Saturday 31 October 2009

Catch Up

It's been a few days since I last posted and that's because work tends to get in the way of birding. Take last Wednesday as an example. I left the house to get in my car to go to work and I could see it was going to be a cracking morning. Immediately I had 4 Redwings drop out of the sky, re-orientate themselves, and head south. This was quickly followed by 130 Woodpigeons and 30 Jackdaws heading rapidly south, and that was it I was off to work. If only I could have gone birding!

Later in the day I was on a farm between Chipping and Whitewell and had another glimpse of what kind of morning it could have been if I had been able to get out birding proper. Over the farm I had 9 Lesser Redpolls and 3 Siskins and a number of the hedgerows were alive with thrushes; 112 Redwings, 30 Fieldfares and 40 Blackbirds! Ah well you can't get out birding all the time I suppose.

I called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss on Wednesday and Friday but it was towards dusk and a lot of stuff had gone to roost. Over 50 Tree Sparrows and a Yellowhammer were present, but going on how quickly the food is going down I would imagine that there is a lot more Tree Sparrows than this about.

So, on to this morning and my first mornings proper birding for a week. As there was a tide at 09:15 I decided to go to Rossall Point for a sea-watch and a bit of vis. As usual in my over exuberance I got there too early and had to sit in the car for 10 minutes to allow it to become light enough to bird. I was going to say that tomorrow I will get up ten minutes later but on the latest forecast I could be having a lie in.

In the early morning gloom a few Redwings called overhead and 129 Black-headed Gulls fed in the field behind the car park. Out on this grass recreational field was a single Snipe that was doing its best to look invisible by pressing itself low to the ground! Up onto the dunes and there was a bit of vis going over. First over were 3 Alba Wags heading west closely followed throughout the morning by 23 Meadow Pipits, 16 Chaffinches, Linnet, Reed Bunting, Grey Wagtail and Rock Pipit.

It was very murky out at sea and the murk came and went throughout the morning varying from murky to very murky! As usual a few Cormorants went past, today there were 23, and Eiders were conspicuous by their absence and I only had 2 males. I have probably mentioned this before but it would seem that some of the Common Scoters that winter on shell flats have shifted further north and west as we are having more than usual off Rossall. This morning I had 130, which isn't a huge total, but it is respectable for Rossall Point. Two Red-throated Divers heading out of the bay and an adult Med Gull heading in to the bay close in were nice additions for the morning.

I had 75 Pintail go west this morning; a flock of 5 and 75. The other interesting wildfowl were four Whooper Swans that I picked up a long way out at sea and followed as they headed straight towards me on the shore and followed the coast west. As they got close I could see that they were a family party consisting of two adults and two juveniles. Nice!

There were a few waders on the beach including 322 Oystercatchers, 10 Sanderlings, 37 Turnstones and 28 Ringed Plovers.

Sanderling & Ringed P in the murk, or that's my excuse
for a crap picture. The same can be applied to the
Turnstone below!

I had no grounded migrants this morning and the three regular Stonechats have now been moved to the 'over wintering' category.

When I got home as the winds were fairly light I decided to put a net up in the garden and I ringed two each of Dunnock, Goldfinch and Greenfinch.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Viceus Gripus

Talking about the Jay's adept ability of inflicting pain to the ringer's hand reminded me of a cartoon on the door to the banding lab at Long Point Bird Observatory. The cartoon was of a Northern Cardinal with an over exaggerated bill with a latin name under the picture that read Viceus gripius. The idea was to strike terror into the hearts of anyone pulling a Cardinal out of the bag for the first time! Just look at the bill on the picture of Northern Cardinal below sent to me recently from Nigel. Ouch!

A Handful of Jays - Not Literally Thankfully!

Yesterday on my way home I called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss. As I drove down the track towards the farm buildings I flushed three Jays ahead of the car. Although you do get Jays on the moss, they aren't common unless it is one of those invasion years. As I watched them fly away from me on rounded wings with white rump glinting in the soft afternoon light I thought thank **** I'm not having to extract them from a mist net!

They have a little hook at the end of their upper mandible with which they are adept in using to inflict pain on the ringer!

There isn't a great deal of light left at the end of the day now around home time since the clocks went back, so at first I was surprised to sea a group of Chaffinch heading purposefully as if flying to a roost until I realised that dusk was just round the corner! That probably accounts for the fact that there was only 56 Tree Sparrows at the feeding station when there were 130 a couple of days ago. In fact the Tree Sparrows were making their way along the hedge away from the feeding station. I am not sure whether they roost in the hedge, but away from the feeding station, or whether they actually leave the site altogether to roost. I have witnessed behaviour to suggest both!

Looking back in one of my note books from 1985, Jay's were a feature of a morning ringing at Snettisham Common in west Norfolk on 26th October. I actually ringed three that morning, but have no recollection at all as to whether they inflicted any pain, but I am sure they did! In addition to the Jays I ringed 11 Bullfinch, 3 Coal Tits, 5 Goldcrests, 4 Long-tailed Tits and a Yellowhammer. I wonder if the site still exists? I'll have to have a look on Google earth.

Saturday 24 October 2009

Canadian Northern Wheatear Found in Iceland

I am a member of Bird Studies Canada and the article below was in an e-bulletin I received on 9th October. I thought that it was so interesting that I thought you would like to read it your selves.

"The Northern Wheatear undertakes one of the most remarkable migrations of any songbird. It is the only songbird that breeds in North America and winters in Africa. Alaskan and Yukon breeders migrate roughly southwest to winter in east Africa. The eastern Arctic population, breeding from Ellesmere Island south to Labrador and in Greenland, migrates southeast, crossing the Atlantic to winter in western Africa south of the Sahara.

A breeding female, banded by Dr. David Hussell at Iqaluit, Baffin Island, Nunavut, in July 2007 was found dead near Reykjavik, Iceland in mid-May 2009, presumably en route back to Baffin Island. This is the first North American-banded Wheatear recovered anywhere, as well as the first banded songbird from North America found in Iceland. It would have been on at least its sixth Atlantic crossing when it died in Iceland.

The Wheatear found in Iceland was one of 83 banded by Dr. Hussell in the course of his research in 2007 and 2008. This year, he and his team located 16 nests and at least two additional fledged broods during nearly eight weeks of fieldwork. They added 44 to the number of Wheatears they have banded at Iqaluit, which at 127 is more than triple the total banded in Canada in the preceding 50 years!

Dr. Hussell is continuing his research on Wheatears at Iqaluit with support from Bird Studies Canada, in collaboration with Dr. Ryan Norris, University of Guelph, and Dr Franz Bairlein, Avian Research Institute, Wilhelmshaven, Germany. The objectives of this research are to learn more about the breeding of Wheatears in Canada and their migrations to and from Africa".

Friday 23 October 2009

All Quiet On The Moss

I called at Rawcliffe Moss this afternoon to feed the Tree Sparrows and also to have a wander round as a pleasant way to end the working week and start the weekend. The weather was quiet, in that it was warm with a fairly light southeasterly wind. Never mind the weather being quiet, the birding was exceedingly quiet! Mostly.

As I headed down the track a few Robins and Dunnocks called and a male Yellowhammer perched on top of the hedge looked at me with that black beady eye that they have. One of the best black beady eyes can be found on adult male Yellow Warbler. Awesome! And did you know that in my opinion the best under-tail coverts are to be found on Black-and-white Warbler. Mmmm, absolutely stonking! Take my word for it. Anyway, I digress.

As I approached the feeding area I could see that there were a good number of Tree Sparrows and as they flitted across to another hedge as I approached I counted 133, the highest total for the autumn so far. From here it was up the '97' hedge and it was along here that I started to realise how quiet it was. Very little calling and absolutely nothing moving.

The next sign of life was along the track across the top fields where 44 Skylarks lifted from the stubble. I then walked through the plantation and it was deathly silent. No Eastern Crowned Warbler or such like in here! It was warm as I stated earlier and in the plantation I had two Red Admirals and as I came out of the plantation a dragonfly shot past, too quick for me to identify it.

Heading south and back towards the car I pushed four Roe Deers out of the plantation and two Snipe flew overhead calling. As I walked along the hedge opposite Curlew Wood 7 Long-tailed Tits crossed the road into the wood and two Redwings moved along the hedge in front of me. Back at the car I could hear a Tawny Owl calling and 41 Pink-footed Geese lifted off the stubble field to the west.

You can't see their under-tail coverts, but aren't
they stunning?

On this date back in 1985 I was in Wells Wood, Norfolk late in the afternoon twitching Radde's Warbler. I say twitching, but at this time I lived in north Norfolk and Wells Wood was one of my regular haunts. The 23rd October 1985 was a Wednesday and I had decided to look for the Radde's after work. Considering it was mid-week there were a number of birders around and I soon found the location of the Radde's in a scrubby area in the wood, because a hawthorn bush was surrounded by birders! I joined the posse surrounding the bush and waited and within a few minutes out popped the Radde's seemingly oblivious to the throng gathered watching it. There was also a Pallas's Warbler at Wells but light and time got the better of me and I didn't see it.

Thursday 22 October 2009

A Chat After Breakfast

I worked form home today and before I started this morning I gave myself an hour off to go birding after breakfast. I only had an hour to spare so I nipped to Rossall School and walked round the farm there.

As soon as I got out of the car I could tell that there was more around than last Sunday morning as bits and pieces were calling in that way that you can tell they are migrants. I suppose an excited or agitated call is what I am trying to explain.

As I headed along the hedge along the big ditch I had a couple of Song Thrushes zip over and Robins 'ticked' to each other. It was clear with an east-southeasterly wind of perhaps 10 mph. Dunnocks were very obvious this morning and I had 8 calling from the bushes as I walked round. Blackbirds were equally obvious with up to eleven counted on my walk and all of these were fresh birds in.

I had a Brambling call overhead but I couldn't get on to it and I had four calling Reed Buntings, but like their northern cousin I couldn't get on to them either.

Next up were two raptor species; a Kestrel carrying mammalian prey and a female Sparrowhawk that 'flap-flap-glided' her way north. As I headed towards the sea wall on the northern edge of the fields there is a series of small fields with wire fences and ditches, and a pair of Stonechats were making their way from fence to ditch as I walked past.

There was some visible migration this morning and it was probably what you would expect for this time of year. Interestingly six Collared Doves went south and I am always a bit cautious about declaring whether they are on vis or not. But these six birds went past in a group of four and two, and were heading very purposefully south.

The Jackdaws were by far the most numerous visible migrant and I had a total of 175 calling excitedly as they came from the north and headed south. Ten late Meadow Pipits also headed south as did 16 Greenfinch. The single Rock Pipit I had went north, but this could easily be a local bird moving along the coast to feed.

There is something magical about seeing passerines out at sea that really evokes the challenge of migration and illustrates the spectacle of it. As I got to the sea wall I set my scope up and had a look on the sea and picked up a group of 40 Starlings belting south skimming the wave tops. Stunning. There were very few 'real' sea birds other than 14 Common Scoter and five male Eiders.

The walk back to the car was fairly uneventful but at least my 'chat' after breakfast had set me up for the day.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Rain Prevents Play

I called at my feeding station yesterday at Rawcliffe Moss on my way home from work. My intention was to feed the Tree Sparrows and then have a walk round the Moss prior to dusk. However this wasn't to be as it was absolutely lashing it down when I got there. So it was literally a quick dash down the track with two buckets of seed and then a dash back up again! During my dashing I did have 2 Yellowhammers and 35 Tree Sparrows.

I find it highly entertaining and interesting, as you may have guessed, looking back at my old note books. On this date (20th October) in 1984 I had twitched a Red-throated Pipit unsuccessfully at Moreton on the Wirral in Merseyside. The weather was appalling with a gale force westerly wind and some heavy showers. Dipping on the Red-throated Pipit we turned our attention to the sea and had an amazing 3 dark morph Arctic Skuas and 6 light morph, 1 dark morph and 1 immature Pom Skua fly west really close in! Absolutely amazing. We then went to Seaforth and had 12 Little Gulls, an adult winter Grey Phal, 20 Kittiwakes and an adult winter Black Tern! What a difference 25 years makes!

I have no pictures to post today other than the Yellow-rumped Warbler sent to me by Nigel from Canada. Cracking bird!

Sunday 18 October 2009

Clear Out

One of the beauties of 'working' a coastal site, particularly if you are a student of migration like me, is that it is sometimes possible to work out what is going on. I say 'sometimes possible' because migration still holds many unsolved mystery's. On the opposite side of the coin, one of the headaches of 'working' an inland site during periods of migration is that it can be very difficult to work out what is going on. Not with obvious features of migration of course, but more with some of the subtleties. At Rossall School there is a limited amount of cover and it is very obvious when birds are about and just as obvious when they are not, like this morning!

It was a different day to yesterday and the wind was stronger at force 1-2 SSW. This had an effect on the mist nets, making them stand out somewhat, and ultimately an effect on our catch. Having said that, it was obvious that there was very little grounded, and more interesting where had everything gone that we caught yesterday? It was a total clear out.

Redwings were moving in the pre-dawn darkness but not in anywhere near the numbers of yesterday and Fieldfares were nearly obvious with their absence as we only recorded 2 moving through. All the vis this morning was moving in the direction that you would expect in autumn, namely southerly.

Four noisy calling Bramblings came over and circled round looking as though they were going to drop in, but they didn't. Brambling was hastily played on the MP3 player next to one of the nets but to no avail. Greenfinch and Chaffinch moved over this morning but only totalled a tenth of what we had yesterday.

The Jackdaw passage was obvious again this morning but only numbered 97 and 3 Grey Wagtails moved south. A few Pink-feet were around this morning, but instead of arriving from the sea they were coming from their overnight roost at Pilling and dropping on to some of the fields to the east of us.

One of the highlights of the morning was the stonking views we had of a Barn Owl hunting over the site and once or twice we had our hearts in our mouths as it turned towards our nets, but turned away again. In a similar vain we had a Sparrowhawk extract itself from a net just after Ian had set off running, tripped doing a spectacular roll across the ground all in the name of science!

We only ringed Reed Bunting, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Blue Tit and Robin this morning. Below is a picture of the adult Blue Tit we caught more of an illustration to brighten the page up rather than anything else.

'Coastal' Blue Tit

It was on this day in 1998 that I was sea watching off Norbreck and I got a phone call from Phil saying something like "get your arse over to Lane Ends we've caught a Yellow-browed!". Of course only 11 years ago Yellow-broweds were a lot scarcer than they are today. I flew to Lane Ends, observing the speed limit of course, and was handed a bird bag on my arrival. I put my hand in and pulled out a stunning juvenile Yellow-browed. Excellent!

Saturday 17 October 2009

Rossall Bird Observatory!

What a cracking morning we had this morning at Rossall School, it was like observing and ringing at a bird observatory! The habitat is a bit special at Rossall School, not in terms of its rarity or botanical diversity, but because it is the only piece of farmland on the western edge of the Fylde coast.

A pre-dawn arrival was welcomed by calling Redwings and Blackbirds. Three short nets were hurriedly put up through the main gorse and hawthorn hedge and Redwing song was played on the MP3 player. Birds responded by dropping out of the sky but unfortunately none of them got caught.

It's surprising what a few hundred metre length of hedge on the coast can support and this mornings catch was dominated by 8 Wrens, 2 Robins and 6 Dunnocks. It's very difficult to tell migratory Wrens, but at a coastal site like this some of them most definitely will be. A couple of Blackbirds were caught including a small 'continental' male.

The surprise bird of the morning in our mist nets was a cracking adult male Kestrel. Although this would probably be a local bird it was a real stunner all the same. The rest of the catch was made up of 6 Blue Tits, 2 Chaffinches and a single Great Tit.

It wasn't just the ringing that was causing all the interest it was the vis as well. We had quite a few Brambling over this morning totalling 8 birds with 150 Chaffinch as well. Not to be out done were Greenfinch and we had a healthy count of 180. Interestingly all the vis was heading north, presumably flying into a northerly or northeasterly wind at altitude as some of the birds were quite high.

Funnily enough my notebook only records 49 Redwing, although there were many more of this in the half-light of dawn. However, as the day wore on the numbers of Fieldfares heading north outnumbered the Redwings and we had 145 of these stunning 'Norse' invaders. One of the features of this autumn's migration has been the number of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Jackdaws on the move. Today we had 2 and 350 of each respectively.

We had 5 late Grey Wagtails and a handful of Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit, Siskin, Reed Bunting and Goldfinch. A few Pink-feet came in from the sea, 167, and headed south. In fact these were the only birds that were moving south!

Thursday 15 October 2009

More Tree Sparrows

Yesterday evening I periodically checked whether there were any Redwings were on the move and although it started promising at 12 calls per minute over my house at 20:25, by 22:40 I was only averaging 1-2 calls per minute. Likewise this morning I was recording only 6 calls per minute, although I did have a group of 25 come out of the mist and head southeast.

I called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss today and it was pleasing to report that the Tree Sparrows had increased to at least 96 birds with a few Chaffinches mixed in. Down the 'feeding station' hedge there was a group of three Yellowhammers.

The numbers of Pink-footed Geese had increased from Tuesday and I had an impressive 6,071 feeding in some stubble to the west of where I was parked. Close by 250 Lapwings were flushed and 59 Jackdaws flew towards the stubble field to feed. On the edge of some woodland I had a small flock of 16 Goldfinch and I pushed 60 Woodpigeon from the same trees. I was hoping to get a closer look at the Pink-feet as they fed but as I got close they all put their heads up, and I retreated before I spooked them.

I thought that I would use a few more pictures from my good mate Nigel and below you will find Tennessee Warbler and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. No reasons or excuses for showing them. I just adore North American birds and that's it!

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Norse Invaders

There was a huge movement of Redwings over last night and into this morning. My notebook for last night reads as follows:

20:40. Redwing. 12 calls per minute
20:43. Redwing. 16 calls per minute
21:42. Redwing. 40 calls per minute
22:40. Redwing. Calls constant; very heavy passage. Also Blackbird in good numbers and some
calls from Song Thrush.

This morning as soon as I stepped out of my door in the dark Redwings were calling constantly. At 07:15 as it was coming light I was putting some things in my car and 83 Redwings appeared circling round before heading off southeast with a few calling Fieldfares.

Later this morning I had a site meeting on Freckleton Marsh at 10:00 and as soon as I got out of the car I had 400 Redwings go over within a few minutes. I also later had a nice flock of 30 Skylarks. Excellent!

Talking of Norse invaders, or should I say in this case Siberian invaders, it was only 2 years ago on this date that I watched a Yellow-browed Warbler in Fleetwood Cemetery. I had been in the cemetery earlier in the morning and had only had Goldcrest and Chiffchaff (and before you ask, no my Chiffie was definitely a Chiffie!). When I got home I got a telephone call saying SD had found a Yellow-browed in the cemetery. So I dashed back up there and there it was showing well in a single Scots Pine. However, it went to ground very quickly and even though other birders turned up nobody else saw it. I heard it calling from some adjacent gardens 30 minutes after I had last seen it, but then it just melted away as they often do.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Clear Above - Murky Ahead

I had a couple of hours free this morning so as ever I headed to Rossall Point. It had been clear overnight and I periodically stepped outside to listen for Redwings, but I heard nothing. Likewise first thing this morning when going outside in the dark I didn't hear any either. So no Redwings today for me.

As I climbed on to the dunes with clear skies above, I looked across Morecambe Bay and it was murky! I could just about make out Heysham but looking further west I couldn't see Barrow. This will have an effect on the vis I thought, and it did!

As always there were some birds moving and these included 27 Meadow Pipits, 6 Alba Wagtails, 3 Rock Pipits, 2 Grey Wagtails, 18 Jackdaw and a Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Waders were virtually non-existent with 19 Oystercatchers, 10 Ringed Plovers, 21 Sanderlings and a handful of Turnstones. There was an increase in the number of Stonechats to 4, made up of 3 males and a female. The only other chat I had was a single Wheatear on the golf course.

Out on the sea it was fairly quiet and all I logged were 101 Common Scoters, 20 Eiders and 3 Red-throated Divers. Some of the Common Scoters were close-in and looked fantastic in the strong light, as did the Red-throat that fed just offshore.

On my way home from work I called in at Rawcliffe Moss to feed the Tree Sparrows and the first thing that struck me were the number of Pink-footed Geese. I had a good total of 4,562 birds feeding out on the moss. Tree Sparrow numbers are still looking good and I counted 71, but there could have been more.

Monday 12 October 2009

They're Back (For Me Anyway)

I stepped outside the back door this morning and straight away I could hear the thin 'tseep' calls of Redwings and they were loud so they must have been low. Even though the sky was starting to lighten I couldn't see them and all I could do was count the calls/minute which at this time were 8 per minute.

When I got to my office at Myerscough College I decided to have a walk round to see if I could see or hear them going over here but there was nothing at all. Interestingly, Phil who lives 5 km northeast of me had over 250 head northeast over his house from 07:30 onwards, indicating that perhaps the passage was very local. I suspect birds were re-orientating themselves as dawn broke.

Interestingly on 12th October 1985 I was birding at Holme in northwest Norfolk and the weather was virtually identical to today with clear skies and no wind, and I had 75 Redwings there. The sea was also quite good with a Little Tern and 4 Arctic Skuas moving through. However, the best bird of the morning was a juvenile Red-backed Shrike perched in some sea buckthorn in the dunes. Later in the morning I was at Titchwell watching Water Rail and 17 Bearded Tits.

Sunday 11 October 2009

Non-Birding Day

I had family round yesterday evening for a buffet and a few drinks and a few more drinks and a few more drinks! I knew that unless the weather forecast was absolutely spot on, whatever that is, it would be a non-birding day for me today. And it was, almost.

A lie in and then it was a trip to Lancaster to take some provisions to one of my lads at uni there, but on the way I called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss to give the Tree Sparrows some food. The food from two days previous had been scoffed and the reason why was probably the fact that numbers of Tree Sparrow had increased to 83. Amongst the Tree Sparrows were a handful of Chaffinch and single Reed Bunting.

It was literally a sprint down the track and back to my car, but I did manage to log a Peregrine as well as a few Snipe and Skylarks. It's been a day or two since I have posted some pics from my good mate Nigel so below are Northern Parula and Orange-crowned Warbler.

I have continued to label my notebooks and the danger of delving into them for you are lots of birding tales of 'way back when' to send you asleep!

In the mid-1980s I had a spell of living in Norfolk for about 3 years and I moved from Lancashire to Norfolk just for the birding. I lived in Snettisham at first and then later in Kings Lynn. I had a cracking three years and some stonking birding sites on my door step. One of the sites that I used to ring at was Snettisham Coastal Park, an area of coastal scrub on the eastern side of the Wash; in fact a stone's throw away from the RSPB's Snettisham Pits Reserve. If you have ever been to this reserve you will know that when you walk to the RSPB reserve you park at the car park of the coastal park.

On the 11th October 1986 I was ringing at the Coastal Park but I didn't catch anything exciting but I remember bumping into a couple of members of the public that day who asked what I was doing and more interestingly gave me their opinions of what they thought I was doing before they spoke to me! One guy thought that my mist net poles were aerials for receiving radio transmissions and that I was a an amateur radio enthusiast and another bloke thought the nets were for collecting Blackberries! He thought I pulled a lever and my my nets dropped onto the brambles and lifted the Blackberries off! If only he knew what a devastating combination brambles and mist nets are for the mist nets!

It's back to work for me tomorrow but I will try to get out in the week if I can!

Saturday 10 October 2009

Slipped Up - Sort Of

I knew that if I was to go birding this morning I wouldn't have long as I had to wait in for a parcel being sent 'special delivery' for 'her indoors' 50th birthday next week. I worked out that the earliest it could arrive would be 08:30 and this meant that I would only get an hours birding in decent light. The forecast last night was for it to be a WNW wind of about 15 mph, so I decided to have a lie in until 08:00. I got up at 08:00 and there were clear skies and it was flat calm! I stepped outside my back door and immediately I could hear Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Alba Wag and Chaffinch going over. Damn, I'd slipped up!

As it was calm I decided to put a net up in the garden and see if I could catch much coming to the feeder. Every time I went out to extract what I had caught I could hear birds going over and at one stage 4 Swallows zipped through. It was too much and I decided to phone Ian up, who I knew would be at Rossall Point, and find out exactly what I had missed. Thankfully I hadn't missed much at all as it had been quite murky out in the bay early on and although birds were on the move they weren't in the numbers expected. Phew!

The net in my garden was slow and I ringed 2 Greenfinches, Robin, Goldfinch and a House Sparrow! I can't remember the last time I ringed a House Sparrow. Anyway, some of this mornings catch are illustrated below.

Friday 9 October 2009

Even Quieter!

I made the mistake of not checking the forecast before I went to bed last night and got quite excited by the forecast at teatime; high pressure stretching over from Fennoscandia with a rain front moving in from the west some time between 0400 and 0700! The chance of a decent fall I thought. I got up this morning and headed off expectantly to Mount Park. There was full cloud cover granted, but no rain, not even a sniff of some rain! In fact as I write this at 14:10 it still isn't raining. Not that I want it to rain at this very moment of course. I bumped in to Ian later at Rossall Point and he said that by late evening the forecast had changed with the rain now not expected until mid-afternoon.

The Mount was quiet, not a grounded migrant in sight! I then moved on to Rossall Point and it was very quiet here too. The wind was stronger than forecast and it was a fairly cold southeasterly. There were a few bird on the move and I had 5 'invisible' calling Reed Bunts, 9 Mipits, 7 Alba Wags, 4 Skylarks and 2 Rock Pipits.

A Wheatear fed exactly in the same spot as yesterday in the company of two Meadow Pipits and Stonechats; exactly the same as yesterday! By this point I was quite bored and decided to try and take a few shots of the Stonechat. They're not wonderful, but not too crap either!

I decided to call it a day earlier than normal as I was flogging more of a 'dead horse' than usual and called at Rawcliffe Moss to put some more food out at the feeding station. I was pleased to find that the Tree Sparrows totalled 46, an increase from a few days ago.

I have been birding since 1976 and I have all my notebooks from then. Recently I have been labelling the front covers so I know exactly what period each notebook covers. Previously I had to route through them all to find something specific or re-live some birding trip from the past.

Looking through one of my notebooks I noted that on 9th October 1983, 26 years ago to the day, I was watching a juvenile Roller at Horncastle in Lincolnshire! I can remember it was a pretty awful day with it being dull and cool with continuous rain. However, the iridescent wing panel on this fairly otherwise drab Roller (compared to an adult that is) brightened up the day!

Thursday 8 October 2009

Quiet Morning

At one stage this morning at Rossall Point I thought I was going to draw a blank! However, I didn't and thought to myself that I should have more faith! It wasn't conducive to very much this morning and hence I had an extra half hour in bed. Visibility was fairly good with clear skies, but there was a fairly strong and gusty northwesterly wind.

Vis mig was very slow this morning and all I had in an hour were 8 Meadow Pipits, 4 Alba Wags, Grey Wagtail, 12 Linnets and 2 Skylarks. The Skylarks were attempting to head in the wrong direction and fly north across the bay. It's funny how birds, and Skylarks in particular, will attempt to fly the wrong way so they can head into wind!

As I headed along the dunes behind the sea wall I had walked a fair distance before I had my first grounded migrants in the form of a large 'Greenland' type Wheatear and male Stonechat. It was sheltered behind the wall and these two birds fed alongside 2 Meadow Pipits and looked to be finding invertebrates fairly well.

I couldn't decide where to go next because of the weather so I decided just to 'nip' to the Nature park and have a quick look on the pools. Whenever I say or type those words 'nature park' it makes my blood boil because there cannot be a greater paradox than 'nature' and 'park', they just don't go together.

The roving flock of Goldfinches were, well, roving and numbered 48. Other passerines included 2 Reed Buntings and single Grey Wagtail and Linnet over. On the pools were 21 Coot, 5 Moorhen, 12 Tufted Ducks and a Little Grebe.

No pictures form this morning so I thought I would again included a couple of North American birds in the hand from my good friend Nigel. Below are pictures of Blue Jay and Nashville Warbler.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Even More Skylarks!

The forecast last night was for the wind to be northerly this morning, but only light, so I thought I would start off at Rossall Point as it might be good for some vis. That's exactly what I did, but the wind was southeasterly and not northerly.

I walked all along the dunes as far as the 'mound', where you get a good view of the golf course and you can check it for Wheatears, and back again to the car park. It was very quiet and after talking to Ian later on we have decided that in October when it's colder it seems to take longer for birds to get on the move compared with September. This was born out this morning because for the first hour and a quarter after first light the vis was slow, but later in the morning (after 09:00) when Ian was there it picked up. In fact he had such goodies as a Short-eared owl, Merlin and Great Spotted Woodpecker in off the sea!

Anyway, time to rewind to the start of the day because I did have a few birds at Rossall this morning and I mean a few! The first I had was an over-flying Reed Bunting and this was followed by a further five. The Stonechats were very vocal this morning and at first I could hear them and not see them. There were three made up of a male and 2 female/immature types. They were continually interacting with one another and flying backwards and forwards from the dunes to the fence along the golf course.

I mentioned previously that the vis was quiet, in fact all I had were 15 Meadow Pipits, 10 Alba Wagtails, 2 Lesser Redpolls and single Chaffinch! I had a Rossall Point tick this morning and it wasn't a bird, but two Foxes on the golf course. They were walking across the course and one of them was stalking and attempting to play-fight with the other. However, when a few golfers appeared they quickly disappeared.

The only grounded migrant I had was a Wheatear, which probably wasn't surprising considering the conditions. I had a quick glance on the sea close to the muscle beds and had 59 Eiders and 2 Common Scoters.

I then went on to Mount Park. I don't know why I went to Mount Park as I knew there wouldn't be any grounded migrants and there wasn't. Fifteen minutes of bugger all saw me back in my car.

What might these bushes hold in the right conditions?!

I decided to dive into the cemetery for a quick look before heading on to Rawcliffe Moss to put some food out at the feeding station. I didn't stop because the fleet of mowers were out and I couldn't even hear myself think let alone pick up bird calls from some Siberian waif!

On 'the moss' it was obvious straight away that I was going to have a big count of Skylarks as I had a fair few at the end of the feeding track in the now ploughed 'big field'. By the time I had walked round I had counted 194 Skylarks and like last time believe this was an under estimate. I am still puzzled as to what they were up to. A number of them were arriving from the north very high and continuing south and west, whilst others were getting up from the 'top' stubble fields, gaining altitude and heading west. Are they new birds or the same as last time?

There were a few birds going over on vis at the farm, not as heavy a passage as at the coast but nevertheless a passage. I'm not going to elaborate on the numbers but rather just spit the totals out. I had 7 Chaffinch, 7 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Brambling (my first of the autumn), 3 Alba Wagtails and Siskin.

Numbers of Tree Sparrows were a lot less than three days ago and I only had 21, although Phil had about 50 yesterday. We have noticed that timing can be everything with the Tree Sparrows and if you were to go back an hour later you might have a lot more or even a lot less. What was nice was the fact that I had three Yellowhammers in the hedge adjacent to Curlew wood and these were my first for the site for the autumn. It is possible that they might have been visiting the feeding station.

As I walked along the north edge of the plantation I picked up a female Peregrine chasing a Mallard along the stubble field and as they approached me the Peregrine pulled up and gave up the chase. She flew round in a circle to head back to where she had come from and all the time I could see her looking down at me. Just then a flock of about 10 Mallards shot past and she was off again! She soon caught them up and plunged into the flock, and unfortunately for her didn't catch any. Later on my walk, I heard a raptor calling and looked across a field to see that it was the female Peregrine again, and she was being mobbed by three Jackdaws (brave or foolish Jackdaws!). On looking closer I could see that she was carrying some avian prey, and judging by the size guessed that it was probably one less of the many Skylarks around this morning.

Just across from the plantation is a small copse dominated by Scots Pine and Downy Birch; it is a remnant of the typical type of woodland you would have found on the peat bogs before they were cleared and drained for agriculture. A bit of 'pishing' resulted in a few Blue and Coal Tits and a single Treecreeper that was foraging on the bark of one of the mature Scots Pine's. They were joined by 7 Long-tailed Tits that flew across from the 'fir' wood.

Heading back down the lane towards the car I had a Willow Warbler singing in the hedge close to Curlew Wood. I tried to get on it but as I approached it went silent and disappeared. In the hedge next to the car I had three agitated Coal Tits that called excitedly from the top of the hedge and then climbed in to the air and off! A Buzzard drifting across the adjacent field finished off the morning.

As I write I have a mist net up in the garden and so far all I have caught is the male Greenfinch below. How's that for up to the minute reporting?! Make that 4 Greenfinch, Goldfinch and a Dunnock!

Monday 5 October 2009

Funny Old Morning

The plan this morning was to do some ringing at Rossall School, but when I got up at 06:10 and switched my mobile on there was a text from Phil saying he thought it was too windy. A look out of the conservatory window and the willows did indeed indicate it was breezy and we called it off. Possibly a mistake. However, as I was up I thought I would go to Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park and just put a couple of nets up and try tape, or should I say MP3, luring a few species down.

The ringing was fairly successful in that I ringed 13 birds including single Robin and Reed Bunting, 9 Goldfinches and 2 Reed Warblers. The Reed Warblers were scrutinised hard just to be on the safe side and they were indeed Reed Warblers. I also retrapped one each of Wren, Blue Tit and Dunnock.

It was obvious that there was some vis and I did wonder how much better it would be on the coast and what we might have ringed at Rossall. First up were Grey Wags and I had 9 go south during the morning. When you are trying to ring and bird at the same time you miss an awful lot of what is going over so the totals mentioned here are absolute minimums and there was probably a great deal more.

Meadow Pipits were going over and I had 50 in total. I did try tape luring the Mipits bet they weren't interested in the MP3 Mipit singing next to my mist nets. Alba Wags numbered 22 and 1,101 Pink-footed moved around. I say 'moved around' because some were definitely arriving from the north and heading south and others, particularly early on, looked as though they were coming from a roost on the Wyre.

A few Chaffinch and Skylark went over, and I had 6 agitated calling Reed Buntings. Other birds on the move were 13 Starlings, 10 Woodpigeons, 2 Siskins and a 55 Knots that rocketed south on 'whistling' wings.

Off passage Goldfinch and Linnets moved around the site and I had 59 and 34 of each. Raptors were represented by a thermalling Sparrowhawk and a hovering Kestrel. After I had packed up ringing I had a look on the pools and other than 15 Coots and 217 Herring Gulls they were fairly quiet.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Larks Ascending

What a difference a day makes! Up as usual before dawn and the weather was completely different from yesterday, although this wasn't a surprise as the forecast had suggested this. I needed to put some food down at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss and went there first thing. In fact it was actually calm enough to put nets up!

As soon as I started to walk down the hedge with my bucket of seed I had Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow calling. I only had the one Reed Bunting down the hedge to the feeding station but in total on my walk round I recorded another four in the plantation. At the feeding station itself I flushed 51 Tree Sparrows from the hedge. This is quite an increase from last time, so I imagine it won't take long now for the numbers to really build up. I did have another two Tree Sparrows on my walk in the hedges along the lane adjacent to Curlew Wood.

After I did a bit of trimming of the hedge in preparation for a forthcoming ringing session, I set off walking north along the '97' hedge. The first birds I had were Skylarks calling over head. It is sometimes difficult sorting the Skylarks out here in terms of whether they are just local birds moving around or weather they are genuine migrants moving some distance. Today they fell into the latter category as the majority of them seemed to arrive very high and slowly move off south or west. In total I counted 164 as I walked round and to be honest I probably missed a few.

I thought I was going to have a few Pink-footed Geese moving this morning as early on I had a skein of 24 go south and then another than 10 birds that headed northwest and that was it! A few Chaffinch were on the move. I could hear flight calls overhead but couldn't see them. Mind you when I say a few it probably was just a few because they only just scraped into double figures.

Nine Swallows went south and Ian and I were talking about Swallows a few days ago saying that even up here in the north there is really only four months maximum that you don't expect to see Swallow these days, as you always have your first ones in March now as opposed to April when I was a lad!

Shortly after the Swallows I had a flock of high-flying Lapwings head west and a single Jay going south. There was a little Woodpigeon movement this morning and I had 21 heading high to the southwest. Other bits of vis included a single Snipe and Siskin south, and the morning was finished off by a Kestrel and Great Spotted Woodpecker close to the car at Curlew Wood.

Saturday 3 October 2009


The above word sums up the day that I had at Rossall Point as I had an unbelievable days sea watching. Ian and I had discussed today's potential yesterday as the met office had said that a rapidly moving depression would track east over northern England with gale force westerly winds, and they weren't wrong! Ian and I arrived at Rossall Point at first light with flasks of coffee and bags of optimism as we knew we were in for a long session, but I didn't realise I would still be standing there 8 hours later.

Rossall - early morning

As always the first birds I recorded were the 107 Oystercatchers that were struggling to stand on the beach, let alone feed! They were sharply followed by the first of the Kittiwakes for the day and we had 2 battling their way west along the tide line. We had a few more later, but my day total didn't exceed 9. All moving west, in other words heading out of Morecambe Bay and trying to make their way to the open sea.

Eiders and Common Scoters certainly featured, but there were only 4 Eiders but 354 Common Scoters. There could have been more Common Scoters as at times it was very difficult to count them. If a ferry passed then a number would take off from the surface, but as soon as they landed they disappeared behind the wave troughs.

One of the first goodies we had was a juvenile Black Tern that was trying its best to head out of the bay, but it was at best stationary, and worse actually moving backwards though it was flying forward! Eventually it managed to battle it's way round 'the point'.

Next up was a cracking Fulmar that was surprisingly struggling against the wind as well. I say surprisingly because often Fulmars can cope with these conditions well. The further it flew left the closer it got to us and we had stonking views of it 'shearing' through the swell. After this bird we had another two go past.

We had a few Gannets, but only six throughout the whole day. The stars of the day were undoubtedly the Leach's Petrels and we had our first bird at 10:45 on the in-coming tide. This was then followed by a second at 10:55 and then all passage stopped as a squall swept through.

Squall conditions

After the squall cleared 2 Leach's Petrels came past very close in giving absolutely fantastic views and this opened the flood gates for a further 23 Leach's to fly past, making the total 26 in all. Most of these birds were exceptionally close, including one bird over the shingle beach!

Two Red-throated Divers battled west and a handful of Guillemots moved west with some of them being blown back into the bay. We only had four Manx Shearwaters and two of these gave stunning views as they passed close in just over the surf!

Then we had the Skuas, and boy did we have some awesome views of Bonxie and Arctic, and we also had a probable Long-tailed Skua. In fact there could have been as many as three Long-taileds!; more of that in a minute.

We had 7 Bonxies; an early single and then unbelievably two flocks of three! The two flocks of three passed really close and afforded stonking views! Apologies for my liberal use of the word stonking, I just like it and think it describes stunning views of birds admirably. We also had three dark morph Arctic Skuas with one that flew along the surf with it's wing tips brushing our faces as it went past. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but it gives you an idea of how close it was!

Then there was the possible/probable/mystery skuas/Long-tailed Skuas! I picked up three skuas line astern along way to the left, and this didn't leave much time to sort them out before they disappeared from view behind the line of the Coastguard's Tower. I called them out and as I did the rear bird pulled up, banked and revealed full tail streamers! "Long-tailed Skua; adult" I shouted and then it vanished! Pandemonium set in and Ian, Paul, Mark and I were running round like headless chickens trying to get on them. Ian ran round the front of the Coastguard's Tower and managed to briefly get on one that looked like Long-tailed on jizz, but he was exposed to the teeth of gale and couldn't keep his pod and scope still. So was there one, three or indeed any Long-tailed Skuas. I did see what looked like an adult dark morph Long-tailed Skua, but only for a split second, and you know what its like when you can't get on the bird again, you start to doubt yourself. So, that's one or three that got away!

The last goodie of the day was a single Little Tern (and a very late date) that flew west. I would like to say that we had cracking views of it as it flew virtually over our heads, but unfortunately it was a long way out.

I have included below another couple of yanks in the hand from my good mate Nigel to brighten the page up and to give you some birds to look at even though they are totally unconnected with today!

Red-eyed Vireo

Cedar Waxwing

Thursday 1 October 2009

Clear Skies and Northerlies Open the Flood Gates

At last some half decent weather and some half decent birds; although Ian and I didn't think so as we got out of our cars at the car park at Rossall Point at first light. You can usually tell when it is going to be good for vis at Rossall because as soon as you get out of the car you can hear the tseep-tseep of Meadow Pipits, but this morning there was silence. We walked along the top of the dunes and silence. As the wind was 15 mph NNW the only shelter we could get was by standing in front of the Coastguard's Tower facing due north. I think the wind hits the front of the tower and gets deflected up and it feels more sheltered. Well, that's the explanation Peter gave me later in the morning!

The view from Rossall this morning

After a while the vis started to slowly pick up. However, it was frustrating stood in front of the Coastguard's Tower because if you didn't get on to something straight away it would disappear behind the tower, over the dunes and out of view. As the wind dropped later in the morning and it warmed up a bit it was possible to stand on top of the dunes and observe from there. This gives a 360 degree view out to sea, east and west along the coast and south over the golf course.

First passerines moving were 3 Grey Wagtails that headed south and the southerly movement would be a feature of the morning. Often at Rossall birds are moving either west or east (autumn/spring) following the geography of the coast, but today birds were arriving high from the north and heading south.

As it warmed up there was a steady stream of Mipits south in ones and twos and it was a surprise to look round onto the golf course to see a Meadow Pipit carpet! Birds were obviously crossing the bay, dropping on to the fairways and greens to feed and then heading south. When I turned round to look onto the golf course again a little while later most of the Pipits had gone. In all just over 250 birds headed south.

Alba Wagtails were also on the move and birds could be picked up at sea as they made their way to the coast. In total we had about 20 Albas go through. I had my first autumn Redpolls as 2 headed high west and 22 Swallows trickled west also. It was interesting watching the antics of the carrion Crows this morning. I had 29 moving and at first they seemed to want to head north across the bay. I assumed that this was because of the wind direction and they wanted to move into the wind which meant heading north. A party of 20 started to head out, battling against the wind but when they were only a couple of hundred of metres out they turned and headed west along the shore. Skylarks were on the move this morning as well and I had 16 birds head south including a group of 12 that I picked up at sea and watched until they made land fall.

Another autumn first for me was a single Rock Pipit that I had go east and the only other vis mig passerine I had was a calling Chaffinch. Out on the sea I had 15 Eiders and 28 Cormorants. In the crisp light some of the Cormorants that dropped on to the sea looked fantastic and it was a nice change to look at these prehistoric looking birds with renewed interest. Talking of cracking views in crisp light; some of the Red-throats this morning were giving stonking views. They were flying past close in and it was possible to pick up plumage differences between the birds. In total we had a t least 13. Superb!

Three Red-breasted mergansers headed east into the bay and these were joined by only 25 Common Scoters this morning plus a couple of Great Crested Grebes and 4 Auk sp. One of the best birds we had were a group of 4 pale-bellied Brent Geese that flew west along the tide line giving crippling views as they went past. Presumably these birds had overshot their wintering grounds on Strangford Lough or perhaps they had been mixed up with some Pink-feet and found themselves in Lancashire!

One of the highlights of the morning were the number of Pink-footed Geese that were arriving. In total we had 2,517 come in from the north, but it wasn't the numbers that were impressive, it was the sheer spectacle of migration in action. We had birds coming in from the sea, flying west out at sea and skeins of Geese coming over the Lakeland fells. Truly a fantastic spectacle. Amongst the last skein we looked at as we left the point was a single Barnacle Goose. Three species of wild goose in one morning!

There were no grounded birds at all, but there were certainly some 'off passage' birds roaming around including 47 Linnets, 80 Greenfinch and a pair of Stonechat in the dunes.

Unfortunately I don't have any piccies of anything this morning so have included for your delectation a picture of a couple of yanks, or in this case Canadians! My good friend Nigel in Ontario sent me the pictures below of juvenile Purple Finch and Blue-headed Vireo. It is unusual for Nigel to go 'dicky bird' ringing as he calls it as he is usually grappling with large raptors that would have UK ringers cowering in fear! Anyway, I am glad he has done some 'dicky bird' ringing this autumn as it means he has been able to send me some cracking shots! Thanks Nigel!

Blue-headed Vireo

Purple Finch - juv.