Thursday, 22 December 2022

Feeding Station Blues

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues to wreak havoc amongst our bird populations, and after all the deaths within seabird colonies during the summer, wintering wildfowl are the group of birds that are suffering the most with it at the moment. 

As a bird ringer operating under the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing scheme, we have to adhere to a raft of new, more targeted, biosecurity measures, and understandably so. It is very important that ringing continues despite of HPAI, to ensure that there isn't a loss of essential data crucial in informing our understanding of this disease, and monitoring changes in bird populations because of it. It is also essential that ringing activities do not contribute to the spread of HPAI, hence the new biosecurity measures that are now in place.
 
I also have considerable experience in visiting poultry units and the biosecurity measures that are always in place to mitigate disease risk and spread, and I'll come back to that shortly with some personal thoughts and observations on what I think that all birders should be doing, indeed all users of the countryside that move from site to site, to help reduce the spread of HPAI. The problem is, that some birders, and users of the countryside, can be a belligerent lot, and aren't happy to be asked to follow any guidance. Please note that I did say 'some' birders! 
 
The BTO have divided their guidance and permissions regarding HPAI by activity e.g. seabird ringing, passerine ringing etc, and country e.g., England, Wales etc. And as I only target passerines at the moment, I have to follow the biosecurity guidelines set out for the ringing of passerines. 
 
I have summarised below the biosecurity measures that we now have to follow:
  • Wear an outer laying of clothing that can easily be sanitised e.g., waterproofs, and disinfect the outer layer, boots and hands (or nitrile/vinyl gloves) on arrival to and departure from the field site.  
  • Sanitise all catching, handling and ringing equipment that has the potential to come into contact with birds and clothes at the end of each session.
  • Sanitise hands and biometric equipment (pliers, rules, scales weighing pots etc) frequently during a session, and at the end of a session.
  • Once a bird bag has been used to hold a bird, it cannot be used for another individual until it has been washed.
As you might expect, the guidance is far more detailed than what I have outlined above, but I wanted you to get a flavour of the biosecurity measures we are now following. In addition to this, it is very important to disinfect boots on arrival, and prior to departing the site, using a recommended disinfectant for HPAI. There are two products that are primarily used, and these are Virkon S and Safe 4. I personally use Virkon S as I have experience of using it visiting poultry units. In addition to boots, it is also important to disinfect car wheels on and off site. 

Prior to Covid, I used to visit free range egg producers to assess the tree planting that the egg producers had undertaken on the hen's ranges. The idea of the tree planting was for enrichment of the birds, and to also provide additional habitat for biodiversity, as the tree planting tied in with particular National Vegetation Classification (NVC) woodland communities. 

At each site, on arrival I disinfected my car wheels via a spray bottle containing Virkon S, and scrubbed and dipped my boots in the disinfectant bath provided by the egg producer. On leaving the site, the same was done again. In addition to this, I also had to wear a set of paper overalls, that were disposed of at the end of the visit and therefore not used again.
 
I think that some of the above should most certainly apply to birders, who very often visit multiple sites, and it should apply even if not visiting multiple sites. And as I said before, any users of the countryside should follow some of these guidelines as well. 
 
The guidelines that I think all birders etc should be following are cleaning and spraying of boots on arrival and departure from a site, and also the spraying of car wheels on arrival and departure from a site. If this was followed, it would at least ensure that birding activities weren't contributing to the spread of HPAI. The reason I say this, is that going back to my poultry unit visiting days, it was feet and wheels that were the main vectors of disease transmission between sites, and this applies to HPAI exactly the same. 
 
So, when you are next out birding, or walking your dog perhaps, please have a think about this, and make sure that your activities aren't contributing to the spread of HPAI.
 
Now to some birds! I have mentioned before our good friend's Robert and Diana's farm near Garstang where we have nest boxes primarily aimed at providing a safe place to nest for Tree Sparrows, and where we also run a winter-feeding station. The reason we operate the feeding station is to provide over-winter feeding opportunities for the Tree Sparrows, and if we catch some of these birds at the feeding station, it provides us with some excellent data on survival (percentage recaptures). 

In early December, we had our first session at the feeding station, and managed to ring 23 birds, including eight Tree Sparrows. Other species ringed were four Blue Tits, three Great Tits, three Chaffinches, a Robin, a Coal Tit and three Greenfinches

It was a clear, crisp morning and a few Pink-footed Geese were moving about, including the 1,164 that flew over us. It is hard to estimate how many Tree Sparrows were at the feeding station, but it was probably at least thirty birds. Other sightings that made it onto the pages of my notebook included a Kestrel, two Grey Wagtails, a Buzzard and a single Siskin
 
Kestrel
 
Pink-footed Geese
 

I was down in southwest Lancs again towards the end of the first week in December completing wintering bird surveys, and although the weather was glorious over the two days I was surveying, it was very cold with a hard frost lasting all day. Over the two days I recorded of interest 1,436 Pink-footed Geese, eight Stock Doves, 20 Collared Doves, a Water Rail in a reed-fringed ditch, 180 Lapwings, 14 Golden Plovers, 101 Curlews, 78 Common Gulls, five Buzzards, a female Sparrowhawk, a female Marsh Harrier that headed north, a female & two male Kestrels, a Raven, eight Long-tailed Tits, three Song Thrushes, a Grey Wagtail, a Lesser Redpoll, a Siskin, a pair of Yellowhammers and two Reed Buntings
 
Common Gulls
 
Grey Wagtail
 

Towards the middle of the month, we were back at the feeding station and it was another clear, frosty day. Only eleven birds were ringed this time; a female Mallard, three Great Tits, two Robins, two Blue Tits, a Chaffinch, a Tree Sparrow and a Treecreeper

The wetland was frozen solid, so all the wildfowl had moved on.
 
To finish off I just wanted to wish you all Season's Greetings, and I hope you enjoy the mid-winter festivities. We are beyond the Solstice now, so we can look forward to the return of the light!

Saturday, 17 December 2022

Birding in the Real and Virtual World

Over the past few weeks, I have attended two conferences via Zoom, and both were held over several days. The first was the Scottish Ornithology Club (SOC) annual conference, from 25th - 27th November, and the second was the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) annual conference, from 28th November to 3rd December. Both conferences were excellent, with some brilliant, informative, thought-provoking talks and presentations. Conservation science at its best! 

There was a theme to the SOC conference and that was raptors, and the subjects covered included Golden Eagles, monitoring raptors, Kestrels in Ireland, Merlin declines and urban nesting Goshawks in Hamburg, to name but a few. I've picked out a few highlights below from a few days of virtual birding in Scotland and beyond.

Dr Kez Armstrong gave an entertaining and fascinating talk on The Common Kestrel in Ireland. A sobering fact that she gave us, was that 52% of raptors worldwide are in decline. And another sobering fact was that Ireland is capable of supporting 18 species of raptor, but only supports 9. Sobering indeed!
 
One family of kestrels that Kez followed, removed over 900 rodents from the landscape, which is better than any rodenticide! So, the way forward in controlling rodent numbers is put up a Kestrel box!  

Cat Barlow gave an update on the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project and she told us that one female who was translocated from the Outer Hebrides had a trip to my home county of Lancashire, and was displaying in Bowland for a couple of days before returning to southern Scotland. Twenty juveniles have been translocated so far and all are doing very well. 

At one of the supplementary feeding stations where they put out a deer carcass, they noticed that a male Golden Eagle, not part of the project, was visiting the feeding station fairly regularly and he was ringed. Several photographs later, they managed to read the ring and he was ringed in the nest in southwest Scotland 32 years ago! If he survives until next summer, he will be the oldest Golden Eagle in the wild in the world! Fantastic! 

Dr Gaby Peniche's presentation had an intriguing title that was If you hit a raptor hard enough will it leave a 'dino' sore? What can raptors tell us about the health of the Scottish environment?
 
Gaby was looking at chemicals found in raptors, pesticides, poisons etc, and she was doing this by carrying out autopsies on dead raptors that had been found, and there were some rather alarming results. 

When she looked for rodenticides, she detected residues in Barn Owls, Buzzards, Golden Eagles, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Sparrowhawks and Tawny Owls. The lethal level of rodenticide is 0.2 ppm, and she found this in some Tawny Owls. 

In all of the species that she analysed, she found cadmium and lead. They were in low concentrations, but why were they were there in the first place? Similarly, Gaby analysed Golden Eagle chick blood, and the blood tested positive for mercury and lead. Why was it there? There was a higher concentration of mercury and lead in the west, in the Outer Hebrides particularly, but again, why? 
 
Rodenticides are lethal at 0.2 ppm, toxic at 0.02 ppm and this study found levels commonly at 0.01 ppm in some species. Even at these levels, individuals are more likely to die of trauma, such as collision with buildings, vehicles etc, and shows what an effect low levels can have. 

This was a fascinating talk, and the findings asked more questions, and it is really important that this work is followed up with more research in to why some of these chemicals are finding their way into the wider environment, and ultimately into our bird species. 

Back in the real world towards the end of November I was out at one of my wintering bird survey (WBS) sites in southwest Lancs, just before the cold weather set in. Since I started these surveys in October, most of the Pink-footed Geese have been flyovers, but I had a group of 580 on the ground this morning. They were breaking all the rules, and obviously hadn't read the handbook about the displacement effect of woodland when foraging! These birds were feeding very close to a large area of woodland, which just goes to show, what do we know?!
 
Pink-footed Geese
 
Two of my favourite members from the pigeon family are Stock Dove and Collared Dove, and on this morning, I had 196 and 26 respectively. In fact, it's been a while since I have seen as many Collared Doves as this. 
 
Lapwings were fairly numerous, and I had a flock of 300 feeding in a short-cropped field, as well 492 that flew over. Seven Little Egrets was a site record for me for the short time I have been surveying it, and just two species of raptor were present during the morning, Buzzard and Kestrel, with two of each. 
 
Kestrel
 
Little Egret
 

The following day we set the feeding station up at our friend's farm near Garstang. After we did that, we had a quick look on the wetland and there were 300 Teal, 30 Wigeon and a male Shoveler
 
I was then back in the northeast in Teesside for another WBS and it was a misty morning, but just clear enough for me to see the 14 Oystercatchers, three Grey Plovers, four Ringed Plovers, eight Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwit, 16 Dunlins and 66 Redshanks feeding out on the mud on the falling tide. A female Stonechat was present on site, and I also had a Water Pipit, which was my first of the winter.
 
I was then back in the virtual world for the BTO conference, and the conference week kicked off with a presentation by BTO CEO Professor Juliet Vickery on Harnessing the Power of Citizen Science. Juliet's talk did what it said on the tin, and there were some impressive stats about the number of hours that volunteers for the BTO put in, such as over 2 million hours of volunteer work per year, which equates to 1,247 staff years! 

Spreading the citizen science definition further, it was observed that an increase in ring recoveries reported by the public was an early warning system that something was wrong. Members of the public were reporting more ringed Great Skuas and Gannets, and this was followed by the confirmation of the current outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). 

There's a big push by government to plant more trees in the UK, to sequester more carbon to help combat climate change. However, there are right places and wring places to plant trees, and John Calladine talked about Waders and Woodland: what you have done towards resolving a conservation conflict. There have been a number of incidents in recent years, where tree planting has been carried out on land that is good for breeding waders. And of course, tree planting and breeding waders don't mix, as at worse, the trees are planted directly on prime nesting habitat so this is no longer available to the waders, or trees are planted adjacent to breeding areas which can then have a displacement effect, as the waders won't nest close to trees as they can't see the approach of avian or mammalian predators when on the nest. 
 
What John and his colleagues have managed to do by analysing all of the survey data provided by volunteers, or citizen scientists, through schemes such as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), is to map the breeding wader density on a landscape scale for the UK, and produce wader zonal maps that show the distribution of breeding waders. This means that trees can be planted in the right places, and avoid disturbing nesting waders. A win, win situation! 

What isn't a win, win situation is the continuation of mass Pheasant releases that is having an adverse impact on our native biodiversity. And this doesn't include the potential spread of HPAI that releasing over 60 million Pheasants and Partridges will undoubtedly be contributing to. 

A Belgian study has demonstrated a link between the mass release of Pheasants and the disappearance of lizards and snakes from the environment. The research also found that stopping the release of Pheasants in an area led to recolonisation by a widespread species of lizard within a few years. 

The researchers made extensive field studies at six sites at which Pheasants were mass released. Regardless of how many visits they made, no reptiles were found at any of the sites. By comparison, an average of more than three species of reptiles were recorded at sites not subjected to gamebird releases in the same area. 

Secondly, at a site where Pheasants were released in 1999, no Common Lizards cold be found within a 2.5 km area. In 2011, a few years after the Pheasant releases had stopped and the birds had died out, Common Lizards were detected in four out of the five sections. To ensure that this wasn't a coincidence related to a general comeback of Common Lizards in the wider area, the researchers compared results to the control areas, free of Pheasants. They found that the population had remained stable, suggesting that the presence of Pheasants was key to the abundance of Lizards. 

In addition, the scientists pointed to the absence of Slow-worms from sites subject to mass Pheasant releases as particularly significant. In the research area it is the commonest reptile, and can be present in densities of up to several hundred individuals per hectare, and is easily detected using artificial shelters (tin sheets). For none to be detected in Pheasant release areas, the impact of the gamebirds on reptiles must be huge. As with Common Lizards, Slow-worms were observed to return to areas one Pheasants disappeared. 

Given the evidence presented, as well as previous studies that have shown that mass releases of Pheasants cause significant impacts on the floral, vegetation and invertebrate communities, the authors say that banning Pheasant releases would be the recommended course of action, and I have to agree. Pheasant releases are responsible for the increase in generalist predators, the non-native Pheasants compete for resources with our native wildlife, and I suspect that they contribute to the spread of HPAI. I'll touch more upon that in my next post. Sadly, with a Conservative government financially propped up by wealthy shooting landowners, there isn't the political will to tackle this very obvious ecological catastrophe. A change in government is the only way to move forward.

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

If it wasn't for the day job...

...I wouldn't be getting out at all of late! 
 
I have never known an autumn like it, and I know I've said that before recently. I have two wintering bird survey locations, with two survey areas at each site, and depending on the tide, it might be just four days to do two surveys at each, or if the tide isn't right it might take between four and eight. What I'm getting at, is that I should have plenty of time for my voluntary birding and ringing, but I'm not. Since late September there has only been a handful of days per month when the weather has been good for anything outdoors, and on these good days I've had to complete surveys for the day job. I shouldn't complain, as at least it keeps me out in the field. 
 
Mid-month, I was back in the north-east at Teesside. There was no mist in the forecast, but it was certainly a misty morning when I completed my two surveys. Fortunately, the mist was never enough to prevent me seeing the distances required for the surveys. 
 
My first survey location is away from the coast and it was quiet here. Highlights were few and far between, and the only sightings perhaps worth mentioning were 20 Lapwings, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Kestrel, a Song Thrush, seven Fieldfares and a Tree Sparrow that headed west, which was a new species for the site for me. 
 
I've mentioned before, that from my second vantage point (VP) I can see out over the estuary, and hauled out on the mud were 25 Harbour Seals. A selection of wildfowl and waders were out on the estuary, including 42 Shelducks, 29 Wigeon, 16 Teal, 23 Red-breasted Mergansers, 40 Oystercatchers, 22 Golden Plovers, four Grey Plovers, 36 Curlews, 17 Bar-tailed Godwits and 118 Redshanks
 
Other than that, a male Stonechat and a Kestrel were the only other things worth mentioning.
 
One of the favourite places that Gail and I like to stretch our legs for a wee dander, is the quay down by the Wyre estuary. Late morning yesterday, we did just that, and it was a cold half hour spent walking along the quayside overlooking the estuary. 
 
The tide was just beginning to fall, and a few waders were starting to feed on the small areas of mud that were starting to appear. Not many, just 22 Redshanks and eleven Oystercatchers. As we rounded the corner and started heading to the mouth of the estuary it was even colder, and you can see how bleak it looks from the picture below. All we could add was a Peregrine perched up on the old ferry infrastructure. 
 

Peregrine
 
I was alarmed to read in the Conservation News section of a recent British Wildlife, that in 2021 the number of documented violations of legislation designed to reduce water pollution caused by farming in England were at record levels, as the rules remain largely unenforced. Environment groups estimate that there were tens of thousands of undocumented violations. And even more alarming was the fact that the Environment Agency had been instructed by DEFRA not to enforce the rules. Shocking!
 
I'm hoping that the weather starts to behave itself soon, so I can get out in the field other than just for the day job!

Friday, 4 November 2022

P is for...

...Pallas's Leaf Warbler, or just plain old Pallas's to some, but there isn't anything plain at all about a Pallas's. They're rare in the west, so when one turns up it causes some excitement, but not so much in the east, and they are lovely little birds, really lovely, but I'll come back to the leaf warbler in a bit. 
 
At the start of the week, I completed my second wintering bird survey on some mossland in southwest Lancs, but it was quiet. Gail joined me for this survey, and I had to treat her to some lunch in Southport later for the pleasure of her company! We set out under 7 oktas cloud cover, with a fresh south-south-easterly wind. 
 
Like last time, a number of Pinkies were flighting in from coastal overnight roost sites, to feed out on the moss, and we had over a thousand go over. A pair of Grey Partridges put in appearance once again, and raptors were still thin on the ground with just a single Kestrel. Two Ravens were an addition to the site total, and once again a survey site for work, has started taking on the feel of a 'patch'. 
 
Pink-footed Geese
 
Not as many Skylarks headed south, with just nine on this morning, but a singing Chiffchaff was another new species for the site for me. It is like a patch! No wintering thrush numbers to speak of, but Goldfinches had increased to twenty, carrying about ten Linnets, and three Yellowhammers were another addition. Nothing exciting, but still enjoyable.
 
Back to that pale green, stripey, lemony, sprite, aka a Pallas's Leaf Warbler! I'd had a late night on Wednesday, as Gail and I had been to a gig, and I think it was closer to 1:00 am before Gail and I got to bed, so when Ian phoned me yesterday morning just before 9:00 am I had only just got up. I answered the call to Ian with a "morning matey", and he said "are you are home"? When I answered yes, he said "thank f*ck for that, as I've got a Pallas's Warbler in the Mount"! I got my stuff together, and was stood with Ian in the Mount about fifteen minutes later. 
 
After about a five-minute wait, it started calling and proceeded to show well as it flitted amongst the foliage of the pines and poplars feeding away. I think Pallas's are gorgeous birds, forget about them being scarce, they are just lovely birds. I love the way they are constantly active, 'zipping' this way and that, and the muted colours of green, lemon and white, with that stripey head, just make them such a bonny bird somehow.
 
However, this constant zipping and flitting, make them hard to photograph, well for me and my camera at least, and the two shots below are record shots, to test all record shots. And if you squint hard, with a fair wind behind you, and you have just looked at some proper images of a Pallas's, you might just be able to see that the over-exposed, tiny, blurry smudge, is indeed this stonking little leaf warbler!
 


 
Far better is the short video clip below that Ian sent me, and you can see how stripey it is, and how it continually moved around! Press play and keep watching.
 

 
When it called, it was easy to see. It had two distinct calls, and I am rubbish at describing calls, but the best call was an almost two-syllable (my description) 'chew-ee', or something like that, which was quite 'soft'. The other call, was a shorter, and perhaps slightly harsher, in a Pallas's soft call context, and was a short 'pii', or a bit like that. I think the best thing to do, is go on Xeno-canto and have a listen!
 
It showed well for a good 15 - 20 minutes, and then vanished for perhaps 20 minutes, before re-appearing briefly on the other side of the pines, where it showed well again, and then disappeared. A few birders started to arrive and it was picked up again, but it was time for me to slip away.
 
Gail and I had a walk along the quay this afternoon, and had a few bits and pieces. Out on the mud were 16 Redshanks, three Black-tailed Godwits and three Oystercatchers. The creeks held eleven Teal and 26 Mallards, and two Little Egrets flew downstream towards the mouth of the estuary. 
 
Ravens are regular here now, and we had a single bird fly over croaking away at both the start and end of our walk. A female Peregrine was perched up and sheltering from the wind, and a calling Rock Pipit was one of the few passerines we encountered alongside a couple of Linnets. As we finished our walk and were just about to get in to the car, four Whooper Swans headed south-east. A nice end to a pleasant hour in the sun. 

Friday, 28 October 2022

Back On The Moss

I like mosslands, but I'm not exactly sure why. Most of our mosses are now completely degraded and have been drained for agriculture, but even so, there is still something about them. I wondered whether it was the open landscape with 'big' skies', perhaps that's part of it, but I think what it probably is, is that some of the last remaining farmland bird populations are to be found on mossland. Even though most mossland has been 'improved' for agriculture, the wet, peaty soils means that from an arable perspective at least, spring cropping still takes place, and this provides habitat for some of our declining farmland birds. This is certainly the case in the northwest, but in East Anglia it is a different story. 
 
Earlier in the week, I was on some mossland in south-west Lancashire to start a series of wintering bird surveys at this particular site. It was a pleasant morning, with sunny intervals and a light - moderate southerly wind. 
 
The site that I am surveying is permanent pasture, quite rare on a lot of mossland, bounded by mature hedgerows, and plonked in the middle of a predominantly arable landscape. From the word go, Pink-footed Geese were on the move, commuting between their estuarine roost sites to inland feeding areas, and I had 1,249 go over. In fact, my survey site is only 4 km from the coast as the 'Pinkie' flies.
 
One of the farmland bird species that I now only ever record on mossland is the Grey Partridge, and I was pleased to see a pair this morning. I suspect the mature hedgerows and spring cropping are providing some good habitat for them. Raptors were thin on the ground, with just a male Sparrowhawk being mobbed by a Magpie, the only species. 
 
To the northwest of the site is a block of woodland, and Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay were calling from here. It was hard to say whether there was any vis or not, but 16 Skylarks, two Meadow Pipits, two Chaffinches and singles of Greenfinch and Siskin all heading south, suggested there might have been.

A party of 12 Long-tailed Tits moved along a hedge, and the network of hedges held two Song Thrushes, six Redwings, 52 Fieldfares and six Blackbirds, including a continental male. Alongside the track that forms the northern boundary of the site, are some telegraph wires and 17 each of Goldfinch and Linnet were perched up on them. A single Reed Bunting ended a pleasant morning.
 
Reed Bunting
 
The forecast for the weekend isn't great, and it is looking like another weekend where there will be no ringing for me.  

I read an interesting snippet in British Birds that was reporting on some new research published in the journal Current Biology (not a journal that I am familiar with), that revealed that Jackdaws use a democratic process to decide when to leave their roosts en masse! 

In the snippet it stated that the study was undertaken over two winters at roost sites in Cornwall. Using audio recorders to monitor noise levels, researchers found that birds call out when they are ready to leave and, when the noise reaches a critical level, it signals that the roost is ready to depart. Amazing!

Thursday, 20 October 2022

Coast To Coast Thrush Spectacular

At last, some birds to talk about, including a scarce migrant and breeder, but more spectacular, a huge movement of Fieldfares and Redwings

As I have posted before, autumn has certainly been very quiet so far, well for me it has, with a lack of migrant birds, until yesterday. But before that, I need to rewind to the beginning of the week to one of my wintering bird survey sites in the northeast, not far from Middlesborough. 

The site comprises of rank grassland, with some scrub and young Birch woodland. I did three surveys in the first three months of this year, and I am back to complete a whole winter of surveys at the original site, and at another site directly to the north of the original site that overlooks the Tees estuary, just! 
 
Under mainly clear skies, with a light easterly wind, I completed my first survey at the original site. There was some vis, it was very light, and because of the clear conditions I suspect that there were birds moving beyond the range of my sight and hearing. In fact, the Skylarks, Chaffinches and Siskins were very high, and I could only hear them. The vis included 75 Pink-footed Geese, eight Woodpigeons, four Skylarks, one Swallow (singing away as it headed west), one Fieldfare, five Meadow Pipits, four Chaffinches, one Brambling, one Goldfinch and three Reed Buntings. I must admit that I was expecting more.
 
A Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Goldcrests calling from the Birch woodland made it onto the pages of my notebook, but very little else did. 
 
I then moved to my second site, where I can just about see on to the Tees estuary. The cloud had now thickened, increasing to five oktas, and the wind had swung round to the north. The tide was in, and bobbing around in the water were at least six Harbour Seals. I see Atlantic Grey Seals from my local patch on the west coast of Lancashire, but only see Harbour's when I am away in other parts of the UK. 
 
I had some more Pinkies heading south, 87 this time, and I also had two Barnacle Geese heading southwest. Other wildfowl included 37 Wigeon and two male Pintails. As the tide was in I had very few waders, other than 21 Curlews and twelve Dunlins
 
The best bird of the day was undoubtedly the Woodlark that I had go over calling and head south. I had only just walked on to the site when I heard this bird, and it took a second for the old grey matter to register that it was a Woodlark. I used to see lots of Woodlarks when I lived in Norfolk, and I have carried out breeding surveys for them in the midlands, but it's been a few years since I last saw or heard one, hence the second delay in my brain registering the call! Although the views were flight views, it still made my morning. 
 
The only potential grounded migrants that I had were two pairs of Stonechats that were on site, and it will be interesting to see if they are still present on site when I next go in November. A Rock Pipit called from the shore, and only five Meadow Pipits headed west. 
 
Yesterday was the day of the autumn so far for me, and I have never witnessed as many Redwings and Fieldfares on the move as I did yesterday. I had planned to go birding yesterday morning, and as the wind was a fresh south-easterly, I was hopeful of a few birds. As I popped my head out in the garden at about 0730, I immediately heard Redwings, Fieldfares and Chaffinches calling, and I could see groups of all three species heading south/south-east. Little did I know what would unfold. A quick text to Ian to say that Redwings and Chaffinches were 'pouring' over my house, and I headed to the cemetery.
 
Fieldfare, but not from yesterday
 
Redwing. I didn't have any decent pictures of a Redwing in the field, hence the 
above picture of one in the hand. You can see its red 'wing' though
 

The wind had picked up, and it was a good 20 mph south-easterly and the vegetation certainly had a vigorous sway to it, not good for looking for migrants! Whilst in the cemetery, I had a couple of Grey Wagtails over and a single Brambling battled east. Based on my experience in my garden at first light, I decided to go to the Mount to get some elevation, and see what was going on with the vis. It was a good move.
 
Looking north from the Mount above, and west below. You get a good idea
of the elevation and aspect, and hence why it is good for vis in autumn
 

 

Straight away I had Redwings, Fieldfares and to a lesser extent Chaffinches on the move. They were heading east to the north of me, west to the south of me and southeast to the west of me! As I looked west, I could see large numbers of Redwings coming in off the sea and heading southeast into the wind. A quick chat with Ian who was further west than me, and I decided to change location, and see if I could intercept these south-easterly moving birds at the Nature Park.
 
Before I reveal the totals from the Nature Park, from the Mount I had 5,868 Redwings, 82 Chaffinches, two Siskins, a Grey Wagtail, 95 Pink-footed Geese, 1,260 Fieldfares, a Song Thrush and a Brambling all head between east and south. 
 
At the Nature Park I found a mound that I could stand on with a little shelter from the now 25 mph south-easterly wind, and I had a pretty good view all the way from the Irish Sea coast to my west, to the Wyre estuary to my east, and I started counting. It was a hell of a spectacle, and the short snatch of video below doesn't really do it justice, it was phenomenal! 
 
Redwings. Click for a better viewing experience
  
Over the couple of hours that I was counting I had 11,344 Redwings, 24 Chaffinches, 2,400 Fieldfares, two Song Thrushes, four Bramblings, five Meadow Pipits, four Pink-footed Geese, three Goldfinches and a Reed Bunting all head south-east. 

A Sparrowhawk tried to intercept the thrushes, but was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of potential prey items. My observation point overlooked the main pool, and a Cetti's Warbler was giving its explosive song, and out on the water were six Teal, 22 Coots and three Shovelers.

Back home the amazing Redwing and Fieldfare movement continued until at least 1500, and I think that if I had remained at home, I would have recorded similar numbers as my garden was right underneath their direction of travel. Throughout the day, for all three sites that I watched from, I recorded an astounding 22,720 Redwings and 6,068 Fieldfares. Phew!

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

The Quiet Autumn Continues

The quiet autumn continues, with little or no improvement in the number of birds passing through over here in the west. During most Autumns, the visible migration of Meadow Pipits can be spectacular with several four figure counts of birds on the move, but not this Autumn, in fact it has been a struggle to record three figure counts! 

A couple of days ago, I was at the coastal farm fields from first light, under 6 oktas cloud cover, with a 10 - 15 mph south-easterly wind that increased as the morning went on. I was supposed to be at the Nature Park ringing, but with that wind, it would have been impossible. 

I mentioned the lack of visible migration so far this autumn, but the sea has been equally as quiet, and it has been for a good few years now. Something is going on, but I'm not sure what it is. This morning all I recorded were eleven Cormorants, two Shelducks, 22 Common Scoters and a male Eider

I've already touched on the vis, or lack of it, and this morning from my watch-point all I could muster were 25 Meadow Pipits, two Reed Buntings, 37 Carrion Crows, a Grey Wagtail, three Skylarks, a House Martin and an Alba Wag. Demoralising!
 
A/the Little Egret was feeding in a tidal pool as usual
 
I had a look in the cemetery afterwards, to see if there were any grounded migrants, and there was diddly squat! There's a pattern emerging here!

In my last post I talked about the government reviewing their plans for agri-environment schemes, with the fear that Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes could be scrapped. Every week we receive a veg box from Riverford Organic Farmers, and in the box, besides the delicious vegetables, is an opinion piece from Riverford founder and creator, Guy Singh-Watson. Guy's opinion pieces are always well-written and thought provoking, and this week he talked about the latest government plans regarding environmental schemes for farming. I hope Guy won't mind, as I have reproduced Guy's piece word for word below, as it sums up the chaos and incompetence from this government, and how I feel about the current situation.
 
The EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which paid subsidies to farmers, was an expensive environmental and economic failure since its inception in the 1960s. By the time we left the EU, it amounted to a little more than a levy on taxpayers to support landowners. Arguably it increased production, but at huge environmental cost, and with minimal respect for the rights and welfare of the non-landowning public or potential new entrants to farming. For me, the silver lining to the Brexit cloud of uncertainty was the prospect of a saner agricultural policy of our own.
 
"Public money for public goods" emerged under Michael Gove as the guiding principle of the UK's new farming policy. Indeed, it was enshrined in the Conservative manifesto in 2019. The idea of incentivising environmental benefits was heartening, but defining and measuring "public goods" was always going to be a challenge; one which Defra and successive ministers repeatedly underestimated, resulting in delays, confusion, and frustration for farmers. But details of new Environmental Land Management (ELM) subsidy schemes slowly emerged from endless consultations, and after six painful years, something usable did seem to be appearing. Last month, we filed an application which really did seem to promise public money to support tree planting, rewilding, and more. Finally there was hope, and we were moving from madness to sanity. 
 
Then, last week, Defra announced that they are reviewing their plans - prompting fears that ELMs will be scrapped, and we will return to the indefensible system of area-based farm subsidies with little or no reference to environmental performance, just like the EU. Wildlife trusts and environmental organisations are furious. It seems that the rearguard lobbying of the National Farmers' Union and certain landowners may once again have taken its toll. If ELMs are lost, the future of our food and farming will be shaped by the commercial interests of a rich landowning elite and the agrochemical industry, and subsidised by your taxes. 
 
Six years of agonising failure of governance, and the unprecedented uncertainty that creates, is progressively destroying the industry and countryside I love. While our leaders indulge in debates of ideological dogma, the resulting policy vacuum is crippling anyone tasked with making the long-term decisions needed to deliver economic growth and environmental sustainability. We deserve much better.
 
Well said Guy, I couldn't agree more!