Thursday, 25 May 2023

More Pied Flycatchers

Earlier in the week Gail and I had a walk along the quay again, and it was a pleasantly warm morning with five oktas cloud cover. Migration has slowed down now, as it does in late May, but we did have a singing Whitethroat from an area that I haven't recorded them before. It is possible that it was a late migrant, but the habitat is suitable for a breeding bird. Time will tell. 

We had our eyes firmly fixed groundward as well, looking for a few more plant species, and we had a couple of Common Blue butterflies. The main food plant for the caterpillars of Common Blue is Common Bird's-foot Trefoil, and other plants used include White Clover and Lesser Trefoil, all of which occur along the quay. 
Common Blue
We added a few more plant species, including Oxeye Daisy, Common Comfrey, Sea Plantain and Biting Stonecrop, taking our total for the quay to 47 species. 
Yesterday, Gail and I were back in Bowland checking our Pied Flycatcher boxes, and we needed to lift the last remaining female of the five pairs from the nest, if possible, and we also needed to trap the males if any of the chicks had hatched. 
Pied Flycatchers
We set traps in two of the Pied Flycatcher boxes where the chicks had hatched, and we managed to catch both males. The first male we had ringed as a chick at this site on 25/5/19, and we had subsequently caught him as a breeding male on 20/5/20 and 28/5/22. This is a powerful set of data that will provide information to help with the conservation of this amber listed species. 
The other thing we know from our records that is that on the three occasions that we encountered him he was using a different box each year. In 2019 he hatched from box 18, in 2020 he was using box 4, in 2022 he was in box 33 and this year box 25. Now, I know that this won't mean anything to you, but I can tell you that these four boxes are spread across this area of ancient semi-natural woodland. Because we originally ringed him as a chick, we also know that he is exactly four years old. We also know, that he has crossed the Sahara eight times flying from Bowland to his wintering area in tropical West Africa and back each year. The distance from his Bowland nesting area to his wintering area in West Africa is approximately 3,400 miles (5,549 km), so during his eight trips he has clocked up a staggering 27,200 miles on migration! Given that the circumference of the earth is 24, 855 miles, he has flown the equivalent of over one trip around the world. Staggering for a bird that weighs just 13 g on average! 
This is the guy that has flown 27,200 miles so far in his life!
The history of the other male was interesting as well. He was ringed as a chick from a box at another site monitored by Fylde Ringing Group, near Oakenclough, Lancashire by Andy on 17/6/21. This is about eight miles northwest of our site in the Hodder Valley as the Pied Flycatcher flies. Where he was in 2022, we don't know.
We also trapped his mate in the box at the same time, and from the ring she had on, we know that she was lifted off the nest from our site in the Hodder Valley on 8/5/22.
All good stuff!
We also ringed a brood of ten Blue Tits, and two broods of four Great Tits. A decent sized Blue Tit brood, but small Great Tit broods. The Great Tits may well have lost a few chicks at an early stage, and the adults would have removed them from the box. 
Blue Tit
In other news from the site, the Redstart was singing still from the other side of the river, and we recorded singing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch and Song Thrush from the woodland. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin were also present at the site.
We're looking forward to our next visit.

Monday, 22 May 2023

Hatched in Derbyshire - Nesting in Lancashire

Before I get on to an update on the nest box checking that Gail and I carried out at the end of the week and over weekend, I just wanted to rewind a couple of days to another walk we had along the quay on the Wyre estuary. From a birding perspective, I have nothing to report, but we did add a couple of species of plant to our plant list for the site, and these were Common Vetch and Weld. I have to confess to not bothering with grasses, terrible of me I know, unless they are easy, such as the Barren Brome or the Cock's-foot that we recorded. I have tried with grasses, but I am sad to say they don't hold my attention. Maybe I need to try harder!

There were a few Small White butterflies on the wing, about 7 or 8, and we also had two Holly Blues. One was a female, that I photographed, but we didn't see the other well enough. 
Holly Blue
On the Thursday, we were back in Bowland checking our Pied Flycatcher boxes, and it was fairly overcast and warm, perfect conditions for checking boxes. If it's too hot, it becomes hard work running up and down the ladder numerous times. In fact, I worked out how many times I climbed up and down the ladder, and it was 51 times!
One of the first birds that we heard was a Redstart singing, but alas it was singing from the other side of the river. We always used to get one pair in our boxes, but sadly not for a good few years. To our eyes, the habitat looks the same, but no doubt there will be something not to the Redstart's liking. 
Five Pied Flycatchers were singing, which matches exactly with the number of pairs that we have in our boxes. Other songsters included a Goldcrest, two Blackcaps and a Chaffinch. We also had a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Redpoll and two Siskins 'knocking' about. We checked the area where the Spotted Flycatchers nest, but they have yet to arrive, and Spotted Flycatchers can be late, often just starting when the Pied Flycatchers are finishing. 
Female Pied Flycatcher
All of the Pied Flycatchers are now on eggs, and we managed to lift four females off the nest. One was unringed, so she received a ring, and the other three had been ringed elsewhere. The ringing records have been submitted to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and they promptly returned the details of two of the birds to me today. One of the females was lifted off the nest at another nest box scheme just 5 km east, as the Pied Flycatcher flies, in May 2021. She was aged as a second-year bird, so we know that she was hatched in 2020, making her three years old now. 
The other female that we have been sent details of was hatched at Padley Gorge in Derbyshire in June 2022, some 88 km southeast from our site in Bowland. She was one of a brood of seven, and of course between hatching and us lifting her off the nest she has flown to tropical Africa, south of the Sahara, and back!  

  Pied Flycatcher from Derbyshire to Lancashire

We ringed three broods of Blue Tits and one brood of Great Tits, and on our next visit we will have a few more Blue and Great Tits to ring, and we might possibly be able to catch some of the male Pied Flycatchers in the boxes if the eggs have hatched. 
Blue Tit
Great Tit

In one of the boxes last time we checked there was a Pipistrelle sp. bat in it. When we checked this time, the Pip had moved to the next box. See below.   

Pipistrelle sp.
Some of the flowering plants on the woodland floor are starting to go over now, but others are still flowering, and I've included a few 'snaps' below.  

Herb Robert
Lesser Stitchworts and Red Campions
Wood Speedwell

On Saturday we were at our friend's farm near Garstang checking the boxes there. We ringed a brood of two Tree Sparrows, and a large brood of eleven Blue Tits. One of the largest broods that I've encountered for some time. The Kestrels are still on 5 eggs, which is great news, but in other not so good news, there doesn't seem to be any Barn Owls in the box in the barn. We can check this box without going up to it, because Robert has a camera installed in it. There were no adults in the box, nor could we see any eggs. We will keep an eye on the camera just in case. Two Blackcaps and two Chiffchaffs were singing from the wood. 

There is a healthy population of Tree Sparrows at the farm, but most of them don't nest in our boxes. The barn and other buildings in the yard are full of holes and crevices, and you can see Tree Sparrows popping out of the brick/stonework all over the place. When you are stood in the yard, the constant background noise is the cheery tone of calling Tree Sparrows!

I ran my moth trap over Saturday night/Sunday morning and caught just nine moths of six species that were a Shuttle-shaped Dart, four Bee Moths, a Small Square-spot, a Heart and Dart and a Poplar Grey.
Poplar Grey
Shuttle-shaped Dart

We are back at our Pied Flycatcher boxes mid-week, so I'll let you know how we get on. 

I was reading in May's edition of British Birds that a report into the continuing outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been published by the BTO and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). To date, more than 60 species have been reported to have been affected across Britain. Data collected by the government's country conservation bodies and other organisations and volunteers, indicate that over 20,000 wild birds have died from HPAI, but I fear that it is a lot more than that. Wintering Barnacle Geese on the Solway Firth (one of my favourite places), breeding Great Skuas in northern Scotland, and Gannets in colonies right across Britain, have all been hit particularly hard. 

Monday, 15 May 2023

Botany and Boxes

Earlier in the week Gail and I had a walk along the quay by the estuary. It started off overcast, but warm, with a light westerly wind, and later on the sun made an appearance to brighten things up. 

I've mentioned before, that a few pairs of Swallows nest in some of the boat wrecks out on the mud of the quay. As we were walking along, a female Sparrowhawk flew low in front of us, and a male Sparrowhawk joined it, and seemed to be mobbing her. If this was the case, I can only assume that she wasn't his mate, and he was attempting to drive her out of his territory. However, the effect of two Sparrowhawks whizzing along the quay was to put all the Swallows up, and there were at least 14 - 15 individuals in the air, so a few more than the 2 - 3 pairs that I think are there! 

As we expected, there was nothing out on the mud, other than four Shelducks. A few Oystercatchers, 32, flew down river, and a calling Whimbrel remained unseen. 

On our way back along the quay, we decided to see how many species of plants we could identify. I have to point out that neither Gail and I are what you would class as competent botanists, and our plant ID leaves much to be desired. However, we did identify at least 35 species of flowering plants, including species like Hedge Mustard, Dove's-foot Cranesbill, Common Chickweed, White Stonecrop, Ribwort Plantain, Sea Beet, Smooth Sow-thistle, Birds-foot Trefoil, Kidney vetch, Lesser Trefoil, Herb Robert and Wood Forget-me-not (probably an escaped garden variety). Nothing rare, but I don't think we did too bad. 
Hedge Mustard
Herb Robert

After we'd walked along the quay, we went to check on the Ravens, and it was pleasing to note that they had fledged at least one young, as we observed at least one youngster out of the nest being attended by its parents.
Last Friday I was back on my client's farm in Bowland carrying out the second breeding wader survey with some friends/colleagues from the RSPB. I don't know the full details of the whole survey, but on my patch, I found out least 5 pairs of Lapwings, 3 - 4 pairs of Curlews, 3 pairs of Oystercatchers, a single Redshank and a pair of Snipe demonstrated by a bird drumming over my head for several minutes. Brilliant!
Whilst surveying 'my' fields I found a pair of Lapwings with two chicks, and with my thermal imaging scope, it was easy to find the two chicks to ring them. 
Lapwing chicks
As last time, I recorded several singing Willow Warblers, at least eleven, and two Cuckoos were singing as well. I had three Ravens fly over me heading to the fells to the north of the farm, and a cracking slate-blue male Sparrowhawk carrying food. I also had a Song Thrush carrying food, and a few Lesser Redpolls and Siskins were moving around. Three Sedge Warblers were singing from the wetland, and the two Swifts that I had were my first for the year. 
At weekend, Gail and I checked our boxes at our good friends Robert and Diana's farm near Garstang. Out of 30 Tit/Tree Sparrow boxes we had four occupied by Tree Sparrows (eggs/small young), six by Blue Tits and six by Great Tits. We checked the Kestrel box and there were five warm eggs, but it was less good news from the Owl boxes. The three Tawny Owl and one Little Owl boxes were all occupied by Grey Squirrels! In the future, we are going to experiment with blocking the entrances to keep the Squirrels out, and unblocking them in the new year when the Tawny's, in particular, are back on territory. 
Kestrel eggs
We had two singing Blackcaps in the woodland, two Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler. The only raptor we observed was a Buzzard being mobbed by two Ravens, and a pair of Moorhens had six young on the pond. 
It's more boxes later in the week for Gail and I, back to our Pied Flycatchers in Bowland, so I'll let you know how we get on. 
I'd never heard of the term 'jet zero' (sustainable aviation) before, until reading April 2023's British Wildlife. Apparently, former transport secretary Grant Shapps, pledged last year that the UK's aviation sector would be green by 2050, and said that "guilt-free flying is within our reach". However, this possibility has been quashed by the Royal Society. In Net Zero aviation fuels: resource requirements and environmental impacts, they have concluded that the production of 'sustainable' aviation fuel would require "enormous quantities (around half) of UK agricultural land or renewable electricity" just to maintain flights at today's levels. Less flying is what is required me thinks!

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Pied Flyactchers

Yesterday, Alice, Gail and I checked our boxes in the Hodder Valley in Bowland. It was the first check of the season and we were eager to see how many pairs of Pied Flycatchers were using the boxes. 
Pied Flycatcher
We had four boxes where the females had started laying their clutches, and we had one box where the nest was complete, but laying hadn't yet commenced. At the moment, based on what we found yesterday, the occupancy rate this year is 12%. The long-term mean from 2002 - 2022 is 17%, but from the table below you will see how variable it can be from year to year. After the next couple of visits, we will have a better idea on what is happening this year.
In the other boxes we had a pair of Nuthatches and several pairs of Blue and Great Tits. Again, after another couple of visits we will be able to finalise the numbers. 
Note the mud on the box below the lid; Nuthatch in residence
Singing from the woodland we had three Blackcaps, a Garden Warbler, a Goldcrest and a Chiffchaff. And calling from the tree tops we had several Lesser Redpolls and Siskins. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was vocal, but remained unseen, as was a Kingfisher that flew down the river. 
The woodland habitat where our boxes are located (above), and a view of 
the River Hodder below
If the weather plays ball I have a breeding wader survey to do tomorrow, but I'll be waiting until later to make a decision. The problem is that at the moment the forecast isn't looking great for the rest of the week, or not until next weekend anyway.

Monday, 1 May 2023

Shore To Shore

Over this past week I've birded both sides of the peninsula, from the Wyre Estuary to the Irish Sea coast, a whopping one and a half miles between the two! A week ago, Gail and I had a late morning walk along the quay alongside the Wyre estuary, and we were hoping for a migrant or two. There are a few wrecks dotted about on the edge of the mud and the saltmarsh, and they always attract a pair or two of nesting Swallows, and this morning there were at least two pairs displaying, singing and having a look round the wrecks. 
Wyre estuary
It was very quiet out on the mudflats, and all we had were three Shelducks and four Redshanks. Out on the estuary, something had flushed the Oystercatchers from the muscle beds, and 430 flew up-river. Invertebrates were thin on the ground, with just a couple of Small Tortoiseshells on the wing, and under the cool north-easterlies not even the Wild Pear blossom was attracting anything. A handful of Linnets headed north, and that was that. We called in at the coastal park briefly, but all we could muster was a single singing Willow Warbler
Wild Pear blossom
We were back a few days later, and the wind was now from a more promising south-easterly direction. A few Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Lesser Redpolls trickled north, and four Wheatears were feeding in the old ferry car park. We had hoped for a Whimbrel or two, but it wasn't to be.
One of the four Wheatears
This morning I headed to the coastal farm fields on the Irish Sea coast of the peninsula, and I set-up at my sea-watching location under 7 oktas cloud cover with a 10 - 15 mph NW wind. Straight away a few Alba Wags headed north, and the northerly passerine passage was joined by five Linnets, 19 Swallows, six Goldfinches, a House Martin and a Lesser Redpoll. 
Looking northwest from my sea-watching location
I had a decent count of Turnstones for this site, and as the tide ran in 99 were roosting on a rock groyne, until this got covered with water as well. Talking of water, there was some passage at sea and I had 39 Sandwich Terns, 122 Common Scoters, three Auk sp., 37 Gannets, four summer plumaged Red-throated Divers, a dark morph Arctic Skua, seven Cormorants and a male Eider
I didn't have anything that I would class as 'grounded', but it was good to hear singing Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler. The site does seem to be holding several pairs of Meadow Pipits now, and a singing Skylark is always great to hear. Raptors were thin on the ground with just a male Kestrel perched up on a fence post. And that was it, a couple of hours bank holiday birding before most were up! 
Meadow Pipit
Several Dunnocks were singing from the hedgerows

Saturday, 22 April 2023

Breeding Waders

It was a glorious morning on Thursday in Bowland when myself and two colleagues and Friends from the RSPB set off to do a breeding wader survey on my client's farm. We weren't surveying the whole of the farm, mainly the better areas for breeding waders, and the areas where we have carried out considerable habitat management. Nevertheless, we had about ten fields each to survey, so it was going to take a few hours.
I recorded five species of wader in the fields that I was surveying; Oystercatcher, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe. Some of the Oystercatchers had paired up in suitable habitat, and others were still flocking, including a flock of at least fifteen birds in the wetland complex. It was hard to work out what these birds were doing. Were they migrants, or were they non-breeding first year birds/ Anyway, I got a shot or two of some of these birds in the sunshine (see below), and I enjoyed watching the antics of some of them, particularly when they were preening. 



I had at least four Curlews displaying, and others were flying around in pairs. It's amazing how many fields they cover when they are displaying, so it is hard to pin them down to a particular field until they are on a nest. I didn't think any of the birds I recorded had laid any eggs as yet. Below is a shot of a Curlew that was foraging in a field away from one of the usual fields that they nest in.

On my patch I had about six pairs of Lapwings, and several individuals were displaying and behaving territorially, alarm calling and chasing off any Gulls that dared to fly to low enough. Gavin also found two nests, each with four warm eggs in, so that was good news. 

We don't have any livestock on the farm during the nesting period of April - June, and we have also stopped supplementary feeding them outside. And this has reduced the number of predation events from Gulls substantially. We also mow any meadows late, after the end of July and after they have been checked for Curlews by me, and John, who does our mowing for us, mows very slowly and not with a huge triple mower. The slow speed of mowing doesn't attract any Gulls, and also John is very switched on, and manages to avoid anything he sees. This has made a huge difference to the Curlew population. 

I only had s single Redshank in a field that we have created lots of scrapes in, see picture below. So, it was hard to know what it/they were up to. Our next survey in May will be more informative. 
This picture of the scrapes was taken with my phone, looking into the sun, 
and I didn't get all the scapes in the shot, but I think you get the picture. 
I just had one Snipe, and this was a bird drumming over some very suitable habitat where they breed most years, so that bodes well. 

Raptors were thin on the ground, with just a single Buzzard and male Kestrel. I did have stonking views of a Barn Owl hunting around the rank grassland surrounding a pond, a good two hours after sunrise!

Willow Warblers were very vocal, and I had at least nine singing males from the hedgerows. The only other warbler I had was a singing Blackcap. I had a few Lesser Redpolls and Siskins over, and ones and twos of Swallows moved east. 

It was a pleasant way to spend the morning, and I look forward to the next survey in May. 

Talking of waders, I was fascinated to read about another record-breaking Bar-tailed Godwit. This Bar-tailed Godwit has set the world record for the longest non-stop migration, after flying for 13,560 km (8,426 miles in old money) continuously from Alaska to southern Australia! The five-month old bird undertook the voyage without stopping for 11 days and one hour to reach Tasmania. This means that it must have been averaging 51 kmh, or 31 mph, throughout the journey. Staggering!

According to the data from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology's bird tracking project, the bird set off from Alaska on 13th October 2022, and took a route to the west of Hawaii, continuing over open ocean, and flying over the Pacific island nation of Kiribati on 19th October 2022. Two days later it flew over Vanautu, and continued south taking a route 620 km east of Sydney over the Tasman Sea, between Australia's east coast and New Zealand. On 23rd October, this amazing bird took a sharp turn and headed west to arrive in Tasmania on 25th October. How about that?! 

Monday, 17 April 2023

Quality Not Quantity

Gail and I were almost forced to go ringing on Saturday morning, by a combination of the weather forecast and circumstances. As Gail is retired, and I am flexible in terms of my work, mid-week ringing sessions are always a possibility, but this past the week the weather didn't play ball until Saturday. The forecast for Sunday was for some light rain, and the winds would be towards the top end for operating mist nets, Monday looked better, but I had other commitments and the dreaded 'black cloud' was forecast, which invariably leads to rain. So, Saturday it had to be, even though we knew pretty well that we probably wouldn't catch much. It was forecast for clear skies, clear-out weather and high-flying vis, although it would virtually be flat calm. When we got up at 4:45 a.m. there was ice on the car, and a low mist had formed, neither conducive to migration. 
The drive from our house to the reedbed at the Nature Park takes under ten minutes, and that was enough time for ice to form on our poles that were wet from overnight rain. So, putting the nets up with icy poles, and wet ropes, as we were in a reedbed, caused a little discomfort! However, once the mist lifted and the sun made an appearance, it was a glorious morning, and it soon warmed up.
Some views from the within the reedbed (above & below)

Our prediction of not catching much proved correct and we ringed just two birds, a female Reed Bunting and a male Willow Warbler, and we recaptured a male Blackcap. When I checked the ring number on the Blackcap it had been ringed by Phil in our group at a site on the edge of Bowland, near Oakenclough (19.4 km due east), in June 2020. I suspect that it had fledged at, or very close to the Oakenclough site, as the habitat is suitable for breeding Blackcaps. I didn't know whether Blackcaps showed high site fidelity during the breeding season or not, and a trawl on the internet and a look in Cramp, S (ed.) (1992) The Birds of the Western Palearctic VI left me none the wiser. I could find papers stating that they showed high site fidelity in wintering areas, but nothing on breeding areas. So, this Blackcap was either on its way back to Oakenclough when I caught it, or it was breeding somewhere close to the Nature Park. And it was nearly three years old. Interesting stuff.
The Blackcap. Note the pollen horns on the forehead above the bill (click on 
pick to enlarge), which are sticky encrustrations on the feathers from foraging 
on the insects and nectars of flowers. 
Definitely a morning of quality, not quantity.
As per usual Cetti's Warblers were very vocal, and there was at least four singing. The Blackcap that we recaptured was also singing away on site, as were two Willow Warblers. The only other grounded migrant we had was a female Wheatear, and a female Sparrowhawk put in an appearance. Once the mist cleared there was a steady trickle of one's and twos of Meadow Pipits and Swallows heading north. 
And that's about it. I've got a breeding wader survey to do in the week, so hopefully more of that later.