Sunday, 24 September 2023


I think I finished my last blog post on a positive note about birding in the rain, and how the conditions looked good to drop in a migrant or two. I did go to the cemetery in the rain the following morning, as it was raining on a south-easterly wind, and the rain had come in later in the night, so I was hopeful. However, I did not record a single migrant. If it wasn't for the fact that I like to do complete lists of everything I see or hear, so I can enter a 'complete list' of my sightings on the BTO's BirdTrack, I wouldn't  have entered anything in my notebook! The only thing I will mention is that I had a Grey Wagtail over, south. Rain will feature again in this post.

Just over a week ago, I ran my moth trap for one of my sporadic moth trapping sessions, and I caught nineteen moths of nine species; eight Large Yellow Underwings, a Setaceous Hebrew Character, a Light Brown Apple Moth, three Common Marbled Carpets, a beautiful Burnished Brass (see picture below), two Lesser Yellow Underwings, a Snout (it does what it says on the tin), a Spruce Carpet and a Square-spot Rustic. I also caught a Cinnamon Sedge, which is a species of caddisfly. 
Burnished Brass
On the subject of invertebrates, I had a couple of walks along the Quay during the past week. And on my first walk, I photographed a hoverfly species. I see them often, and they are very common. I have narrowed it down to either Syrphus ribesii or Syrphus vitripennis, I think! If it is indeed one of those two species, to separate them you need to see the colour of the hind femur (top part of leg)! And I didn't. The only other inverts that I had were a couple of Red Admirals and several Common Drone Flies. 
Syrphus ribesii/vitripennis
The Wyre estuary alongside the quay
Two Little Egrets were feeding out on the mud of the estuary, and a female Teal was floating in the Quay on the incoming tide. As the tide continued to run in, it pushed more waders on to areas that were uncovered, and I had 80 Redshanks, fifteen Oystercatchers, with a further 79 heading downstream, and two Black-tailed Godwits
Little Egret

A few days later, I was back at the Quay and dodging the rain showers. I was on site at a similar time, just after lunch, and the tide was well on its way once again. Redshanks were feeding along the water's edge, before being pushed off onto roosting areas, and I had 349 of them. Just six Oystercatchers this time, with 20 heading downstream, and 25 Turnstones with some of the roosting Redshanks was noteworthy. 
Redshanks just holding on as the tide runs in
Yesterday I had a ringing session at the Nature Park with a good old friend of mine, Graeme, and I think the last time I was out ringing with Graeme was in 1996, when he was a member of our ringing group, and before he moved to East Sussex. So, we had 27 years of catching up to do!

Yesterday morning was the only weather window that we had to do some ringing, so under 6 oktas cloud cover, with a marginal 2 - 3 NW wind, we put a few nets up. I think Graeme must have brought some luck with him, as we managed to ring 32 birds, which isn't half-bad for this site of late:

Robin - 3
Grey Wagtail - 2
Blue Tit - 1
Reed Bunting - 2
Great Tit - 2
Blackcap - 1
Greenfinch - 14
Dunnock - 1
Chiffchaff - 6

Between putting the birding/ringing world to rights, ringing, and processing the birds, we did try and monitor anything that was moving. I suppose the best migrants that we had were three Redwings that dropped out of the sky when some rain came in. In fact, they might be my earliest ever, but I'll need to check. As the wind was a north-westerly direction, this was bringing the Pink-footed Geese in, and we had at least 465 go over, most of them very high. It was probably the same conditions that brought and dropped the Redwings, and because of this they were very probably Icelandic birds. The rain played its part again, and we had to close the nets for a short while until the rain cleared. 
Besides the Pinkies, there wasn't a great deal of vis, just a handful of Meadow Pipits, Grey Wagtails and Woodpigeons. Two 'cronking' Ravens, two singing Cetti's Warblers, four Snipe and a Kestrel, were the best of the rest. 
The forecast isn't looking great for next week, but as ever I will make the effort to get out.
It was interesting, and alarming, to read in August's British Wildlife, that the brilliant columnist for the 'Conservation News' section, Sue Everett, shares my utter concern that tipping points in climate change are being made. Any Naturalist of a certain age, who has kept detailed notes throughout this period, will have seen the plethora of bird and invertebrate populations disappearing from the pages of their notebooks.
Sue writes, will 2023 be the year when humanity finally realises the dangers of climate change to the continued existence of our species? My concern isn't for humanity, but more for the amount of mass extinction that we will cause for species across the planet on our one-way ticket to oblivion. She goes on to say that the fear, supported by evidence, is that tipping points are being reached, beyond which there is no return without effective carbon caption and storage coupled with halting the use of fossil fuels.
Global temperature has reached a level not experienced for 125,000 years, and there is a 98% likelihood (Sue is more optimistic than me) that the Paris Agreement of 1.5 degrees C will be breached within the next five years. I give it a 100% likelihood! 
Already in 2023, temperature records have been smashed; June was the warmest June globally since modern record-keeping began in 1880. The five hottest Junes have all occurred since 2019, and this year, in July, the world experienced its hottest day ever recorded. Also in July, Europe recorded its highest ever temperature, 48.2 degrees C in Sardinia. Extreme marine heatwaves are being experienced in the North Atlantic Ocean, and global average sea-surface temperatures reached unprecedented levels in June and July, with 38.3 degrees C recorded in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida Keys, and this may break the record for the highest global sea temperature.
You've only got to look at the number of Southern Ocean bird species that are turning up in UK waters in the last few years. And the numbers of Great and Cory's Shearwaters off the southwest coast of England this summer were unprecedented. In this same area, record sea temperatures were experienced, 3 - 4 degrees C higher than normal for June. Rising sea temperatures will inevitably precipitate huge changes in ocean chemistry and marine ecosystems, as well as in patterns of oceanic circulation. And the large numbers of these 'big Shears' will have been as a result of this.
On that happy note.................  

Thursday, 14 September 2023

Big Skies

Gail and I started a wintering bird survey off last week, on the mossland south of the Ribble marshes. We had six oktas cloud cover, with a light easterly wind. We did an hour's VP, followed by an hours transect (an opportunity to stretch our legs) and then another hour's VP. Our survey site is within an area of farmland used for growing vegetables, so it is flat with big skies, and the fields are bounded by ditches, rather than hedgerows.

The two most numerous species that we recorded were the 425 Canada Geese and 225 Woodpigeons. In addition to the Woodpigeons, we had eight Stock Doves and 21 Collared Doves. As our survey was from first light, most of these birds were heading from roost sites to foraging areas. There was some vis, but it was light, just nine Swallows, 14 Meadow Pipits, three Goldfinches and four Linnets

Next to where our VP is located, is a field that has been tilled and recently sown, and 78 Alba Wagtails were feeding in this field, before moving off east about an hour after first light. We had three species of raptor during the survey; a Buzzard that was feeding on a prey item on top of a fence post (Grey Squirrel or a Rabbit), a Kestrel and a gorgeous Hobby that belted low, northeast. 
Last weekend we had a ringing session at the Nature Park. Whilst putting the nets up under clear skies, with no wind, it felt like another clear-out morning, and our ringing totals supported this assertion. We ringed just eight birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Chiffchaff - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Great Tit - 2
Blackcap - 1
Blue Tit - 2 (1)
Cetti's Warbler - (1)

The numbers of Starlings roosting looks to have increased, and we made a very rough estimate of perhaps 4,000 birds. Cetti's Warblers gave their explosive song, at least three were singing, as was a migrant Chiffchaff. The vis was next to nothing, with just a handful of Meadow Pipits over, plus a single Grey Wagtail. We could hear some Pink-footed Geese calling, but they remained unseen. 

Four days ago, we made the first of two recent visits to the Quay, and as usual we were there mid-morning and we had four oktas cloud cover, with a light south-easterly wind. The tide was running in, but there was still plenty of mud exposed, and out on the mud were 115 Redshanks and 14 Oystercatchers. A few Grey Wagtails headed south, but that was it in terms of vis. 

We didn't think that there were any grounded migrants until we encountered a very confiding first-winter Wheatear on the wall of the quay. It wasn't bothered by our presence at all, and perhaps it hadn't come across many people, because Wheatears tend to breed in fairly remote places, whether it's in the uplands of the UK, or in Iceland etc. We really enjoyed the ten minutes that we spent in this bird's company, and I think this epitomises the pleasure of observing a local patch on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be some rare waif or stray to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, just a gorgeous, not so humble Wheatear perhaps. 
Wheatear (above & below)


We were back in the land of the big skies yesterday, and it was a typical season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun kind of September morning. It was nippy, clear, and calm at first light. 
Once again lots of Canada Geese were flying into various locations to feed, and we had a total of 485. In addition to the Canada's, we had 37 Greylags and 111 Pink-footed Gese headed west. We had 15 Lapwings out on the moss, and they were accompanied by 22 Golden Plovers, one of my favourite waders. 
There was some vis, but it was hard to untangle it from birds moving from roosts to foraging areas. Our best guess was that we had eight Skylarks, seven Alba Wags, 24 Meadow Pipits, a Reed Bunting, four Grey Wagtails, five House Martins, six Swallows and a Linnet moving anywhere between a south-westerly or south-easterly direction. 
Woodpigeons were the second most abundant bird species and we had 128, with a supporting cast of six Stock Doves, and eleven Collared Doves. No Hobby or Kestrel this week, just the same Buzzard in the same location, but without any prey this time. 
We made our second recent visit to the Quay this morning, and it was fairly cloudy with a light easterly wind. When we got there, the tide had nearly covered all of the mud in the Quay and in the estuary, and a few waders were sitting it out on whatever exposed substrate they could find. We had thirty Redshanks, and then when the tide had nearly covered everything, a flock of 247 dropped in on some mud on the side of the channel into the quay, but they were soon shifted by the quick running tide. Six Oystercatchers, three Common Sandpipers and seventeen Turnstones were associating with the Redshanks. 
The Wyre estuary
We had just got to the point where the Quay wall turns, and forms the western bank of the estuary, when we heard what sounded like a lot of Sandwich Terns calling. A large flock were wheeling in the air and heading upstream, and we estimated that about 120 birds were involved. The largest number of Sandwich Terns that I have seen at this location.
Sandwich Terns
We sat in our usual spot on the wall overlooking the estuary, and the Terns started to return. They were diving into the water to feed, and nearly every dive seemed to be a success, as they lifted off the water with a small fish secured in their bill. We chatted to a local fisherman, and he said that there were a lot of Whitebait about, and Whitebait are the immature fry of fish such as Herrings and Sprats, so this is probably what the Terns were catching. A few of the Terns landed on some exposed shore before the tide covered it, and after a few minutes of enjoying the antics of the 'Sarnies', they headed downstream towards the mouth of the estuary. 

It was time for us to continue our walk, and as we were passing a patch of Bramble, I noticed a darter fly in and land. And I was very surprised to see that it was a mature male Black Darter! According to Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland by Steve Brooks, and illustrated by Richard Lewington (an excellent book by the way), the larval habitat of Black Darter includes shallow, acidic, nutrient-poor pools with abundant emergent vegetation on heathland, moorland and bogs. However, the adult is a wanderer, and can undertake migratory journeys, and therefore is likely to appear far from water, or in locations that do not support breeding populations. Hence, our sighting this morning! Anyway, it was a cracking little beastie, and I have included some pictures of it below. 


Few butterflies were on the wing, other than seven Small Whites and a Small Copper. On our return leg we had a singing Chiffchaff, which was of course a migrant, and it made me think that perhaps the same weather had brought both it and the Black Darter to the site. 
Small Copper
There is some rain coming in after dark this evening, and it might well still be raining at first light tomorrow, so I might get up early and see if it has dropped any migrants in.

Saturday, 2 September 2023

More Tales From The Riverbank

Gail and I had two walks along the quay this week, and we got it right the first time, but our timing was out on our second visit. On our first visit, five days ago, the tide was falling, and just like the week before, a few waders were dropping in on the newly exposed mud. We had 470 Oystercatchers, that either flew downstream, or stopped off on the mud, before heading downstream again. Three Little Egrets, 39 Redshanks, a Common Sandpiper and thirteen Curlews were with the Oystercatchers, and seven Sandwich Terns headed towards the mouth of the river as well. 
Little Egret and Oystercatcher
A few butterflies were on the wing; 14 Small Whites, two Red Admirals, and a single of the day flying moth, Silver Y. The most interesting insect that we had, was an Ichneumon wasp species, possibly Dusona falcator, but only possibly! I only managed to get one picture of it, and you can see this below. The picture does not do this fantastic beastie justice, as in flight, you could see that above the black tip to its abdomen, it was bright yellow, and you can't see this in the photograph. Before I could get a better picture, it was off!
Dusona falcator possibly!
The Rowan trees along the quay are full of berries, and as we passed them walking back, three juvenile Blackbirds were feasting on them. 
Two days ago, we made our second visit to the quay, but we got our timing all wrong, and the tide was in. Not a scrap of mud to be seen, and consequently not a wader to be seen. We killed some time by having lunch in a cafe overlooking the mouth of the river, but even after that, on our return leg, there still wasn't any mud exposed. We could see that the tide was dropping, but not enough. I think we need to consult the tide tables next time. 
Five Red Admirals, a Common Darter, five Small Whites, a Silver Y, and two Small Tortoiseshells were on the wing, and that was about it. 
The forecast was okay for Gail and I to go ringing at the Nature Park this morning, but with clear skies overnight, and still clear just before 6:00 am, when we arrived on site, I wasn't hopeful for many birds. It was definitely a clear-out night/morning, and too early yet for any reasonable amount of visible migration. At this time of year, most local breeding summer migrants have moved on, and any numbers of continental migrants have yet to arrive. 

We put a couple of nets up and kept our fingers crossed, but our predictions proved to be correct. We ringed seven birds as follows:

Whitethroat - 2 (11 for the site for the year, and 6 more than last year's total of 5)
Cetti's Warbler - 1 (8 for the site for the year, and equals last year's total)
Blackcap - 2 (10 for the site for the year, and just 1 short of last year's total)
Reed Warbler - 1 
Wren - 1
The Starlings were exiting their roost at the exact time that Gail and I were putting the nets up, so the 2,000 that I put in my notebook was mostly guesswork, and I suspect that there were considerably more than this. 

We had a Grey Wagtail and a Tree Pipit south, and that was it for vis. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is always noteworthy here, but they are getting more frequent. And that was it!

In the afternoon we had a walk through the Larkholme Grasslands to see if there were any dragons around the ponds. We had two Common Darters, two Emperors and a male Migrant Hawker
Common Darter
Migrant Hawker (above & below)


It is looking settled for most of next week, but it will be clear skies for most of the time, meaning that any migrants will pass straight through. If we get a suitable morning, we will have another try. 

I follow an excellent blog called North Downs and Beyond, and I can thoroughly recommend it if you like a good read about nature and conservation. Its author, Steve is a brilliant all-round naturalist, and I have posted many a link to some of his posts on here before. 

A couple of weeks ago he wrote a post entitled Impotent about how he feels about climate change, and a lack of action by both individuals and government, and I can totally relate to it. You can read Steve's post HERE, and it is well worth a read, as are all his posts, but this summed up the way I feel very well.
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of August. Three new species for the year were ringed during August, and these were Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail and Linnet.
Below you will find the top 10 'movers and shakers' for the year, but I haven't produced a top 5 ringed during August as only one species made it into double figures.
Top 10 Movers and Shakers
1. Sand Martin - 101 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 85 (same position)
3. Goldfinch - 66 (same position)
4. Great Tit - 57 (same position)
5. Chaffinch - 26 (same position)
    Reed Warbler - 26 (up from 7th)
7. Pied Flycatcher - 23 (down from 6th)
8. Lesser Redpoll - 18 (down from 7th)
9. Reed Bunting - 16 (same position)
10. Chiffchaff - 13 (down from 9th)

Monday, 28 August 2023

Tales From The Riverbank

I don't want to repeat myself, but it has been another quiet week since I last posted, some eight days ago. We have been out, walking the quay and the riverbank on several occasions, and we even ran our light trap for moths in the garden a couple of times. And this past week I finished with a sea watch from the coastal farm fields, but more of that later. 
As I said above, we ran our moth trap twice this last week, and the catches were poor in terms of species, but quite large for us in terms of numbers, thanks to a number of Large Yellow Underwings. We added eight new species for the garden, in the form of Rhomboid tortrix, Acleris hastiana, Copper Underwing, Bird-cherry Ermine, Rosy Rustic, Vine's Rustic, Dark Fruit-tree Tortrix and Garden Rose Tortrix, and incidentally, we just caught one of each of these eight species. Over both days the combined totals of the other moths we caught were, 96 Large Yellow Underwings, four Agriphila geniculeas, a Bright-line Brown-eye, two Lesser Yellow Underwings, a Common Rustic, a Garden Carpet, five Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwings, a Flame Shoulder, and a Setaceous Hebrew Character.
A few of the Large Yellow Underwings
I noticed some larvae were munching my Willows, and after a bit of research I identified them as Lesser Willow Sawfly Nematus pavidus. They aren't rare, in fact they are very common, but it is one of the joys of looking at invertebrates in that virtually everything is new. Well, it is to me anyway! 
Lesser Willow Sawfly
During the week, Gail and I had a wander along the quay, and along the bank of the River Wyre to Fleetwood. All our visits were mid - late morning, and all our visits were fairly quiet, with the exception of visit number three. 
Our first visit was very quiet, even though the southerly wind seemed to give the impression that there might be a migrant or two about, but there wasn't. Looking back at my notebook as I write, it was meagre pickings, and all I will mention is the eighteen Redshanks and fourteen Oystercatchers out on the mud. 
For visit number two, the wind had swung round to the northwest, and for some reason, even though it felt a little cooler, a few common butterflies were on the wing. We had seven Small Whites, five Common Blues, two Red Admirals and a Small Tortoiseshell
Red Admiral (above & below)


Ten Swallows were in the air at one point, alarm calling away, but we couldn't see/find what had upset them. By the way they were behaving, we suspected something mammalian, rather than avian. 
Our third visit, which was in fact yesterday, coincided with a falling tide, and we did have a few birds. It was overcast with a chilly north-westerly wind. There were a number of waders feeding in the quay itself, and along the river's edge in the main channel as the tide fell, exposing foraging areas. There were also birds flying downstream. Some stopped off for a few seconds before heading off again, but others just motored past. I've lumped my totals together for all three scenarios, and we had 112 Oystercatchers, 287 Redshanks, a Whimbrel and three Curlews
As we neared the mouth of the river, we could see onto one of the muscle beds, or scars as they are known, and there were at least 800 Oystercatchers, along with four Little Egrets. This is obviously where all the birds flying downstream were heading. 
In addition to the waders heading downstream, we also had 33 Sandwich Terns doing the same. We watched all this activity as we sat on the side of the quay wall overlooking the river. As we were sat watching the natural world go by, a flock of thirty Starlings dropped in just a few metres from us, and they were busy feeding on invertebrates amongst the sparse vegetation along the sea wall. All of a sudden, they were in the air, and a juvenile Kestrel made a very clumsy attempt at catching one, and then perched up on the quay just a few metres from us. 
The juvenile Kestrel (above & below). You will need to look carefully!

It looked quite comical as it had a bit of a walk about amongst the same vegetation that the Starlings were feeding in. I suspect that if it could have found a large enough invertebrate morsel it would have taken it, but it would have been a poor substitute for a Starling! Whilst we were sat watching the Kestrel, a few Swallows were flying back and forth hawking for insects, and the young Kestrel made a few half-hearted, or poorly executed, attempt of catching a Swallow. The Swallows weren't in any danger!

A male Peregrine was on his usual high tide perch, and now that the tide was dropping, he headed off towards the mouth of the estuary in search of a wader to feed on. On the seaweed encrusted slopes of the sea-wall, Gail spotted a white rump 'bouncing' away, that belonged to a migrant Wheatear. The only other migrant passerine that we had was a juvenile Whitethroat that we encountered on our return leg. 
It was a solo outing this morning for me, to the coastal farm fields to have a look over the sea on the in-coming tide. I had 6 oktas cloud cover, with a force 3 - 4 north - westerly wind. Whilst it remained cloudy the visibility was fairly good, but when the clouds cleared a little, there was a heat haze making the visibility not so good.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I didn't really expect it to be 'rocking', so when my first bird was a close-in dark morph Arctic Skua heading north, I thought that maybe it might rock a little bit, but it didn't really. There was a supporting cast of 61 Sandwich Terns, 47 Common Scoters, 48 Gannets and a Shelduck, and that was it. 

The most unusual birds I had at sea, were a group of five white herons, quite a long way out, heading north. I couldn't make out what they were at all, but I assume that they were Little Egrets. It wasn't a particularly strong north-westerly wind, but they were making slow progress, and I picked them up again a few minutes later and two climbed, and peeled off from the other three, but I couldn't see where they headed. 

As the tide ran in, there were a number of Turnstones roosting on the rock armour just off-shore, and I counted 134 in total. The only other waders I had were twelve Oystercatchers and a couple of Sanderlings.
I had a walk round the farm fields and hedgerows after I had finished my sea-watch, and the only migrant I had was a single Whitethroat. A group of fifteen Common Gulls roosting on the front fields with some Black-headed and Herring Gulls is worth mentioning. 

I'm not sure why, but I called in at the cemetery on my way home, as I knew there wouldn't be any migrants, but I suppose it's the fact that it is autumn after all, that made me call. And there weren't any migrants!
The weather is looking quite unsettled for the coming week, and I don't know how many blog posts of late that I have ended with that statement! It will be what it will be, and Gail and I will endeavour to make the most of it.

Sunday, 20 August 2023


It has been a quiet week, and Gail and I have struggled to populate the notebook with sightings, but we have been trying. The week started off with a couple of nesting bird checks for work, and these were completed in sometimes trying conditions with plenty of heavy rain. 
The forecast for Wednesday morning was good enough to tempt us to have a ringing session at the Nature Park, and at first light we had almost clear skies with a light northerly wind. When putting a couple of nets up, it felt like a bit of a 'clear-out' morning, and our ringing totals backed this up. We ringed eleven birds as follows:
Reed Warbler - 1
Great Tit - 3
Sedge Warbler - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Whitethroat - 2
Wren - 2
Blackbird - 1
Look at the bill on this gorgeous Reed Warbler
Sedge Warbler

As usual, as we were putting the nets up the Starlings exited their reedbed roost with the usual whoosh, and when you are close to them the noise of their wings as they swirl around, sounds like waves rolling onto the shore. 
A few Swallows seemed to be heading north into the wind, as they often do, and a hovering Kestrel is the only other thing of note worth mentioning. However, we do count everything we see and hear, so we can enter a complete count on the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) BirdTrack. 
Over that following evening we ran our light trap in the garden, for one of our not so regular moth trapping sessions. We trapped 35 moths of 16 species; 2 Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, 2 Willow Beauty, 15 Large Yellow Underwing, 2 Common Carpet, 1 Common Plume, 1 Marbled Beauty, 1 Setaceous Hebrew Character, 2 Brown House Moth, 1 Yellow Shell, 1 Dotted Clay, 1 Flame Carpet, 1 Agriphila latistra, 2 Agriphila geniculea, 1 Garden Carpet, and 1 Acleris notana/ferrugana. We also had a 'moth trap intruder' in the form of the caddis fly, Mottled Sedge.
Common Carpet
Setaceous Hebrew Character

Willow Beauty

On Friday morning I had a solo outing around the coastal farm fields. I was there for first light under 6 oktas cloud cover with a 3 - 4 easterly wind. The tide was a long way out, so I dispensed with any thoughts of sea-watching, and had a walk around the fields and hedges instead. It was quiet, very quiet, and even though I counted absolutely everything, I haven't much to report here.

As I walked along the sea wall there were several House Martins and Swallows continually flying up and down the length of the wall hawking insects, as a number of flies were on the wing. Over 200 Herring Gulls were out on the shore, and a Little Egret fed in one of the tidal pools. I looked for a few plants, but didn't record anything unusual, or should I say, anything that I could identify that was unusual for me! Some Sea Holly was flowering, and these are one of my favourite coastal plants, in fact one of my favourite plants full stop. I think it is a combination of their beauty, and adaptability of their harsh environment that makes them one of my favourites. 
Sea Holly (above & below)

I had a saunter through Larkholme Grasslands, and it was another quiet hour here also. Swallows were hawking insects along this stretch of coast as well, and again about 200 Herring Gulls were on the shore. I had two Little Egrets feeding in a tidal pool, so when I saw those five Little Egrets exiting their roost last week, they were very probably heading to some of the tidal pools along this stretch of coast. 

I found some more Strawberry Clover, but they are probably in the same tetrad as the coastal farm fields, and that was it. I told you it was quiet!

The forecast is a bit of a mixed bag over the next week, which is typical when I don't have any work next week and could get out lots. I think it is called Sod's law!

Sunday, 13 August 2023

Warblers and Strawberries

I'm not the most committed moth trapper, and can run my light trap a couple of times in a week, or a couple of months between sessions! I ran my light trap about a week ago, and not since (I know shame on me), and caught just fourteen moths of seven species, but Nutmeg, Hypsopygia glaucinalis and Mouse Moth were new species for the garden, so I was pleased about that.

During the past week, Gail and I made two visits to the Quay on the Wyre, to see if we could catch up with a few butterflies and plants. I think the real reason was so that Gail could pick some Blackberries, so I'm looking forward to an apple (from our garden) and blackberry crumble, or such like. 

Our first visit was fairly early in the morning, so just a handful of butterflies were on the wing; six Small Whites, two Common Blues and two Red Admirals, and a day flying Silver Y moth. The tides were very high earlier in the week, around the 10 metre mark, which means that they go out along way, and areas of mud that aren't regularly exposed are exposed. This attracted 97 Oystercatchers, 19 Redshanks, 160 Herring Gulls, eight Lesser Black-backed Gulls, three Great Black-backed Gulls, two Grey Herons and a Little Egret. And a walk along an estuary in August wouldn't be complete without a calling Whimbrel
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Silver Y

There's still a few Swifts about, and we had three during our walk, but the best bird was reserved for our return leg, when we flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from some scrub on the quayside. Not a scarce bird by any means, but a new bird for us for the site, and it made our morning! This is the beauty of working a patch, and staying local. That 'Great Spot' gave me the same kicks that I used to get four decades ago, when I had a spell of chasing rarities, and driving hundreds of miles across the UK in pursuit of said rarities.
This got me thinking about a brilliant, thought provoking blog post from Steve Gale on his excellent blog North Downs and Beyond. He wrote a blog post entitled What did you do during the climate crisis?, and it is well worth a read. You can read it by clicking HERE
Our second visit to the Quay was just a couple of days ago, and it was on a very hot, but blustery, afternoon. We were hoping for a few more butterflies, but the 15 mph south-easterly wind restricted them to just four Small Whites, two Common Blues and two Red Admirals. 

We'd just set off, when all the wreck nesting Swallows started alarm calling, and there must have been a good thirty of them in the air shouting at the top of their hirundine voices. And the cause of all this commotion, was a male Sparrowhawk that had dared to flap-glide across the Swallows air space. The Sparrowhawk was duly escorted to the other side of the quay, and peace and quiet returned. 

We had our highest count of Little Egrets for some time, with two feeding along the river's edge, and a flock of eight flying downstream towards the mouth of the estuary. At the far end of our walk, at the mouth of the estuary, is the former fishing and ferry port of Fleetwood, and very handily is an ice cream parlour selling Walling's ice cream. In our opinion, you would struggle to find a better ice cream than Walling's, and with a choice of over 40 different flavours it's virtually impossible not to call, particularly on a hot afternoon. I availed myself of two scoops, raspberry swirl and strawberry, and Gail, who isn't as greedy as me, just had one scoop of raspberry sorbet. After this essential pit-stop, we were ready to walk back. Our walk back was quiet, but we did have an adult Mediterranean Gull in the quay. A nice end to a pleasant, if not a hot and sweaty stroll.  

Wednesday morning dawned with conditions conducive to ringing, so Gail and I found ourselves at the Nature Park at 5:30 am, under 1 oktas cloud cover, with a 5 - 10 mph west-north-westerly wind, putting a couple of nets up in the reedbed and scrub. As we were putting the nets up, some early Brown Hawkers were up and about crashing through the reeds. It's amazing how much noise these large dragonflies make as they move through the vegetation.

Brown Hawker

The Starlings were up earlier than usual, so the 700 that we observed exiting the roost, was probably just the last birds leaving. Five Little Egrets went over early, and they were probably exiting a roost as well. They were heading in a north-westerly direction, so were probably heading to feed on the Irish Sea coast. 
A few House Martins and Swallows, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, and a croaking Raven was probably it from a pure birding perspective. We ringed 18 birds as follows (13 being warblers):
Cetti's Warbler - 2
Whitethroat - 5
Blue Tit - 1
Great Tit - 2
Sedge Warbler - 1
Wren - 2
Chiffchaff - 3
Willow Warbler - 1
Reed Warbler - 1

At the end of the week Gail and I were doing our weekly shop (why are you telling us this I hear you ask), and we bumped into Barry and Ellen. Barry is one of those all round brilliant naturalists, and I tend to only bump into him once a year or so. I have known Barry for about 47 years, and when I was a young birder, he was very encouraging to me, and I am forever grateful for that. Anyway, I digress. we were chatting about birds, birders, naturalists, inverts and plants, and Barry asked me if we ever visited Larkholme Grasslands, to which we answered no, even though it is only five minutes from home! He told us that there was a good selection of insects and plants there, so on Friday afternoon we went to have a look.
Larkholme Grasslands is a Biological Heritage Site (BHS), known as a County Wildlife Site (CWS) in other parts of the UK, and it was restored in 2018 when the sea defence work in the area was completed. 

It was a hot afternoon when we visited, but the blustery north-westerly wind meant that any butterflies were keeping low, and we just had five Common Blues, a Small White, a Meadow Brown and two Small Coppers (one of my favourite butterflies). 
Small Copper
A lot of wildflowers have gone over now, but we had species like Lady's Bedstraw, Common Knapweed, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Oxeye Daisy, Chicory, Scentless Mayweed, Purple Loosestrife, Field Scabious, Common Vetch, Creeping Cinquefoil, Red Clover, Sea Campion, Ribwort Plantain and Yarrow to name but a few, but I think you get the picture. 
There are two small ponds on the site, and in the first one there were at least 80 Pond Snails sp. At the second pond we had three Common Darters, and at least three Emperor dragonflies. There was at least one female Emperor ovipositing, but the view of her was always slightly obscured by vegetation, so I couldn't get any pictures. And the two battling males, well, they were just too fast for me. Gail and I spent several minutes stood by this pond marvelling at these large, metallic blue and green dragons. I like the way that Emperors seem to be inquisitive, as they will often come and have a look at you when you stand for some time, and these two boys were no exception. Like the Brown Hawker of Wednesday, these large dragonflies crash through marginal vegetation as well, and you often hear them before you see them.  

Common Darter
Pond 1
Pond 2

We walked back to the car park with calling Whimbrel and Sandwich Tern as a backdrop. The car park is next to the coastal farm fields that I like to bird regularly when I can, and I remembered a visit a number of years ago now, with the late Eric Greenwood, who besides being a lovely man, is probably the best botanist that I have ever known. My signed copy of his Flora of North Lancashire sits proudly on my book shelf. 
Eric's Flora of North Lancashire
During that visit from several years ago he was pointing out to me some Strawberry Clover that can be found just behind the sea wall. It isn't rare by any means, in fact in his book, Eric describes it as 'occasional', occurring in 28 tetrads. Anyway, Gail and I had a look, and sure enough there it was flowering away in the same place that Eric had pointed it out to me all those years before. It's a funny looking flower, and I always think it looks more like a raspberry than a strawberry!  
Strawberry Clover
The distribution of Strawberry Clover in north Lancashire

I've got two nesting bird checks to do tomorrow, and then I have a meeting Tuesday morning, and then the rest of the week is free. So hopefully, we'll be back out several times during the week.

I'm beginning to really like the good people of the University of Sussex as I read about another great piece of research they recently carried out alongside Butterfly Conservation. There is widespread concern about the decline in wild pollinating insects like bees and butterflies, and the researchers at the University of Sussex have discovered that moths are particularly efficient night-time pollinators. 

Throughout July 2021 they studied ten sites in the south-east of England, and found that 83% of insect visits to Bramble flowers were made during the day. While the moths made fewer visits during the short nights, only 15% of the visits, they were able to pollinate the flowers more quickly. 

The researchers concluded that moths are more efficient pollinators than day-flying insects such as bees! While day-flying insects have more time available to transfer pollen, moths are making an important contribution during the short hours of darkness. 

The study also highlighted the importance of Bramble, a shrub widely thought of as unfavourable (not by us) and routinely cleared, when in fact it is critical for nocturnal pollinators. So now that we know that moths are important pollinators, we need to ensure that Bramble, and other flowering scrub plants, are encouraged to grow in our parks, gardens, road verges and hedgerows. So, leave some Bramble in your garden if you can please.