Sunday, 18 February 2018

First Trickle Of Vis

I headed to the southern section of the Obs recording area and had a walk over the farm fields and a brief look on the sea. I had 6 oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph southeasterly wind..

There was quite a few Magpies around this morning and in total I had 15. If any of them had been flying a little higher I would have said that they were on vis. However, I did have the first trickle of vis this morning in the shape of 13 Woodpigeons, five Skylarks and two Siskins. All were high and heading S/SE into the wind. Ian had a similar mix of species at the Point with the addition of Grey Wagtail and Mistle Thrush.

Pink-footed Geese were dropping in to the farm fields across the road from first light. I could hear them, but not see them, other than a group of 97 and another skein of 50 heading north.

I just go to the sea wall as the tide was turning and as such the muscle beds on the rocks were exposed for a short while and I had an unusually high count of waders for here. I counted 134 Oystercatchers, five Redshanks, 15 Sanderlings (not feeding on the muscle beds of course!), 170 Turnstones and a single Curlew.

I didn't walk through the dunes, as just before I was due to enter the grounds of the public school at this juncture, an ignorant, trespassing dog walker with his rat on a stick (some kind of small terrier) headed that way. He would have flushed anything that was in there, so what would have been the point.

I have permission to go on the land owned by the school for the purposes of bird ringing and bird recording, but some of these dog walkers just think that having a dog entitles them to access all areas. We are talking about school grounds adjacent to a promenade and the beach here, so it's not as if there isn't anywhere to walk a dog! I hasten to add that I have friends who are dog owners and they are lovely law abiding people, as most dog walkers are, but sometimes you get a few that give the many a bad name!

Back to the birds. A quick look on the sea revealed very little, just six males and two female Eiders! On my way back to my car a Water Rail was calling from a ditch and it was close. As soon as I made a slight move to take a better look in to the ditch it stopped! It was a good record for the site though and could well be a bird on it's way back north as this site isn't typical Water Rail wintering habitat.  

 Snowdrops. The only thing I photographed this morning.

The weather isn't looking too bad this week, so I am hoping to get a few of my wintering bird surveys in. It won't be long until spring and then I can get back to the Obs properly and do some migration monitoring and ringing!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

VP Red Kite and Raven

Yesterday morning I was out at one of my wintering bird survey plots on some Lancashire mossland carrying out a Vantage Point (VP) and transect survey. It was a lovely clear day, for a change, with a light southwesterly wind and Gail had joined me for a bit of fresh air and exercise. Gail does occasionally join me and in addition to providing me with some most welcome company, another pairs of eyes is useful. She is very good at picking birds up at a distance, even though she might not be able to identify them, and sometimes gets on birds before me! I had quipped on Facebook yesterday that it was a belated Valentine's Day treat for her, but in reality the treat was the sighting of a Red Kite.

Anthony McGeehan in his book 'Birds Through Irish Eyes' says Red Kites are big, lanky basketball players. Gangly at rest, with long limbs and a loping gait, launched into flight they exude elegance and agility. They are ballet on wings. The forked tail swivels freely and operates independently of wing hands that arch and thrust forwards. How can a raptor the size of a lumbering Buzzard be so graceful? And lumbering Buzzard is what I first thought when I picked up the Red Kite. It was a dot in the distance and I thought I would have a look at it when it got closer as I was busy recording some singing Skylarks on the map. I then looked up again and Gail said "what's that"?, and I said "oh it's a Buzzard, I mean Red Kite"! This lanky basketball player of a bird slowly made it's way past us and headed southwest across the moss. Where was my camera? In the fecking car!

Not this mornings Red Kite, obviously, but one of many we saw in Dumfries
and Galloway a few years ago! 

Ravens and Red Kites are certainly seen more often in Lancashire now and indeed in the lowland areas of  Lancashire. The Raven is far more common than Red Kite, and is making a come back due to decreased persecution from game keepers, though this still goes on in the uplands. This morning we had a calling Raven heading north.

Out on some recently tilled land a group of Thrushes and Starlings were feeding, very probably, on invertebrates brought closer to the surface by agricultural activity; six Mistle Thrushes, 40 Fieldfares and 15 Starlings made up the throng. In addition to the Thrush ensemble 24 Stock Doves was a reasonable count alongside larger numbers of Woodpigeons.

A large finch flock was still present on the moss, and has been all winter, and we recorded 253 Linnets and 52 Goldfinches! Two Kestrels, two Buzzards (including the leucistic bird) and a female Sparrowhawk played mayhem with the finches continually putting them up. A lack of Pink-footed Geese was notable, but that didn't detract from a very pleasant morning spent surveying with my bestest bud, her indoors! I have to say that as Gail reads my blog!

The forecast is half decent for tomorrow, so I will get out somewhere at the Obs, and at last it is getting light earlier. You can't beat early mornings!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Brass Monkey Weather

It's funny how a brief interlude of cold weather gets us all talking these days. Frost has now become a scarcity in my neck of the woods, a bit like how snow used to be; snow is virtually non-existent now! Gone are the days when farmers couldn't lift their spuds because the ground was frozen, now they can't lift them because it is too wet to travel on the fields, or the numerous days in winter when I was at infant school and our little bottles of milk would arrive frozen!

It was cold this morning when I started my hedge survey in the north of the county, in fact it was minus 5 degrees Celsius with glorious clear skies and not a breath of wind. The farm I was on is divided in two by a road and I surveyed hedgerows below the road close to the river first, before surveying the hedges across the road on the hillier section of the farm.

The farm has a gloriously large old barn and it has been sympathetically restored for agricultural use still, retaining all its nooks and crannies that House Sparrows nest and roost in. As I got out of my car the House Sparrows were noisily awakening from their slumbers and my count of 8 is woefully low, this is just how many that I saw.

On to the frost covered low pastures and a flock of 254 Lapwings in a tight pack was nice to see. I then had a good count of 126 Linnets; two groups heading south across the farm, fairly low, as though they were exiting a roost from somewhere.

Frosty Lapwings

As I weaved my way along my survey hedges towards the river I encountered two Song Thrushes, six Stock Doves and 32 noisy Fieldfares in with a larger group of noisy Starlings! There were four Brown Hares in the meadows by the river and on the river itself was a group of three female Goosanders.

 Distant Goosanders

It was a bit quieter on the other side of the road on the hillier section of the farm, and all I added was a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, a single Buzzard and a fluffy looking Goldcrest feeding in a mature hedgerow.

 Looking towards Yorkshire

It's looking unsettled over the next few days and I've got a few days at a beer festival, so it could be after weekend before I post again.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018


It was chilly yesterday morning at my survey site in west Lancs, and the cloudy conditions with a biting east-northeasterly wind didn't do anything to raise the temperature or my spirits! But some Thrushes did, well raised my spirits anyway.

Bits of field work has been done since my last visit here and some stubble has been ploughed, but a flock of 43 Chaffinches were still finding areas to feed. Woodpigeons, numbering 122, were also feeding in similar areas to the Chaffinches, but others were feeding on some wet fields.

The wet fields were where the Thrushes were and they were a pleasure to watch; 133 Fieldfares and 37 Redwings. Occasionally a few rays of sun momentarily broke through the clouds, and if the Fieldfares and Redwings were facing the right direction they were illuminated like a spot light on an actor or soloing musician on a stage! Stunning!

 Fieldfare (above) and Redwing (below). I didn't photograph any of these
beauties yesterday, so these are shots of two individuals I ringed from my 

Accompanying the Thrushes were 19 Rooks, 16 Jackdaws, 127 Black-headed Gulls, nine Common Gulls and 178 Starlings. All were taking advantage of invertebrates close to or on the ground surface because of the wet conditions.

I can't imagine many wet conditions for a few hours tomorrow morning at my next survey site as it is forecast to be cold tonight, and a quick look at my BBC weather app shows that it will be hovering around -5 celsius! I must remember to get out my fleece lined winter seawatching trousers!

Monday, 5 February 2018

Sounds Of Spring

There's some snow threatened for tomorrow, but over recent days there's been some sounds of spring with an increase in bird song. Day's are lengthening, hormones are building and birds are singing!

This was very noticeable during a survey last week. Even though it was a cloudy and cold day a good few songsters could be heard. The avian orchestra consisted of a Goldfinch, a Great Tit, two Song Thrushes, two Dunnocks, five Robins, a Mistle Thrush and a Wren. Even one of the Redwings was doing a bit of sub-song!


The morning started spectacularly when a female Sparrowhawk brought down a Feral Pigeon 30 metres in front of me! I saw the Feral Pigeon fly from left to right and then thwack, the Sparrowhawk hit! She had the Pigeon on the ground and was struggling to subdue it, so I moved away in case my presence was keeping her from her meal. After that,the female Kestrel and single Buzzard seemed tame in comparison!

There seemed to be a few more Reed Buntings around compared with previous surveys, and my count of 13 made me wonder whether it included a few returning birds. There also seemed to be an increase in Redwings with 48 counted, and it won't be long before they are returning to Scandinavia.

Ravens are always good value and I see more and more of them now. This morning a pair flew overhead calling and landed on top of an electricity pylon. I have known them to nest on electricity pylons, so you never know.

Down on the river the tide was in and I just caught the tail end of 45 Redshanks, a Golden Plover and 120 Black-tailed Godwits that the tide had pushed off. A calling Rock Pipit was also shoved off it's feeding area by the incoming tide.

The return leg across the fields produced just two Stock Doves, a Snipe and twelve Teal on a pond. So, some sounds of Spring and over the coming days and weeks that Spring bird song will only get better!

Monday, 29 January 2018

A Skylark Kind Of Day

It's wet and miserable outside again as I write, so I want to rewind to Friday when it was a glorious sunny day, a Skylark kind of day. I was carrying out one of my wintering bird surveys on an area of Lancashire mossland, and I had clear skies with wall to wall sunshine, with just a whisper of a northeasterly breeze.

 The Moss

One of the outstanding observations that I made this morning was of a Red Admiral butterfly that danced passed me in the warmth of the late morning sunshine! I was hoping to get a photograph of this red, black and white sprite, wakened from it's slumber by the warming sun, but it fluttered past without dallying!

 Red Admiral (but not from today)

An increase in bird song was noticeable this morning and out of four Song Thrushes, two were singing males. Skylarks were also singing this morning and it lifted my heart to gaze up towards the heavens to hear this beautiful songster, without being able to see him. Percy Shelley described the Skylark perfectly in his poem 'To a Skylark', of which you can find a selection below; I couldn't have put it better myself (I wish)!

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun,
O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
Thou dost float and run;
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of Heaven,
In the broad day-light
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight, 

In addition to the singing 'blithe spirit' a number of Skylarks were moving around and foraging in the stubbles and in total I counted 55. Three species of raptor graced me with their presence in the form of a female Kestrel, Buzzard and a most handsome adult male Sparrowhawk, looking dapper in his slate blue-grey and orange plumage; gorgeous!

A few Pink-footed Geese were on the move, 140 in total, and a pair of Stonechats remain, but the pond pair seem to have moved on. There were good numbers of Linnets feeding in various pockets of suitable habitat and I had 221 in total along with 17 of their clown-faced cousins, the Goldfinch.


Of all the sites that I am covering at the moment this is the only one where I am seeing Grey Partridges, and as ever it was a delight to see six of these classic farmland birds 'whirr' away from me across a ploughed field. A Mistle Thrush and two Snipes later my survey was over and it was time to return to my car and head home for a coffee and a read in the sun lounge!

I've just pulled a note book off my book shelf from 1984 and looked at two dates; 26th January 1984, 34 years ago to the day of the above survey, and 29th January 1984, 34 years ago today.

On 26th January 1984 I was birding during the afternoon at Marton Mere LNR, which is a cracking wetland reserve to the east of Blackpool in Lancashire. The weather was totally different to my survey above as it was dull and cold with lying snow! There are a few records that stand out, not because of the rarity of the species, but because of the count and these are five Short-eared Owls, 52 Snipe, eight Woodcocks and 50 Pochards.

 Short-eared Owl

Now the cold weather with an easterly wind will have undoubtedly moved some of these birds on to the site in these numbers, but a number of these species have seriously declined and you just don't record them in the numbers of 30-40 years ago, with Pochard being an obvious sad example.

The Wetland and Wildfowl Trust (WWT) carried out assessments of the sex ratio of Pochard counts undertaken in countries across Europe and into North Africa in January 2016, for comparison with results from surveys carried out over the same area in January 1989 and January 1990. The WWT found that the proportion of males in the population had increased significantly between 1989/90 and 2016 from 0.6 to 0.7. What is interesting, is that the sex ratio of Pochards broods is approximately 1:1 at hatching, and  the strong male bias among adult birds is indicative of lower survival of females compared with males. The authors of the report suggest that the factors adversely affecting female survival rate may partly explain the decline in overall Pochard abundance.

On this day in 1984 I was birding at a few of the sites that I still count as part of my patch, namely Rossall School and Rossall Point. And again it is a tale of declining and changing bird populations. My first port of call was Rossall School and again it was dull and cold. Just behind the sea wall was a lovely flock of 20, yes 20, Snow Buntings! You're lucky now to get two, if any at all some winters!

Moving on to Rossall Point I had a further eight Snow Bunts with 20 Twite; nice! So what's changed? There has been a general decline in the population of these two species due to changes in habitat on their breeding grounds, and climate change is having an effect, particularly on Snow Buntings. Another factor is undoubtedly disturbance at a local level. At both sites the area is now over run with dogs and dog walkers. There are some well behaved dog walkers who keep their dogs on a lead, but sadly the majority don't, and instead of having just one dog, 2 or 3 seems to be becoming the norm. I think I'll stop there, because I could go on about the disturbance to wildlife caused by a very high percentage of dog walkers, who give the wildlife loving conscientious dog walkers a bad name!

It's more wintering bird surveys for me this week if the weather behaves and I'll be sure to keep you posted!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Sheep Wrecked

'Sheep Wrecked' is an expression that George Monbiot would use to describe the habitat/landscape that I was undertaking a bird survey in yesterday afternoon; over-grazed, poached and gappy hedgerows with the bottoms eaten out. Nevertheless, I had work to do and spent three hours surveying under full cloud cover with a 4-5 westerly wind. Oh, and it was cold!

 Sheep Wrecked

I recorded 24 species which is probably what I would expect based on the habitat and time of the year. I was surprised at the lack of Pink-footed Geese moving and all I had was a group of four flying west. Other fly-overs included two vocal Buzzards and a couple of Cormorants.

I was first aware of the Buzzards because a large flock of Gulls got up, including 622 Black-headed Gulls, and then out of the melee the two Buzzards appeared. An adult male Sparrowhawk spooked some of the local Blackbirds, and the only other raptor I had was a male Kestrel.

There are very few Thrushes around at the moment and just three Redwings and five Fieldfares was testament to this. One theory is a lack of berries because of storms before Christmas removing what was left from the trees. I can buy into that.

And that was it, well of anything of note anyway. It's going to be windy over the next couple of days, but I'm hoping that I'll be back out towards weekend.