Wednesday, 15 May 2019

5 in 1

This glorious weather we are having at the moment, there I will have jinxed it now, is playing havoc with my social life (very little real ale being consumed) and also reducing the amount of time I have to update my blog and do other computer related stuff in the office, because it is allowing me to get out and do lots of survey work. I shouldn't complain! Anyway, what I'm trying to say in a roundabout way, is that I apologise for a lack of recent updates and the glorious weather is my excuse!

At the end of last week Gail and I carried out the second of the bird surveys at a site in North Lanarkshire, and unlike the first visit the weather was beautiful, and actually the site is rather beautiful too! Well, there was lots of warblers anyway!

 One of the pools at my North Lanarkshire survey site

We set off under 4 oktas cloud with a light easterly breeze. The site is a mosaic of lowland heath, unimproved grassland, pools and Birch/Willow scrub. So, perfect habitat for Warblers. Willow Warblers were the most numerous warbler species with 30 singing males, followed by two Blackcaps, 17 Whitethroats, seven Grasshopper Warblers, five Goldcrests, a Garden Warbler and two Sedge Warblers.

 Willow Warbler

Other species of interest included three Reed Buntings, six Skylarks, six Coal Tits, two Buzzards, a Jay and two Tree Pipits.

At weekend we undertook our second check of our Pied Flycatcher boxes in Bowland and rather pleasingly recorded nine active Pied Flycatcher nests, so an increase of two from last week. I managed to lift six female Pied Fly's off the nest (four new birds and two recaptures), so with the female I lifted last week that just leaves one female to lift, so that's pretty good.

A few boxes had pulli ready to ring, so we ringed nine Blue Tits and eighteen Great Tits. The Nuthatch was still sitting, probably brooding tiny young, so hopefully we'll have a box full of Nuthatches to do this coming weekend!

 Great Tit

Monday saw me surveying one of my plantation woodland sites in south Cumbria with not a lot to report other than four Blackcap, three Reed Buntings and a Tree Sparrow of interest. I followed this by a visit to Foulshaw Moss for a couple of hours, before heading off on another site visit.

 Foulshaw Moss

I always enjoy this site and it was good to see a few Common Lizzards basking on the boardwalk and a few White-faced Darters on the wing. Bird interest was provided by five Sedge Warblers, five Lesser Redpolls, nine Willow Warblers and Osprey.

 Common Lizard

White-faced Darter

Day five, of 5 in 1, was another one of my plantation woodland survey sites, this time in the North Pennines. Nothing much to report, other than it was a glorious morning, and a pleasure to be out. If you were to push me to report something that I recorded it would have to be the four Willow Warblers, two Song Thrushes, Stock Dove, confiding female Pied Wagtail (see picture below), two Curlews, Brown Hare, Siskin, two Lesser Redpolls and singing Redstart.

 Pied Wagtail

Cumbria tomorrow, back to North Lanarkshire on Friday and boxes again at weekend; it doesn't stop!

Monday, 6 May 2019

Back At The Boxes

Over weekend Gail and Me were back checking our boxes in the Hodder Valley. As you will know the primary aim of our nest box scheme here is to provide nest sites for the red-listed Pied Flycatcher.

 Looking through the Wood with a couple of our boxes in view

We have 41 boxes up at this site and during our first check over weekend we had seven boxes occupied by Pied Flycatchers, all at various stages of egg laying. Most were still in the process of laying and hadn't completed their clutches and started incubating yet, but one female had. I lifted her off the nest and she was ringed. I checked the ring and found out that I had ringed her from a box at this site in 2017 and she was a second calendar year bird then, making her three years old now. Just to think she has flown to and from central Africa three times, or to put it another way, made six crossings of the Sahara desert!

 Pied Flycatcher nest

Other nest box occupants included Blue Tit, Great Tit and Nuthatch, as well as six Wasp/Hornet nests!

 Recently hatched Blue Tit chicks

Close to where we parked the car a pair of Oystercatchers had nested on top of a low livestock building and had at least two chicks. At the moment the adults will bring food to them, one of the few wader species to do this, the other being Snipe, but in a few days they will have to leap off the building and forage themselves alongside the adults!


I ran the moth trap in my garden last night and all I caught was a single Light Brown Apple Moth! Mind you it was cold!

I've got surveys all this week, weather permitting, including one in north Lanarkshire that will entail a 2.30 am alarm call; ouch!

Friday, 3 May 2019

North Of The Border...Again!

I've been spending quite a bit of time north of the border lately, not a complaint, just an observation. In fact most definitely not a complaint as north of the border is where Gail and I would like to retire to in the not too distant future!

Earlier in the week we were in central Scotland carrying out the first of a series of bird surveys. The 2:30 am alarm call to get there for a reasonable time was the tricky bit of the morning, because the site was quite interesting, particularly for breeding warblers.

I have never seen, actually that should have been heard or recorded, as many Grasshopper Warblers at a site before and we had 15 'reeling' birds! Even more prolific was Willow Warbler with 25 singing males! Other warblers included seven singing Whitethroats, three singing Goldcrests, two singing Blackcaps and a singing Garden Warbler.

Best of the rest included eight Skylarks, three Reed Buntings, three Lesser Redpolls, seven Coal Tits, two Siskins, a Song Thrush, two Buzzards, a Raven, a Kestrel, a Wheatear and a Tree Pipit.

At the end of the week I was at one of my plantation woodland survey sites in north Cumbria. Again warblers were a feature of the morning with five Willow Warblers and five Blackcaps. I won't trouble you with the rest of what I saw, but instead take you north of the border again to the Solway shore between Gretna and Eastriggs to my 'patch'. I spoke to Gail in the 'sooth' who told me it was raining in Lancs, but on the Solway I was birding under full cloud cover, granted, but at least it was dry!

Just in front of where I park there was five Whimbrels, one of my favourite waders, feeding on the muddy shore. Even though it was cloudy, looking south, any photos I attempted were hideously over-exposed. Joining the Whimbrels was a cracking summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit, two Curlews, 16 Oystercatchers, 36 Ringed Plovers and 30 Dunlins in various stages of 'dress'!

In the scrub alongside the estuary, and the grassland inland of the scrub, a number of warblers were singing away including twelve Willow Warblers, two Blackcaps, ten Whitethroats, two Grasshopper Warblers and two Sedge Warblers. When I first heard the Sedge Warblers I was a little surprised as the habitat wasn't quite right, but then I noticed they were singing in two small patches of reeds. It's amazing how birds find even small patches of habitat that are suitable.

Out on the river was a Whooper Swan that was swimming up and down, and feeding fairly actively. At one stage it was loosely associating itself with a group of six Mute Swans, but most of the time it was on its own. Given the fairly late date for a Whooper Swan, and the fact that it was on its own, I did wonder whether it was perhaps injured. However, later in the morning I saw it take off and head further downstream! 

 Whooper Swan

Other widlfowl on the estuary included 46 Shelducks, two pairs of Gadwall, two pairs of Mallards, a female Goosander and four Red-breasted Mergansers that flew upstream.

Four Little Egrets also fed in the shallows and I never get tired of watching these small, white herons, as they run and stop, dart and turn, all in the pursuit of food!

 Little Egrets

Some of the flowers/blossoms were looking particularly resplendent and personally I don't think you can beat a white flower against the green of the plant, like the Garlic Mustard and Hawthorn blossom below.

Garlic Mustard (above) & Hawthorn (below)


It was soon time to head south again and plan what to do over the three day weekend. I'll be sure to let you know!

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Still Cuckoo

Yesterday I was surveying the wetland complex on one of my client's farms in Bowland, and this farm is probably the only place in Lancashire that I can still guarantee to hear a Cuckoo.

I arrived at the farm to complete my survey under three oktas of hazy cloud, with a light northeasterly wind. It was a tad cool at first, but it soon warmed up. As I got out of my car, a movement caught my eye and a stonking Barn Owl lifted off one of the fence posts of a newly planted hedge. I was to see this Barn Owl several times during the course of the morning, but I was never quick enough, or good enough, to get a picture.

There was a reasonable number of Willow Warblers along the wetland complex that I was surveying and my total of nine, included six singing males. The only other warbler species I had was a singing Blackcap.

Even though I was only walking a small portion of the farm, and not in the best areas for Brown Hares, I still managed to record eighteen of these delightful creatures!

 Brown Hare

The wetland complex is away from some of the best breeding wader fields, but nevertheless I still had five Curlews, four Common Sandpipers, a Snipe, ten Lapwings and sixteen Oystercatchers.

 Common Sandpiper

As I stated in my introduction this farm is the only place where in recent years I can guarantee hearing or seeing a Cuckoo. This morning was no exception and I had two calling birds from different parts of the farm. There's nothing like a Cuckoo to reassure you that the world is still turning!

The wetland complex that I was surveying consists of 10-12 interlinked wetlands/ponds and on some of them were breeding Tufted Ducks, totalling about ten pairs.

A Raven, a Buzzard, four Lesser Redpolls, two Siskins and a Mistle Thrush later and I had completed my survey. Of course, the above is only the potted highlights of all the species I recorded and I didn't want to bore you with counts of Mallards, Moorhens, Coots etc.

The forecast is changeable over the next few days, but that can often mean some interesting birds!

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Patch Magic

You can't beat a patch, or several patches as I have. A patch could be as small as your garden, or as large as an estuary. You can record anything from invertebrates, to wildflowers, birds or mammals on it. You can visit a patch once a day, once a week, once a month or even just once a year. The excitement and motivation is getting to know that patch, and when you record something new for your patch, even if it is common, you get a buzz from it. It's also excellent citizen science, and records from your patch can contribute and make a difference to conservation.

Some of the sites that I survey for my job have become patches, like my nine plantation woodland sites in Cumbria. I've got to know them well, even though I only visit them three times per year. And when I record something out of the ordinary for that patch, a little bit of patch magic happens.

I stumbled upon a bit of patch magic yesterday morning at one of my sites near Wigton. I had just started to survey the first woodland compartment and was walking along the edge of the trees adjacent to a field that had been ploughed and tilled ready for re-seeding, when a 'white rump' bounced past me! A 'White Arse' as they used to be known , but Wheatear to you and me! Now, a Wheatear isn't unusual by any means, and if back at the Obs all I had recorded was a single Wheatear on any given day in April, I would be disappointed. But this was a new bird for the 'patch', a bit of that patch magic if you will!


I carried on under the grey gloom and biting easterly wind and notched up a few bits and pieces; three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two singing Blackcaps, three Willow Warblers, two Ravens, two Song Thrushes, eight Tree Sparrows (one carrying nest material), two Chiffchaffs, fourteen House Sparrows, three Stock Doves, a Buzzard, a Swallow, a singing Redstart and a Jay.

My survey finished, I headed to one of my patches on the Scottish side of the Solway between Gretna and Eastriggs for the second bit of patch magic, although I didn't manage a photograph this time. 

As I was scanning a section of rocky shore and counting the Redshanks, I caught a movement in my telescope and there on the water's edge was an Otter! I couldn't believe it and I could hardly contain my excitement. I had cracking views through my telescope, but unfortunately it was just too far away for a photograph. Another bit of patch magic!

It was still quite cold down on the Solway and I had to don woolly hat and gloves! In the scrub along the edge of the estuary and around the gardens of the hamlet, I had 17 Goldfinches and 18 Tree Sparrows. Other passerines along this stretch included six Siskins (5 east), 31 Meadow Pipits (27 grounded), a singing Chiffchaff and two singing Willow Warblers.

Out on the river were 23 Goldeneyes, a pair of Gadwall, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, a pair of Goosanders and 20 Shelducks. There wasn't the same number of waders around and all I had were 87 Redshanks, twelve Oystercatchers and four Curlews.

The Easter weekend is looking glorious weather-wise, but I'm out surveying on Good Friday and Easter Monday, but I'm hoping to get some birding and ringing done at the Obs over weekend.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Birding Both Sides Of The Border

Over the past couple of days I have been fortunate enough to have been carrying out bird surveys in north Cumbria, and also birding the Solway on the Scottish side of the border. Long time readers of this blog will know the passion I have for Scotland, and I still hope that in the not too distant future it will become our home, so any opportunities to bird north of the border are gratefully received.

Yesterday it was the first of my plantation woodland breeding bird surveys and it is the last year of this five year project. Even though at times the surveys haven't been exactly hooching with birds, I will nevertheless miss not doing them next year!

It was a cold clear morning as I set off at my survey site not too far from Carlisle, with a light southerly wind. As always at this site the first birds I hear whilst walking to the first compartment are singing Yellowhammer, Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker. In fact I had two singing Chiffchaffs on this morning and a third feeding bird. Just one singing Willow Warbler in the first compartment, and four Stock Doves came out of an old ruined barn.

 Willow Warbler

In the cold conditions the second compartment was thin on the ground with noteworthy birds, other than a singing Song Thrush and a Tree Sparrow. The third compartment was quiet too, but at least there was a singing Blackcap to listen to. It felt as though Spring hadn't quite sprung up here, but that might be me looking for reasons for a lack of birds.

I then headed north of the border to bird the Solway between Gretna and Eastriggs. This site has become a bit of a 'patch' in recent years, and I always look forward to a few annual visits. One of the beauties of the site is that there is nobody there and the waders on the shore tend not to get disturbed. 

 The Solway

Out on the river a group of Goldeneyes drifted past on the falling tide and the flock was made up of two males, five females and six immature birds. Other wildfowl included fifteen Wigeon, a male Goosander, two Teal and six Shelducks.

There was a few waders on the shore and the numbers of passage waders had started to build up with 207 Ringed Plovers and 65 Dunlins. Other waders included eleven Curlews, 53 Redshanks and three Oystercatchers. A single Little Egret was roosting with head tucked in and I turned my attention to terra firma.

Along the edge of the estuary here above the high water mark is a line of scrubby habitat consisting mainly of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Gorse, Broom, Alder and Birch sp. This habitat does hold a few migrants and this morning it was just three Chiffchaffs, three Willow Warblers and two Siskins.

 The habitat along the edge of the estuary (above & below)

Friday morning saw Gail and I at our northwest Cumbria wintering bird survey site, now doing the first of a couple of breeding bird surveys, and it was quiet. Well, quiet on the breeding bird front, but there was a bit of vis including Siskin, 24 Meadow Pipits, four Lesser Redpolls, 19 Linnets, Swallow and four Goldfinches.

The resident pair of Grey Partridges were still present and grounded migrants were limited to a male Wheatear and a Willow Warbler. Raven and male Peregrine both made it into my notebook and that was it.

I've got bird surveys everyday except Thursday next week, and I am hoping to get out at the Obs tomorrow, and as usual I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 8 April 2019

More Twite and a Great White

I started off at the cemetery yesterday morning under full cloud cover with a 5 mph ENE wind. I thought that there might be a few grounded migrants this morning but I was greeted with that eerie silence, where your first instincts based on this are usually right, that it is going to be quiet.

A few Meadow Pipits were going over, 77 in total, as well as two Goldfinches and five Woodpigeons heading in the same northerly direction. After a full circuit I didn't have a single grounded migrant.

I headed to the coastal park and again it 'felt' quiet, no singing Willow Warblers etc. After a short while I could hear the familiar fast trills and buzzing sounds that emanate from a flock of excited Twite. There in the top of a Sycamore again were 34 of these delightful birds.


There were a few grounded migrants here in the form of two Chiffchaffs, a male Blackcap and a Goldcrest; all three silent and not calling at all.

There was some vis over the coastal park and I had my first Lesser Redpoll over for the Spring, and a handful of Meadow Pipits headed north. Equally as excitable as Twite are Siskins, and a few headed east. Some were dropping in and feeding on the Sycamore buds before heading off again, and a party of six did just that as they called noisily to each other.

The best bird on vis was a Great White Egret that headed east over me at 0740, and I see it was picked up further east over Preesall at 0754! I tried to get a shot, but the results on the back of my camera were a large white, blurry mess!

A Swallow over ended a couple of hours out in the field.

 One of the resident male Chaffinches