Saturday, 10 November 2018

The River

I apologise for a lack of posts of late dear readers, it's been mainly due to poor weather that I haven't been out. In fact I haven't even managed to get any work surveys in since 2nd November! I had an aborted trip earlier in the week to one of my wintering bird survey sites in Cheshire, but didn't get there because of a complete closure of the M6 southbound between Junctions 21 and 20! I managed to muscle myself off the motorway at J23, and high-tailed it home!

I suppose I could have gone out just for the sake of it, but as we approach early winter autumn migration has slowed down, nearly to a full stop, and birding round here in particular has become hard work. In fact birding in this part of Lancashire gets less pleasurable every year, with more and more people, and more and more disturbance! So all being well the Hairy Birder is likely to be 'upping sticks' and moving north in the not too distant future! How far north really depends on Mrs Hairy Birder! The preferred location for me would be Dumfries and Galloway, but I would say that anywhere from north Lancs, through to Cumbria and onwards to Scotland is a possibility!

Anyway, back to the river. And the river on this occasion was the River Wyre. Earlier in the week Gail and I had to go to Fleetwood to pick up some Birch logs to burn in our wood burner along with some Ash that we had taken a delivery of. I knew that the tide was falling so we decided to have a walk alongside Jubilee Quay on the Wyre. Funnily enough, there is a connection with Whitehaven in Cumbria where I presently have some work in the area, and Fleetwood, as some of the fishing boats from Whitehaven in days gone by used to land their catch at Jubilee Quay.

 Some of the inaccessible quayside is used by Gulls to roost on like this 
Black-headed Gull

On the falling tide waders come in to feed on the freshly exposed mud and it's the first part of the estuary that Black-tailed Godwits feed on at this state of tide, and on this occasion we had 26. Other waders included six Oystercatchers and 44 Redshanks.

 Even though it is silhouetted and it has its back to us, I rather like this 
picture of a black-tailed Godwit

This morning I was back on the Wyre, but a little further upstream, and I had a pleasant walk under the five oktas cloud cover with a stiff southerly breeze. Walking down the path to the estuary I pushed twelve Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and a couple of Redwings from the Hawthorns. I could hear Chaffinches going over on vis, but couldn't see them, but I could certainly see the 36 Woodpigeons that headed east.

 The path down to the river

On the edge of the saltmarsh was a nice flock of 65 Goldfinches that were feeding on the seeds of what looked like Sea Lavender. I had a walk across the saltmarsh to my vantage point where I can see both up and down stream and I put 43 Snipe up.

On the river were 226 Lapwings, 244 Wigeons and 117 Teal. There was probably quite a bit more than this as I could see bits of birds on the edge of creeks and behind mud banks that were impossible to count. Walking back to the main path a Little Egret flew upstream and four Rock Pipits called as they flew around the marsh.

 Little Egret

A quick look on the reservoir revealed 22 Mallards, twelve Coots, five Little Grebes, eleven Tufted Ducks and a male Goldeneye. Other than ten Linnets, three Reed Buntings and a Grey Wagtail on my walk back to the car that was it.

The weather is looking a bit mixed this coming week with perhaps some opportunities to get out at the start and then end of the week. As ever I'll keep you posted!

Friday, 2 November 2018

Four Countries

Both today and earlier in the week I have been undertaking a series of wintering bird surveys, and if you include the country I was standing in (England) I could see four countries! Well, three countries and a self-governing British Crown dependency; Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland and England! On Monday the visibility was great and I had clear skies with a light southeasterly wind.

There were a number of Stonechats about, at least two pairs, and they showed well, usually when my camera wasn't at hand, or when the light wasn't right! But today I managed to get a few snaps of this female below.

I had quite good numbers of Skylarks and I must admit it was difficult to say whether they were moving, or just feeding in the coastal fields. I would have birds that looked as if they were heading south, and then they would come back north again! Anyway whatever they were doing I had 18 on Monday and 23 today.

Raptors have been thin on the ground other than a Kestrel, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, but maybe that's all I can expect. What was a pleasant surprise was the covey of five Grey Partridges that flew past us as Gail and I were huffing and puffing walking up a hill! Up to four Song Thrushes have been present, and being a coastal location two Rock Pipits have been moving up and down the coast.


I spent some time seawatching, but it wasn't exactly rocking, and my totals included two Red-throated Divers, seven Pintails, three Guillemots, a Razorbill and 49 Common Scoters.

The best seawatching record I had on Monday was of two Harbour Porpoise that I watched for about fifteen minutes. At about 1:00 pm I picked up a Harbour Porpoise fairly close inshore. It was drifting back and forth, actively feeding, below the cliffs, and breaching with that lovely rolling action that they have. I suspected that there might be a second individual, but for a while I could just see one. After about five minutes two breached together! I tried to get a few shots and you will see my efforts below! They made my day anyway!

Just one Harbour Porpoise

 Suspicions of two!

 Definitely two!

More Hoglets

Since I last posted we have had two more Hoglets in the garden, taking the total to six, and we are hoping that we have now managed to rescue them all! The second Hoglet (no. 6) was with it's mother and sadly we had to take it in because it was woefully under weight. Both Hoglets have gone to the lovely Jean and hopefully they will put weight on and be able to get back to the wild in the Spring!

 Hoglet No. 6

We still have at least one large Hedgehog coming to feed every night, but it has turned cold of late, so how long it will be visiting I'm not sure. We think it is the mother of our six Hoglets and she looks large and healthy, so when it's time for her to get her head down I don't think she'll have any problems.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Hoglet Update

Hoglet number 4 scuppered my birding plans for this morning, but it was worth it to rescue another wee fella, or wee girl should I say as she is a female! Somewhere between midnight and one o'clock this morning our security light went on and off a couple of times and I guessed it was just the wind, but due to the fact that we had rescued three small Hedgehogs in recent days I thought I would get up and have a look.

I shone my head torch on to our mini meadow through the back door and there on the edge of the grass was another Hoglet! I went out and collected the wee girl, weighed her (240g) and placed her in the cat carrier with bedding, food and water. This is becoming a habit! A quick text to my good friend Terry and he arranged for me to take it in the morning to a lovely lady called Jean who cares for Hedgehogs.

Jean's set up was impressive, and she has basically converted her conservatory in to a Hedgehog hospital. She has banks of keeping boxes full of Hogs and there must have been 20-30 Hedgehogs in her remarkable care. Jean weighed her and she was 300g, more than I thought, but again far too light to hibernate for the winter. Jean asked us for a name for the Hoglet, just to make it easier for her records rather than recording Hedgehog 32YRT50, or something similar, so I named her Gail after my Gail!

 Gail 'the Hedgehog'

I was surprised at the number of ticks on her and Jean expertly removed at least five and placed her in a keeping box with one of her brothers/sisters, the Hoglet from our garden that Terry took to Jean yesterday. Jean said that she would keep us informed of her progress, so we just need to hope that she responds well and puts on weight. She certainly was a feisty little lady, so I remain hopeful.

I've rescheduled my birding for tomorrow, but it won't be an early start as I have four days of wintering bird surveys next week the length of breadth of the northwest with some very early starts!

Friday, 26 October 2018


Over the past six days it has been quite a saga with young Hedgehogs in our garden. I've rescued three Hoglets in six days! Last Saturday (20th) evening I went out to the beer fridge in the garage to procure another bottle of real ale, and just next to the back door step was a Hoglet feeding on some food I had spilled when putting some hedgehog food out earlier.

I feed the Hedgehogs in my garden every night, and at the moment I am getting at least one large individual every night just after it has gone dark. I am also getting the same or another just before it becomes light. This Hoglet looked small, too small in fact to survive hibernation, so I made a quick call to my good friend Terry who is involved in caring for Hedgehogs. Terry acts as coordinator locally for hedgehog rescue and he has a number of people that he homes hedgehogs with who look after them over the winter.

They are kept awake, by keeping them warm, over winter and fed to reach a weight where it is safe to release them in the Spring. To survive hibernation Hedgehogs as a general rule need to weigh 600g, if they try and hibernate weighing less than this then it is unlikely that they will wake up, passing away in their sleep because they don't have enough reserves.

At the end of the winter the rescued Hedgehogs are released in enclosures where they are re-nocturnalised (if there is such a word), before being released at a safe release site.

Terry said that if I could hatch the Hoglet he would call the following day and collect it. I went back out and it had gone. However, later on just before I went to bed I went out with a torch and searched my garden and found it on a small grassy area. Terry called the following day and collected it; Hoglet number one!

 This is Hoglet number one before it was settled in for 
the night.

This is the wee fella in the morning prior to us 
changing its bedding.

On Tuesday (23rd), I was err, going out to the beer fridge and noticed a Hoglet feeding on the food that I had put out. So once again, I picked it up and took it indoors. Another text to Terry and the following day he called and collected it.

After the second Hoglet we realised that it was highly likely that they were both from the same late litter, and in fact Terry later found out from the carer that they were brother and sister and this latest Hoglet weighed 240g. Hoglet number two!

It was raining last night so I had put the hedgehog food and water under cover in the feeding station I have made, and once again I was going out for a fine bottle of real ale, when I noticed yet another Hoglet in the feeding station. I brought the little chap indoors, weighed it, and at 250g it was again too small to survive hibernation. I made it comfortable in our cat basket with a bed, food and water and once again sent a text to Terry. Hoglet number three!

Terry called to collect the wee fella this morning and gave us an update on the first two, who are doing really well and have already put on 30g.

Hedgehogs normally have 4-5 Hoglets, so there is a chance that this saga hasn't ended yet. If there are another 1-2 Hoglets out there I hope they come into our garden to feed so we can save them too! I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Birding Mersehead

One of my favourite birding sites is Mersehead RSPB in Dumfries and Galloway, on the northern shores of the Solway. And I had an opportunity to go birding there this week as I had a couple of site visits to do north and south of Castle Douglas on Monday. Gail came with me and we stayed overnight so we could go birding on the Tuesday. It's something we've done for several years now and we thoroughly enjoy it!

My two work related site visits are well and truly in Red Kite country, one more so than the other as it is very close to Lock Ken. On our drive to and from Castle Douglas we counted ten without trying, including one over the garden of a house that we looked at in Crossmichael!

The following morning as we drove from Castle Douglas to Mersehead RSPB we had a further two Kites. We arrived at Mersehead under full cloud cover, with a moderate westerly wind, and we looked forward to some decent birding and a good walk.

There are a variety of habitats at Mersehead including saltmarsh, sand dunes, open shore, mudflats, coastal mixed woodland, arable land, low input pastures and freshwater pools. So a great mix, and the beauty is that it is quiet. In fact we were at the reserve for three hours on Tuesday morning and other than us there was just one other couple on the reserve. We had it to ourselves. In fact when we got to the glorious white sandy beach, covered in shells, there was nobody to be seen!

 The white sandy beach (above & below)

On the reserve are a number of wildbird seed plots with a high density of sunflowers in the mix and they were alive with finches. One plot is adjacent to some low coastal mixed woodland and a lot of the birds were flying in to the trees and then in to plots to feed. A rough estimate of the finches we saw included fifteen Tree Sparrows, 370 Greenfinches, three Bramblings, 65 Chaffinches, five Yellowhammers and 82 Linnets. Stonking!

Other passerines that we encountered included a Siskin, four Song Thrushes, two Redwings, five Goldcrests, a Reed Bunting, a Fieldfare and a Bullfinch. Funnily enough the only raptor that we saw on the reserve was a single Sparrowhawk, but I did half expect Merlin, Peregrine, Hen Harrier etc.

Of course the main reason that I like Mersehead so much, apart from how lovely and quiet it is, is the fact that it is a wintering site for my favourite goose, the Barnacle Goose. I love everything about Barnacle Geese; their stunning monochrome colours, the 'barking' dog like call and just their overall loveliness! It was hard to say how many 'Barnies' were on the reserve, but we certainly came across at least 1,700.

Below you will find a number of pictures of Barnacle Geese and I make no apologies for this because I think they are a stunning bird!

The freshwater pools held a variety of wildfowl with eight Pintails, 59 Teal, 35 Wigeon and 22 Shovelers. There was more than this, but this is just what was in view immediately in front of the two hides.

 Mixed wildflowl outside one of the hides


The view from one of the hides

With a heavy heart we had to return to the car and head home, but we'll be back soon I'm sure!

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Not In The West Yet

This morning Graham and me got to the pools at the Obs early to get a couple of nets up in the dark to hopefully ring some thrushes. Large numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares are appearing at watch points further east, but they have yet to get this far west. There has been a few, but none in any numbers. Last night I kept going outside to listen for Redwing, but I didn't hear a single one, and it was the same this morning when I was loading my car.

We had six oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph southerly wind throughout the morning. As soon as the nets were up I put Fieldfare and Redwing on the MP3 players. A few Redwings started arriving in response to the MP3 players, but not in any real numbers, and in fact I think they were only just in double figures!

We ringed thirteen birds as follows:

Redwing - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Chaffinch - 3
Reed Bunting - 4
Blackbird - 1 continental male
Sparrowhawk - 1 female
Pied Wagtail - 1



The birding was quiet as well this morning as you might have gathered and there was very little going over, other than perhaps 15 Redwings, a Song Thrush, two Bramblings and a handful of Chaffinches. Pied Wagtails were dispersing to feeding areas from their overnight roost on the marina, and a few Reed Buntings 'dropped in' to investigate the MP3 calls. Five Stock Doves and a male Shoveler dropping on to the pools, and that was it!

 Reed Bunting

It's a funny old forecast for tomorrow with the wind remaining southwesterly and some light rain coming in during the morning. I've had three early starts on the bounce and I have an early start on Monday as I am heading up to southwest Scotland to do some work. However, on Tuesday I am hoping to be birding on the Solway, so it might have to wait until then.