Tuesday 31 August 2010

Them Thar Hills

No I am not referring to the 1930s comedy featuring Laurel and Hardy but to the hills I was wandering around in east Lancashire surveying today. It was very clear and a beautiful day for a wander, but I did have a job to do, but there's nothing to say that you can't enjoy it!

 Dean Clough Reservoir with Pendle Hill behind

Several of the fields that I walked across were full of thistles that had seeded and I thought the farmer is going to have a bit of a problem with thistles in his pastures next year! However, it was good for Goldfinch and I had 20-30 in two flocks feeding on the thistle heads.


Meadow Pipits flushed from the rushy pastures and I probably had 60-80 and I also had 2 Tree Pipits go over. I couldn't see them, only hear them, as is often the case. Swallows were quite numerous and I had about 40 moving through during the day. Some were swooping low to feed over Dean Clough Reservoir.

 Meadow Pipit

On the reservoir itself I had 5 Great Crested Grebes, 9 Gadwall and along the bank 3 Grey Wagtails. I flushed a Little Owl from a ruined building and had cracking views as it perched up in a tree and looked back at me. It was then back to the car and back to the office. The only down side of spending time in the field is that the more time you spend out leads to more time writing up indoors! Then again I suppose it could be worse! 

 Little Owl

Monday 30 August 2010


At last Ian and I managed to get out and do some ringing at Rossall School this morning. As we arrived at the 'obs' at 5.45 a.m. it was a bit touch and go with the wind. We could easily have called it off as the northerly breeze was quite stiff. Fortunately we decided to give it a go but the northerlies would put paid to us catching any numbers.

There were a number of hirundines around this morning so I put Swallow song on my MP3 player at one of the nets. This immediately brought in at least 75 Swallows and 25 House Martins, but because of the wind the nets were billowing a touch and this was putting the birds off. We ended up ringing 4 Swallows and 2 House Martins, but if it wasn't for the wind it could have been at least five times as much as this.

 House Martin

We had the same problem with Grey Wagtail. We put Grey Wag on the MP3 and straight away a bird dropped in. It perched on the poles, on the top shelf string but refused to get caught. Again those northerlies were causing us problems.

Vis was in fact very poor this morning even though it was clear and the best day for vis for several days. We had an Alba Wag over, 5 or 6 Meadow Pipits, a couple of Skylark and a Saprrowhawk and that was it. Talking of Sparrowhawks we did manage to ring a cracking female. For a change she was really placid for a Sparrowhawk and was a joy to handle.


A Great Spotted Woodpecker headed north and a flock of 30 Goldfinch fed on weed seeds adjacent to the sea wall. In addition to what I have already mentioned we also ringed 2 Dunnocks and 1 each of Robin, Wren and Blackbird.


Friday 27 August 2010

Harriers on Marsh and Moss

I had a morning meeting with NE and the RSPB at Freckleton Marsh today so I decided to get there an hour earlier and have a wander around the marsh. It was a cracking morning weather wise with clear skies and no wind. First birds were a group of 4 Stock Doves and then I had a further 2.

 Freckleton Marsh

I put a couple of Brown Hares up as I walked round. They were nice to see and at least they hadn't been got by those bastards with their 'long dogs'! A few Mipits, Alba Wags and 2 Wheatears fed on the spoil from the recently created ditches.

I had 3 Snipe, 4 Lapwings and 27 Goldfinch fly over and a female Kestrel hunted over the marsh. As I got to the southern part of the marsh I could see a flock of 31 Black-tailed Godwits feeding in a recently cut field on Grange Farm. Two Grey Herons and 14 Teal were feeding in the main dyke that cuts across the marsh and 3 Curlew fed on the marsh itself.

As I wandered round inspecting the ditches with AG and HG, AG picked up a juvenile Marsh Harrier being mobbed by Jackdaws. We watched for a couple of minutes but unfortunately it was flying away from us so we didn't get particularly good views.

The ditches are nicely filling with water now

In the afternoon I called at Rawcliffe Moss to drop some seed off and afterwards I had a wander over the moss. Over 100 Swallows were feeding under and flocking on the telegraph poles in the 'west' field and I picked a few more up with House Martins on my walk round.


A few Linnets, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrow flew over calling but not in any numbers. As I headed up the '97' Hedge I had a 2nd summer male Marsh Harrier flying over a patch of wild bird seed. As I climbed up on to this area it had vanished! Amazing how such a large bird can disappear so quickly.

The rest of my walk was very quiet except for a single Grey Partridge and Willow and Sedge Warbler in the plantation. I could see some rain coming in so I made a hasty retreat back to my car.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

All Quiet on the 'Northwesterly' Front

Before I report what I did or didn't see at Rossall School this morning I want to have a short rant about dog walkers. I have permission to bird and ring at the 'obs' and I had to write to the headmaster and explain what ringing was all about, and what the aims and objectives of birding and ringing at the 'obs' would be. Those fuckwits with the dogs don't need to do anything like that, what they do is trespass. You cut a hole in the fence and you're in walking your dog. No need to get any official permission, just arm yourself with a dog and you can legally trespass wherever you want! What am I doing wrong?

 "Trespassing - not me mate. Cut a hole in the fence - not me mate"

The reason for this rant is that at 6.00 a.m. when I arrived at the 'obs' there were already four different dog walkers trespassing over different areas that can be quite good for migrants, particularly chats, but not this morning!

 Looking Inland at the Sunrise from the 'Obs'

The wind was the wrong direction and the wrong strength to be of any use. It was a 10-15 mph northwesterly and it put paid to any vis. Funnily enough I did toy with the idea of doing some ringing this morning but decided that it would be a bit of a chore to then go on to work afterwards, so I just stuck with birding.  It's a good job because there would have been no way you could have put nets up in that wind.

There were a few Swallows and House Martins around first thing but they were probably all breeding birds from the school. The House Martins nest on the school buildings and the Swallows occupy some of the old farm buildings. Starlings headed north, presumably dispersing from their roost in Blackpool, and the only raptor I had was a male Kestrel.

The only 'real' migrants I had this morning were 4 Wheatears that were feeding around the walls of the old swimming pool. This high concrete wall faces south and is a real suntrap attracting lots of invertebrates which is a perfect place for Wheatears to feed. I walked the dunes, through the reedbed, along the hedgerows but it was very quiet.

 What Could be Lurking in Here? Bugger all actually!

I had quick look on the sea and had a reasonable count of 238 Common Scoters and other than 2 Sandwich Terns north that was it.

It was time to head off to work but not before a bacon, egg and cheese bagel from McDonalds.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Bird Migration

It seems appropriate because of the time of year to mention Ian Netwon's cracking new book 'Bird Migration'. I have just started reading it and I cannot recommend it highly enough if you have any interest in migration at all. 'Bird Migration' followed Ian's 2008 more academic version 'The Migration Ecology of Birds' which was aimed primasrily at professionals and research students.

Whilst on the subject of books about bird migration I can also highly recommend 'The Migration Atlas' which summarises all the information gained on migration through ringing. So if you haven't got any of these books get out there and get them bought!

I have nothing birdwise to report as yet today. I got up at 5.30 a.m. and I could see that the weather hadn't changed since yesterday, so I decided to treat myself to a lie in. I spoke to Ian later in the day who had been at Rossall Point first thing and he said that it was very quiet and I hadn't missed anything. That made me feel better but 10/10 for Ian for going out and 0/10 for me being a lazy blob and staying in bed!

The wind is swinging round easterly overnight so I will probably have a look on the coast tomorrow morning before work. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday 21 August 2010


I received a text yesterday from Craig asking if I had noticed that the link to my blog from the local bid club's website had been removed. I hadn't noticed as I never look at the links. Presumably it has been removed because I dared to criticise their beloved 'Yearlist Challenge' which is supported by a mega 10% of the clubs membership! Oh dear, it would seem that they have spat their dummy out. Rather typical I'm afraid. Anyway enough of this nonsense and on to today's birds or once again lack of them.

It was too windy to do any ringing at the 'obs' this morning so I decided to have a look off Rossall Point as there was a high tide at 10:00 a.m. and I knew it would be running from about six. I was at Rossal for just after six and the first bird I had as I walked onto the prom was a Whimbrel flying along the beach. Nice start I thought; let's hope it gets better. It didn't.

 Alongside the Coastguard's Tower

I got myself in a position alongside the Coastguard's Tower and watched and waited and watched. It's probably just as easy for me to list everything I had, rather than try to weave some elaborate tale around it. At sea I had 79 Cormorants (not a bad count), 2 Eiders, 9 Sandwich Terns, 6 Common Scoters, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 6 Gannets and a dark morph Arctic Skua. At one stage the Skua was being mobbed by a Sandwich Tern, rather than the other way round.

Waders included 199 Oystercatchers, 4 Redshanks, 15 Dunlin, 2 Curlews and a Turnstone. Vis was virtually non-existent other than a few Swallows that at one stage were mobbing a Sparrowhawk as it drifted over the golf course.

As usual I called in at Fleetwood Marsh 'dog toilet', sorry Nature Park, on my way home. A lady with several dogs of course (why can't people just have one dog these days) asked me if I was looking for anything special. I wanted to say chance would be a fine thing with all you idiots running around but I decided not to lower myself. Instead I just ignored her. I did take the picture below of the 'dog shit' bin and reported it to the Ranger as it is absolutley disgusting. Why can't these ignorant filthy people take their dog's crap home with them, rather than leaving it to the poor Ranger to clear up?!

Out on the pools there were just 13 Coot, 2 Little Grebes, 5 Tufted Ducks, 10 Mallards, Pochard, Moorhen and Mute Swan. Wow!

I am keeping a careful eye on the forecast at the moment in the hope that the wind will drop enough for us to be able to do some ringing tomorrow. I'll let you know.

Oh, I nearly forgot; I went back to Freckleton Marsh on Thursday to have a look at the completed ditching work and it is looking good. I have included a couple of pictures of the ditches below, but you need to imagine them full of water with Lapwing and Redshank chicks feeding alongside them.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Midweek Murmurings

I haven't really been birding as such this week, but I have been doing some associated work and picking up a few birds. On Monday (16th) I was with AG from the RSPB on Freckleton Marsh pegging out ditches for the RSPB's ditcher to create. I didn't get any photographs of it in action on Freckleton Marsh but below is a shot of it in action at Cockerham last year. By the end of yesterday it had created 4.8 km of 3 m wide ditches and hopefully it will have created a further 1 km today. The idea of course is to improve the habitat for breeding waders on the marsh and I'll keep you posted on here as to how that goes.

Of course when you are out and about all day you do pick up some birds and of interest we had a juv Marsh Harrier, 2 Buzzards, Stock Dove and 10 Skylarks. The Stock Dove flushed from under the concrete bridge across the dyke and I have seen Stock Dove fly from here in the past. Underneath the bridge the dyke is faced with stone and presumably it provides a suitable nest site.

On Monday evening Ian and I cleared the net rides at Rossall School in preparation for the autumns ringing. We are hoping to start this weekend so I'll let you know how we get on. We didn't have much whilst we hard at work other than a male Sparrowhawk that upset all the local Swallows and House Martins.

Her indoors and I had a walk along the coast last night and we walked along the sea wall past Rossall School. Two Wheataears were in the field and 45 Oystercatchers roosted on the playing fields waiting for the tide to drop so that they could continue feeding.


Today I was surveying on Saddleworth Moor. There was a lack of quantity of birds, but there was some quality. The first birds I had were a party of 5 Ravens drifting along an escarpment calling occasionally as they did. I think Ravens are fantastic birds so I was pleased to see another 2 later in the day.

Meadow Pipits were everywhere, but I only had 1 Skylark. Close to an old quarry I had 2 Wheatears along with a juvenile Whinchat. I don't see Whinchats that often, other than on the coast in spring, so I was particularly pleased to see this bird. The only other bird of note I had was a Kestrel.


I was informed the other day that another local blogger was bemoaning the fact that I had "strongly criticised" the fact that local birders had been visiting a juvenile Cuckoo at Cocker's Dyke. I think this person, whoever they are, have been totally missing the point. My gripe is that a lot of birders today behave like sheep waiting for someone else to find birds so they can go and look at them instead of getting off their fat lazy arses and finding their own birds! They also seem to want a list of 'target' birds (absolutely awful phrase) to try and see when they go birding. Who finds these target birds? They certainly don't! And if you haven't seen a juvenile Cuckoo before you obviously don't do enough birding!

Fingers crossed for some good weekend weather.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Too Clear?

With a title like that you might expect some sort of theory, or is that excuse, of why we didn't ring much this morning at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park. As I was pulling on my wellies before heading towards Fleetwood a shooting star streaked across the eastern sky and I wondered whether we would catch or not because of the clear conditions. I met Craig and Ian at 5.15 a.m. and Ian's first words were "it's too clear, it's been one of those departure nights" and he was right.

Fuelled by the birders eternal optimism we persevered and erected 260 feet of net. As we expected we only ringed 6 birds and retrapped (in brackets) 2 as follows:

Whitethroat - 2
Sedge Warbler - 1
Reed Warbler - 1 (1)
Swallow - 1
Willow Warbler - 1
Wren - (1)

 Reed Warbler

Sedge Warbler


The birding was similarly quiet. As we had a coffee before doing our first net round 16 Alba Wags flew in to feed on the pool from their roost and shortly afterwards we had 11 Snipe head northeast. Two Tree Pipits went over and a 'pinking' Chaffinch gave the morning an autumnal feel.

Ten Swallows showed some interest in the 'play-back' we used and 6 Swifts chased each other high in the sky. The pools were equally quiet with only 15 Coots, 14 Mallards and a lone male Pochard.

We start back at Rossall School from next weekend so hopefully we'll have a good autumn at the 'obs'. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Friday 13 August 2010

Mersey Mossland

I just thought I would post a quick update from yesterday, although I don't really have anything exciting to post! I was surveying a farm on part of the mosslands near Rainford in Merseyside and I had one or two birds that suggested that autumn migration is under way.

Arable Landscape 

Walking around this arable farm I had several singing Yellowhammers that were utilising the mature hedgerows that had been planted over 10 years ago through Countryside Stewardship. The hedgerows were now nice and thick, providing fantastic wildlife corridors.


Probably the best bird I had was a Cuckoo that flew from a line of trees and was then mobbed by a plethora of birds. Do they mistake it for a raptor or do they know it is a Cuckoo and a nest parasite! This was only my second Cuckoo of the year, illustrating how scarce they now are. If this had been on the Fylde and the Cuckoo had been 'nailed' down it would have caused great excitement amongst the 'pager driven clowns'!

The farm has a large number of Birch woodland on it and Buzzards called and soared above most of them and I had 10 in total. Large numbers of Goldfinches were feeding in weedy field corners and House Sparrows seemed abundant around some of the yards.

Walking alongside one stretch of fairly wet grassland I had two Wheatears perched on fence posts. Definitely autumn migrants I thought. My survey didn't reveal much else other than a few Skylarks and Grey Partridges.

The forecast is looking a bit grim for tomorrow with fairly strong northerlies, but it looks better for Sunday so hopefully we should be able to ring a few more Warblers.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Farcical Birding

No news from me today but I just wanted to pass comment on how the local birding scene in my corner of the world has been reduced to a farce. Since the local bird club has instigated an annual competition called a 'Year List Challenge' you have to be very careful what information you put out as you might cause a local 'mass' twitch over a common migrant. Desperation has now set in over migrant records for Ring Ouzel and Pied Flycatcher, to name but a few. This has certainly made me think twice now about putting any records of scarce or even common birds out! This is a shame and an utter disgrace.

There are certain sites that I bird and ring at that I now feel that I won't be able to put any records out for a fear of the 'mass' descending on these sites. Permission at some of these sites has been hard won and it has taken time to gain the trust of the land owners, so there is no way that I would jeopardise this for the sake of providing a 'tick' for some idiot desperate to gain a place in the 'Yearlist Challenge'! When you try and reason with these people and point out what a farce it has become you receive the reply that "it's only a bit of fun".

There also seems to be a 'flock' mentality that has developed in birding where everyone has to go and see a certain species if it shows well. According to the local websites there is a juvenile Cuckoo locally that it showing well and is showing great site fidelity at present before it decides it is time to up-sticks and head south. Every bugger and his dog has been to see this bird and of course now everyone has to photograph it. I can't believe that a Cuckoo could generate so much interest. I know they have declined rapidly in recent years, but come on...!

I bumped into a mate of mine recently who told me that he had returned his pager because he was fed up with receiving insane updates such as the presence of a Green Woodpecker in a cemetery. Why on earth would you need or want to receive regular updates as to whether a Green Woodpecker was showing! As I said before the local birding scene is descending in to a farce.

Anyway rant over. If I find or ring anything good in the future you'll hear about it here first!

I haven't used any of my mate Nigel's pictures for a while, so I have included a couple below, for no reason really and to be honest I don't need a reason.

Indigo Bunting

White-throated Sparrow

Sunday 8 August 2010

Stonking Warbler Morning

Not a funny old morning this morning, but a stonking warbler morning based on the number and species we ringed at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park. It was a 5.00 a.m. start for Ian and I, but well worth it. For the first couple of hours it was a perfect morning for operating mist nets; overcast and flat calm.

I'm not going to beat about the bush; we ringed 38 new birds and retrapped 8 as follows (new/retrap):

Reed Warbler - 7/2
Whitethroat - 14/5
Reed Bunting - 3/0
Lesser Whitethroat - 2/0
Sedge Warbler - 1/0
Great Tit - 3/0
Wren - 3/0
Willow Warbler - 3/0
Chiffchaff - 1/0
Blue Tit - 1/1

 Lesser Whitethroat

Reed Bunting

Reed Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Fault Bar on the above Sedge Warblers Tail


The ringing was great but the birding between net rounds was poor. The best bird we had was a Green Sand that flew onto the 'shallow' pool and fed for an hour or so before moving on.

There was negative news on the roosting Swallows and as we put our nets up in the half light we couldn't hear the calls of any, so the roost has dispersed. We'll keep checking though in case it reforms.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Funny Old Morning

I think I have used 'funny old morning' as a title in the past and I don't apologise for using it again as it was a funny old morning. With the weather we are having at the moment I have had a few funny old mornings of late and suspect that there are a few funny old mornings to come!

The forecast last night was for light rain this morning with a moderate west-southwesterly breeze. The weathermen got the wind strength and direction right but not the amount of precipitation; it remained more or less dry all morning. I decided to give Rossall Point a try as there was a tide at about 9.30 a.m. so I decided to watch the incoming tide from 6.30 a.m. onwards.

As the tide rolled in Oystercatchers were pushed further up the beach and eventually on to a small sandy island that was later covered by the tide. They numbered 347 and were supported by smaller numbers of other waders including 4 Curlews, 5 Ringed Plovers, 16 Turnstones, Whimbrel and 7 Dunlin. As I said it was a funny old morning.

 Oystercatcher Island
The sea was equally as quiet with 19 Common Scoters, 28 Sandwich Terns and 23 Gannets. No Manxies, no Skuas, no nothing else. As I said, it was a funny old morning. Counting Sandwich Terns can be problematical at Rossall, and I think I have mentioned this before as well, as they often feed in a large circuit in the bay. It means that you are constantly adding and subtracting to get an accurate count. So called 'cutting edge' birders have put out some exceedingly stringy high counts from here in the past. There's nothing like knowing your own patch.

Sandwich Tern (above and below)

I had a Lesser Redpoll go over this morning, which I thought was slightly unusual for the time of the year, so when I left Rossall I had a look in Fleetwood Cemetery. Why I did this I don't know, as it was obviously shaping up to be another funny old morning. The conditions were all wrong for any migrants to be about but that usual birders blind optimism drove me on. I wish I hadn't bothered as I saw bugger all!

The funny old morning continued when I called in at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park in the hope of some 'fresh' waders on the shallow pool. No 'fresh' waders and very little else, only single Swift, House Martin, Willow Warbler and Reed Bunting, and 16 Coots and 4 Little Grebes.

The forecast for tomorrow is looking like it might be okay to do some ringing so I am hoping for a cracking morning tomorrow, not a funny old one!

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Red Sky At Night Ringers Delight

Yesterday evening Ian, Will and I went to Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park to try our hand at catching some of the roosting Swallows. For a few days now there have been up to a thousand Swallows coming into roost in the reeds. There have also been some Starlings roosting but we were hoping they would keep away from our mist nets and they did.

We had to cut two net rides through the reeds to the waters edge and two nets were duly erected and a Swallow song and calls were played on the MP3 player. It was now a case of waiting.

We had the company of two Foxes as we sat at the table and they kept a careful eye on us from the 'shallow' pool. About 15 Pied Wagtails headed north towards dusk and I assumed that they were heading to a roost somewhere on the docks or in Fleetwood itself.

As the Swallows started to arrive, accompanied by the odd House and Sand Martin, a number of Swifts were feeding low and also climbing high in the sky. In total we had 43 screeching around. At one point 60 Lapwings flew over and then we knew the reason why as 3 Grey Herons flew in after, presumably, flushing the Lapwings off the saltmarsh.

Just as we were starting to catch a few Swallows a female Sparrowhawk made an appearance and probably prevented our catch from being a little higher. We ringed 5 Reed Warblers before the roost and retrapped a Whitethroat and 2 further Reed Warblers.

Reed Warbler - adult

It got quite late and I thought we weren't going to catch any Swallows but eventually we managed to catch and ring 31, with a ratio of 9 adults to 22 juveniles. As the sky turned from red to black we took our nets down and headed home.


Sunset over the Nature Park

Sunday 1 August 2010

High Tide Hiccup

This morning should have been a ringing session at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park catching lots of warblers but Ian and I were duped by the high tide! I was just making my flask at 4.30 a.m. when Ian phoned to say had I been outside as it was quite windy. I popped outside, agreed with him and called off our planned ringing session.

As I was up I decided to go birding and headed up to Rossall Point and watched the falling tide. It quickly became obvious that the cause of the wind was the fact that the tide was in and as it dropped so too did the wind! Ah well, I had to make the best of what I was doing..

The wind was northwesterly 2-3 and you will have heard me moaning about this wind direction in the past. Consequently it was very quiet at Rossall with very little seabird passage and few waders. I had 7 Sandwich Terns head west along with 3 Gannets and a couple of Common Scoters and that was it for the sea. I did have a single Shelduck and I wasn't sure whether this was an early returner from moulting grounds on the Waddenzee or an adult that had delayed departure due to still having dependant young.

The only waders I had were 181 Oystecatchers, 4 Curlews and 11 Dunlins. As the tide dropped a number of Gulls loafed on the beach and these were mainly Herring Gulls with a few Lessers mixed in.

I then went to the Nature Park and the fact that it was fairly calm by now only served to rub it in even more that we had missed a potentially good ringing session. Driving down to the site I came across a Kestrel on the side of the road feeding on mammalian prey. I reached for my camera, but unfortunately I only managed to get the silhouetted shot below.

Two Foxes were fairly interested in having a look at me as I approached, but soon disappeared into the brambles when I got really close. I was greeted by about 15 'gate guardian' Swallows as they perched on the 'overhead' barrier at the entrance to the Nature Park.

A few Swifts were feeding over the pools but I couldn't tell how many there were as I just kept seeing two at a time. Out on the pools were 2 Mute Swans, 8 Little Grebes, male Pochard, 5 Tufted Ducks, 34 Mallards, 18 Coots and 4 Moorhens.

As has been the 'norm' over recent weeks a Barn Owl hunted over the long grass of the adjacent landfill site and that brought to a close a fairly uneventful morning.