Saturday, 9 March 2019

Routine

There is always something of interest when out in the natural world, that's the nature of it, but sometimes it is less exciting and perhaps a bit more routine. And routine it was yesterday morning,when I was at one of my wintering bird survey sites close to home. This site comprises of intensive grassland, a small area of even-aged woodland and a small stretch of a tidal watercourse. In fact it has routine written all over it!

I knew that rain was going to come in around lunchtime, and I had to get three and half hours of survey time in before the rain arrived. When I started my survey I had full cloud cover with a 10-15 mph SW wind, and by the end it was raining! Thankfully the rain started off quite light, and it only increased in intensity for the last twenty minutes of the survey when I was back under some shelter at my VP.

Bordering the site is a Rookery with about twenty pairs of Rooks in residence. They were coming and going all morning flying from the Rookery to feeding areas and back again, and were quite entertaining. Chaffinches were mainly paired up with several singing males dotted about the site, but there was still a flock of fifteen mobile birds moving around feeding areas.

A pair of Jays were knocking about the woodland, as were four Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Coal Tits. Two Grey Herons, two Moorhens, two Grey Wagtails, two Lapwings, two Mute Swans and two Song Thrushes had a bit of a 'two' theme going on. And a Kestrel was the only raptor of the morning.

I came across some jelly fungi, which shame on me I didn't know what it was even though it is very common! It was Yellow brain Tremella mesenterica, well I think it is unless somebody tells me it isn't it.

 Yellow brain

The only other photo that I took was of some lovely Blackthorn blossom, and that alongside the green buds of the Hawthorn and the Hazel catkins, showed that the hedgerows and woodland are finally waking up. 

 Blackthorn

It's been a day of strong winds and showers today, and I haven't ventured forth, and it's forecast for more of the same tomorrow, so it seems unlikely that I'll get out. Monday is looking better, so I might leave it until then.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Trusting The Forecast

Yesterday I was in deepest, darkest Cheshire carrying out the penultimate visit to my wintering bird survey site. When I got up at 4:45 am it was windy and wet here in coastal Lancashire, so I decided to check the forecast for my survey site in Cheshire, and the weather people said it would be clear with a moderate breeze! Now, I've done this before when the weather has been rubbish at home, but it has been good for my survey site, and I have set off and low and behold it has been rubbish at my survey site too! However, for some reason I decided to trust the forecast and I headed off to my site and I was greeted with just 1 okta cloud cover, with a 10 - 15 mph SW wind. So the forecast was spot on!

It was indeed a glorious morning, and it was made all the more glorious by the three singing Skylarks I encountered, and the flock of five Buzzards thermalling in the warm morning air. Definite proof of how good the weather was. On the subject of raptors I had a male Peregrine head purposefully south, and it was escorted off the premises by a pair of Lapwings.

The Lapwings were displaying in one of the four fields of maize stubbles that I survey at this site, and one or two other species were making use of the stubble as well. I had a flock of 42 Linnets that were in a particularly weedy stubble, and I think this has been the secret, as they were in a different maize stubble earlier in the winter that too was a tad weedy. I don't normally associate maize stubble as being particularly good for anything, but there was obviously some feed value in these.

 Fourteen of the 42 Linnets

Another stubble held a flock of 47 Meadow Pipits and 23 Pied Wagtails, so I had something to count! I've mentioned the Snipe that roost in this particularly large field with maize stubble before, I know, and this morning I put up 36 birds as I walked across.

Fieldfares and Redwings were also a feature of the morning and I had 92 and 33 of each respectively. A male Reed Bunting, a male Yellowhammer and a Tree Sparrow flew the farmland bird flag, but that was about it.

 Redwing

It's looking fairly unsettled for the remainder of the week, and Friday is looking like the only morning I'll be able to get out at the moment. I'll keep you posted as always.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

No Scotland

I was at my survey site in northwest Cumbria again yesterday, and thankfully it wasn't fog bound like the last time I visited, just a tad murky with no Scotland visible. It was however a great morning's birding, well I thought so anyway!

I had clear skies with a 10-15 mph southeasterly wind, and perhaps a little bit stronger at times, when I set off on my transect walk and later VP watch. Birds were on the move straight away, and the direction of passage varied between and within species. Some individuals were flying down wind in the strongish wind, heading anywhere between north and east, which is to be expected in the spring, whilst others headed south in to the wind to gain lift. In fact some of the southwards heading birds dropped in front of the cliff face to get shelter from the easterly element of the stiff southerly.

Chaffinches headed north as expected, but my notebook only records three, and this was because I could hear birds but couldn't see them, so there was obviously more. A couple of Reed Buntings headed north and they weren't phased by the brisk tail-wind either. Meadow Pipits seemed to employ both strategies; nine headed NE and two south into the wind.

The Siskins and Goldfinches were some of the more interesting movers during the morning with most of them heading south and below the cliff top, to gain shelter from the wind...I think! I had 28 Siskins and 16 Goldfinches.

Later in the morning I heard Crossbill calling and looked up and saw a flock of twenty birds heading south. I just assumed that one, or perhaps two birds, had latched on to some Goldfinches or Siskins. I lifted my bins to count them and was surprised to see all twenty were Crossbills, and a mix of gorgeous red males and green females!

As I was packing up at my VP watch point I heard the familiar honking behind me of Whooper Swans, and fifteen birds headed due west out to sea. I thought this was an odd direction as they were heading straight for the Ards Peninsula in Ireland, but they then turned and headed northeast in to the Firth.

Whooper Swans

The Skylark flock had reduced in number that have been over-wintering in the stubbles, and this morning all I had were 29. A few Skylarks were also on the move and six headed purposefully north. Two Grey Partridges were nice to see, and one of the two male Stonechats I had was giving some song. In addition to the two males I also had a female.

 Stonechat

Raptors were represented by two Kestrels, a female and a male, and a male Peregrine that motored past me carrying prey. Two Goldcrests were definitely new in, but the two Rock Pipits on the edge of the cliffs had been around all winter.

 Kestrel

The sea was quiet and all I had was a Fulmar, a Great Crested Grebe, four Auk sp., three Red-throated Divers, a Guillemot, six Common Scoters and interestingly a male Goosander.

So all in all a good job of work and an enjoyable morning's birding!

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

A Smattering Of Farmland Birds

It was Cheshire again for me this morning and my farmland wintering bird survey site to be more precise. The weather was glorious with clear skies and a light southeasterly breeze.

As I drove along the track to the site I was greeted by two Buzzards perched up in a tree right next to the track! Where was my camera? In the boot of course! It is a good site for Buzzards and I added a further three on my walk round.

The hedgerows and hedgerow trees are starting to fill up with birds and it is always a pleasure to record Long-tailed Tits, five this morning, and singing Yellowhammer, plus a site first in the form of a Treecreeper was nice.

The Yellowhammer was part of the smattering of farmland birds that I recorded this morning and other members of this group included six Skylarks, three Stock Doves, a nice flock of 80 Linnets, three Tree Sparrows, four Lapwings (including one displaying), a female Reed Bunting and a singing Song Thrush.

 Distant Lapwing

The numbers of Fieldfares have dropped since my last visit, and this morning I only recorded nine. I have mentioned before the Snipe that unusually, unusually to me anyway, roost in some maize stubble, and this morning when I walked this particular field I pushed up 24! I tried scanning ahead to see if I could see any of them on the ground, but without any success.

 A number of Pied Wagtails were also in the maize stubble

It's a good old fashioned early alarm call tomorrow for me, somewhere in the region of 4:00 am, to head north to northwest Cumbria. Let's hope that it isn't foggy again!

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Foggy Firth

An alternative blog title, or sub-title might have been Follow Your Instincts to describe this morning's survey, or should I say lack of survey, because I should have followed my instincts and stayed at home. Read on!

Gail and I rose to a 4:30 am alarm and got all of our kit together, and when I went out to put it in the car it was foggy. Flippin' 'eck, or words to that effect, fell from my mouth and I dashed back inside to check the weather forecasts...again! Last night the forecast for northwest Cumbria, around the Solway Firth area, was fine; light cloud with a 5 mph ENE wind and moderate visibility. Spot on! Another look this morning and it did indeed show fog for northwest Cumbria, but clearing by 0800. That was on the BBC weather app., so I checked the Met Office forecast and XC, and all agreed. Great, back out to the car and off we set.

The drive north varied from light mist, to fog, to clear skies and everywhere in between. We arrived at our coastal survey site and it was foggy. In fact you can see what it was like from the picture below taken from my VP location.



We decided to do the transect first in the hope that the sun would burn the fog away, but it wasn't to be. On our walk round we recorded four Skylarks (three of them singing), eleven Meadow Pipits, at least one Grey Partridge, three Song Thrushes (two singing) and a single Rock Pipit.

Back at the VP and it hadn't changed, it still looked like the above shot, so we packed in and headed home. I'm back there later in the week, so I'm looking forward to some decent weather this time.

Two first for the year visitors in the garden this evening; Common Plume moth and Hedgehog. It was great to see the hedgehog again, and you might remember from last autumn all the under weight youngsters I had to rescue! Let's hope that this year they don't have as late a litter, fingers crossed.

Friday, 22 February 2019

A Raptor Kind Of Day

After declaring that I would be out surveying at least four days this week, three of the days fell through! On Monday access wasn't arranged in time for the site that I was at today, Tuesday I set off for northwest Cumbria and it rained all the way from home to Penrith, so I turned round and headed home, and Wednesday the forecast changed from a dry picture to a wet one! So today was my first time out in the field this week!

My site close to the River Wyre this morning is potentially influenced by the tide so I have to do a series of low and high water visits, and today it was a high water visit, so with a mid-day high tide it was a late morning start time. It was a very pleasant morning and afternoon, with just one okta cloud cover and a light-moderate southeasterly wind. The southeasterly wind was warm, and it made it feel like a raptor kind of day.

I did have a few raptors actually in the form of at least six Buzzards, a female Kestrel and a female Sparrowhawk. I thought a couple of the Buzzards were possibly migrants as they headed east and north on the kettles of warm air.

 Buzzard (with its back to us!)

Finches were represented by 15 Goldfinches, eleven Chaffinches and a single Siskin that headed north. The Siskin was probably on vis, and the two Skylarks I had certainly were. Only four Pink-footed Geese this morning and a group of 64 Lapwings headed high east; continental birds?

In the woodland I noted five Long-tailed Tits and single Jay and Song Thrush, and out on some of the pasture were 211 Jackdaws.

My favourite bird was a Woodcock that I put up from some scrub adjacent to some woodland. Other than that I have to mention all the Hazel catkins that looked resplendent shimmering in the spring sunshine. 

 Hazel

The moth trap is on in the garden as I type, and I'm going to check the water levels in the reedbed tomorrow morning. I know I won't be able to get in, but I want to see just how much water is in there to try and gauge if I can get some ringing done there in early spring.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Timing Is Everything

Timing is everything, and this morning Gail and I got our timing wrong. We had to go and get some logs for our wood burner and our plan was to have a look at the quay on the falling tide. We like looking at the quay on the falling tide as the mudflats here are the first to reappear, and therefore have the effect of concentrating any waders looking for somewhere to feed.

 The Quay

However, when we arrived the tide was only just falling and very little mud was revealed, so we could have done with being there at least half an hour later. So, this blog post will be very short. In fact the above waffle will be longer than the bit out the birds!

 Waders on a small area of exposed mud

On the exposed mud we had 138 Redshanks, ten Dunlin, five Shelducks, seven Oystercatchers and a Curlew. Seven Teal flew in, and that was it. Like I said short and sweet!

 Shelduck

Oh, and there was nothing in my trap this morning again!

I'm out surveying at least Mon - Wed this week, and probably Friday as well, so hopefully I will have something to report.