Saturday 29 November 2014

From Tree Sparrows to Twite

I had some reasonable counts yesterday at my feeding station with definitely the highest count of Tree Sparrows of the winter so far with 136, and Yellowhammers a respectable seven. I had my best Corn Bunting count of the winter so far with 28 and Great Spotted Woodpecker and Grey Wagtail made up the best of the rest. On my way home I had a look on the flood and the two Green Sandpipers remained with 15 Redshanks.

I didn't have a huge amount of time this morning for birding as I had to try and get a new car sorted out for Gail (not brand new, just new to Gail!) so I just had an hour and a quarter on the estuary. Potentially based on last night's forecast I could have gone ringing this morning but I was glad that I hadn't as the wind was a stiff easterly and too strong for mist nets; I've saved that for tomorrow.

 Sunrise on the estuary

I think the theme of this morning was really looking at birds, because I think as birders we are guilty of counting birds without really 'looking' at them, or I am sometimes anyway. I heard Redshanks alarm calling and there 'shooting' just a foot or so above the mud was a male Sparrowhawk. I watched it come across at lightning speed and then it pulled up to fly over the fence, drop back down to ground level, pull up over another fence, drop back down to ground level and then pull up over a house and then I lost it; brilliant!

There were 39 Redshanks out on the mud with fifteen Black-tailed Godwits and a single Knot. The Blackwits were the second species that I really 'looked' at this morning as I was watching them to try and get some pictures. I observed a couple of birds feeding and two bits of, what is probably very common behaviour, struck me. I assume that they were feeding on Ragworms as I could see them puling out pretty lengthy and hefty worms from the mud. One bird every time it caught a Ragworm would run down to the creek, wash it and then swallow it. Presumably it was removing all the sand and grit!

I was also amazed at how far they would push their heads in to the mud to try and find these large juicy worms. Sometimes their heads were completely submerged with mud half way up their necks! As I say, this will be common behaviour, but I hadn't noticed it before because I obviously haven't really 'looked' at Blackwits in any detail in the past.

As the sun rose the Pink-footed Geese were lifting from their estuarine roost and I had 707 take off and head north and east to their feeding sites. Talking of birds exiting roosts I had 20 Twite fly past me, heading to foraging areas on the saltmarsh from wherever their roost site was. After 250 Lapwings and 228 Herring Gulls out on the mudflats it was time for me to turn back and head home.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Three Figures!

I called at my feeding station this morning and I was going to say that it was the first time this winter that the count of Tree Sparrows had reached three figures, 107 this morning, and then I looked back in my notebook and saw that on 8th November I had 110! So it is only the second time this winter that the count has got into three figures. There's probably a few more to come yet as they usually peak at about three hundred.

The Yellowhammer numbers are impressive here for the time of year and this morning I counted 14. I know these aren't huge numbers, but normally I wouldn't get these sort of numbers until 'the hungry gap' towards the end of winter, so I'm not sure what's going on. Two thoughts occurred to me; either a good breeding season so there are more birds around or a shortage of food locally forcing them to come to the feeding station earlier than normal.

On my way home I called at the flood and there were two Green Sandpipers, eight Redshanks and 50 + each of Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail. Oh and a Grey Wag too.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Birding North Of The Border

From the picture above you can see that I was birding north of the border yesterday in Scotland, and along the Solway coast at Caerlaverock NNR to be precise. I had dropped Gail off at a Christmas cake decorating day in north Cumbria and as I wasn't due to pick her up for a few hours I decided to pop north of the border to do some birding.

The weather was quite kind to me considering what it had been like driving up and I had three oktas cloud cover with a 15 mph southwesterly wind.

I didn't see a huge variety of species but it was just nice to be out birding in a different part of the world and seeing Barnacle Geese, which have got to be one of the best looking geese anywhere. As I stated above I headed to Caerlaverock NNR, not the duck brothel a little further up the estuary, and I had a walk along the board walk through the reedbed near Holland's Farm and had a look across the saltmarshes and out on to the estuary.

 Barnacle Geese

I didn't have a huge variety of species, but what the day lacked in variety it made up in terms of numbers. Barnacle Geese were certainly the feature of the day and in total I had 1,180; some in roadside fields driving to the site and the majority out on the saltmarsh as the tide ran in.

I didn't have much in the reedbed other than a calling Water Rail, thirteen Skylarks over and four Reed Buntings. I had a look from the hide at the eastern end of the reedbed, but this was pretty useless and the picture below shows why; not the best of views from a hide!

 Not the best views from a hide!

I also met a couple walking their dogs on the boardwalk and they had three dogs; one on a lead and two Spaniels off the lead and they were continually crashing through the reeds. It's a fecking NNR for heaven's sake!

 The board walk

Out on the saltmarsh were a number of waders and wildfowl including 363 Lapwings, 96 Shelducks, 40 Wigeon, 600 Golden Plovers and 75 Curlews. Suddenly everything got up and a female Hen Harrier sailed in to view giving stonking views. Rather than dive for camera I decided just to enjoy the spectacle and watch her float past; brilliant!

 Views across the reserve

I then headed to another site further east on the reserve where there was an impressive number of waders roosting including a thousand Lapwings and 3,700 Oystercatchers. No raptors here but a Raven flew over that stirred things up a bit. Soon enough it was time to pack up and head back south to pick Gail up.

 Gail's decorated Christmas cake

I should have been ringing at my feeding station with Huw this morning but a sleepless night after a bout of bad heartburn meant I had to call it off, but I did get there later in the morning to feed. Tree Sparrows numbered 40, with an increase of Yellowhammers to eight, and a a flock of thirteen 'honking' Whooper Swans over rounded off my quick visit.

Friday 21 November 2014

Same Old Same Old!

I'm back in that same old winter routine now of birding at weekend and then my feeding station visits takes up any mid-week birding time that I might have. I called yesterday to feed and Tree Sparrows numbered 83 with eleven Chaffinches and singles of Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer.

On the way home I called at the flood and Redshanks had increased to six, but there was only one Green Sandpiper. I should be able to report a few hours of birding north of the border tomorrow, so I'll let you know how that goes.

Monday 17 November 2014

Great Northern In A Northerly For Breakfast

Straight after breakfast I headed to the shore to spend an hour or so watching the sea over the falling tide before heading back home to write yet more reports. I had full cloud cover this morning with a 20 mph northeasterly wind.

Walking up to my observation point I had few waders on the beach including five Turnstones, 157 Oystercatchers, eight Grey Plovers and 16 Sanderlings. There would have been far more waders roosting on the shingle ridge, but time was of the essence this morning so I just stayed at my observation point. I managed to find some shelter and glued my eye to my scope.

After I had been watching for about twenty minutes I picked up a large Diver heading northeast, slightly away from me and across the bay, and I soon realised that it was a Great Northern Diver! The supporting cast included 18 Eiders, 75 Cormorants, 49 Common Scoters, five Red-breasted Mergansers, three Greylag Geese, a Razorbill, a Great Crested Grebe, a Red-throated Diver and an Atlantic Grey Seal.

Unfortunately it was soon time to head home and do some work. I am hoping to escape for an hour or so in the morning on Wednesday and I'll let you know if I do.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Weekend Round-Up

Yesterday morning I had a mooch round the Obs and at first light I had full cloud cover with a 10 mph southeasterly wind. There was a little vis (all south unless otherwise stated) and this included a Blackbird, two Fieldfares, four Chaffinches, 80 Woodpigeons northeast, a Reed Bunting, two Skylarks (and then dropped on to beach), seven Greenfinches and two Goldfinches.


There seemed to be a few Thrushes grounded in the form of a Mistle Thrush, a Fieldfare and three Song Thrushes. There were a number of Blackbirds around but it wasn't obvious whether they were freshly grounded or not.

Pink-footed Geese were arriving from their roost on the estuary, 1,392 in total, but someone was shooting at them as they were coming in to the farm fields. In fact there was a lot of shooting going on and I could see huge numbers to the east being disturbed through shooting. I'm not anti-shooting per se and if someone shoots a goose to eat rather than buy some factory reared chicken from a supermarket then that's okay by me. However, I'm not in favour of people shooting for a giggle, particularly fantastic migratory species like Pink-footed Geese. And in cases when people are shooting for a giggle I don't understand how they can gain pleasure from killing something for a laugh, and perhaps it says something about their personality!

 Pink-footed Geese arriving to be shot at!

A Little Owl perched at the top of a down spout was a pleasant distraction before I had a look on the sea. The sea was fairly quiet other than 33 Common Scoters, two Great Crested Grebes, eight Cormorants and twelve Shelducks.

 Little Owl (honest!)

I then headed to my feeding station to feed in preparation for this morning's ringing session. A total of 52 Tree Sparrows were present plus two Yellowhammers and a Corn Bunting.

 Tree Sparrow

This morning I met Huw and Aimee at my feeding station just as it was coming light and we put two nets up in cloudy and calm conditions; perfect for ringing. As ever at the feeding station the aim is to try and ring red-listed farmland birds and we didn't fail this morning but the numbers weren't high. We ringed 19 birds (recaptures in brackets) as follows:

Yellowhammer - 2
Greenfinch - 1
Robin - 1
Great Tit - 2
Tree Sparrow - 3
Blue Tit - 10 (5)


Whilst we were putting the nets up in the 'half light' a male Tawny Owl called from the wood and we flushed five Grey Partridges from where we set up our ringing station. Other species recorded whilst birding between net rounds included 14 Fieldfares, a Buzzard, 230 Jackdaws, four Yellowhammers, a Grey Wagtail, eleven Skylarks, a Corn Bunting and a Siskin.

On my way home I called in at the flood and the two Green Sandpipers had been joined by three Redshanks. There's a tide in the morning so I might have an hour at first light before locking myself in my office for the day!   

Thursday 13 November 2014

One Or Two Bits And Pieces

I couldn't describe the week so far as 'full on' from a birding perspective but I have had one or two bits and pieces. I was driving back from site visits on Monday when Ian phoned me to say that there was an adult Greenland White-fronted Goose amongst the Pink-feet. I knew where the Pink-feet were feeding and as I was close to home I decided to go and have a look.

After a few minutes I found the 'White-front' amongst the c. 2,000 Pink-feet. It was feeding at times and then it would lie down and feed whilst down on its belly. I only had bins with me but it was easy to pick out and I couldn't see anything else amongst the Pinkies. I've attached a shot of both the White-front and Pinkies below, but I must point out that the White-front shot was taken through my car windscreen on full zoom.

 Greenland White-fronted Goose

Pink-footed Geese

Yesterday I called at my feeding station and Tree Sparrows numbered 95 with a supporting cast of three Yellowhammers and 14 Chaffinches. On my way home I looked on the flood and there were still two Green Sandpipers with at least 40 Pied Wagtails and a number of Meadow Pipits.

The forecast is looking okay for ringing at weekend, so fingers crossed that it remains so and I can get a first session in at the feeding station.

Sunday 9 November 2014

A Typical November Morning On The Patch

As I headed out of the house at first light this morning to go to the Obs I could hear Chaffinches calling overhead and wondered whether there would be a few moving over the Obs. Five minutes later I was at the Obs heading off on my walk with virtually clear skies and a 10 mph 'keen' southeasterly wind.

As at home the first bird I had was a calling Chaffinch heading high south, but in all honesty the vis didn't amount to very much. I had three Reed Buntings, five Chaffinches, a Goldfinch, a Meadow Pipit, 92 Starlings, two Redwings, seven Woodpigeons and five Skylarks.

There weren't many grounded birds around either and all that I did consider as grounded were a Fieldfare, a Goldcrest and a group of two Reed Buntings and five Greenfinches that dropped in, before heading off south again. A couple of Stonechats showed fairly well, but these have been around for a while.



There were a number of Pink-footed Geese dropping in to the farm fields and I had a total of 1,769 drop in. I had a look at them on my way home but unfortunately I was looking in to the sun, so I gave up.

There were a few bits on the sea and I had two Cormorants, a male Eider, 23 Common Scoters, two Auk sp., two Great Crested Grebes and three Pintails.

It's site visits for me tomorrow but I should be out at my feeding station on Tuesday to see how the numbers of Tree Sparrows are building. I'm hoping to set up another feeding station in a plantation closer to home soon, but more of that over the next few weeks.

Saturday 8 November 2014

October's Ringing Totals

As usual at this time of the month I have updated the ringing totals of our (Fylde) ringing group over on the right, and by the end of October we had ringed 2,707 birds meaning that we are just 201 short of where we were last year. We added no new species in October and I have listed below the top five for the month and the top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year.

Top Five Ringed - October

1. Goldfinch - 67
2. Blue Tit - 43
3. Reed Bunting - 32
4. Greenfinch - 28
5. Chaffinch - 20

Top Ten Movers and Shakers for the Year

1. Swallow - 712 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 234 (same position)
3. Great Tit - 174 (up from 4th)
4. Reed Warbler - 164 (down from 3rd)
5. Goldfinch - 157 (up from 6th)
6. Meadow Pipit - 118 (down from 5th)
7. Robin - 94 (up from 8th)
8. Greenfinch - 90 (straight in)
9. Sedge Warbler - 86 (down from 7th)
10. Chaffinch - 77 (straight in)

I called at my feeding station this morning for a quick feed during the rain and as it was pouring down I didn't have a walk round but I can report that Tree Sparrow numbers have now built up to 110 and I had a male Peregrine go over.

The forecast is quite good for tomorrow, but the winds aren't quite light enough to get out ringing so I'll have a wander somewhere round the Obs and see what I can see.

Thursday 6 November 2014

A Bit Of Early November Vis

As I walked up to the sea front this morning I could hear Chaffinches calling and I looked up and I could just about make out with my bins a flock of 61 heading south. I wasn't expecting much vis this morning due to the murky conditions out in the bay, but I'm guessing that they were moving ahead of the rain front that was coming in.

At first light I had full cloud cover with a 15 - 20 mph southwesterly wind and then by about 0900 it started to rain. In the end I had 116 Chaffinches over, plus 66 Fieldfares, two Redwings and 202 Starlings that were coming 'in-off' the sea in small groups throughout the morning. It looked as though the Starlings had been attempting ro cross the widest part of the bay and the incoming rain front was pushing them south and east into the bay.

A few waders were on the shore including 206 Turnstones, four Ringed Plovers and 28 Sanderlings. The sea was quiet with just 27 Cormorants, six Common Scoters, an Auk sp., a Great Crested Grebe, a Razorbill, a male Eider and five Shelducks.

There's more rain forecast for the morning but it is supposed be more showery than today so I might manage a couple of hours before I start work.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

I Think It's Called Sod's Law

I called at my feeding station yesterday to feed prior to a planned ringing session today. However when I called some of the farm staff were working on the field at the end of the track where my feeding station is, repairing some deep ruts with a tracked digger. I decided not to take the risk and turn up at first light with all  my gear this morning only to have to take my nets down after half an hour to let them re-commence work. As I said in my blog title I think it's called sods law as when I turned up to feed this morning, as I couldn't do a feed drop yesterday, there was nobody in sight and I could have had a ringing session!

I dropped some seed off and there was at least 25 Tree Sparrows and four Yellowhammers at the feeding station. I then decided to have a walk through the woodland to see if I could put up a Woodcock or two and have a look on the flooded stubble on my way home. In the hedgerow leading to the woodland were two Goldcrests and five Long-tailed Tits. I had a walk through the woodland and had the usual assortment of woodland birds but definitely no Woodcocks.

 The woodland (above & below)

On my way home I had a look on the flooded stubbles and was pleased to see two Green Sandpipers and a number of Meadow Pipits, Alba Wagtails and a single Grey Wagtail. A male Sparrowhawk put the Pipits and Wagtails up and I could see that there was about 25 and 30 of each respectively.

I've got an hour or two to spare in the morning as I have caught up on reports a little and as there is a morning tide I'll probably have a look on the sea until the rain comes in.

Sunday 2 November 2014

A Change Of Plan

Originally it was my intention to have a look on the sea this morning but Gail said that she fancied going out as well. Now Gail doesn't mind a bit of birding but I know she would draw the line at seawatching! Also I was glad that I hadn't gone seawatching because when Ian called for a coffee this afternoon he said it had been really quiet on the sea, even though it was quite blowy over night and it had rained, the usual ingredients for some action on the sea!

Gail and I decided to have a look on the estuary, but even though we didn't see much (there's a reoccurring theme here!) it was a pleasant couple of hours. The Hawthorn scrub and the reedbed didn't hold anything on our walk down; no Thrushes in the Hawthorns and no calling Water Rails from the reedbed. We didn't really see anything of note until we got to the saltmarsh and had a Little Egret. I love seeing Little Egrets and they still seem exotic to me, maybe it's because I'm of an age when they used to be bl**dy rare and if one turned up a twitch would ensue!

 Little Egret

On the pool were nine Little Grebes, nine Tufted Ducks and two Goldeneyes. As we walked along the path to the spit where I look over the mudflats on the estuary from, an immature male Sparrowhawk flew in front of us hugging the path in his search for avian prey.

I didn't scrutinise the estuary, rather I had a fairly quick counting scan with my scope, and had 20 Redshanks, 50 Mallards, 500 Lapwings, 185 Wigeon and 15 Teal. A Rock Pipit called and flew past along the saltmarsh and then on the way back we had a party of ten Long-tailed Tits in the Hawthorns.

The forecast is looking good for some ringing on either Tuesday or Wednesday this week, so hopefully I'll get my first session in at my farmland bird feeding station. I'll let you know how I get on.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Quiet, But Good To Be Out

One of the problems of being self-employed (here he goes again moaning I can here you say!) is that you've got to take the work when it comes, and just at the moment I'm busy doing site visits and then the time consuming follow-up reports that keep me indoors! Autumn seems to have slipped by and with the application of 'sods law' when it gets a bit quiet work-wise and I can get out, the birding will be quiet at the same time, I just know it!

At this time of year I switch away from my coastal migration ringing to my farmland bird feeding station and this morning I headed to the Obs to remove the ropes that I leave on my net rides and I had a stagger round as well. And it was a stagger with 15 - 20 mph SW winds and about three oktas cloud cover.

As I have said in my blog title it was quiet, but good to be out. Grounded migrants were difficult to detect other than two Goldcrests and the 'vis' was equally discreet with just 26 Woodpigeons, 25 Starlings and three Skylarks. I did have 25 Meadow Pipits 'off passage' taking advantage to feed in some of the coastal fields before moving off when conditions improve.

The sea was equally quiet with just a single Red-throated Diver, a female Common Scoter and 21 Cormorants. However to be fair I didn't give it very long as I was getting a bit of battering in the stiff southwesterly. Other than about a dozen Greenfinches feeding on some Japanese Rose hips in the dunes that was about it!


There's some heavy rain coming through tonight and winds are going to remain fairly stiff SW - W, so it might have to be a spot of seawatching in the morning. I don't expect too much mainly because the winds are going to be 'stiff' rather than 'strong'!