Sunday 30 March 2014

Eyes in the Back of My Head

Surprisingly today was a second day of good Meadow Pipit passage and I say surprising as you usually don't get two days on the run when good numbers are moving through. I can only assume that the colder weather of recent weeks had more of a blocking affect than I thought.

It was still a little cold at first light this morning and I had virtual clear skies with a 2-3 ESE wind. It was a slightly later start with the clocks going forward, but still early enough. As soon as I set off on my walk round the Obs I detected a few grounded migrants in the form of a Goldcrest in the copse, one in the hedge and another calling from some Phragmites just behind the sea wall. I came across ten Wheatears that had obviously just dropped in by their agitated behaviour and in a matter of minutes they were gone. The other grounded migrant, and with a winter flavour, was a single Redwing.


Besides the Meadow Pipits, another feature of the vis this morning was an increase in Woodpigeons and Linnets, and also a few Lesser Redpolls. Hopefully in a few weeks time I will be tape luring Redpolls down to ring. My vis totals included 54 Woodpigeons, 28 Pink-footed Geese, 667 Meadow Pipits, 47 Linnets, ten Goldfinches, a Golden Plover, 17 Alba Wagtails, two Siskins, two Lesser Redpolls and two Sand Martins.  I noticed that quite a few of the Meadow Pipits were moving north quite a way inland and I had to keep turning round from my coastal watch point and scan towards the east. It was at this point that I could have done with eyes in the back of my head so I could look westward and eastward at the same time!

One of the Grey Partridges was still around this morning and there were just five Snipes on the flood. The sea was quiet with just 21 Eiders, four Red-breasted Mergansers, two Cormorants and two Red-throated Divers. The only raptor was a single Kestrel that I had later in the morning.

Back home my moth trap held five Hebrew Characters, two Early Greys and a single Clouded Drab. The weather looks okay again in the morning with some rain coming in, but not until mid-morning. It would be better if the rain came in over night to drop some migrants in, but I'll have to make do with a an hour or so looking at the sea and counting vis before work.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Grey Partridge Mega

The highlight of four hours at the Obs this morning was most certainly two Grey Partridges even against the likes of Black-throated Diver, lots of  Meadow Pipits and Harbour Porpoise!

I arrived at first light to find a cold niggly easterly wind with a dollop of murk to boot! Undeterred I pressed on with my walk and things didn't turn out too bad. From the off there was certainly birds moving, but it was very slow until about 0730 when the Meadow Pipit tap was turned on. My vis totals included 16 Alba Wags, five Goldfinches, 717 Meadow Pipits, 14 Linnets, two Grey Wagtails, six Siskins and two Curlews. The Mipits were mainly moving north out at sea or coming in-off, even in the murky conditions.

Grounded migrants included 12 Wheatears and two Grey Partridges. The Grey Partridges were a 'mega' sighting as they haven't been recorded at the Obs since the early 90s, so to flush two birds from the dunes was superb!

There was very little on the flood other than 20 Snipes, but it is looking good for a Garganey or two! As you might expect the sea was fairly quiet with all the murk, although an adult winter Black-throated Diver was a real bonus. It was fairly close in and drifted north with the tide preening and diving as it did so. The supporting cast included 21 Eiders, two Red-throated Divers and a Guillemot. A Harbour Porpoise close in was enjoyable and I had another marine mammal in the form of an Atlantic Grey Seal.

Meadow Pipits were still moving back home at 1.00 p.m. so the day total for the Obs when we work it out will be interesting. The forecast is looking okay for a few more migrants tomorrow with temperatures in double figures and a southeasterly breeze.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Peregrine Survey

I made my first visit to the random 5 km by 5 km square allocated to me for the BTO 2014 Peregrine Survey this morning. Even though this was a random square I knew that Peregrines had nested in this square for at least thirteen years and I headed straight to the only area where they could be. I sat an waited for half an hour and there was no Peregrine action; a Grey Heron and three Goosanders flew over, but no Peregrines.

Then I heard a Raven calling and it flew past, looped round and landed close to where the Peregrines had nested in the past. Then a second bird got up, I'd obviously missed it, and they swapped over; obviously incubating eggs! Not a Peregrine but certainly my first proof of breeding Ravens in this area, so I was still pleased. And of course the reason why there wasn't any Peregrines!

I had a drive around the rest of my square even though I knew there wasn't any suitable nest sites anywhere else. Close to the coast I came across a field with 510 Pink-footed Geese feeding in it and with them were three Greylag Geese. I have no doubt that the Greylags were of dubious origin, but I had to admit they looked good amongst the Pinkies.

 The three Greylags; one above and two below.

Pink-footed Geese

I then called on the Moss and was immediately greeted by a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Buzzards. A group of 28 Tree Sparrows were still close to my feeding station, even though I have stopped putting seed out now and am just letting the peanut feeders run down. A Green Sandpiper on a different flood and a flock of  146 skittish Curlews was nice; obviously migrants heading further east and north.

 A few of the 146 Curlews

I had a look on the river on my way home but it was quiet. A Chiffchaff in my garden this afternoon perhaps indicated that there were a few migrants about. Talking of migrants I hope there's a few about in the morning as I'm going to try and grab a couple of hours birding before work.

Monday 24 March 2014

Stratospheric Vis

I cocked up Saturday morning and didn't go birding! It rained all night and was still raining at 5.00 a.m. and my alarm was set for 5.30 a.m., so it turned it off and turned over; it didn't rain again all morning! And Sunday morning was a disaster too! I headed off walking round the Obs but the wind was a howling northwesterly and it was very cold. No grounded migrants, no vis and virtually no birds after three quarters of an hour, so I called it a day!

This brings me to this morning when the obs was bathed in sunshine but it was cold (ground frost at first) with a biting southeasterly wind on the coast. I headed north walking along the front stopping to sea-watch for lengthy periods of time and counting any vis going over. It was quiet on the sea with just 55 Eiders, 4 Cormorants, 5 Whooper Swans, two Red-breasted Mergansers, five Greylag Geese, two Red-throated Divers, a Common Scoter and a male Long-tailed Duck. In addition to the birds, I had an Atlantic Grey Seal bobbing around in the sea chomping on a fish.

I had very few waders this morning other than 21 Turnstones, 19 Oystercatchers, five Sanderlings and a Redshank. As hinted at in my blog title the vis was really high this morning in the clear conditions and birds heard, but not seen, were just recorded as a single when there could have been many more. Consequently my vis totals aren't what they should have been. Coasting through the Earth's upper atmosphere were 72 Meadow Pipits, 15 Alba Wags, ten Woodpigeons, seven Linnets, a Reed Bunting, a (well a Redpoll sp. to be accurate I suppose!), four Carrion Crows, a Goldfinch and a Siskin.

Back home in the moth trap were two Early Greys, a Hebrew Character, a Common Quaker and a Clouded Drab.

 Common Quaker

Early Grey

Hebrew Character

It's looking cold and generally easterly this coming week, and if it's fit I'll try and get out; after all it is spring!

Friday 21 March 2014


As I opened the front door this morning to get in the car and head off birding a Chiffchaff was singing from one of the gardens on the other side of the road. As it turned out this would be the first of several Chiffies I would have this morning.

I headed first to the pools by the saltmarsh in the hope that I would beat the dog walkers and perhaps get a Wheatear or two. I should have realised that there was no hope of beating the dog walkers to anywhere and they are now starting to become a real pain. One woman with three dogs was ignoring a sign that said 'Caution - No Public Access' and was walking her dogs in this area! Silly me, I forgot, if you have a dog you are entitled to walk anywhere! I would like to have walked across her garden and said "Trespassing? Not me love, I'm birding!". That is exactly the attitude they take.

Anyway, I couldn't really blame the dog walkers for a lack of Wheatears it was more to do with the biting 20 mph southwesterly wind really!  Two Skylarks were feeding this morning and I tried to get a picture of one when it landed and fed on the track adjacent to a large puddle, but it was really too windy.


Sixteen Tufted Ducks were on the pools and I had a calling Water Rail and a singing Song Thrush. I decided to beat a hasty retreat from dog hell and head down to the estuary for a look. Driving off site I had a Buzzard perched up fairly close on a chain-link fence and of course my bins were round my neck but the camera was in the boot; school boy error!

It was sheltered in the birch and willow scrub towards the estuary and I had at least seven Chiffchaffs in this area. On the reservoir were 23 Tufteds and a single Great Crested Grebe. It was fairly quiet out on the saltmarsh and mudflats and before long it was time to return home and get on with some work.

The forecast is looking grim for tomorrow with showers, a cold southwesterly wind and temperatures not much more than 5 degrees Celsius! I'll set the alarm and take a look; I must be mad!

Monday 17 March 2014

Still No Wheatears On The Patch

I did my usual walk round the Obs yesterday morning in a 15-20 mph westerly wind, so it wasn't particularly conducive to finding grounding migrants and I didn't think that there would be any vis, but there was.

Talking of grounded migrants the only grounded migrant I had was a Fieldfare at first light perched on top of a Hawthorn calling like mad before taking off and climbing into the sky.

On my walk round I like to make sure that I do a complete list for BirdTrack, so that means counting every species I see and hear. This means that I get a pretty good idea of how many pairs, or at least singing males, there are on my walk round. Numbers of singing male included four Dunnocks, two Greenfinches, four Wrens, House Sparrow, Reed Bunting and Skylark.

 One of the singing Dunnocks

As I said before I was a little surprised there was some vis given the strength of the wind but battling north I had 90 Meadow Pipits, 15 Alba Wagtails, two Carrion Crows, a Curlew and a Grey Wagtail.

As it has been of late here it was quiet on the sea with just 600 Knots heading south and 13 Eiders. The only raptor I had this morning was a single Kestrel and on the flood were just five Snipes.

Back at home I checked the moth trap and just two moths; an Early Grey and a Dark Sword-grass.

Early Grey

 Dark Sword-grass

The forecast is looking similar for the rest of the week with strong westerlies and relatively cold. Migrants will still battle through, but it just means finding them is more difficult and not as pleasant!

Saturday 15 March 2014

A Throng of Throats

I joined Ian this morning for a sea-watch and in the 20 mph WNW conditions it was quiet. The highlight of the morning was our 'throng of throats' which were in fact a single flock of 15 Red-throated Divers reasonably close in heading in to the bay.

The supporting cast to the 'throats' included 16 Eiders, three Cormorants, 23 Common Scoters and a Red-breasted Merganser. The vis was equally quiet with eleven Meadow Pipits battling north east across the bay and two Alba Wagtails.

Chris arrived and said that he had seen a Wheatear walking down and we decided to go and look for that and have a walk to warm up. Unfortunately we 'dipped' on the Wheatear and didn't see a lot else on our walk. Did I just say "dipped on the Wheatear"? I don't know why we as birders get obsessed about seeing our first Wheatear of the spring, when in a week or two's time they will be everywhere. I think perhaps that they are the first real harbingers of spring, although for me the first rasping call of Sandwich Tern as it passes by is equally evocative!

Walk and sea-watch abandoned I decided to have a look at the pools by the saltmarshes and it was quiet here too. No Wheatears to report just a calling Cetti's Warbler from the reeds.

The forecast is similar for tomorrow, although it might be slightly warmer and perhaps a touch less windy. So I will be back at the obs in the morning trying to see that first Wheatear for Ed.

Thursday 13 March 2014

A Wheatear for Ed?

It was Ed's funeral this morning and sadly I couldn't attend because of a prior engagement that I couldn't change. I thought about Ed at the time of his funeral and decided that I would go out later and try and nail my first Wheatear of the spring in his honour. Now that would be Northern Wheatear and not Desert Wheatear like Ed found on some spare ground next to a supermarket car park in 1994!

I hadn't seen Ed for over 20 years but had very fond memories of him. What I liked about him was that he was a bit of a maverick birder and 'ploughed his own furrow' and that is an ethos that I have always tried to follow. There's too many birder clones these days all wanting to do the same thing and having to see the same birds; not Ed.

Ed used to bird around urban Blackpool and certainly found some birds including Roller, Desert Wheatear, Richard's Pipit, Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatchers and Wrynecks to name but a few. I was lucky enough to see some of Ed's birds and in some unlikely locations, or were they? Ed was very much ahead of his time and realised that if he birded close to the coast, with perhaps some artificial light thrown in and in green areas in an urban desert migrant birds would be concentrated in these areas. Ed wasn't just about rare birds, but a dedicated student of migration.

Some local birders scoffed at some of his records, but I know as Ed did that they were all genuine, and like me he knew that 'time out = birds in'! He would spend as much of his time birding as he could and that would mean working these local patches every day. He used to work at the local telephone exchange and from his place of work, or the obs as he referred to it as, he could sea watch perhaps when he should have been working. As Ian said to me today if Ed had run his own shop there would have been sign permanently up on the door saying "back in five minutes"!

It was courtesy of Ed, or should I say Ed's mother, that I received a rather unusual nickname. Back in the early 80s I telephoned Ed one day to tell him that there was an Upland Sandpiper at Sandbach in Cheshire and that we were going to see it if he wanted to come along. Ed wasn't in and I left a message with his mother. When Ed got in, from birding of course, the message he received was that "Shaver had phoned and there was a Sandpiper in Cheshire"!

I have Ed to thank for my first Black Redstart when I had just started birding as a teenage boy and was thrilled to see this bird adjacent to a railway station, typical birding habitat for Ed. Wryneck sunning itself along a railway embankment a stone's throw from Blackpool Pleasure beach was another of Ed's birds that I enjoyed. I could go on telling gentle and humorous tales of Ed's birding exploits including the strange case of a Yellow-browed Warbler in a sweet jar, but I'll save that for another time!

He was a gentle man, a character, and there are few of these today sadly, and above all a great birder and a great bloke. And did I connect with a Wheatear this afternoon in his honour? Unfortunately not, but I did try.

The fog never lifted today as it was forecast to. The sun just didn't gain the strength to burn it off. It lessened slightly this afternoon and I hit the coast just in case there was a Wheatear or two about, but in reality I knew the chances were slim. I came across 40 Meadow Pipits grounded by the conditions and that was it. It was pointless looking on the sea as it was even foggier out there, although I could make out the forms of 29 Eiders in the murk.

It's looking similar for tomorrow, but if that fog lifts I'll go out and have a look.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

A few Hours Birding

My few hours birding, during this hectic week, started yesterday afternoon when I called at my feeding station on my way back from a meeting. It was a glorious afternoon and I was looking forward to a nice walk along the 97 Hedge. However, this didn't happen because in the Big Field were 28 Shelducks (record count for me here) and I didn't want to flush them as I surely would if I had headed along the 97 Hedge. So my visit was fairly protracted.

 Some of the 28 Shelducks in the Big Field

The Green Sand was on the flood and two Buzzards were 'knocking about' the woodland. There are less birds at the feeding station now as I am slowly winding it down and gently weaning the birds off it, so just 22 Tree Sparrows today.

A quick look on the river on my way home revealed a male and two female Goosanders and 12 Curlews, but very little else.

I had a report with a deadline of today and I was confident that even with an hour and a half's birding on the coast I would still get it done so I treated myself. It was a glorious morning, if a little cold at first, with clear skies and a light southeasterly breeze.

There was some vis, but not a huge amount, mainly because we have had settled conditions for a few days now and a great deal of 'stuff' will have moved through, and with it being still early in the spring there isn't a huge amount on the move as yet. My vis totals included two Grey Wagtails, 60 Pink-footed Geese, eight Alba Wags, eleven Linnets, two Rooks, nine Meadow Pipits and a Goldfinch.

The sea was like a mill pond, albeit with a little haze, but passage at sea was fairly light. I had 30 Eiders, 25 Common Scoters, 20 Whooper Swans on the sea, 21 Cormorants, 13 Shelducks, two Red-throated Divers and a Red-breasted Merganser. I also had the male Long-tailed Duck that steamed through the water and took up residence with a pair of Eiders.

I was hoping for my first Wheatear this morning, but it wasn't to be, and I had to make do with a male Stonechat.

I was hoping to get out ringing tomorrow but the 'pea souper' we have outside at the moment has put paid to that. I might nip out for an hour between reports when it clears later and see if I can find some Wheatears. 

Monday 10 March 2014

The Right Way

I thought it was going to be a Thrush morning yesterday as I had a Redwing over the garden in the half-light before heading to the Obs, and the first bird I had at the Obs was a Fieldfare, but they were the only migrant Thrushes I would record.

The wind had eased to a 10 mph southerly and all the vis was heading the right way (north)! Talking of vis on my walk round I recorded six Goldfinches, a Fieldfare, 54 Woodpigeons, 16 Alba Wags, a Chaffinch, 95 Pink-footed Geese, three Linnets, two Grey Wagtails and 30 Whooper Swans heading north just above the sea wall! Unfortunately I had moved away from the sea and was heading inland when I heard the Whoopers, and if I had been in the same position they would have flown low over my head giving me a good photographic opportunity. Well that's the theory anyway!

Birds holding territory included Great Tit, Wren,Robin , Woodpigeon, Dunnock, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Reed Bunting, Mallard and Skylark.

The sea was again quiet with just three Cormorants, eight Eiders and a male Red-breasted Merganser. To be fair I didn't spend a great deal of time looking as it was quite murky out there. Only 12 Snipe and no Jack Snipes on the flood and other than two Long-tailed Tits that was my morning at the Obs.

Back home I had a single Clouded Drab in the moth trap and if I kept a house list I would have added Raven as I had a single croaking bird heading northeast. Nice!

I should have been out this morning, but with numerous reports to write I thought it better to crack on and try and get out for a few days later in the week.

Saturday 8 March 2014

The Wrong Way

There was a cold southeasterly wind, perhaps 15-20 mph, blowing as I set off on my walk round the obs at first light. I had nearly full cloud cover at first, but this would lessen to about 4 oktas later.

Most of the vis, or what little I had, this morning was either heading south or east, presumably into wind. The only species where all individuals headed north was Grey Wagtail. My vis totals were four Grey Wags, five Alba Wags, nine Meadow Pipits, three Siskins, two Chaffinches and three Goldfinches.

I didn't have any grounded migrants as such, other than a single Goldcrest, but there were a number of 'off passage' Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits. There are two floods at the Obs at the moment and the first, more open, flood held seven Oystercatchers and two Redshanks. The second, more enclosed and vegetated flood held 18 Snipe and two Jack Snipes.  In this flood I had my first Frog spawn of the year.

Frog spawn

I had a look on the sea and it was very quiet and consequently I didn't spend much time looking and just recorded 19 Eiders and two Cormorants. Behind me in the field as I looked at the sea two Mistle Thrushes were feeding. 

 Mistle Thrush

My walk back to the car was quiet and the only other species of interest that I added was a male Sparrowhawk that landed in the copse and then got mobbed by six Magpies!

 On the way back to the car I photographed this Dandelion, or other such
Taraxacum, as it looked resplendent in the grassy bank.

The forecast is looking good for another wander round the Obs again tomorrow, but it isn't going to be quite calm enough for ringing, but it does look good for some ringing next week! I have loads of reports that need completing next week, but I will squeeze a ringing session or three in!

Friday 7 March 2014

The Week That Was

I've had a busy week work wise this past week and all I have managed to do is a couple of visits to my feeding station to wind it down and the odd site visit with work. At my feeding station totals have included ten Chaffinches, four Yellowhammers and 89 Tree Sparrows. The Green Sandpiper has been present on the flood all week along with its 'pal' the Grey Wagtail. Two Buzzards have been present along with a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker and 30 Linnets.

 Green Sandpiper

Earlier in the week I was running a farmland bird workshop in north Cumbria and had six Yellowhammers, Grey Wagtail and my first Raven of the year at the farm we held the workshop on.

I was on the blanket bog above Haslingden today for my sins and the only bird of note I came across was a Woodcock I flushed from amongst the Heather and Sphagnum.

Fingers crossed for a few more birds tomorrow!

End of February Ringing Totals

As is usual at this time of month I have updated the ringing totals over on the right for Fylde Ringing Group, and they are far from impressive. The wet windy weather of January and February certainly played havoc with our totals and we have a lot of catching up to do Let's hope for a settled spring.

I haven't done a top ten 'movers and shakers', but instead I have just listed below the top three ringed:

1. Blue Tit - 15
2. Yellowhammer - 12 (unusual to see this species so high in the 'charts')
3. Goldfinch - 9

The weather is looking settled next week and hopefully I'll be able to ring some Meadow Pipits at the Obs. In fact the weather looks good from tomorrow onwards for some early spring arrivals with high pressure and southerly winds. I'll be out in the morning looking for that first Wheatear.

Monday 3 March 2014

A Wee Bit Of Vis

Yesterday morning I had a stagger round the obs in the intermittent rain. The wind direction was southwesterly, veering southeasterly and picking up from five to ten mph.

One of the first birds I had was a cracking adult make Sparrowhawk that shot past in front of me across the field and onwards, and it also was the only raptor of the morning. I mentioned in my title that there was a little bit of vis and there was just a faint trickle north that included a Carrion Crow, eight Alba Wagtails, two Grey Wagtails, two Siskins and six Pink-footed Geese. Interestingly I didn't have a single Meadow Pipit on the move, but I did have 40 grounded by the wet weather.

It was quiet on the sea and all I had were 28 Cormorants, 27 Eiders, two Shelducks and four Common Scoters.

I had to shorten my walk back and miss out the 'middle hedgerows' as the dark clouds rolled in and the heavens really opened!

Saturday 1 March 2014

Mainly Yellow With A Sprinkling Of Box Brown

Amazingly it was calm enough to do some ringing at my feeding station yesterday morning and for perhaps only the second time this winter I had to clear some frost from my car before setting off to the Moss. The day dawned with a ground frost, virtual clear skies and most important of all no wind!

It turned out to be quite a good ringing session particularly for Yellowhammers and also because 62% of the birds ringed were red-listed.


I ringed 27 and recaptured (brackets) 12 birds as follows:

Tree Sparrow - 5 (1)
Chaffinch - 2
Blue Tit - 4 (6)
Great Tit - 2 (1)
Blackbird - 1 (1)
Dunnock - 1
Yellowhammer - 12 (2)

 Tree Sparrow


You can't have enough Yellowhammers

I hadn't seen any Grey Partridges for a while until this morning when I had a pair as I walked down the track on one of my net rounds. It was difficult to say exactly how many birds were using the feeding station as I was busy ringing but I would say there were 60-70 Tree Sparrows, 10-15 Chaffinches and 20-25 Yellowhammers.

Lapwings were making their presence felt by their exuberant display and I had seven displaying males plus an additional 146 birds, which I guess are continental birds on their way back east. It certainly makes the local birds work overtime with their display!

Over to the west were a number of Pink-footed Geese and I estimated there to be at least 2,100. They kept on getting flushed but I couldn't tell what by and at one time when they were flushed 21 Corn Buntings got up too.

Raptors were represented by two Buzzards and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming from one of the woodlands the Buzzards were in. Talking of calling birds I had both Skylark and Siskin go over high and I could see the Skylark, but not the Siskin.

With all the Yellowhammers around that's the yellow taken care of and the 'box brown' refers to Gail and I spending a day checking and maintaining a nest box scheme for Pied Flycatchers in Bowland and some Tree Sparrow boxes at the feeding station. The boxes were in good order and out of 56 boxes we only had to replace three.

Pied Flycatcher country in winter!