Sunday 28 February 2010


Ian and I carried out some essential management work on our coastal ringing site at Rossall School this morning. We 'beefed' up some of the existing net rides by planting some willows and opened up a new 40' net ride that is totally sheltered in fairly windy conditions. This will be really useful for tape luring finches when they are moving in blustery weather.

Tools of the trade

New sheltered net ride

As we were carrying out the work we noticed that a few birds were moving over on 'vis'; namely Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Chaffinch and Goldfinch. Spring at last? In the week Ian had a similar movement over Rossall Point and the first moving Gannet of the spring.

After we had completed the work Ian went off to Rossall Point to look on the sea for an hour and I decided top have a proper walk round the school to see if anything else was on the move. I didn't have any more Grey Wagtails than the two we had go north earlier or the two Chaffinch we had go north as well. Meadow Pipits totalled five and Goldfinch did too. Not exactly huge numbers, but spring migration nonetheless.

Lots of birds were setting up territory including Blackbird, Greenfinch, Collared Dove, Great Tit, Reed Bunting, Robin and several pairs of Dunnocks. There is a good population of Dunnocks in the thick gorse hedgerows.

Some of the fields were nice and wet, and it made me think of the days that Lapwing used to nest here. Ten Common Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gull and five Herring Gulls were making use of the 'splashy' conditions to feed. Common Gull and Lesser Black-backeds another sign of spring.

I then headed up to the sea wall and a flock of two hundred Knot flew over. Presumably they had been displaced by the incoming tide on the estuary and were heading somewhere to roost. A flock of 160 Oystercatchers and eight Curlews kept taking flight as they were flushed off the old playing fields where they were trying to feed over the high tide period. Of course you can imagine who was doing all the flushing - b*stard dog walkers! Let's not go there today!

Scanning the sea with my bins (left my scope at home) all I had were a couple of Cormorants and eight male Eiders. I then made my way back to the car. All we need now is a bit of good weather and we'll be out tape luring those Meadow Pipits. I can't wait!

Saturday 27 February 2010

A Quiet Week

I haven't posted for a few days because I haven't had anything to post! There has been a great deal of interest shown recently in an Egyptian Goose that has been knocking about in the Conder Green/Cockersands area. Local birders have been twitching it to get it on their 'Fylde' list. What a load of bollocks! It is an obvious 'fence hopper' and is as wild as an escaped budgie, but the 'mob rules' ticking mentality prevails and all must see it. Madness!

Thinking about it I have seen some exotic birds 'in the wild' in the Fylde in the past so perhaps I could be adding Golden Pheasant, Guineafowl, Reeves Pheasant, Red-eared Waxbill to name but a few to my Fylde list! I could if I kept a Fylde list of course. Anyway I have wasted enough time on this nonsense.

It would definitely seem that the Tree Sparrows are starting to disperse from the feeding station at Rawcliffe Moss as I had 95 last Wednesday (24th) and 71 yesterday (26th). I have to feed again tomorrow, so it will be interesting to see how many are left. Chaffinch and Yellowhammer numbers have also reduced and everywhere I go at the moment male Chaffinches are setting up territories and singing their heads off.

I had six Stock Dove in the week at Rawcliffe Moss as well as six Corn Buntings. Four Grey Partridges were still at the feeding station and the skies were still being patrolled by the local Buzzards and Kestrels.

It was some conservation work for Gail and I this morning in the form of checking and replacing boxes for Pied Flycatchers in the Hodder Valley. We carried out any maintenance work required on the 35 boxes I have up there and replaced any in need of replacing. I took nine new boxes with me and put all of them up. In fact I could have done with three or four more. So I think it's a trip to the timber merchants for me next week for some more wood for boxes.

Gail removing the plate from an old box

The 'new' number 13

There was some activity in the woodland and a few Blue and Great Tits were prospecting some of the boxes. We had Nuthatch, which was expected, and a calling Marsh Tit that we couldn't get on to. They do occur here, but have been getting scarce over the years. After two hours of hard work I treated Gail to a Wild Boar sausage barm cake. I know how to treat a lady!

Monday 22 February 2010

Going Down

Are the Tree Sparrows starting to disperse I wondered as I put some food out on Rawcliffe Moss this morning. I only counted 94 this morning and Phil had 135 on Sunday (21st) and I had 208 on Thursday (18th), so there is definitely a downward trend there. It will be interesting to see what happens later this week if we get any snow and whether the numbers pick up again. It is my plan to stop feeding in early March and switch to some coastal ringing for the Spring.

In addition to the Tree Sparrows at the feeding station there were fifteen Chaffinches, two Grey Partridges and three Yellowhammers. A flock of 104 Lapwing flew over heading in a south-easterly direction and a Buzzard flew along the front of Curlew Wood. Back at the barn I had a further eleven Chaffinches, six Yellowhammers and a single Kestrel. All this was happening with a background accompaniment of whistling Teal from a nearby pond.

Talking of sweet music from the Teal, my two 'babies' below can make sweet music when cranked up to number eleven!

Sunday 21 February 2010


The snowy weather put paid to any birding this morning so I decided to finish off the nine boxes I had virtually built a couple of weeks ago. They needed holes putting in, proofing and plating to stop those pesky Woodpeckers from enlarging the hole!

Boxes ready for proofing

The boxes will be going up at one of our nest box schemes for Pied Flycatchers in the Hodder Valley.

Pied Flycatcher taken at our nest box site,
courtesy of Steve Young

Saturday 20 February 2010

Playing Russian Roulette with the fog......

......and taking the bullet...again!

I didn't arrange to go ringing this morning as the forecast talked about the chance of some fog and I didn't want to drag the lads out for a third week running to put some nets up and take them down an hour later when frozen! Also, I went to see a band last night in Burnley and it was after midnight before I got back from the gig. However, when you have been getting up early virtually every weekend for 34 years to go birding, and within that 26 years for ringing, it's hard not to wake up at first light and feel tempted to have a peek outside at the weather. And that's exactly what I did at 6.30 a.m.

It wasn't misty, nice and clear, so it was poles on the roof-rack, nets in the boot and off to Rawcliffe Moss. I put two nets up at the feeding station and it looked good. First round eight birds and no fog, second round frozen nets and f*ck all birds! So once again I have two sixty foot North Ronaldsay nets draped over my shower rail in the bathroom!

As I said I did catch eight birds which were two Chaffinch, Tree Sparrow (only second for the year), Robin, Coal Tit, Yellowhammer and two Blackbirds. The Coal Tit was a retrap and was ringed on Rawcliffe Moss on 2nd October 2005 as an adult, which means that this bird is nearly six years old at least! Interestingly, until today we have only retrapped it twice, the last time being in February 2006!

Below are a couple of pictures of Chaffinch and Yellowhammer from this morning. The Chaffinch was a first winter and as can be seen from the second picture was replacing an outer tail feather.

It looks like the forecast for tomorrow is for it to be too windy for ringing, so it will be a mornings birding or nest box erecting for me.

Friday 19 February 2010

2 for 1

Over the past 3-4 days I have been to Rawcliffe Moss twice to feed. Rather than post details twice I thought I would just give a brief summary of what was about. Yellowhammer numbers remained fairly stable at 22, but Tree Sparrows had increased to an impressive 208. The Corn Bunting flock near the barn didn't appear on either day and all I had were three birds near the feeding station. I had my first Fieldfares for a while on the moss when 17 flew from the Alders opposite the barn.

Below are a few pictures of Hawk Owl that my good friend Nigel in Canada sent me recently and I thought I would share them with you. What a stonking bird!

Monday 15 February 2010

Icing Sugar

This is the description Will gave to the state of our nets on Rawcliffe Moss yesterday. They were covered in hoar-frost and when you shook them to try and clear them, the frost that sprinkled to the ground was just like icing sugar! More of that in a moment, but first I need to rewind to Saturday (13th).

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get out birding today as I had go to Sedbergh to a cracking book shop called Westwood Books to return a copy of 'Swifts - A Guide to the Swifts and Treeswifts of the World' because I had bought two copies. My original copy I bought a while ago, but the second copy I bought a couple of weeks ago when I was last in there, even though I was carrying a list of all my Poysers, Pica Press's and Helm guides to avoid just this happening!

On the way there Gail and I called in at the feeding station to put the usual two buckets of seed down. At the feeding station I had eight Yellowhammers and 112 Tree Sparrows. As we drove off the Moss we stopped to have a look at the 'Little Owl' tree and sure enough one was there looking down at us with that cross expression.

Yesterday found Ian, Will and I at Rawcliffe Moss for a ringing session. Regular readers will know that we got fogged off last week and as I drove there through mist patches I had a feeling of deja vu! Ever the optimists we put the nets up and crossed our fingers. One male Chaffinch later and we decided to pack up as the nets were once again white with frost. They weren't frozen solid like last week, but were a lovely white sparkly colour with their coating of hoar-frost.

It was difficult to know what was happening on site because of the mist coming and going but my notebook records six Yellowhammers, eight Corn Buntings and two each of Grey Partridge and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Roll on Spring!

Thursday 11 February 2010

Icy Blast

My thermometer read minus 5 degrees Celsius as I drove on to Rawcliffe Moss this morning just as the sun was peeping above the eastern horizon. It was a beautiful morning and I wished that I wasn't going to be sat in a meeting later on.

The number of bird species singing in the morning is increasing now and it was pleasing to hear a Chaffinch singing its head off from Curlew Wood. Other species singing were Great Spotted Woodpecker (err...well..drumming), Corn Bunting, Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock and Robin.

Walking down towards the feeding station I noticed there were a few more Blackbirds about and I had twelve in total. It might just have been the fact that I was there earlier than normal and therefore a few more birds were feeding. Also feeding on the ground were 39 Starlings and as they flew off they flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from one of the nut feeders. In addition to this and the drumming bird I had another drumming, making three in all.

There was certainly a few more Yellowhammers around and these weren't just confined to the feeding station area; in total I had 22. Talking of the feeding station there were 105 Tree Sparrows (they were still arriving whilst I was there), fifteen Chaffinches and the usual four Grey Partridges. I had another pair of Grey Partridges in the field to the north of Curlew Wood.

As I mentioned before the Yellowhammers were scattered around a bit and with a few birds feeding in the margin alongside the 97 hedge were five Reed Buntings. Back at the barn I had ten Corn Buntings, and I don't doubt that later in the morning these birds would have increased to 30 or 40.

Wednesday 10 February 2010


One of the beauties of having a good deal of the north west of England as my office is the varied landscapes that I have to work in. Of course as I'm busy working in this outdoor office I don't have as much time to 'stop and stare' as I would like, but it'll do!

This week my work took me to sand dunes and dune heath in the Ainsdale/Formby area and then on to the upland landscape of Bowland. Both special in their own way. Working on some of the stable dunes earlier in the week I was hoping to pick up something like Stonechat for my 'work' year list but not a single Stonechat did I see. Plenty of Skylarks were singing in the February sunshine and a Buzzard drifted across the dunes but that was it.

Dune Heath

Dune Slack

Yesterday afternoon I called at Rawcliffe Moss on my way home from work to feed. It was around teatime and the sun had virtually set so I didn't expect much even though there was quite a bit of light left. As I rounded the corner by the barn a flock of 42 Corn Buntings with a few Chaffinches mixed in flew up from the hedge and circled round. As I got out of the car at the track and headed down the hedge I had a further ten Corn Buntings fly over.

Four Grey Partridges fed at the feeding station along with 170 Tree Sparrows (best recent count) and nineteen Chaffinch. Walking back towards the car I pushed nineteen Yellowhammers from the hedge.

I was working in the beautiful upland landscape of Bowland today and below I have included a few landscape shots that hopefully reflect the changing moods of the day. In the morning it was crisp and clear with wall-to-wall sunshine and in the afternoon there were periods of heavy snow showers.

Walking across the particular farm near Slaidburn that I was surveying I had a number of Brown Hares including two that were boxing. They were so pre-occupied with each other that they were oblivious of my close presence. The male was continuing trying to mate with the female and he was grabbing her by the scruff of the neck and moving her around, trying to get her in to the right position. She would put up with it for so long and then give him a 'left jab' and a 'right hook'!

Towards the higher part of the farm I could hear Red Grouse calling from the moorland behind and their calls were joined by two Ravens that drifted past, lifting high on the up-drafts.

I stopped for a coffee behind an old field barn where the land rose behind the barn, so you could stand and look in through an opening in to the 'hay loft'. I peered in and noticed a small nest box attached to a beam and then noticed a Tawny Owl perched on top of it. By the amount of pellets underneath it was a regular perch. Just after I took the shot below it flew through an opening in the wall to another part of the loft and at the same time a second bird followed it. Nice!

I had a Peregrine over the fell tops and then I turned and headed back down hill towards the steading.

As I walked through a 'boggy' area close to some newly planted woodland I flushed a Woodcock. I love seeing Woodcocks, but this was even better as it was a bird that my colleagues had recorded on their 'works' year lists so far this year and I hadn't, so I had scored one back! Close to the steading I walked through an area of wet 'clough' woodland and had stonking views of a Marsh Tit calling excitedly. A nice way to end the day.

Monday 8 February 2010

Monday Morning on the Moss

You know the routine as well as I do; it was a quick dash out from work late morning to feed on Rawcliffe Moss. On the way down the track towards the feeding station I had four Grey Partridges, that were in two pairs. The track is a favoured haunt for them and I can only assume that they feed at the feeding station.

Tree Sparrow numbers remain fairly static at 153, with 15-20 Chaffinches associated with them. At first I thought I wasn't going to have any Yellowhammers but on the way back up the hedge I had twelve. Back at the car I had to laugh when watching a Buzzard drift over a stubble field full of about 300 Jackdaws, when probably half of them mobbed the Buzzard as it glided by. You couldn't see the Buzzard, but you knew its direction of flight by the seething mass of Jackdaws!

Saturday 6 February 2010

Fogged Off

Ian and I headed to Rawcliffe Moss this morning for what we thought was going to be a good ringing session. However, the foggy conditions didn't bode well and we put the nets up in the hope that the fog would clear soon. It wasn't to be. On the first round the two nets were white and heavy with frost, looking like some 'over-the-top' Xmas decorations! I knew straight away that we wouldn't catch and that there was no point continuing. We ringed two Dunnocks, single Blackbird and retrapped a Robin.

There were plenty of birds heading to the feeding station as we could hear them but couldn't see them. Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers called, but how many we just couldn't tell. I took a couple of pictures (below) of one of the Dunnocks we caught and it reminded me of how privileged we are as ringers to be able to handle birds.

Thursday 4 February 2010

Woodcock Surprise

It was the usual late morning visit to Rawcliffe Moss to feed for me today. As I got out of the car a Kestrel was hovering over the 'Reed Bunting' ditch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker called from Curlew Wood.

The Yellowhammers were still lurking around the Pheasant feeder and today they numbered twenty. Just as I set off walking down the track a flock of twenty Corn Buntings circled round and then headed north over Curlew Wood. At this time of year the numbers of Corn Buntings start to build up on the Moss and I love it when they start singing, even when flocked together.

Tree Sparrows numbered 156 at the feeding station with sixteen Chaffinch associated with them. As I was putting the seed down a flock of 35 Linnets flew over heading towards the weedy field to the north of Curlew Wood. Back at the car I was greeted by a calling Buzzard as it drifted over and two Song Thrush flew from the hedge as I drove back to the barn.

At about 4:30 p.m. my mobile went off and I could see it was Ian calling. As Ian is a prolific finder of scarce and rare birds I thought "what has he found now" and "will I have time to see it as its nearly dark"! Instead of news of a rare bird he asked me what time I would be home from work. I asked him why, and he said that he had a Woodcock in a box in his dining room and he was interested in ringing it. Ian is one of my trainee ringers and of course he was keen to ring the said Woodcock.

Ian had come home late afternoon to put his chickens back inside their coop and as soon as he went outside he could see that they were behaving peculiarly and were hiding behind the coop. When he went over to investigate they were all looking at a Woodcock that had got a wing caught in the chicken wire and was suspended above them!

Ian released the Woodcock and examined it carefully and it was absolutely fine with no injuries. I called at Ian's a little while later and Ian then ringed it. It was an adult bird and what a stunner it was as you can see from the pictures above. We took the bird to Fleetwood Golf Course where there is plenty of cover and foraging habitat and the bird flew off perfectly!

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Moorland Yomp

I was 'yomping' across Caton and Claughton Moor today with some colleagues from Natural England and the RSPB. As always I was on the look out for some good birds, and more importantly additions to my list for the year list challenge with colleagues across the country. I managed to add three today in the form of four Red Grouse, a pair of displaying Ravens and a calling Siskin. It was quiet 'on the tops' as you might expect, but the views across to the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales were stupendous! Well worth putting up with the aching limbs that I now have! Oh, and we had a couple of sightings of Peregrine and a Stoat in ermine too.

Juv Peregrine taken on a clients farm

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Brief Update From The Moss

It was a very quick 'splash and dash' in the rain today. It was pleasing to note that Tree Sparrow numbers had crept back up to 140, but Yellowhammers were down at only five. After I had put the feed out I noticed a male Sparrowhawk flying low over the field in front of Curlew Wood. It perched up on a fence post in front of the hedge at the feeding station. Obviously it was a regular visitor and probably looking for a mid-morning Tree sparrow sized snack! It was only about 25 metres from me, but seemed totally unaware of my presence or completely unbothered. After a couple of minutes it dropped off the fence post and shot through the hedge. Aren't sparrowhawks brilliant!

When I got home from work today there were a few recoveries and controls from the BTO. An interesting one was a Goldfinch ringed at Chilworth, Surrey on 27th January 2009 that Phil controlled in his Stalmine garden on 26th October 2009. One can only speculate that it was a bird whose natal area was in the north of England and it was wintering in southeast. When caught in Surrey in Jan 2009 it was aged as a 5, which means that it was born in the previous calendar year to ringing i.e. 2008. This would support this speculation. See below.

Goldfnich Control

We also received a late notification of a Sand Martin control (see below). This bird was ringed at La Croix-sur-Ourcq, Alsne, France on 28th July 2001 as a juvenile and we controlled at a colony at Myerscough Quarry on 14th July 2002 as an adult male. It is likely that this bird was hatched at a colony in the northwest of England and was caught as it headed south.

Sand Martin Movement

The other interesting report was a Reed Bunting that I ringed at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park on 5th October 2009 and this bird was re-caught at Heysham Bird Observatory on 12th October 2009.

Reed Bunting Movement

Monday 1 February 2010


This morning I headed north to Heysham with Craig and Peter for a day with Morecambe Bay Wader Group cannon netting Oystercatchers. On our arrival everything was set up and ready and it was a matter of waiting for the incoming tide to cover the bay and push the Oystercatchers on to a grassed area next to the helipad where the nets were set.

At around 12.30 p.m. the two nets were fired and everyone sprung into life racing down to the nets to cover them in hessian sheets to keep the birds calm. Then the extracting, ringing and processing began. We ringed 533 Oystercatchers and controlled/retrapped 36! Amongst the retraps/controls was a bird with an Icelandic ring on; nice!

Oyc being ringed

'Icelandic' Oystercatcher