Monday 31 August 2009

Too Much Southerly

Here I go again complaining about the weather. It's either "too much", "too little" or the "wrong direction"! However, this morning at Rossall Point there was too much southerly in the westerly making it a south-southwesterly. I hope you followed that? The result of this 'too much southerly' was to make seabird passage virtually zero other than Sandwich Terns.

I had 110 Sandwich Terns go west this morning and probably three quarters of these were flying rapidly west just over the tide line and gave me the impression that they had been pushed off a roost somewhere by the rising tide. Knott End perhaps?

There were good numbers of Oystercatcher feeding on the shore and I counted 563 in total. Other waders included Knot, Grey Plover, Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank and Ringed Plover. The only other birds worth mentioning were 3 Common Scoters west.

It was on to Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park next and as I walked up to have a look on the main pool I had two Foxes playing together no more than 30 metres from me. Below is a poor record shot of the Foxes.

Out on the main pool were a number of wildfowl including 31 Coot, Wigeon, 3 Pochards, 32 Mallards, 3 Little Grebes, 13 Tufted Ducks and 2 Ruddy Ducks.

Walking to have a look on the 'tyre' pool I had a young Toad below on the path.

Out on the 'tyre' pool were a number of Pied Wags and I decided to 'scope them to count them. as I started to count them I noticed a female Yellow Wagtail amongst them and she was being continually mobbed and chased by a number of the Pied Wags. In total I had 42 Pied Wagtails.

A few Reed Buntings were also flitting through the reeds surrounding the pool and flying down to the pool to feed and I had 5 in total.

It was nice to see good numbers of Goldfinch and Linnets feeding around the pools and there were 72 and 27 of each respectively.

I walked across the meadows and down beside the edge of Fleetwood Marsh.

View over Fleetwood Marsh onto the Wyre

As I walked along I flushed three Wheatears in front of me. They then flew and perch in the top of a small Willow before flying down on to the marsh. I always enjoy seeing Wheatears perched up in trees; they look so out of place. In the end it wasn't too bad a morning after a fairly slow start.

the forecast for tomorrow morning is for sunny intervals with a 17 mph southwesterly wind so I might try my look again at Rossall. I must be mad!

Sunday 30 August 2009

High Speed Indoor Seawatching Part 2...29th August

It was the return leg of my trip and the boat was just as fast and the seawatching was just as much indoors. The only trouble this time was that I was nursing a hang-over from a party the night before so my attention wasn't always 100% on the sea.

The cast was very similar to the previous Saturday with the addition of 8 Black Guillemots.

My favourite bird - Manx Shearwater

Mace and Manxies...27th August

The plan this morning was to drive round the coast from Strangford past the Northern Ireland seawatching mecca of St. John's Point (not to be confused with the one in Donegal), around Dundrum Bay, along the coast to Carlingford Lough and head back through the Mourne Mountains birding as we went.

Our first port of call was Cloghy Rocks on the southwest shore of Strangford Lough, very close to where the Lough opens to the sea. This is a view point renowned as a place to see Common Seals and this morning we had 19 hauled out on the rocks. We had few birds here other than a couple of Barwits and a Hooded Crow.

Cloghy Rocks

Next stop was Kilclief where we had a few waders feeding on the muddier margins of a small stream running across the shore inlcuding this badly digi-binned Dunlin below.

On the shore at Killard NNR my heart nearly skipped a beat when I tried to string two distant Snipe into Dowitcher sp.'s. At first I couldn't see them well and it was the fact that they were feeding on the shore, but they were indeed Common Snipe! Two Hooded Crows and Greenshank fed nearby also.

We stopped just to the west of St. John's Point overlooking Dundrum Bay and there were good numbers of Manxies feeding out in the bay. Now at this point 'her indoors' was whinging about some lunch, so I whisked her back into the village of Killough, stopped at the local Mace store, and bought a slap-up lunch of pre-packed sandiwches and crisps and sped back to where we had stopped to seawatch over lunch!

The wind was a fairly strong southwesterly and the Manxies, Gannets and Kittiwakes were getting blown into Dundrum Bay and struggling close past the headland back out to sea. I only had my bins with me but we had stonking views of Manxies, Kittis and Gannets close in. In total we had 312 Manxies past as we ate lunch.

Looking across Dundrum Bay to
cloud covered Mourne Mountains

Stormont Hoodies...26th August

This doesn't refer to teenagers in certain items of clothing hanging around the Northern Irish parliament buildings, but does refer to Hooded Crows feeding in the parkland surrounding the Stormont Estate. 'Her indoors' and I were on one of those city sight seeing tours aboard an open top bus doing the rounds of the interesting sights of Belfast. What interesting sights of Belfast I hear you ask? As the bus drove along the main drive of the impressive Stormont estate Gail asked me what the black and grey birds were feeding on the ground. When I looked there were four impressive Hooded Crows feeding together. I always forget how stunning these corvids are until I come back to Ireland and renew my acquaintance with them.

Hooded Crow off 'the web'

Butterfly Bonanza...25th August

Today was a day comprised of a visit to the National Trust property of Castle Ward on the southwest shores of Strangford Lough. The morning was spent birding around the 800 acre estate and the afternoon looking around the property.

From a birding point of view we didn't have a great deal. On the roofs of the old Castle Ward large numbers of House Martins were sunning themselves and there were good numbers of juveniles amongst them. The shoreline of the estuary produced the expected collection of wader species e.g. Redshank, Oystercatcher, Curlew etc.

Waiting to be guided around the house we had a look in the formal gardens and nectaring on the flowers in two large beds were literally hundreds of Red Admirals, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Painted Lady's.

Woodland Gannets...23rd August

Today was a day of 'duding around' i.e. a bit of sight seeing at the mouth of Strangford Lough. After doing some of the 'dudy' bits that I had to do with her indoors we had a drive along a road that hugs the shore of Strangford Lough to the north of Portaferry. It was wet with a strong south-southwesterly wind that was blowing Gannets, as I soon realised, up into Strangford Lough.

For those of you who don't know Strangford Lough is a sea lough in Northern Ireland on the east coast and is famous for its wintering population of pale-bellied Brent Goose in addition to supporting internationally important numbers of waders and wildfowl.

The Gannets were heading north past the narrow crossing between Portaferry and Strangford and we enjoyed close views of these excellent seabirds as they turned and wheeled over the woodland on the other side of the Lough. Other birds included Sandwich Terns, Razorbills and Shags. We also had stonking views of a Common Seal bobbing up and down in the turbulent water close inshore.

Some views of Strangford Lough in the rain below.

High Speed Indoor Seawatching...22nd August

No not a new game for a Playstation, although it may as well have been, but more of a description of what it is like to sea-watch from Stena's High Speed Service (HSS) from Stranraer to Belfast! The problem with these high speed ferries that skim along the waves like a catamaran on steroids is that they are very difficult to seawatch from. The only bit of open deck is at the rear of the boat and this is encased in steel mesh so it is very difficult to look through. Also, it is tiny and is festooned with smokers and despite of the high speed is shrouded in smog! The other problem is that you are looking backwards after everything has been flushed by the boat.

I found myself in the very plush first class lounge at the front of the boat that has huge windows looking out onto the sea. This is great apart from having to look through glass and the fact that you are bearing down on seabirds at a huge rate of knots; literally! The plus side was that I could relax in a large comfortable chair, with complimentary drinks and watch Manxies as they flashed by.

I divided the trip up into three sections; Lough Ryan, North Channel and Belfast Lough. As you might expect the most productive sections are in the shallower waters of the two Loughs. My only Black Guillemot of the trip was a single bird in Lough Ryan. Next up were numerous Shags followed by good numbers of Gannets. It was great to see Fulmars 'shearing' past the boat with large numbers of their cousins the Manx Shearwater. As I have stated before the Manxie is probably my favourite bird.

Other members of the supporting cast included Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Common, Arctic & Sandwich Terns and a handful of Eiders.

Opening my mail on my return I was reminded of the breeding season with the details of a Pied Flycatcher control from the Bowland Wild Boar Park. It was a male ringed in May 2007 as a chick from a box and amazingly the ring number was read in the field at another nest site near Newton-in-Bowland, only 8 km away. The ring number was actually clinched by looking at a photograph of the bird. Below is a shot of a male Pied Flycatcher taken at the Boar Park by Steve Young this summer.

Thursday 20 August 2009

The Perfect Job...19th August

If I had a pound for every time someone has said to me "you must have the perfect job for your hobby" I would be a rich man. Sometimes I don't think people understand what I do and that I just get paid to go birding. I wish! It's true that with my job I can do a lot of birding whilst doing my job, but if I am surveying a farm my head is often buried in a map, or I'm colouring the map or counting the number of woody species in a hedgerow, or perhaps counting the number of broad-leaved plants per square metre in the sward or even checking the condition of a traditional farm building. But I am outdoors I suppose and that gives me the opportunity to see birds.

Today was no exception and I was surveying farmland close to Beacon Fell, Inglewhite and Cockerham. I didn't see anything exciting but it was just good to be out wandering about in the sunshine. In all three areas hirundines were the order of the day and small numbers of House Martins and Swallows were constantly in the air. Some of them drifting south at a leisurely pace and others probably still catching airborne insects to feed young from late broods.

Some of the farmland I surveyed near Beacon Fell

When carrying out these surveys for Higher Level Stewardship applications there are certain species of birds, mammals, invertebrates, plants etc that you have to record. Most of the birds tend to be birds on the red or amber list and some of the species I had to record today were Kestrel and Song Thrush. The commonest mammal that I record is the Brown Hare and in fields at Inglewhite I had three.

Land at Cockerham

Also at Inglewhite I had a couple of Stock Doves and a few Goldfinch.

Stock Dove courtesy of Kane

On Saturday I am going over to Ireland for a week. And before you say it, I am not going seawatching in western Ireland unfortunately, but having a holiday in Northern Ireland with 'her indoors' visiting some of my relatives. But you know me, if the opportunity arises, and it will, I'll be out birding. Mind you having said that I think that we birders are birding wherever we are as long as we are awake! Some of you might say that you bird when you're asleep also! Anyway, the point of mentioning this is that it will be unlikely that I will have access to a computer for the week I am away so I will update my blog on my return and hopefully there will be a few tales of birds to tell!

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Corbie On The Moss...18th August

I had some seed to drop off at Moss House Farm so I decided to have a couple of hours wandering around Rawcliffe Moss. It was a fairly quiet morning but I did have a few bits and pieces.

First up were two of the above along the feeding station hedge. I later had another 2 along another hedge. Now the Tree Sparrows have found the boxes here a small breeding population is building up. It is my intention to put some more boxes up here this winter.

I had good numbers of Goldfinch this morning and the total in my notebook is exactly 100! The majority of these, 86, were feeding in some thistle along the 'big field'. It was pleasing to note that Phillip has re-sown the wild bird seed plots in recent weeks, providing some welcome feed and cover for the coming winter.

Picture courtesy of Kane

Hirundines were on the move in small numbers and I had 30 Swallows and 16 House Martins south. Vis mig is never that brilliant here in the heart of the Fylde as you might imagine. There is no 'topography' as such to move birds along. The commonest Warbler I had by far was Whitethroat and I had a total of 10 in various locations. The warbler supporting cast consisted of 4 Willow Warblers, Blackcap and a skulking Lesser 'throat'.

A few butterflies were on the wing even though it was fairly early in the morning; mind you it was very warm for the time of morning. I had plenty of Small and Green-veined Whites with a few Painted Lady's and Wall Browns.

As I walked along the track towards the plantation crossing the front of the 'L' Wood I heard the raucous call of the Corbie in my title. I stopped and a Raven flew across the track and headed east. Corbie is a name given to Ravens in the north of England. Looking east across the front of the 'L' Wood a Buzzard was flying low across the field being mobbed by a large number of corvids and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull. I had another Buzzard north of the plantation.

The walk back to the car from the plantation was fairly quite, but on reflection I had a fairly good morning.

Monday 17 August 2009

Glad I Didn't Take My Own Advice

I'm glad I didn't take my own advice this morning. Although it would have worked in terms of rain as there wasn't any early doors, but the wind was northwesterly and absolutely no good for seawatching on the Fylde.

So, the only birds I had today were those on my office feeders. My office overlooks some woodland and I have three feeders on my window. I have a seed hopper, peanut feeder and a make-shift tray for seed. At the moment the feeders are extremely busy with all the young birds of the summer. In fact so busy that all three feeders empty every day!

The cast at the moment includes Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. They are very distracting as you can imagine when you are trying to write a report or colour-in some stewardship maps and two Nuthatches are feeding two feet away from where you sit!

This morning at one point all the birds shot off the feeders and dived into cover. Raptor I thought, and low and behold a juv. male Sparrowhawk shot out of the woodland and sped down the side of the building. Stonking!

Some of the cast from my office window below.

The forecast looks okay for a bit of birding tomorrow morning, so I'll have a mooch round somewhere and see what I can pick up.

Sunday 16 August 2009


My first bird of the morning this morning as I stood by the Coastguards Tower at Rossall Point was a Bonxie heading west just beyond the surf and giving absolutely f*cking stonking views! These birds are amazing and I never tire of seeing them. Anyone who says that seawatching is boring should was their mouths out with soap and water ten times, just for a start.

The sea state off Rossall this morning

Before I go into what else I saw this morning I just wanted to have a moan about the weather forecast yesterday particularly with reference to what I might have missed. Friday night the forecast said west-southwesterly; 25 mph (looking good) but with rain. Mmm the rain wasn't so good, but if it is showery it would be okay. So I played various rain radar sequences and all suggested a solid band of rain moving in from the Irish Sea and tracking southeast across the Fylde. The problem with Rossall is that there isn't any shelter from the rain, so based on all the zillion forecasts that I check agreeing the same forecast I decided to have a lie in. Mistake! I rolled out of my pit at 8.30 a.m. after it had been light for three hours and there wasn't a drop of rain to be found anywhere! Perhaps the motto of the story should be 'just get up what ever the forecast'.

Anyway, back to this morning. Conditions were good with a 25 mph westerly wind and a high tide at 7.35 a.m., so at 6.30 a.m. I was set-up and ready. A few Oystercatchers were being pushed off by the tide and I had 10 Shelducks fly west just before the Bonxie made an appearance. It was nice to see the Shelducks freshly returned from their moult migration to the German Waddenzee. I tried to take a picture of the Bonxie through my scope but it was just too fast.

Next up were Gannets and I had a total of 32 move through. As usual some of these birds were very close in giving cracking views of their different plumages from juveniles through to sub-adults and adults. A number of Sandwich Terns were on the move and I had 26 in all. The Sarnies can be awkward to count here because they often feed in a huge circle in Morecambe Bay and it can be the same birds coming past all the time.

Seventeen Cormorants were about this morning and because of the wind I didn't count the birds roosting on the Wyre Light. One of my favourite birds, the Manx Shearwater, put in an appearance as well this morning and I had 27 move west . Unlike the Gannets, none of the Manxies came close in which was a shame because they are beautiful birds.

The only other sea passage I had were 4 Kittiwakes west and 9 Common Scoters. A few waders were about including 42 Dunlin, the aforementioned Oystercatchers (30) and single Bar-tailed Godwit moving rapidly west.

On the way home I called in at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park and had a quick look on the pools. There was very little on the pools and there were no diving duck at all. The water levels were low and the 'tyre' pool was completely dry and the 'CEGB' pool showed dry areas, probably resulting in the absence of diving ducks. All I had were 36 Coots, 4 Little Grebes and 15 Mallards.

I feel we need a bird picture to brighten the page up and below is a shot of a Kingfisher in the hand that Chris recently sent me; thanks Chris.

Now, the forecast for tomorrow morning is for heavy rain showers with a 15 mph WSW wind, so based on what I said earlier I might just set my alarm and go out for a few hours before work. I'll let you know.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Half Century

The weather was perfect for a ringing session at Moss House Farm this morning. We were due to meet on site at 5.00 a.m. but as usual I couldn't sleep and so arrived at 4.00 a.m. The moon gave a silvery light pre-dawn, just as the first hint of orange colour could be seen low down to the east. A Quail sang from a field of wheat and two each of Tawny Owl and Yellowhammer dueted with the other.

At the plantation, whilst we were putting the nets up another Quail was singing alongside the jangling notes of Corn Bunting. It was flat calm and clear and we wondered how well we would catch. Four hours later we had ringed 55 birds and retrapped 9. New birds included 10 Willow Warblers, 13 Whitethroats, 3 Reed Buntings, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden warbler, 4 House Martins, 7 Swallows and Treecreeper.

Willow Warbler

Lesser Whitethroat

As we were thinking about packing up a few Swallows and House Martins started to move through and we put a mixed hirundine tape on and that was how we caught the Swallow and House Martins. The only other things we had of note were 100 Lapwings and a single Buzzard.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Seawatching - Literally

This morning at Rossall Point I was literally 'sea watching'! Not a single seabird; no Terns, Gannets, Shears - nothing (insert your own seabird here)! Now, don't get me wrong it wasn't absolutely perfect conditions and I wasn't expecting the sea to be peppered with Stormies, but I did think it would be better than a big fat zilch! It was first light, there was a stiff westerly breeze, incoming tide etc, etc, etc. Anyway, enough moaning.

All I had to put in my notebook were 190 Oycs and 110 Starlings. Wow!!!

I then called in at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park, but it was quiet here too. On the 'Tyre Pool' I had my largest count of Lapwings for the autumn and there were 24 on the pool. Wildlfowl and associated water birds included 35 Coots, 4 Little Grebes, 2 Grey Herons, 23 Mallards and 10 Tufteds.

I thought I would show you a couple of pictures that were sent to me recently by Kane who rings in the Manchester area and I do highly recommend that you look at his blog 'Bird Ringing', a link to which can be found on the right. In the Fylde, where I do most of my birding, Bullfinch are very scarce probably due to a lack of over mature hedges and scrubby woodland. Below you will find a couple of pictures of male Bullfinch caught and ringed by Kane.