Saturday, 27 July 2019

Trees And Moss

I'm looking forward to Autumn, well it's Autumn now, so I should say I'm looking forward to September and October when hopefully I'll have a little less work on so I can get out birding on the patch more, rather than all of my birding being work related.

I had two site visits during the past week at opposite ends of Cumbria; one in the south overlooking Morecambe Bay and the other in the north overlooking the Solway. My first survey in the south of Cumbria yielded quite a few species using the plantation woodland as a post-juvenile dispersal foraging area. Nothing amazing at all but three Linnets, three Song Thrushes, a couple of Blackcaps, two Willow Warblers, a Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow were all making good use of the site.

Swallows have been relatively scarce this summer and lots of Birders, Ringers, Patch Workers, Nest Record Carders have all reported low numbers breeding, so it was a pleasant surprise to find about fifty of these delightful birds perched up on telegraph wires.

The other surprise was to find a juvenile Grey Heron next to what was nothing more than a shallow flood amongst the trees caused by overnight rain. I had a look at/in the flood and it seemed devoid of anything that would be suitable fodder for a Grey Heron, so I guess it was just the area of water that had attracted it, with the assumption that it would be a suitable feeding area.

Close to my survey site is the wonderful Foulshaw Moss, so I called on my way home. I was hoping for a bit more reptilian action, but alas it wasn't to be. My first stop was to have a look at the two feeding stations and they were both alive with birds; Siskins, Lesser Redpolls, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Reed Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Bullfinch and juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker.

 Bullfinch

 Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

It was an overcast morning so my walk along the boardwalk didn't reveal any inverts other than Small White and Speckled Wood butterflies. Lots of juvenile birds were moving around and I came across a large mixed Tit/Warbler party with thirteen Long-tailed Tits, numerous Blue, Coal and Great Tits, and a couple of Willow Warblers. I had a pleasant hour and a half, but nothing momentous.

Earlier in the week I had a new insect species for my garden, probably brought in by all the warm weather. I'm pretty sure that it was a Field Grasshopper, and you can see a picture below. It was on the side of my wood store so I snapped it with my phone, and then went to get my camera from my car, and it had gone! Typical!

 Field Grasshopper?

I had another plantation woodland survey site towards the end of the week with stupendous views across the Solway to Scotland, with the Criffell dominating the view. However, the views were a misty stupendous that morning so I didn't bother taking any photos!

There was either a few juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers around, or it was the same couple of birds moving about because I had five sightings of juv. Great spots, with only ever two together at one time. It's been a bit of a week for juv. Great Spots!

A couple of Buzzards were over the neighbouring ancient semi-natural woodland, and as I walked along the edge of the planted area I was surveying they were alarming calling at me, so they must have had a nest fairly close by. They can have young in the nest any time from early March to late September, so I didn't linger and moved back in to the trees.

 Buzzard

Other highlights included seven Willow Warblers and seven Tree Sparrows, plus good numbers of other common woodland species.  

The weather so far over the weekend has been wet, and it is forecast to be wet tomorrow, so Ian and I are planning to have a ringing session in one of the reedy/willow scrub areas of the Obs on Monday. If we do I'll let you know how we get on.

As you know I enjoy lifting old notebooks of the shelf and having a look at what I was seeing the same time of year in years gone by. In 1986 I lived in west Norfolk and I used to bird Snettisham Pits, Titchwell and even Cley after work. I used to love looking at the pools and seeing what 'fresh' waders were about.

Two days stand out, 17th and 18th July. On 17th July I went to Snettisham Pits, which was one of my local patches, and adjacent to two of my ringing sites to see if I could see the adult White-rumped Sandpiper that had been found at the site. It was easiest to see at high tide when waders were forced to roost on the islands on the pits. It was a dull, warm and windy evening and I hadn't been there long when I picked the White-rumped out amongst some returning Dunlin.

The following day I spent the evening at another of my then local patches, Cley, in the days when it was relatively quiet with few birders. This time I was there to look for the adult Buff-breasted sandpiper that had been found, and again I located it fairly quickly and there was only a handful of birders there. Imagine a Buff-breast today during the evening at Cley, there would certainly be more than a handful of birders there!

There was other goodies at Cley that evening too, including three juvenile Bearded Tits, eleven Ruffs, two Green Sands, nine Spotted Redshanks, five Avocets, two Little Ringed Plovers and a Greenshank. A veritable wader fest!

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Hedges and Ponds

Over the past couple of days I have completed some on-going bird surveys on hedges and ponds/wetlands for one of my clients at his two farms, but more of that shortly.

First of all, a quick rewind to last weekend where Ian and I had another ringing session in one of the reedbeds/scrub at the Obs. We ringed 27 birds as follows:

Reed Warbler - 5
Blackcap - 8
Robin - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Goldfinch - 6
Whitethroat - 3
Reed Bunting - 1
Willow Warbler - 1
Wren -1

Monday morning found Gail and I undertaking a survey of a client's ponds/wetlands on his farm in Bowland. I have probably mentioned this before, but he has created a wetland corridor through the middle of his farm and he has asked me to carry out a series of bird surveys. I carry out a CBC type survey and map all birds and their activity along a route that I walk that covers all the ponds/wetlands and associated habitats.

 One of the ponds that forms part of the wetland complex

I won't beat about the bush, the following species and numbers are what we recorded that were of interest; four Lesser Redpolls, six Stock Doves, two Siskins, two Sedge Warblers, four Reed Buntings, four Willow Warblers, 40 Mallards, 1 female Sparrowhawk carrying prey, a juvenile Redstart, two Snipe, twelve Oystercatchers and a Barn Owl carrying prey.

Both farms are good for Brown Hares and at the farm in Bowland I recorded 19 Brown Hares, and at the one in the Wenning valley fourteen!

 Brown Hare

It was hedges on Tuesday at my client's farm in the Wenning valley. I have six hedges to survey; three existing hedges and three that we planted a few years ago. I won't break it down by hedge, but as above just list some of the more interesting sightings as follows; a Grey Wagtail, a Raven, eleven Goldfinches, six Willow Warblers, a singing Garden Warbler, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Buzzard, a Sparrowhawk, three juvenile Redstarts and a Siskin.

 One of the 'newly' planted hedges that I survey

Juvenile Redstart

A number of butterflies were on the wing including this brand new spangly
Small Tortoiseshell

It's looking like we won't get any ringing done this weekend at the Obs due to the wind strength, so it will be more survey work for me next week to get my birding fix! 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Barn Owls And More

On Monday evening Alice, Gail and Me joined our good friends Robert and Diana at their farm near Garstang to ring some Barn Owl chicks, and perhaps some Kestrels. Robert and I climbed into the barn to check the box, and when I slid the inspection hatch open on the box I was greeted by three spangly Barn Owl chicks nearly fully grown, perhaps about eight weeks old. They were nice and calm so I carefully removed them from the box.

 Barn Owl (picture courtesy of Alice)

Diana runs various education visits at the farm and the children can learn all about the connections between farming and habitat management, and they also learn lots of interesting bush crafts in the woodland on the farm. On this particular evening Diana had a group of Brownies and they were keen to see the Barn Owl chicks being ringed. The girls were all really well behaved and kept very quiet so as not to spook the Barn Owls, and they were absolutely delighted to be able to get up close to such a beautiful bird.

The three Barn owl chicks were dutifully ringed and returned to their rather odorous nest box!

We checked the Kestrel box in the woods, but they had fledged. On the walk down to the wood we had a Grey Heron on one of the ponds, and four Tree Sparrows were counted along with a singing Blackcap.

A quick rewind to Sunday found Ian and I undertaking a ringing session in one of the areas of reedbed and scrub at the Obs. It wasn't as busy as the previous weekend, but we did ring 32 birds as follows:

Reed Warbler - 6
Blue Tit - 3
Blackcap - 3
Goldfinch - 1
Great Tit - 5
Lesser Whitethroat - 2
Sedge Warbler - 2
Robin - 2
Whitethroat - 1
Chiffchaff - 1
Wren - 2
Dunnock - 1
Greenfinch - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 1

 Sedge Warbler

From a birding perspective the most interesting/enjoyable sighting for me, was the flock of six Little Egrets that flew over shortly after first light. They were obviously flying from a roost somewhere to feeding areas on the coast or the estuary. I have mentioned many times before on here about being a birder of a certain age and remembering when Little Egrets were a local rarity! Hence my continued excitement about seeing them!

Saturday, 6 July 2019

It's Autumn

At the end of last week Gail accompanied me on one of my last round two plantation woodland survey sites. In a few days time I'll start the third visits that look to gather data on whether these new-ish woodlands provide foraging areas for dispersing juvenile birds from adjacent habitats. Anyway, I digress.

This particular site in the upper Eden valley, not a million miles from Kirkby Stephen, comprises of seven small tree planted compartments. It is fairly isolated in terms of how the newly planted areas fit in with habitats in the wider landscape, and as such the bird survey results have been fairly poor. However, with time as the woodland develops this should improve, it's just that initial colonisation is slower than other sites that have habitat linkages to the wider landscape.

'Ticking' Robins were a feature of this morning and there are several other occurrences in this lengthy post (apologies for that) that indicate that it's Autumn! I'm just going to give you the totals for this site as follows; three Willow Warblers, a pair of Oystercatchers with two young (not amongst the trees obviously), eight juvenile Blackbirds, nine Song Thrushes (including six juvs), 50 Lapwings (see Oystercatcher), three 'ticking' Robins, two Lesser Redpolls, a Coal Tit, a Mistle Thrush, two Linnets,  90 Black-headed Gulls (on recently cut adjacent silage field with Lapwings) and two Brown Hares.

Driving away from the site we had two sightings that are sadly becoming increasingly rare. First up was a pair of Curlews with three chicks wandering down the road! The second sighting was a Red Squirrel just as we drove into Kirkby Stephen that ran across the road in front of us. A Red Squirrel will feature again later.

A week ago today Alice, Ian and Me had our first ringing session of the Autumn in some of the reedbeds and scrub at the Obs. From a birding perspective all I can report is two Common Terns that went over calling southeast, four Swifts and a male Blackbird carrying food.

From a ringing perspective we did quite well and ringed 57 birds as follows:

Chiffchaff - 4
Long-tailed Tit - 10
Willow Warbler - 2
Great Tit - 3
Blue Tit - 8
Blackcap - 6
Whitethroat - 4
Lesser Whitethroat - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 7 (all juveniles)
Goldfinch - 2
Wren - 3
Greenfinch - 1
Reed Warbler - 4
Robin - 1

 Blackcap

Tuesday found me birding on the Solway near Rigg on the Scottish side. I had full cloud cover, with a 10 mph westerly wind and there were more signs that it was autumn.

Amongst the scrub along the estuary were three Whitethroats, three Linnets, a Song Thrush, four Willow Warblers (3 juvs), singing Blackcap and a singing Sedge Warbler. As the morning warmed a few butterflies were on the wing including thirty Ringlets, eleven Painted Lady's, five Meadow Browns and a Small White.

Out on the mudflats there was a selection of returning waders, again another Autumn indicator, and this selection contained 34 Lapwings, two Black-tailed Godwits, six Curlews, a Redshank and five Oystercatchers.

Other species that I recorded associated with the estuarine habitat included 53 Black-headed Gulls, four adult and eight juvenile Shelducks, ten Little Egrets, 32 Goosanders and 25 Mute Swans.

Earlier this week I finished off the last two of my round two plantation woodland survey sites. The first was near Wigton in north Cumbria, and the highlights included a Stock Dove, two Tree Sparrows, a Chiffchaff, nine Willow Warblers, a Song Thrush, a Goldcrest and four Blackcaps. 

Amongst the nettles at this site I came across good numbers of Peacock butterfly caterpillars and I have inserted a photo of them below.

 Peacock butterfly caterpillars

My week finished northeast of Penrith for more bird surveying, and it was more of the same with twelve Goldfinches, six Willow warblers, a Sedge Warbler, three Siskins, five Coal Tits, two Blackcaps, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, four Tree Sparrows and four Grey Wagtails.

Driving away from the site through some coniferous woodland I had to stop to let a Red Squirrel across the road, my second in a week! So it's definitely Autumn, and I apologise again for the length of this post!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Bardas On the Boardwalk

Towards the end of last week I had the penultimate site survey to do for the second round of breeding bird surveys I am doing, and it was a site near Kendal. The weather was glorious with clear skies and virtually no wind. I knew I was going to call at Foulshaw Moss after I had finished my survey so I was looking forward to that.

I didn't record anything earth shattering during my survey, but nevertheless it is still all important data, but what I did record included a singing Garden Warbler, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Tree Sparrows, a singing Chiffchaff, three Song Thrushes (including two juvies) and two Willow Warblers. What I haven't told you about is the juvenile Blue and Great Tits, the juvenile Blackbirds or the female Blackbird carrying food, which is what the surveys are really all about.

It was on to Foulshaw Moss and I was hoping for some Common Lizzard action, but I was mindful of the fact that it was just before 8:00 am and it might not yet have been warm enough for reptiles. I walked along a section of boardwalk where I recorded Common Lizzards last time I was here, and low and behold I had a couple of Common Lizzards! Then something caught my eye moving along the boardwalk, and it was an Adder! Or Marlies, Prags or Bardas if you prefer!

 Adder

The Adder moved quickly ahead of me and dropped through a gap in the boardwalk. I rattled a few shots off, and the best of these you can see above. I was as pleased as punch!

I think I have probably said before that the reserve is lowland raised bog and is managed for its botanical and invertebrate diversity and it is all about keeping it wet, and as such there are a number of glorious pools. Associated with bogs is Birch scrub, which is managed to prevent it drying the bog out, but it all adds up to some great habitat for birds too, especially wetland species.

 A glorious bog pool

A quick gallop through my bird totals saw me recording four singing Sedge Warblers, six Reed Buntings, ten Lesser Redpolls (it's all about the Birch for them), two singing Song Thrushes, three singing Willow Warblers, two Blackcaps (male & female), a Tree Sparrow, two Tree Pipits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Goldcrest, two Coal Tits and six Long-tailed Tits.

I was scanning the open moss over towards a conifer woodland and noticed a number of Swifts flying above the conifers. I counted them and was surprised to count 84 birds! They were obviously hawking a hatch of some aerial insects and I wondered how far some of them travelled to exploit this food source.