Monday 30 November 2009

Cold Northerly

It was bitterly cold this morning, mind you it is the end of November so I suppose it should be. It was one of those 'other days' again so I had to go to Rawcliffe Moss to feed the Tree Sparrows. As it was such a cracking morning I planned to have a walk round after 'feeding time' and that's exactly what I did.

Walking down the feeding station hedge a number of Fieldfares were feeding on the remaining hawthorn berries and counting up I had 42 altogether on my walk round. At the feeding station there is plenty of soft fruit that I have put out, so hopefully when the berries go the Fieldfares will take to feeding there.

There were a number of Chaffinches around this morning mainly in two areas; the feeding station and the field 'not in agricultural use' behind the badger set. The birds at the feeding station were obviously feeding on the seed that I had put down but in the field behind the badger set I am not sure what they were feeding on exactly. At the feeding station there were 25 birds and at the badger set 43, but on my walk round I had a grand total of 86.

Six Reed Buntings were present this morning but they were comprised of single birds alongside wet ditches in various places on the farm. Woodpigeons numbered 171, but this was nothing in comparison to the 3,500 that I had recently. As I was putting the seed down, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small raptor flying low rapidly towards Curlew Wood. I got my bins on it and I could see that it was a male Merlin. It pulled up and perched up in one of the trees looking at me. It stayed there for a few minutes and then headed back from where it had come.

Pulli male Merlin. Look at those eyes!

Tree Sparrows yet again hit another peak for the winter with a total of 268 this morning. When flushed they fly across to a hedge that runs up to Curlew Wood that is opposite the feeding station. If I had brought my scope with me this morning I might have got a half decent shot of them in the field as the light was fantastic. Maybe 'half decent' was a bit optimistic. However, you will have to make do with a picture of the hedge that they fly to!

There were also good numbers of Blackbirds and Blue Tits around this morning and I had 23 and 18 respectfully. Ten of the Blackbirds were in the hedge with the Fieldfares and the rest were scattered around the farm. Talking of thrushes I also had five Redwings in the plantation and four Song Thrushes along the '97' hedge.

I then headed up towards the plantation and past the 'L' wood; so called because of its L shape! As I passed the L wood I noticed that the shooters had cut their ride in it. Last winter I walked this regularly and sometimes flushed up to three Woodcocks. I had a walk today, but unfortunately not a single Woodcock.

Inside the L wood

As I expected the plantation was very quiet with 15-20 Godlfinch being the only birds of note. I stood and watched the Goldfinch feeding for a while as they delicately picked seeds from the alder catkins.

The L Wood from the north

The L Wood from the south

Inside the plantation

It was then back towards the car and the rest of my walk was fairly quiet with five Skylarks, three Meadow Pipits and two Corn Buntings.

On my way home I took a slight detour to Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park. In fact I nearly gave todays blog the title of 'why they don't they take it home?' Have a look at the disgusting picture below and you will see exactly what I mean. Disgusting, dirty, lazy bar stools!

Four Reed Buntings called from various parts of the reedbeds and I had a flock of five perched in a hawthorn on the edge of Fleetwood Marsh. On the pools the widlfowl numbers were similar to a couple of days ago with 33 Coots, 16 Tufted Ducks, three male Pochards, four Shovelers and 16 Mallards. A number of Gulls bathed on the pools but I couldn't pick anything unusual out from the 34 Herring Gulls, seven Great Black-backed Gulls and 110 Black-heads.

I had a walk to Fleetwood Marsh in the hope that there might be an odd Twite knocking about, but other than three Linnets there was absolutely nothing.

Fleetwood Marsh

Saturday 28 November 2009

They Got It Right

I was hoping they wouldn't, but the weathermen got it right for this morning. I only had a couple of hours to go birding from first light this morning as I had a nephew arriving from South Wales mid-morning. The forecast was for rain for a couple of hours from about 0600 onwards and then it was forecast to clear. I set my alarm for 0700 hoping that the weathermen would have got the timing wrong as usual and I would manage a couple of hours birding before the rain came in. It wasn't to be; as the alarm sprung into life I could hear the rain on the conservatory roof.

When I got up an hour later it was still raining but within an hour of that it stopped and as it was calm I put up an eighteen foot net up in the garden for a couple of hours. On my garden's standards I did okay ringing 10 new birds and retrapping two as follows:

Goldfinch - 4/0
Great Tit - 2/0
Blue Tit - 2/0
Starling - 2/0
Dunnock - 0/2

The forecast at the moment is for it to be dry in the morning with a 12-14 mph northerly wind. Probably too windy for birding, but I should get out birding, I hope!

Friday 27 November 2009

A Change Of Scene

I have to warn you that I am going to have a rant shortly about f*cking dog walkers and their dogs at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park! Anyway, more of that in a moment. It wasn't really a change of scene this morning because Rossall Point is one of my local patches, but it certainly felt like that as I hadn't been there for a while.

As I pulled into the car park I could see Ian walking along the top of the dunes. By the time I had caught up with him at the Coastguards Tower he had been seawatching for about three or four minutes and had a Bonxie fly west just before I got there! I set up next to Ian and started to watch but it was fairly quiet. Nine Eiders, single Kittiwake, 14 Common Scoters, Great Crested Grebe and two Red-breasted Mergansers and that was it!

A few waders came back to feed on the falling tide including 140 Oystercatchers, 330 Knots and 30 Turnstone. As we were seawatching Barry joined us and shortly afterwards Ian had to leave. The only birds Barry and I had after Ian left was a flock of 15 Whooper Swans that flew west over the golf course.

There were literally hundreds if not thousands of Gulls on the beach all spread out from Cleveleys to Fleetwood, feeding presumably on food washed ashore by the recent gales, like star fish for example. We had a scan through the Gulls but couldn't locate the adult Glaucous or Yellow-legged Gulls that Ian had seen yesterday. I do emphasise the word 'scan' and not 'grill' as there were just far too many for me to grill.

I then moved onto Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park and this is where I had a minor altercation with a dog walker. Anyway, before more on that, below are some serene pictures of the Nature Park.

Main Pool

Causeway Between the Pools

Shallow Pool

Views Towards Bowland

I had a look on the main and shallow pools and had three Mute Swans, 27 Coots, four Shovelers, two Pochards, 13 Tufted Ducks and 10 Mallards. I then went to have a look on the artificial pools as the wildfowl can be close and there are good opportunities to photograph them as well as Gulls and the picture below shows what greeted me!

Two large f*cking dogs chasing the Mute Swans across the pool and being encouraged by their halfwit owners! I photographed their unruly hounds and made sure that they got an eyeful of me scoping them.

Anyway I calmed down, a bit, and they started to walk round the pool towards me after getting their mutts out of the water. I had decided that I wouldn't speak to them as there was no way I could be courteous and hoped that they didn't speak to me as that would be 'red rag to a bull'. Can you imagine my amazement when one of the owners (bloke) said to me "have you seen anything interesting?" I was apoplectic and replied "I might have done if your f*cking dogs weren't swimming around the pool". I then went on to tell them in no uncertain terms that it wasn't a dog swimming pool and it was a nature park not a f*cking dog park. Anyway, they didn't reply (wise move on their behalf), walked off and I tried to photograph the Black-heads on the pool.

I called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss this afternoon and the flood water was back with a vengeance. Between Fleetwood and the Moss I had called at home and left my camera behind so I couldn't take any pictures of the flooding. If you think back to the pictures I showed last week, well it was twice as bad today, in fact it was like one large lake that swept across both sides of the road. I picked up the seed and managed to drive through the flood to the track to the feeding station that was soggy, muddy, but not under water.

As I walked down the track along the hedge a few thrushes, nine Blackbirds and three Fieldfares, flew along in front of me and I had cracking views of two calling Buzzards soaring on a week thermal in the sunshine. At the feeding station 195 Tree Sparrows were present with a single Reed Bunting and only a handful of Chaffinches. Back at the barn there were 20 House Sparrows in the hedge opposite the buildings.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Storm Sparrows

I think Storm Sparrow should be a new local name given to the Tree Sparrows that are found on the Fylde as they regularly have to put up with storm conditions when feeding and this morning was no exception. As I battled my way out of the car against the force 7 south-southwesterly wind I didn't expect to see much as I headed down the track towards the feeding station. However I was quite surprised at the number of Tree Sparrows and amazingly I was able to count 217 along with 25 Chaffinch. But that was it, no walk round today, straight back to the car and home.

The short drive home wasn't as straight forward as I thought it would be because as I passed the turning to Rawcliffe Hall I was greeted with the above across the road! I had to do an about turn and go home via the toll bridge at Cartford. Not too much out of my way but it does cost £0.40 to cross!

It's a pity the weather isn't like it was on this date in 1995 when we were still ringing (ringing what's that?) at Clifton Hall. Clifton Hall is a large house with wooded grounds close to the village of Clifton, to the west of Preston. We ringed there from 1983 until about 2000 when the hall was sold. There was a long drive from the main road up and past the house with rhododendron along both sides. We used to put mist nets up in front of the 'rhodies' to catch roosting finches and thrushes and the 25th November 1995 was no exception.

On this particular occasion we had almost complete cloud cover with a light southwesterly wind; perfect conditions for ringing. We arrived early at 11:00 a.m. and put the nets up at the top end of the drive. We used to put quite a length of net up and on this day we probably put up eight nets totalling 440 feet. Once the nets were up we had a walk round and we had a walk through the woodland at the north end of the site as this was often an area where we could flush one or two Woodcocks and today we flushed three. One of these birds dived straight into a net and I ringed a cracking juvenile bird.

Talking of Woodcocks, an adult male that we ringed here on 9th February 1991 was shot near Gorky, Moscow on 14th April 1992! I think to date this is the easternmost recovery of a British ringed Woodcock. It just gives you an idea where some of those birds that you flush on a winter woodland walk come from. From the date, it is possible that this bird was even travelling further east. Astounding!

Anyway, back to our walk round Clifton. We had the usual Nuthatch and Grey Wagtail feeding along the ditch and the Peregrine in late afternoon. Peregrine is a regular here in the afternoon and I assume that it/they come to catch some supper in the form of a Redwing or two. Sparrowhawk is another regular raptor and again it will be making use of the glut of birds roosting for a last feed.

Once we started catching roosting birds it was always difficult trying to count the birds coming in to roost and the counts are always a huge under-estimate in my opinion. My notebook for this day shows 70 Redwings and 200 Chaffinch. I suspect that you could multiply these counts by at least three or four. We ringed a total of 79 birds that included 2 Goldcrests, the already mentioned Woodcock, 7 Blackbirds, 10 Blue Tits, female Blackcap (a winter regular both here and Singleton Hall), 56 Chaffinch and a single Redwing. In addition to the 79 birds ringed we retrapped a further 15.

Those were the days!

Monday 23 November 2009

More Copper Heads

You know the score by now; every other day I am going to post something about feeding Tree Sparrows on Rawcliffe Moss and today was that 'other day'! Driving down the track towards the feeding station I could see that the flood water had reduced even more and was no longer attractive to Gulls and Lapwings, but of course it's good news for Phillip as he can get his sheep back on there soon.

As soon as I got out of the car I could see a flock of 300 Lapwing in the air with a number of Starlings. Most probably a raptor, and very likely to be the Peregrine that is hanging around at the moment, but I couldn't see anything. At the feeding station it was pleasing to note that the Tree Sparrow numbers had increased again to 237 with at least 12 Chaffinches as supporting cast.

As I flushed the Tree Sparrows whilst putting the seed down I could hear a Corn Bunting calling and sure enough a single bird was flying away from the hedge. All we need now is some decent weather so we can have an attempt at ringing here. Walking back along the hedge towards my car I pushed two Yellowhammers from the hedge. They had probably been hanging round the Pheasant feeder as usual.

If you remember I showed a couple of pictures in the hand of an adult female Coopers Hawk that my good mate Nigel sent me. He has now sent me a picture of an adult male Sharp-shinned Hawk in the hand (see below) and it is amazing how small it is. And we think a male Sparrowhawk is small!

I read a recent article in the 'Latest News' from Bird Studies Canada about some new world species having a second breeding season on their way south in Mexico! "Researchers studying migratory songbirds on stopover in the lowland thorn forests of coastal western Mexico in three consecutive summers (2005-2007) have documented a second breeding season during these birds’ annual cycle. This discovery – a first for New World migrants on southward migration – was observed in five species: the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Orchard Oriole, Hooded Oriole, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Cassin’s Vireo. There was evidence that the birds had already bred earlier in the year at their known breeding territories farther north in Canada and the U.S., before breeding again in Mexico on their way to their southern wintering grounds in Central and South America.

The paper “Migratory Double Breeding in Neotropical Migrant Birds” was co-authored by the University of Washington’s Sievert Rohwer and Vanya Rohwer, and Keith Hobson of Environment Canada (and Chair of Bird Studies Canada’s National Science Advisory Council). The article provides evidence of dual breeding ranges for these birds, and considers implications for the conservation of these species". Interesting!

Sunday 22 November 2009


That's all I have to report today. The weather was so awful this morning when I got up, I didn't bother venturing forth outdoors at all, except to set a drop trap in my garden. With the trap baited with copious amounts of bird cake all I had to do was wait for the birds to come in, and they did. They descended on to the ground feeder enmasse and a few ventured into the trap. I pulled, and I had five Starlings together. Unfortunately one escaped as I extracted the others. I only had one attempt at catching them and let them feed in peace for the rest of the day. Mind you I am not sure I could handle ringing any more than four anyway!

They are beautiful birds (honestly) as the pictures below show with great variation in their plumage. The problem is they shriek and crap all over the place! In fact Starlings are capable of squirting excrement probably at least three feet vertically, as my trainer Mark, many years ago, found out to his cost! He was ringing a Starling and talking to his fellow ringers at the same time, when the bird he was ringing crapped straight up into the back of his mouth. Yuck!

On this day in 1986 the weather was a lot better and more in keeping with the time of the year. At first light I found myself perched on the shingle bank at Coastguards, Cley in north Norfolk. At this time I lived in Norfolk and the north Norfolk coast was my stomping ground. It was a bright and cold day with a moderate southwesterly wind and the sea watch was pretty poor due to the wind direction. When I say poor, it was more like dire, with single Gannet and Red-throated Diver; although three Long-tailed Duck's east was nice!

I then moved on to Holkham Hall hoping for Hawfinch, but all I had was a single Nuthatch. Mind you I was fairly pleased with the Nuthatch because although they were common in Norfolk, on the Fylde they were still very rare then. It was then onto Titchwell and I walked across the reserve and salt marshes to the shore to look for Snow Buntings and do a little more sea watching. I came up trumps with the Snow Buntings and had a nice flock of 38, but the sea watching was slow with 12 Common Scoters and 144 Brent Geese. It was then back home to thaw out my frozen hands and feet. I can't remember the last time I had to thaw myself out after birding!

Saturday 21 November 2009

At last... was dry enough to get out, just, but I was due to feed my ravenous Tree Sparrows, again! I pulled up at the barn where the feeding bins are located on Rawcliffe Moss and collected two buckets of seed. Towards Turnover Hall farm I could see some white blobs and once I had 'binned' them I could see that they were four Whooper Swans. As I got in my car a Grey Wag dropped in to feed briefly around 'tailings' mountain before being flushed by a vehicle coming along the track.

A great deal of the flood water had subsided compared to a couple of days ago, but water levels in the ditches were still high.

There was still some flood water on the field directly west of the track and 350 Black-headed Gulls were taking the opportunity to feed and bathe. I grilled them as best as you can with a pair of 10 x 40 bins, but there were no Meds amongst them. There were, however, 24 Lapwings and seven Common Gulls.

Starlings were also feeding on the wet pastures and at this locality I had 700 birds, but by the end of my hours walk round I had seen 1,712 in various locations. I also had my largest number of Woodpigeons so far this autumn/winter made all the more obvious by the 'guns' on Turnover Hall making everything within a mile radius 'flighty'. In all I had 3,102 nervous Woodpigeons flying back and forth across the mossland.

A few Pink-feet went over, 70 in all, and again today Tree Sparrows reached their highest numbers for winter so far at 219. Mixed amongst them were the usual Chaffinch, about 25 in total, but this total could have been higher. As I was putting the food out, two Swans came flying towards me and I thought they were going to be Whoopers, but I heard their 'singing' wings and two Mutes came over the hedge low and landed on the flood behind the hedge. In fact, the same flood that held 13 Whoopers a couple of days before.

I decided to have a walk along the '97' hedge and on to the plantation. Along the '97' hedge I had three Song Thrushes and 37 Fieldfares feeding on hawthorn berries in a lone hawthorn just beyond the pond. Further up the field I pushed four Roe Deer from the hedge and these in turn flushed five Snipe as they bounced across the adjacent stubble field.

Continuing along the hedge five Redwing went over and a single Reed Bunting called form near the Badger set. On the top fields I only had four Skylarks get up with a single Meadow Pipit. A walk through the plantation didn't reveal very much other than six Goldfinch and some calling Long-tailed Tits that I couldn't get on to.

I walked through the plantation and out on to the northern side and had a tight flock of about 100 wheeling Jackdaws. They were behaving as though a predator was about and then the predator appeared in the form of a Peregrine. It wasn't interested in the Jackdaws, but they weren't going to take any chances.

It was at this point that it started to rain and I hurriedly made my way back to the car. As you know I have a penchant for North American birds and my mate Nigel sent me a few pictures of an adult female Cooper's hawk that he caught and ringed recently. In North America, or should I say in southern Ontario, there are two fairly common Accipiters, Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks. Sharp-shinned or Sharpies as they are known are smaller than our Sparrowhawk and Cooper's are bigger, somewhere between Sparrowhawk and Goshawk. Nevertheless, I imagine the Cooper's below was quite a handful!

Thursday 19 November 2009

Wet And Windy

Another day and more wind and rain. As usual I had to feed my ravenous throng of Tree Sparrows and at lunchtime I nipped out to give them their two buckets of seed. Over the past couple of days a great deal of water has fallen from the skies! On the way to the farm I stopped to take a few pictures of the River Wyre as follows.

River Wyre - Town End, looking downstream

River Wyre at Cartford looking downstream

River Wyre at Cartford looking upstream

Once I got on to the Moss House I could see that the fields surrounding the feeding station were flooded again. As I walked out of the barn with my two buckets of seed I could see some white shapes in the distance towards the track and I thought to myself "Whoopers". I lifted my bins and there were 13 Whooper Swans feeding on a flood adjacent to the feeding station hedge. I drove a little further down the road and had another look at them. As I was stopped looking at the Whoopers a little juvenile male Sparrowhawk shot along the field and over the hedge just in front of me. Magic!

I pulled on to the track and I could see that the Whoopers were quite close so I took a few snaps with my camera. They're record shots at best, but you can tell that they're Whoopers. Can't you?

Looking west at the large field I could see that this was quite flooded also and then a couple of Buzzards battling their way left into the wind caught my attention. The rear bird was carrying what looked like a rat! I could see that it was a large mammal with it's tail hanging down. In the end carrying the rat got too much for the Buzzard and it dropped on to a stubble field to the west of the wet one. Unfortunately I couldn't see whether it started to eat the rat, or whether it was just having a rest. The other bird didn't stop, but carried on battling against the wind.

I set off down the track with my two buckets of seed and because of the windy conditions it was very difficult to count anything as everything was sticking close to the hedge. I estimated about 15-20 Chaffinch and 180 Tree Sparrows, but there could easily have been more than this.

As I approached the bottom of the hedge 30 Fieldfares were flying south low over the field. I imagine that they would have been feeding on invertebrates brought to the surface by flooding. Whatever they were doing it was nice to see them as they have been a bit scarce over here this autumn.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

More Of The Same

When is this bloody weather going to end? I asked myself this at lunchtime and checked the forecast and it is going to remain wet and westerly until at least Saturday (21st)! At the moment I just feel, no, know that I'm on a birding tread mill. So once again it was off to my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss to feed again today. Now, don't get me wrong I enjoy running the feeding station and it provides food to Lancashire's largest flock of wintering Tree Sparrows, but it would be good to get out somewhere else on the days that I don't have to feed.

When I arrived at the feeding station this morning I could see Phil's vehicle parked on the track. I walked along the hedgerow and put two buckets of seed down. Tree Sparrows were up by three birds to 210, which is the highest count so far this winter. I wonder if they will top 300 like they did last winter? With the Tree Sparrows were perhaps 15 Chaffinch and 3-4 Blackbirds moved down the hedge in front of me.

As I got back to the car Phil arrived back from his walk. He had been down the track shortly before me so it was interesting how soon the Tree Sparrows returned to feed after being disturbed. We both lamented the current weather situation and then it was off to work for me.

Now I am going to finish with a picture of a 'foxy' little bird, quite literally a Fox Sparrow, from my mate Nigel in Canada.

Sunday 15 November 2009

Some might call it desperation...

...and others might call it science and dedication! Despite not getting to bed until 1.00 a.m. this morning I still set my alarm for 06:30, got up, listened as the "rain auditioned at my window" (Marillion reference there!) and then went back to bed. When I got up again a couple of hours later it was still raining, a carbon copy of yesterday.

'Her indoors', or should I say Gail, had made a bird cake last week and I had been putting it out in the garden on the ground feeder and in a disabled drop trap to tempt a few Starlings in. Today I decided to set the drop trap and see if I could ring a few Starlings. "You must have been desperate" I can hear some of you shout! Anyway, an hour or two later not a single Starling was ringed!

This afternoon between the showers I went to Rawcliffe Moss to feed the Tree Sparrows and I was hoping to have a walk round between the showers and do a bit of birding. Typically as I set off down the track the heavens opened and that put paid to my afternoons birding! Just like on Friday there were a good number of Tree Sparrows at the feeding station and I counted 207, exactly the same as Friday. There didn't seem quite as many Chaffinches, but some of these could have already set off to their roost, and Blackbirds were similar with ten along the hedge. Only one Yellowhammer this afternoon, but I did have six Corn Buntings feeding on spilt grain on the concrete apron in front of the farm buildings.

I am not sure whether I will get out much in the week as the weather looks absolutely atrocious, but I will try my best.

I haven't any relevant pictures to illustrate today's blog so below is a picture of a Lincoln Sparrow that I ringed at Tommy Thompson Park Bird Research Station in Toronto in 2005. Quite a dull bird you might think, but it does have some nice subtle plumage markings.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Too Wet

In case you were wondering whether I got out this morning; I didn't. I did set my alarm as I said for 06:30, but it was lashing it down, so it was back to bed for a lie in. As I write this it is still raining, so frustratingly I haven't been out. The problem with my local patch is that there aren't any sites on reserves with hides or sites where you can watch from the car. Now I don't mind birding in the rain if there is a chance of some grounded migrants, in fact I love it, but at this time of year all you do is get wet and see knob all.

At the moment the forecast is very similar for tomorrow, but as always I'll set my alarm and have a look even though it will be a late night tonight for me. Dedication! Or should that be foolishness!

For a splash of colour on a grey day, below is a picture of a Kingfisher I took in the hand in 2006.

Friday 13 November 2009

Afternoon Feed

I called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss to feed the ravenous hordes of Tree Sparrows this afternoon. As I collected a bucket of seed from the barn three Whooper Swans flew past closely followed by a Kestrel. That's a nice start I thought. It was a pleasant afternoon and I was looking forward to a walk round.

On to the track to put the food down and I had 8 Blackbirds in the hedge but no other Thrushes. The Blackbirds were feeding on the Hawthorn berries, but I have put quite a lot of soft fruit down so as soon as the berries go there will be other food for them.

Straight away I could see that the numbers of Tree Sparrows and Chaffinch had increased. A count/guestimate as I walked down the track revealed 207 Tree Sparrows and 25 Chaffinch. Also at the feeding station were 3 Yellowhammers. Normally I don't get them feeding at the feeding station until after Christmas, but they are often present along the hedge hanging round one of the Pheasant feeders.

As I turned to head up the 97 hedge I had a Peregrine go over carrying prey and as I got to the 'top' fields 8 Skylarks got off the stubble and I flushed a single Corn Bunting. I was going to head up to the plantation but I could see that Phillip (the farmer) and his lads were working up there. They were fencing the west side of the plantation off so they could put some sheep in the field next to it and prevent them from straying into the plantation.

I then headed south along the track and back towards my car. Not much along here other than a party of 17 Lapwings going over and 8 Long-tailed Tits near Curlew Wood. On the receding floods 35 Black-headed Gulls fed alongside 4 Common Gulls. Aren't Common Gulls cracking birds?

On my way home I stopped off at Town End to have a look on the river, hoping for a few Whoopers on the grazing marsh or a Goosander on the river, but all I had were four Mute Swans and nineteen Canada Geese.

I'm not sure what to do tomorrow as there is a morning tide but the wind direction and strength, strong SSE, is all wrong for a sea watch. I suppose I'll set my alarm and have a look.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Mid-week Update

Well I say mid-week update, but I haven't got much to report other than a few 'padders'. Padders, now that's a word I haven't used for a while. I wonder if it is still used in twitcher's parlance?

I haven't had much at home this week, well because I have been at work. You know what it's like, out before light and home after dark! The other morning I noticed that the House Sparrows still liked to spend time in the hawthorn in my front garden and I had 6 as I got in my car to go to work. Mentioning House Sparrows at all is a sign of the times. As you all know they used to be very common and I can remember a time that the BTO would frown upon us if we ringed too many. Back in the early 80s the ringing group used to catch Greenfinches in a roost on the island at Fleetwood Marine Lake and with the Greenfinches roosted House Sparrows. Can you believe it that we used to ring the Greenfinches and chuck any House Sparrows that we caught! In fact I was looking at the notes section of some old field sheets recently and a member of the group wrote "desperate Eaves ringed a House Sparrow, sensible Slade threw one a way"! Now, who was the sensible one!

My office feeders have been busy with Nuthatch and Coalt Tit all week and on Monday I could hear that 2009 autumn rarity, Goldcrest, calling from the woodland! Pink-footed Geese have been a feature every morning and I have had birds going over heading south to feeding grounds from their Morecambe Bay/River Wyre roosts.

I called at Moss House Farm yesterday to top-up the feeding station, but it was virtually dark when I called so obviously I didn't have too much. In fact all I had were a calling male and female Tawny Owl. I did note that the flood waters had receded a little, but the fields were still very wet.

Sunday 8 November 2009

The weather...

...was absolutely awful this morning, well it was shortly after I had put a couple of nets up at the feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss. The forecast last night from numerous weather websites stated that it would be raining until about midnight and then it would clear and the wind would be a light (5 mph-ish) northeasterly. Wrong! I arranged to meet Craig at the feeding station at 0630 to put a couple of nets up and hopefully ring a good number of Tree Sparrows.

As usual I couldn't sleep and from 0400 until 0500, I watched the alarm clock go round until I decided to get up. I was there early and had both nets up by 0615, and I watched Phil and Will drive up the track to try their luck with Thrushes in the plantation. As I was putting the nets up I had a few Redwings and Snipe calling as they flew over in the darkness and Grey partridge called from the wet field behind the hedge.

Back at base camp (the cars) we had four Tawny Owls (2 males and 2 females) calling from the vicinity of Curlew Wood and Phil later informed me that they had 2 in the plantation. In the gloom we could see a Barn Owl perched on a fence post in front of one of the nets and I wondered whether it was attracted to the Redwing call that I was playing on my MP3 player. It then took off and headed north along the 97 hedge. Phil and Will had a Barn Owl in the area of the plantation, but theirs could easily have been the same or a different bird.

Up until now the weather was okay, if a little breezy, but then it started to rain and it never really stopped from then onwards until we took the nets down. As the day dawned we could see just how wet the fields were. I have included two pictures of the same field below; one taken yesterday and the other today. Boy was it wet!



Two Buzzards flew along the side of Curlew Wood and one landed in the trees as the other continued west. Other raptors during the morning were a Kestrel and a juv male Sparrowhawk that shot low along the hedge, before seeing us at the last minute and flipping up and over the hedge, and back the way it came.

It was very difficult to estimate the numbers of birds using the feeding station as we did ring a few birds and we were also keeping a close eye on the weather and the nets. In my notebook I have recorded 90 Tree Sparrows, but I think that was an under-estimate, 2 Yellowhammers and single Corn Bunting. I said that we did ring a few birds and it was a few birds consisting of three Tree Sparrows, female Chaffinch and juv male Great Spotted Woodpecker. Craig was pleased as he had never ringed Great Spot before and he got off lightly as it was nice and calm in the hand!

Corn Bunt

A few wildfowl were moving a round this morning and we had 2,290 Pink-footed Geese, 24 Whooper Swans and 60 Lapwing. I know Lapwing aren't wildfowl but they fitted in here! After a couple of hours of 'shall we - shan't we' the weather got the better of us and we called it a day and took the nets down.

My notebook for 8th November 1991 reads "Desert Wheatear. Immature female, Rossall Point". And that was it! Talk about an under statement. It never ceases to amaze me when looking back at my old notebooks how sometimes I am straight to the point with very little detail and at other times I 'wax lyrical'.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Between the showers...

...I had quite a pleasant walk around Rawcliffe Moss this morning. In fact I was quite surprised at the lack of flood water as it rained heavily over night and all the fields were flooded when I was there on Thursday morning. Don't get me wrong, it was wet, but not as wet as I expected.

I called at the moss this morning to feed and also to put ropes on the net rides in readiness for the first ringing session. As always Pink-footed Geese were on the move and I had 578 go over. Down the hedge towards the feeding station 18 Chaffinch were with the 85 Tree Sparrows. The Tree Sparrows were only just arriving when I was at the feeding station hence the lower count compared with a few days ago. Presumably the bad weather had put them off from straying too far from their roost site.

A number of Skylarks were around this morning and I had 19 in total. Something was flushing all the Lapwing as I kept seeing parties getting up, but I couldn't get on to what ever was doing the flushing. In total I had 538 Lapwings flushed from the deck.

There were a few thrushes around this morning but not as many as a couple of days ago; only 1 Redwing, 2 Song Thrushes and 5 each of Blackbird and Fieldfare. As I was putting the ropes on I could see a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying down the track and periodically perching on fence posts. It worked its way down to one of my peanut feeders and fed a short while before moving off.

There is a large field to the west of where I park at the end of the track and I could see on the far side in a willow and the adjacent hawthorn hedge some large finch/bunting like birds perched up. I decided to have a walk round the field to have a look and I also thought that I might push a Reed Bunt or two along the ditch or something else out of the game cover alongside the ditch. I was right in that I pushed 5 Reed Buntings along the ditch and two Grey Partridges lifted from the game cover. As I got close to my mystery birds I could see that they were 27 stonking Corn Buntings. Nice!

Back at the car I watched seven Long-tailed Tits come out of Curlew Wood and slowly work their way along the hedge towards me and then they hopped to the next hedge and away. Fingers crossed for the weather tomorrow, and if it is okay I should be doing some ringing at the feeding station.

Murky conditions towards Bowland

Friday 6 November 2009

The Office

I didn't get time to update my blog yesterday, so what I talk about today refers to yesterday. I hope you can follow that. It will be even more amazing if I can follow that!

I suppose I am quite lucky in that 'my office' is basically all the countryside throughout Lancashire! Or perhaps, to put it more accurately, that is my metaphorical office. My true office, in terms of 'bricks and mortar' is a square box I rent in a modern building at Myerscough College. However, it does overlook some nice woodland and I have a couple of feeders on my window that attract a good range of birds. So I can be typing some relatively uninteresting report with a Nuthatch for company two feet from me! Not just Nuthatch; Coal Tit, Great Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Greenfinch, Blue Tit etc, the list goes on.

Of course Myerscough College is itself in a rural location and therefore the chances of 'bumping into' a few birds are increased. Yesterday as I got out of my car and walked across the car park towards the office block I could hear some Whooper Swans calling and looked up and there were seven birds winging their way south. Presumably just exiting a roost and on their way to a feeding area. Then a Grey Wagtail went over calling too. Maybe I should start a car to office list and see how many species I can record!

Talking of lists, I am trailing behind in the year list challenge against my colleagues. My colleague in Northumberland has recorded 135 species on company business, in that metaphoric office and I am 5 species behind on 130 in second place. The only other two entrants in the east midlands and Staffordshire are on 113 and 101 respectively.

On my way to see a client I called in at Moss House Farm to put some food down at the feeding station. A Grey Wagtail patrolled the tailing's mountain in search of invertebrates and 30 'Pink-feet' went over. There is an awful lot of water around at the moment and a number of fields here were flooded with a few species taking advantage of the glut of invertebrates that will have been forced to the surface. No camera with me today so you'll have to imagine the wet fields. 147 Lapwing fed on the drier bits within the floods and 435 Black-headed Gulls bathed and fed alongside. As time wasn't on my side I couldn't give the Black-heads a grilling to look for something a little bit more unusual. You know what I was looking for; all white wings, heavy red bill etc.

The other species taking advantage of the floods to feed and bathe were the Starlings and there was thousands of them; literally! In my notebook I have put down 6,306, but there were probably a great deal more.

Along the hedge to the feeding station a number of birds fed. Thrushes were feeding on the berries and I had 5 Fieldfares, 5 Blackbirds, 20 Redwings and single Song Thrush.

I have now started to put some soft fruit out at the feeding station for the Thrushes, including apples, pears and quince. The only problem is that it attracts Starlings. What's wrong with Starlings you might ask; they're on the red list so they are good to ring, but have you ever extracted one from a mist net? If you have you'll know exactly where I'm coming from. Far better to catch and ring them in 'drop traps'. Although, either method they still crap all over you just as much!

Numbers of Tree Sparrows had increased to 180 and they were joined by about a dozen Chaffinch and a single vocal Brambling. Definitely a few more Bramblings about this autumn. Five Corn Buntings perched on top of the hawthorns above the seed and these were the first Corn Buntings I have had at the feeding station this winter. As I walked back to my car I had a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling.

It was then off to another bit of my 'office' near Pilling. Nothing too exciting here other than a cracking Barn Owl coming out of an old stone barn and 60 Curlews feeding on a wet field. Note to self to put a box up for the Barn Owl.

And that was my day in the office yesterday.

Looking back to bonfire night in 1983, I spent a couple of days winter birding in Norfolk. My notebook back then was always more brief and to the point than it is now. The day started at Weybourne cliffs at 05:35 according to my notebook and it was dull and misty! How on earth we expected to see anything at 05:35 on a November morning I'm not sure. If my old grey matter serves me correct we were twitching a female Pied Wheatear, that disappeared the day before, but at the time we weren't to know that. We had a female Snow Bunting and that was it, but I suppose it wasn't a bad start.

We then moved on to Arnold's Marsh at Cley and unfortunately the weather hadn't improved much as it was still dull and misty. However, we did have a more respectable 80 Snow Buntings along with a female Hen Harrier and 3 Bearded Tits. We then went to Wells Wood and had stonking views of 4 males and 2 female Parrot Crossbills drinking from a pool in the car park. Awesome! There were no other records of Parrot Crossbill in Britain that year, so the consensus of opinion is that the Wells birds were birds left over from the 1982 invasion.

Back towards the Cley for the afternoon and we had a male Shorelark in a field behind the sea-wall with a Black-throated Diver and Black Guillemot on the sea. We stayed overnight and birded again the following day (6th) and we found ourselves back at Wells at 08:00, and still it was misty. We spent some time at the 'drinking' pool trying to catch up with a possible Olive-backed Pipit that was allegedly seen late the day before, when we were at Salthouse. However, the bird never got accepted and we didn't see anything other than a pair of Parrot Crossbills.

We went back to Weybourne in the vain hope that the Pied Wheatear might turn up but all we were rewarded with was a late juvenile Yellow Wagtail and a partial summer plumaged Black-throated Diver. Desperation had us back at Wells in the afternoon but by four o'clock all we had logged were 50 Brent Geese, so it was time for the long drive home.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Stair Rods

You can see that the continuing theme for this week is rain! In fact, I didn't think I would have anything to report this week, you might think that I haven't, until weekend when weather permitting I would be out again. However, I was on a nice farm near Nateby this afternoon and as I and the farmer walked round we had a few bits and pieces.

The lower portion of his land was flooded and looking through the 'stair rods' that were hurtling to earth in great number and velocity we had 14 Whooper Swans and 2 Mute Swans on the flood.

I have borrowed the above picture from Simon Hawtin (thanks Simon) and Simon's photograph could easily have been of my birds except they were taken in good light, on a different farm and in a different year! What I mean is that the make up of birds shown here was similar to what I had today in terms of the mix of adults and juveniles.

Sharing the flood were 70 Teal and 30 Mallards, and as we walked towards the flood we flushed 15 Snipe from the saturated grassland.

Ase walked back towards the farm house along a nice piece of remnant ancient woodland we pushed a flock of 40 Fieldfare and 15 Redwings ahead of us from the scrubby edge of the woodland. It was raining hard, but it was a pleasant afternoon stroll amongst the 'stair rods'.

Monday 2 November 2009


And there's going to be a lot more of it this week. I called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss on my way home and had a walk down the track carrying two full buckets of seed in the pouring rain. Nice! Through my rain lashed and steamed up glasses I could see that there was about 50 Tree Sparrows at the feeding station. Back at the barn where the food is stored two Grey Wagtails fed around the base of the 'tailing's' mountain.

What we need is a bit of colour to brighten things up and I think the picture of the Eastern Bluebird below from Nigel does just that. Now I wouldn't mind pulling that out of a mist net at Rossall School!