Sunday, 13 August 2017

A Small Arrival

Conditions overnight were clear and at 11:00 pm last night I was watching the Perseid meteor shower in the garden with Gail when I suddenly realised I needed to get to bed as I was up in less than five hours! The clear conditions led Ian and I to believe that it would be a 'clear out night', and it was to a certain extent, but there was definitely a small arrival this morning.

At first light we had clear skies with a 5 mph NNW wind and it was cool, a definite nip in the air! We put the nets up in one of the Obs reedbeds and retired to our cars for a coffee. About a dozen Alba Wags went over after exiting their roost, but their numbers were dwarfed by the twelve thousand (well about that anyway) Starlings that came out of another reedbed roost.

A Little Egret went over one way and a young female Sparrowhawk shot through the other. There was even a bit of 'vis' this morning with eight Swallows, two Swifts and 25 House Martins drifting south. A couple of calling Willow Warblers that avoided the nets were new in, and it was the ringing that gave us the real feel of there being a small arrival.

We ringed 16 birds as follows:

Reed Warbler - 11
Whitethroat - 3
Wren - 1
Song Thrush - 1

 Reed Warbler

Yet again I'm playing catch up with work this week, and my plan is to try and clear everything by mid-late September and take the whole of October off to give the Obs a serious grilling for a month. But don't tell Gail!

Friday, 11 August 2017

July's Ringing Totals

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of July. We are 444 down on where we were last year, which will take some catching up. 

Four new species were added to the species ringed for the year in the form of Song Thrush, Lesser Whitethroat, Treecreeper and Starling.

 Song Thrush

The top five ringed for the month of July and the top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year are listed below.

Top 5 Ringed in July

1. Sand Martin - 57
2. Swallow - 49
3. Reed Warbler - 34
4. Blackcap - 18
5. Greenfinch - 14

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Blue Tit - 91 (same position)
2. Goldfinch - 90 (down from 1st)
3. Pied Flycatcher - 79 (same position)
4. Lesser Redpoll - 70 (same position)
5. Sand Martin - 66 (up from 9th)
6. Linnet - 59 (down from 5th)
7. Swallow - 51 (straight in)
8. Reed Warbler - 48 (straight in)
9. Great Tit - 41 (down from 6th)
10. Blackcap - 58 (straight in)

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Fisher Queen

A second day ringing on the bounce has been a rarity so far this Autumn at the Obs, but this morning Ian and I were back in the reedbed for the second morning in succession. At first light we were greeted with 6 oktas cloud cover and a 10 - 15 mph W wind.

Like yesterday, it was fairly quiet on the birding front. The Starlings were still late up from the other reedbed but this morning there was about 8,000; I probably missed half of them yesterday! A Little Egret overhead and a Kingfisher that zipped past and in to a mist net, was the best of the rest.

We ringed twelve birds as follows:

Reed Warbler - 2
Sedge Warbler - 1
Reed Bunting - 5
Blue Tit - 2
Great Tit - 1
Kingfisher - 1

 Kingfisher - 1CY female

It's likely to be next weekend before I am back out on the patch again as I've a lot of work to get through this week, some of it entails site visits, so there might be something to report.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Back In The Reedbed

I had the nets up this morning by 5:30 a.m. and conditions were okay, but not perfect. I had one oktas cloud cover and the wind was 10 - 15 mph northwesterly.  However, it was good to be back in the reedbed ringing.

The view from the ringing table early this morning

Starlings are late risers I've noticed, not for them up and feeding at the crack of dawn! It's a good hour after first light before they make an appearance, rising from their reedbed roost in more or less one large wave. From where I was ringing I could see approximately 4,000 Starlings exiting another of the Obs reedbeds to the south. Swallows are just the opposite and they leave their reedbed roost in the half-light. In fact they both differ when they come in to roost as well; Starlings arrive early and Swallows late. So to sum up, Starlings go to bed early and get up late, whilst Swallows go to bed late and get up early! I know a Hairy Birder who's a bit like a Swallow!


During my ringing session of a couple of hours I didn't see anything of real note. Of course my notebook is full of details of sightings of about thirty species, as I like to record everything I see and hear, but there wasn't anything that really stood out.

I ringed 20 birds as follows:

Reed Warbler - 5
Great Tit - 1
Whitethroat - 2
Lesser Whitethroat - 3
Greenfinch - 9

 Lesser Whitethroat

Where are all the Sedge Warblers? We ring twice as may Reed Warblers as Sedge Warblers these days, so something is going on.

I'm out again in the morning with Ian, so fingers crossed for a few more birds!

Friday, 4 August 2017

MG6 or is it MG7?

The problem of surveying MG6 and MG7 type grassland habitats for birds, is that by their nature they tend to be in impoverished agricultural landscapes where Lolium perenne  or Perennial ryegrass dominates! And I had one such survey to complete earlier in the week.

It was a bit touch and go with the weather, but I managed to squeeze the survey in before the forecast rain arrived from the south. I was in Lancashire in a landscape of intensive grassland, with fairly heavily trimmed hedges and the odd mature hedgerow tree. Some heavy overnight rain had lead to some splashy conditions in one of the fields that attracted a few birds. Ten Mallards sailed around on the flood, and an attendant flock of 108 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 11 Common Gulls and 62 Black-headed Gulls searched for any ground invertebrates that found themselves close to the surface.

I recorded nothing out of the ordinary in this bright green, nitrogen fuelled landscape other than ten Stock Doves, four House Sparrows, 23 House Martins, a Tree Sparrow, three Swifts, a Willow Warbler and a Whitethroat. I did record other more common species of course, but nothing worth troubling you all with.

It's looking like I might actually get some ringing in over the next couple of days in one of the reedbeds at the Obs, so fingers crossed that the wind continues to decrease overnight!  

Monday, 31 July 2017

Old Cut

I apologise for the lack of postings of late and this has been down to a combination of poor weather and all my birding being site visits for work, and I am sure you are fed up about hearing of these! So by way of keeping the blog going I picked an old notebook off the shelf from 1989. I am fortunate in having all my field notebooks from when I started birding in 1976 and they are a great source of nostalgia. They also highlight the changes in the fortunes of some bird populations; some good, but mainly bad!

In 1989 I was fortunate enough to spend nearly a year volunteering at Long Point Bird Observatory near Port Rowan in southern Ontario, Canada. On this day, 31st July, in 1989 I was at the Old Cut field station preparing for a period of daily recording at the end of Long Point known as the Tip. Old Cut was the field station at the base of Long Point, which is the promontory that stretches 20 miles in to Lake Erie from it's northern shore line. In addition to the two field stations already mentioned there is Breakwater that is about five miles out along the spit. It's a bit like Spurn Point on steroids!

Old Cut is surrounded by summer cottages and other residential buildings close to the lake shore, and the main habitat at the field station is scrubby woodland associated with marshes and wetland.

The majority of the day on 31st July 1989 was spent procuring provisions for a two week stint at the Tip. Our task was to open the field station at the end of Long Point for the autumn season. This would entail clearing the mist net rides, putting up the mist nets and carrying out any repairs on the Helgoalnd trap there. So the birding at Old Cut on this day was limited.

My notebook tells me that it was warm with two oktas cloud cover and just two birds were banded (ringed); a Least Flycatcher and a Barn Swallow. The most interesting bird was an immature Bald Eagle that flew over during the morning and Caspian Terns were flying over the field station to various feeding areas on the lake, and I counted 15 (the following day I counted 65). Thirty Black Ducks wasn't unusual and neither was the ten Cedar Waxwings. It always felt most odd encountering Waxwings (although not our waxwing the Bohemian in North America) on a warm sunny day, when we usually associate them with winter birding!

Other bits and pieces from my notebook that day were four Pine Siskins, a Forsters Tern, four Green Herons (Green-backed Heron then) and two Black-crowned Night Herons.

Firmly back in the 21st Century the forecast isn't great for the week ahead with the position of the jet stream leading to a conveyor belt of westerly weather systems. Oh well, I might have to look at an old notebook again!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Back On The Patch Via Cumbria

I seem to spend all my time apologising for not posting too much recently, and my usual excuse is that I have been busy. I suppose I'm lucky in that when I am busy it means that I am busy with conservation related work, so busy, long days at work are days out in the field generally observing and recording wildlife!

I've been in Cumbria these past ten days. Earlier during this period I was in the southwest along the Furness peninsula. Highlights at this newly planted woodland site included a Grey Wagtail, eight Linnets, two Chiffchaffs, two Stock Doves, four Siskins, three Willow Warblers, a Song Thrush, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Blackcap and a Sedge Warbler.

Later in the ten day period I was in north Cumbria not far from Wigton, and I had Gail assisting me with my bird and tree survey. Highlights here included a Yellowhammer, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Lesser Redpolls, two House Sparrows, a Chiffchaff, four Willow Warblers, five Stock Doves, a Buzzard and a Tree Sparrow.

As the morning warmed up a few butterflies were on the wing, including the Comma below, that was one of a group of five nectaring on some Thistles; gorgeous!


This morning I was back out on the patch at the Obs. I headed to the Point under five oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph southeasterly wind. Out in the bay it was both murky and the sea surface had a heat haze over it, not overly conducive to sea watching!

There was just a smattering of vis with three Swallows and a Sand Martin east. Also on the mover were 16 Whimbrels and eight Curlews. Other waders included 31 Oystercatchers, nine Ringed Plovers, two Turnstones and a couple of Sanderlings.

At sea were nine Gannets, 12 Cormorants, 14 Sandwich Terns (including seven on the shore), two Common Terns, four Common Scoters and two Atlantic Grey Seals.

 Distant Sandwich Terns

With the overnight rain there was plenty of snails around and I must admit I do find them interesting. One day if I have time I'll tell you about my mark and recapture scheme in my garden, but in meantime below is a photograph of one of the beasties. It's a bit of a mixed bag in the morning with rain forecast both sides of dawn, so just a little unpredictable to chance any ringing sadly.  

Friday, 21 July 2017

June's Ringing Totals

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group until the end of June, and we are still playing catch-up after the various ringing suspensions that I have blogged about previously due to Avian Influenza outbreaks locally. We are 370 birds down on where we were last year and need some good weather through autumn to catch up.

Twelve new species for the year were ringed in June and these were Kestrel, Curlew, Woodpigeon, Barn Owl, Little Owl, Sand Martin, Swallow, Cetti's Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat and Carrion Crow.

The top four ringed during June and top 10 'movers and shakers' for the year were as follows:

Top 4 Species Ringed during June

1. Pied Flycatcher - 54
2. Goldfinch - 31
3. Reed Warbler - 14
4. Great Tit - 13

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Goldfinch - 81 (up from 4th)
    Blue Tit - 81 (same position)
3. Pied Flycatcher - 79 (up from 6th)
4. Lesser Redpoll - 70 (down from 2nd)
5. Linnet - 59 (down from 3rd)
6. Great Tit - 40 (down from 5th)
7. Chaffinch - 25 (straight in)
    Siskin - 25 (straight in)
8. Meadow Pipit - 19 (down from 7th)
9. Sand Martin - 18 (straight in)
10. Nuthatch - 15 (down from 9th)

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Common, King and Spotted

As I suspected would be the case, I didn't make it out early this morning after my real ale tour of some Scottish islands last night. Instead Gail and I headed down to the estuary for a walk mid-morning. And what a pleasant walk it was.

Heading along the path through the Hawthorns and reed-fringed pools an assemblage of singing Warblers greeted us, and amongst these insectivore songsters were Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff. Basically, representatives of Phylloscs, Acros and Sylvias, all with instruments of varying pitch and tone!

The tide was running in as we got to the estuary and it wouldn't be long before it started to lap up against the saltmarsh, so the ribbon of mud holding the feeding waders was getting thinner and thinner. Time was of the essence, so a route march was in order to get to the 'spit' and anything on the reservoir could wait until the walk back.

The highlight of the 'mud larks' was a gorgeous summer plumaged Spotted Redshank showing exactly why black is the colour! Sadly it was a little distant, and therefore I haven't got any photos to show what a cracking looking wader this is in this plumage; try 'Googling' it! I think it was the first Spotted Redshank that Gail has seen, but she took the lifer in her stride without showing too much birding emotion!

The Spot Reds supporting cast included 50 Lapwings, two Grey Herons, 55 Redshanks, two Little Egrets, five Oystercatchers and two Curlews. And I've just remembered that I forgot to count the Shelducks!

Back to the reservoir for the return journey and we bumped in to Ian. That's the spotted of my blog title out of the way, and the reservoir gave us the common and the king. We could hear a number of Common Sandpipers calling and in total there was three interacting with each other, and then cutting across the Common Sands calls was a Kingfisher that Ian picked up flying along the far side of the reservoir. It perched up in a dead tree over the water and we watched it for a good few minutes until a Grey Heron also landed in the tree and flushed it! Again no pictures I'm afraid as the Kingfisher was a tad too far away.

 About the only thing I could photograph this morning was the Sea 
Lavender on the saltmarsh!

It could be next weekend before I'm out on the patch again, but I've got plenty of site visits this week with a few surveys thrown in so hopefully I'll have something to report.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Reedbed Ramblings

Ian and I were out ringing at the Obs this morning in the reedbed and we had to give the net rides a trim first before we could put any nets up. We had clear skies with a 5 mph northerly wind.

As I arrived on site Starlings were exiting their overnight reedbed roost,and there was probably somewhere in the order of 3,000 birds doing some morning murmurating! Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Willow Warblers and Whitethroats were all singing from their respective reed and scrub territories, whilst half a dozen Swifts screamed overhead.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker looked odd alighting in some rather flimsy Poplars, where moments earlier a party of Long-tailed Tits had moved through. An early Siskin moving south and an alarm calling male Stonechat were best of the rest.

We ringed thirteen birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Reed Warbler - 2 (1)
Whitethroat - 3
Blue Tit - 2
Greenfinch - 2
Wren - 3
Blackbird - 1

 Reed warbler

I'll attempt to get out in the morning and I say attempt because I have some lovely Scottish ales to sample this evening!

Friday, 7 July 2017

Good To Be Back Out

It's been a while since I posted due to a combination of poor weather and lots of indoor work generated by lots of outdoor work. Fingers crossed I'll be out ringing at the Obs this weekend. It's all planned but as I write it's raining and it's not forecast!

Yesterday morning saw me surveying another plot of recently planted woodland in south Cumbria and funnily enough it wasn't forecast to rain then either, but I had frequent showers. They were light, however, and didn't affect the outcome of the survey.

Damp woodland!

I had nothing amazing, but it was just good to be back out again. The bits and pieces that I feel are worthy to jump from my notebook to this blog include a Raven, a Whitethroat, two Willow Warblers, a Chiffchaff, two Buzzards, a Blackcap and a Tree Sparrow.

I hope that you all will forgive me when I admit that I have just discovered the superb Scottish nature writer Jim Crumley after he has written thirty plus books! I am currently reading 'The Nature of Autumn' and I can't tell you how good it is, and how he paints the landscape and the beasties within, with words. He even manages to out 'Robert Macfarlane' Robert Macfarlane, which just blows me away as he is my favourite naturalist/landscape writer!

As a taster here are a few words from Jim describing an encounter with a male Hen Harrier from his car as he climbs the road from Kylerhea on Skye through Glen Arroch (it helps to be able to picture a male Hen Harrier in your mind's eye). 

"Halfway up, a male Hen Harrier flashed across my bows, a poem in silver-grey and black...It's shadow-into-sunlight starburst was the most distant of echoes of the Green Woodpecker in far-off Glen Finglas". He then goes on to describe the Harriers hunting flight action..."slow as thistledown and one-yard high, searching for vole tremors or a passing cloud of finches on the move. Then with that streamlined absence of fuss that is the badge of all its tribe, it might soar fifty feet, bank and turn in its own length and tilt the whole mighty seaboard of the West Highlands through forty-five degrees in the process".
Crumley, J (2016) The Nature of Autumn Saraband, Glasgow 

Now that's how you describe a Hen Harrier!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Chicks and Juvs

On Sunday afternoon I found myself at my good friend's Robert and Diana's farm near Nateby with a brood of Kestrel chicks to ring. I'd checked them about a week earlier and they were just too small to ring, so hopefully after a week they would be big enough.

One of the diversification enterprises that Robert and Diana have on their farm is a small camping and caravan site and when we went to ring the Kestrel chicks we were joined by a small group of keen, wildlife enthusiast campers. I climbed the ladder and looked into the box and I was greeted to the sight of five healthy Kestrel chicks. They were still covered in grey fluffy down, but had started to grow tail and primary wing feathers. The other thing I noticed straight away was the number of mammalian prey items in the box and it was obvious that the parents birds were finding plenty of food and the chicks couldn't keep up with supply! It is a good vole year this year so fingers crossed it should be a good breeding season for Kestrels nationally and also Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl etc.

I haven't any photographs of the Kestrel chicks I'm afraid as I was too busy ringing the five chicks and also letting the enthusiastic group of campers quickly get some photographs before returning the chicks to the box. They all thoroughly enjoyed the experience of seeing the Kestrels ringed and the opportunity of seeing the birds close up, which is privilege that we as ringers sometimes take for granted.

We then had a walk down to the wetland and on the way along the woodland edge we noticed quite a few Red Admirals. In the immediate area there was a lot of nettles that are the food plant for Red Admiral caterpillars.

 Red Admirals

There was nothing on the wetland other than a few House Martins and Swallows hawking over it for aerial insects, so we headed in to the woodland to have a look at the outdoor classroom in the woods. One of the other things that Robert and Diana do is to facilitate school visits to the farm where the children learn about the link between farming, food production and the environment, but they also learn some basic outdoor survival skills and are encouraged to identify some of the wildlife found in the woodland. Great stuff!

As you might expect a woodland in late June in the middle of the afternoon is going to be quiet, but a singing Chiffchaff, a confiding Treecreeper and a Jay found their way into my notebook!

The following day I had a 4:00 am alarm call (ouch!) to carry out a plantation woodland bird survey in the North Pennines not far from Kirkby Stephen. It was a glorious morning with clear skies and calm conditions. Nearly everything I recorded during the survey was a juvenile; spotty Robins, gingery Song Thrushes, more green than blue Blue Tits and short-tailed Swallows!

Other bits and pieces included six Goldfinches, a Linnet, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, four Willow Warblers, a Siskin, a Buzzard, a Grey Wagtail, a Lesser Redpoll and a Stock Dove. Oh, and at least seven Brown Hares!

Since then it has rained and I've remained indoors, but I've got another bird survey Friday morning before hopefully some birding on the patch at weekend!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Back In Bowland

Tuesday morning saw me take to the hills in Bowland to carry out a site visit to look at the condition of two areas of species rich grassland. My client's farm is full of breeding waders as he farms exceedingly sympathetically to cater for them; he's amended some farming practises to reduce any potential impact on eggs and chicks, created habitat features such as scrapes to provide additional habitat and adjusted stocking densities to create the correct sward heights. He's a great bloke!

Walking between the two fields that I had to survey it was obvious that most of the waders had finished breeding. Nearly all of the Lapwings had gone and just a few pairs of Curlew and Oystercatcher were still about. I had an interesting first wader breeding record for the farm in the form of a Common Sandpiper. I can't claim any credit for discovering this as it was one of the farm staff that alerted me to it's presence. She told me that every time she drove past this particular stone edged pool she saw a wader species she couldn't identify. She also went on to say that she had seen the bird with chicks.

One of the fields that I had to check was adjacent to this pool and as I parked up in the gateway and got out of my car I heard Common Sandpiper alarm calling. And sure enough, at some distance, it was perched up on the fence. I suspect that the other bird was somewhere around the pool with the chicks. This is the first time in Lancashire that I have recorded Common Sandpiper breeding on a farm away from a water course. Great stuff!

 Common Sandpiper

In addition to the waders a few Willlow Warblers were still singing from some of the woodland plantings and a Cuckoo was calling from an area that I had one or it earlier in the spring. The same pool where the Common Sandpiper was also had two broods of Tufted Ducks on and there looked to be at least four ducklings in each brood.

So a very enjoyable visit and I wish that all of my work could be like that!

First Moths For A While

I ran my garden moth trap for the first time a few days ago and had a pleasing little catch, well for me anyway. I don't like to catch too many as it takes me quite a while to go through them, mainly because I don't run my trap often enough to get my eye in. However, I caught 21 moths of eight species as follows:

Brimstone - 2
Sallow Kitten - 2
Garden Carpet - 4
Riband Wave - 1
Heart and Dart - 4
Dark Arches - 3
The Flame - 2
Large Yellow Underwing - 3


 Sallow Kitten

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Holiday Snaps

I've had to hit the ground running this week with work, with lots of site visits and today is the first time I have had time to post anything since getting back from Scotland at weekend. Gail and I had a week in a holiday cottage on the Kilninver Estate south of Oban overlooking Loch Feochan. When it wasn't raining we had cracking views to Kerrera, and Mull beyond that. I say when it wasn't raining because we had quite a dreich week!

We didn't see a huge selection of birds, but you know what it's like as a birder you're always birding wherever you are. Highlights included lots of Siskins everywhere we went, Hooded Crows a plenty, Cuckoos, a couple of Golden Eagles, Goosanders, lots of Song Thrushes outnumbering Blackbirds, Spotted Flycatchers, breeding Wheatears, Stonechats, Peregrine, Ravens and Rock Dove (not sure how genuine they are here).

Below are a few holiday snaps in no particular order with no particular reason for the selection either:

 Bon Awe Iron Furnace

English Stonecrop (in Scotland)

Gylen Castle on Kerrera

Heath Spotted Orchid

Inverary Castle

Northern Marsh Orchid

Signs to the tea garden on Kerrera (above & below)

Spotted Flycatcher

Inside Kilmory Knap Chapel


Loch Feochan from the cottage

Thursday, 8 June 2017

May Ringing Totals

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of May, and they haven't increased that much. This is because of a ringing suspension due to a local avian influenza outbreak, which thankfully was lifted on 7th June. So we need to hit the ground running now and get some birds ringed!

Three new species for the year were ringed during May and these were Lapwing, Pied Flycatcher and Nuthatch. Below you will find the top three ringed during May and the top nine 'movers and shakers' for the year:

Top 3 Ringed In May

1. Blue Tit - 51
2. Pied Flycatcher - 24
3. Great Tit - 20

Top 9 Movers and Shakers for the Year

1. Blue Tit - 74 (up from 4th)
2. Lesser Redpoll - 70 (down from 1st)
3. Linnet - 59 (down from 2nd)
4. Goldfinch - 49 (down from 3rd)
5. Great Tit - 27 (straight in)
6. Pied Flycatcher - 24 (straight in)
7. Meadow Pipit - 19 (same position)
8. Willow Warbler - 14 (same position)
9. Nuthatch - 13 (straight in)

 Pied Flycatcher

This will probably be my last post for over a week as I am off to Scotland for a weeks holiday shortly, so I will post again when I get back!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Big Boxes

Gail and I had a second day of checking boxes on Sunday, but this time it was at our good friends Robert and Diana's farm near Nateby. We had three 'big boxes' to check; two Owl boxes and a Kestrel box. It was positive news for the box in the barn as it contained four healthy Barn Owl chicks ranging in age from 16 - 25 days, ish! The Barn Owls were duly ringed and we moved on to the other Owl box.

 Barn Owl

This box contained an old Stock Doves nest from last year. In fact I think in most years since it has been up it has been used by Stock Doves.

The Kestrel box in the wet woodland was certainly active and from a vantage point in the field we could see the female Kestrel sitting in the box. It is likely that she was brooding small young rather than incubating eggs, and as such we didn't disturb her. We will return in a week or so's time to ring the chicks.

Walking through a section of open woodland a Banded Demoiselle flew past which was a great sighting. Banded Demoiselles like slow-flowing, mud-bottomed streams and rivers with open banksides and adjoining meadows, and that description fits perfectly with this part of the farm.

Since we ringed the Barn Owl chicks on Sunday, today (Wednesday) is the first day that it hasn't rained and I must admit to be being a bit worried about them as the parents will have found it difficult, if not impossible, to hunt during the wet weather. Let's hope that they have managed to find enough food to feed the chicks today, as I do wonder about the survival prospects for the youngest chick!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Last Pied Fly Gig Of The Year

On Saturday morning Gail and I headed to the Hodder Valley to carry out the final check of our next boxes here for the year. We knew we would have a few Pied Flycatchers to ring and in total we ringed 47 pulli. Quite a few of the chicks hadn't developed much during the week because of the cool changeable weather leading to a struggle for the adults to find food. And I must admit I am worried about them now after two full days of constant rain. If it wasn't for the fact that I go away to Scotland this weekend I would go back and check to see how they are getting on. Probably the first thing that I'll do on my return is go and see if they have managed to fledge okay; fingers crossed!

Pied Flycatcher

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Birding Doldrums?

It's at this time of year that a lot of birders almost hang their bins up! Some switch their attention to dragonflies or moths, and some just go in to complete hibernation until autumn. However, there is always something of interest and it's just a matter of being out there to chance upon it. I have a broad interest in natural history, so being out in the field is just, well being out in the field and enjoying whatever you are looking at or listening to.

I completed two bird surveys this week to earn a crust. One was to do with planned development and the other was conservation based. But, both were equally as enjoyable! My planned development related survey was in lowland Lancashire on some fairly ordinary farmland, whatever that is?! I was stopped at one of my vantage points when I heard a Raven calling from behind me. It's loud croaking call got closer and closer until I picked it up flying directly over me. It then proceeded to do a roll as it flew away from me, followed by a 'stall' and it was away in the distance. Magic!

I had a few bits and pieces in addition to the Raven including two Buzzards, 27 Magpies, two Reed Buntings, ten House Sparrows, a Sedge Warbler, two Whitethtoats, eight adult Lapwings plus three chicks, 21 Jackdaws, two Song Thrushes, a Blackcap and a Stock Dove. And I also had plenty of Red Admirals, Small Whites and Small Tortoiseshells on the wing.

My second survey was another survey of plantation woodland in the Eden Valley. The highlight of this survey was finding a Buzzard's nest with at least two chicks in it! The best of the rest was eleven Tree Sparrows, seven Willow Warblers, two Blackcaps, three Redstarts, a Jay, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Sedge Warbler and a Stock Dove.

 River Eden

Buzzard nest, although the chicks aren't visible.

So, birding doldrums? I don't think so!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Continuing Pied Fly Fest

I make no apologies at all for posting some more on Pied Flycatchers as Gail and I checked our boxes again in the Hodder Valley yesterday. A few boxes no longer needed checking because they were still empty or hadn't progressed from a half completed nest for example, but we had a few birds to ring so it still took us a couple of hours.

 Pied Flycatchers

In total we ringed 49 birds made up of 32 Blue Tits, 14 Pied Flycatchers and three Great Tits. All were chicks from the boxes, and next week we should have something like 60 Pied Flycatcher chicks to ring! The clutch sizes of the Tits have been very small and this is certainly a phenomenon of recent years, and perhaps indicates the difficulty the adults are having finding food for their chicks. Climate change is certainly playing a roll in this with the hatching of young out of sync with the hatching of foliar feeding caterpillars. In addition to this cooler, wetter springs are reducing the number of invertebrates available as well.

 Pied Flycatcher

On our walk through the woodland checking the boxes we picked up a Tawny Owl flying through the treetops, and judging by its laboured flight we assumed it was a young bird. It was given a hard time by numerous woodland birds as it moved from tree to tree!

I received a bit of bad bird related news yesterday when Ian phoned me in a state of shock to tell me that the local tip was being moth-balled for a couple of years at least! Being much more of a 'Laruphile' than me Ian really was gutted to say the least, and we both lamented the prospect of a Gull, particularly 'white wingers', light winter at the Obs this winter! I suppose it's only a birder that could mourn the closure of a landfill site!   

Friday, 26 May 2017

Up North

I have had a full week of 'stupid o'clock' alarm calls to head up north to Cumbria to complete the second surveys of the plantation woodlands that I am surveying for birds. On Monday Gail joined me at an upland site where there are tremendous views of the Solway and over to the Criffell in Dumfries and Galway.

These second surveys tend to be the quietest of the three as they are at a time where a good percentage of breeding birds are feeding young. This site was no exception and the few highlights included a Song Thrush, a Chiffchaff, a Stock Dove, two Siskins, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Buzzard, a Willow Warbler and a Blackcap.

An early start, means an early finish, so afterwards we had finished the survey we headed over to the Scottish side of the Solway to have a look at the seabird colony at Balcary Point. We did a four mile circular walk and we started the walk in the rain and finished it in glorious sunshine!

The sea cliffs held breeding Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills and Shags. And on our walk terrestrial bird species included Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Siskin, Rock Pipit and Stonechat.

 Loch Mackie; part of the circular walk.

I completed three more bird surveys 'up north' and I have lumped the relatively interesting sightings together as the three sites were fairly close together; eleven Willow Warblers, two Chiffchaffs, a Yellowhammer, four Lesser Redpolls, two Skylarks, two Blackcaps, a Stock Dove, a Mistle Thrush and a Redstart.

Blencathra peeping out of the mist.

We've got some hefty showers forecast for most of the day tomorrow, but if I can drag myself out of my pit at just a bit later then 'stupid o'clock' then I might get some birding in before the rain!  

Thursday, 25 May 2017

More On Pied Flycatchers

Earlier in the week Gail and I checked our nest boxes in the Hodder Valley and it is looking very good for Pied Flycatchers. We definitely have eleven occupied boxes and they are all incubating completed clutches. I lifted a further three females off the nest and one was one of ours (ringed as a chick last year), and the other two were controls.

I was very interested in the good numbers of Pied Flycatchers occupying our boxes and through social media I asked other nest recorders if they were finding similar. Interestingly one local scheme reported average numbers as did a recorder from Wales, but mainly it would seem that most observers are reporting increased occupation. Several reasons have been put forward for this and include good over-winter survival, increased survival during spring migration and poor breeding success for Tits last year leading to less competition for nest sites. Interesting stuff!

A few chicks in our boxes were ready to be ringed and we ringed seven Nuthatches, 17 Great Tits and seven Blue Tits. Next weekend we will have more Blue and Great Tits to ring and hopefully I'll be able to record the remaining Pied Flycatcher females!


Saturday, 13 May 2017

April's Ringing Totals

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of April. We are 375 down on where we were this time last year and this has been mainly as a result of avian influenza outbreaks. Talking of avian influenza outbreaks there has been another two in the Fylde at Hambleton and Thornton and we currently have another ringing suspension within the 10km surveillance zone! So that doesn't bode well for our totals going forward.

Three new species were added for the year during April and these were Tree Pipit, Willow Warbler and Tree Sparrow. Below you will find the top three ringed for April and the top eight 'movers and shakers' for the year so far.

Top 3 Ringed in April

1. Lesser Redpoll - 48
2. Goldfinch - 13
3. Willow Warbler - 12

Top Eight Movers and Shakers

1. Lesser Redpoll - 65 (up from 3rd)
2. Linnet - 59 (down from 1st)
3. Goldfinch - 49 (down from 2nd)
4. Blue Tit - 23 (same position)
5. Chaffinch - 21 (up from 6th)
    Siskin - 21 (down from 4th)
7. Meadow Pipit - 19 (down from 6th)
8. Willow Warbler - 12 (straight in)

 Tree Pipit

Friday, 12 May 2017

Pied Fly Paradise

Before I get to the 'Pied Fly Paradise' a quick rewind to earlier in the week is required where I carried out some bird surveys in two different parts of Cumbria. My first survey was in the north Pennines not too far from Kirkby Stephen. The site is in a gorgeous location, but for some reason (third year now) it is always cold, and this particular morning was no exception! These surveys that I am carrying out are on common woodland/woodland fringe bird populations so the highlights of these common birds included seven Goldfinches, three Linnets, four Lesser Redpolls, a Stock Dove, a Song Thrush, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, three Willow Warblers, a Garden Warbler and three Siskins.


After I had completed the survey I had to see a client near Barrowford so my drive took me along the A65 through Kirkby Lonsdale, Settle and at Long Preston I turned off and headed towards Gisburn following the River Ribble. As I got close to a little place called Swinden the river is particularly close to the road and as I glanced out of my side window my eyes feasted upon an Osprey perched in the top of a dead tree next to the river! Typically I was motoring along over 50 mph and there was nowhere to stop! I'm guessing it was a bird that had roosted in the area overnight and it was contemplating carrying on north as the sun warmed up; cracking!

My second and third surveys were in the west of Cumbria close to some of the Furness peninsula mosslands. I've lumped the two totals together as both sites were fairly close to each other. The best of the common birds I recorded included three Tree Sparrows, two Willow Warblers, two Mistle Thrushes, eleven Goldfinches, two Blackcaps, a Goldcrest, two Lesser Redpolls, two Chiffchaffs, a Stock Dove, a Garden Warbler, six Linnets, two Sedge Warblers and a Reed Bunting.

This morning Gail and I headed in to Bowland to do the first check of our boxes in the Hodder valley. We have 39 boxes at this site and we are targeting primarily Pied Flycatchers and I think you can guess from my blog title that we found a few! We had eleven boxes definitely occupied with eggs and incubating females, and also a twelfth with a complete nest that could still come to fruition. This means that we have 28% occupation of the boxes by Pied Flycatchers and this is the best year yet for occupation. Of course these eggs all need to be converted in to chicks and we need the right weather conditions for the adults to find food and fledge all the little fellows. So we have a way to go yet!

 Pied Flycatcher nest.

I managed to lift five female Pied Flycatchers off the nests. Three of these were already ringed; two weren't from our site and were controls (ringed elsewhere by another ringer) and the third was ringed last year as a chick from one of the boxes. So she has returned from her natal site after making two crossing of the Sahara! The other two were un-ringed so Gail and I ringed them.

Pied Flycatcher

In addition to the Pieds we had one box with eight recently hatched Nuthatches in and the rest was a split of seven Blue Tits and four Great Tits. In the woodland we also recorded singing Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Goldcrests.  

Its forecast for heavy rain tomorrow morning, so I might just get a rare lie in and an extra ale this evening! 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

A Few Arrivals

Sunday morning saw me wandering around the farm fields again at the southern end of the Obs recording area. I had clear skies and it was calm at first but a 5 mph NE wind picked up from 0805.

The usual Chiffie and Whitethroats were holding territory, but it did seem as if there had been a few arrivals just based on the increase in the number of singing Sedge Warblers. On my walk round I recorded 16, and there certainly isn't enough habitat to support this number of breeding pairs in this area. One of the Sedge Warblers was doing some mimicry throwing Reed Warbler, Linnet and Goldfinch in to his set list! Three Wheatears by the sea wall added to the feeling that I had of there being a few arrivals.


Conditions were suitable for some vis and I recorded (all north) a Goldfinch, thirteen Lesser Redpolls, 99 Swallows, two Swifts, a Sand Martin, two Tree Pipits, five House Martins, a Linnet, two Siskins, a Yellow Wagtail and an Alba Wag.

There was a bit of movement over the glass like sea, but the murky conditions/heat haze didn't help. Of interest entered into my notebook were 1200 Knots, five Shelducks, eight Sandwich Terns, eight Gannets, four Whimbrels, four Dunlins, ten Kittiwakes, six Sanderlings, two Ringed Plovers, 102 Common Scoters, a Common Tern, twelve Eiders, two Canada Geese, four Arctic Terns, three Red-throated Divers and five Auk sp. I also got good 'scope views of a Harbour Porpoise slowly heading north. At times it was very active and you could see that it was chasing prey close to the surface!

 Canada Goose

I joined Ian mid-morning in the coastal park where he had found a singing Wood Warbler. I don't know how many pictures I took trying to get just one half decent shot of this very showy bird, but I failed! In addition to the Wood Warbler were a Chiffchaff, a Willow Warbler, a Garden Warbler and a Whitethroat.

 Wood Warbler (above & below - honest!)

We then both had a look in the cemetery where there was another Wood Warbler! This bird too was very showy and I failed yet again to get any record shots even! There was also a Spotted Flycatcher, another Garden Warbler and three Willow Warblers. So definitely a few arrivals this morning!

Meadow Pipit

Saturday, 6 May 2017


This northerly air stream all the way from the arctic is getting wearisome and it makes it unseasonably cold for May! This morning Ian, Howard and Me had to take shelter behind the tower once again to record the migration at the Point. Normally at this time of year we would be stood on top of the bank with great views out to sea and a clear view to the west to pick up easily any vis, but not today!

We had clear skies at first, but cloud slowly built during the morning, and the wind was a keen 10 - 15 mph northeasterly! The one good thing about Spring is that it is an 'urgent' passage and birds are pretty much on the move whatever the weather conditions, within reason of course!

Straight away from first light Lesser Redpolls were on the move and their totals and the other vis is as follows (all east); 25 Lesser Redpolls, eight Tree Pipits, one Rook, 21 Swifts, one Meadow Pipit, one House Martin, 48 Swallows, one Sand Martin and two Carrion Crows.

The main feature offshore was the passage of Arctic Terns that were steadily heading east in to the bay, but some were doubling back and heading east again. They were constantly moving up and down, and were presumably feeding on a large shoal of fish. Offshore totals included 361 Arctic terns, six Sandwich Terns, 19 Auk sp., 14 Red-throated Divers, 14 Eiders, ten Gannets, 16 Whimbrels, 131 Common Scoters, four Mute Swans, a Guillemot, a Velvet Scoter, a Bar-tailed Godwit and four Common Terns. There was also an Atlantic Grey Seal bobbing around just offshore.

There was a few waders roosting on the shore and the most unusual in terms of habitat was a Common Sandpiper running around on the shingle! In addition to the Common Sand were 704 Dunlins, 141 Ringed Plovers and 102 Sanderlings.

 Roosting Dunlins, Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers.


Ringed Plover

I'm not sure what I'm doing in the morning, other than I will be out birding or ringing :)