Monday 28 February 2011

More Preparations For Spring

Yesterday Gail and I went to one of my nest box locations in the Hodder Valley. I maintain 36 boxes here with the aim of having some of them occupied by Pied Flycatchers. We checked all the boxes and we had to replace 11 of them.

River Hodder

When we arrived at the site we could hear a cacophony of Siskin calls and it sounded like there were hundreds of them. After we had finished maintaining the boxes we had lunch in the cafe at the site where there is a large feeding station operated outside the large 'picture' windows of the cafe, and it was full of Siskins. There were at least 6 sunflower feeders with 6-8 ports on each feeder occupied a Siskin, and the birds were coming and going all the time. It was possible to look at 40-50 Siskins at once! They probably outnumbered all the other birds at the feeding station combined, by 5:1, and we are talking about numerous Tits and Chaffinches here as well! I couldn't guess how many Siskins are using the feeding station, probably somewhere between 400 and a 1,000!

On the way home we called at Rawcliffe Moss to maintain my Tree Sparrow boxes. I only have 10 boxes here and I had to replace 2 and I put up a further 2 in the L Wood, increasing the total to 12. I am looking forward to that first weekend in May when we start checking them.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Preparations For Spring

Ian and I went to Rossall this morning to get the 'obs' ready for the spring and hopefully, weather permitting, our first ringing session of the year here will be next weekend. We had a disastrous start when I got my car stuck on a muddy track. Luckily Ian has 4x4 and he could tow me out. Both our vehicles looked like they had just finished the RAC Rally!

We planted 80 willow saplings along various net rides, extended one or two and created a new one across a ditch. The new ditch net ride will hopefully intercept birds 'skulking' and moving along the hedge and ditch.

Newly planted Willows along the 'track' net

Ian hard at work clearing a new net ride across the ditch

More Willow planting next to the Redpoll net

Changing the subject completely have a look at this and then watch the stunning film about the 'shade grown coffee project'.

Friday 25 February 2011

A Few More Signs Of Spring

I haven't had a great deal of time this week to get out birding but as usual I have been keeping my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss topped up. Earlier in the week there were 105 Tree Sparrows and I had a small party of 7 Corn Buntings close to the barn. I have a feeling that the Tree Sparrow flock is now starting to disperse.

 Tree Sparrow

I was there again later in the week (Thursday 24th) on a fine Spring-like morning with a warm southerly wind and the number of Tree Sparrows had further reduced to only 26. I had my first displaying Lapwing of the Spring on the Moss and also a flock of 300. Later in the day I had my first Bee of the year in the form of a Honey Bee and not the usual early emerging queen Bumble Bee sp. that I would expect.


Siskin on the garden feeders was another sign of Spring. It's habitat management at the 'obs' for Ian and I tomorrow in preparation for the Spring ringing season that will hopefully commence over the first weekend in March.

Siskin (Ken Hindmarch)

I was reading the latest edition of British Wildlife (cracking publication by the way if you don't already subscribe) and I was incensed by a report under the 'Mammal' section of 'Wildlife Reports'. Andrew Branson, who writes the mammal column, was summarising the results of the fifth national Otter survey of England completed by the Environment Agency with co-funding from the People's Trust for Endangered Species, and wrote "...once Otters started to recolonise the rivers it was not long before fishery-managers and anglers began to express concern about the predation impact of these mammals. As the report points out, this has led to significant coverage in some of the angling press and on websites, which has promoted a debate about the impacts of Otters on wild fish populations and calls for controls on Otter numbers. To my knowledge, some fish-farm owners have also threatened to cull Otters".

 Cull that Otter, it's eating a fish!

I think this is absolutely shocking! Otters are a protected species but that doesn't seem to matter. Anglers catch fish for a giggle and Otters catch fish to feed. So we can't have the anglers fun being spoilt can we. I would suggest that we cull some anglers!

Sunday 20 February 2011

Double Trouble

Ian and I ventured forth on to Rawcliffe Moss this morning for a ringing session at the feeding station. It was quite a dreary morning with full cloud cover and a light-ish east-southeasterly wind. As we were putting the nets up we could hear three male Tawny Owls calling from different woods with just one female responding.

As of late it was fairly quiet and we processed 9 new birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Chaffinch - 1
Yellowhammer - 2
Great Tit - 1 (2)
Tree Sparrow - 1
Reed Bunting - 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 2
Blue Tit - (3)

 Blue Tit


Great Tit

Reed Bunting


Both the 'Great Spots' were male and we were quite surprised to catch two. We ringed the first bird and when we went round the nets again there was a Great Spot in the net. We expected it to be the same bird heading back to the feeders but we were completely surprised when it was unringed. Both of these birds were a handful and I have just counted 27 abrasions on my hand from the 'peckers!

Great Spot giving me grief!

The only way I could photograph it

There were about 200 Tree Sparrows coming to feed, but nowhere near our nets, with about 20 Chaffinch and 5 Yellowhammers. We had 17 Corn Buntings fly over and that was about it.

This afternoon I finished off my nest boxes and they just need proofing this week and hopefully I'll get them up next weekend.

Friday 18 February 2011

Not Spring Just Yet

After a glorious spring like day on Wednesday it was back to normal today with some cold dreary February weather. As usual I called to feed on Rawcliffe Moss and it was overcast with a cold southeasterly wind. I headed down the track and just over 120 Tree Sparrows were at the feeding station with a single Yellowhammer, Coal Tit and about a dozen Chaffinch.

I headed up the '97 Hedge' and identified 2 or 3 new net rides that I am going to cut on Sunday in preparation for a bit of ringing there from spring to autumn. Whilst looking for the best place for a couple of nets I spotted an old Chaffinch nest in the hedge (see below). It's amazing how many nests you do come across when the hedges are bare in the winter.

When I got up on to the 'Top Moss' I flushed over 170 Skylarks from the flattened wild bird seed crop with an accompanying 18 Linnets. No Corn Buntings today on the fence wire, but I did have a group of 6 Brown Hares in a stubble field with plenty of boxing going on.

 There's over 170 Skylarks in here!

Skylark (Ken Hindmarch)

The forecast looks grim for tomorrow, so it might be Sunday before I get out.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

What a Difference a Spring-like Day Makes!

It was glorious this morning as I headed on to Rawcliffe Moss to feed. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me to show you how glorious (school boy error you might think) as I had popped out of work for a short visit. As I drove onto the Moss I had 2 Buzzards soaring together in a thermal and then over the next 45 minutes I had a further 9! Five together at once! For some video footage of one or two Buzzards migrating over Falsterbo, Sweden last autumn click here

Down at the feeding station were 3 Yellowhammers, 13 Chaffinches and 121 Tree Sparrows. There were very few Tits at the feeding station as they were presumably prospecting for nest sites in nearby woodland. I headed along the '97 hedge' and up towards the wild bird seed mix and I had 122 Skylarks. I can only guess that the flock has built up with birds on return passage.

The wild bird seed didn't hold any birds but I could see 8 Corn Buntings perched along some fencing and then I had another flock of 10 fly over. A group of 110 Pink-footed Geese arrived high from the southeast on a southeasterly breeze and I wondered whether these were some birds arriving from Norfolk. As I headed back south along the '97' hedge 1,500 Pinkies lifted from the 'Top Moss' and split up into smaller groups and started dropping back in close to where they had taken off from.

It was a short walk in some warm sunshine, but with two figure and three figure Buzzard and Skylark counts I was very happy. Saying it was a spring-like day, there was a Wheatear in Cornwall yesterday and a Swallow down there today! So keep looking.

Coming soon:

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Taking The Michael

You will remember from my last post the fact that Ian and I had a poor ringing session at Rawcliffe Moss last weekend as very few birds were around. Well, I think they must have been taking the pi** because when I went to feed yesterday there were swarms of them! I had 280 Tree Sparrows, 30 Chaffinches, 8 Yellowhammers and good numbers of Tits.

As I walked down the track I had a pair of Grey Partridges walk almost all the way to the bottom in front of me. They took flight when a female Sparrowhawk shot past. I don't think the female Sprawk would have had a go (now a Gos might!), but the Partridges weren't taking any chances!

Back at the car I had a couple of Buzzards soaring and calling over 'Treee Sparrow Wood' and when I was back at the feeding barn an adult male Sparrowhawk blasted past with it's 'ground contour' radar switched on hopping over fences, and other lumps and bumps, with only inches to spare.

 Sparrowhawk - female

I forgot to mention that at weekend I started work on some replacement boxes for a couple of sites; one for Pied Flycatchers and the other for Tree Sparrows. So, hopefully by next weekend I will have 16 resplendent boxes waiting to go up.

 Timber cut up and ready to assemble

Five 'blind' boxes requiring sight!

We have received the details of a few controls from the BTO. A Greenfinch we controlled at Rossall on 4th October 2010 had been ringed at Walney Bird Observatory on 26th September. See below.

One of the other ones was a Swallow we ringed at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park at the roost there on 2nd August 2010 and it was controlled at Icklesham, East Sussex  417 km to the southeast on 10th September 2010. Again, please see below.

Saturday 12 February 2011

All's Well That Ends Well

Ian and I had a weary start to the day today when we went ringing to our feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss. As we were putting the nets up a Grey Partridge called close by and a Tawny Owl called in the distance. We then had another Owl in the form of a 'ghostly' Barn Owl floating by the end of the track.

Fast forward an hour and a half and we had ringed just four birds; 2 Tree Sparrows, Reed Bunting and a Great Tit. There were a number of Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers at the feeding station but not a lot else. We decided to pack up and head to Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park and put a net up with an MP3 player and see if any of the Cetti's warblers were around. As we headed off the Moss a group of 8 Corn Buntings flew over.

 Blue Tit

Great Tit

Reed Bunting

Tree Sparrow

At the Natture Park the MP3 player didn't pull in any Cetti's Warblers which was a result in itself because the object of the exercise was to see if the male and female we ringed in November had lingered over the winter and through the hard weather, and we got our answer.

On the pools at the Nature Park were 9 Tufted Ducks, 2 male Goldeneyes, 3 Pochards, 2 Shovelers, 10 Coot and a Great Crested Grebe.

When I got back home late morning I started work building some nest boxes for Pied Flycatchers and Tree Sparrows. Just after lunch I got a phone call from Ian saying that he had a flock of Waxwings fly over his garden. About an hour later Ian phoned again to say that he had found them in the Marine Gardens. I headed up there and 12 Waxwings were feeding on rose hips adjacent to the car park. They then flew off, with rose hips in beaks, and landed in some trees behind some houses. We headed over there to get a better look but they had gone. We split up to try and find them and Ian phoned to say they were back in the same position. I drove back round and they flew off again and landed in some trees further away. We drove over to the houses, down a back alley, and found them. I got a few record shots below, but if you want to see some proper photos of Waxwings have a look at Robin's blog here and some of Ian's shots below as well.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Don't Think Too Hard!

As I walked down the track to my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss late this morning I counted only 34 Tree Sparrows. I was surprised and disappointed by this fact and I started to theorise on why the count was so low. Had I not been putting enough food out? Had they started to disperse to their nest sites? I mulled these theories over in my mind and then when I was walking back another 50 flew in. For whatever reason they just weren't there when I first got there and then started to arrive as I left; nothing more complicated than that, so it doesn't do to think too hard about these things.

 Tree Sparrow

What else did you have , I hear you ask? When I arrived at the barn where my food is kept I had a flock of 40 Redwings, and I think I have commented recently that there seems to be a return passage of wintering thrushes at the moment. These (click here) Redwings will have quite a return passage! I had a further 2 Redwings and a flock of 30 Fieldfares as well. 

As I walked down the track I had a flock of 30 Corn Buntings fly over calling away and then at the feeding station in addition to the Tree Sparrows I had 3 Yellowhammers, 5 Chaffinch and 2 Song Thrushes. I had a few minutes to spare so I headed up the '97 Hedge' and had a group of 6 Reed Buntings and a calling Buzzard. In the 'big field' were a dozen Skylarks and then it was time for me to head back. 

 Song Thrush

Back at my car I picked up a raptor with my naked eye flying over some stubble to the west of where I was. I got my bins on it and it was a female Merlin. She was climbing up and then diving down towards the stubble and flying fast and low over the stubble and then repeating the whole process. She did this 5 or 6 times that I saw and then gave up and flew towards Curlew Wood and perched on top of one of the trees. I assume that she was trying to flush avian prey from the stubble. Typically I didn't have my camera with me and this means that all the photos on my blog today are 're-cycled'. 


Monday 7 February 2011

RIP Gary Moore

I heard the very sad news last night that ex Thin Lizzy and legendary blues/rock guitarist Gary Moore had died in his sleep in his hotel room in Spain. He was only 58 and it came as such a shock; I am sure he had many more years of 'string bending' ahead of him. He will be sorely missed.

Gary was one of the best blues/rock guitarists of his generation and you can see him in action here

I had to go to a meeting at Penrith today and on my way back at teatime I called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss to feed the Tree Sparrows. Surprisingly, as it was late, there were still 130 Tree Sparrows there and I also had a flock of at least 100 Fieldfares feeding in the stubbles in the 'Big Field'. Two Buzzards flew over calling as I headed back to the car.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Fair Weather Birder?

I don't consider myself a fair weather birder as I will go out in any weather if I think it will be worthwhile and this weekend was one of those when I felt that it wouldn't be. It has rained virtually all day yesterday (Saturday) and today (Sunday), so there hasn't been any birding for me this weekend.

Yesterday I went to the timber merchants and bought some timber to build some nest boxes and then I went to feed at my feeding station afterwards; so it was still productive. Last night I went to see folk-rock legends Fairport Convention and today I pulled together the ringing totals for our group for the year so far. We have processed the following new birds (recaptures in brackets):

Coot 4 (11), Great Spotted Woodpecker 1, Dunnock 3 (1), Robin 7 (4), Blackbird 33 (7), Fieldfare 1, Goldcrest 1, Long-tailed Tit 1, Coal Tit 4 (1), Blue Tit 8 (3), Great Tit 8 (5), Treecreeper 2 (1), Jackdaw (1), Starling 3 (1), House Sparrow 1, Tree Sparrow 3, Chaffinch 61 (13), Brambling 19 (1), Goldfinch 8, Siskin 53 (6), Yellowhammer 2 and Reed Bunting 1. This is a total of 224 new birds and 55 recaptures. Not a bad start to the year!

Wednesday 2 February 2011

More Yellow Bunts

I was a long way from Fleetwood today, in fact I was wandering round an arable farm near Bickerstaffe, Merseyside that I put into Countryside Stewardship a good few years ago now. I was having a walk round in preparation for a walk I am leading there in a few weeks time. So I wanted to work out a route and think about some of the habitat work that has been done to talk about.

It was pleasing to see that there was a good selection of farmland birds to be had even though it was a pretty awful morning weather wise. I had four coveys of Grey Partridge; 4, 9, 2 and 5. In fact the last 5 were leking in a rough field corner. Rough field corners are excellent for wildlife and I am always asking farmers not to be too tidy!

I have noticed over this past week that there have been a few more winter Thrushes around. Whether this is weather displaced birds returning I am not sure. I was out walking in the Silverdale area last Sunday and had 30 Redwings, and today I had 16 Fieldfares and 5 Redwings feeding in a small paddock.


Walking along a track I had a flock of 7 or 8 Corn Buntings fly over and then further on I had a further 21 perched up on some telegraph wires. As I approached a hedge alongside some stubble turnips I had a nice flock of Yellowhammers and in total I counted 72 birds, which is one of the largest flocks of Yellow Bunts I have had for some time.

 Corn Bunting

Walking back to the yard I had a couple of Skylarks, 2 Reed Buntings, 30 Pink-footed Geese and a Buzzard; so it wasn't a bad selection of farmland birds for a dreary Wednesday morning!

Reed Bunting

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Not An Owl to Be Had

It was a beautiful morning as I sat at the back of my car watching four Long-tailed Tits feeding along the ditch. I had called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss to do a feed and it was a shame that's all that I had time for. I had 125 Pink-footed Geese go over in flocks of 50 and 75, and 3 Stock Doves flew from Curlew Wood as I headed down the track.

It was quiet at the feeding station, perhaps because there was a shoot here yesterday, or maybe it was just that I had arrived when some birds had left. I had 40 Tree Sparrows, 8 Chaffinch and 3 Yellowhammers. As I drove off the Moss I checked the usual Little Owl spot, but the usual Little Owl wasn't there.

My good friend Nigel from Canada sent me some pictures of a couple of Owls he had ringed recently. Below you will find a picture of a Barred and Hawk Owl respectively. Stonkers!