Saturday 31 August 2013

An Improvement

I was back at the Point this morning and the visibility wasn't as good as yesterday but there were more birds around! I had nearly full cloud cover with a 20 mph NW wind. Ian told me that over night it had been southwesterly so we were hopeful for a few birds because a northwesterly is useless along our stretch of coast.

Movement at sea included eleven Gannets, 44 Sandwich Terns, two Common Scoters, four Common Terns, three Kittiwakes, two Shelducks, a Little Tern and a Fulmar. Not brilliant, but a lot better than yesterday.

There was also some waders on the shore and I counted five Curlews, nine Oystercatchers, 64 Turnstones, eight Dunlins, 82 Ringed Plovers and 63 Sanderlings.


It's going to be northwesterly overnight and then at 0700 tomorrow it is going to move westerly. Whether this will be in time or not I'm not sure but I'll still get up and take a peek!

Ringed Plover

Friday 30 August 2013

Where Have All The Birds Gone?

All I seem to be doing of late is moaning about a lack of birds. I know we struggle here on the west coast and at the moment the east coast is jumping with migrants, but it is very quiet at the minute even for here!

I had a look on the sea this morning and it was desperate! When I got to the Point just after 0600 I thought it looked promising as the visibility was cracking (you could almost read the time on Barrow Town Hall clock!) and the westerly breeze was reasonably stiff at 15 mph. Over the next three quarters of an hour I had five Sandwich Terns and two Common Scoters and that was it! Okay I know what you are all saying, "what a light weight only giving it three quarters of an hour", but I could tell it was going to be one of those  mornings.

I decided to cut my losses and look for some waders to see how many were roosting and whether I could pick up some of our leg-flagged Turnstones. Even that was hard work and all I could find were 23 Oystercatchers, four Redshanks, 15 Dunlin, 21 Ringed Plovers and four Curlews!

Oh well there's always tomorrow, but I've looked at the forecast and it's going to be northwesterly......eek!!!

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Northerley = Nothing

I returned to the obs for an hour and a half before work this morning, but yet again it was very quiet. I had full cloud cover and the wind was a 15 mph northerly, that veered NNW later on. It was too windy to operate mist nets so I did my usual circuit.

There were few birds grounded, just two Robins, two Wheatears and a Grasshopper Warbler. I say Grasshopper Warbler, when really I should perhaps say unidentified Locustella as I wasn't able to say which Locustella it was! However, we are on the west coast of England here and not in the Northern Isles so I am happy calling the bird a Gropper. As I walked along the central path I flushed the Gropper from some rank grassland underneath a wire fence. I couldn't get anything at all on it. It dropped down again about 10 metres further on and I flushed it again trying to creep up on it (no chance)! This went on a further 2-3 times and the bird then crossed over to an area of dry Phragmites and I gave up.

The only vis I had were two Swallows south and the sea was even quieter producing a big fat zero. As I 'pished' my way through the copse and back towards my car I flushed a male Sparrowhawk that dropped the prey it was carrying before flying off.

It will be Friday morning before I am out again and the forecast is showing that it will be too windy to operate mist nets at the obs. As the wind is forecast to be a stiff southwesterly and there is a morning tide it will be some sea watching for me. I'll let you know how I get on.

There was plenty of Sea Holly out but most of it was past its best.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Lightning Can Strike Twice!

This morning, for the second morning in a row, I only ringed a single bird at the obs. Yesterday it was a Dunnock and today a juvenile Goldfinch. I must admit I did expect a few more birds this morning particularly as some cloud cover had rolled in over night with the hope of it dropping a few birds.


I nearly ringed two birds this morning but a Tree Pipit escaped from the net before I could get to it! Vis was pretty slow as well with just a House Martin, a Grey Wagtail, five Tree Pipits and 13 Swallows heading south. The only grounded migrant I had was a single Whinchat which was nice, but it didn't completely make up for a slow morning.

Having said all that when you 'work' a coastal migration site with minimal cover when there are no birds around there certainly are no birds around! Likewise when you get a fall it more than makes up for those quiet mornings.

Talking of falls if you haven't heard what they had at Spurn Bird Observatory on Sunday (25th) and to a lesser extent yesterday click here. Awesome!

There is a weak front moving south tonight that will introduce some thick cloud, but unfortunately no rain, that might drop a bird or two. However, it is also looking like it is going to be a tad windy so I might not be able to ring in the morning but I will hopefully be out birding. As always I will let you know.

Monday 26 August 2013

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Don't worry I haven't gone all literary on you, but Keats's 'To Autumn' did pop into my head when I arrived at the obs this morning, particular the first two lines of the first stanza as it described the morning perfectly:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun

 A view over the obs this morning

It certainly was a misty morning and the 'maturing sun' glowed a deep orange as it rose above the horizon. It's a pity that the morning from a birding perspective didn't equal the poetic qualities and atmosphere of the morning. Funnily enough Ian and Me had discussed at the Swallow roost yesterday evening whether last night was going to be a 'clear out' or 'arrival' type of evening and after a couple of hours it was very obvious that it was the former.

But let's rewind to yesterday evening when Graham, Ian and Me arrived at the Swallow roost to ring some more Swallows. As dusk approached we got beyond the time where we would normally be catching Swallows as they respond to the MP3 lure and no Swallows were arriving! It was obvious there wasn't going to be a roost so rather than hang on indefinitely we decided to take the net down. In the end a few Swallows roosted and I mean a few, perhaps as few as 60! So we had 8,000 on the 22nd, 2,000 on the 24th and only 60 last night!

What had probably happened is that the Swallows have switched to roosting in maize as I have noticed on a few farms this past week that the maize has had a growth spurt and is at the correct height and density to support a Swallow roost. We shouldn't complain because while it lasted at the obs we ringed 671 which is a cracking total compared to recent years and I am pretty certain that Swallow will remain the most numerous species ringed for the group in 2013.

Back to this morning. As you will have gathered it was very quiet at the obs and all I managed to ring was a single juvenile Dunnock! There was some vis and I had an Alba Wagtail, a Meadow Pipit, 26 Swallows, three Grey Wagtails and a Yellow Wagtail all head south. I didn't have any grounded migrants at all and based on the weather conditions I couldn't really expect any.


For the next few days it is going to be fairly settled so I will attempt a few ringing sessions at the obs  but unless I can pull some diurnal migrants down the ringing totals could well be meagre; I'll keep you posted.

Friday 23 August 2013

Eight Thousand

I nearly did a postscript to yesterday's posting as there seemed to be a movement of birds after I had packed up ringing at the obs. Carrying out my household chores later in the morning I could hear a Sylvia warbler 'tacking' from a neighbouring garden and a number of Swallows were going over heading south. I knew Ian would still be out birding and he said that he had ringed 24 birds at the pools at the obs that morning and further to that he had two Garganey fly in as well. He was now at the coast and had thirteen Wheatears on the beach plus a steady passage of Swallows.

So where am I going with this? When we came to ring at the Swallow roost last night the obvious effect of all the movement throughout the day had swelled the numbers roosting to at least eight thousand! Unfortunately for us there was just Graham, Ian and Me available and so only one net could be put up and we ringed 81 birds. With another ringer and an extra net we could certainly increase our catch.

The forecast is a little 'iffy' for tomorrow, so as yet I'm not sure whether it will be birding, ringing or both, but it will be one of those combinations!

Thursday 22 August 2013

Early Morning Buzz

After 37 years of birding and 30 years of ringing birds I still get a buzz when I set my alarm for the morning and long may that boyish enthusiasm remain! I must confess sometimes when I'm setting my alarm for 3.00 a.m. and I have a fridge full of real ale delights such as Saltaire's Raspberry Blonde, Copper Dragon's Golden Pippin or perhaps Orkney Brewery's Corncrake then the temptation is not to bother!

It wasn't a 3.00 a.m. alarm call this morning, just a mere 4.40 a.m. instead! I know that seems like an odd time to set my alarm for but I have it off to a fine 'tee'. In 35 minutes I can have rolled out of my pit, got my gear together, put my poles on my car and unlocked the gate to the obs and started putting nets up!

I had that 'early  morning buzz' this morning in anticipation of what I might see or what I might catch. It is a great privilege to be able to ring birds and no ringer should ever forget that, and for me it is about contributing further to avian science and conservation.

Having said all that it was very quiet this morning! There was very little on the move other than my first southward bound Meadow Pipit of the autumn, an Alba Wag and two Snipes.

My alternative title for this posting was 'Blackwit Down' as on the front field I had a single Black-tailed Godwit on the deck feeding with nine Black-headed Gulls. Other than a single Sedge Warbler and a Whitethroat the 'Blackwit' was the only grounded migrant.

 Black-tailed Godwit

I ringed seven birds as follows:

Wren - 2
Sedge Warbler - 1
Whitethroat - 1
Robin - 1
Dunnock - 1
Blackbird - 1


The forecast is good for this evening so I should have a Swallow roost ringing session to report on tomorrow!

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Contrasting Uplands and a Few Swallows For Good Measure

On Monday evening Huw, Ian and Me had another ringing session at the Swallow roost. We estimated that between 3 and 4 thousand were coming in to roost and we ringed 72 birds plus two controls. The pre-roost Swallow bothering raptors included a magnificent Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Peregrine.

Yesterday I had appointments to see two clients in contrasting upland landscapes. My first visit was to Bowland and my second to the West Pennines. I was early for my first visit so I had a walk for about three quarters of an hour up the Langden valley. It was very quiet bird-wise and all I had were common woodland species calling from pockets of woodland such as Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Wren, Chaffinch, Robin and Siskin.

 There was plenty of Heather flowering in the Langden Valley.


My second visit was to the West Pennine Moors and this area is completely different to Bowland steeped in industrial history and still very much a working upland landscape with the proliferation of wind turbines. It was quiet on the moor tops and all I had were Meadow Pipits and Skylarks for company.

 I'm not good on mushrooms and I found the above mushrooms in a heavily
grazed pasture. I suspect they are Dung Roundhead Stropharia semiglobata

 Hyndburn Wind Farm in the West Pennines.

The forecast is looking reasonable for some ringing at the obs tomorrow, although there is a chance that there could be some rain about. I'll just have to keep my eye on the forecasts and make a decision later.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Rush Hour

The first hour, or perhaps hour and half, was probably the best off the Point this morning. I didn't get there until 0620 and was greeted with 6 oktas cloud cover and a 20 mph SSW wind. The visibility was fairly good unless some squally showers were blowing in to the bay.

Walking to the point I had three Grey Plovers in full summer plumage on the beach and I was about to take a picture of them when they flew off. Grey Plovers are one of my favourite waders; stunning birds! As the tide dropped a few other waders dropped in including another Grey Plover, 41 Dunlins, four Turnstones, four Sanderlings and 47 Ringed Plovers.

 Ringed Plover

There was quite a push of Manx Shearwaters and Gannets this morning and I had 126 and 53 respectively heading west out of the bay. There were good numbers of Terns roosting on the shingle spit and when the tide pushed them off Ian managed to count them and we had 178 Sandwich Terns, 35 Common Terns and a single Arctic Tern. Later in the morning the Tern totals were added to by a single Little Tern generally heading out of the bay but pausing to feed as it moved along.

Wildfowl were represented by 36 Common Scoters, a Tufted Duck and three Eiders. Only two skuas this morning and these were a single dark morph Arctic and a Bonxie. The Arctic spent the morning harrying the Terns and at one point I watched it chase a couple of Terns and then the two Terns chased it!

An Atlantic Grey Seal put in an appearance later in the morning and the only vis was eight Swallows west.

 Atlantic Grey Seal

It's going to be fairly windy, but dry, again tomorrow so it will be a spot of sea watching again for me. 

Thursday 15 August 2013

Two Tytos

Yesterday evening I visited some farming friends of mine, Robert and Diana, to hopefully ring a brood of Barn Owls nesting in a box in their barn. We were joined by my trainee Huw and Dave and Claire, some friends from Orkney.

Robert and Me checked the box on a beam in the loft of the barn and were pleased to find two well-grown young Barn Owl chicks. They were ringed by Dave and Huw and safely returned to the box. Many thanks to Robert and Diana for providing the box for the Barn Owls in the first place and secondly for allowing us to ring them.

 One of the Barn Owls chicks

The weather today has been atrocious and there is absolutely no chance of us doing the Swallow roost this evening so we are going to leave that until tomorrow when the forecast is a good deal better!

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Chart Topper Numbers Reduce

Huw, Ian and Me had another session rinigng at the Swallow roost last night. The numbers of birds coming in to roost had reduced to about 2,000, but we still mnaged to ring 40 and we also controlled a bird. This brings our Swallow totals to 562 ringed for the year, plus 14 controls. It will be interesting to see where the 14 controls are from.

The forecast is looking good for some coastal ringing tomorrow morning and there might be a decent vis movement but unfortunately yours truly probably has a site visit in the morning. What is even more annoying is that tomorrow looks like the only chance for some mist netting at the obs for a week!

Hopefully I'll have some Barn Owls to talk about next time.

Monday 12 August 2013

Swallow Tops Both Charts

This isn't a choir of roosting Swallow calls topping the UK album and singles charts, but the charts refelecting the number of birds ringed by Fylde Ringing Group so far this year and on a monthly basis. Over on the right I have updated the ringing totals until the end of July and we have ringed 1,974 birds of 59 species.

New species ringed for the year during July were Herring Gull, Sand Martin and Swallow. Below is the top five ringed for the month:

1. Swallow - 232
2. Reed Warbler - 59
3. Whitethroat - 57
4. Sedge Warbler - 51
5. Greenfinch - 30

The top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year so far are as follows:

1. Swallow - 232 (straight in)
2. Willow Warbler - 131 (down from 1st)
3. Goldfinch - 126 (down from 1st)
4. Chaffinch - 119 (down from 1st)
5. Great Tit - 99 (up from 6th)
6. Tree Sparrow - 94 (down from 4th)
7. Blue Tit - 89 (up from 7th)
8. Sedge Warbler - 86 (straight in)
9. Reed Warbler - 81 (straight in)
10. Lesser Redpoll - 79 (down from 5th)

It's nice to see Sedge and Reed Warbler coming straight in to to the top ten and Chiffchaff and Whitethroat aren't far behind. We are getting the impression from our ringing totals, and particularly the number of juvenile birds ringed, that it has been a good breeding season for some of the later nesting species (warblers) and a poor breeding season for some of the earlier nesting species (Tits and Tree Sparrow). However, we will have to wait until later in the year to confirm this.

Let's hope for some good weather during August so we can see if the trend is continuing.

Sunday 11 August 2013

Saltmarsh Saunter

As I intimated yesterday the forecast was somewhat marginal for this morning and as such I didn't get up too early. I rolled out of 'my pit' just before 6.00 a.m. and it was dry but quite windy; what to do? There wasn't a tide until mid-afternoon so I decided to head down to the estuary and saltmarsh.

It was very quiet walking through the Hawthorn scrub and I didn't record anything of note. A quick look on the freshwater pools revealed four Grey Herons (including one on the estuary), 13 Tufted Ducks, including a female with a brood of six young, six Little Grebes, 23 'hawking' House Martins and a single Buzzard flew overhead.

 Grey Heron

It was very quiet on the estuary with very few waders other than Curlews and Redshanks. The Common Sea-lavender was in full flower and it was as if there was a blue haze shimmering above the saltmarsh. Walking back I had five Stock Doves and I decided to call it a day.

 Common sea-lavender (above & below)

It will be more Swallows from me tomorrow as fingers crossed we will be able to ring some more.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Do 5,000 Swallows Make An Autumn?

Just a quick update on our Swallow roost. Ian and Me spent Friday evening in the reedbed with a mist net and five thousand Swallows for company! Again we had a 'controlled' catch and ringed 76 birds and also controlled two. No adults at all yesterday evening, just juvs. Off the top of my head I think we have ringed 500 so far which is excellent.

I can't quite work out the forecast for tomorrow as the BBC is contradicting itself and XC agrees with one of the Beebs synopses! Only one thing for it, set my alarm and see!

Thursday 8 August 2013

Woolly Hat Weather

Forget all the usual signs of early autumn; post-juv dispersal, Swifts silently vanishing, Swallows roosting, post-breeding flocks of finches, return passage of waders etc, the best and most reliable sign is when you first have to put your woolly hat on! And that was this morning. As soon as I got out of the car at the obs and felt the chill air of clear skies and a light southeasterly wind, I had to put my woolly hat on for the first hour!

It was very quiet this morning as the ringing totals of just seven birds testifies, although the juv. male Sparrowhawk did liven things up a little. All were new and the seven birds were as follows:

Wren - 2
Willow Warbler - 1
Robin - 1
Dunnock - 2
Sparrowhawk - 1 male



The only grounded migrant was the Willow Warbler that I ringed, which wasn't surprising given the clear skies overnight, and visible migration wasn't much better with just three Pied Wagtails, three Snipe, a Swallow and a Golden Plover heading south.

The forecast is looking good for the Swallow roost tomorrow so I'll have some more Swallow news then.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

They're Still Here

It was just Ian and I last night for our biggest catch of Swallows for the year so far. It was a glorious evening with calm conditions, ideal for mist netting at a roost. About 3,500 Swallows were roosting and we ringed 95 with three controls. In addition to the Swallows we ringed two Sedge Warblers and a Reed Warbler. Incidentally we have ringed 443 Swallows so far at the roost this autumn and it's fingers crossed that it lasts a little while longer.

It's an early start for me tomorrow morning for my first ringing session for the autumn at the obs. I'll let you know how I get on.  

Sunday 4 August 2013

Saturday Night Fever - Fylde Ringing Group Style!

Where did you spend your Saturday evening? I would be impressed, surprised and even disappointed if you said you spent it in a damp reedbed as did Huw, Ian and Me!

There was a window in the weather last night to enable us to put some nets up at the Swallow roost and even though it was Saturday night we gave up an evening of real ale to ring some Swallows. Well not quite, as I had a couple of pints when I got home at 10:30 pm!

On Friday evening the roost had peaked over recent days at 4,000 birds, but this evening there were about 2,000 coming in probably due to the weather. We ringed 50 birds and all were juveniles apart from just two adults.

Pre-roost we had two Kestrels and I wondered whether Swallows ever feature as a prey item to Kestrels; I'll have to look that up. To avoid disturbing the roost we only ring at it no more than every three days and looking at the forecast next Tuesday is going to be the next suitable day and that fits in nicely with the timings.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Blame It On The Heat Haze

Shamefully I didn't get out until 0640 this morning as I sampled one or two real ales last night and consequently as it had been light, and warm, for a couple of hours a heat haze had developed on the sea making viewing conditions tricky, bordering on useless! It was a shame as otherwise the weather conditions were quite good for an early August sea watch in as much as there had been a fairly stiff southwesterly wind for a couple of days and there was a morning tide.

However it wasn't to be and the sea was fairly quiet. In just under two hours all I recorded was a single Common Tern, three Gannets, five Cormorants, a Sandwich Tern and six Common Scoters. There were a number of Terns out in the heat haze and all I could say was that they were Terns!

Perhaps the best birds of the morning came towards the end of my watch when Ian and I decided to walk down the point and look at the waders; there wasn't many of them either! Ian shouted that he had four Little Terns going west close in and I got on them and there was actually at least six! There could just have been a couple more as they kept disappearing in wave troughs making counting accurately difficult.

As I hinted at above waders were in low numbers and I recorded 30 Oystercatchers, 52 Dunlins, two Grey Plovers (west), six Turnstones and 17 Ringed Plovers. The only visible migration I had were two Swallows west.

After my shortened seawatch I headed to the pools to remove my ropes from the net rides in preparation for switching my autumnal ringing effort to the coastal farm fields and hedges.

Friday 2 August 2013

The Juv.'s Are Back

Huw, Ian and I 'worked' the Swallow roost again last night and numbers had built up to at least 3,500 since last Monday (29th July). We had a controlled catch and ringed 66 birds. When I say 'controlled' I mean that we MP3 lured the birds in until we had caught enough and then we turn the MP3s off, extracted the birds quickly, and quietly took the nets down and left the roosting area to minimise disturbance.  I like to catch early so that we can release the birds safely back into the roost with sufficient daylight. It would easily be possible to ring a lot more than this with a bigger team, but alas the number of active ringers in our group is limited.

Out of the 45 birds that Huw and I handled only two were adults (4%), which wasn't surprising giving the numbers of birds coming in to roost. 

There wasn't much to report pre-roost except that Ian had a Hobby earlier over the pools and after it had caught a dragonfly it headed towards the roost. We fantasised that perhaps it might chase some Swallows into the roost, but in reality that was never going to happen. Instead we had to be satisfied by watching a male Sparrowhawk darting through the willows. Not a Hobby, but still a stunning bird!  

Thursday 1 August 2013

Plants and Inverts

Ian and I spent a day botanising (if there is such a word) with botanist extraordinaire Eric, who recently completed the Flora of North Lancashire. We took Eric to some sites around the peninsula that we thought he might not have looked at before and that might be good for plants. He did find quite a few interesting plants and some of them scarce records for Lancashire, but as Eric speaks plant names in forked tongues (latin) I can't tell you now what they all were. Once he has compiled the full list I'll be able to have a look properly at what he found.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable day and I took a few snaps of some common plants and a few inverts that we came across and you can see these below.

Amphibious Bistort. This was on a pond that Eric hadn't surveyed for 
forty years!


 Blue-tailed Damselfly.

 Common Blue

 Green-veined White on Water Mint

 Marsh Woundwort

 Meadow Brown on Water Mint. In fact the Water Mint at all the wetland
sites we visited were full of invertebrates.

Purple Loosestrife

Small Skipper

Strawberry Clover

Tufted Ducks. We came across two broods on our travels.

Water Mint - insect magnet!

The forecast is looking okay for another ringing session at the Swallow roost this evening so I'll let you know tomorow how we got on.