Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Lockdown 3

If you live in the UK you will be aware that we are now in our third period of lockdown as a result of Covid 19. I don't want to dwell on this at all, as it is something that we all need to strive to reduce transmission of, to return to a state of relative normality, but it is worth mentioning how it will affect my activities, and as a result what will appear on this Blog. 
We have been asked by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to err on the side of caution, and only undertake ringing activities on land where we reside. Under the tier system we were permitted to continue through the exemptions provided by the 'voluntary or charitable activities' clause, and technically this also applied to lockdown, but the BTO felt that this wasn't in the spirit of what lockdown is striving to achieve, and hence being asked to err on the side of caution. From a personal perspective, I think that some of the ringing surveys that I undertake are completed safely, and I think that they could have continued without any risk, but I do respect and fully support the BTO's advice and guidance on this. The sooner we can get the transmission rate down, and save lives, the sooner we can get out again and continue collecting essential conservation data to help our beleaguered bird populations.
On a different, but connected note, the government is allowing shooting to count as a form of exercise during the lockdown! The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) on their website states that..."in light of the government providing greater clarity on its Covid-19 guidance and regulations, BASC is advising that outdoor shooting activities as a form of exercise are permissible once per day in England during the national lockdown, subject to two conditions:
1. You should only travel locally to shoot which is to stay local in the village, town, or part of the city 
    where you live as defined in government guidance.
2. When shooting you should only meet with people you live with, your support bubble; or when on    
    your own, with one person from another household".
I wonder how easy it is to find a shoot that operates in a village, town or city! Similarly, the fishing community, particularly the Angling Trust, has been celebrating that the "Government have now formally responded to the representations made by the Angling Trust...and (we) have been able to present a case to which the Government have listened. On this basis I (Angling Trust) am pleased to announce that fishing will be permitted during the third national lockdown in England".
I think from the above you can draw conclusions as to where the governments priorities sit, and also which organisations are doing the right thing. I think this smacks of double standards as far as the government is concerned!

So, for the period of the lockdown I won't be able to do any ringing, other than in my own garden, and also my birding will be restricted, because of the local aspect of the guidelines. However, the government has failed to define 'local area', and I think this is a serious error on their part. My work as an Ecologist will continue during the lockdown period, as this is allowed by government, and it has also been classed as essential. So, this will at least keep me in the great outdoors! As I work alone, and seldom come across anybody at all during my site visits, the Covid risk is very low. 
Anyway, enough of Covid. I don't mean to dismiss it as something unimportant, but rather want to focus on more positive things for my own well-being. 
Prior to the start of lockdown, Gail and I visited our Bowland feeding station to top the feeders up. It was a cold, crisp morning with a small amount of lying snow. At the feeding station were the usual suspects including Chaffinches, Robins, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits. We duly topped the feeders up, and set off for a half hour walk through the woodland. 
It was quiet in the woodland, as woodlands are in winter, but with a dusting of snow and a crisp frost it had a magical to look to it. We flushed a Brown Hare, and the only birds to make it in to my notebook during our walk were a Song Thrush and a couple of Redwings
A winter wonderland
Yesterday, I completed a survey at the wintering bird survey site in northwest Lancashire that has an area of marsh just to the east of it. It was another cold one, but nevertheless pleasant under the clear skies. I lost the feeling in my toes rather rapidly, but later after a few hours in a sheltered spot in the sun, was taking a couple of layers of clothing off and I could feel my toes once again!
As I walked along the first hedgerow, I pushed a flock of ten Fieldfares and five Redwings along the hedge, and they then dropped into a wet field to feed. In the wet field was a further thirty Fieldfares, and it seems that as most of the berries have now been depleted, they are turning their attentions to ground invertebrates, particularly when the high water table is pushing them to the surface. 
Next up was a bird that I don't see many of every year, and that was a Woodcock that I flushed from a wet ditch; nice. During my first VP observation period, I picked up a number of Rooks that were flying from a woodland roost to foraging areas, and 110 of these delightful Corvids flew past. 
A number of Pink-footed Geese were moving around, particularly shortly after first light, and I recorded 1,100 moving in various directions, but mainly north and east. This particular VP is closest to the area of marsh, and I had a Barn Owl hunting over the marsh for a good half hour. It would periodically stop and perch up on a fence-post, before continuing to forage. 
Pink-footed Geese
Out on the marsh I could hear Teal and Water Rail calling, but I have no idea how many, so they are recorded as 1+. I had five Skylarks head high south late morning from my second VP, and Sparrowhawk and Goldcrest were welcome additions to both the maps and my notebook. 
It's dreich as a I write, and the forecast for tomorrow, is for more of the same. It's looking better on Friday, and I have another wintering bird survey to complete, so I look forward to that.

Monday, 4 January 2021

First Ringing Session Of The Year

It was cold Saturday morning when I headed off to my Bowland feeding station for a ringing session with Alice, in fact my car thermometer registered -6 Celsius at one point! The road conditions were pretty awful, with frozen, slippery, un-gritted lanes. In fact, Alice didn't feel comfortable driving in such conditions and returned home. I turned the traction control off on my car, as it was driving me mad, and preferred to rely on my own 'feel' for the conditions, and progress was much better. 

I arrived at the feeding station under 7 oktas cloud cover and it was flat calm. I decided that I wouldn't bother putting a net up, I'd just feed and head back home instead. However, the sun came out and because there was absolutely no wind it felt rather pleasant, so I decided to put just one net up and limit my ringing to just a couple of hours.

I ringed 38 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Coal Tit - 5 (4)
Great Tit - 9 (1)
Blue Tit - 13
Robin - 3
Chaffinch - 7
Nuthatch - 1 (1)
Coal Tit

Other than the birds that I ringed, and others at the feeding station, it was rather quiet. In fact, the only other species of note were all heard. I heard a couple of Ravens calling, and a noisy Jay, plus a Tawny Owl and Fieldfare

The weather is looking to be set fair for the coming week, although cold, so I am hopeful of getting a few surveys in, and perhaps a bit of birding/ringing.

Over on the right I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group for the year. With a ringing session already in the bag, it won't be long before January 2021's totals appear there.

Thursday, 31 December 2020


Before I get into the 'nitty gritty' of today's post, I just wanted to have a moan about the weather...again! Alice and I were due to have a ringing session at our Bowland feeding station this morning, and I had to call it off at 6:30 this morning, for what feels like the umpteenth time in the past few weeks! 
There seems to be a pattern emerging, in that I check the forecast the night before, and all looks tickety boo, then in the morning the forecast has changed, or it is raining/sleeting/snowing/blowing a hooley etc. This morning was yet another case in point. I rolled out of my bed at 0630, as I said before, and I could hear water gurgling in my sun lounge guttering. A quick look outside and it was sleeting, and in the time it took for me to text Alice to say that ringing was off, it then started to rain! Three hours later, and it was still raining. As I look out of my office window as I type this, glorious sunshine. I think it's called Sod's law! 
Anyway, today's blog title refers to two bird species that I observed perched when I was out surveying yesterday morning that always surprise me when they do; one species does perch, but only occasionally, and the other perches more regularly, particularly when nesting, but looks rather incongruous when it does. But more of that later.
As I have mentioned before, this particular survey site in west Lancs has four VPs, plus a length of transect. I alternate the VPs around in terms of order, and yesterday morning I was in the layby of the busy road that I have mentioned before. It was cold and grey, with a light north-westerly wind, and later some showers would run in on the prevailing wind. But, there were some Pink-footed Geese opposite the layby, and they looked to be in good numbers too. I had to climb over the central console of my car to sit in the passenger seat, because if I had got ou,t they would have flushed for sure. In total I counted 1,867 Pinkies and I gave them a good grilling, but I couldn't find any other Geese species amongst them. The only other birds in this field was a small flock of 17 Lapwings.
I moved on to my second VP and transect, and this area contains an area of scrub that is impenetrable, so it's a case of standing and listening along the edge. The ditch that forms the eastern boundary had recently been re-profiled with a tracked digger, and this allowed some access to the easternmost scrub, and it also played host to perching bird number two.
A number of Blackbirds fed and called from the area of scrub, as did a single Song Thrush and three Fieldfares. A Goldcrest, ten Greenfinches, a Grey Wagtail, a Reed Bunting and the usual roosting six Snipe were also recorded from this area.
Adjoining the scrub is a Hawthorn hedge and I picked up three birds flitting along the top of the hedge and periodically they were perched. At first, I couldn't get my brain in gear because they didn't call and I only had fleeting glimpses; streaked upperparts, long tail, streaked underparts.... Then the penny dropped and they were three Meadow Pipits flitting along the top of the Hawthorns. Of course, Mipits will perch up on scrub, trees etc, especially during migration, and I have seen them do this before, but it always takes me by surprise.
Below you will find a picture of perched bird number two, and I apologise for the quality of the picture as it was some distance away. Little Egrets of course nest in trees, so they do indeed perch a lot, particularly during the breeding season, but they never look comfortable when they do. This bird was perched in some scrub above the re-profiled ditch, and I am sure that it was using the elevation to enable it look down into the water. It was trying to walk along the branches at times, and as I said before it looked so incongruous doing so. 

I finished the day off with a quick walk along part of the Wyre estuary with Gail, and noted in my head the 20 Redshanks and 32 Oystercatchers feeding in the quay, and tried to remember to put them in my notebook when I got home. 

It's looking fairly settled, or it is according to the pesky weather forecasts, so hopefully I'll get out ringing over weekend. I hope I don't regret saying that!

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Jinxed It

I saw the late weather forecast for the northwest after the BBC news last night and it looked iffy. A quick check with the various online forecasts that I use, and all still looked well for this morning. Although I must admit, that I went to bed with the suspicion that things might have changed by the morning. 

I rolled out of bed at 6:30 this morning and the first thing I did was check the online forecasts, and my suspicions were confirmed, it wasn't looking good and sleet showers were forecast from 0800 - 1000, exactly the time when we would be ringing. A quick text to Alice to let her know that ringing was off, and that was it, I'd jinxed it by saying that it looked favourable yesterday! I don't actually believe that, but nevertheless it is frustrating. 

Gail and I headed to our Bowland feeding station later in the morning to put some food out and fill up the feeders, and it was a different day; overcast with a sharp north-easterly wind, but no sleet showers. There had obviously been some snow overnight, as all the high ground had a fresh dusting of snow. 

The usual suspects were all present at the feeding station, and after all the food was put out,
 we had a walk up the wooded valley to get some warmth back into our fingers and toes. Nothing much to record other than Nuthatches, Chaffinches, Coal Tits, Blackbirds, Wrens, Robins and eleven Mallards on the semi-frozen pond. 

Below are a few pictures from one of the feeders. 

                                      Blue Tit                                       
Coal Tit
Great Tit (above & below)

Monday, 28 December 2020

That Was Hard Work

I headed to the coastal farm fields this morning at first light, and it was a cold old morning that got progressively greyer. I could see that there was snow around, as the Lakeland fells and Bowland were covered in the white stuff, but down here on the coast it was clear.
My blog title sums the morning up perfectly, and I could easily have titled it 'A Birdless Walk', 'Wot No Birds', or some other title that conveyed that it wasn't half a quiet morning. So, this is going to be brief. 
I had a look on the sea for about three quarters of an hour and saw 'diddly squat'! Not a single Merg, Diver, Eider or Scoter. Nothing except a flock of seven Cormorants. I had two Turnstones on the sea wall and a Kestrel perched on a post and that was it. And that includes my walk around the farm fields. 
Driving to the coast I noticed Pink-footed Geese dropping in to one of their regular feeding areas on farm fields between the coast and the estuary, and I thought that on my way back home I would have a look through them. On my way back home, they had moved into another field that wasn't viewable from either of the two lay-bys on this busy stretch of road. 
I hope tomorrow fairs better when we attempt some ringing at my Bowland feeding station. I hope I haven't just jinxed it!

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Seasonal Snippets

Although it's a little late, I would like to wish you all Seasonal Greetings, and hope that you enjoyed the solstice. Now that we are beyond the shortest day, and into the new year, we can celebrate the return of the light, and already the sun is setting nearly five minutes later!
On Christmas eve I visited my Bowland feeding station to top the feeders up, erect another feeder for sunflower hearts, and put some seed on the ground, along with some apples. It was a glorious morning with crisp, clear blue skies and a light northerly wind.
There were plenty of birds coming to the feeding station including 26 Chaffinches, 7+ Coal Tits, 2+ Nuthatches and five Goldfinches. As it was such a lovely morning, I decided to go for a walk up the valley along one side, and back down to the feeding station along the other.
Coal Tit
Blue Tit

I didn't expect to see much, as it is mid-Winter after all, but it was just a pleasure to stretch my legs. Not long after I had set off, I flushed a Roe Deer, that ran a short distance and stopped to look back at me, before heading out of sight through the wooded valley.
On the eastern edge of the woodland, I came across a standing dead Birch tree with a community of Piptoporus betulinus, common names Birch Polypore or Razorstrop Fungus, growing on the decaying trunk. It takes its common name from an old use for sharpening razors. See pictures below.

Further along my walk, I came across two males and a female Blackbird, and one of the males was a lovely sooty continental bird. Six Mallards on the pond at the top of the valley, and it was time to head back down.

On Christmas day I headed to the Point for an hour and a half to have a look on the sea as there was a tide. The sea was like a mill pond, but due to the differences in temperature between the relatively warm sea, and the cold air there was a slight heat haze. It's a pity, because without the heat haze the visibility would have been even better, even though it was already fairly good. 

On the shore I recorded Turnstones, Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers, but the only species in any real numbers was the 128 Oystercatchers. A pair of Stonechats flitted along the dunes and across to the shore to forage for invertebrates as I walked along the path heading to my watch point. 
Ringed Plover
There were too many jolly people around for my liking, and numerous people wished me a Merry Christmas. That was very nice of them, but as somebody who doesn't really celebrate Christmas I would rather they would have left me alone. I'm not critical of anybody that does celebrate Christmas, but it's not for me. And anyway, when I am out birding, I just want leaving alone so I can concentrate on what I am doing and 'get in the zone'. I'm not complaining, honestly...well, maybe just a bit!

As for Christmas eve it was quiet, but again a pleasure to be out, and on the sea all I had was two male Red-breasted Mergansers, 20 Eiders, five Red-throated Divers, a Shelduck and a Common Scoter.
Red-breasted Merganser
The forecast is looking reasonable for next week, and I am hopeful of getting out birding, ringing and surveying!

Friday, 18 December 2020

Temporary Patches

It's funny how quickly a site that you are undertaking a series of wintering bird surveys at, becomes almost like a patch. It will usually be a site that you have never visited before, it might not be the best site in the world, but after you have completed somewhere in the region of twelve surveys, with a minimum of 36 hours observation time, it becomes familiar, you get to know it fairly intimately, and you sort of, start getting patch ticks. And then it's over, the survey period has finished and you never return. I like to call them temporary patches.
I have one such patch this winter in west Lancs, and I have mentioned it before, it's the one with a bit of a marsh. I was there earlier in the week, on a reasonable morning with three oktas cloud cover and there was a light south-easterly wind. I also had a patch tick too! 

I walked along the busy road to where I access the site down a bramble covered embankment and on to the first, now quite wet, arable field. It's always a relief to get away from the road, as the noise from the traffic does actually hurt my ears. There's a bit of a ruined orchard that I walk past, orchard might be too strong a word as there is literally a couple of apple trees, and a Song Thrush called from here, barely audible above the traffic noise.

I dropped down onto the field, and a number of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead, 128 to be precise, and then I headed north along the edge of the marsh to my VP. As usual I could hear Teal, Mallards, Moorhen and Water Rail calling, but it was the bird perched up on some Bramble and Willowherb stems that drew my attention. A male Stonechat, and a new species for this temporary patch! Another bird flew past me low, perched up, and it was a female Stonechat. So, a pair of Stonechats new to my temporary patch and I was made up!
Stonechat (male above & female below)

There were a few birds on the stubble field again, including 138 Woodpigeons, 74 Black-headed Gulls, 53 Herring Gulls, twelve Fieldfares, 86 Starlings and three Stock Doves. A Buzzard, and a female Sparrowhawk were causing a bit of mayhem this week over the stubbles. 
I've got one more survey to get in, and that's me finished for the Solstice festivities until the New Year. Fingers crossed for some decent weather to get out birding or ringing, or maybe even both!