Saturday, 20 February 2021

Two Hats To A Cap

First of all, I need to apologise for not posting for a while, but I have had some major computer issues. To cut a long story short, Windows 10 decided to corrupt itself, and my computer was with the repairers for four days, and I only got it back yesterday. But enough of my woes!

Metaphorically speaking, I often have to wear two hats, but when I was over on the east coast at my survey site on the Humber Estuary last week, I literally had to wear two hats as it was so cold! It was a glorious morning with clear skies, and a chilly easterly wind with plenty of lying snow. 

My transect route to my VP location takes me through what you would describe as 'habitat mosaic', with lots of scrub that will no doubt support a good breeding bird assemblage, and I look forward to completing breeding bird surveys here later in the year. I've mentioned before how you get quite attached to various survey sites, and even though you might only spend a year or less at these sites, they sort of get under your skin, and feel like a local, or not so local, patch. As I walked through the scrub, I saw a flash of pink and a white rump, and there was a cracking male Bullfinch. And another white rump, and the female popped up. Not rare or even scarce birds, but I hadn't seen them here before, so that made them special. 
Habitat mosaic in the snow
I love the contrast of the green and yellow of the Gorse,
with the white of the snow
My VP in the distance next to the lone tree
My VP set up overlooking the estuary

Other species in and around the scrub were four Skylarks, eight Meadow Pipits, a Yellowhammer and two Reed Buntings. Walking towards my VP across some rank grassland with scattered Hawthorn scrub, with some small wet flashes, I flushed a Jack Snipe. And again, a new bird for the site. Or should I say a new bird for me at the site, as I am sure that Jack Snipes have been wintering here for many years. 
A distant Yellowhammer
I set up at my VP overlooking s stretch of the estuary and I started to count; 122 Shelducks, a Golden Plover, a Grey Plover, 79 Dunlin, 211 Black-tailed Godwits, 90 Bar-tailed Godwits, 48 Curlews, seven Redshanks, three Turnstones and 260 Black-headed Gulls. Looking downstream and beyond the area that I count, there were thousands of waders out on the mud, and I was quite happy that I wasn't counting them. 
Black-headed Gull
On my walk back to my car I encountered two Buzzards, and then I heard a rustle behind me, and on turning round two Roe Deer bucks ran past. 
Back in the west this week, I completed a survey at each of my two winter survey sites and the weather had warmed up, and I had switched from two hats to a cap! I started off at the site with an area of marsh, and just after first light a few Pink-footed Geese were on the move, and the 365 birds that I recorded were moving mainly north. 

The water levels were a little higher on the marsh than usual, and from my VP I could see over an area of relatively open water and counted eleven Teal and 20 Mallards. Usually, I just record Teal calling and have no idea how many there are. At least two Water Rails called from the marsh, as did a Reed Bunting.
On the arable field in front of me, I hadn't noticed the 57 Fieldfares that were foraging for invertebrates in the wet conditions until a Buzzard flew low over the field flushing them. Another Buzzard called from behind me, and a male Kestrel had a similar effect on these northern Thrushes. 
Walking to my second VP, I had a Grey Wagtail feeding around the edge of a flooded field corner, and close by a Little Egret popped out of a ditch and headed south and out of sight. 
Towards the end of the week, I was at my survey site virtually on the west coast. Again, it was mild with a stiff south-westerly wind and a few Pink-footed Geese headed north just after sunrise, and this time they numbered 187. I had a further seven Pink-footed Geese drop into the field that my second VP is located in, just as I was getting out of my car, and 174 in the fields to the west of my third VP.
Pink-footed Geese
I noticed a number of Song Thrushes in and around the area of scrub that forms part of my survey site, and I had three singing males, plus a further two individuals. A Little Egret made an appearance here too, and probably the highlight of the morning was the Woodcock that I flushed from the edge of the scrub. 
Restrictions have been relaxed by the BTO for carrying out surveys, or perhaps more accurately the guidance from the government is a little clearer, and survey work is allowed to continue during lockdown. We just need an improvement in the weather, and I should be able to do some ringing again.

Friday, 12 February 2021

Signs Of Spring

Amongst all the media hype of the 'Beast From The East Two', it might seem strange to talk about signs of spring, but they are there. Bird song is slowly increasing, and I am hearing Wrens, Dunnocks, Blue Tits, Robins, Great Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Mistle and Song Thrushes all tentatively warming up their vocal cords. We've got Snowdrops in flower, and Hazel catkins are out, but one of my favourite signs of spring is the return passage of Common Gulls. Once we get into February, numbers of these gorgeous little Gulls increase, and you start to see them more often on areas of open grassland, and even better when they get their pristine summer plumage. And if you are lucky enough to hear one, or even a flock calling, you will know why they are probably my favourite Gull species. Anyway, more on Common Gulls later.   
Apologies for the quality of the above picture. The Common Gulls were 
quite distant, and continually walking around feeding. That's my excuse
During lockdown, I have managed to keep my Bowland feeding station going, just, because I pass it on my way to and from one of my client's farms where I do a lot of work. I normally like to visit the feeding station twice a week to make sure the feeders never empty, but during this current period of lockdown it has often just been once a week. However, I do have two big feeders up, that I have posted about before, so even on a just about weekly visit there is still some food left. 

The usual suspects have been at the feeding station; Nuthatches, Chaffinches, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Goldfinches, but I haven't had much in the surrounding woodland, other than a singing Mistle Thrush, a Buzzard, a singing Goldcrest, 'shouting' Jays and a Treecreeper. On one visit I flushed a Woodcock from the woodland, so that was a bonus, but an expected one as I had been looking out for them.
This is Common Greenshield Lichen, I think, and it is very common on trees
close to the feeding station.
One of everybody's favourite signs of spring, the Snowdrop. There are plenty
of them in the woodland where my feeding station is located.
Since my last post, I have been busy with my wintering bird surveys, but they have become even quieter than they were before. It would seem that this latest cold snap has pushed a few birds on. When I got out of my car at one of the areas of my west coast survey site, I was greeted with the sight and sound of a flock of 52 Black-tailed Godwits flying round over some fields that they obviously wanted to drop into. The high tide had very probably pushed them off the river and they had moved a few hundred metres inland to try and find somewhere to feed. After they had circled round a few times they headed back towards the river.
It was here that I had my first Common Gulls of the spring. Not many, just three individuals of my favourite Gull. In the same set of fields, I had two Buzzards and two Mistle Thrushes, and that was that. Time to head home for a warm, and get the coffee on. 

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Coast To Coast

I can't believe that it is over a fortnight since I posted, and for that I apologise, but to be honest, I don't have a great deal to report. With the current lockdown here in the UK, that some take seriously and incredulously others don't, I haven't been getting out birding other than through work. I have thought about walking to some of my patches, and it is possible as a number of them are within about 5 km of home, but at this time of year birding is relatively quiet anyway. Once we get into late February things move on, with finches and buntings getting itchy feet and starting to move. 

We are still not ringing, other than in our gardens, and the same advice that applies to ringing, applies to all BTO surveys, and yet birders are still doing WeBS counts etc. I suppose the difference is that you have to have a licence to ring, and in theory if you go against BTO advice, they could put sanctions in place against your permit. I still believe that some survey work, both Ringing and WeBS, could be undertaken in a complete Covid secure way. Locally, you only have to have a walk along the coast and all the parking places are full, the sea front is rammed at weekend, and the beaches are full of people and dogs. As all the car parking places are taken, they can't be people that have walked from their own homes. I have never known the coast so busy at this time of year, and we are supposed to be in a lockdown!
I have a survey in northeast Lincolnshire at the moment, and I'll come back to that in a wee while, and when I travel from home to my survey site on the Humber Estuary early in the morning (0530-ish), the M62 across the Pennines is as busy as ever with commuter traffic. What happened to working from home during the lockdown? I appreciate that some people can't do their job from home, me being one of them, but when in the middle of a lockdown you can't notice any discernible difference in the volume of traffic, then something isn't right! In fact, of the three lockdowns that we have had so far, only the first one felt like a true lockdown!
I notice that on some bird news What's App groups, a few people are still putting details of scarce birds out; why? The point of these What's App groups is to disseminate information on scarce birds so people can twitch them, but in the middle of a lockdown! I am quite certain that the information could be added to local databases later in the evening or even a day or two later for now. 
Having said all that, I can understand people wanting to get out birding, botanising etc, for their own well-being, and mental health issues are already becoming a big part of this pandemic. Going birding etc maintains a bit of normality in one's life, and helps to take your mind off the serious situation we find ourselves living through at the moment. It's complicated, frustrating and difficult. I suppose I am quite lucky, in that my work gets me out in the field, and a lot of my survey work is even classed as essential by the government, because it is connected with planned development.
There are no easy answers, and the priority for all of us is to stay safe until we can get out the other end, and get back to some sense of normality, whatever that is or will be.
My Blog title refers to recent bird surveys that I have completed that have been quite literally coast to coast, with sites on the west coast and now a site on the east coast. 
In the middle of the month, I headed to my survey site that is virtually on the west coast of Lancs and it was cold, very cold in fact. I had only been at my VP for about half an hour when a mist rolled in, that turned to fog, and eventually I had to abort my survey because the visibility was very poor. As the mist/fog rolled in, it started to freeze on contact with every surface as the frosty looking photos below show. 
Hoar frost (above & below)


Just over ten days ago, I had my first visit to my new wintering bird survey site located on the Humber Estuary. A site with what you would describe as having a good habitat mosaic, and adjacent to the estuary, so from a pure birding perspective it looks like an interesting site. The only downside is the drive there which is about two and a half hours along seven different motorways! Yes, seven different motorways! 
My first visit coincided with high water, and as the tide started to run out, a number of waders and wildfowl dropped in to feed on the mud, including 55 Curlews, 572 Dunlin, 155 Black-tailed Godwits, 12 Bar-tailed Godwits and 53 Redshanks.
Black-tailed Godwit
The habitat mosaic element of the site includes areas of dense scrub, open scrub/rank grassland, wet scrub, reed-fringed ditches, rank grassland and small shallow pools. There wasn't much utilising the habitat mosaic on this cold January morning, other than three Snipe, three Stonechats, 12 Skylarks, a Water Rail, seven Blackbirds, two Song Thrushes, 15 Goldfinches, a Reed Bunting and five Yellowhammers. However, when I come to do the breeding bird surveys later in the year, I think it will be hooching with warblers etc. 
At the start of the week, I was at my inland site with the area of marsh in northwest Lancs, and it was another cold morning with a heavy frost, some lying snow and three oktas of cloud cover. 
Buzzards were a feature of the morning and I had at least three at various points of the site. A male Stonechat was along the edge of the frozen marsh, and a Water Rail called form this area too. Some of the ditches alongside the marsh were unfrozen, probably because of the movement of water along them, and I flushed six Teal from one as I walked along. 
The frozen marsh
The unfrozen ditch
In the middle of the week, I was back in northeast Lincolnshire at my Humber Estuary site, and it was another cold morning with full cloud cover. As I walked through the scrubby areas of the site to get to my VP overlooking the estuary, I came across a group of four Roe Deer. Also in this area, I recorded five Meadow Pipits, four Skylarks, two Reed Buntings, a male Stonechat, a Buzzard and two Yellowhammers. 
My survey period was over low water, and again there was a nice assortment of waders and wildfowl feeding on the estuary at this location including 54 Curlews, 238 Shelducks, a Little Egret, a Ringed Plover, nine Grey Plovers (gorgeous birds; one of my favourite waders), 880 Dunlin, 94 Black-tailed Godwits, eight Bar-tailed Godwits and 26 Redshanks. 
It's going to be more of the same over the coming weeks I'm afraid, until we can ease out of lockdown, so there will be some more coast to coast trips for me.   

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Lockdown 3

If you live in the UK you will be aware that we are now in our third period of lockdown as a result of Covid 19. I don't want to dwell on this at all, as it is something that we all need to strive to reduce transmission of, to return to a state of relative normality, but it is worth mentioning how it will affect my activities, and as a result what will appear on this Blog. 
We have been asked by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to err on the side of caution, and only undertake ringing activities on land where we reside. Under the tier system we were permitted to continue through the exemptions provided by the 'voluntary or charitable activities' clause, and technically this also applied to lockdown, but the BTO felt that this wasn't in the spirit of what lockdown is striving to achieve, and hence being asked to err on the side of caution. From a personal perspective, I think that some of the ringing surveys that I undertake are completed safely, and I think that they could have continued without any risk, but I do respect and fully support the BTO's advice and guidance on this. The sooner we can get the transmission rate down, and save lives, the sooner we can get out again and continue collecting essential conservation data to help our beleaguered bird populations.
On a different, but connected note, the government is allowing shooting to count as a form of exercise during the lockdown! The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) on their website states that..."in light of the government providing greater clarity on its Covid-19 guidance and regulations, BASC is advising that outdoor shooting activities as a form of exercise are permissible once per day in England during the national lockdown, subject to two conditions:
1. You should only travel locally to shoot which is to stay local in the village, town, or part of the city 
    where you live as defined in government guidance.
2. When shooting you should only meet with people you live with, your support bubble; or when on    
    your own, with one person from another household".
I wonder how easy it is to find a shoot that operates in a village, town or city! Similarly, the fishing community, particularly the Angling Trust, has been celebrating that the "Government have now formally responded to the representations made by the Angling Trust...and (we) have been able to present a case to which the Government have listened. On this basis I (Angling Trust) am pleased to announce that fishing will be permitted during the third national lockdown in England".
I think from the above you can draw conclusions as to where the governments priorities sit, and also which organisations are doing the right thing. I think this smacks of double standards as far as the government is concerned!

So, for the period of the lockdown I won't be able to do any ringing, other than in my own garden, and also my birding will be restricted, because of the local aspect of the guidelines. However, the government has failed to define 'local area', and I think this is a serious error on their part. My work as an Ecologist will continue during the lockdown period, as this is allowed by government, and it has also been classed as essential. So, this will at least keep me in the great outdoors! As I work alone, and seldom come across anybody at all during my site visits, the Covid risk is very low. 
Anyway, enough of Covid. I don't mean to dismiss it as something unimportant, but rather want to focus on more positive things for my own well-being. 
Prior to the start of lockdown, Gail and I visited our Bowland feeding station to top the feeders up. It was a cold, crisp morning with a small amount of lying snow. At the feeding station were the usual suspects including Chaffinches, Robins, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits. We duly topped the feeders up, and set off for a half hour walk through the woodland. 
It was quiet in the woodland, as woodlands are in winter, but with a dusting of snow and a crisp frost it had a magical to look to it. We flushed a Brown Hare, and the only birds to make it in to my notebook during our walk were a Song Thrush and a couple of Redwings
A winter wonderland
Yesterday, I completed a survey at the wintering bird survey site in northwest Lancashire that has an area of marsh just to the east of it. It was another cold one, but nevertheless pleasant under the clear skies. I lost the feeling in my toes rather rapidly, but later after a few hours in a sheltered spot in the sun, was taking a couple of layers of clothing off and I could feel my toes once again!
As I walked along the first hedgerow, I pushed a flock of ten Fieldfares and five Redwings along the hedge, and they then dropped into a wet field to feed. In the wet field was a further thirty Fieldfares, and it seems that as most of the berries have now been depleted, they are turning their attentions to ground invertebrates, particularly when the high water table is pushing them to the surface. 
Next up was a bird that I don't see many of every year, and that was a Woodcock that I flushed from a wet ditch; nice. During my first VP observation period, I picked up a number of Rooks that were flying from a woodland roost to foraging areas, and 110 of these delightful Corvids flew past. 
A number of Pink-footed Geese were moving around, particularly shortly after first light, and I recorded 1,100 moving in various directions, but mainly north and east. This particular VP is closest to the area of marsh, and I had a Barn Owl hunting over the marsh for a good half hour. It would periodically stop and perch up on a fence-post, before continuing to forage. 
Pink-footed Geese
Out on the marsh I could hear Teal and Water Rail calling, but I have no idea how many, so they are recorded as 1+. I had five Skylarks head high south late morning from my second VP, and Sparrowhawk and Goldcrest were welcome additions to both the maps and my notebook. 
It's dreich as a I write, and the forecast for tomorrow, is for more of the same. It's looking better on Friday, and I have another wintering bird survey to complete, so I look forward to that.

Monday, 4 January 2021

First Ringing Session Of The Year

It was cold Saturday morning when I headed off to my Bowland feeding station for a ringing session with Alice, in fact my car thermometer registered -6 Celsius at one point! The road conditions were pretty awful, with frozen, slippery, un-gritted lanes. In fact, Alice didn't feel comfortable driving in such conditions and returned home. I turned the traction control off on my car, as it was driving me mad, and preferred to rely on my own 'feel' for the conditions, and progress was much better. 

I arrived at the feeding station under 7 oktas cloud cover and it was flat calm. I decided that I wouldn't bother putting a net up, I'd just feed and head back home instead. However, the sun came out and because there was absolutely no wind it felt rather pleasant, so I decided to put just one net up and limit my ringing to just a couple of hours.

I ringed 38 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Coal Tit - 5 (4)
Great Tit - 9 (1)
Blue Tit - 13
Robin - 3
Chaffinch - 7
Nuthatch - 1 (1)
Coal Tit

Other than the birds that I ringed, and others at the feeding station, it was rather quiet. In fact, the only other species of note were all heard. I heard a couple of Ravens calling, and a noisy Jay, plus a Tawny Owl and Fieldfare

The weather is looking to be set fair for the coming week, although cold, so I am hopeful of getting a few surveys in, and perhaps a bit of birding/ringing.

Over on the right I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group for the year. With a ringing session already in the bag, it won't be long before January 2021's totals appear there.

Thursday, 31 December 2020


Before I get into the 'nitty gritty' of today's post, I just wanted to have a moan about the weather...again! Alice and I were due to have a ringing session at our Bowland feeding station this morning, and I had to call it off at 6:30 this morning, for what feels like the umpteenth time in the past few weeks! 
There seems to be a pattern emerging, in that I check the forecast the night before, and all looks tickety boo, then in the morning the forecast has changed, or it is raining/sleeting/snowing/blowing a hooley etc. This morning was yet another case in point. I rolled out of my bed at 0630, as I said before, and I could hear water gurgling in my sun lounge guttering. A quick look outside and it was sleeting, and in the time it took for me to text Alice to say that ringing was off, it then started to rain! Three hours later, and it was still raining. As I look out of my office window as I type this, glorious sunshine. I think it's called Sod's law! 
Anyway, today's blog title refers to two bird species that I observed perched when I was out surveying yesterday morning that always surprise me when they do; one species does perch, but only occasionally, and the other perches more regularly, particularly when nesting, but looks rather incongruous when it does. But more of that later.
As I have mentioned before, this particular survey site in west Lancs has four VPs, plus a length of transect. I alternate the VPs around in terms of order, and yesterday morning I was in the layby of the busy road that I have mentioned before. It was cold and grey, with a light north-westerly wind, and later some showers would run in on the prevailing wind. But, there were some Pink-footed Geese opposite the layby, and they looked to be in good numbers too. I had to climb over the central console of my car to sit in the passenger seat, because if I had got ou,t they would have flushed for sure. In total I counted 1,867 Pinkies and I gave them a good grilling, but I couldn't find any other Geese species amongst them. The only other birds in this field was a small flock of 17 Lapwings.
I moved on to my second VP and transect, and this area contains an area of scrub that is impenetrable, so it's a case of standing and listening along the edge. The ditch that forms the eastern boundary had recently been re-profiled with a tracked digger, and this allowed some access to the easternmost scrub, and it also played host to perching bird number two.
A number of Blackbirds fed and called from the area of scrub, as did a single Song Thrush and three Fieldfares. A Goldcrest, ten Greenfinches, a Grey Wagtail, a Reed Bunting and the usual roosting six Snipe were also recorded from this area.
Adjoining the scrub is a Hawthorn hedge and I picked up three birds flitting along the top of the hedge and periodically they were perched. At first, I couldn't get my brain in gear because they didn't call and I only had fleeting glimpses; streaked upperparts, long tail, streaked underparts.... Then the penny dropped and they were three Meadow Pipits flitting along the top of the Hawthorns. Of course, Mipits will perch up on scrub, trees etc, especially during migration, and I have seen them do this before, but it always takes me by surprise.
Below you will find a picture of perched bird number two, and I apologise for the quality of the picture as it was some distance away. Little Egrets of course nest in trees, so they do indeed perch a lot, particularly during the breeding season, but they never look comfortable when they do. This bird was perched in some scrub above the re-profiled ditch, and I am sure that it was using the elevation to enable it look down into the water. It was trying to walk along the branches at times, and as I said before it looked so incongruous doing so. 

I finished the day off with a quick walk along part of the Wyre estuary with Gail, and noted in my head the 20 Redshanks and 32 Oystercatchers feeding in the quay, and tried to remember to put them in my notebook when I got home. 

It's looking fairly settled, or it is according to the pesky weather forecasts, so hopefully I'll get out ringing over weekend. I hope I don't regret saying that!

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Jinxed It

I saw the late weather forecast for the northwest after the BBC news last night and it looked iffy. A quick check with the various online forecasts that I use, and all still looked well for this morning. Although I must admit, that I went to bed with the suspicion that things might have changed by the morning. 

I rolled out of bed at 6:30 this morning and the first thing I did was check the online forecasts, and my suspicions were confirmed, it wasn't looking good and sleet showers were forecast from 0800 - 1000, exactly the time when we would be ringing. A quick text to Alice to let her know that ringing was off, and that was it, I'd jinxed it by saying that it looked favourable yesterday! I don't actually believe that, but nevertheless it is frustrating. 

Gail and I headed to our Bowland feeding station later in the morning to put some food out and fill up the feeders, and it was a different day; overcast with a sharp north-easterly wind, but no sleet showers. There had obviously been some snow overnight, as all the high ground had a fresh dusting of snow. 

The usual suspects were all present at the feeding station, and after all the food was put out,
 we had a walk up the wooded valley to get some warmth back into our fingers and toes. Nothing much to record other than Nuthatches, Chaffinches, Coal Tits, Blackbirds, Wrens, Robins and eleven Mallards on the semi-frozen pond. 

Below are a few pictures from one of the feeders. 

                                      Blue Tit                                       
Coal Tit
Great Tit (above & below)