Thursday 28 February 2013

That Time of Year Again

I had to spend some time working on nest boxes this afternoon as Spring is rapidly approaching and I needed to have enough spare boxes for any replacements of my Pied Flycatcher or Tree Sparrow boxes. Gail will be treated to a day's nest box repair and maintenance on Sunday, but she doesn't know it yet!

 The top four boxes were built by my own fair hands 
and the bottom ones kindly donated to us.

Whilst working on my boxes this afternoon this little fellow was picking up 
sunflower hearts that the Goldfinches had dropped. As long as he/she 
stays outdoors it will be okay!

I made a brief visit to my feeding station yesterday and logged a male Yellowhammer, 18 Corn Buntings, a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, 12 Chaffinches, a Little Owl, 200 Lapwings, 80 Tree Sparrows and two Long-tailed Tits.

A brief visit to feeding station number 2 to feed the Turnstones this morning resulted in 80 coming to the food with eight leg-flagged birds amongst them.

 If you look carefully you can see two leg flagged birds amongst these 

The forecast is looking settled for the next couple of days so I am hoping to perhaps have a last ringing session at my feeding station Saturday morning before switching my attention to the coast next week in readiness for Spring migration at the obs. I can't wait!

Monday 25 February 2013

From Rawcliffe to Ouzel Moss

I was co-leading a field trip for some university students this afternoon in Bowland looking at habitat management on an upland farm. On the way there I called in at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss and carried out a quick 'splash and dash'. All I had during my very brief visit were 45 Tree Sparrows, two Yellowhammers, five Chaffinch and a Buzzard.

As I left the moss and headed towards Bowland I came across a nice flock of Chaffinch numbering 4-500 as an absolute minimum. Unfortunately I was dashing and didn't have time to look through them. I think inevitably there would have been a number of Barmblings amongst them.

Up in Bowland on our walk birds were thin on the ground other than 25 Lapwings, a male Kestrel, 15 Snipe and ten Fieldfares. On this particular farm was an area of fen habitat called Ouzel Moss and it got me thinking that it wouldn't be long before the first Ring Ouzels arrive!

Below are a couple of views from the office today.

Sunday 24 February 2013

End of the Terry Season?

Graham, Huw, Ian and I had an attempt to catch and leg-flag Turnstones this morning, but failed miserably. A combination of the birds becoming net shy and dog walkers were the cause. This is the second winter that we have been ringing Turnstones at this site and at this time of year they are less keen to come in for the food when the net is there, so this morning's lack of a catch was not unexpected.

However, we were just about to fire the net on about 20-30 Turnstones when a dog walker plus their mutt spooked the birds and they were reluctant to come back in. There are some high tides later this week, when depending on how the birds are behaving between now and then, we might have a last 'hoorah' before they start to depart to their breeding grounds.

If we don't leg-flag another Turnstone this winter the first year of this five year project will have been deemed a success as nearly 50 'Terry's' are fitted with leg flags and we look forward to receiving some sightings as they migrate north.

Saturday 23 February 2013

Coming and Going

Ian gave me today's blog post title when we were seawatching this morning and he commented that for some species moving it was difficult to tell what they were doing as they were 'coming and going'! Some would head east in to the bay, in a Spring movement direction, and then some would be moving west out of the bay!

It was bitterly cold in the northeasterly wind and there were the occasional snow flurries too, adding to the cold feeling. Later in the morning a guy stripped off into his swimming shorts and headed in to the sea for a swim! Watching him, made  us feel really cold. He must have been mad!

Rewinding back to first light I had ten Greenfinch exiting a roost in some privet as I walked along the footpath to the coast. A flock of 25 Linnets were feeding in the dunes and a male Stonechat gave the morning a Spring feel to it if you ignored the cold. The other passerine highlight was a male Pied Wagtail that headed northeast across Morecambe Bay; a definite migrant.

Numbers of waders on the shore were limited to 118 Oystercatchers and 125 Sanderlings. The Sanderling numbers building up again after their recent disturbance. 

The sea was where all the action was, although it was slow to start with. Eiders riding the waves numbered 37 and 28 Common Scoters moved east and west in and out of the bay in small groups. Red-breasted Mergansers were doing something similar and in total Ian made a count of 36 birds in one sweep of his scope.


Some of the 35 Red-throated Divers definitely looked as if they were moving as they were high in the sky and heading east. Some in groups of 4, 5 or 6. It was a bit trickier with the Great Crested Grebes and Shelducks. We had three Great Crests east, six west and one on the sea. Five Shelducks headed in to the bay and ten out.

I then went to feed the Turnstones and about a hundred were coming in to the food, and only ten were leg-flagged suggesting there had been an influx of birds.

Friday 22 February 2013

Birds Through Irish Eyes

These aren't birds through my Irish eyes, but through the eyes of Anthony McGeehan with Julian Wyllie. I've just finished reading 'Birds Through Irish Eyes' and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but then I am a fan of Anthony McGeehan's writing.

It's hard to 'pigeon hole' this book and say who it would appeal to. It is a 'coffee table' type book with cracking photographs and some brilliant writing, which is what you would expect from Anthony McGeehan. He is a talented 'word smith'! All the breeding, wintering and migrant birds of Ireland are given individual species accounts. For each species he describes how the bird looks and gives some detail of its ecology and status in Ireland, in both a modern context and historic one.

This is his description of a male Wigeon. "Drakes affect a Mohican hairstyle with a marzipan stripe crowning a terracotta head". Or how about "Red Kites are big, lanky basketball players. Gangly at rest, with long limbs and a loping gait, launched into flight they exude elegance and agility", or maybe "Curlews have the air of old gentlemen and move sedately, like an anglepoise lamp brought to life". You won't find descriptions like that in a field guide!

If you are an experienced birder you might be put off when you start reading the species accounts, but persevere because you will learn something about most species, I know I did. If you like stunning photographs and descriptive prose, then this book is for you. 

Thursday 21 February 2013

Feeding Station 2

I called at our Turnstone feeding station this morning where I share feeding duties with Ian and dropped another bucket of 'Terry' food off. There were about 50 Turnstones knocking around the grassed area and as soon as I put the food out, they were ready to come in.

What happens first though, as the following three pictures illustrate, is that the Herring Gulls, with some Black-headed Gulls, come in first and start picking through the food. As the mix is predominantly seed based, with suet pellets, fat balls & meal worms mixed in, they soon move off. The Black-headed Gulls dominate the feeding area now and the Turnstones hang around the edge of the Gulls knowing that it is their turn soon. Some will run in and try and take food from in between the Black-headed Gull's legs. Once the Black-headed Gulls have finished the Turnstones move in, with perhaps the odd Starling, and finish off.

I managed to read the ring number of a 2CY Herring Gull this morning by taking pictures from different angles and then blowing the images up on my computer. GR56992 anyone? My guess is that it is from one of the breeding colonies at either Walney, Bowland or the Ribble. Anyway it's safely logged on IPMR so I will find out in due course.  I also managed to re-sight 11 of our leg-flagged birds.

I'll be wearing my folk-rock hat later as I am off to see the mighty Fairport Convention in concert this evening!

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Norwegian Black-headed Gull

We received a handful of recoveries from the BTO recently and one of the birds we had been waiting for was a colour ringed Black-headed Gull that Craig had observed at Fairhaven Lake on 26th November 2012. This bird had been ringed at Frognerparken, Oslo, Norway on 8th April 2011 and was obviously wintering in the UK. See the Google Earth image below.

Based on the original ringing date of 8th April it is possible that this bird was still on migration and could have been heading to some breeding grounds further east. It could equally of course been back in the area it was intending to breed in.

I managed to tear myself away from my desk late morning to head to my feeding station to feed. I'm afraid that during the winter I become a slave to the feeding station, but I don't mind as we are gaining valuable information through ringing these declining farmland birds and the supplementary food that I provide helps the birds through the lean period of late winter.

The usual suspects were around including 135 Tree Sparrows and 41 Chaffinches. I had a short walk along the '97 hedge' before the biting easterly wind defeated me and had two Grey Partridges, 44 Corn Buntings, 16 Skylarks and 150 Pink-footed Geese heading west. On my way off the moss I had another flock of 20 Corn Buntings with a single Yellowhammer.

 Some of the Corn Buntings - honest!

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Wot No Snipe!

Alarm bells were ringing (metaphorically as well as those of my alarm clock) when I got up at 0430 this morning and I could see that there was a hard frost. Would the frost have put the Jack Snipes and Snipes off from returning to the pools after their night time feed?

I met Ian at 5.00 a.m. and we headed off to the pools in the dark. We opened the net and retreated to dry land to sit and wait for any returning Snipe. It was a long wait and gallons of coffee were consumed as we watched the sky brighten from the eastern horizon. We checked the net after a while and not a single Jack Snipe or Snipe had been caught. There was the odd Jack Snipe about, but no Snipe at all.

I think it was a combination of factors; the heavy frost (- 5 degrees Celsius) resulting in low numbers of birds returning before light and the fact that the net once up became coated in frost so that it would be very obvious as a dayglo white feature across the pools which every returning Snipe would be able to see and avoid!

You can't win them all and we will be returning for round two soon and hopefully we will be successful then. Having said all that it was cracking listening to the sounds of the estuary in the dark; whistling Wigeon, the bell-like calls of Teal and the 'wink-wink' of Pink-footed Geese flying in from frozen fields to feed on the estuary in the dark. Magic!

Monday 18 February 2013

Jacks, Rails and Sparrows

Not much to report today I'm afraid. It was a gloriously sunny day but I was stuck in doors for much of the day. Late morning I headed to my feeding station to drop some food off. I didn't have time for a proper look so consequently all I had was a Yellowhammer, 143 Tree Sparrows, 15 Chaffinches, a Song Thrush, two Buzzards and a Kestrel.

 There's eight Tree Sparrows in this picture - honestly!

This evening Ian and I dropped some gear off at the pools in preparation for a ridiculously early start in the morning and flushed four Jack Snipes. Most of the Snipe and other Jack Snipes had already headed out to night time feeding areas and fingers crossed we'll catch a few when they return to roost at the pools just before first light.

Looking out over the estuary it was like a mill pond and we could hear 'Pinkies' flying in to roost and two Water Rails called from the reeds as we headed back to our cars.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Waiting for Spring

I headed down to the estuary this morning and it was a beautiful morning with clear skies and a lightish southeasterly wind. I couldn't help thinking that in a month or two months time similar weather conditions would be producing a good movement of birds, but this morning it felt as if everything was waiting for Spring.

Walking along the raised bank cloaked in Hawthorns it was quiet. There were signs of a dawn chorus, but all the wintering Blackbirds had gone, probably to the relief of the Mistle Thrush that now didn't have to defend it's Hawthorn tree so vigorously. I met Ian down at the estuary who told me that there was very little on the river, so it wasn't worth walking across the saltmarsh to look on the mudflats.

We had a look on the pool but it was quiet, two Gadwall were the only birds of  note. All the diving ducks of recent weeks had gone. A Grey Wagtail without a tail headed high to the east and was the first true 'vis' passerine for me for the spring! A pair of displaying Stock Doves were a nice distraction and a flock of 120 Golden Plovers lifted into the air on the other side of the river.

We checked the reed-fringed pools, where we aim to hopefully catch and ring a few Snipe in the week, and there were 45 Snipe and four Jack Snipes. So that bodes well. At this point we were closer to the mouth of the estuary and out on some mud flats were a flock of 500 Lapwings and 300 Dunlin.

Overhead 120 Pink-footed Geese were high heading north, another bit of vis for the morning. And a further four Stock Doves hanging round some derelict buildings were also displaying. It would seem that everything, including me, is waiting for Spring.

Saturday 16 February 2013


Huw and I returned to the feeding station this morning and today the weather was better with a light southeasterly wind and 6 oktas cloud cover. With this wind direction the hedge offered some shelter and increased our chances of a reasonable catch.

Even though the weather was better from a mist netting perspective there wasn't the same amount of birds around. An early calling Siskin could only be put down in the notebook as a single bird because we couldn't see it, there may well have been a few. A party of 45 Lapwings were flying round for some minutes before they decided on a flooded field to land on and preen and feed.

As always when ringing it was difficult to assess how many Tree Sparrows were around but there were at least 80. On top of the trees of the wood were 25 Fieldfares and 12 Corn Buntings, and driving off the site later I had a further small flock of four 'fat birds of the barley'.

 Tree Sparrow

We ringed 15 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Blue Tit - 2 (6)
Tree Sparrow - 7
Robin - 1 (1)
Goldfinch - 1
Great Tit - 1
Reed Bunting - 2 (1)
Blackbird - 1
Chaffinch - (1)

 Blue Tit

Reed Bunting

No ringing tomorrow, but some birding at the obs for me.

Friday 15 February 2013

Wind In The....Hawthorns

Dave was down from Orkney this week and we went to my feeding station for a ringing session this morning and as we were putting the nets up it was nice and calm. The first round wasn't too bad, then the wind picked up, then dropped, then picked up again and we decided to call it a day as it whistled through the Hawthorns that weren't giving any shelter as the wind was from the northwest.

We ringed six birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Brambling - 1
Chaffinch - 3
Blue Tit - 1 (2)
Blackbird - 1 (1)
Tree Sparrow - (1)
Goldfinch - (1)


As we weren't there that long it was hard to get a handle on what was about and the details in my notebook are brief but include a calling Tawny Owl, a Barn Owl, two Bramblings, a Redwing, three Yellowhammers, 43 Lapwings and 18 Fieldfares.

The forecast is better for tomorrow so I will return to the feeding station for a short ringing session as we didn't cause too much disturbance this morning. The forecast is good, but than again it was for this morning, so I'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Up The Wenning

I was working along the River Wenning today and on my way there I called in at my feeding station to do a seed drop in readiness for a planned ringing session tomorrow morning. Birds were just starting to arrive at the feeding station so were limited to a Song Thrush, 66 Tree Sparrows and ten Chaffinches. A lot of rain had fallen over night and the adjacent fields were very wet and held 21 Lapwings, but little else.

Up the Wenning I didn't see a great deal but there were some more signs of Spring in the form of three male Lapwings on some maize stubble and four displaying Oystercatchers alongside the river. Other birds included five Fieldfares, a Siskin, a Dipper and a singing Mistle Thrush.

Snowdrops were out in profusion in the woodland on the opposite side of the river and I had a further taste of Spring this evening when I noticed a Frog on my back doorstep, presumably on its way to next door's pond.

Below are some pictures of the views from my office today as well as the aforementioned Frog.

A rather full looking River Wenning

 Some Snowdrops that have pushed through the deposited river silt

 Another view from the office

 This evening's visitor

Wednesday 13 February 2013


I detached myself from my desk late morning and headed to the Marine Lakes to feed the Turnstones in the snow as a break from the paperwork that I was buried under. It started snowing just after first light, laid down a couple of centimetres and then by early afternoon it turned to rain. As I type this at teatime most of the snow has gone.

As I headed into the car park I could see some 'Terry's' lurking around on the snow covered grass and as soon as I put the food down they were over with lots of Black-headed Gulls and the odd Herring Gull and Starling. In total there were about 80 Turnstones coming to the food and I managed to re-sight ten leg-flagged birds which was good.


Out of the ten leg-flagged birds all had been seen fairly regularly except one bird which was the first time it has been re-sighted since ringing on 16th December 2012. I assume because of the cold snowy conditions it had come in to the feeding station as it knew that it could find food here.

 A Turnstone scrum with some leg-flagged birds amongst them.

On the way home I spotted three Oystercatchers feeding on the grassed area in front of a block of flats, so I took a few snaps.

 Oyc in the snow

Tuesday 12 February 2013

A Tale of Two Mosses

Only working birding for me today I'm afraid. This morning I was towards the south of the county on Downholland Moss and had a few bits of pieces on some of the arable farmland including 50 Linnets, two Grey Pargridges, two Lapwings (a pair in suitable breeding habitat already), six Long-tailed Tits and 20 Fieldfares.

 The view from my office today

Spring Lambs

The second moss of the day was at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss. When I arrived the Tree Sparrows weren't at the feeding station in any numbers, but in the hedgerow across the field where they fly to when disturbed. Consequently I just had 30 Tree Sparrows and ten Chaffinches. On the way off I had the Little Owl in it's usual spot.

Monday 11 February 2013

Starting The Week With A Bang

I joined members of Morecambe Bay Wader Ringing Group today at the obs as we attempted to cannon net some wintering Sanderling. We had the assistance of the local council Rangers in closing the section of beach off where the waders had been roosting, which was a great help.

 One of the cannons used to fire the net

Setting the net

The operation went like clockwork, but unfortunately we only caught five Sanderlings, three Ringed Plovers and two Turnstones. The Turnstones were fitted with leg flags as as part of our Turnstone project.

The reason for the poor catch was simply that the birds didn't come in. We don't know where the birds were as all the sections of beach, other than the spit we were on, were covered by the tide.  It is likely that the roost was disturbed last Saturday by a car rally along the sea front and the Sanderlings moved off completely. Anyway, it was a first attempt to cannon net at this location and at least we know that it is possible so we intend to target the migrant Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings in Spring. I can't wait for that!

Interestingly one of the Ringed Plovers caught this morning was one of our birds ringed on 5th July 2011 that was ringed as part of a brood of two, and as Ian said to me this evening it's nice to know that it fledged successfully and survived. One of the values of ringing.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Saving myself for Spring..........

..........or that's what I keep telling myself when I am struggling to get out birding for any reasonable time mid-week. I can't wait for it to get light earlier so that I can get out before work, even if I am busy!

A quick call at my feeding station yesterday produced a Yellowhammer, 60 Tree Sparrows and 45 Chaffinches. Today I fed the Turnstones at lunchtime in preparation for an attempt to leg-flag some more birds this weekend. Some started coming in to the food and I was going to sit and hopefully re-sight some leg-flagged birds when a woman let her five, yes five, Terrier type things (you know the sort, more like articulated rats) off the lead and that was it, no more Turnstones!

A few Black-headed Gulls came in to feed after the dogs had left and the first Turnstone arrived back just as I had to leave. Hopefully things will be better at weekend.

Black-headed Gulls

 You can just make out the metal ring above the right knee on this 
Turnstone. Probably one of our birds from 2012

Monday 4 February 2013

January's Ringing Totals

Over to the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group and this month we ringed 131 birds of 13 species. By this time last year we had ringed 317 birds, so we have got off to a slow start, but it has been the weather that has caused the slow start.

Below I have listed the top three species ringed for the month, as these were the only species to be ringed in double figures:

Chaffinch - 43
Goldfinch - 27
Tunrstone - 14

No time for any real birding for me today other than to feed my farmland birds. It was pouring down with rain when I walked down the track loaded with food, so I didn't linger. I recorded a male Sparrowhawk, a Buzzard, 113 Tree Sparrows, 15 Chaffinches, 11 Redwings and a Song Thrush.

If you don't subscribe to British Birds then I can thoroughly recommend you getting a subscription. The main paper this month was 'Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom'. This was a cracking paper by the Avian Population Estimates Panel (APEP) that attempted to estimate the total population of breeding, passage and wintering birds in the UK.

It produces some amazing statistics and figures, and to give you a taste of these I have listed a few below:

- there are now thought to be 84 million breeding birds in the UK
- the ten commonest breeding species contribute 57% of this total
- Wren alone provides one in ten of our breeding birds
- in all 23 species exceed one million breeding pairs
- more than 8% of our breeding birds are pigeons and doves, more than double the number of all seabirds  combined
- less than 0.3% of our breeding birds are raptors or owls
- about 3% of our breeding birds are non-native species, mostly Pheasants, Red-legged Partridges and Canada Geese
- we have similarly sized breeding populations of Kestrel and Leach's Petrel, or of Scottish Crossbill and Little Grebe!

We might have one of the most studied avifaunas in the world, but this report highlights some of the gaps in our knowledge and comes up with some recommendations to improve population estimates. Some of these recommendations would make excellent projects for individual bird clubs to help fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Another excellent short article was about the exceptional arrival of thrushes on the east coast of England in 2012. A group of observers based at Blakeney Point, Norfolk and Spurn, Yorkshire were encouraged to put together this article by Ian Newton because "published accounts of spectacular arrivals such as these are surprisingly hard to find...and when writing his New Naturalist volume on bird migration, he found very few descriptions of such events in the literature".

To cut to the chase on 22nd October 2012 Blakeney Point recorded an incredible fall of 25,000 Redwings, 4,000 Fieldfares, 3,000 Song Thrushes, 3,000 Blackbirds, 30 Ring Ouzels, 400 Bramblings, 280 Robins, 80 Goldcrests, 25 Chiffchaffs and 5 Black Redstarts.

On the same day Spurn recorded, amongst others, 23 Woodcocks, 785 Goldcrests, 35 Chiffchaffs, 57 Ring Ouzels, 1,270 Blackbirds, 10,100 Fieldfares, 885 Song Thrushes, 21,070 Redwings, 20 Black Redstarts and 2,675 Bramblings.

So, if you were impressed by that and haven't got a subscription to British Birds be sure to get one!

Saturday 2 February 2013

Almost An Owl Fest.

There was a ground frost as I unlocked the gate to the obs this morning and the wind was a biting northerly. However, it was exceptionally clear and the views were stupendous. Starting from the east I could see the Bowland Fells, to the south Snowdonia, across the Irish Sea I could see the Isle of Man with the mountain of Snaefell peeking above the horizon, the Lakeland Fells to the north and then round to the Yorkshire Dales!

As I headed along the track a ghostly figure flipped over the hedge and a Barn Owl hunted along the embankment in front of me. As I headed towards the sea wall I picked up the/a Short-eared Owl hunting over the 'rough' fields and later on I saw this bird again hunting over the dunes.

There's always Gorse in flower, but at this time of year it does make you 
think of Spring!

Pink-footed Geese were arriving at the farm fields across the road and I counted 530 dropping in. I had a quick look on the sea and it was quiet other than eight Eiders, a single Red-throated Diver, four Common Scoters and two Auk species. Part of the reason it was so quiet was that the tide was a long way out as it was just about bang on low water.

I called at the Marine Lakes to feed the Turnstones and surprisingly 43 were roosting on the island along with 52 Redshanks. I say surprisingly as it was low water and there was plenty of feeding opportunities for them out in the Bay.

 Redshanks and Turnstones

A quick look on the pools soon had me heading east to my farmland bird feeding station because of the obscene amount of disturbance from dog walkers!

 Blue and empty pools, scene of yesterday's red head Smew

I had a short walk on the moss after feeding and recorded two Grey Partridges, five Roe Deer, 92 Tree Sparrows, 25 Chaffinches, three Song Thrushes, 11 Corn Buntings and three Redwings. On my way off the moss I had my third species of owl of the day in the form of a Little Owl in it's usual spot, making today almost an Owl fest!

Down On The Farm

I apologise for the lack of postings this week, but it has been all work and very little play! I shouldn't complain too much because my office is the great outdoors, but sometimes even though I am out surveying I see very little.

Amongst all the work I made sure that my farmland birds were fed and so were the Turnstones. My farmland bird feeding station is very settled at the moment with just under 100 Tree Sparrows regularly feeding there along with 20-30 Chaffinches.

In the week I was surveying some farmland in southwest Lancs and it was in an area of intensive vegetable and salad growing, where gross margins are critical to the profitability of the crop and the land is worked hard. It's a landscape of rectangular fields, mainly on mossland, with well maintained drainage ditches around all fields.

 My office this week

I had a nice flock of 72 Meadow Pipits, that got me thinking of Spring, especially when flying off giving their distinctive flight calls. In a few weeks time we should be starting to tape lure and ring them at the obs; I can't wait! Another reminder that Spring is just round the corner was singing Skylark and Mistle Thrush, both sing beautifully and lift your spirits on a cold February morning.

Pink-footed Geese were moving around from feeding area to feeding area and I had 445 go over as I walked round. A flock of 100 Linnets and a pair of Grey Partridges rounded the morning off. 

These ancient 'bog oaks' still appear when drainage work is done