Friday 31 July 2015


We deployed a full team last night at the pools for the Swallow roost and when Ian, Graham, Kim, Huw and I got to the pools the westerly wind was dropping and it was looking good for catching and ringing a few Swallows. We just needed there to be a few birds there. The weather over the past few days has been pretty poor and this tends to break the roost up as there isn't the turnover of birds due to a lack of birds migrating. Clear, calm days induce Swallows to move and when this happens large numbers of birds stop off at the roost site. We estimated that there was about 400 Swallows roosting and they came in quite late presumably taking advantage to feed as late as possible.


We put two nets up in the reeds and caught a few birds before the roosting Swallows arrived. We ringed 57 birds as follows:

Swallow - 44
Sand Martin - 4
Reed Warbler - 5
Sedge Warbler - 1
Goldfinch - 1
Linnet - 2

Prior to the roost there was about thirty House Martins feeding over the pools with about ten Swifts. There was little on the pools other than a Little Grebe, three Coots, a Mute Swan and five Mallards. Swallows weren't the only birds roosting at the site and long before the Swallows came in 2,500 Starlings dropped in to roost. Starlings arrive at their roost at this time of year long before dusk and they leave the roost long after first light.

It's looking a bit unsettled this weekend, but hopefully I should be able to squeeze something in.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Hat And Gloves In July!

The real ale was flowing nicely last night as I had just taken a delivery of Orkney Brewery ales and therefore I didn't roll out of my pit until 5.30 a.m. I headed to the Obs to do some seawatching, but unfortunately the wind was northwesterly which is far from ideal here. The other fly in the ointment was the heat haze, but at least the views across the bay to the Lakes were as pleasant as always.

 Looking across the bay in the early morning light towards the Lakeland 
Fells (above and below).

Even though I didn't get up until 5.30 a.m. I was still in position looking out at the sea just after six and it was cold. In fact it was cold enough for hat and gloves! I spent an hour and a half struggling with the heat haze and moaning to myself about the wind direction, before reminding myself that it was only July after all.

Other than Gannets it was quiet out at sea and my totals included ten Cormorants, just one Sandwich Tern, 29 Gannets, an Auk sp. and six Common Scoters.

The only vis I had was a single Swift that headed northeast across the Bay. In fact it might not have been vis at all and could easily have been a late breeding bird heading to south Cumbria to forage for aerial invertebrates. Swifts nesting in Suffolk are known to cross the North Sea to Belgium to forage and bring back invertebrates for dependant young in the nest. 

High tide was virtually the same time as when I arrived so I didn't have time to look at the wader roost as I wanted to get straight on with looking at the sea, but a few waders flew past as the tide dropped including seven Ringed Plovers, 78 Dunlins and 60 Sanderlings.

There's rain coming in tomorrow, but I should get a couple of hours birding in before the rain arrives as long as I don't have too many of those Orkney ales again!

Friday 24 July 2015

A Few More Reeds

Ian and I had another ringing session in the reedbed this morning and as earlier in the week it was quiet again. The weather conditions were similar with 7 oktas cloud cover and a light southeasterly breeze.

July is shaping up to be a very poor month for ringing and this is probably a reflection of the poor breeding season as a result of the cold wet weather we had in spring. The only species that seems to be doing okay is Reed Warbler and this is probably because it arrives that bit later than other species such as Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler for example. This means that when we had the week of cold wet weather in late May a lot of Reed Warblers would still have been on eggs whilst the species listed above would have had small young and the adults would have struggled to find invertebrate food to feed them, resulting large scale losses of broods.

 Reed Warbler

We managed to ring one more bird than Wednesday with eleven ringed as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Whitethroat - 1 (1)
Great Tit - 1
Goldfinch - 2
Reed Warbler - 4 (1)
Sedge Warbler - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Willow Warbler - 1


We also controlled a Reed Warbler with quite an old ring on it based on the colouration of the ring and the number on it. It will be interesting to see where it has come from.

Birding was even slower than the ringing if that's possible and all I can report is 1,500 Starlings exiting the roost, 16 House Martins and six Swifts on a feeding circuit and a few Pied Wagtails flying over from their roost site.

The forecast is looking a bit grim for the weekend and into next week. It will be too windy for any ringing tomorrow and too wet for anything on Sunday! As there's a morning tide I'll have a look on the sea as early as I can make it after a few real ales this evening!

From Fleetwood To Fair Isle

This isn't a tale of a pilgrimage from Fleetwood to the most famous bird observatory in the world! It is just a post to let you know of a cracking recovery we just received from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) regarding a Lesser Redpoll.

The information came through yesterday that a Lesser Redpoll that we ringed at Rossall School, Fleetwood on 7th April 2013 had been controlled (captured by another ringer) on Fair Isle on 22nd June 2015!!! That was amazing enough in itself as this is the first bird we (Fylde Ringing Group) have had go to Fair Isle. However when I looked the bird up on Integrated Population Monitoring Reporter (IPMR - the software used to record ringed birds in the UK) I could see that on 25th May 2014 this bird had also been controlled at Grantown-On-Spey in northeastern Scotland. Grantown-On-Spey is 381 km  north of Rossall School and Fair Isle 632 km north. See Google Earth image below.

 Click to make it bigger.

Often these 'recoveries' throw up more questions than they answer. What was this bird doing on Fair Isle on 22nd June? It wouldn't be breeding there as there isn't the Birch woodland habitat on fair Isle that they require. Was it heading further north and east into Scandinavia, or was it on it's way back from Scandinavia having perhaps failed to breed? We'll never know, but it is a fantastic piece of data nevertheless.

A, but not 'the', Lesser Redpoll

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Mainly Reeds

After two hours sleep you can't beat getting up at 0430 to go ringing! Maybe not the two hours sleep, but I was looking forward to a good ringing session this morning. I met Kim and Ian at the reedbeds at 0530 and we proceeded to put three nets up in the willow scrub. We had full cloud cover with a 5 mph ESE wind.

It seemed very quiet when we were putting the nets up and our ringing totals confirmed this with just ten birds ringed as follows:

Reed Warbler - 8
Willow Warbler - 1
Whitethroat - 1


From a birding perspective it was quiet too. About a thousand Starlings exited their reedbed roost, a long way from our nets thankfully, and the only other thing of note were the small numbers of House Martins and Swifts hawking insects low down. In fact we cut another ride that we will hopefully be able to tape lure the House Martins down to, so I'll let you know how that works when we next go.

I had a look on the pools on my way out and there were 24 Coots, a male Pochard, twelve Little Grebes and eight Tufted Ducks.

It's looking like Friday morning for our next ringing session, so I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday 21 July 2015


I must have been living in a cave for a while as I had never heard of 'Biofilm' until reading the journal of Bird Studies Canada (BSC) Birdwatch Canada Summer 2015 - Number 72 and an article entitled 'When Important Bird Areas are Urban Areas'. BSC is the Canadain equivalent of the BTO.

This article was about the importance of particular estuarine systems on the Pacific Flyway, and in this case the Fraser River Estuary IBA, and it went on to say that shorebirds were previously thought to stop over in the estuary and feed on intertidal invertebrates (my understanding too). However, it was recently discovered that they are also feeding on 'biofilm' (also known as 'magic mud'), which is a thin layer of sugars and microbes that grows on the surface of mudflats!

Microscopic analysis of the tongues of Western Sandpipers has revealed minuscule bristle structures, described as being like toothbrushes, that are used to slurp up large quantities of this rich, slimy food source. Amazing!

 Western Sandpiper (courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Apparently Biofilm sugars are easily digestible, and are thought to be a very efficient energy source to fuel completion of the final major leg of the spring journey from south Central America to the Arctic tundra to breed. The author's of the article, Catherine Jardine and Peter Davidson, posed the important question of how might human activities impact the health and productivity of biofilm in the Fraser River Estuary IBA, and indeed in estuarine environments around the world? It made me wonder whether any research into this has been carried out on biofilm on estuarine habitats over here.

This spring, BSC in collaboration with other leading experts in the field published a study investigating the diet composition of migratory waders. They wanted to determine how much biofilm they consumed within the Fraser River Estuary IBA. The study used an analysis of nitrogen and carbon, which come in different forms called isotopes. By looking at the ratios in each of the waders' prey items compared to the ratios in their droppings, it is possible to determine how much of each prey type the birds are eating. 

Remarkably the study found that Western Sandpipers consume biofilm throughout the stopover site, and biofilm made up a conservative estimate of between one quarter and one half of Western Sandpiper droppings, depending on where the birds were feeding. These results confirm that biofilm is an important component of their diet and again it got me thinking about some of the wader species on estuaries over here.

I knew nothing about biofilm until reading this article and it is quite possible that I have missed something and all of you know about it and are shouting out "where have you been these past few years!". It just goes to show that we are all still learning and how important this kind of research is.

Fingers crossed I'll have some ringing news for you tomorrow!

Saturday 18 July 2015

Am I Becoming A Lighweight?

It was a case of 'what to do this morning?'. The forecast for the weekend was disappointing as at this time of year my priority is to get into the reedbeds ringing, but the forecast was too windy for today (Saturday) and it's forecast to be wet at the critical time tomorrow morning. Nevertheless I still set my alarm this morning and when I got up at 0500 I was not sure what to do.

It was blowing a hoolie and I would normally do some seawatching off the Obs., but it was low tide at this time of day and at the best spot the tide would be a long way out. It is possible to sea watch at low tide at the Obs, but this involves sitting on a shingle beach leaning against a concrete wall or standing up and being buffeted to pieces! Neither inspired me so I decided to head to the estuary.

Where I access the estuary is down a track off the main road adjacent to a few properties and I couldn't believe it when I got there as there was nowhere to park! The track was full of cars with not a single space. In all the decades that I have birded here I have never not been able to park! I have got there some times with just a few spaces left, but today you couldn't have even parked a bike!

Now I must becoming a lightweight as I could have abandoned my car in a dodgy position on the main road, and once upon a time I would have been so desperate to bird at any cost I would have just left my car with no further thought about it. However today I decided that risking my car on the main road wasn't worth it, I couldn't be be bothered getting a numb arse sitting on shingle, nor did I want to be buffeted in the wind as I hate it when my scope and tripod shake and vibrate in the wind! I'm either becoming a lightweight, or maybe I'm just getting older and wiser!

The forecast for first light tomorrow is heavy rain clearing eastwards with a 15-20 mph wind. I'll set my alarm, but I have a feeling I will be turning it off and rolling over.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Foxed By The SNP

We didn't have to wait until today I see for the outcome of the Fox hunting vote in parliament as good old Nicola Sturgeon and her band of merry SNP MPs got Cameron and his blood thirsty monsters on the run. A spectacular u-turn was carried out by the PM and the planned Fox hunting vote has now been delayed!

I say again three cheers for the SNP!!!

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Well Done SNP

I listened to an interview with Nicola Sturgeon on both Radio 4 and Radio Scotland this morning where she said that SNP MPs will vote against any change in the law regarding Fox hunting. Fingers crossed that SNP opposition combined with Tory rebels will see that pompous numpty Eton boy, aka the Prime Minister, defeated in his plan to relax Fox hunting rules.

I'm not against controlling Foxes where need be for conservation or agricultural reasons, but there are humane ways of doing it. We don't need idiots in pink suits ripping them apart with dogs for a giggle! Let's hope that Cameron and his bunch of incompetent clowns get defeated tomorrow.

Three cheers for the SNP!   

Kestrel Chick Update

Robert phoned me last night to give me an update on the Kestrel chick that was taken into care if you remember. John had emailed him to say that it was doing really well. In fact he sent Robert a short video of him feeding it and Robert said it looked in really good condition. It will be in captivity being fed for about 2 - 3 weeks before being returned to Robert's and released.

My concern is how it will fare once released and whether it will need some form of supplementary food putting out for a period of time. When Kestrel chicks fledge they stay in a family group for a while with their parents and are still fed out of the nest, and the adults teach the young how to hunt. This is something that this little fella won't have. I'll keep you posted on how it gets on.

Monday 13 July 2015

What's Up With Some Of Our Friends In The Far East?

I have just read in British Birds July 2015, Vol. 108, 365 - 440 about the plight of the Yellow-breasted Bunting. In fact the article in BB gave it the title 'Is Yellow-breasted Bunting the next Passenger Pigeon?'

Apparently the Yellow-breasted Bunting, which was formerly Eurasia's most abundant species, has declined by 90% and retracted its range by 5,000 km since 1980! What? And the species has all but disappeared from eastern Europe, European Russia, large parts of western and central Siberia and Japan!

An aspect of the bird's ecology has been exploited and caused its decline. During migration and on the wintering grounds, Yellow-breasted Buntings gather in massive flocks at evening roosts making them very easy to trap in large numbers with nets for food.

Following initial declines of the species, hunting was banned in China in 1997. However, millions of Yellow-breasted Buntings were still being killed for food and sold on the black market as late as 2013. Consumption of these and other songbirds has increased as a result of economic growth and prosperity in east Asia. There was one estimate from 2001 of one million Yellow-breasted Buntings being eaten in China's Guangdong province alone!

As the article stated, to reverse these declines people need to be better educated of the consequences of eating these birds and indeed wildlife in general. It also goes on to say that an improved and more efficient reporting system is required for law enforcement.

Let's hope this works and the fortunes of this cracking bird can be reversed before it is too late!

Fingers Crossed For A Positive Outcome

Yesterday morning Huw and I met at Diana and Robert's farm to check some Kestrels. There seems to be a reoccurring theme going on here as when we looked in the box, you can see into it from a distance without having to climb up to it, there was just one Kestrel! It's like the Barn Owls all over again.

The Kestrel chick was very large and well-feathered, as you can see from the pictures below, and so we decided against ringing it as it was a touch too big and we didn't want it to fledge too early. Instead we had a quick look at the wetland, woodland and hedgerows. Surprisingly there was nothing on the wetland at all even though the mud looked very good and held good numbers of invertebrates for birds to feed on; I'll need to keep a close eye on it during the next few weeks and make regular visits.We did have a Banded Demoiselle which was our first record for the site.

 Kestrel (above and below). With hindsight it does look a bit miserable 
and had every reason to do so!

Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler sang from the woodland and a party of Long-tailed Tits moved along the woodland edge. Two Buzzards called to each other and had put up with the usual mobbing from the local Corvids. There was plenty of Tree Sparrow activity around the boxes in the hedgerows and in the yard.

Later in the afternoon after I had got back home Robert phoned me to say that whilst he was scaling some cut grass in his meadow alongside the woodland he found the large Kestrel chick on the floor and he asked me what he should do. I informed Robert that the best thing would be to get the chick back into the box and when he went to do this he found the other chick on the woodland floor in very poor condition. It had obviously fallen, or jumped, from the box the previous evening and had got very wet and cold.

Robert had the suspicion that the chicks had been abandoned by the adults, possibly something had happened to one of both of them. I must admit whilst we were birding there for a couple of hours we didn't see any adult Kestrels. Robert got in touch with Raptor Rescue and a guy came out to collect the chicks. However, when they went up to the box the chick that we had seen in the morning had killed the weaker chick and had started to eat it. When John checked the crop of the surviving chick it was completely empty and hadn't eaten for sometime so Robert's suspicions of them being abandoned was correct.

Anyway John took the chick away and he thought it had a 75% chance of survival. All being well he will return the chick to the farm in a few days to release it back in to the wild. I'll let you know the outcome, but fingers crossed it will be positive!

Saturday 11 July 2015


If I was pushed just to receive one journal out of the countless journals that I receive in a year then it would without a doubt be British Wildlife. So if you don't receive British Wildlife I would recommend that you take a look at this superb bi-monthly journal; well worth subscribing to.

A recent columnist in British Wildlife is Simon Barnes, but he is no stranger to wildlife journalism and I suspect is known to you all. In British Wildlife Volume 26, Number 5, June 2015 his column was about 'bioabundance', a word that he had to make up and it was a thought provoking piece so I have repeated it below. It's a bit lengthy but well worth reading.

We've made too much fuss about biodiversity and it;s been a tactical disaster. Not that I'm actually opposed to biodiversity. The problem is that out natural - our naturalist - fascination with the subject has blinded us. So, we've missed a trick. And it might be the most important trick of all.

We have established the notion that biodiversity is a wonderful thing. We have also managed to spread the idea that biodiversity is a good thing. It's widely accepted, albeit grudgingly, that biodiversity plays some kind of role in keeping the planet functioning.

The idea of losing a species is almost universally seen as a bad thing. Bad PR at the very least. Extinction is not something that anyone can laugh off these days. And that's a good point well made, but is has come at a price. That price is bioabundance.

See? There isn't even a word for it. I had to invent one. Take it on, use it, I make no charge. Tell your spellchecker to accept it. Tell everyone to accept it. Make it part of the debate, because its high time that the concept of bioabundance played a central part in the way we think about conservation.

By harping on about diversity we have given the impression that conservation is about tokenism. So long as we've still got a token number of Pandas, a token number of Californian Condors, a token number of White-tailed Eagles, everything is all right.

When it isn't.

Last year I visited a fish farm in Armenia (travelling with the World Land Trust) and it was like 50 Minsmeres all thrown together. Above the water was a swarm - flock is too puny a term - of Sand Martins: Sand Martins in thousands and thousands and thousands. They were feeding on aerial insects in invisible trillions.

That is what we've lost. That is what we are continuing to lose. The environmental crisis is not just about the extinction of species: it is also about the crashing numbers of ordinary everyday creatures. We are losing bioabundance and most people aren't worrying. Most people aren't even noticing.

Partly this is a matter of expectation. A young person has no memory of childhood journeys when you stopped the car every hour or so to clean the insects off the windscreen. No memories of seeing hundreds of Lapwings in a field scarcely bothering to turn your head. 

The fall in numbers is not seen as a matter of urgent, desperate concern. The plight of creatures on the edge of extinction grabs our attention with much more vividness. It's a better story: and stories are the way we understand the world. 

I'm not blaming twitchers; I'm blaming the twitching tendency within us all. Birding information sites never tell us that there are 10,000 Black-headed Gulls at a landfill, and, if they did, most birders would go there to pick out a Med Gull.

It;s in us all. It's part of the way we think. We relate to individual species. We love rarity. Above all, we take delight in the special. It's part of being human, part of loving the wild world - and we need to get that feeling under better control. We need to be less snobbish. We need to speak up for the common bird, for the working insect, for rights of the masses.

Our horror-stories should be connected with the shocking declines in our most visible groups, as recorded by the BTO and Butterfly Conservation. Our most celebrated wildlife events shouldn't be a whale in the Thames but a murmuration. We shouldn't be satisfied with a few token Corn Buntings: we need the hedges of Britain rattling with them, the sky singing with Skylarks, Lapwings back in the company of the dirt-common.

I thought about writing a book celebrating bioabundance: Wildebeest on the Serengeti, butterflies in the Chaco, Banded Demoiselles on the Waveney, Spinner Dolphins off Sri Lanka, Straw-coloured Fruit Bats in Zambia, Carmine Bee-eaters on the Luangwa River.

But I didn't, because what do I say? God, I tell you there were millions of the bloody things. Millions. Then I went somewhere else and there were millions of something quite different... It doesn't stack up as a story does it? It doesn't capture the imagination like a single Blue Whale or a night-hunting Leopard. But that's our Failing. We need to work on it. Now would be good.

Let's start bringing the world bioabundance into our debates and our reports and our stories and our pub conversations. Let's boast about vast clouds of midges, endless skeins of geese, uncountable flocks of House Sparrows (if you can still find them). Let's take up the cause of ordinary species and turn it into something special. Let's make bioabundance sexy.

And then try to get it back. 

Food for thought indeed! 

Is This The Best Bird Report In The UK?

I've just finished reading the 2014 Bardsey Bird Report, or to give it its correct title Bardsey's Wildlife - The Report of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory 2014.

And as always what a fantastic read it was. It is in full colour throughout and at 245 pages it is quite a weighty tome for a bird report. The chapter headings are Chairman's welcome, Secretary's report, Warden's review of 2014, Migration diary, Systematic list, Breeding birds, Manx Shearwater census, Lighthouse attractions, Bird ringing, Arrival and departure dates, Non-avian animals, Butterflies, Moths and Grey Seals.

It ticks all the boxes in terms of what a UK bird observatory should report on but does so much more. One of the main things I like, besides coming out early for an annual report, is the 'Migration Diary' which sums up all the migration action for virtually every day of the year, which is very impressive indeed!

I am not going to say anymore about it other than if you are a lover of bird observatories or bird reports (I won't say if you are a lover of Bardsey, because if you are you will already have read it) then I can highly recommend it.

I didn't get out this morning because half way through my corn flakes in the early hours it started to pour down and it was still raining beyond the end of my cornflakes so I returned to bed. I know I'm a lightweight, but I knew it would have been really quiet if I had gone out in the rain. Now if it had been September........

I might have some Kestrels to ring tomorrow, although I suspect that they might be too big based on what Robert has told me, but I'll go and take a look. 

Friday 10 July 2015

Tyto Alba

Yesterday teatime Kim and I went to check and ring some Barn Owl chicks. I say some, but there was actually just one. There were two when we checked about three weeks ago but unfortunately older sibling must have consumed younger sibling! Anyway the single Barn Owl chick was ringed and returned to its unusual nest site. The nest site is in a large plastic bucket that is attached to steel girder adjacent to a large grain bin. In fact when the chicks get to the stage that they can half-fly they relocate to the grain bin!

 Barn Owl

If you haven't done so already can I urge you to complete the consultation on the birds and habitats directive that the EU are undertaking at the moment. They refer to it as a fitness check, but it is actually more like an attempt to weaken the laws that protect our wildlife. Without this protection the numpty in 10 Downing Street would wreak more havoc on our beleaguered wildlife than he already has!

You can complete the consultation via the RSPB HERE or you can go straight to the EU consultation HERE

The forecast is looking a bit mixed for weekend with Saturday the better day and the only day with a half chance of doing some mist netting in the reedbeds. I've also got some Kestrels to check, so it should be a busy and bird filled weekend for me.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Back In The Saddle

This morning Ian and I met relatively early to clear the net rides in the reedbed and willow scrub. The aim was to clear three net rides and whilst we were there if it was calm enough put the nets up, although to be honest we didn't expect to catch much or anything at all really as we would cause some temporary disturbance through the use of strimmers.

The net rides were cleared and we identified a fourth ride that we will use next time that could be okay for tape luring hirundines. When we put the three net rides up it was borderline due to the wind strength, but to our surprise we caught and ringed eight birds:

Chiffchaff - 1 (juv)
Willow Warbler - 1 (moulting adult male)
Whitethroat - 2 (both juvs)
Blue Tit - 1 (juv)
Goldfinch - 2 (juvs)
Robin - 1 (juv)

 Willow Warbler

On the birding front it was fairly quiet and only just worth mentioning are singing Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Reed Bunting & Skylark, three Stock Doves and a Lesser Whitethroat.

Back home in the moth trap were the following:

Magpie - 1
Herat and Dart - 21
Garden Carpet - 2
Common Wainscot - 1
Flame Shoulder - 1
Large Yellow Underwing - 1
Dark Arches - 3
Green Pug - 1

 Garden Carpet

I've got some Barn Owls and Kestrels to check this week, net rides to clear on the coast and hopefully some pre-work birding. And as I've been off work on holiday for two weeks I'll need to do some work as well!

June's Ringing Totals

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for the year so far for Fylde Ringing Group. Up until the end of June we have ringed 1,138 birds of 43 species and we are 593 birds up on this time last year. In fact June has been our best month so far. Four new species were ringed for the year and these were Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Skylark and Sand Martin.

Below are the top five ringed for the month and the top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year.

Top Five Ringed in June

1. Sand Martin - 146
2. Starling - 47
3. Pied Flycatcher - 33
4. Blue Tit - 18
5. Reed Warbler - 11

Top Ten Movers and Shakers for the Year

1. Blue Tit - 159 (same position)
2. Sand Martin - 146 (straight in)
3. Great Tit - 99 (down from 2nd)
4. Willow Warbler - 98 (down from 3rd)
5. Starling - 68 (straight in)
6. Goldfinch - 66 (down from 4th)
7. Chaffinch - 56 (down from 5th)
8. Pied Flycatcher - 55 (straight in)
9. Lesser Redpoll - 49 (down from 6th)
10. Long-tailed Tit - 41 (down from 7th)