Monday, 3 May 2021

Three Different Days

As I sit here at my computer on Bank Holiday Monday, looking out of the window, it is decidedly dreich, so the perfect opportunity to look back on three different days from Friday - Sunday. 

Friday morning, I was back at my wintering bird survey site with some freshwater marsh, but this time it was to complete the first of three breeding bird surveys (BBS). It was a calm, overcast morning, and when I got to the site at 6:00 a.m. there was a ground frost! However, as soon as the sun moved in-between the marsh and the sky, the frost disappeared. 

I thought I might have had a few more warbler species this morning, but in the end my BBS maps just showed two singing Blackcaps and four singing Sedge Warblers. The Sedge Warblers reflecting the area of wetland habitat of course. Reed Buntings were expected, and recorded, with 2-3 pairs on the marsh.

I added another summer migrant to my (invisible) list of new arrivals in the form of a single House Martin, and two Tree Sparrows were along the last hedge that I surveyed. 

I just wanted to mention that I have at least two Hedgehogs coming into my garden nightly, and they are eating all the dried cat food that we leave out for them. In return, they leave several 'deposits' in and around the feeding station as a thank you! We wouldn't have it any other way.

On Saturday morning, Alice and I tried our luck in the Willow scrub at the pools again. The water levels had dropped once more, and instead of just managing to put 60 feet of net up, we managed to get 100 feet up. Did we manage to ring many more birds with this increase in netting? Barely!

At first light we had clear skies, and it was calm, so apart from the clear skies it was perfect for ringing. As I hinted at before, we didn't have a brilliant ringing session and only ringed three birds; one each of Lesser Redpoll, Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting. Just one recapture, and that was a Reed Warbler, so it was a morning of quality, rather than quantity. 
 
Lesser Redpoll
 
Reed Warbler
 

As we were putting the nest up, we did so to a background of calling/singing birds that included, two Cetti's Warblers, two Sedge Warblers, three Whitethroats, a Blackcap and a Whimbrel that called from somewhere on the scrape. 
 
The only 'vis' that we had was a light passage of Swallows and Sand Martins north, that numbered 14 and 4 respectively. As always, there was probably more than this, but when you are disappearing into the reeds at regular intervals to check the nets, you miss quite a bit of what's going over. 
 
Between net rounds, a very confiding Song Thrush was feeding round our parked cars. I think what was attracting him/her, was the short sward created in the area we park our cars, so it was easy to forage for invertebrates. On several occasions he/she flew off carrying food towards the marina. 
 
Song Thrush
 
Yesterday morning I headed to the coastal farm fields, and when I arrived at 5.45 a.m. the weather wasn't too bad. I had about 7 oktas cloud cover, with a light south-easterly wind. After a couple of hours, the skies blackened, the wind increased to a blustery westerly, and I had both hail and rain!
 
Black cloud over my vis and sea watch point
 
As I was pulling on my Muck Boots at the back of my car, I could hear Pink-footed Geese calling fairly loudly, and I looked up to see a skein of 130 heading north. They are starting to get a bit late now. That was the first bit of vis that I had, and there were a few other species on the move including two Linnets, three Rooks (where were they going), 18 Black-headed Gulls, a Lesser Redpoll, a Tree Pipit, 22 Swallows, a White Wagtail and four Goldfinches. Out of the 22 Swallows that I recorded, nine of these I picked up with my telescope heading north out at sea. Migration in action. 

The sea delivered the usual suspects, but in low numbers, and with some species missing (no Skuas for example), and my totals included 9 males & 2 female Eiders, 21 Sandwich Terns, two Cormorants, 72 Common Scoters, two Red-throated Divers, six Gannets, six Red-breasted Mergansers and an Auk sp. I also had an Atlantic Grey Seal that was taking its time to devour a large fish!
 
At 7:20 a.m. three Whimbrels dropped on to the foreshore, and fed alongside a tidal pool, before calling it a day ten minutes later, and continuing their northwards journey. I had a walk round the farm fields after the sea quietened down, or became even quieter than when I started looking, and all I could add to my notebook was three singing Sedge Warblers, a singing Skylark, a singing, or should that be a 'rattling' Lesser Whitethroat and a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler
 
Two of the three Whimbrel that dropped in (above), and the three leaving 
(below)
 

 

I called in at the cemetery on my way home, no migrants as such other than the Swallows that nest in the chapel, but a juvenile Mistle Thrush looked funky and punky, with bits of sticking out down here and there. It was time to return home for a coffee.
 
It's still dreich as I look out of the window again, and it's forecast to be dreich tomorrow, but that means that I'll be able to have a few pints of real ale this evening!

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Tewits

Earlier this week Gail and I visited a farm of one of my clients in Bowland, that I have been working with, and providing conservation advice to manage a population of breeding waders for 20 years now. It's not just breeding waders, it's all of the wildlife, or it's a case of encouraging as much wildlife on to the farm, by creating and managing a number of different habitats.
 
We had 7 oktas cloud cover and a light easterly wind, as we set off on what would be a very pleasant four hours walk. Willow Warblers were a constant companion to us on our walk, and there had obviously been a decent arrival, and dare I say it, during this cold spring a first decent arrival, with ten singing males. 

One of the main reasons for our visit was to survey the breeding waders, and try and assess how their populations are doing. I have mentioned numerous times recently, what a cold, late spring we are having, and I think this is also having an effect on the breeding cycle of waders this year. It was hard to say for definite what affect the spring is having, and as a result of this, I am going to have another look next week to try and get a better idea. I estimated that on the bit of the farm that we surveyed there was four pairs of Oystercatchers, 13 pairs of Lapwings, two pairs of Common Sandpipers and ten pairs of Curlews
 
Common Sandpiper
 
My Blog title of 'Tewits' refers to the breeding Lapwings that we were surveying, and Tewit is a Scottish and northern English name for Lapwing! In fact, the magazine that I used to produce for the members of the conservation charity that I used to work for, was called 'The Tewit'. 

Even though it was 8:00 a.m. before we set off on our walk, we did have a number of Brown Hares, with at least 16 recorded in my notebook. You can't beat a Brown Hare; gorgeous animals! Besides the Willow Warblers, the only other warbler species we recorded was a singing Sedge Warbler in one of the wetland areas on the farm. 
 
Brown Hare (above & below)
 

 

We did have two other summer migrants though, a male Cuckoo and a singing Redstart. The male Cuckoo was utilising a large area of the farm, and if I hadn't seen how far he was flying, I might have entered two in my notebook. At one point he flew directly over us 'Cuckoo-ing', and instead of just enjoying watching him fly over, as Gail did, I faffed around trying to photograph him, and ended up with just a dot against the sky as a result! At one stage, I could see the Cuckoo perched on top of a mature Ash tree in a hedgerow, and a number of birds (Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and Chaffinches) were perched up round him. I wasn't sure that they were semi-mobbing him because he looks a bit like a raptor, or whether they know that Cuckoos are a brood parasite. 
 
Cuckoo. Honest!
 
There wasn't any obvious vis this morning, other than the infrequent calls of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls that remained unseen. There were Tufted Ducks on all of the ponds, and the farm has a good breeding population of them. We recorded two pairs of Stonechats; one pair in the wetland complex and another along the edge of the fell. 
 
Siskin at one of the farm feeding stations
 
Two Ravens commuted back and forth, occasionally displaying, and doing a complete roll as they do. Raptors were thin on the ground, and we had two Buzzards and a Kestrel. It looked a good morning for a migrant raptor, but it wasn't to be. 

On this date (26th April) in 1989, I was at Long Point Bird Observatory on Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada, with Phil from our ringing group. We went for four weeks, and had a fabulous time witnessing migration action at this superb bird observatory. 

On this particular morning, it was mild, with full cloud cover and intermittent drizzle, and we had a huge fall of birds, but the number of species was limited. We had some nets open, and after a short while we had to close them because we were catching so many birds. The main species arriving was Golden-crowned Kinglets and we could hear them bumping into the banding lab windows, and they were even coming into the cabin! 

We estimated that there was at least 1,800 Golden-crowned Kinglets at the Breakwater field station that we were running. This field station is on a wooded ridge that juts out into some wetlands, about five miles from the base of Long Point. We extracted somewhere in the region of 2-300 Golden-crowned Kinglets, but rather frustratingly at this time Long Point didn't hold a band small enough to fit them, so they had to be released unringed! They do now by the way.

We also recorded 200 Brown Creepers (ringed 47), 100 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 60 Hermit Thrushes (9 ringed), 75 Chipping Sparrows (12 ringed), 15 Field Sparrows, 25 White-throated Sparrows and 200 Slate-coloured Juncos (40 ringed). A busy morning!

Other species encountered, but in lesser numbers included, a female Northern Harrier, 50 Common Grackles, 5 Pine Warblers (1 ringed), 5 Myrtle Warblers (2 ringed), Eastern Phoebe, 70 Tree Swallows, 3 Brown Thrashers and a Savannah Sparrow
 
Brown Thrasher, courtesy of Long Point Bird Observatory
 
I'm hopefully out ringing in the Willow scrub at weekend, but it will be nothing like that morning at Long Point 32 years ago!

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Wet

A few Blog posts ago I mentioned the possibility of getting back into the Willow scrub at the pools to do some ringing, and at weekend Alice and I did just that, but it was wet! Very wet in fact. We would normally put up 160 feet of net, but we could only get 60 feet up because of the wet conditions. It wasn't terribly deep in the very wet bits, perhaps about 2 feet, and it was dry as I expected at the northern ends of the net rides. However, the dry bits only extended to about ten feet, so the end of both 30-foot nets we put up were over water. We will attempt another ringing session there this coming weekend, and I expect that the water levels will have dropped a little more. 
 
The day dawned with 7 oktas cloud cover, with a light easterly breeze. Singing warbler wise we had two Grasshopper Warblers, a Blackcap, a Reed Warbler, a Whitethroat, three Cetti's Warblers and a Sedge Warbler. There was very little vis, that seems to be a common theme this Spring, with just a couple of Swallows and a Sand Martin north, and a couple of Siskins northeast.
 
A Common Sandpiper flew round the scrape calling, looking for somewhere to land, but couldn't, and headed off east. A pair of Sparrowhawks made it on to the pages of my notebook, but little else did. 
 
All we ringed was a female Blackcap and Blackbird, and we recaptured a male and female Cetti's Warbler. Both Cetti's Warblers were ringed in 2020. Let's hope that we do better this coming weekend! 
 
Cetti's Warbler
 
One of my favourite wintering wildfowl species is Scaup, and over the years I have noticed that I see less and less. I never came across lots of them, but anecdotally my records over each subsequent winter seemed to paint a declining picture. With that in mind, I was interested to read a snippet in British Birds and on Birdguides that stated that an analysis of coordinated count data from the last 30 years has shown a 38.1% decrease in wintering numbers of Scaup in northwest Europe, from 309,000 individuals during 1988-91 to c.192,300 during 2015-18. The short article went on to say that annual trends in wintering numbers differed throughout the range, with numbers decreasing in the UK, Ireland and Netherlands, stable in Denmark, and increasing in Germany, Poland, Sweden and Estonia. This suggests a shift in the distribution of the species within its wintering grounds towards the east and north. 
 
One theory put forward for this decline and shift in distribution, is increasing winter temperatures in the north and east of the Scaup's wintering range, with climate change seemingly opening up more wintering sites to the species, as winter ice cover extent decreases. There are other potential factors cited as well, including a deterioration in food quality in the south and west. All very worrying. 
 
As a little aside, the scientific name for Scaup is Aythya marila and the Scaup was the favourite bird of Peter, who is sadly no longer with us, but he was a long standing member of our ringing group, and a dear friend. When his daughter was born, Peter and his wife decided to call her Marila! What a beautiful name.

Monday, 26 April 2021

A Game Of Two Halves

Four days ago, I was over at my survey site on the Humber Estuary, and it was very much a game of two halves. The first half being the last of my VP surveys overlooking the estuary, as well as the site itself, and the second half being the first of two breeding bird surveys (BBS). As far as my Blog post is concerned, I won't be presenting it as a game of two halves, but that of a pleasant five and a half hours in the sun surveying birds! 
 
It was cold at first with, a ground frost, clear skies and a light north-westerly breeze. In terms of looking over the estuary, it was low water, and there were a few birds feeding on the foreshore, but not that many. Shelducks have been a feature of my estuarine counts all winter, and this morning there was just nine birds spread out along the mudflats. 
 
Frosty Bramble
 
A Grey Plover was nice to see, but it's a pity that it wasn't in summer plumage as you can't beat that black and silver spangly plumage! Four hundred and fifty Knots and 72 Dunlins headed downstream, but they were quite away out and flying in front of the morning sun, so I couldn't tell what plumage they were in. Other waders on the shore included nine Oystercatchers, a Whimbrel, 16 Curlews and twenty Redshanks

I recorded four species of raptor this morning, which I didn't think was too bad. First up was a pair of Sparrowhawks that drifted west across the site, followed by a pair of Kestrels. I was watching the male Kestrel hovering in front of me, as I was looking on the estuary, and he suddenly dropped to the sea wall, and started calling excitedly. I looked up and he was on the sea wall mating with the female! 

                                                                            
 
Mr & Mrs Kestrel
 

The third species of raptor was a Buzzard that flew north being mobbed by a Raven, which I think was another new species for the site. And raptor species number four was a Peregrine that motored northwest, coming in-off the estuary. 

The vis was quiet, and it has been a quiet spring so far for vis, and in fact for migration in general. Swallows have been very thin on the ground and this morning I only had four heading north, along with two of their Sand Martin cousins. A Yellow Wagtail called overhead from somewhere in the stratosphere, and quite literally just a handful of Linnets and Lesser Redpolls also headed north.

There was a noticeable increase in singing warblers since my last visit, and I recorded three Chiffchaffs, four Sedge Warblers, four Blackcaps, two Whitethroats and a Cetti's Warbler.

I'm looking forward to my second BBS visit in late May, and maybe it will have warmed up by then! 
 
I thought I would have a look at an old notebook, and on the evening of 22nd April 1987 I was at Shotton in North Wales watching a male Little Crake. If my memory serves me correct, it was at the site of an old power station where there was a series of reed-fringed muddy pools. My notebook states that I watched the bird down to 25 feet, feeding on a small muddy pool. The bill was a yellow to lime colour, with a reddy-orange base. The upperparts were a slate/blue grey. The under-tail coverts were white with brown striations, and the upperparts were streaked medium-dark brown. Sadly, I didn't take photographs then, but the bird is firmly locked away in the old grey matter, and in my notebook of course. The only other birds in my notebook for that trip, are two Short-eared Owls and a Grasshopper Warbler.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Back In The Willow Scrub?

The plan this morning was to check the water levels in the reedbed and willow scrub at the pools at the Obs, after I had completed a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in an area of grassland and dry scrub nearby.

It was a bit cooler this morning, with a stiff easterly breeze and full cloud cover. As I have said in previous posts, it's been a slow spring this year, and there are a few species that I have yet to record, or they have only arrived in low numbers as yet. An exception to this is Blackcaps, and I have been seeing and hearing a number of Blackcaps this spring, and this morning I recorded six at my site, including four singing males.

I recorded two singing males of a cousin of the Blackcap, the Whitethroat, this morning, and they were my first of the Spring. Whitethroats have been missing, or they are certainly down in numbers, this spring, and let's hope that they are just running late, and the full force is yet to arrive. 

A single Swallow zipped through, and this is another species that is causing concern this spring, and the plight of Swallows this spring even made it on to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning! The only other summer migrant that I recorded at my survey site was two singing Chiffchaffs. 

The last bird I recorded at my BBS site this morning, was a Song Thrush, and the first bird that I recorded at the pools at the Obs was a singing Song Thrush. I didn't hear a single Reed or Sedge, but a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler was a pleasant addition to my spring arrivals. Two Cetti's Warblers with their explosive song drew a line under the warbler section.
 
Grasshopper Warbler
 
I had my first two Coot chicks of the year, that were foraging on one of the pools close to a Moorhen that looked very incongruous, swinging back on forth, perched near the top of a handful of dead reed stems that it was grasping in its feet! 

A Great Crested Grebe was actively feeding and being successful in its foraging attempts, whilst the other bird was sitting tight on the nest. Ten Tufted Ducks and the loan male Shoveler still graced the pools, and a Grey Heron was attempting to be as successful as the Great Crest at the back of one of the pools. 
 
Grey Heron

I walked round to where we drive into the ringing area, unlocking the gate and checking that the padlock hadn't seized up over the winter. It has been very dry of late, and I wanted to see if I could get a net or two up in an area of Willow scrub that we don't usually ring in, but I thought might be dry enough to do so. It wasn't, but I did flush three Snipe looking! 

I decided to try and walk in to the area that we usually ring in, and I nearly made it to the first net ride in my wellies. I didn't try and get any further, as I didn't want to 'over top' them with water as they're needed tomorrow on the Humber Estuary. It did get me thinking though, that we might get back in the willow scrub if we put waders on just to get to the net rides. 

The net rides are slightly higher, and therefore drier, than the surrounding reeds and willows, so potentially with waders we could get to the net rides. The net rides tend to be drier at their northern end, and wetter at their southern end, where they slope ever so slightly towards the water. So, it might be a case of putting 40-foot nets up in the 60-foot rides, and a 30-foot net in the 40-foot ride. Either way, I am fairly confident that we will be back in the willow scrub at weekend having a ringing session!

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Marsh Harrier 'Makes' My Day This Time

I am stuck in my home office today, but every so often I venture out into the garden and look skywards with both my eyes and my ears! I usually record a bit of vis, mainly passerines, but now and then something interesting goes over. 

This afternoon was one of those 'something interesting goes over' occasions. I was stood on my 'vis chair', as I call it, that gives me a better view over the neighbouring houses, gardens and most importantly the sky. A few Gulls were behaving a little bit odd, alarm calling half-heartedly, but certainly not enough to make me think there was an interesting raptor around. Usually, if there's an interesting raptor abou,t they go absolutely ballistic!
 
Anyway, I decided to have a scan round just in case, and there to the west I picked up a female type Marsh Harrier heading south, over what I know would be the coast. It was in a hurry, mainly because it was trying to shake-off its Gull escort! A new bird species observed from my garden/house, taking the total to 72. Well, I think it's 72 as I'm not very good with lists, or at least not very good at keeping them up to date. In fact, the only list that I keep in some sort of order is my 'house list'!
 
 
Not the Marsh Harrier from this afternoon, but one that I had more or less 
to the day this time last year at the Nature Park. Also, complete with a Gull 
escort!

Only Two

At weekend Alice and I ringed only two birds at our Bowland ringing site, but it was a pleasure to be out. The weather wasn't bad, with 7 oktas cloud cover and a light south-easterly wind.

Unloading the gear from my car and heading to the area where we put the nets up, there were a few migrants singing, including two Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff, a Willow Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher from the wooded valley. 
 
Pied Flycatcher
 
We caught and ringed a Blackcap and Willow Warbler on the first net round, and recaptured a Goldcrest and Wren, but that was it from a ringing perspective for the morning. 
 
Blackcap
 
A few Brown Hares were good to see moving along the track and through the woodland. Two Lesser Redpolls feeding on top of Birch trees gave us hope that there might be a few on the move, but we had no luck with them.  

Brown Hare

Talking of Lesser Redpolls, Ian has managed to ring 75 over the last three mornings from his garden within the Obs recording area! 

I've got local surveys this week, and a trip to the Humber again, so I'll let you know how I get on.