to check on fledging. Sadly one of the broods of Pied Flys was down to just four chicks as two had died, probably as a result of all the preceding wet weather. In fact in a number of boxes where the chicks had successfully fledged the nest material was absolutely sodden!

We are going to try some mist netting at our nest box site throughout July and August in an area different to where our boxes are, so I am looking forward to that to see what we find. As always I'll keep you posted.