Thursday 23 June 2016

From The Borders To Barn Owls

Besides having an interest, or more obsession with the natural world, I am also very interested in archaeology and history, and if I have the opportunity to visit a historic site after completing a survey I will. As I was working right in the north of Cumbria earlier in the week I took the opportunity to visit Hermitage Castle in the Borders of Scotland and you can find a few pictures below of this magnificent and imposing castle.

 Hermitage Castle (above & below)

I had a survey that was borderline in terms of wind strength this week in southwest Cumbria and after recording two Song Thrushes, a Chiffchaff, a Sedge Warbler and a Siskin the highlight was an Osprey lumbering overhead carrying a very large fish! None survey work near Brampton on the same day yielded a calling Cuckoo in the rain, but nothing else.

On Tuesday evening I called to see my good friends Diana and Robert at their farm near Nateby to check their Barn Owls. For some reason the Barn Owls didn't rear any chicks last year but this year it was pleasing to note that they had three chicks. One of the chicks was a lot smaller than its siblings and I don't rate its chances of survival I'm afraid. The two larger chicks were ringed, but the smaller chick was too small.

 Barn Owl

Barn Owls are afforded special protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and a disturbance license is required to approach the nest and ring the young, which of course I have. There are records of the activities of non licensed observers published on the bird sightings page of a local bird club website. These people are acting completely illegally, and they know it, but they continue to disturb Barn Owls at the nest. I understand that the police have been informed of this, so let's hope that they take some strong action!

After checking the Barn Owls we checked a Kestrel box on the edge of some woodland and it was pleasing to find it full of three healthy Kestrel chicks. There was a sad outcome at this box last year as one of the adults died and just one chick survived to fledge with some help.


Ian and I checked another Kestrel box at a school where we ring the chicks every year and this box has lost it's male bird. The staff at the school, after taking advice, have been feeding the chicks with raw liver and this has worked well. In fact the female has been coming in to the box and picking the liver up and feeding the chicks with it. The school have a camera on the box that is viewable on a screen in the science lab for the students to look at. The beauty of this is that we can check the box without climbing a ladder! When we checked in the week there were five fully grown healthy chicks about to fledge, so they remained unringed. At least we know there is going to be a happy outcome!

Later in the week I was surveying some predominantly arable land in Cheshire. I recorded a range of farmland birds including two Stock Doves, four Whitethroats, 61 Sand Martins, 50 Tree Sparrows, a pair of Yellow Wags (lovely to see), four Song Thrushes, a Skylark, three Buzzards, three Ravens (the biggest surprise), three Blackcaps, six Yellowhammers and four Nuthatches.

As I post this the UK is gripped with EU referendum fever I'm afraid, but not this blogger! In fact I am fed up with all the nonsense being spoken on both sides, and I am very unpleasantly surprised at some of the anger and hatred being spouted from the mouths of friends through the cyber protection of Facebook! One thing is certain, and that is the fact that wildlife don't observe political borders and they need our help and protection wherever they are in the EU! I'll be glad when it is all over so things can get back to normal and I'm going to try my damnedest to avoid hearing the results! I wonder how long that will last?

Sunday 19 June 2016

Keeping The Blog Going...Just!

It's been a struggle of late keeping the blog going, and I know it sounds like I'm moaning and making a load of excuses! I shouldn't complain really as I do consider myself lucky in managing to make a living from the natural environment, but when I'm busy (as any Ecologist will know) it does prevent me from getting out on the patch! And that's what it has been like of late, and for the next few weeks, all work and no play!

I had a survey earlier in the week on a farm close to Kirkby Stephen and it is a cracking farm in a beautiful setting, but every time I go it seems to be cold, birdless and bleak! It wasn't much different this time and the survey of some recently planted woodland was not unexpectedly lacking in birds. The highlights being a Siskin, a Mistle Thrush, eleven Lesser Redpolls, a Grey Wagtail and two Curlews. Other surveys this past week were even quieter than this one, so I won't tire you with the details!

Consequently after a week of 4:00 am starts I sacrificed weekend birding for a couple of lie-ins, although me and my good lady did manage a walk down to the estuary to blow the cobwebs away.

 The Estuary

Amongst the grassland bordering the estuary were a number of Large 

This coming week I've got more bird surveys from north Cumbria down to Cheshire and then towards the end of the week we are Orkney bound for a weeks holiday, so I am looking forward to that. So at the moment I am keeping the blog going, but only just!

Sunday 12 June 2016

May's Ringing Totals

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of May. We are 135 ahead of where we were this time last year, so that's good. Three new species were ringed for the year during May and these were Garden Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Nuthatch.

Below you will find as usual the top five ringed for the month of May and the top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year so far.

Top 5 Ringed in May

1. Blue Tit - 55 
2. Great Tit - 53
3. Lesser Redpoll - 51
4. Nuthatch - 16
5. House Sparrow - 12

The Blue Tits, Great Tits and Nuthatches are predominantly pulli and are a result of nest box studies. The Lesser Redpolls ringed this month mainly came from Ian's garden where he was able to 'pull' them down for ringing whilst they were on migration using an MP3 playback of their song.

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Lesser Redpoll - 157 (up from 2nd)
2. Goldfinch - 128 (down from 1st)
3. Blue Tit - 114 (up from 4th)
4. Great Tit - 86 (up from 7th)
5. Chaffinch - 75 (down from 3rd)
6. Siskin - 56 (down from 5th)
7. Meadow Pipit - 53 (down from 6th)
8. Willow Warbler - 28 (same position)
9. Robin - 22 (straight in)
10. Coal Tit - 21 (down from 9th)

I've been struggling to get out birding on my patch this week due to being busy with surveys for work and at weekend checking nest boxes. Last weekend Gail and I wrapped up our nest box scheme on the River Hodder by ringing seven Blue Tit pulli and 36 Pied Flycatcher pulli.

During the week I carried out a few surveys in Cumbria that were pretty quiet and one close to the River Eden east of Penrith was quite good and I recorded three Willow Warblers, 25 Sand Martins, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two Song Thrushes, three Redstarts, two Reed Buntings, a Stock Dove, four Lesser Redpolls and a Pied Flycatcher.

I've got another busy week work wise so I will struggle to get out birding on the patch again, but at least I will be wandering around in the glorious Cumbrian countryside!

Saturday 4 June 2016

Must Try Harder

The plan this morning was to have a 'last gasp' spring sea watch at the Obs and see if there was still any waders moving through by checking the high tide roost. Sadly too much real ale put paid to those plans! I even set my alarm for 0600 to give me a bit of a lie in, but I woke up at 0550 and decided not to bother and switched my alarm off! So when I did get up later on I was annoyed with myself, but consoled myself by thinking there wouldn't have been much to see anyway!

So all I have to report is the contents of my moth trap run over last night. I caught the following:

Brimstone Moth - 1
Common Swift - 1 male
Large Yellow Underwing - 1
Light Brown Apple Moth - 3
Bright-line Brown-eye - 1
Small Square-spot - 1

 Common Swift

It's boxes for Gail and I tomorrow, and hopefully all the Pied Flycatcher chicks should be ready.

Friday 3 June 2016

Birding the Neolithic

I suppose my blog title is a little bit misleading, as I wasn't truly birding the neolithic, but my survey site this morning was in spitting distance of Castlerigg Stone Circle and after I had completed it I reacquainted myself with this amazing place!

 Castlerigg Stone Circle above and below

Once again my survey was very quiet and it is hardly worth mentioning the Willow Warblers, Lesser Redpolls, Skylark, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Cuckoo that I recorded. Well perhaps except for the Cuckoo!

The weather is looking okay for tomorrow and with a morning tide I'll have a last gasp sea watch and check of any passage waders at the Obs.

Thursday 2 June 2016


It was a few hours surveying in glorious morning sunshine in Cumbria again for me today; not as far north as yesterday, but in the Penrith area. It was a touch breezy but within the tolerances for surveying, although sadly some of the newly planted woodland that I am surveying is presently a touch quiet on the bird front.

Some of these newly planted woodlands are used as foraging areas for scrub/grassland species and Pied Wagtails have been present in all of them, and this morning was no exception.

 Pied Wagtail

Tomorrow morning I'm surveying in the shadow of the mighty Blencathra so I'm looking forward to that. 

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Puffin, Pied Flycatchers and Birding North of the Border

Last Sunday I spent a couple of hours seawatching at the Obs and it definitely had that end of season feel about it. It was a glorious morning with clear skies and a light southeasterly breeze. When I arrived shortly after first light the tide was already running out, so I had to watch from further round where you can sea watch even when the tide is out, but it meant that I missed any roosting waders. I still had a few waders in the form of 48 Oystercatchers, 34 Ringed Plovers, 301 Knots, 18 Dunlins, a Turnstone and six Sanderlings.

The sea was quiet, although it produced some interest in the form of a Puffin flying out of the bay. It was nice to sea as I don't always record them every year at the Obs. In addition to the Puffin were a Shelduck, seven Cormorants, 61 Canada Geese heading northeast across the bay, 25 Common Scoters, two Sandwich Terns, a Razorbill, two Auk sp. and a Gannet. I also had four Atlantic Grey Seals.

Canada Geese

 Atlantic Grey Seals

Amazingly there was a bit of vis in the form of eight Swallows. Where these birds are going at this time of year is interesting.

On Monday Gail and I checked our Pied Flycatcher boxes. We ringed 27 Blue Tit and seven Great Tit pulli. The Pied Flycatcher chicks were either too small to ring or just in the process of hatching, so hopefully next weekend we should have 40+ to ring.

 Great Tit

One of the female Pied Flycatchers that I lifted off the nest was ringed and I had ringed her as an adult in 2009! This means that at the very latest she couldn't have hatched any later than 2008 making her at least eight years old, which is a fair old age for a Pied Flycatcher!

On Tuesday I was carrying out another bird survey in north Cumbria and didn't record anything too exciting, but it was a pleasure to be out. Some of the species I recorded included Song Thrush, Blackcap, Tree Sparrow, Swift, Sparrowhawk, Chiffchaff, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll.

The survey was finished by 7:30 a.m. and I had the rest of the day spare so I headed across the border in to Scotland and more precise to Balcary Point, near Auchencairn which is a sea bird colony on the Solway. I did a very pleasant circular walk of about five miles.

 Some view from and around Balcary Point, above and below.


The woodland at the start of my walk held Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Lesser Redpoll. The scrub and grassland on the cliffs held Whithethroats, Rock Pipits and down near the shore I had four Stonechats.

The sea cliffs had breeding Kittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot and Razorbill. Although not in large numbers there was plenty of activity to watch and it is the sounds just as much as the sights that I enjoy at a sea bird colony.


 Some of the cliffs at Balcary Point

Work is getting in the way of me getting out at the Obs at the moment and with Ian away in California the Obs isn't getting any coverage, and won't do until at least weekend.