Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The Wrong Rucksack

Yesterday morning when finishing off some survey work in Greater Manchester, I realised I had the wrong rucksack with me, and this prevented me from getting a cracking photo of a very confiding juvenile Kestrel!

This survey site is small, and therefore I didn't need to take a flask of coffee with me, or a few snacks in case I got peckish, just a bottle of water and a banana would do. So, I took my smallest rucksack, hoisted it on to my back, and slung my camera and case around my neck. Hang on, that didn't feel very comfortable. The waist straps of this rucksack meant that my camera didn't hang right off my shoulder, and kept swinging forward and getting in the way. I put my camera back in the boot of my car, set off, and thought there would probably nothing to photograph anyway.......

I was walking across a recently cut meadow, and in the middle of this meadow two public footpaths intersect, and this intersection is marked by a way marker. On top of this post, which incidentally was only about four feet high, I could see a bird perched. I lifted my bins and could see a juvenile Kestrel, all looking fresh with its pin-sharp, new plumage. No worn feathers here, just the beauty of unblemished shades of brown, beige, grey and cream. I looked at the Kestrel and it looked at me. I dropped my bins and walked on.

Still the Kestrel sat on the post, and I lifted my bins once more, and drank in again the freshness of its plumage. I could almost smell the newness of this enchanting little raptor, and was entranced by the perfection of its form.

I carried on, and still it didn't move, and now I was only about fifteen feet from the bird. I instinctively felt for my camera, but it wasn't there, and I remembered I had left it behind because I had the wrong rucksack with me! I would have got a beautiful frame filling picture of it, but maybe that's why it was so confiding. Another step closer, and it was off, flying low across the meadow and over a hedge.

So, in celebration of this little chap I have posted below a few pictures of Kestrels that I have had the pleasure of encountering over the years.

Back to my survey in Greater Manchester under leaden skies. I had been trying to get this survey in, for at least ten days now, but every morning it was wet. And if it wasn't wet, it was windy. This morning I just had a couple of hours to complete the survey before the rain set in.

The low cloud, with showers scudding across the landscape in the distance, brought in a few Swifts; nineteen to be precise. These jet-propelled, scythe shaped avian projectiles, were taking advantage of aerial insects brought down by the low cloud. They were a joy to watch as they cut through the air with stiff, swept back wings. Four House Martins and a couple of Swallows accompanied them, to add some metallic blues to the grey back-wash of the morning.

There is a small area of wetland at this site, and emanating from it, was the 'reeling' song of a Grasshopper Warbler. Grasshopper Warblers have a strange song, as their name suggests they sound a little bit like a Grasshopper, but actually their song is more like the whirring noise made by a fishing reel. It is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly where they are singing from because they are master ventriloquists, and can throw their voice. They do this by moving their had side to side when singing, giving the impression that the song is coming from all directions.

Grasshopper Warblers always make me think of my dear, departed Mum. My Mum grew up in County Down in Ireland, in a small fishing village. Just outside the village, along a road called Dunover Road, is a Dun. A Dun is an ancient or medieval fort, and along this road in an adjacent field was an example of such a fort. My Mum was fond of ghost stories, and she said that on a summer's evening, close to the Dun, you could hear the noise of a treadle sewing machine whirring away.

She had heard this noise herself, and the story was that the noise was the restless spirit of a long-departed lady, forever doomed to sew away across the centuries. Now, the Dun is surrounded by a tangle of dense vegetation, and I don't doubt that it will also be wet in places, so perfect habitat for a Grasshopper Warbler! And 'Groppers' are best heard in the still, dense air of evening or early morning. I once played Grasshopper Warbler song to my Mum, and she agreed it sounded like the noise she had heard. But I think she still believed in the old tale of a ghostly maiden, forever bound to the Dun.

The supporting cast on this morning included eighteen Woodpigeons, with seven attendant youngsters, a Willow Warbler (scarce this year), a singing Blackcap, a lovely flock of 22 House Sparrows close to some adjacent houses, an over-flying Siskin and a pair of Reed Buntings from the 'Gropper' wetland.

I'll finish off with a few pictures taken in my garden, during a sunny interlude, of some Buff-tailed Bumblebees and Common Carder Bees. A splash of colour and loveliness!

 Buff-tailed Bumblebee (above & below)

Common Carder Bee (above & below)

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Scraping The Barrel

With a blog title like that you can tell that...well...I am scraping the barrel to keep the blog going, as I have very little to report really. The main problem has been the spell of cold, wet, windy weather we have been having recently, and any good days in between have been taken up with finishing off late breeding bird surveys.

I have only run my moth trap once in the intervening period and I trapped thirteen identifiable species as follows:

Garden Carpet - 1
Anaria Coronata - 1
Marbled Beauty - 10
Bee Moth - 1
Dark Arches - 2
Heart And Dart - 2
Plain Golden Y - 1
Light Emerald - 1
Large Yellow Underwing - 1
Small Angle Shades - 1
Grey Dagger - 1
Grey Pug - 1
Clay Triple-lines - 1

 Plain Golden Y

Grey Dagger

And I caught another Hawthorn Shieldbug! The other bit of garden wildlife to report is a regular Hedgehog(s) coming to my Hedgehog feeding station. I have now got a camera trap, and I have various bits of footage of it coming and going over recent nights. One of these days soon, I'll edit the footage together and I'll post something here.

 Hawthorn Shieldbug

At weekend Gail and I visited our good friends Robert and Diana near Garstang, to check the Barn Owl box in the barn at their farm. Unfortunately, there was just one chick, but it was a good, healthy chick, and as long as the parents can bring plenty of food in, it will fledge successfully.

 Barn Owl

Talking to a friend and fellow ringer of Barn Owls in southwest Lancs, Peter, he was telling me that Barn Owls seem to be having a poor breeding season this year, very probably as a result of a shortage of prey items. He mentioned one brood that had five chicks at first, and when they checked the box at the optimum time for ringing the chicks, there was just two!

This is probably a result of the cyclical nature of the breeding ecology of species such as Barn Owl, that rely on the populations of small rodents such as Short-tailed Vole. These populations vary from year to year, and this has a knock-on effect on a particular breeding season for the Owls.

For my sins, I was in deepest darkest Worcestershire yesterday completing a late second breeding bird survey visit. As is often the case with these surveys, nothing unusual, but some good numbers of some common species, such as four Skylarks, two Swifts, three Blackcaps, six Chiffchaffs, a pair of Kestrels, two Coal Tits, three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 16 Whitethroats, two Song Thrushes and four Linnets.


Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of June. Below you will find the top 3 ringed during the month of June, and the top 7 'movers and shakers' for the year. Nine new species for the year were ringed during June and these were Long-tailed Tit, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Song Thrush, Avocet, Starling, Kestrel and Barn Owl.

Top 3 Ringed in June

1. Sand Martin - 32
2. Pied Flycatcher - 19
3. Willow Warbler - 12

Top 7 Movers and Shakers for the Year

1. Linnet - 115 (same position)
2. Pied Flycatcher - 73 (same position)
3. Sand Martin - 62 (up from 5th)
4. Blue Tit - 49 (down from 3rd)
5. Great Tit - 40 (down from 4th)
6. Blackcap - 14 (straight in)
7. Willow Warbler - 13 (straight in)

Once again, the forecast is looking ropey for the next few days, but if there's an opportunity to get out, I'll take it.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

All Adults

Over recent weeks, as you know, I have struggled to run my moth trap because of various surveys that I have been undertaking. However, so far this week I have managed to run it twice, and it will be on tonight. Okay, I admit I am a bit of an occasional moth-er, but I do try and run it as often as I can.

A first for me in the trap this week was a Hawthorn Shieldbug, which is a large, very brightly coloured (as you can see from the picture below) beastie, mostly apple green covered with dark punctures. What a stonker!

Both catches have been fairly light, and I have combined the totals for both catches below:

Heart and Dart -21
Brimstone Moth - 1
Eyed Hawkmoth - 1
Silver Y - 1
Lesser Yellow Underwing - 2
Bee Moth - 1
Large Yellow Underwing - 1
Marbled Beauty - 1
Dark Arches - 2
Cabbage Moth - 1
Grey Pug - 1
Rustic Shoulder Knot - 1

 Eyed Hawkmoth (above & below)

This morning I had a ringing session at the Obs reedbed, and my catch of just five birds were all adults:

Reed Warbler - 2
Robin - 1
Blackcap - 1
Blackbird - 1


It would seem that there aren't any/many juveniles yet in our catching area, and it will probably be another week before we start seeing some juvenile Reed and Sedge Warblers etc.

The scrape is looking good, and the water levels are dropping nicely, hopefully in time for the start of the return wader passage in a couple of weeks.

 The scrape this morning

From a birding perspective, I had 2,000 Starlings (feeding after exiting their over-night roost), three Swifts, four singing Sedge Warblers, 37 Coots & 4 small young, a singing Lesser Whitethroat, two Stock Doves, a singing Cetti's Warbler, a singing Song Thrush and 15 Little Grebes.

It's a hot evening, so I am going to crack open a few real ales, including a couple of cracking brews from Orkney Brewery and Sulwath Brewery. Cheers!

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Point And Shoot

An alternative Blog title could have been 'what time is it', based on the number of early starts I have had over the past week. The latest I have got up is 5:00 am, and the earliest 3:00 am, all these early starts were to complete breeding bird surveys from various sites between north Cumbria and Worcestershire! By the end of the week, I really did wonder what time is it at times!

I am not a photographer by any means, and on my outings into the 'great outdoors' I always carry my Nikon P900 Coolpix bridge camera with me, because it suits my kind of photography; point and shoot, and hope for the best!

So, the pictures contained in this Blog are various point and shoot captures from my garden to various survey sites over recent days.

Two plant species that I 'snapped' in my garden recently are Alsike Clover and Soft Rush. The Alsike Clover is in my mini-meadow, and the Soft Rush in the rougher margins where anything goes. Although both are very common plants, and in the case of Soft Rush can be a bit of pest depending on what your land management aims are, I think that their flowers are beautiful when you look closely. 

 Alsike Clover

 Soft Rush

At the start of the week I had a survey down in Worcestershire, and sadly I didn't manage to photograph any of the half dozen or so Marbled White butterflies that were floating about, probably because I was too busy counting singing Whitethroats. From a 'birdie' perspective a few of the highlights were two Buzzards, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, three Skylarks (one carrying food), seven singing Chiffchaffs, 15 Whitethroats (eight singing), four singing Song Thrushes and a singing Yellowhammer.

The only point and shoot effort I made was to photograph some Hedgerow Cranesbill.

 Hedgerow Cranesbill

Towards the end of the week I finished my last breeding bird survey at a site in northwest Cumbria. I recorded a good variety of species including a Buzzard, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, eight singing Chiffchaffs, thirteen Willow Warblers (ten singing), seven Sedge Warblers (four singing & one carrying food), six singing Blackcaps, a singing Lesser Whitethroat, five Whitethroats (three singing), a singing Goldcrest, a Nuthatch, five Song Thrushes (two singing & one juvenile), a pair of Stonechats with two juveniles, four Tree Sparrows, a Grey Wagtail, a Siskin, two Linnets, a Lesser Redpoll and ten Reed Buntings (three singing).

 Some of the habitat typical of my survey site in northwest Cumbria

On my walk round there was plenty of Small Tortoiseshell butterflies on the wing, and I managed to photograph one. In a wetter area of vegetation, I photographed some Bittersweet, that has a spectacular looking flower, and is part of the Nightshade family. 

 Small Tortoiseshell


Back to the garden, the other thing that I have to report is that we have a Hedgehog visiting again. A couple of days ago I noticed some Hedgehog scat, so I put the feeding station out with dried cat-food and a bowl of water in, and just after dark that night the Hedgie was there in the feeding station having a good feed. For the past couple of nights, it has returned and has been making use of the feeding station. Fantastic! 

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Return To Curlew Country

Before I get in to the topic of this post, I want to apologise for the quality of the Curlew pictures. These birds were busy alarm calling, and flying round me, giving me grief, which is exactly what they should be doing, and was an excellent sign, as it meant that they had young; good news indeed!


I was back in Bowland on my conservation mad client's farm, and for the first time in years I was walking the lower, more intensive section of the farm below the road. I spend lots of time on the top half of the farm, above the road, where the majority of the conservation management goes on, where the aim is to provide optimum habitat for breeding waders.


Most of the meadows on the farm are on this more intensive (and this is in relative terms) lower part of the farm, and as such this is where a number of the Curlews nest. It was a pleasant morning, and I had nearly full cloud cover with a light southerly wind when I set off on my walk.


I recorded at least 5 - 6 pairs of Curlew, which was the objective for my visit, and they were either still on eggs, or had young, based on their actions e.g. alarm calling and agitated behaviour (chicks) or quietly slipping away through the sward of the meadow (on eggs). I wanted to look at the distribution of the Curlews on this section of the farm, see how many pairs there were, and start looking at ways of improving the habitat for them.

Of course, as I was wandering along looking at and thinking about Curlews, I did jot other bits and pieces down in my notebook. The farm is good for Brown Hares, and I recorded eight animals during my walk.

 Brown Hare

A number of birds were singing from various bits of hedgerow and scrub including two Blackcaps, eight Willow Warblers, two Song Thrushes and a Garden Warbler. There's certainly more Garden Warblers around this spring, so let's hope they have a good breeding season.

An area of species-rich grassland on a small hillock held at least 20 - 30 Chimney Sweeper Moths, and I realised why, when I noticed abundant Pignut throughout the sward in this area. Pignut is the food plant of the Chimney Sweeper Moth caterpillars.

I had two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and also the only raptor species I recorded, Buzzard, numbered two. My best bird, except for the Curlew of course, was a singing Cuckoo, but it was distant alas, and I didn't have any chance of seeing it. Nice to record though!

I finished off with 80 moulting Mallards on one of the numerous wetlands on the farm, and in with them was a single male Tufted Duck.

 Moulting Mallards

The forecast is looking okay at the moment for some ringing on Sunday in the Obs reedbed, so if I get there, I'll let you know how I get on.