Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Too Much Southerly

I sort had this morning free so I took myself off to the Point to do some seawatching and joined Ian who said to me as I walked up to the tower, "you may as well go home mate it's awful"! Not what I wanted to here, but not surprising either as the wind was dues south without a hint of any west in it. At the Point the best direction is anywhere between southwesterly and westerly.

Funnily enough, even though I was hoping for a bit of seawatching, because the wind was fairly strong, but not very strong, and because of the southerly direction there was a bit of vis. Three Grey Wagtails and a handful of Meadow Pipits and Swallows headed south into wind.

The sea was quiet also, with the most numerous species recorded being the 86 Common Scoters that headed west and the scarcest a male Velvet Scoter that drifted slowly out and west on the falling tide. Best of the rest included a Red-throated Diver, ten Sandwich Terns (on the beach), two Auk sp., two Gannets, seven Kittiwakes, a lovely juv. Little Gull and a single Guillemot.

Interestingly two Peregrines were at sea and they seemed to be hanging round an offshore shingle island. Ian sees them regularly and it makes you wonder whether they spend a lot of time out there hunting waders and perhaps even seabirds like Auks.

Waders on the shore included 112 Sanderlings and twenty Ringed Plovers. It was interesting to note that there was only a few juv. Sanderlings amongst the flock as a result  of the catastrophic breeding season in Greenland because of summer snow cover. 

I've got work over the next couple of days, so it will be weekend before I am out again. Fingers crossed that the weather plays ball!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Wot No Birding

Life, namely work, and the weather has been getting in the way of my birding of late and it's Autumn!!! And I haven't posted since 8th September, so really all I want to do with this post is to let you know dear reader that I am still here and very frustrated!

Before I was self-employed I used to always take the last week in September and the first week in October off as annual leave and go birding every day. I can't do this now, because if I am doing a series of wintering bird surveys at a site for example, and the weather is fit to get some surveys in, then I have to do the surveys and there goes my day or days off! I'm not after a sympathy vote as there are far more worse ways to earn a crust, but I am just offering this up as an explanation for my 'radio silence'. That in its self rings a bell, and I think I have offered that as an explanation before!

I have been out in the great outdoors but my work this past week has been completing tree assessments to provide help and guidance to landowners on the successful establishment of their woodland planting. So it's all been about weeding tree tubes, removing redundant tree tubes & stakes, returning leaning trees to an upright position and other such activities associated with the successful establishment of trees and woodland! Pleasant work none the less, but it's not birding!

This coming week I have a wintering bird survey to start and I'm hoping to get some sneaky birding in for pleasure sometime mid-week. The weather hasn't been playing ball either in terms of ringing and it is some time indeed since we have had a ringing session at the Obs, and looking at the forecast it could be some time to come before we do again!

Saturday, 8 September 2018

First Frost

It was cold yesterday morning when Gail and I headed to one of my survey sites in south Cumbria close to Grange-Over-sands, in fact there was a ground frost! We had clear skies with a 1 - 2 NW wind.

It was quiet amongst the trees except when a mixed Tit flock moved through with some carrier Warbler species. We recorded nine Robins, ten Blue Tits, three Willow Warblers, four Great Tits and two Chiffchaffs.

Ravens were numerous, well for Ravens anyway, and we had nine different birds fly over! A Chiffchaff sub-singing off site and a Buzzard was the best of the rest.

We decided to call at Foulshaw Moss on the way home, and I wanted to show it Gail as she has never been to this cracking reserve. If I lived a little closer it would certainly be one of my patches!

 There was a heavy dew on the Moss and lots of the spiders webs stood
out in the low morning sun (above & below)


You can only view a small proportion of this mossland reserve, which is how it should be, but the boardwalk that takes you out on to the bog is enough to make sure that you get the whole mossland experience! Three Reed Buntings were flitting about, but the most numerous finch/bunting by far was Siskin. My notebook records fourteen, but there was probably at least four times this number as often we would hear them call and not see any. And we had two Lesser Redpolls too.

A few Meadow Pipits, Grey Wagtails and over demonstrated that there was some vis going on, even though the wind had picked up to a 2 - 3 NW since first light.

We had three raptor species this morning in the form of a female Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, and two Ospreys. We chatted to a local birder on the raised viewing platform and he said that the male was the male that breeds on the site, but the female was a visitor from Scotland, somewhere near Stirling to be exact based on the colour ring she had on.

Yet another Raven flew past and another lively Corvid, a Jay, flew the other way. Three Stonechats and a calling Water Rail were noteworthy, as were three Great Spotted Woodpeckers together in the top of a dead Birch tree; a juvenile plus a male and female. On our way back to the car park we flushed, it was impossible not to, twenty Teal from the pools.

 Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

As I write it is pouring down outside and the forecast for tomorrow is for it to be just as wet! It looks like I might have to sample a few real ales this evening!

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Never Dull

I started birding and getting into wildlife along time ago and I have been an avid recorder for 42 years, and so I can remember a time when certain bird species in particular were far more numerous than they are now. Even though a large number of our bird species have declined alarmingly I always enjoy being out communing with nature and it is never dull, there's always something of interest. And this week it was Tree Sparrows and Common Gulls.

I've completed a couple of plantation woodland bird surveys this week and I have my last one to do tomorrow morning. On Tuesday I was in Cumbria, northeast of Penrith, in the Eden valley and at first light it was cool with four oktas cloud cover and a light northerly wind. It was here that I noted some interesting Tree Sparrow behaviour, but before that below is a summary of my sightings.

I had 31 Tree Sparrows, three Mistle Thrushes, a Bullfinch, a Stock Dove, an immature male Sparrowhawk spooking the Tree Sparrows, a Willow Warbler, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two Siskins, four Grey Wagtails, a Song Thrush, 120 Lapwings heading north, two Buzzards and twenty Goldfinches.


Back to the Tree Sparrows. At this site there is a thick hedge running alongside a track and I always record lots of calling Tree Sparrows from here. As I was walking up the track, with the hedge on my left, an immature male Sparrowhawk came flying along the track about two feet from the ground, and as soon as it saw me he shot through the hedge causing pandemonium amongst the Tree Sparrows.

About half an hour later I was surveying a wooded compartment that runs up a slope and from the top there are great views over the River Eden. As I was walking up the slope I kept on hearing Tree Sparrow calls and small groups of Tree Sparrows were leaving and heading northwest. They must have been roosting birds from the aforementioned hedge heading out to feeding areas. Interestingly they were climbing high as they headed northwest, presumably to gain height to get over the surrounding hilly countryside. I had groups of 14, 11, 4 and 2, but there was more, because some I could hear, but not see.

On Wednesday I was again in the Eden valley, but in the upper Eden near Kirkby Stephen. It was a cool morning again, very Autumnal, with just one okta cloud cover and a light northerly wind. Before I get to the Common Gulls, of interest I recorded 235 Swallows, nine Siskins, three Stock Doves, a Song Thrush, a Snipe and a Grey Wagtail.


At this site there are seven woodland compartments to survey, but some are very small. I was just heading into the third compartment block when lots of Gulls came over, about 300 to be exact, and I didn't really pay much attention other than thinking that it was a large group of Gulls in an area that I don't normally record many Gulls! They dropped into the field on the other side of the hedge and were calling excitedly to each other, and I knew straight away they were Common Gulls. I had a scan through them with my bins and all were Common Gulls, not another Gull species among them. They were a mix of adults and juveniles, with more adults than juveniles.

A short while later the Gulls came over me and headed off south. I can only think that they had arrived from the north, dropped into feed for a short while, before continuing their southwards migration. Brilliant!

I'll let you know if I see anything interesting during my survey tomorrow. Weekend is looking like a wash out on Saturday, with Sunday being a better day but sadly too breezy for any ringing. Let's hope it changes!

Monday, 3 September 2018

At Least We Didn't Slip Up

It seems a long time now since weekend, particularly as I was looking forward to getting some ringing in, but the forecast Friday evening indicated that it would be too windy for any mist nets! Saturday dawned and I headed to the coastal farm fields at the Obs. It seemed quite calm at first, but the wind very quickly picked up and I could console myself with the fact that at least we hadn't slipped up!

At first light I had full cloud cover with a 10-15 mph SE wind. I headed along the track ducking every other second to avoid the Wasps that were speeding along here, it was like a motorway for Wasps! I witnessed this phenomenon last year, and can only assume it is Wasps leaving what is left of their nests and heading out to feeding areas.

I walked the fields and hedges and there wasn't any grounded migrants. I headed to the mound behind the sea wall and set my scope up. The sea was very quiet and for what it's worth all I had was 17 Cormorants, three Auk sp., five Sandwich Terns and a Teal.

Of interest from a wader perspective was a group of five Bar-tailed Godwits on the beach; obvious migrants that had dropped in for a rest.

The vis was slow as well with just three Tree Pipits, six Meadow Pipits, ten House Martins, six Alba Wags and a Grey Wagtail south.

I watched the above Grey Heron fishing in one of the tidal pools and you 
can see from the picture below that it caught a small fish before flying off.

I then headed to the cemetery to have a look there to see if there was any grounded migrants, and there wasn't. I had a bit more vis in the form of three Swallows and a Tree Pipit south.

I've got my last three woodland bird surveys to squeeze in this week starting with one in northeast Cumbria tomorrow, so I'll let you know if I record anything interesting.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Three Counties

It was a 4:00 am alarm call for me yesterday to head once again to Cumbria to undertake a bird survey. As usual I got my three hours sleep before the alarm, and worryingly I am starting to be able to cope on just a few hours sleep! Cumbria was just one of three counties that I would visit that day in the course of my work!

I arrived at my survey site to two oktas cloud cover with a light southerly breeze. There was a definite autumnal nip in the air and the birding had an autumnal feel to it as well. There are still plenty of Swallows around and this morning I recorded about a dozen all perched up on the telegraph wires close to the farm yard.

 The view across the trees

Willow Warblers are still present and moving through and this morning I had one or two birds giving their autumnal sub-song. In total I had five birds across the plantation woodland. In addition to the broad-leaved woodland planted at this site, the farmer has also planted a large area of short-rotation coppice Willow, so it will be interesting to see if this pulls some more birds in over the yaers. The short-rotation coppice Willow that I surveyed some ten years ago in Yorkshire for Drax power station certainly was good for birds and invertebrates.

A few Song Thrushes were knocking about this morning and I am guessing that they will have been juvenile birds, and I was pleased with a count of five. A few finches made it into my notebook including four Lesser Redpolls, four Siskins and 78 Linnets. I was stood below a Birch sp. writing in my notebook and bits of seeds keps floating down, a but like snowflakes, and when I looked up some of the Linnets and Siskins were feeding in the tree top!

It was the Grey Wagtails as much as any other species that gave it an autumnal feel this morning and I had five in total. There was no evidence of any vis as such, but they had certainly moved to the site in recent weeks. Three Tree Pipits could well have been migrants too as I have never recorded them 'within' the site before, just flying over.

Other bits and pieces included four Greenfinches, three Chaffinches, a Coal Tit, a Goldfinch, three Reed Buntings, two Buzzards, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Roe Deer.

 There was quite a lot of Sneezewort present in the open former grassalnd
areas, but most of it was past it's best

A distant Roe Deer

I then had to head to a site in east Bowland and this would take me through my second county, North Yorkshire, to work in my third county, Lancashire. Funnily enough pre-1974 my site near Slaidburn would have been in West Yorkshire!

This site is an upland farm that I have been providing conservation advise to for seventeen years now and today I was looking at some of the breeding wader fields and sward heights in particular. Everywhere I went I came across flocks of Meadow Pipits. I didn't count them but they certainly numbered in their hundreds.

I had a nice size comparison between two Ravens and three Buzzards as they interacted together, and the size comparison was that there isn't one! Those Ravens certainly are big birds, and sometimes you don't realise how big until you see ones alongside a Buzzard.

At the moment the forecast is looking okay for weekend and fingers crossed we'll get both days in! I'll be sure to let you know how we get on.

Friday, 24 August 2018

No Mountains - But Plenty Of Berries On The Mountain Ash

I tried for a couple of days this week to get one of my surveys in just west of Penrith, close to the mountains in the north Lakes. From the third woodland compartment that I survey I usually have great views looking towards Blencathra, but not this morning. Driving to my survey site I was driving through low cloud all the time, particularly through the Lune gorge in the Howgills, and the weather as I started my survey at 0615 was full cloud cover with a light south-southeasterly breeze and moderate visibility.

Funnily enough on the coast this weather was responsible for dropping a few migrants in. I got a phone call from Ian saying that back at the Obs there was good numbers of Willow Warblers around, and he'd had grounded Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat and Tree Pipits. It was a little different here!

Willow Warblers and Tree Pipit did feature at my survey site too, and a grounded Tree Pipit was a new species for the site. I am surprised that I haven't recorded Tree Pipits more often as the habitat within these woodland compartments does look suitable. In fact one of my Scottish survey sites close to Dalbeattie always has Tree Pipits.

Of interest from all the four compartments I recorded 49 Swallows (brought low by the inclement weather and were hawking for insects over the trees), a Buzzard, five Willow Warblers (including one doing a bit of sub-song), ten  Goldfinches, eight Chaffinches, a Raven flew over calling, four Tree Sparrows, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Stock Doves and a Tree Pipit.

What I have noticed this year at this and other survey sites is the bumper crop on the Rowan. Nearly every Rowan I come across is laden with berries, so they will be providing lots of food for birds and small mammals this autumn. Maybe for a Waxwing or two!

Lots of Rowan and lots of berries!


I was supposed to be surveying another site this morning, in the shadow of Blencathra, but it was wild and wet up here this morning, so that's re-scheduled for Monday. The forecast for the weekend is looking grim as well; strong northwesterlies tomorrow and wet on Sunday. There won't be much ringing getting done at the Obs this weekend!