Monday, 11 November 2019

The Weary Week That Was

It's been a quiet time for me this past week, in fact it's been quite a weary week weather wise; cold, wet and windy.

However, last Friday dawned bright and clear and I headed to Great Eccleston to have a look at Simon's farm, and give him some advice if needed. Simon owns the site where I have my nest boxes in the Hodder Valley, and in fact we are going to set up a feeding station there, but more of that later.

The farm near Great Eccleston is all grass and it is a livestock farm. It is wet, and contains several floods that look good for wintering wildfowl and hopefully breeding waders. There is little in the way of hedgerows on the farm, but a number will be planted over the winter.

I met Simon in the yard and we headed out on a circular walk around the farm. First up was a Buzzard flying over, and then eight 'whooping' Whooper Swans flew in from the north. The floods were quiet with just a couple of Grey Herons on them.

As we walked along one of the flood embankments 60 - 80 noisy Fieldfares dropped into the trees, before taking to the air again and scattering because of a female Sparrowhawk drifting over.

It was certainly a morning of flyovers because we had three Green Sandpipers go over, two Little Egrets and 160 Pink-footed Geese.

Did he need any advice? No it all looks great, and I look forward to calling in on a semi-regular basis and record what's there.

There was a half chance that it could be fit for ringing on Sunday just gone, so I headed to the reedbed and scrub where we ring at the Obs to check the water levels in our net rides. As I mentioned before it has been very wet of late, and rather than turning up in the dark with all my gear, I just wanted to make sure that it was okay first.

I managed to walk in through the reeds to the net rides, but it was wet, probably half way up my wellies. The net rides were similarly wet at the southern end of them, but dry at the northern end. It was workable, but on balance with the time of year, the likelihood of being able to pull birds down at the very end of the autumn migration, and the fact that the odd bow wave would undoubtedly top over my wellies, I decided to officially close the site until Spring, and took all my ropes off.

I had a look on the pools and there was thirteen Tufted Ducks, 33 Coots, two Shovelers and 68 Herring Gulls. 

Before heading home I decided to have a look at the mouth of the Wyre estuary and have a walk down to the Quay. The walk down to the quay was quiet with just 400 Pink-footed Geese heading northeast. In the Quay as the tide was dropping a few waders were stopping off to feed on the newly exposed mud, including two Curlews, 69 Redshanks, ten Oystercatchers, 46 Black-tailed Godwits and four Dunlins.

 The mouth of the Wyre estuary

 Pink-footed Geese

Yesterday I treated Gail (I did buy her lunch) to an hours work out in the Hodder Valley clearing an area to set up a winter feeding station for ringing. The site holds good numbers of Lesser Redpolls and Siskins, and it is these that we seek to target. So after an hour of sawing, lopping and clearing, we had an area cleared surrounding the proposed feeding station where we could put up three different nets to suit different wind directions. The photo below shows the feeding station with a lonely feeder on it, but by the end of the week there will be another five! We just need the weather now!

 Feeding station

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Just Greenfinch Town This Time

I kicked the week off the week with a ringing session in one of the reedbeds and scrub at the Obs. It was a frosty start and I had clear skies with a 5-10 mph NE wind.

From the word go there was some vis, but as usual under clear skies it was high, and also as I was busy operating mist nets and ringing it was difficult for me to monitor it accurately. So all I am going to mention are the species involved, without counts, and these were Brambling, Fieldfare, Redwing, Goldfinch, Woodpigeon, Starling, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Skylark, Chaffinch and Pink-footed Geese. A couple of the species that I did count were the 482 Jackdaws and four Whooper Swans south.

 Pink-footed Geese

Whooper Swans

A couple of Cetti's Warblers and a Water Rail called from the reeds, and about ten Snipe dropped on to the new scrape. A pair of Stonechats moved around the edge of the pool, and a male and female Sparrowhawk caused mayhem at different times of the morning. The only other raptor I had was a single Kestrel, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker is still fairly noteworthy in this landscape with little tree cover.


I ringed 29 birds as follows:

Fieldfare - 1
Blackbird - 1 (continental male)
Greenfinch - 20 (not a city this morning, rather a town!)
Lesser Redpoll - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 1 (that's 14 for the site this year)
Reed Bunting - 1
Goldfinch - 1
Robin - 1



After I packed up ringing I had a look on the main pool and had 39 Coots, a female Shoveler, Little Grebe and four Tufted Ducks. A Song Thrush also made it into my notebook. 

I'm stuck indoors today catching up on office work, but I do have site visits tomorrow and Friday. However, whilst giving my two Oriental cats an accompanied outing in the garden (they are house cats) I had 100 Jackdaws go north and 200 Fieldfares south. Migration in action from the comfort of one's own garden!

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Cock o' the North

I had the morning free yesterday, so I headed to the Point for first light as there was a tide at about 0700. I was greeted with 4 oktas cloud cover and a 15-20 mph southerly wind. I headed to the end of the dunes where I could get some shelter behind the sea wall from the southerly wind, and also be able to see all around me to count any vis.

Straight away I could hear Chaffinch calls, with that of the 'Cock o' the North', Brambling to me and you, mixed in. Cock o' the North is a name given to Brambling in eastern and southern Scotland. In fact the Brambling has several common/local names and some of my favourites are Bramble Finch (one I use frequently myself), Mountain Finch, Furze Chirper & Furze Chucker (based on it's call), Tartan Back (Scotland; based on the colouration of the upperparts) and Yallawing (Northumberland).

Anyway, back to the vis! I counted 303 Chaffinches heading anywhere between east and west, but mainly south, with six Bramblings mixed in. Both my counts of Chaffinch and Brambling will be huge underestimates as these birds were literally dots in the blue yonder!

The only other birds I had on vis were 44 Starlings, two Alba Wags, eight Greenfinches and six Siskins (again a huge underestimate).

Besides training my eyes and ears skywards, I was also looking seawards as well; an attempt at multi-tasking! There was some movement at, over and on the sea and included nine Auk sp., 27 Common Scoters, six Pintails, two Guillemots, three Whooper Swans, a Shelduck, two Golden Plovers and two Gannets.

 Common Scoters (honest!)

Perhaps the best marine beastie that I had was a Harbour Porpoise fairly close in-shore. I kept seeing it out of the corner of my eye, but every time I waited for it to surface it didn't! Eventually I got onto it and enjoyed watching the surfacing with a rolling motion type thingy that they have going on!

I then bobbed into the cemetery but it was quiet in there other than a stunning adult male Sparrowhawk that 'zipped' low past me and some great migration action from a Dunnock. I watched a Dunnock calling and behaving very agitatedly, and it worked it's way up to the top of the bush that it was in. It then started calling even more, threw itself into the air and it climbed, and climbed, and climbed and headed south! Brilliant!

On my way home I called in at the Nature Park to have a look on the new scrape and already a pair of Mallards, a female Teal and a Little Grebe were on it. Other than that just a Siskin, eleven Goldfinches, 39 Coots and two Cetti's Warblers found their way into my notebook.

The new scrape (above & below). It looks a bit brutal at the moment, but 
once it has settled a bit it will provide some great habitat for waders and 


Monday, 21 October 2019

Greenfinch City

At weekend Alice and I had a ringing session at the Obs in the willow scrub and reedbed of one of the wetlands. The morning dawned with clear skies and there was very little wind, perhaps just the hint of a northeasterly.

We got there in the dark with the aim of trying to catch and ring a few Thrushes. We did ring one continental thrush, in the form of Blackbird, but unfortunately the Fieldfares and Redwings weren't playing ball. A handful were attracted to the MP3 players, but that was it.

Greenfinches were the main ringing feature of the morning, and I commented that it was "Greenfinch city", and Alice said is that going to be the title of your Blog, and it is! Because of prior engagements in the afternoon that we both had (me making final arrangements for Gail's birthday party that night), we had to pack up whilst we were still catching, but nevertheless we managed to ring 54 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Cetti's Warbler - 4 (1)
Reed Bunting - 3
Robin - 1
Chaffinch - 2
Greenfinch - 39 (1)
Blackbird - 1
Goldfinch - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Great Tit - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Wren - (1)


From a birding perspective because we were busy ringing we didn't see a great deal other than 65 Jackdaws, 580 Pink-footed Geese and a female Stonechat.

I was in north Cumbria carrying out tree assessments all day at several sites and it was obvious that there was quite a large arrival of thrushes as I was seeing mainly Redwings and smaller numbers of Fieldfares at all of the five sites that I visited from Penrith to the Solway to the Northumberland border, and everywhere in between!

Fingers crossed I'll be out for a couple of hours tomorrow morning at the Obs.

Friday, 18 October 2019


It was a good vis morning this morning, or should I say it was on the coast where Ian was located, but even over the Nature Park where I was, there was quite a bit of vis, or at least I was hearing a variety of species even though I couldn't see them high up in the stratosphere. More of that later!

Ian and I have been working with Lancashire County Council at the Nature Park, within the Obs recording area, advising on some habitat management works to help improve the biodiversity of the site. Yesterday morning contractors started working on one of the shallow pools, with the aim to open it up by removing the non-native invasive New Zealand pygmyweed Crassula helmsii and areas of encroaching Common Reed. This will make the site more suitable to passage waders and wintering wildfowl.

I visited the Nature Park to see how the contractors doing the work were getting on, and they are doing a cracking job. It should all be finished by the weekend, and then it will be a case of monitoring and seeing how the birds utilise the newly created pools. I've included a few pictures below of the work in progress.

I was only on site for just over an hour and I mentioned that there was some vis. I had lots of registrations of calls, but as the birds were so high I couldn't see them, so the totals produced here are actually quite meaningless, but nevertheless on vis I had eleven Skylarks, four Greenfinches, seven Meadow Pipits, nine Reed Buntings, seven Chaffinches, 730 Pink-footed Geese, six Siskins, 163 Jackdaws, a Rook, a Snipe and three Goldfinches

 Some of the Jackdaws (above & below)

I counted the wildfowl and allies on the pools and there were 45 Coots, ten Tufted Ducks, 23 Mallards, three Mute Swans, three Moorhens and a Little Grebe. Other bits of interest included a Goldcrest, a Water Rail, a Raven and a singing Cetti's Warbler.


 Tufted duck

The forecast is looking okay for ringing this weekend, and next week high pressure is building and hopefully bringing in more calm conditions suitable for the arrival of some more autumn migrants. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Immersed On The Merse

Earlier this week I had some tree assessments to do in Red Kite country in Dumfries and Galloway, and if you were to draw an imaginary line from Dalbeattie, to Castle Douglas to Balmaclellan at the top of Loch Ken, all of my tree assessments weren't far from this line. And this is well and truly Kite country! In fact driving between my site visits I probably had in the region of 15-20 sightings of Red Kite.

Gail and I had a lovely overnight stay at our regular B & B, Douglas House, that we stay at in Castle Douglas, and the following morning we headed off to Mersehead RSPB for a mornings birding immersed on the merse! As we set off to explore one of our favourite reserves, we had 7 oktas cloud cover with a brisk southwesterly wind.

We headed along the path to the shore on the Solway first of all, and the path takes you between the merse and some extensive grazed pastures frequented by Barnacle Geese, for which the reserve is very important for. If it had been a less windy morning there would quite possibly have been a few migrants in the Gorse hedgerow between the merse and the pasture, but this morning we had to make do with thirteen Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Goldcrests.

Below are a few shots of what is my favourite goose, the Barnace Goose!

In the extensively grazed wet pasture were 609 Barnacle Geese, 140 Lapwings and 400 Teal on the floods. I read later in the day that at the moment there are 700 Barnacle Geese at Mersehead. The path then headed across the merse to the shore, and it was quiet here except for 15 Skylarks, 16 Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting. Fly-overs as we walked along were a single Swallow, a Buzzard and a pair of Goosanders.

It was quiet along the shore, but the views along the white shell beach and the Solway were gorgeous and there wasn't another soul other than Gail and I. We reached the woodland that runs from the middle of the reserve to the coast, that always looks good for migrants, but it always seems to be windy when we're here and all we could muster were two more Goldcrests and a couple of Chiffchaffs.

 The Solway shore

We headed to the first hide overlooking the main pool and counted an additional 200 Teal, plus 55 Wigeons and six Pintail. Below are some pictures of the views overlooking the pool from this hide.

We then headed back to the visitor centre, with three Red Admirals along the way, to have a look at the feeding station outside the main viewing window. It was alive with Chaffinches (20) and Tree Sparrows (15), with lesser numbers of Greenfinches (8-10) and House Sparrows (5).

So, nothing amazing, but it was nice to be out on a great reserve in a lovely part of the world.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Quieter Than Quiet

I was hoping that there would have been a few grounded migrants around yesterday morning, based on the previous night's Redwing movement and on the forecast. During darkness on Friday evening I kept periodically sticking my head outside to have a listen, and noted that Redwings were on the move. Combine that with easterly winds, clear skies and with cloud rolling in pre-dawn it looked like a recipe for a few grounded migrants, not the quieter than quiet morning that ensued!

I called at the Cemetery first of all and it was a tad cold with 7 oktas cloud cover and a 10-15 mph south-easterly wind. I mention the fact that it was a tad cold because sometimes it has to warm up a bit for migrants to start 'jumping about'!

So far so good, except the wind was south-easterly rather than easterly, but that wouldn't matter. Was there any grounded migrants? Answer; not really! A few excitable Robins, 8, and Dunnocks, 5, but that was it. I then headed to the coastal park, and met Ian, and again that was quiet other than three Goldcrests and a flock of six Mistle Thrushes that dropped in.


Over both sites there was a little vis and this included six Meadow Pipits, three Chaffinches, three Redwings, a Song Thrush (with the Redwings) five Goldfinches, four Linnets, 460 Pink-footed Geese (all NE), two Grey Wagtails, and an Alba Wag. An immature male Sparrowhawk shot through the vegetation of the Coastal Park and that was it!

 Pink-footed Geese

Lots of observers in the northwest have been commenting on the low numbers of vis and a lack of grounded migrants. Along the east and south coasts of the UK birders are recording large numbers of birds, and it has been a record breaking year for Meadow Pipit numbers at many sites, but not here. We can only speculate as to why this is, and probably more of the Autumn needs to unfold before we can make any informed guesses as to what is going on.