Wednesday 31 December 2008

Normal Service Resumed - Well Almost, 31st December 2008

The plan was to do some ringing at Lee Farm near Myerscough College this morning but as soon as we met on site we decided to call it off because of the freezing fog. I called at Moss House Farm on my way home as I was a little concerned at the lack of Tree Sparrows yesterday. It was early when I called, (0815) in terms of light and I also thought that the fog may have prevented some of them from flying from their roost to the feeding station. So I was very pleased to note 40 birds feeding on the seed.

Interestingly Will went back to Lee Farm later in the morning to do some habitat management work and there were large numbers of Chaffinch (which he had noted earlier flying in from a roost at Myerscough College) and no Tree Sparrows. I think this just confirms the fact that if they are roosting off site they are not prepared or can't fly from roost to a feeding area that is any distance away when it is foggy.

Even though you have seen the picture below before I thought I would include it again.

I would just like to wish all my readers, fellow bloggers and birders everywhere a prosperous and above all bird-filled New Year!

Tuesday 30 December 2008

From Moss To Mere, 30th December 2008

This morning I was meeting an old friend at Marton Mere for a morning's birding at 10.30 a.m., so it gave me just enough time to get to Moss House Farm on Rawcliffe Moss to feed before I had to meet him. I should have gone yesterday to Moss House to feed but couldn't because there was a shoot on. As I walked down the track to the feeding station it was obvious there were very few birds about, probably a combination of me being here early before the Tree Sparrows arrived and not getting to feed yesterday. What I normally do when there is a shoot on is go the day before to feed, even if it is only the day after I last fed, to make sure the food doesn't run out, but this time I forgot! I only had 12 Tree Sparrows on the seed with a similar number of Chaffinch. I had another 60-70 Chaffinch as I left the farm feeding in a stubble field close to the barn.

As you know I have been putting apples out as well as seed and it was interesting to watch a Fieldfare this morning defending a single apple from a Blackbird! Talking of Fieldfares I had an additional 34 feeding in a damp area of stubble in the 'big field'. The soil in this field is peat and as it was quite damp I imagine the Fieldfares were managing to find invertebrates. Over a thousand Starling were feeding in the adjacent field which has a similar soil type with wet conditions.

There were still plenty of Woodpigeons about, but only 892 instead of the several thousand there has been recently. I had single Buzzard and a 1st winter male Sparrowhawk that flew along the track in front of my car skimming the ground as I drove off site. In addition to the Fieldfares in the 'big field' there were also 22 Skylarks representing a mini influx probably due to the hard weather.

Three Corn Buntings, 39 Goldfinch and the usual pair of Stonechat made up the rest of a brief visit.

Next stop was Marton Mere to meet an old birding and school friend of mine. We had a mooch round for a couple of hours and saw a few of the Mere winter specialities including single Bittern, 2 Water Rails and 4 Long-eared Owls. A good selection of wildfowl were on a patch of unfrozen water close to the island and included approximately 300 Teal, male and female Ruddy Duck, 8 Gadwall and 14 Shoveler.

As we saw Long-eared Owl I thought that I would show you the picture below of one in the hand from my good friend Nigel in Canada.

Monday 29 December 2008

No Purple Sands Yet, 29th December 2008

This morning I had a very chilly birding session at Rossall Point. The wind was coming from the southeast and it was bitterly cold. I was very grateful for the fact that I was wearing what I call my 'winter sea watching pants' as they are fleece lined and very warm. In fact I shall be wearing them when out birding tomorrow. It was very much a case of the right trousers today.

It was low tide when I arrived at Rossall and quite a few waders were feeding out on the shore or on the shingle and included 41 Turnstones, 27 Redshanks, 17 Grey Plovers, 391 Oystercatchers, 1,403 Sanderlings, 500 Dunlin and 21 Ringed Plover. The group of 500 Dunlin were my largest flock for some time and these flew very quickly east with some Sanderling.

It was obvious that the numbers of Eiders had increased and this morning I counted 132 'bobbing' on the sea. A flock of 10 passing Common Scoters were attracted to them and they dropped in with the Eiders for a few minutes before continuing west. Three Red-throated Divers were about as were 9 Red-breasted Mergansers, single Great Crested Grebe and Razorbill. Two Teal looked odd, as they always do, when they flew in and landed on the sea.

The usual flock of Linnet were feeding amongst the tidal debris and today they numbered 11. I then went to the Marine Lakes when the tide was in to see if I could get a roosting Purple Sandpiper with the Redshank and Turnstone on the island. I counted 161 Turnstone and 118 Redshank, but no Purple Sandpiper. Below is a photograph of the Redshank and Turnstone roosting on the island.

Blackbird Bonanza, 28th December 2008

This morning I was ringing at a site near Lancaster where fellow member of Fylde Ringing Group Will has been operating a feeding station over the past two winters. The site holds good numbers of Blackbirds and as well as feeding there the habitat also looks good for a roost. We managed to ring 17 Blackbirds and retrap 7. The range in weights and wing lengths of the Blackbirds was incredible from a minimum of 96g to a maximum of 121g weight and a minimum 122mm to a maximum 140mm wing length. We also caught a good variety of woodland species but of interest were 2 Nuthatch and I have included a picture of one below.

Birding is fairly difficult at the site as in places it is quite enclosed but 2 Bullfinch were good.

Saturday 27 December 2008

Distraction from 'Her Indoors', 27th December 2008

It's always very difficult to bird properly when 'her indoors' comes with you and this morning was a classic example. I went to Rawcliffe Moss to feed and Gail (see, she does have a name!) decided to come with me for "the walk". Now, immediately you can see how it is all going to go wrong. Instead of birding it has become a 'walk' which means that a constant steady pace will be undertaken on a route around the moss. No pishing along a hedge; no stopping every 10 yards and straining your ears to see if you can catch the call of that over-flying passerine; no stopping to count every bird in that flock of 'Pink-feet'. I could go on, but I think that you have got the message. So below are some of the brief highlights from our walk.

A few Pink-feet were moving around this morning but not as many as in recent weeks, but I still had 1,225. I don't think there is anything better than the call of Pink-feet to evoke the feeling of wildness other than the call of Whooper Swans and we had both this morning as 15 Whooper Swans went over.

In the 'big field' we put a few Snipe up from a wet 'hole', 13 in total, and put another 5 up from another wet field. I made a mental note of where the Snipe were and I will check to see if they build up or not. There could be a ringing opportunity possibly.

Three Buzzards were around this morning as was a single Kestrel, but that was it on the raptor front. Now the point I was trying to make with regard to being distracted by 'her indoors' concerned my counting of the Tree Sparrows. Instead of stealthily working my way along the hedge and stopping every few yards to count departing birds we were down the track like an express train because she was cold and needed to warm up! So I had to try and count them as they exited the hedge enmasse! Therefore the figure of 130 in my notebook is definitely an under estimate.

Corn Buntings haven't built up as yet and today we only had 5. Forty Linnets were still feeding in the field to the north of Curlew Wood but the Goldfinch seem to have left them and all I had was two groups of 8 and 3 feeding elsewhere. The male and female Stonechats were still remaining faithful to the margins of the track and ditch and could be seen perched up on posts before forays to the ground to look for invertebrates.

The Woodpigeons are still around and today's count of 1,160 is more a reflection of birds feeding and not being countable rather than any reduction in numbers. It was pleasing to see covey's of 10 and 2 Grey Partridge as they have been rather scarce this autumn and winter.

Today's seasonal picture is of a Great Horned Owl in the hand in Canada of course!

Thursday 25 December 2008

Two Shags Christmas Morning..., 25th December 2008

...And they were both adults flying west. I know what you were all thinking; you thought that I had gone all school boy humourish on you didn't you? I sort of wish that I could have had the Shags on 1st January as it would have been a good start for my year list as I don't always record them every year at Fleetwood.

I had to get out this morning as it always gives me satisfaction to get 25th December in my notebook. I think the reason for this is that it almost conveys a sense of normality at a time when the world seems to go mad with the nonsense of Christmas. Thank f*ck it's over for another year!

It dawned quite murky at Rossall Point this morning. One of those mornings where it was difficult to differentiate the sea with the sky and birds on the sea looked as though they were swimming in the sky! Most surreal! Anyway because of this murkiness I didn't see a great deal other than the two Shags of course.

A few waders were on the shore including 379 Oystercatchers, 66 Sanderlings, single Turnstone and 29 Ringed Plovers. You will see below the results of my efforts to photograph Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover. As the usual the 'bird scarers' were out. One guy said good morning to me, climbed over the sea wall down across the beach and walked his dog straight through some roosting Oystercatchers. Bastard!

On the sea it was very quiet, or should I say that I could see knob all because of the mist. However, I did have 2 Eiders and 3 Red-breasted Mergansers. The morning was completed by 17 Linnets feeding along the tidal wrack. I did attempt a few photographs but they were even more awful than those above!

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Last Ringing Session Before Christmas, 24th December 2008

Today four of us had a last ringing session at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss and only managed to ring 10 birds! However, one of the ten was a new ringing record for the site and a ringing tick for our trainee Will. I have included a picture of said beasty below. The Magpie, not Will!

The Tree Sparrows were as usual successful in avoiding the nets and other than the Magpie the 10 birds were mainly made up of Chaffinch. There were still large numbers of Wood Pigs around and numbered 4,500.

It only remains to wish all my readers and fellow bloggers a Happy Christmas and I hope you have a bird-filled New Year. There will be more of Fleetwood Birder before the end of the year and I hoping to be out tomorrow, Christmas Day. Mind you her indoors doesn't know yet!

Atlas Square Leads To 'Nearly' Bird, 23rd December 2008

I was doing my bit today and surveying a square for the bird atlas. The square I was surveying is centred around Cockerham Moss and what an avian desert it was! It did have its moments in one or two pockets, but generally it was rye grass monoculture with no features. I can't wait for my second winter visit and summer visits! Not!!

Anyway the 'nearly' bird in question was a possible/probable Water Pipit. I was walking next to some birdless maize stubble with a ditch along side it and I flushed a bird along the ditch. I didn't get anything on it and all I could say was that it was a passerine. It was very flighty and I couldn't get any closer than about 50 yards. Eventually I could see that it was a Pipit with white outer tail feathers, pale supercil and plain greyish upperparts. It continued to stick to the ditch and flying everytime I got within 50 yards. It didn't call either, which made it even more frustrating. When the ditch ran out at a gateway, it flew out across the field, silhouetted against the sky, didn't call and dropped back in the ditch behind me. And from there I lost it. Oh well, at least it brightened up a fairly uneventful survey.

I did have a few highlights during my two hour walk round that included 46 Teal, 16 Mute Swans, 23 Tree Sparrows, 2 Grey Wagtails and Little Egret.

As Christmas is nearly upon us I thought I would include some pictures that are vaguely Christmasy, well they have snow on them, and they are some cracking pictures sent to me by (you guessed it) my mate in Canada, Nigel. They are some cracking shots of Northern Hawk Owl in the hand taken by a mate of Nigel's, Mike Blom. Thanks Mike! Just look at the frost on the eyelashes!

And Still The 'Wood Pigs' Cometh, 22nd December 2008

Rawcliffe Moss again today and the 'Wood Pigs' had increased in numbers to 6,635 only 4,000 + more than the 2,118 Pink-feet I had! I suppose it becomes the 'same old', 'same old' this time of year, but the important thing is that I am getting out. I finished work on the 19th and it was my intention to get out every day between then and 5th January. I failed and didn't get out on the 21st, but so far so good!

Tree Spadgers numbered 176 today and single Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting were amongst them. I dod have another 5 Corn Buntings elsewhere on the farm. Other finches included 16 Chaffinch, 43 Linnets and 40 Goldfinch. As I have said before I will definitely have a go at catching the Linnet and Goldfinch sometime over the Christmas holidays.

Skylarks had increased in numbers today as I had 25 which is the most here for some time. Raptors were represented by male Sparrowhawk and single Kestrel, and surprisingly I didn't have any Buzzards. The male and female Stonechat were still feeding along the track towards the plantation and next time I am up there I must drop a spring trap and meal worm or two down.

My random picture this week is again from my good pal in Canada, Nigel, and is of a Great Grey Shrike he caught recently whilst out ringing Red-tailed Hawks and Snowy Owls!

Saturday 20 December 2008

The Woodies Keep Coming, 20th December

I had a bit more time this morning when I went to feed at Moss House Farm and I had a good walk round. As soon as I arrived on site I could see that there were masses of 'Pinkies' moving round and my count of 2,364 was probably an underestimate. Likewise the numbers of Woodpigeons, or Cooshat, as they are sometimes referred to in Yorkshire was high and I counted 2,305. Apparently they are feeding on some unharvested Oats just to the west of Moss House Farm and on unharvested Oats near Garstang Golf Club. This will account for the large numbers that arrive from the east during the day. Large westerly movements in the morning will be birds coming from their roost in the Bleasdale area.

There were 31 Chaffinch around this morning and these included a handful at the feeding station as well as birds scattered around feeding on natural food. A number of finches including a few Chaffinch, 40 Linnets and 40 Goldfinch were feeding in stubble to the north of Curlew Wood. There were also 27 Fieldfares and 6 Redwings in the area too. I will probably put a couple of nets up in the week along these hedges and see if I can catch a few of the Linnets in particular.

Buzzards were very noticeable this morning and I had 4 individuals dotted around the farm. Tree Sparrow numbers at the feeding station were as I would expect and numbered 180. None of them were with the Linnets and Goldfinch at Curlew Wood.

In the 'big field' towards the wild bird seed mix I had 3 Roe Deers that kept a careful eye on me. Its as if these animals can sometimes be curious and want to find out who you are. I imagine it is more of a case that they are trying to work out whether you are actually a threat or not.

I only recorded a single Yellowhammer and 2 Corn Buntings at the north end of the farm. One of the Corn Buntings was singing from a willow along the ditch. Along the track towards the plantation I had a male and female Stonechat. I was enjoying close views until someone with a couple of four-legged bird scarers came along and flushed them.

In the plantation it was quiet, as you would expect at this time of year, apart from a couple of Grey Partridges, 5 Reed Buntings and 3 Snipe. Walking back towards the car I bobbed into the L wood and flushed a Woodcock. The only other birds of note that I had here were Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and Goldcrest.

As I stopped off at the barn to drop my bucket back at the feed bin I flushed 400 Starlings from some stubble and 15 House Sparrows were lurking round the barn.

The random picture today is of a Cooper's Hawk taken by my mate Nigel in Canada. What a cracker!

After I left Moss House Farm I went to Light Ash Farm, which is farmed as part of Myerscough College, to check some game cover crops that we have permission to ring in. The cover crops weren't exactly jumping with birds but there were 8 Reed Buntings, 8 Blackbirds and 85 Chaffinch moved through the hedge adjacent to the crop. I will probably return in the week and cut a ride and give it a go.

Myself and colleagues in Northumberland and Derbyshire have set up a competitive year list next year for birds recorded from our office and the immediate area and birds recorded when we are on farm visits. It will be a bit of fun but I think I will probably receive a thrashing from my mate in Northumberland!

Monday 15 December 2008

Now I Know Where the Copper Heads Go, 15th December 2008

For a while it has been puzzling me where the Tree Sparrows go when they fly off from the feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss. They usually head northwest and I have assumed they have been going to another feeding station such as Bradshaw Lane. That might still be the case for some of them but I now know that some are just moving to a stubble field to the north of Curlew Wood.

After I fed today I had a walk across the stubble field to the north of Curlew Wood and there were 60-70 Tree Sparrows in the hedge alongside the field and they were dropping into the field to feed and so were about 30 Linnets. At the feeding station today I had 169 Tree Sparrows so numbers are remaining fairly stable.

Woodpigeons were back in force again today and I had 3,148 feeding in various bits of stubble dotted around the farm. At one stage 6 Roe Deer flushed a flock of 2,000 from stubble into the tree tops of adjacent woodland. Walking up the '97' hedge I flushed 10 Snipe off some flooded stubble and 2 Buzzards went over calling.

After I had discovered the alternative Tree Sparrow feeding site I had 4 Yellowhammers perched on top of a Hawthorn hedge and back at the car I had a male Stonechat.

Today's random picture is of a 'smokey' 1st winter male Blackbird that is very likely of continental origin.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Copper Heads in the Rain, 13th December 2008

I have a book in my library at home that I rarely look at called 'All the Birds of the Air - The Names, Lore and Literature of British Birds' by Francesca Greenoak and it gives local names for all British species. Out of interest I decided to look up Tree Sparrow and the first name it gave comes from Cheshire and is Copper Head, which I think is quite apt. Others are Red-headed Sparrow (Yorkshire), Rock Sparrow (Cheshire) and Tree Finch.

Well, the Copper Head's were still around in force this morning at Moss House Farm and so was the rain. The weather men got everything right for today except the timing. They said the wind would drop and it did; they also said the rain would clear eastwards after 0900 and it didn't! Back to the Copper Heads; I counted 162 this morning, although they were difficult to count because they were sticking close to the hedge. There were a few Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and Corn Bunting amongst them.

As it was raining the whole time that I was there my walk round was shortened, although I still had a number of birds. Pink-feet were very much in evidence this morning and I counted 3,198 moving between feeding sites. A few days ago I talked about all the Woodpigeons disappearing and perhaps moving to Ireland; well I was a little premature in my assumption/theory as today I had 519 flying from the L wood to feed on some adjacent arable land to the west.

A few more Thrushes were around this morning and I had 34 Fieldfares, 22 Redwings and 4 Song Thrushes. Some of the Fieldfares were in with a group of Starlings at the feeding station. There were a number of Finches away from the feeding station including 40 Chaffinch, 30 Goldfinch and 40 Linnets that were feeding along the hedge, ditch and margin between Curlew Farm and Curlew Wood.

My random picture for today is of two Black and White Warblers in teh hand taken in Canada. These flying 'humbugs' are absolutely brilliant and behave rather like black and white Treecreepers foraging for invertebrates on bark. In the hand they are awesome and they have the best under-tail coverts of any bird I have handled!

Thursday 11 December 2008

Tree Sparrows Are Ruling My Life, 9th & 11th December 2008

Well, they are certainly taking all of my time up at the moment as I am feeding every other day. But then again it's worth it to supplementary feed these enigmatic, if sometimes frustrating, red listed species.

When I went to feed last Tuesday (9th) it was late afternoon and not the usual time that I call. It was about 3.45 p.m. when I started to walk down the track to the feeding station. The 'moss' is a magical place at dusk and species are observed that you might not ordinarily see earlier in the day or observations made of behaviour that you might not normally observe.

As I approached the feeding station the Tree Sparrows were having a last minute feed before flying off in small groups to roost. They would leave the hedge, climb and head southwest to wherever they roost.

To the east of Moss House Farm is Turnover Hall Farm and close to the boundary with Moss House is a large pond dug by the farmer for wildfowl. As dusk fell numbers of Shelduck and lesser numbers of Teal were flighting to the pond to roost. Normally on a visit here I wouldn't see many Shelduck and very few Teal. Magic.

A late morning visit today showed that Tree Sparrows were still around in good numbers despite the cold weather and I counted 204 at the feeding station. Chaffinch and Yellowhammer were mixed in with them but I couldn't tell how many. Going on the calls there seemed to be more than the recent 1 or 2 Yellowhammers that I have been seeing. I wouldn't normally expect the numbers to build up until after Christmas but maybe the cold weather has brought a few in.

I forgot my apples this morning but luckily there were still a few uneaten ones for the Blackbirds that were feeding on them. Around the feeding station were 10 Blackbirds and a couple of Fieldfares all interested in the apples. Woodpigeons had reduced in numbers dramatically and today I only recorded 36. Although my mid-week visits are short, nevertheless I have still been recording large numbers of Woodpigeons. Interestingly back home in Cleveleys I had a flock of 43 on the 7th heading southwest and presumably on out to see and over to Ireland. Perhaps the cold weather has moved some birds on.

American Goldfinch. One of those random pictures again!

Saturday 6 December 2008

Lottis, Red Kites and Trogs, 1st - 6th December 2008

Over recent days I have been getting a party of Long-tailed Tits on my office window peanut feeder. There are 9 birds in the party at least, and I have had all 9 squashed onto the feeder on occasions. Below is a murky picture of 6 Lottis on said feeder.

On Wednesday (3rd) I was working in West Yorkshire in Wharfedale not far from Harewood House and I had 5 sightings of Red Kite. I really enjoy working in this area as I know I will get stonking views of this fantastic raptor. It was a cracking day when I got there but because of the snow it took me over 3 hours to get there and the same to get back.

On the 4th I only had time for a quick dash to my feeding station to put some food out, but as always I made sure that I recorded everything I saw. I am a habitual note taker and I often think that I would be more without my notebook when out birding than my bins! Raptors were represented by single Buzzard and Sparrowhawk. The Sparrowhawk was again by the barn and my guess is that it is hanging around there and catching finches that are feeding on the tailing's and spilt grain. Talking of raptors I have included a picture below of a second year male American Kestrel that my mate Nigel from Canada sent me.

Tree Sparrow numbers seem to be hovering around the two hundred mark and today I counted 198. Chaffinch's numbered 31 and I had 2 Yellowhammers. Numbers of Blackbirds down the track are remaining fairly constant and as I have said before are probably feeding on a combination of apples that I put down and hawthorn berries on the hedge. Today I had 13 and I also had 15 Redwings fly high south.

I was working in the Lytham area on the 4th and driving across the moss I noticed a flock of Swans and Shelducks on a flood and I stopped to have a look and a count. I was expecting them to be Whoopers but was surprised when they were 23 Mute Swans with 70 Shelducks.

This morning I went ringing to Moss House Farm and it was a glorious frosty morning. Unfortunately the Tree Sparrows are getting 'net shy' and I only ringed a total of 10 birds. It was very difficult to count the Tree Sparrows today as they were coming and going in small parties and my total of 101 in my notebook is a gross underestimate. Chaffinch numbers were up with 63 recorded, including 3 ringed. Other finches/buntings included 3 Yellowhammers, 2 Reed Buntings and singles of Brambling and Corn Bunting.

There were large numbers of Pink-footed Geese around this morning and later in the morning towards lunchtime a light aircraft was practising 'touch-and-go' landings on the moss and flushing them. A total of 4, 162 'Pinkies' is recorded in my notebook and there were also large numbers of Starling and Woodpigeon, which numbered 8,650 and 1,612 respectively.

To the west of Moss House Farm I had 46 Whooper Swans in three small groups. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers could be heard calling from two different woods and 4 or 5 Skylarks headed northwest high early on. The only raptors around today were Buzzard and Kestrel and I had a Grey Heron drop into the field to the west of the ringing station which was quite a good record for here.

I have included some pictures below that I took today of some birds in the hand.

The above picture shows a 1st winter male Chaffinch showing the old retained tertials with pale fringing.

And above is the fella who was obligingly showing us his juvenile retained tertials!

Above is the wing of a male Greenfinch showing the outer webs of the 3rd - 5th primaries as being almost entirely yellow.

And this is the guy whose wing it was!

Monday 1 December 2008

Largest Winter Count of Tree Sparrows So Far, 1st December 2008

I visited my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss this morning to feed and boy was it cold! The first bird I had was the usual Grey Wagtail running around on the tailing's outside the barn.I then went down the track to put some food out. The numbers of Tree Sparrows had definitely increased and I had a cracking total of 257! There were a few Blackbirds feeding on the apples and in total I had 9. The only other thrushes I had were single Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush.

Raptors were represented by two each of Buzzard and Kestrel. I tried calling to one of the Buzzards that was very close, but this time it didn't respond. The prize for the most numerous bird today went to Starling with 1,447 counted and second Woodpigeon with 1,148 counted. Most of the Starlings were moving through on their way to feed and the majority of the Woodpigeons were roosting in Curlew and the 'L' Wood.

Other finches and Buntings included 14 Chaffinch, 2 Yellowhammers, 8 Corn Buntings and 4 Reed Buntings. Skylarks had increased in numbers to 16, probably brought in by the cold weather.

On my office window feeders this afternoon besides the usual suspects I had 9 Long-tailed Tits crammed on to the peanut feeder!

Below are a couple of pictures of...well I don't think I need to tell you what they are...of Snow Owl in the hand, sent to me by mate Nigel from Canada. I really like the close up of the eye on the first picture. One of those one morning when out birding would certainly brighten things up a bit!