Friday, 31 July 2015


We deployed a full team last night at the pools for the Swallow roost and when Ian, Graham, Kim, Huw and I got to the pools the westerly wind was dropping and it was looking good for catching and ringing a few Swallows. We just needed there to be a few birds there. The weather over the past few days has been pretty poor and this tends to break the roost up as there isn't the turnover of birds due to a lack of birds migrating. Clear, calm days induce Swallows to move and when this happens large numbers of birds stop off at the roost site. We estimated that there was about 400 Swallows roosting and they came in quite late presumably taking advantage to feed as late as possible.


We put two nets up in the reeds and caught a few birds before the roosting Swallows arrived. We ringed 57 birds as follows:

Swallow - 44
Sand Martin - 4
Reed Warbler - 5
Sedge Warbler - 1
Goldfinch - 1
Linnet - 2

Prior to the roost there was about thirty House Martins feeding over the pools with about ten Swifts. There was little on the pools other than a Little Grebe, three Coots, a Mute Swan and five Mallards. Swallows weren't the only birds roosting at the site and long before the Swallows came in 2,500 Starlings dropped in to roost. Starlings arrive at their roost at this time of year long before dusk and they leave the roost long after first light.

It's looking a bit unsettled this weekend, but hopefully I should be able to squeeze something in.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Hat And Gloves In July!

The real ale was flowing nicely last night as I had just taken a delivery of Orkney Brewery ales and therefore I didn't roll out of my pit until 5.30 a.m. I headed to the Obs to do some seawatching, but unfortunately the wind was northwesterly which is far from ideal here. The other fly in the ointment was the heat haze, but at least the views across the bay to the Lakes were as pleasant as always.

 Looking across the bay in the early morning light towards the Lakeland 
Fells (above and below).

Even though I didn't get up until 5.30 a.m. I was still in position looking out at the sea just after six and it was cold. In fact it was cold enough for hat and gloves! I spent an hour and a half struggling with the heat haze and moaning to myself about the wind direction, before reminding myself that it was only July after all.

Other than Gannets it was quiet out at sea and my totals included ten Cormorants, just one Sandwich Tern, 29 Gannets, an Auk sp. and six Common Scoters.

The only vis I had was a single Swift that headed northeast across the Bay. In fact it might not have been vis at all and could easily have been a late breeding bird heading to south Cumbria to forage for aerial invertebrates. Swifts nesting in Suffolk are known to cross the North Sea to Belgium to forage and bring back invertebrates for dependant young in the nest. 

High tide was virtually the same time as when I arrived so I didn't have time to look at the wader roost as I wanted to get straight on with looking at the sea, but a few waders flew past as the tide dropped including seven Ringed Plovers, 78 Dunlins and 60 Sanderlings.

There's rain coming in tomorrow, but I should get a couple of hours birding in before the rain arrives as long as I don't have too many of those Orkney ales again!

Friday, 24 July 2015

A Few More Reeds

Ian and I had another ringing session in the reedbed this morning and as earlier in the week it was quiet again. The weather conditions were similar with 7 oktas cloud cover and a light southeasterly breeze.

July is shaping up to be a very poor month for ringing and this is probably a reflection of the poor breeding season as a result of the cold wet weather we had in spring. The only species that seems to be doing okay is Reed Warbler and this is probably because it arrives that bit later than other species such as Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler for example. This means that when we had the week of cold wet weather in late May a lot of Reed Warblers would still have been on eggs whilst the species listed above would have had small young and the adults would have struggled to find invertebrate food to feed them, resulting large scale losses of broods.

 Reed Warbler

We managed to ring one more bird than Wednesday with eleven ringed as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Whitethroat - 1 (1)
Great Tit - 1
Goldfinch - 2
Reed Warbler - 4 (1)
Sedge Warbler - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Willow Warbler - 1


We also controlled a Reed Warbler with quite an old ring on it based on the colouration of the ring and the number on it. It will be interesting to see where it has come from.

Birding was even slower than the ringing if that's possible and all I can report is 1,500 Starlings exiting the roost, 16 House Martins and six Swifts on a feeding circuit and a few Pied Wagtails flying over from their roost site.

The forecast is looking a bit grim for the weekend and into next week. It will be too windy for any ringing tomorrow and too wet for anything on Sunday! As there's a morning tide I'll have a look on the sea as early as I can make it after a few real ales this evening!

From Fleetwood To Fair Isle

This isn't a tale of a pilgrimage from Fleetwood to the most famous bird observatory in the world! It is just a post to let you know of a cracking recovery we just received from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) regarding a Lesser Redpoll.

The information came through yesterday that a Lesser Redpoll that we ringed at Rossall School, Fleetwood on 7th April 2013 had been controlled (captured by another ringer) on Fair Isle on 22nd June 2015!!! That was amazing enough in itself as this is the first bird we (Fylde Ringing Group) have had go to Fair Isle. However when I looked the bird up on Integrated Population Monitoring Reporter (IPMR - the software used to record ringed birds in the UK) I could see that on 25th May 2014 this bird had also been controlled at Grantown-On-Spey in northeastern Scotland. Grantown-On-Spey is 381 km  north of Rossall School and Fair Isle 632 km north. See Google Earth image below.

 Click to make it bigger.

Often these 'recoveries' throw up more questions than they answer. What was this bird doing on Fair Isle on 22nd June? It wouldn't be breeding there as there isn't the Birch woodland habitat on fair Isle that they require. Was it heading further north and east into Scandinavia, or was it on it's way back from Scandinavia having perhaps failed to breed? We'll never know, but it is a fantastic piece of data nevertheless.

A, but not 'the', Lesser Redpoll

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Mainly Reeds

After two hours sleep you can't beat getting up at 0430 to go ringing! Maybe not the two hours sleep, but I was looking forward to a good ringing session this morning. I met Kim and Ian at the reedbeds at 0530 and we proceeded to put three nets up in the willow scrub. We had full cloud cover with a 5 mph ESE wind.

It seemed very quiet when we were putting the nets up and our ringing totals confirmed this with just ten birds ringed as follows:

Reed Warbler - 8
Willow Warbler - 1
Whitethroat - 1


From a birding perspective it was quiet too. About a thousand Starlings exited their reedbed roost, a long way from our nets thankfully, and the only other thing of note were the small numbers of House Martins and Swifts hawking insects low down. In fact we cut another ride that we will hopefully be able to tape lure the House Martins down to, so I'll let you know how that works when we next go.

I had a look on the pools on my way out and there were 24 Coots, a male Pochard, twelve Little Grebes and eight Tufted Ducks.

It's looking like Friday morning for our next ringing session, so I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


I must have been living in a cave for a while as I had never heard of 'Biofilm' until reading the journal of Bird Studies Canada (BSC) Birdwatch Canada Summer 2015 - Number 72 and an article entitled 'When Important Bird Areas are Urban Areas'. BSC is the Canadain equivalent of the BTO.

This article was about the importance of particular estuarine systems on the Pacific Flyway, and in this case the Fraser River Estuary IBA, and it went on to say that shorebirds were previously thought to stop over in the estuary and feed on intertidal invertebrates (my understanding too). However, it was recently discovered that they are also feeding on 'biofilm' (also known as 'magic mud'), which is a thin layer of sugars and microbes that grows on the surface of mudflats!

Microscopic analysis of the tongues of Western Sandpipers has revealed minuscule bristle structures, described as being like toothbrushes, that are used to slurp up large quantities of this rich, slimy food source. Amazing!

 Western Sandpiper (courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Apparently Biofilm sugars are easily digestible, and are thought to be a very efficient energy source to fuel completion of the final major leg of the spring journey from south Central America to the Arctic tundra to breed. The author's of the article, Catherine Jardine and Peter Davidson, posed the important question of how might human activities impact the health and productivity of biofilm in the Fraser River Estuary IBA, and indeed in estuarine environments around the world? It made me wonder whether any research into this has been carried out on biofilm on estuarine habitats over here.

This spring, BSC in collaboration with other leading experts in the field published a study investigating the diet composition of migratory waders. They wanted to determine how much biofilm they consumed within the Fraser River Estuary IBA. The study used an analysis of nitrogen and carbon, which come in different forms called isotopes. By looking at the ratios in each of the waders' prey items compared to the ratios in their droppings, it is possible to determine how much of each prey type the birds are eating. 

Remarkably the study found that Western Sandpipers consume biofilm throughout the stopover site, and biofilm made up a conservative estimate of between one quarter and one half of Western Sandpiper droppings, depending on where the birds were feeding. These results confirm that biofilm is an important component of their diet and again it got me thinking about some of the wader species on estuaries over here.

I knew nothing about biofilm until reading this article and it is quite possible that I have missed something and all of you know about it and are shouting out "where have you been these past few years!". It just goes to show that we are all still learning and how important this kind of research is.

Fingers crossed I'll have some ringing news for you tomorrow!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Am I Becoming A Lighweight?

It was a case of 'what to do this morning?'. The forecast for the weekend was disappointing as at this time of year my priority is to get into the reedbeds ringing, but the forecast was too windy for today (Saturday) and it's forecast to be wet at the critical time tomorrow morning. Nevertheless I still set my alarm this morning and when I got up at 0500 I was not sure what to do.

It was blowing a hoolie and I would normally do some seawatching off the Obs., but it was low tide at this time of day and at the best spot the tide would be a long way out. It is possible to sea watch at low tide at the Obs, but this involves sitting on a shingle beach leaning against a concrete wall or standing up and being buffeted to pieces! Neither inspired me so I decided to head to the estuary.

Where I access the estuary is down a track off the main road adjacent to a few properties and I couldn't believe it when I got there as there was nowhere to park! The track was full of cars with not a single space. In all the decades that I have birded here I have never not been able to park! I have got there some times with just a few spaces left, but today you couldn't have even parked a bike!

Now I must becoming a lightweight as I could have abandoned my car in a dodgy position on the main road, and once upon a time I would have been so desperate to bird at any cost I would have just left my car with no further thought about it. However today I decided that risking my car on the main road wasn't worth it, I couldn't be be bothered getting a numb arse sitting on shingle, nor did I want to be buffeted in the wind as I hate it when my scope and tripod shake and vibrate in the wind! I'm either becoming a lightweight, or maybe I'm just getting older and wiser!

The forecast for first light tomorrow is heavy rain clearing eastwards with a 15-20 mph wind. I'll set my alarm, but I have a feeling I will be turning it off and rolling over.