Wednesday 30 December 2009

A Cold and Quiet Morning

Once again I was at Rossall Point this morning looking onto an empty sea, well not quite, with a freezing cold easterly wind for company, until three other birders from East Lancs turned up. Nice to see you Pete and co. It was a very dull day with full cloud cover and the ESE wind was somewhere between 15 and 20 mph. I did my usual 'Coastguards Tower' dance as I tried to find the best spot to shelter from the 'lazy' wind. In Norfolk they refer to an easterly or a northerly wind in winter as a 'lazy' wind because it goes straight through you and not round you.

There were quite a few Sanderling again this morning, in fact more than yesterday, with 261 counted. They were joined by 88 Oystercatchers, six Grey Plovers and two each of Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Redshank.

Out on the sea it was fairly quiet with fifteen Eiders, eighteen Common Scoters, only three Red-throated Divers, ten Red-breasted Mergansers, single Kittiwake, Guillemot and Little Gull, and five Wigeon that flew east into the bay. Two Starlings came in off the sea and a male Stonechat feeding on the concrete sea front ended a none too memorable morning.

The Ring-necked Duck from yesterday wasn't on the ICI Reservoir this morning, but had moved to Preesall Flashes, as later re-found by Maurice. I got the news from Ian re the Ring-necked Duck as he went to check if it was there early on. When he got back to the car park two birders asked him if it was still there and he gave them the negative news. As he got in to his car he heard one of these birders saying to the other "what are we going to do now?" the state of modern birding! Don't get me started.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Ring-necked Stunner

It was a cold start at Rossall Point this morning and when I got out of my car I wondered why I had bothered. The wind was northeasterly 15 mph and I was uncertain whether I would get much shelter behind the Coastguards Tower. There was some shelter, but it wasn't wonderful with the wind chill of the NE wind.

Things started off slow and I found myself taking the picture below of a container ship coming out of Heysham into Morecambe Bay and passing the snow covered lakeland fells. I must have been bored!

Sanderlings were the first birds I had this morning and as the tide ran in I had a respectable 153. Other waders were in lower numbers and included 33 Osytercatchers, two Ringed Plovers and single Dunlin, Grey Plover and Turnstone.

The sea started off slow and then picked up a little. I had 24 Eiders off the 'point' and these were all male. Other wildfowl and associated species included 15 Red-breasted Mergansers and a single Great Crested Grebe that flew east into the bay with a Razorbill for company. Common Scoter numbers were fairly low at eleven and a single Kittiwake flew into the bay early on.

Red-throated Divers numbered 12 flying into the bay and two Harbour Porpoises with their characteristic roll were nice although the views were brief and distant.

Later in the afternoon I was due to go out with 'her indoors' when I received a call from Ian saying "can you get out"? When I asked him why he said because he had just found a drake Ring-necked Duck on the ICI Rservoir. This was a first for the Fylde and within twenty minutes I was watching the bird with some other appreciative admirers.

Ring-necked Duck - record shot

An even more 'record' record shot!

The bird was with a pair of Tufted Ducks, four Goldeneye, three Little Grebes and a Pochard on a small piece of unfrozen open water. I watched the bird for just under an hour and then made my way back to the car.

Out on the Wyre estuary 270 Black-tailed Godwits were flushed and five Whooper Swans flew over. A Water Rail called form an area of reeds behind the fence of the old ICI plant and a pair of Stonechats were a nice finish to the day as they perched up on a wire fence of an area fenced off for Water Voles.

Monday 28 December 2009

King Of Buntings

It's always nice to catch and ring Corn Bunting as they are amazing birds in the hand. Every time I handle one I am always surprised at how big they are.

This morning Ian and I went to Rawcliffe Moss to ring at the feeding station. The forecast last night said that there would be freezing fog, but based on recent experience I chose to ignore this and I was glad that I did because it was a superb morning; flat calm and virtually clear skies. Perfect for ringing. Two nets were put up adjacent to the hedge at the feeding station and we managed to ring 33 birds and retrapped 13 including nine Tree Sparrows, four Yellowhammers, nine Chaffinch and the above Corn Bunting.

Cracking male Yellowhammer

At one stage as I looked at the nets with my bins the regular Great Spotted Woodpecker that feeds on the nut feeders was perched on the side of a mist net pole! When a bird perches on a mist net pole you know you're not going to catch it as the bird is obviously aware of the net. I remember some years ago now the warden at Holme Bird Observatory in Norfolk telling me that on one net round he had a Bee-eater perched on top of a mist net pole!

As I have said in the past it is always difficult birding if you are fairly busy ringing and some of the counts tend to be on the low side, but I always try my best to try and record everything observed as well. Raptors this morning were represented by two Buzzards, Peregrine and Kestrel. The Peregrine flew over the stubble field to the west and caused mayhem as it went.

Young Peregrine

As usual about eight Yellowhammers, in addition to the four ringed, were feeding around the Pheasant feeder and it was very difficult to estimate the number of Tree Sparrows. Including the birds ringed I put about 75 in my notebook, but there could well have been more. Chaffinch numbered about twenty and two Grey Partridge flushed from the track as we did our first net round.

We had good views of three Roe Deer and later in the morning I had a further two in the 'big' field. I also had brilliant views of a Brown Hare that was completely oblivious to my presence and came within fifteen feet of me. Even at this stage it didn't know I was there and moved off and cut through a hedge into the adjacent field.

Pink-footed Geese were on the move this morning and we had over 1,200 heading west. Some of these might have ended up at Fleetwood, because in the afternoon I twitched two rossicus Bean Geese that were amongst the 'Pinkies' just off Amounderness Way at Fleetwood. Unfortunately I had just started to go through the geese when they were flushed! I have seen several Bean Geese in the Fylde over the years, but these would have been my first for Fleetwood.

Looking back to my notebooks from 1983, I found myself birding at Rossall Point on 28th December. It was a cold overcast day with a moderate southwesterly wind and I started at first light with a seawatch. Quite a number of Kittiwakes were on the move that morning, but the best bird was an adult Glaucous Gull on the sea. Unfortunately, neither myself, Pat or Richard, who were with me that morning, ever submitted a description so it never ended up in the bird report.

Whilst seawatching we had nine Snow Buntings head west along the beach and we later re-located these birds behind the sea wall at Rossall School feeding on a stony bank. I wish we still got these sort of numbers in the Fylde today. The other good bird we had that morning was an adult Med Gull, feeding on the Fleetwood Nautical College fields. Med Gulls are ten a penny these days, but 26 years ago they were a good find!

Sunday 27 December 2009

Trying Hard

Over the past few days I have been trying hard to get out but the weather and circumstances have conspired against me. In fact I'll go further and say that the flipping weather forecast has been conspiring against me! Take Christmas Day for example. I always like to get out on Christmas Day and enter '25th December' in my note book as it reassures me that I don't get caught up in all this Christmas bollocks. The forecast the night before said 'freezing fog'. Freezing fog! I've been her before. I checked a few other forecasts and they all said the same. I didn't bother getting up early on Christmas morning and it was clear skies with glorious sunshine! This inaccurate forecast made me think that maybe it was the government telling the weathermen to forecast fog and that way no one would go out in their cars on Christmas Day! Anyway, away from conspiracy theories and back to birds.

On Boxing Day (yesterday) I went to Rawcliffe Moss fairly early to put a couple of buckets of seed out at the feeding station. I decided to take the 'Out Rawcliffe' road and wished I hadn't bothered as it was literally a sheet of ice nicely lubricated by a thin film of rain. Lovely!

Buckets of seed loaded in the boot I slide my way down to the track. On my way down the track I had stonking views of a Stoat crossing the track in front of me, and again when I parked up it crossed back. Nice. Funnily enough during this snowy weather I have had quite a few Stoat sightings on and around the moss.

As soon as I got out of the car the heavens opened and it didn't let up all the time I was there. That scuppered my plans for a walk round! The weather conspiring against me again! The first birds I had in the rain were two Buzzards that came across from the 'Tree Sparrow' wood towards Curlew Wood. They gave me stunning views, before disappearing to the north.

Not 'Common' Buzzard, but Rough-legged Buzzard
(Hawk) from Canada. Thanks Nigel.

As is usual at the moment ten Yellowhammers were hanging around the Pheasant feeder and a single Corn Bunting was perched up on the telegraph wires. As I walked down the track towards the feeding station I pushed six Grey Partridges from the hedge bottom. It was pleasing to note that the numbers of Tree Sparrows had increased again, I like to think this is as a result of my perseverance of clearing and feeding during the snow, to at least 130 birds with an associated flock of fifteen Chaffinch.

I tried to get out birding again this morning to Rossall Point. The forecast said it would be clear with a moderate southerly wind. They did say that it would rain later but when I got up at 07:30 it was lashing it down. I suppose they got the weather right but the timing all wrong. Oh well, I'll just have to try again tomorrow.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Groundhog Day

Another trip to Rawcliffe Moss and the above picture was taken this morning and not on Tuesday! It had snowed again over night, but the roads weren't as bad. My first stop was at Phillips (the farmer who gives us permission to ring on Rawcliffe Moss) to drop a couple of Christmas presents off, then to my office to feed and finally to Rawcliffe Moss.

Even the snow wasn't quite as bad, I still needed my shovel to clear an area to put the food down on. At the start of the track 14 Yellowhammers fed around the Pheasant feeder and Fieldfares had dropped to only one. There were still ten Blackbirds and a couple of Song Thrush.


I put a few apples down so hopefully it will give the thrushes something to feed on. I am pleased to report that the number of Tree Sparrows has increased to 88; presumably as a result of me clearing the snow away a couple of days ago. Likewise, Chaffinch had increased sixteen.

As I was putting the food out a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over from Curlew Wood and it looked a bit odd as it perched in the hedgerow waiting to go to one of the peanut feeders. Job done, it was back to the car for an icy drive home.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

White Out

I had a problem this morning. There was quite a lot of snow and I needed to feed at two feeding stations; my office and Rawcliffe Moss. I knew that I would probably just about get to my office at Myerscough College, but Rawcliffe Moss was another matter. The only thing I could do was give it a go, so I threw my spade in the boot so I could dig myself out if I got stuck. I don't have a four wheel drive vehicle so I knew the journey would be interesting.

I got to Myerscough College okay, topped up the feeders and set off for Rawcliffe Moss. The lane to the moss was treacherous, but with a little care was passable. The above photograph shows the scene that greeted me as I pulled up at the barn.

Seed loaded up I headed down the track to the feeding station. It looked as though one or two vehicles had been down the track before me to Curlew Farm so that made things a bit easier.

I unloaded the seed and shovel, and set off down the track.

Essential equipment for operating a feeding station
in the snow!

The first birds I had were three Corn Buntings flying away from the feeding station which was completely covered in snow. These birds had probably learnt that there was a source of food here if needed, but today they would be disappointed. The two peanut feeders were still usable and were holding a few birds.

The Pheasant feeder had pulled a few birds in and ten Yellowhammers and four Tree Sparrows were in attendance. Some miserable looking Fieldfares and Blackbirds were along the track and hedge, and numbered thirteen and five respectively. At the feeding station itself there were only five Chaffinch and 45 Tree Sparrows.

Before I could put any food down I needed to clear away some snow. There was no point in scattering seed directly on top of the snow as it would shortly disappear in to it.

Before clearing

After clearing (and feeding)

Food down, I took a few pictures (below) of the 'snowscape' and trudged back to my car ready for the slippery drive home.

Looking towards Curlew Wood

Looking back towards the barn

The 'big field'

Sunday 20 December 2009

Missing Tree Sparrows

Thankfully we didn't get any of the snow that was forecasted and in fact we rarely do here on the Fylde in Lancashire. Having said that the driving conditions were fairly hazardous as I headed to Rawcliffe Moss to feed.

I didn't know whether I would get a walk round today after I had fed as the sky was always threatening to dump some snow on me, but it never did. Looking across to the Bowland fells there was some snow on high ground and the odd snow shower did keep blowing through as the picture below illustrates.

As I was about to set off down the track laden with buckets of seed, apples and peanuts five Skylarks went over heading west. Whether this was part of a hard weather movement I'm not sure. I did have a further 41 Skylarks on the 'top' fields but these were most certainly just feeding in the stubble.

Talking of hard weather movements there was evidence of a small thrush influx today. Total counts for thrush species were 18 Blackbirds, 18 Fieldfares, six Redwings and nine Song Thrushes. A few of the Fieldfares and Blackbirds were feeding on the apples that I put out down the track but the rest were picked up in ones and twos on my walk round.

The most interesting group of thrushes, that got me thinking about a possible hard weather movement, were a group of mixed species feeding in the rushy pasture between the 'L' Wood and the Plantation. This small group comprised of three Fieldfares, three Redwings, two Blackbirds and six Song Thrushes.

Raptors were represented by two Kestrels and two Buzzards. I tried calling the Buzzards but they weren't interested. As has been the case over the past couple of weeks there were six Yellowhammers hanging around the Pheasant feeder along the track and single Yellowhammer at the feeding station itself.

As I got to the feeding station I could tell that there weren't as many Tree Sparrows and I only counted 111, which is the lowest count for some time. Now whether some have moved on because of the cold weather or whether I just turned up when some had moved off I'm not sure. The next few days will probably give me the answer and it will be interesting to see how many are there when I feed on Tuesday.

The Chaffinch numbers at the feeding had also reduced and there was possible only 11 or 12, but on my walk round I came across small feeding parties and 28 in total. Grey Partridges and Corn Buntings were conspicuous by their absence compared to recent weeks and I only had three and one respectively.

I finally caught up with the male Stonechat that Phil has been reporting for the last few weeks and it was highly mobile moving anywhere between the game cover crop along the track and the '97' hedge.

I had a walk through the plantation but it was fairly quiet in here other than a flock of 15 Goldfinch, single Reed Bunting and the odd Blackbird and Chaffinch. To the north over Pilling Moss I could see masses of Pink-footed Geese in the air, but on my walk I only had 15.

Walking back towards the car I had eight Lapwing fly west and a single Great Spotted Woodpecker called from Curlew Wood. No birding for me tomorrow I'm afraid as I need to do a bit of Christmas shopping and get a present or two sorted out for her indoors!

Saturday 19 December 2009

Frozen Disaster

It was going to be one of those mornings - I could tell! Alarm call at 07:30 and the plan was to be out birding by 08:00, even though it was minus 6 c on the old thermometer. I was delayed at first by the length of time it took me to prepare the garden for the days avian visitors. De-frosting the bird bath, topping up the sunflower seed feeder, seed on the ground feeder along with some dried meal worms and 'bird' cake. Then it was onto the car which needed a thorough defrosting as well. It was now nearer 08:30, anyway not to worry I was in the car and ready to be off. Car in reverse and it wouldn't move; the bl**dy handbrake was frozen on! More delays in freeing the handbrake and by 09:00 I was on my way.

Where to was the question. There was no morning tide so I thought I would call in first at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park and then perhaps on to 'burglars' alley and the saltmarsh on the Wyre estuary. As I pulled into the car park at the nature park there were at least ten cars parked and each one belonging to a dog walker who had anywhere between one and three dogs each! I cursed the fact that I even try and go birding at this disgrace of a nature park that is nothing more than a dog toilet. Lancashire County Council should be disgusted at themselves for owning and allowing a site to become like this.

The cold must have got to my brain because the fact that it had been freezing for several days didn't register with me and therefore incredulously I was surprised when the pools were frozen. Idiot I thought, I should have known that they would be frozen. On the main pool the birds had managed to keep a small area of water unfrozen and crammed into this small space were 23 Coots and a single female Tufted Duck.

The 'shallow' pool was completely frozen and ten Coots and two Mute Swans sat looking miserable on the ice. I had two Reed Buntings in the reeds below the car park and 2,500 Pink-footed Geese were in the air over towards the over wyre mosslands. I was completely fed up now and decided to drop Ian's Christmas card off and have a quick look on the marine lakes and head home.

The marine lakes of course weren't frozen as they contain salt water. On the main lake were 17 Red-breasted Mergansers and a pair of Tufted Ducks. On the smaller pool were three Red-breasted Mergansers, two Goldeneye and 13 Mute Swans. Turnstones totalled 32 and were running around feeding on the grass adjacent to the car park, looking good for a ringing session with a whoosh net.

Friday 18 December 2009

Another Quick Cold Update

What a glorious morning it was on Rawcliffe Moss mid-morning. Fantastic views through the crystal clear air to the Bowland Fells and Lakeland Mountains, and all covered in snow. The hills and mountains that is, not Rawcliffe Moss!

Once again it was a quick dash out from work to feed. I was tempted to linger (aren't I always?!), but I wanted to make sure I had everything cleared up at work so I could finish for a fortnight. I succeeded in that so I am on leave now until 4th January. All I need now is some weather and some birds.

The first birds I had on 'the moss' were three Buzzards soaring over 'Tree Sparrow' wood and they weren't half being given some stick from a pair of Carrion Crows. A couple of summers ago I remember watching a female Marsh Harrier being mobbed by a Carrion Crow on the moss. She put up with it for so long, then she just turned and gave the Crow a hammering, and it flew off rather hastily!

One of the Buzzards drifted over towards me and I started calling to it and it was hooked. It came straight towards me and straight over my head. I had a full frame in my bins, it's just a pity I didn't have my camera.

The next thing I noticed was the lack of Thrushes. All the Fieldfares had gone other than one or two and Blackbirds only numbered five. I imagine a combination of the cold weather and perhaps that they have been feeding on the hawthorn berries for a while now caused them to move.

I noticed that there was a single Yellowhammer at the feeding station with the Tree Sparrows and the usual three near the Pheasant feeder. Tree Sparrows numbered 216 and Chaffinch 21. Interestingly, yesterday when Phil fed for me he had over 300 Tree Sparrows; the highest count for the winter so far.

I have continued with the snow theme from yesterday and below you will find a few more pictures from Nigel in Canada. Thanks Nigel!

Hawk Owl

Rough-legged Buzzard (Hawk in Canada)

Snowy Owl

Thursday 17 December 2009

Quick Update

I haven't posted for a couple of days as I have been in South Yorkshire for my sins receiving some training on climate change and agriculture and the new agri-environment scheme that will replace the Hill Farm Allowance called Upland Entry Level Stewardship. Exciting stuff eh?

Anyway, on the Tuesday before crossing the pennines I called at Rawcliffe Moss to put some seed out at the feeding station. The Fieldfare numbers were still quite impressive with 52 coming and going along the hedge. Yellowhammers had increased to 6 and a couple of these had found their way to the feeding station.

Tree Sparrows numbered just over 200 and were accompanied by 22 Chaffinch and two Grey Partridges. Five Corn Buntings went over calling and as always a Kestrel patrolled along the front of Curlew Wood.

As I write this it is snowing and there has been quite a bit of snow in the east of the country. In fact as I crossed the pennines from east to west a few hours ago it was snowing quite a bit up there. Whether it will push some birds in remains to be seen. As it is snowing outside, below are a few pictures from my good friend Nigel in Canada of birds in the hand ringed in winter, in fact when there was snow on the ground!

American Kestrel


Great Grey Owl

Great Grey Shrike

Sunday 13 December 2009

At Last

The weather Gods kept their promise and it was fit for ringing this morning, although there was a niggling northerly breeze that caused the nets to 'wind sock' a little. At 07:30 we were on Rawcliffe Moss setting the two nets up at the feeding station. We did quite well ringing 61 birds and retrapping six. I have listed below the numbers per species ringed and retrapped:

Chaffinch - 17/0
Tree Sparrow - 12/1
Blue Tit - 17/2
Great Tit - 7/0
Blackbird - 2/2
Dunnock - 3/0
Coal Tit - 1/0
Robin - 1/1
Wren - 1/0

Base camp

The team in action

Blue Tit

Coal Tit

We were quite busy this morning and this meant that birding records were at a minimum with a few estimates of numbers. The Fieldfares were once again feeding on the hawthorn berries and we did try tape luring them but without success. They were interested in the tape but wouldn't jump into the net.

Three Yellowhammers fed at the Pheasant feeder as per usual and raptors were represented by two Kestrels and a single calling Buzzard at first light. There was a microlight buzzing around this morning and at one stage it flushed 80 + Fieldfare and twentyish Corn Buntings from the stubble field to the west where there was also about 200 Jackdaws feeding. We had three Grey Partridges and three Roe Deer and that was the lot.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Fog...What F*cking Fog

Please see below a series of pictures taken this morning on Rawcliffe Moss in the dense freezing fog that was forecast by every weather forecaster known to man last night!

I was looking forward to a ringing session this morning at the feeding station but when I checked the forecasts last night I couldn't believe it; dense freezing fog not clearing until late morning. I checked forecast after forecast and they all said the same. No point even going birding I thought. The only consolation is that I would get a lie in.

When I rolled out of my pit at 08:00 and looked out of the window I couldn't believe it. Clear as a bell and flat calm! I swore quite a bit as I munched through my breakfast and vowed never to believe a weather forecast again! I needed to go an feed the Tree Sparrows so I set off for Rawcliffe Moss.

As you can see from the above pictures it was a glorious morning and a missed ringing opportunity, although I am aiming to try again tomorrow. As I set off down the track a number of Fieldfares were flying from Curlew Wood to the hedge to feed and they looked fantastic in the crystal clear light. About 50 or 60 were commuting to and from the wood and in total on my walk round I had 103. Whilst on the subject of Thrushes I also had two Redwings, 20 Blackbirds and three Song Thrushes.

Tree Sparrows were in similar numbers to recent days and I had 228 accompanied by 34 Chaffinch. I heard Grey Partridge calling from the track and two birds flushed but the other bird it was with was a Red-legged. Compared with recent weeks I had quite a reasonable count of Grey Partridge and I had twelve in total on my walk round. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from Curlew Wood and a Kestrel, my only raptor of the morning, flew in front of the wood.

I then headed north towards the plantation and in the 'top' fields 500 Starlings fed. Also in this field I had a small flock of eight Corn Buntings feeding in stubble and I had a further thirty Corn Buntings on the western edge of the farm back at the car.

Nine Linnets were in the stubble field near the badger set and also sixteen Snipe flushed from here as I walked past. Just before the plantation eleven Meadow Pipits were feeding around a ring feeder in the corner of the field and the flock of ten Goldfinch were feeding on Alder catkins in the plantation.

A few Reed Buntings were dotted around here and there and I had six in total. Four Roe Deer nervously watched me head south back along the track to the car and the morning was finished off by a calling Siskin going over. I'll let you know how we get on tomorrow, weather permitting!

Thursday 10 December 2009

Still Looking Good

It was beautiful on Rawcliffe Moss in the late afternoon sunshine, but unfortunately I didn't have time for a wander round. It was yet another 'splash and dash' of seed visit. As I walked down the hedgerow 12 Fieldfares flew in to feed on the hawthorn berries and I had just had a flock of 30 feeding in a pasture as I drove onto the moss. The Fieldfares at the feeding station were accompanied by eleven Blackbirds and a single Redwing.

Tree Sparrows numbered 226 with 21 Chaffinch and a single Yellowhammer. On the way back to the car a Great Spotted Woodpecker called from Curlew Wood and 400 Black-headed Gulls fed in the flooded field.

I just had a quick glance at the weather forecast and it is looking good for some ringing at weekend, so fingers crossed.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

There is a chance, or should that be 'was' as I have probably given any chance the kiss of death by saying there is a chance (I hope you're still following this!), that I might actually do some ringing towards the end of the week perhaps on Friday or Saturday. At the moment the met office are fairly confident (that definitely has put the kiss of death on it) that high pressure will build on Thursday and last until Sunday. We'll see.

It would be good to have a crack at the feeding station as there was a good number of birds there today when I went to feed as always. There were 256 hungry Tree Sparrows along with at least 15 Chaffinch, a couple of Reed Buntings and nine Blackbirds when I put two buckets of seed out on Rawcliffe Moss.

I didn't have much else other than Yellowhammer, Kestrel, Grey Wagtail, two Roe Deer and 200 Black-headed Gulls. Mind you I wasn't there that long, it was literally a splash and dash from work. Talking of work my office feeders are extremely busy at the moment and there is a continuous stream of Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Chaffinch from dawn to dusk!

I haven't shown a picture from Nigel in Canada of late so have a look at the Blue Jay below for a splash of colour. Thanks Nigel!

Whilst we're in Canada and looking at blue coloured birds how about a few more such as Blue-headed Vireo

or Blue-winged Warbler,

or Eastern Bluebird

or perhaps even Indigo Bunting.

Mind you I think we have one or two good 'blue birds' ourselves don't you?

House Martin (courtesy of Kane)