Friday, 14 June 2019

All Work And No Play

Gail and I have a week in northeast Scotland coming up, not too far from the Moray coast and the eastern Cairngorms for that matter, so we are looking forward to that. So I thought I would try and slip in a quick blog post before I get too busy with preparations for our holiday, but I'm afraid it's been all work and no play of late.

Other than carrying out the final round of checking our nest box scheme it's been work related bird surveys that's kept me out in the natural world, and given me my birding 'fix'. All the survey work has been in Cumbria, and it has been a bit of a mixed bag.

First up was one of my plantation woodland sites near Wigton, and it wasn't a bad morning weather-wise just over a week ago on the morning of my survey with just 3 oktas cloud cover, and a light southerly wind. For the official survey I use an amended Common Bird Census (CBC) methodology and record the species, number and activity of birds that are utilising the habitat found within the planted areas. In my notebook I just record the stuff that I think is of interest to me from within and outside the survey area.

So with this in mind my observations included three Chiffchaffs, two Blackcaps, eleven Stock Doves (an unusual Stock Dove featured at my next survey site), a Yellowhammer, a Song Thrush, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Tree Sparrow, two Willow Warblers and a Goldcrest.

My second plantation woodland site was near Penrith and it was a tad quieter here with just nine Stock Doves and a Tree Sparrow of note. I've posted a couple of pictures below of one of the Stock Doves, and look closely at it's bill. The upper mandible is very long and down curved, probably as a result of the lower mandible virtually being non-existent. Whether this has been the case since it hatched, or perhaps a growth defect over time, or maybe even some kind of trauma I'm not sure.

 Stock Dove (above & below)

My final survey was in northwest Cumbria overlooking the Solway Firth. I've grown quite attached to this site as I surveyed it twice a month from October - March, and have just completed the second and final breeding bird survey.

Looking across the Solway Firth to Dumfries & Galloway

It was glorious day when I was here with just two oktas cloud cover and a light southeasterly breeze with views over to the Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland.

I'll just jump straight in with a list of my observations; ten Skylarks, nine Linnets, 19 Meadow Pipits (two carrying food), 16 Whitethroats, 26 Goldfinches, four Stonechats (including one juv.), 317 Starlings, a Blackcap, three Song Thrushes (two juv.'s) two Willow Warblers and a male Kestrel.

There was quite a few spikes of Northern Marsh Orchid scattered about the site and a couple of Bee Orchids, always lovely to see.

 Northern Marsh Orchid

Last weekend Gail, Alice and Me carried out our last visit to our Pied Flycatcher nest box scheme. We just had two broods to ring and a few boxes to check on fledging. Sadly one of the broods of Pied Flys was down to just four chicks as two had died, probably as a result of all the preceding wet weather. In fact in a number of boxes where the chicks had successfully fledged the nest material was absolutely sodden!

We are going to try some mist netting at our nest box site throughout July and August in an area different to where our boxes are, so I am looking forward to that to see what we find. As always I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Quick Box Update

Yesterday Gail and I carried out another check of our boxes in the Hodder Valley in Bowland. We ringed six broods of Pied Flycatchers, totalling 45 pulli. We attempted to catch a few more males in the boxes without any success. Next week will probably be our last visit of the season as the two remaining broods should be ready to ring. Overall it has been a good season and fellow field workers like ourselves have been reporting similar good numbers.

Pied Flycatchers just hatching

 Pied Flycatcher chick ready to ring

Thursday, 30 May 2019


I struggle sometimes to come up with a title for some of my blog postings, and today's post is a case in point. I sat staring at the template on Blogger without any inspiration, and my only thoughts were that I always seem to be heading north, and rarely south. I suppose with work it just depends where the job is, but it does often seem to be north, or if I want to stretch it a bit, in the north. So I thought 'North' would do as a Blog title, not very exciting, not very inspirational but probably a reflection of how I feel, or where I feel I should be in the world!

On Tuesday I had a survey of one of my woodland plantation sites in Cumbria, this time along the north shore of Morecambe Bay, and very much north of home. It's a quiet time of year now, bird-wise, with adults busy feeding young and migration more or less ground to a halt. Mind you, in just four weeks time it will be Autumn again! And this quietness was revealed in my survey results with just a female Reed Bunting, a Bullfinch, two singing Blackcaps, two singing Sedge Warblers, a Siskin and two Tree Sparrows of minimal interest to you dear reader.

When I am in this neck of the woods I like to call at the Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve Foulshaw Moss, as it is a cracking reserve and I really love it there. The only slight downside, is the traffic noise from the A590, but you can't have everything! Foulshaw Moss is particularly important for it's invertebrate assemblage, mainly because it is an area of lowland raised bog. Other people will associate it with it's breeding Ospreys. But one thing is sure, it is a lovely reserve.

I was there straight after an early morning bird survey, so I wasn't really there at the optimum time to see lots of 'dragons' on the wing, but it was warm enough to encourage some to take flight. I encountered large numbers of Large Red Damselfly (I'm not sure what I really mean by 'large numbers', but I must have come across 20-30), a few Azure Damselflies and a few White-faced Darters (one of the reserve specialists) including a pair mating.

 Azure Damselflies

White-faced Darter

Some birds did put in an appearance including three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, five Willow Warblers, three Lesser Redpolls (including a ringed individual), five Reed Buntings, a Tree Pipit carrying food, four Sedge Warblers, an Osprey and two Blackcaps. I also had four Red Deer out on the bog.

Yesterday saw Gail and me completing a fourth Breeding Bird Survey at our site in North Lanarkshire, that started off under relatively clear skies, but finished with us having to abort the survey a few hours later due to persistent and heavy rain! Again we had good numbers of warblers including 30 Willow Warblers, eight Grasshopper Warblers, eight Sedge Warblers, thirteen Whitethroats, two Blackcaps and three Goldcrests.

We haven't as yet seen any Dragonflies at this site, even though there are a few pools that look suitable, but then again we are there very early when it is still rather cool. With the cloudy conditions we didn't have many butterflies other than a single Orange-tip hunkered down on a Cuckooflower.


I've just pulled an old notebook from the shelf, 1986 to be precise, that was a time I when was living in west Norfolk. I thought there wouldn't be anything of interest at this time of year in 1986, but I forgot about Nightjars! I used to visit a site close to where I lived, and I was usually there on my own, or with a mate who lived a couple of villages north of me. In fact looking back at my entries in May 1986 I was obviously a bit obsessed with visiting this site, based on the number of times I visited in late May! 

The geography of the site was perfect for viewing Nightjars, as the point where we watched from was slightly raised overlooking a clearing with lots of potential song perch's for churring males! The supporting cast of Cuckoo, Woodcock and Tawny Owl was not to be sniffed at. On this date (30th May) in 1986 I had three 'hooting' Tawny Owls, three Woodcocks and two 'churring' male Nightjars! As mentioned above I also spent a few other evenings there as follows:
- 24th May - four Woodcocks and one male Nightjar
- 25th May - four Woodcocks, a Cuckoo and two Nightjars
- 26th May - three Cuckoos, seven Woodcocks, two Tawny Owls and a male Nightjar
- 28th May - nine Woodcocks, a Cuckoo, two calling Tawny Owls and a male Nightjar
- 30th May - detailed previously

On a related topic, I was chatting with Ian on the phone yesterday about Turtle Dove now being classed as a rare breeding bird, and that data will now be collected annually by the rare Breeding Birds Panel. At a similar time to all the above Nightjar action, I was having up to five Turtle Doves in late May at one of my ringing sites, in fact I had the pleasure of ringing one on one occasion. They won't be at this site now!

It's checking boxes again at the weekend, so Gail and I are looking forward to that!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Boxes To Boxes

It's been a busy seven days with plenty of bird surveys and checking of nest boxes. In fact this post will start with checking boxes and end with checking boxes, with a few highlights from various surveys sprinkled in between.

Last Saturday Gail and I made our third visit to our boxes in the Hodder Valley. We managed to ring two broods of Great Tits (18 chicks in total) and a single brood of Blue Tits, containing eight little 'n's! We also lifted another female Pied Flycatcher off the nest, leaving just two females from the nine pairs to lift; more on this later.

That evening I ran my moth trap for the first time in a while and managed to trap a new species for the garden in the form of an Iron Prominent. When I photograph the moths that I have caught in my moth trap on release, I like to place them on vegetation rather than take them against the background of the egg carton, as I think it makes a better photograph. So I placed the Iron Prominent on some vegetation and it dropped off the leaf I placed it on, out of sight, so I didn't get a photograph! Note to self..."photograph any new species for the garden on the egg carton to get a record shot, before placing said moth on vegetation to get a more natural shot"!

I trapped five moths of four species as follows; two Garden Carpets, a Heart and Dart, a Flame Shoulder and the aforementioned Iron Prominent.

On Monday Gail and I were in North Lanarkshire for our third breeding bird survey visit, and again it was warblers that dominated proceedings. We recorded seventeen Sedge Warblers, 21 Whitethroats, 32 Willow Warblers, three Blackcaps, seven Grasshopper Warblers, a Garden Warbler and two Goldcrests.

Other bits and pieces included six Lesser Redpolls, two Tree Pipits, six Song Thrushes, seven Coal Tits and two Siskins.

On Thursday I undertook one of my on-going hedgerow surveys for one of my client's in the Lune Valley in north Lancashire. First up as I was putting my wellies on in front of the barn was a late Whimbrel that flew low, but heading north, calling. On the barn there were at least three active House Martin nests and below is one of the adults in the process of nest construction.

 House Martin

The survey itself didn't produce anything notable other than a singing Lesser Whitethroat (is it me or are they a bit thin on the ground this year?), several pairs of Lapwings, Curlews and Oystercatchers (yes I know they aren't hedgerow birds), two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a juvenile Song Thrush, two Blackcaps, a Garden Warbler and female Goosander and Common Sandpiper on the river during a coffee break.

 I snapped this confiding young Brown Hare whilst surveying one of the

Gail and I were at one of my plantation woodland survey sites in north Cumbria, near Wigton on Friday and it was quiet. We did record a few bits and pieces of relevance to the on-going project, but nothing too noteworthy to mention here. The survey was short and sweet so we headed north of the border to bird the Solway from the Scottish side near Annan. Oh, and to nip in to Tescos in Annan to procure some Orkney Brewery beers! I forgot to mention that on our way back from North Lanarkshire we stopped off in Moffat (well worth a visit if you haven't been) for lunch and purchased some beers from one of my favourite breweries, Sulwath. Anyway, I digress!

The scrub along the shore held six singing Willow warblers, six singing Whitethroats, two singing Sedge Warblers and we had two singing Grasshopper Warblers form some predominantly grassland habitat inland. It was quiet on the estuary other than 97 Shelducks, two male Goosanders and a surprising male Shoveler that dropped in. The only waders we had was a flock of twenty Dunlin and a handful of Curlews and Oystercatchers.

A number of butterflies were on the wing including Orange Tips, Walls, Small and Green-veined Whites. It was then time to purchase my beer!

This morning we made our fourth visit to our Pied Flycatcher nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley and had a great deal of success. We lifted the last two remaining females from the nest that we required, so we have now recorded all the females from the nine pairs of Pied Flycatchers occupying our boxes. We also used some traps in the boxes that had chicks in for the first time, in attempt to catch some of the males as part of a larger Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project in Bowland, and managed to catch two of these spanking black and white birds!

 Male Pied Flycatcher

We ringed a brood of eight Pied Flycatchers, and a further four broods had hatched but were too small to ring. In addition to the Pied Flys we also ringed a brood of nine Blue Tits, a brood of seven Nutchatches and a brood of six Great Tits.

 Pied Flycatcher chicks

As always I am indebted to Gail for all of her help and company out in the field, and as such I had better sign off and pour her a large whisky! I might just have one or two of those Orkney beers too!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

5 in 1

This glorious weather we are having at the moment, there I will have jinxed it now, is playing havoc with my social life (very little real ale being consumed) and also reducing the amount of time I have to update my blog and do other computer related stuff in the office, because it is allowing me to get out and do lots of survey work. I shouldn't complain! Anyway, what I'm trying to say in a roundabout way, is that I apologise for a lack of recent updates and the glorious weather is my excuse!

At the end of last week Gail and I carried out the second of the bird surveys at a site in North Lanarkshire, and unlike the first visit the weather was beautiful, and actually the site is rather beautiful too! Well, there was lots of warblers anyway!

 One of the pools at my North Lanarkshire survey site

We set off under 4 oktas cloud with a light easterly breeze. The site is a mosaic of lowland heath, unimproved grassland, pools and Birch/Willow scrub. So, perfect habitat for Warblers. Willow Warblers were the most numerous warbler species with 30 singing males, followed by two Blackcaps, 17 Whitethroats, seven Grasshopper Warblers, five Goldcrests, a Garden Warbler and two Sedge Warblers.

 Willow Warbler

Other species of interest included three Reed Buntings, six Skylarks, six Coal Tits, two Buzzards, a Jay and two Tree Pipits.

At weekend we undertook our second check of our Pied Flycatcher boxes in Bowland and rather pleasingly recorded nine active Pied Flycatcher nests, so an increase of two from last week. I managed to lift six female Pied Fly's off the nest (four new birds and two recaptures), so with the female I lifted last week that just leaves one female to lift, so that's pretty good.

A few boxes had pulli ready to ring, so we ringed nine Blue Tits and eighteen Great Tits. The Nuthatch was still sitting, probably brooding tiny young, so hopefully we'll have a box full of Nuthatches to do this coming weekend!

 Great Tit

Monday saw me surveying one of my plantation woodland sites in south Cumbria with not a lot to report other than four Blackcap, three Reed Buntings and a Tree Sparrow of interest. I followed this by a visit to Foulshaw Moss for a couple of hours, before heading off on another site visit.

 Foulshaw Moss

I always enjoy this site and it was good to see a few Common Lizzards basking on the boardwalk and a few White-faced Darters on the wing. Bird interest was provided by five Sedge Warblers, five Lesser Redpolls, nine Willow Warblers and Osprey.

 Common Lizard

White-faced Darter

Day five, of 5 in 1, was another one of my plantation woodland survey sites, this time in the North Pennines. Nothing much to report, other than it was a glorious morning, and a pleasure to be out. If you were to push me to report something that I recorded it would have to be the four Willow Warblers, two Song Thrushes, Stock Dove, confiding female Pied Wagtail (see picture below), two Curlews, Brown Hare, Siskin, two Lesser Redpolls and singing Redstart.

 Pied Wagtail

Cumbria tomorrow, back to North Lanarkshire on Friday and boxes again at weekend; it doesn't stop!

Monday, 6 May 2019

Back At The Boxes

Over weekend Gail and Me were back checking our boxes in the Hodder Valley. As you will know the primary aim of our nest box scheme here is to provide nest sites for the red-listed Pied Flycatcher.

 Looking through the Wood with a couple of our boxes in view

We have 41 boxes up at this site and during our first check over weekend we had seven boxes occupied by Pied Flycatchers, all at various stages of egg laying. Most were still in the process of laying and hadn't completed their clutches and started incubating yet, but one female had. I lifted her off the nest and she was ringed. I checked the ring and found out that I had ringed her from a box at this site in 2017 and she was a second calendar year bird then, making her three years old now. Just to think she has flown to and from central Africa three times, or to put it another way, made six crossings of the Sahara desert!

 Pied Flycatcher nest

Other nest box occupants included Blue Tit, Great Tit and Nuthatch, as well as six Wasp/Hornet nests!

 Recently hatched Blue Tit chicks

Close to where we parked the car a pair of Oystercatchers had nested on top of a low livestock building and had at least two chicks. At the moment the adults will bring food to them, one of the few wader species to do this, the other being Snipe, but in a few days they will have to leap off the building and forage themselves alongside the adults!


I ran the moth trap in my garden last night and all I caught was a single Light Brown Apple Moth! Mind you it was cold!

I've got surveys all this week, weather permitting, including one in north Lanarkshire that will entail a 2.30 am alarm call; ouch!

Friday, 3 May 2019

North Of The Border...Again!

I've been spending quite a bit of time north of the border lately, not a complaint, just an observation. In fact most definitely not a complaint as north of the border is where Gail and I would like to retire to in the not too distant future!

Earlier in the week we were in central Scotland carrying out the first of a series of bird surveys. The 2:30 am alarm call to get there for a reasonable time was the tricky bit of the morning, because the site was quite interesting, particularly for breeding warblers.

I have never seen, actually that should have been heard or recorded, as many Grasshopper Warblers at a site before and we had 15 'reeling' birds! Even more prolific was Willow Warbler with 25 singing males! Other warblers included seven singing Whitethroats, three singing Goldcrests, two singing Blackcaps and a singing Garden Warbler.

Best of the rest included eight Skylarks, three Reed Buntings, three Lesser Redpolls, seven Coal Tits, two Siskins, a Song Thrush, two Buzzards, a Raven, a Kestrel, a Wheatear and a Tree Pipit.

At the end of the week I was at one of my plantation woodland survey sites in north Cumbria. Again warblers were a feature of the morning with five Willow Warblers and five Blackcaps. I won't trouble you with the rest of what I saw, but instead take you north of the border again to the Solway shore between Gretna and Eastriggs to my 'patch'. I spoke to Gail in the 'sooth' who told me it was raining in Lancs, but on the Solway I was birding under full cloud cover, granted, but at least it was dry!

Just in front of where I park there was five Whimbrels, one of my favourite waders, feeding on the muddy shore. Even though it was cloudy, looking south, any photos I attempted were hideously over-exposed. Joining the Whimbrels was a cracking summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit, two Curlews, 16 Oystercatchers, 36 Ringed Plovers and 30 Dunlins in various stages of 'dress'!

In the scrub alongside the estuary, and the grassland inland of the scrub, a number of warblers were singing away including twelve Willow Warblers, two Blackcaps, ten Whitethroats, two Grasshopper Warblers and two Sedge Warblers. When I first heard the Sedge Warblers I was a little surprised as the habitat wasn't quite right, but then I noticed they were singing in two small patches of reeds. It's amazing how birds find even small patches of habitat that are suitable.

Out on the river was a Whooper Swan that was swimming up and down, and feeding fairly actively. At one stage it was loosely associating itself with a group of six Mute Swans, but most of the time it was on its own. Given the fairly late date for a Whooper Swan, and the fact that it was on its own, I did wonder whether it was perhaps injured. However, later in the morning I saw it take off and head further downstream! 

 Whooper Swan

Other widlfowl on the estuary included 46 Shelducks, two pairs of Gadwall, two pairs of Mallards, a female Goosander and four Red-breasted Mergansers that flew upstream.

Four Little Egrets also fed in the shallows and I never get tired of watching these small, white herons, as they run and stop, dart and turn, all in the pursuit of food!

 Little Egrets

Some of the flowers/blossoms were looking particularly resplendent and personally I don't think you can beat a white flower against the green of the plant, like the Garlic Mustard and Hawthorn blossom below.

Garlic Mustard (above) & Hawthorn (below)


It was soon time to head south again and plan what to do over the three day weekend. I'll be sure to let you know!

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Still Cuckoo

Yesterday I was surveying the wetland complex on one of my client's farms in Bowland, and this farm is probably the only place in Lancashire that I can still guarantee to hear a Cuckoo.

I arrived at the farm to complete my survey under three oktas of hazy cloud, with a light northeasterly wind. It was a tad cool at first, but it soon warmed up. As I got out of my car, a movement caught my eye and a stonking Barn Owl lifted off one of the fence posts of a newly planted hedge. I was to see this Barn Owl several times during the course of the morning, but I was never quick enough, or good enough, to get a picture.

There was a reasonable number of Willow Warblers along the wetland complex that I was surveying and my total of nine, included six singing males. The only other warbler species I had was a singing Blackcap.

Even though I was only walking a small portion of the farm, and not in the best areas for Brown Hares, I still managed to record eighteen of these delightful creatures!

 Brown Hare

The wetland complex is away from some of the best breeding wader fields, but nevertheless I still had five Curlews, four Common Sandpipers, a Snipe, ten Lapwings and sixteen Oystercatchers.

 Common Sandpiper

As I stated in my introduction this farm is the only place where in recent years I can guarantee hearing or seeing a Cuckoo. This morning was no exception and I had two calling birds from different parts of the farm. There's nothing like a Cuckoo to reassure you that the world is still turning!

The wetland complex that I was surveying consists of 10-12 interlinked wetlands/ponds and on some of them were breeding Tufted Ducks, totalling about ten pairs.

A Raven, a Buzzard, four Lesser Redpolls, two Siskins and a Mistle Thrush later and I had completed my survey. Of course, the above is only the potted highlights of all the species I recorded and I didn't want to bore you with counts of Mallards, Moorhens, Coots etc.

The forecast is changeable over the next few days, but that can often mean some interesting birds!

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Patch Magic

You can't beat a patch, or several patches as I have. A patch could be as small as your garden, or as large as an estuary. You can record anything from invertebrates, to wildflowers, birds or mammals on it. You can visit a patch once a day, once a week, once a month or even just once a year. The excitement and motivation is getting to know that patch, and when you record something new for your patch, even if it is common, you get a buzz from it. It's also excellent citizen science, and records from your patch can contribute and make a difference to conservation.

Some of the sites that I survey for my job have become patches, like my nine plantation woodland sites in Cumbria. I've got to know them well, even though I only visit them three times per year. And when I record something out of the ordinary for that patch, a little bit of patch magic happens.

I stumbled upon a bit of patch magic yesterday morning at one of my sites near Wigton. I had just started to survey the first woodland compartment and was walking along the edge of the trees adjacent to a field that had been ploughed and tilled ready for re-seeding, when a 'white rump' bounced past me! A 'White Arse' as they used to be known , but Wheatear to you and me! Now, a Wheatear isn't unusual by any means, and if back at the Obs all I had recorded was a single Wheatear on any given day in April, I would be disappointed. But this was a new bird for the 'patch', a bit of that patch magic if you will!


I carried on under the grey gloom and biting easterly wind and notched up a few bits and pieces; three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two singing Blackcaps, three Willow Warblers, two Ravens, two Song Thrushes, eight Tree Sparrows (one carrying nest material), two Chiffchaffs, fourteen House Sparrows, three Stock Doves, a Buzzard, a Swallow, a singing Redstart and a Jay.

My survey finished, I headed to one of my patches on the Scottish side of the Solway between Gretna and Eastriggs for the second bit of patch magic, although I didn't manage a photograph this time. 

As I was scanning a section of rocky shore and counting the Redshanks, I caught a movement in my telescope and there on the water's edge was an Otter! I couldn't believe it and I could hardly contain my excitement. I had cracking views through my telescope, but unfortunately it was just too far away for a photograph. Another bit of patch magic!

It was still quite cold down on the Solway and I had to don woolly hat and gloves! In the scrub along the edge of the estuary and around the gardens of the hamlet, I had 17 Goldfinches and 18 Tree Sparrows. Other passerines along this stretch included six Siskins (5 east), 31 Meadow Pipits (27 grounded), a singing Chiffchaff and two singing Willow Warblers.

Out on the river were 23 Goldeneyes, a pair of Gadwall, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, a pair of Goosanders and 20 Shelducks. There wasn't the same number of waders around and all I had were 87 Redshanks, twelve Oystercatchers and four Curlews.

The Easter weekend is looking glorious weather-wise, but I'm out surveying on Good Friday and Easter Monday, but I'm hoping to get some birding and ringing done at the Obs over weekend.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Birding Both Sides Of The Border

Over the past couple of days I have been fortunate enough to have been carrying out bird surveys in north Cumbria, and also birding the Solway on the Scottish side of the border. Long time readers of this blog will know the passion I have for Scotland, and I still hope that in the not too distant future it will become our home, so any opportunities to bird north of the border are gratefully received.

Yesterday it was the first of my plantation woodland breeding bird surveys and it is the last year of this five year project. Even though at times the surveys haven't been exactly hooching with birds, I will nevertheless miss not doing them next year!

It was a cold clear morning as I set off at my survey site not too far from Carlisle, with a light southerly wind. As always at this site the first birds I hear whilst walking to the first compartment are singing Yellowhammer, Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker. In fact I had two singing Chiffchaffs on this morning and a third feeding bird. Just one singing Willow Warbler in the first compartment, and four Stock Doves came out of an old ruined barn.

 Willow Warbler

In the cold conditions the second compartment was thin on the ground with noteworthy birds, other than a singing Song Thrush and a Tree Sparrow. The third compartment was quiet too, but at least there was a singing Blackcap to listen to. It felt as though Spring hadn't quite sprung up here, but that might be me looking for reasons for a lack of birds.

I then headed north of the border to bird the Solway between Gretna and Eastriggs. This site has become a bit of a 'patch' in recent years, and I always look forward to a few annual visits. One of the beauties of the site is that there is nobody there and the waders on the shore tend not to get disturbed. 

 The Solway

Out on the river a group of Goldeneyes drifted past on the falling tide and the flock was made up of two males, five females and six immature birds. Other wildfowl included fifteen Wigeon, a male Goosander, two Teal and six Shelducks.

There was a few waders on the shore and the numbers of passage waders had started to build up with 207 Ringed Plovers and 65 Dunlins. Other waders included eleven Curlews, 53 Redshanks and three Oystercatchers. A single Little Egret was roosting with head tucked in and I turned my attention to terra firma.

Along the edge of the estuary here above the high water mark is a line of scrubby habitat consisting mainly of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Gorse, Broom, Alder and Birch sp. This habitat does hold a few migrants and this morning it was just three Chiffchaffs, three Willow Warblers and two Siskins.

 The habitat along the edge of the estuary (above & below)

Friday morning saw Gail and I at our northwest Cumbria wintering bird survey site, now doing the first of a couple of breeding bird surveys, and it was quiet. Well, quiet on the breeding bird front, but there was a bit of vis including Siskin, 24 Meadow Pipits, four Lesser Redpolls, 19 Linnets, Swallow and four Goldfinches.

The resident pair of Grey Partridges were still present and grounded migrants were limited to a male Wheatear and a Willow Warbler. Raven and male Peregrine both made it into my notebook and that was it.

I've got bird surveys everyday except Thursday next week, and I am hoping to get out at the Obs tomorrow, and as usual I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 8 April 2019

More Twite and a Great White

I started off at the cemetery yesterday morning under full cloud cover with a 5 mph ENE wind. I thought that there might be a few grounded migrants this morning but I was greeted with that eerie silence, where your first instincts based on this are usually right, that it is going to be quiet.

A few Meadow Pipits were going over, 77 in total, as well as two Goldfinches and five Woodpigeons heading in the same northerly direction. After a full circuit I didn't have a single grounded migrant.

I headed to the coastal park and again it 'felt' quiet, no singing Willow Warblers etc. After a short while I could hear the familiar fast trills and buzzing sounds that emanate from a flock of excited Twite. There in the top of a Sycamore again were 34 of these delightful birds.


There were a few grounded migrants here in the form of two Chiffchaffs, a male Blackcap and a Goldcrest; all three silent and not calling at all.

There was some vis over the coastal park and I had my first Lesser Redpoll over for the Spring, and a handful of Meadow Pipits headed north. Equally as excitable as Twite are Siskins, and a few headed east. Some were dropping in and feeding on the Sycamore buds before heading off again, and a party of six did just that as they called noisily to each other.

The best bird on vis was a Great White Egret that headed east over me at 0740, and I see it was picked up further east over Preesall at 0754! I tried to get a shot, but the results on the back of my camera were a large white, blurry mess!

A Swallow over ended a couple of hours out in the field.

 One of the resident male Chaffinches

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Spring Has Sprung

I've talked before about the various events that are the first signs of Spring, or make Spring etc, and recently I mentioned Shelducks returning to inland breeding sites, but the one thing for me that tells me Spring has sprung, is that first snatch of Willow Warbler song, and this morning was one of those mornings!

At first light under 1 okta cloud cover with a 5 mph northeasterly wind I was at the pools checking how flooded our net rides were. I could get into the reeds and Willow scrub okay, but there was some flooding in the net rides themselves. We generally just put up three nets at this site, two 60 foot nets and one 40 foot net, but this morning it would only have been possible to put up three 20 foot nets, as the reedbed end of all the rides was quite flooded. However, I did think that if we have another week of dry weather, it might be possible to do some ringing here next weekend. Fingers crossed!

Sunrise over one of our flooded net rides

It never ceases to amaze me how Cetti's Warblers have colonised all the wetlands at the Obs in recent years and just this one wetland area had five singing males this morning. The only other warblers I had here were two singing Chiffchaffs.

The pools were quiet in terms of a wildfowl, obviously because of the time of year, but also because females will be on the nest, so 17 Tufted Ducks, a male Gadwall and a pair of Shovelers was noteworthy. After the ubiquitous Raven and a male Wheatear, it was time to have a look in the cemetery.

As soon as I got out of my car I could hear a glorious sound, the sound of a singing Willow Warbler; Spring has sprung! I moved on to the coastal park and was greeted with three singing Willow Warblers here, and a singing Blackcap!

There was quite a lot of vis this morning, particularly Meadow Pipits, even though I wasn't in a particularly good place to count them I could see streams of Meadow Pipits heading northeast out over Morecambe Bay. I recorded 246 in my notebook, but there was probably at least four or five times this number.

Siskins were also going over, often just heard and not seen! Some would drop into the tops of the conifers and Sycamores and then continue heading east. My notebook records eleven, but again there was a good deal more.

A female Brambling and a Goldcrest were the last of what I would call grounded migrants that made it into my notebook.

Twite were the main interest here and Ian had phoned my whilst I was in the cemetery to say that he had 28 Twites in the tree tops in the coastal park, a first record for the site. When I was later at the site stood on top of the mound watching and counting some of the vis, the Twite appeared and whipped over the top of my head into the Sycamores. I walked round and located 28 birds calling away to each other from the tree tops! It's not often that you see Twite in trees. They were also dropping down and feeding on the amenity grassland within the park and were obviously able to find some food.

 Tree top Twites above and below

 A nice end to an interesting morning. I wonder what tomorrow will bring, Spring has sprung after all!

Sunday, 31 March 2019


Steady is how Ian and me described this morning's vis migging and sea watching at the Obs. It was a pleasant change not to get up until 6:00 a.m. with the clocks going forward, and at sunrise we were greeted with 6 oktas cloud cover with a chilly 10 mph easterly wind.

We perched ourselves on top of the dunes so we could count the vis and watch the sea as well. The vis started immediately and it was steady. It always amazes me watching Corvids head out over Morecambe Bay, and it makes you wonder where they are going and why does such a generalist feeder move in the first place. Similarly with Woodpigeons, and they were moving out over the bay as well.

Siskins were as elusive as ever in terms of being heard and not seen; was that just one bird calling going over or was it three, is the thought process when one hears a Siskin in the stratosphere. A flock of noisy Twite heading east was a vis highlight, and a calling Tree Sparrow over engendered the same thoughts as the Corvids; where had this been largely sedentary farmland bird come from, and where was it going?! That's the beauty of migration, so many questions and thankfully we don't have all the answers to maintain an air of mystery about it.


They were the vis highlights, and the totals included (movement between north and east) 18 Goldfinches, 25 Linnets, two Reed Buntings, 159 Meadow Pipits, seven Jackdaws, four Alba Wags, five Carrion Crows, two Swallows, 17 Woodpigeons, eight Siskins (at least), a Tree Sparrow, two Skylarks, two Collared Doves, three Sand Martins and thirteen Twite.

There was some interest on the sea and our totals included two Great Crested Grebes, eight Sandwich Terns, ten Red-breasted Mergansers, twelve Red-throated Divers (including three high flying over-landers), five Shelducks, 19 Eiders, ten Common Scoters, two Gannets and seven Auk sp. There was also a continual passage of Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls east into the bay. Unfortunately with everything else that was moving, they sadly remained uncounted.

I didn't look for grounded migrants, so a female Stonechat in the dunes could have been a grounded bird or it could have been a local breeder. So a pleasant couple of hours watching and recording the spectacle of migration was had.

Female Stonechat

Friday, 29 March 2019

3:00 a.m.

I semi-bottled it yesterday morning and got up at 3:00 a.m. I couldn't bring myself to getting up at 2:45 a.m., something about the fact that if the number two is involved in the early hours, then that's more like night than morning! It's all psychological I know.

My early start meant that I was at my northwest Cumbria survey site by 0600, ready to completed the final wintering bird survey of the year. I was greeted with six oktas cloud cover and a 15 mph SW wind. Later in the morning the cloud cover would melt back to about two oktas, but it remained fairly murky out at sea. Murky enough so that I couldn't see Scotland at least!

There was a little bit of vis this morning and at first everything was heading south into the wind, and using the cliff face to get some shelter. As the morning warmed and the wind dropped slightly the birds were moving north. It sounds like I am talking about hundreds of birds here, when in reality it was more of a trickle. My vis totals included four Meadow Pipits, six Chaffinches, 21 Linnets, 22 Goldfinches, 51 Pink-footed Geese and a Siskin.

As I've said previously about this site, the inland sector of my survey area does hold some breeding birds and this morning I had a pair each of Grey Partridge, Stonechat and Reed Bunting. In addition to this were six singing Skylarks, and a Brown Hare that I flushed was noteworthy for this site.

I had my first Wheatear of the Spring this morning, in the form of a cracking male, that the local Meadow Pipits took exception to and chased around! The only other grounded migrants that I had were four Goldcrests in the Gorse.

Compared to when I was here last, three days previously, the sea was a little more interesting, or there was certainly more birds. My totals included 47 Common Scoters, four Red-throated Divers, two Great Crested Grebes and a Gannet.

The most interesting aspect of the morning was the movement of Whooper Swans. I was busy sea watching from my VP and I could hear the noisy bugling calls of a number of Whooper Swans. I looked round and couldn't see them, and then they suddenly appeared over the cliffs just to my south and headed straight out to sea, even though it was a tad murky. This flock contained 180 birds and a short while later I had a flock of ninety! Looking at the direction they were flying it would take them round the Mull Of Galloway, and who knows after that. Stonking birds!

 Some of the Whooper Swans

Raptors were thin on the ground, and they were so thin on the ground, that all I had was a single male Kestrel. Other than a Rock Pipit that made it onto the pages of my notebook that was it.

It's looking dry, but cold over the weekend, with a northerly element to the wind at times which will slow Spring migration down a bit. Having said that it will be good to get out on the patch again!

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Frog Spawn and Boxes

My Blog title was going to be No Pictures and Not Many Birds because when I was going to originally post, that was exactly the situation. I had been out finishing wintering bird surveys and not seeing very much, nor taking any pictures! Thinks have changed a little, thankfully!

A week ago I was at my survey site close to home not too far from the River Wyre. I had full cloud cover, with mist at first, and a moderate southwesterly breeze. People cite lots of examples of first signs of Spring; frog spawn, Blackthorn blossom, queen Bumblebees, the first Chiffchaff etc, but for me one of the first signs of Spring is the return of Shelducks to inland breeding sites after spending the winter on the coast. And this morning was just one of those occasions when I recorded four birds in suitable habitat.

The Rookery was busy as usual with somewhere in the region of 20-25 pairs, with several pairs sitting on their nests. I had a first for the site this morning in the form of a calling Water Rail from a former meander of a rivulet that would have once upon a time fed into the main river. I have no doubt that this would have been a migrant along with the singing Chiffchaff and calling Fieldfare that I had.

Whilst I was walking towards the Rookery a female Sparrowhawk, and she was a large lass, flew along the woodland edge and perched on the edge of the Rookery. As you can imagine the Rooks went ballistic, but what did surprise me was how quickly they settled down again even though the Sparrowhawk remained. It's as if they knew where she was, so she wasn't a threat. A Buzzard flew out of the wood and was escorted off the premises, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Coal Tits and two Song Thrushes were 'best of the rest'!

On Sunday just gone, Gail and I headed to our nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley to carry out our annual maintenance visit on the boxes. The woodland has changed hands recently and we met the new owner and he was extremely keen for us to carry on. He is a keen conservationist and he invited us to have a look at his farm on the Fylde to see if there was any ringing potential there, so that was great. In fact that's perhaps two new ringing sites that might come on stream later this year, but that's for another time.

 The nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley

We replaced four boxes and put an extra one up, making it forty boxes in total all ready to provide homes for Pied Flycatchers this year. When I was checking one of the boxes I noticed a large dollop of frog spawn on it. How on earth had that got there was my thought. Most of it looked viable, so I found a plastic bag in my rucksack, poured some water into it from my water bottle and deposited the frog spawn in the bag. I knew of two ponds on site, so on our way out I placed the frog spawn in one of the ponds.

 Frog spawn on a nest box lid!

A friend in Northumberland, Stewart, thought that the most likely explanation was that the frog in question was probably being carried off by a predator, such as a Corvid or Grey Heron, and the frog shed it's spawn, and the rest is history as they say. And I agree with Stewart's theory.

Monday saw me carrying out the penultimate wintering bird survey at my northwest Cumbrian survey site. I had clear skies with a 15 mph northwesterly wind. It was a pleasant day, but one of my quietest surveys here, particularly on the sea.

 Even though it was quiet the Coltsfoot (above) and Primrose (below),
brightened up the morning!

One of the first things we had was a flock of 38 Whooper Swans at sea heading towards the Mull of Galloway, and it made me think that perhaps it was going to be an interesting morning. As I sated before the sea was very quiet with just a single Common Scoter and an Auk sp. recorded. There was very little vis, other than a handful of Meadow Pipits north, and the only grounded migrant was a single Goldcrest.

The breeding bird flag was flown by a pair of Ravens, two pairs of Stonechats and 44 Fulmars on the cliffs to the south.

Yesterday I was at my survey site in Cheshire and I was surprised to find a ground frost on arrival at 6:00 am. A few Tree Sparrows were calling from the hedgerows as I walked round and I had eight in total. Other farmland birds included fifty Linnets, a female Yellowhammer, three Skylarks, nine Lapwings and two Song Thrushes.

 Sunrise in Cheshire

A Brambling was noteworthy, and the only raptors I had were two Buzzards. The Snipe were still roosting in the maize stubble and I had 34 in total. This was my last visit to this site, and as I have completed breeding bird surveys here as well, I have got to know the site and grown to like it.

Tomorrow is an early alarm call, and depending on how brave or stupid I'm feeling when I go to bed, it will be a 2:45 am alarm call at the earliest and 3:45 am at the latest! Ouch!