Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Bits And Bobs

Last week found me at two of my breeding bird survey sites, the penultimate visit for the first site, and the final visit for the second. 

My first visit (Wednesday) was local, and I have blogged about it many times, and is in the main a large block of arable farmland. It was a 4:45 a.m. start under clear skies, with a light north-westerly wind. There was a heavy dew, and it was heavy enough to cause a dew in my beard, something that always feels a bit strange! Some of the low-lying parts of the site were enveloped in mist, but as soon as the sun made an appearance, the low-lying mist soon disappeared. After that, it was a gloriously warm and sunny morning. 
 
Misty hollow
 
Brown Hares were noticeable, and I counted about ten on my walk round. The low-lying mist meant that I couldn't see properly onto the fishing lake, so eight juvenile Greylag Geese, three Gadwalls and three Mallards isn't representative of what was on there at all. 
 
Brown Hare
 
Swifts were present, carving the thick, warm air, with their scythe-like wings as they flew low, hawking for insects, and twelve were sortieing back and forth. Swifts weren't the only species on the hunt, as I had a Barn Owl early on, quartering the grassland along the edge of some woodland. 

The dawn chorus is less of a noisy affair by this time of year, and players in the dawn chorus orchestra, in full song, included nine Skylarks, two Willow Warblers (where have all the Willow Warblers gone this year?), a Chiffchaff, eight Sedge Warblers, two Reed Warblers (Sedge and Reed making up the 'metal' element of the orchestra), a Blackcap, six Whitethroats and five Reed Buntings.
 
Reed Bunting
 
The prize for the most unusual sighting goes to a Yellow Wagtail that I had fly over. I heard a Yellow Wagtail calling, looked up, and got my bins on it as it flew over a crop of Oats, before dropping into the oats close to a pond. It was very probably visiting the nest. Yellow Wags are scarce breeders now in Lancs, but this block of arable land that I was surveying is large, with a mix of crops (Winter Wheat, spring Oats, spring Barley and Potatoes), and no public access, so a Yellow Wag here could nest without any attention from birders/naturalists, and it would seem that it has! 
 
On Friday, Gail and I were up in the northeast near Teesside carrying out the final BBS visit to a site there. It was another pleasant day, although a little cooler, with 6 oktas cloud cover, and a light south-westerly wind.  

Although it was a BBS that we were completing, we couldn't help but record the butterflies and day flying moths that we came across. In total we had the following lepidoptera:

Wall - 2
Meadow Brown - 9
Grayling - 14
Ringlet - 3
Cinnabar - 3 (lots of caterpillars though)
Five-spot Burnet - 2
 
Cinnabar caterpillars
 
Five-spot Burnet
 
Grayling
 
Ringlet
 

The biggest surprise of the survey bird-wise was a cracking adult summer plumaged Mediterranean Gull amongst the 14 Black-headed Gulls. The site is very sandy, and is Rabbit grazed, and consequently there is quite a lot of bare sand and short vegetation, all good for inverts, and this is what the Gulls were feeding on. I only managed a very dodgy record shot, as you can see below, but you can tell what it is! 
 
Med. Gull - honest!
 
Just two species of raptor; a Buzzard and a female Sparrowhawk carrying prey, and being mobbed by eight Swallows. Three Skylarks were singing and 14 Meadow Pipits were feeding in the sparse scrub and grassland, as were six Linnets
 
Linnet
 
On Sunday, Alice, John and I carried out some wader monitoring at a farm in Bowland where I manage the conservation interests. When we arrived at 6:00 a.m. we couldn't quite believe how cold it was, and had to get togged up in coats with a few layers. Is it really June? 

We had at least four pairs of Curlews alarm calling on the part of the farm that we were surveying, and 'eagle-eyed' John spotted a pair with two chicks. We managed to pick up one chick and ring it, but the other successfully disappeared into the tall meadow grass. What was interesting, was that my thermal imager was struggling to penetrate the tall grass, so the grass obviously has pretty good thermal properties. 
 
Curlew
 
A Green Sandpiper was a surprise on one of the scrapes, and is probably one of the earliest that I have ever had. It was joined on the scrape by an adult Common Sandpiper, with a large 'flying' youngster. It was good to have proof of breeding for Common Sandpiper on the farm. 
 
Common Sandpiper
 
Odd Lesser Redpolls were moving around calling, and Linnets are obviously starting to flock as we had a group of 20. Raptors were represented by a Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk, and only two singing Willow Warblers continues the worrying picture for this species. 

It's looking showery for the next few days, so I'm not sure when or where I'll be out, but I should have news on some Barn Owls later in the week.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Solstice Greetings

Solstice Greetings to you all! I would like to say that the picture below of the sunrise was taken this morning, but it wasn't, it was taken a couple of days after the Solstice last year. I would have liked to have been out to enjoy the sunrise this morning, but I didn't get home until the wee hours after watching a stunning performance by Yes in Liverpool. They were playing all of their 1972 classic album Close To The Edge, plus a selection of other great songs from their back catalogue. Awesome gig! 
 
Sunrise over the estuary
 
I mentioned in my previous post that most of my breeding bird survey is nearly completed now, with a survey tomorrow, Friday, early July, and then that's it. Just in time for autumn! I've said this before, but in the bird world autumn starts more or less on 1st July! 

Since my last post, I have completed a few breeding bird surveys, with one in the northeast near Middlesborough. Nothing spectacular during this survey, in fact no real highlights to mention here, but there was some great botanical diversity on this site, and a couple of orchid species were frequent across the area; Northern Marsh and Pyramidal, I think! Have a look at the pictures below, and if you think differently, please let me know. 
 
Northern Marsh Orchid
 
Pyramidal Orchid
 

 
The following day I was in Greater Manchester completing the second BBS at a site there. Again, nothing exciting but two Song Thrushes, four Chiffchaffs, four Blackcaps and a Goldcrest, all singing, are worth mentioning. 

I was closer to home on the banks of the Ribble six days ago at a site with a good area of Willow Scrub. Breeding birds were represented by seven Chiffchaffs, ten Whitethroats, three Blackcaps, a Sedge Warbler, nine Willow Warblers and three Song Thrushes, again all singing.

Brown Hares are fairly numerous at this site, and I had at least ten individuals. I photographed one confiding individual that you can see below. You can see how wet it is from feeding in wet vegetation. 
 
Brown Hare (above & below)
 

 

Three Buzzards were knocking about the site, and I had about fifteen Sand Martins that were flying back and forwards over the river, presumably from a colony to foraging areas, and back again. A Grey Wagtail, Jay, Little Egret and three Bullfinches, all made it in to my notebook.

I finished the week off by joining Alice at our friend's farm near Garstang to ring a brood of Swallows, and four healthy chicks with feathers 'FM', primary feathers a third to two thirds emerged from the sheath, were ringed. 

I'll let you know how the other surveys go this week.

Saturday, 11 June 2022

Kes

My breeding bird survey work is slowing down now, and I only have five surveys left to do before the end of the month. I was out doing a survey yesterday fairly locally, on an area of pastoral farmland, with a network of hedges, ditches and ponds. It was a glorious morning, but it was a tad windy, not too windy for the survey, but approaching the top end of what is tolerable for a BBS.
 
It's a good deal quieter at this time of year as most bird species are either feeding young, or have fledged their first broods and are on with their second. Trying to pick some highlights from my maps is difficult, but worth a mention were the five Whitethroats, 23 Magpies (!), two Chiffchaffs, two Reed Buntings, two Blackcaps and two Sedge Warblers, the majority of which were singing males. 
 
I particularly enjoyed listening to and watching a male Sedge Warbler singing away from a dried Willowherb stem that was swaying in the wind, and it looked like the Sedge was riding a 'bucking bronco'! Whilst this bird was singing its heart out, I could clearly see the reddish-orange colouration inside the bill, and I always love this. As Sedge Warblers often do, it was doing a bit of mimicry, and it was including snatches of Linnet and Pied Wagtail calls within its own song. Fantastic. 

The highlight of the past few days was ringing some Kestrel chicks this morning at Robert and Diana's farm near Garstang. We have a box up in the woodland on the farm, and for a number of years now it has been occupied by Kestrels. We knew there were five chicks as we checked them last weekend and they were too small to ring, but this morning when Gail, Alice, Sally, Robert and I checked them again, they were a perfect size. Five healthy Kestrel chicks were duly ringed, and all we can do now is hope that the parents manage to bring enough food in, and they fledge successfully. Fingers crossed! 
 
Kestrel

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

What About the Marsh Tits?

I completely forgot to mention the Marsh Tits from the weekend before last, when we were checking our Pied Flycatcher boxes. We had driven down and parked by the River Hodder, and I was just unloading my ladder to head off into the woodland, when I heard a snatch of song that sounded instantly familiar, but my brain was slow in coming up with the identification. The bird flew over our heads into an Alder by the river, and just as John said "that Tit has got a bib", my brain yelled "Marsh Tit"! The Marsh Tit continued to sing for a few seconds in the Alder, and it was joined by another, and then they vanished as quickly as they appeared. 
 
I see Marsh Tits whenever I am in the Silverdale area, in northwest Lancs, and I've also recorded them on one of my clients' farms alongside the River Wenning, but this was the first time that I have recorded Marsh Tit in Bowland for about twenty years! At the site where we have our nest boxes, the former landowner used to have a feeding station, and when I first started visiting the site in 2002, the odd Marsh Tit would visit the feeding station, so they were obviously just hanging on in the Hodder Valley then. 
 
The Birds of Lancashire and North Merseyside states that in "east Lancashire Marsh Tits were described as widespread though scarce breeders throughout the Ribble, Calder and Hodder woodlands as recently as 1986. Up to seven pairs nested in the Whitewell area in the 1980s, occasionally in nest-boxes, and breeding season presence was recorded fairly regularly around this time... By 2000, however, a major decline throughout the region was all too evident... Occasional sightings at Whitewell and Doeford Bridge, however, indicate continued presence in this stretch of the Hodder Valley" (White, McCarthy & Jones, 2008, p.331).
 
So, a scarce bird indeed in this area, but perhaps just hanging on as a breeder!
 
Back to last weekend, and we carried out the final check of our nest boxes in the Hodder Valley and at our friend's farm near Garstang. We ringed 24 Pied Flycatcher chicks at our Hodder Valley site from four nest boxes. This is probably the worst year, in terms of productivity, for Pied Flycatchers at this site, with the exception of last year when there were lots of predation. I'm not sure of yet what the reason is for this, and it will be interesting to see what the results are for the Bowland-wide Retrapping Adults for Survival project that I am part of. Meaning, is it an issue across all Pied Flycatcher sites in Bowland this year, or is it just localised to our site? There does definitely seem to be a shortage of females, based on the number of males present, and this might well be the cause. 
 
Pied Flycatcher chick
 
 
Male Pied Flycatcher
 
Talking of flycatchers, we did enjoy watching a Spotted Flycatcher fly-catching when we stopped for a coffee break. However, we have yet to find the nest(s) of the Spot Flys, and last year we found two nests! We have checked the usual places, but no luck so far.
 
On to Garstang, and we just ringed a single brood of six Blue Tits. We checked the Kestrel box and there were five chicks, and an unhatched egg, that were too small to ring. So, I look forward to doing those next weekend. We checked three Tawny Owl boxes, including one that had a Tawny Owl egg in it earlier in the year, and all had Grey Squirrels in. 
 
Kestrels
 
I ringed an Oystercatcher chick yesterday when I was checking on breeding waders at my clients' farm near Slaidburn in Bowland. I spotted one chick running ahead of me along a track, and I thought "when I climb this gate, I'll pick you up", and when I went to climb the gate another chick was squatting, and trying it's best to blend in with the surface of the track. I picked this chick up, and lost the other! 
 
I didn't get a picture of the Oystercatcher chick that I ringed, but this was one 
of the adults
 
On my walk round I encountered alarm calling Lapwings, or one or two large flying Lapwing chicks, suggesting that they are coming to the end of their breeding season. Curlews were very quiet, and are probably at the late incubation stage, and I saw a few 'on-guard' males. I had two Common Sandpipers in an area where they regularly nest, but I couldn't work out what was going on with them. 
 
Out on one of the many pools on this farm were a brood of six Tufted Ducks, with the female in close attendance. Other proof of breeding was obtained for both Stonechat and Willow Warbler, as I saw adults of both species carrying food. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to wait, watch and find the nest. 
 
Tufted Ducks
 
 
Some of the wildflowers surrounding one of the pools
 
The only other bird of note that I had on my walk round was a singing Cuckoo, my first for the year at this site. When I was last here on 9th May I didn't hear any. 
 
Over on the right, if you are viewing in web version, you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of May. Ten new species were ringed for the year during May, and these were Reed Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Wheatear, Skylark, Pied Flycatcher, Lapwing, Nuthatch, Pied Wagtail, Bullfinch and Garden Warbler. 
 
This is the Spotted Flycatcher that was ringed in May
 
Below you will find the 'top 3 ringed in May', and the 'top 9 movers and shakers' for the year. 
 
Top 3 Ringed During May
 
1. Blue Tit - 54
2. Great Tit - 37
3. Tree Sparrow - 16
 
Top 9 Movers and Shakers
 
1. Blue Tit - 80 (up from 2nd)
2. Great Tit - 72 (down from 1st)
3. Tree Sparrow - 20 (straight in)
    Chaffinch - 20 (same position)
5. Blackbird - 17 (up from 6th)
    Goldfinch - 17 (down from 4th)
7. Reed Bunting - 15 (down from 5th)
8. Willow Warbler - 13 (down from 6th)
9. Sedge Warbler - 10 (straight in)

Monday, 30 May 2022

Nest Boxes - Rounds Three and Four

Our two nest box schemes are keeping Alice, John, Gail and I busy at the moment, hence this update covering the last two weekends; rounds three and four in terms of our visits. 
 
On 21st May we visited our Bowland site for Pied Flycatchers first, and ringed 14 birds. These were seven Great Tit pulli, six Blue Tit pulli and an adult female Pied Flycatcher. We've trapped all the females now, and last weekend we concentrated on the males. More of that later.
 
Blue Tit in Gail's hands
 
As usual in this cracking piece of semi-natural ancient woodland we had singing Garden Warbler, several singing Pied Flycatchers of course, three singing Blackcaps, two singing Chiffchaffs and a singing Goldcrest. Interestingly, and worryingly, no Willow Warblers though! 
 
Male Pied Flycatcher
 
At our Tree Sparrow site, we ringed 35 birds, and all were pulli: 15 Blue Tits, a Tree Sparrow (the remainder of the brood were too big!) and 19 Great Tits.
 
The following Monday, Gail and I were in the northeast near Newcastle carrying out the final breeding bird survey (BBS) at this particular site. 
 
Gail and I watched a pair of Swifts mating on the wing, and neither of us could remember whether we had observed this before. If we have, it can only be a handful of times or less, based on the fact that we couldn't remember! During the act of mating and flying, the two birds together looked a little like a bi-plane, as the male was on top of the female, giving the impression of a single bird with two pairs of wings. Fabulous! 
 
The best of the rest of the survey, as I am fond of saying, included two singing Skylarks, a singing Whitethroat and a singing Yellowhammer
 
On Saturday (28th) we were back at our nest box sites. At our Pied Flycatcher site in the Hodder Valley, we ringed 39 birds and all were pulli; 5 Nuthatches, 26 Great Tits and 8 Blue Tits. We also trapped two male Pied Flycatchers in their respective nest boxes. One of these males was ringed at this site on 25th May 2019 in box 18, one of a brood of eight. In 2020, we trapped him in box 4, where he was the father of a brood of seven. In 2021 we didn't trap him at all, probably as a result of the heavy nest predation that was prevalent in the boxes that year.
 
Nuthatch
 
The biological data that this provides is of immense conservation value, mainly because the data is so robust and complete. If we take this male for example, we know the exact location where he was hatched (box & site etc), the date he was ringed, which boxes he has reared chicks in, we have trapped the female, and we will ring the pulli next week. So, we will have marked and recorded the details of every individual of that family, and we know exactly where that box is, exactly where and when the chicks hatched, and we know exactly how old they are. Powerful stuff! And even more powerful, when you use this date to measure and monitor the effects of climate change on changing bird populations. 
 
General mist netting to trap and ring birds for example, particularly outside a project, although still providing sound conservation data, doesn't provide as robust a data set as that of a project ringing the pulli and associated adults. I would extend this work if I could to include the Blue and Great Tits, if it was possible to trap the adults without causing too much disturbance, but sadly the Tits aren't as tolerant of what is minimal disturbance. And the bird's welfare always come first before the science.
 
The voluntary work that I, and other ringers, carry out through catching and ringing birds is of course very enjoyable, but the main reason that I do it, is to 'put something back', to help in the conservation of the birds that I am ringing. I suppose if you were to push me on this, I would say that my 'birding' is what I do for a giggle, in that it is less scientific, and carried out more for pleasure and enjoyment. Although having said that, it is possible to make your birding 'count' from a conservation perspective, and I try to do that as well. 
 
I nearly forgot, the second male wasn't one of ours, so the details have been submitted to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), via their Demography Online (DemOn) program, and we should find out next week where he is from. More powerful data! 
 
Over at our Tree Sparrow site near Garstang, we just ringed ten pulli; 4 Great Tits and 6 Blue Tits. We check all the occupied boxes until the chicks have fledged, and it was pleasing to note that all the Tree Sparrows that we ringed have now fledged successfully, and the adults will now be thinking about getting on with a second brood.  
 
We'll be back at the boxes next weekend, for what might be the final check of 2022.
 
I received some sad news yesterday, that a lovely man, Bryan Yorke, who also happened to be a fantastic birder, botanist and all-round naturalist, had sadly passed away. This came as a real shock, as I had been reading some of Bryan's blog posts recently. Bryan lived just over the border from Lancashire, though he was a Lancashire lad, in south Cumbria, in fact in the same village that my brother-in-law and family live in, Burton-in-Kendal. 
 
His blog, I love Arnside and Silverdale, was always an interesting read, whether he was blogging about visible migration over his beloved Hutton Roof, or his home in Burton, or perhaps about ferns and other flora, it was always educational, as well as being royally entertaining. Besides being a great naturalist, Bryan was also a great writer and poet, and sometimes his blog posts included a poem that he had written about the subject he was blogging about, often accompanied by one of his quirky cartoons. 
 
Below I have posted one of his poems and cartoons from a blog post from April 2020 about a 'confusion' of Willow Warblers.
 
A 'confusion of Willow Warblers' by Bryan Yorke (above & below)
 
Flying in the dark through a moonlit sky,
Falling from high like little angels, 
Floating down on a wavering leaf,
The confusion has now begun.
Our dear little Willow Warbler
 
Daytime closed you were not seen,
Whilst morning waked you plenty,
So tred so soft our leaf explorer,
A 'bouquet' of special prize to us,
Our dear little Willow Warbler
 
Your music is a descending tale,
Which finish the year 'hou whit',
A choir with pairs sings thy will,
A 'fall' would be a lot of thee,
Our dear little Willow Warbler
 
Sylvia's hand of lucid intricacy,
You thread that weave so delicately, 
To house and raise a splendid cast,
It's a start to a 'wrench' fulfilled
Our dear little Willow Warbler
 
I didn't know Bryan very well, but occasionally we would message each other regarding notable bird movements over our respective vis-mig watch points, or about Swifts in his village. Back in May 2018, I was reading one of Bryan's blog posts via Facebook, as I often do if I'm using my phone, rather than my pc, to look at such things, and I 'liked' his post. It was very early, in fact I was eating my breakfast, and at 4:03 am my phone 'pinged' with a message from Bryan that said:
 
"Seumus, I am not the only mad bugger up at this time!! I normally wake up and have a brew, and catch up a bit with my writings, then try and get back to sleep for an hour or two. Have a great day, Bryan".
 
I replied:
 
"You're not Bryan...lol! I'm just heading up to Cockermouth to do a bird survey, you too enjoy your day".
 
A priceless little exchange between two people mad about the natural world, and an exchange that I will now treasure. I send my condolences to Bryan's family at this sad time.
 
The natural world has lost a great friend, champion and orator, and Hutton Roof will never quite be the same without Bryan's presence in that exceptional landscape.  

Friday, 20 May 2022

More BBS and Boxes

A week ago today I had a breeding bird survey (BBS) at a site that I have blogged about all autumn, winter and spring, and my surveys there will be shortly coming to an end, just three more to do. I had full cloud cover during the survey, and the wind was just getting to the top end of where you can complete a survey successfully, with a WSW 4 - 5. 

It wasn't an amazing survey, as surveys go, but a surprise was the flock of 32 Tufted Ducks on the fishing lake. I suspect that Tufted Ducks breed on this lake, as there are some quieter corners, and a few smaller pools associated with the main body of water, but a flock of 32 of these stunning monochrome diving ducks in mid-May, is noteworthy.
 
Tufted Ducks

What about the breeders? Warblers topped the table in terms of singing males, and I recorded a Willow Warbler, a Chiffchaff, six Sedge Warblers, a Reed Warbler and ten Whitethroats. Six singing Skylarks would hold a good position in the table if it was opened up to all passerines, as would seven Wrens and two Reed Buntings
 
Whitethroat
 
 
Male Reed Bunting
 
I don't think any of the Lapwings have got chicks yet, as I had two displaying birds and a further six loafers. No agitated, alarm calling adults. They had started to nest on the stubble fields, and then these were ploughed, tilled and sowed with either oats or potatoes, so I any early nesting attempts would have been wiped out, and they would have started again. So, a week or two yet before any chicks at this site. 

At the weekend Alice, Gail and I were back at our two nest box sites in the Hodder Valley in Bowland and on Robert and Diana's farm on the fringe of the Fylde, near Garstang. 
 
The River Hodder
 
We did a full check of the boxes at each site, and it is looking rather worrying for our Pied Flycatchers, with just five occupied boxes. However, there is a chance that another pair or two could have started during the intervening time, and this would then be about average occupation rate for this site. 
 
Pied Flycatcher nest
 
Amazingly, we found a further two boxes with Pipistrelle sp. bats in! Nearly as many Pips as Pied Flys! 
 
Male Pied Flycatcher
 
We then went to Robert and Diana's farm to check our boxes there. When we arrived, Robert informed us that he had found two broods of Blackbirds in some of his out-buildings, and two broods of three were duly ringed. One brood was ahead of the other brood by a few days. 
 
Blackbird
 
In the boxes we ringed three broods of Tree Sparrows; 4, 6 and 5 respectively. The remaining two broods of Tree Sparrows should be ready to ring next weekend, as should some of the Blue and Great Tits. I'm looking forward to that. 

I've had more BBS to do this past week, including a site in Greater Manchester. This site looks to be on former open cast coal workings, and is now a lovely area of semi-mature woodland, with some more open scrubby areas. It's certainly a good area for Song Thrushes and I had six singing during my survey. Warblers were in fine voice too, with four Willow Warblers, four Blackcaps, three Whitethroats and four Chiffchaffs. 

In fact, I did three breeding bird surveys this week, and the second was on a farm in the Fylde, near Wrea Green. There were two Lesser Whitethroats singing on site, and from a distance you can hear their distinctive 'rattle' of a song, that sounds like nothing else. Before the 'rattle', it is preceded by a scratchy warble, which you can only hear when you are close. It is not often that I hear this bit of the song, but this morning I was close enough to one of the birds to hear it. 

Tree Sparrows were very obvious this morning, and I had at least four juveniles, and a further 13 birds that I either heard just calling, or they flew over calling. Not a bad total. A singing Yellowhammer was noteworthy, and it's a sign of the times when a single singing yellowhammer is noteworthy! 
 
As always, I encountered some Brown Hares, and this site isn't the best of the sites for Brown Hares that I am surveying at the moment, but it's always a pleasure to encounter any Brown Hares, and on this morning, it was five. One was fairly close on an arable field margin, and I managed a half decent snap or two. Well, at least I think so. 
 
Brown Hare (above & below)
 

 

My third and final BBS of the week was yesterday, another arable farm, and I recorded thirteen Brown Hares here. The wind was a bit gusty from the southwest, and I think this had a bit of a dampening effect on bird song. 
 
I don't often hear Tufted Ducks calling, but on this site, I have heard them calling several times around the fishing lake. This morning there was a female flying round, pursued by either just one, or two males, and the female was calling constantly. I assume that it is part of courtship etc., but I must look it up.
 
Sedge Warblers are great mimics, and I have heard them including lots of snippets of other species song/calls within their own song. This morning a Sedge Warblers singing along the dyke was throwing Reed Bunting call into his song, and of course there are a few pairs of Reed Bunts along the dyke!
 
A Great Spotted Woodpecker flying across a large arable field looked a bit odd, and I can only assume that it was on a foraging trip to provision young in the nest.  

It's boxes again at weekend, and another week of breeding bird surveys. As always, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

BBS, Boxes and Breeding Waders

Just under a week ago, I had a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) to complete at one of the arable farms that I have been surveying all winter and spring. I set off under complete cloud cover, with a light WNW wind; perfect. 

I always record any mammals that I encounter during a BBS, and pretty much anything else if I can identify it, and this morning I had fifteen Brown Hares and a single Roe Deer buck. 

Gadwalls have been a feature of this site all winter, and I have seen them on the lake and along the large dyke that forms the northern boundary of the site. I was walking along the dyke, and I had a female whizz past me, with four males in hot pursuit! I can only see part of the lake from my BBS transect, and therefore could only add a single male Gadwall from there, and I know there would have been more. Also on the lake were 22 Tufted Ducks, 19 Canada Geese, six Greylag Geese and a pair of Mute Swans

Just two species of wader; a Whimbrel calling and heading north, and eleven Lapwings, including two displaying birds. Raptor species were even thinner on the ground, with just Buzzard, but at least there were three of them. 

The Rookery was busy, and with the leaf burst it is hard to see the occupied nests, so 30 was a gross under-estimate. The Rooks obviously have young now, as I could see several birds flying towards the colony carrying food. The local Blackbirds have young as well, as I had a male carrying food. I also had a female Blackbird at a different part of the site carrying nest material, and this pair might well be on to brood number two. 

Skylarks are perhaps the widest spread farmland bird on the site, and I recorded eleven singing birds as I walked round. Warblers were busy singing too, and I had a Willow Warbler, a Chiffchaff, eight Sedge Warblers, a Reed Warbler, a Grasshopper Warbler, four Blackcaps, a Lesser Whitethroat and ten Whitethroats.
 
Whitethroat
 
There was a trickle of vis, mainly Hirundines, and 21 Sand Martins, 24 Swallows, a Tree Sparrow, two late Meadow Pipits, a Tree Pipit and a Lesser Redpoll all headed north. Male Reed Buntings were very obvious, but I didn't see a single female, indicating that they are probably busy incubating eggs. So, nothing exciting, but then that's not what BBS is about, it's about collecting data, and that's what it said on the tin this morning!
 
Reed Bunting
 
On Sunday morning, Alice, Gail, John and I completed our first check of the boxes at our Pied Flycatcher nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley in Bowland. We checked 42 boxes, with the following outcomes, in terms of occupation:

Empty - 19
Nuthatch - 1
Pied Flycatcher - 5
Great Tit - 2
Blue Tit - 4
Pipistrelle bat - 2
Wasp sp. - 2 
Tit sp. - 7
 
Nuthatch nest
 
As you can see, we had quite a few boxes that were empty. This is quite normal, as not all the boxes will be as suitable for the birds' requirements as we think they will, as there will be something that the birds don't like. Also, territories come in to play, and every box couldn't be occupied because of the territory size of the various hole nesting species.

Some of these empty boxes will get taken up by Pied Flycatchers I'm fairly certain, as out of the five boxes currently occupied, two were at the cold egg stage (not finished laying the complete clutch), two were incubating, and the fifth was just at N1 stage of nest construction (quarter completed).
 
We managed to lift both the females from the two nests. One female Pied Flycatcher was a new un-ringed bird, so Alice ringed her (see picture below), and the second had a ring on that wasn't one of ours, so it will be interesting to see where she is from. I'll let you know, when I know.  
 
Female Pied Flycatcher being ringed
 
Male Pied Flycatcher
 

There were at least nine male Pied Flycatchers singing in the piece of ancient semi-natural woodland that we monitor. The males always arrive before the females to setup the territories, and sometimes the females can get held up by bad weather on their migration in Europe, and I suspect that this might be the case here.
 
Bluebells and Lesser Stitchworts. I love the contrast of the colours
 
Pied Flycatcher habitat
 

The boxes occupied by Blue and Great Tits all had sitting females in them, and the Nuthatch had cold, covered eggs, so she hadn't finished laying. 

Occasionally during the winter, when we carry out our maintenance checks of the boxes, we will find a Pipistrelle sp. roosting in one of the boxes, but it is quite unusual to find one in our boxes during the breeding season, so to find two individuals roosting is very unusual. I am fairly sure that these will be males, as during the breeding season they often roost singly or in small groups. I am no expert on bats, and they look like Pipistrelle sp. to me, so if anybody thinks they are something else, please let me know. 
 
Pipistrelle sp.
 
All of the boxes will get a second check next weekend, except the two with wasps in of course! We will also be back at our Tree Sparrow nest box scheme as well.

In addition to the box contents, we had a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Siskins, two singing Garden Warblers, a Chiffchaff, at least four singing Blackcaps and a distant singing Lesser Whitethroat.

On Monday, I was surveying a client's farm in Bowland for breeding waders. The plan was to also find any waders chicks using my thermal imager, and as it turned out the thermal imager was very good for locating Brown Hares, and I found at least 39! I only found one wader chick, a Lapwing, and as the day warmed, it was difficult to distinguish between muck (spread), bare ground and birds based on the image in the thermal imager.
 
Lapwing chick
 
There was somewhere in the region of eight pairs of Curlews, seven pairs of Oystercatchers, a pair of Redshanks, nine pairs of Lapwings and a pair of Common Sandpipers. However, it did feel very quiet on the breeding wader front, so I'll go back in a couple of weeks and have another look. 
 
Oystercatcher
 
This site is one of the most regular sites that I see Cuckoos at, but on this visit, I didn't see or hear a single Cuckoo. I had at least six singing Willow Warblers, a singing Sedge Warbler (fairly scarce in Bowland) and my first Swift of the year. 

I've got another BBS later in the week, and as I said earlier, it's back to the boxes at weekend. I can't wait.