Thursday, 30 May 2019

North

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.

 Orange-tip

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
hedges

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!

 Oystercatcher

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!