Wednesday 29 March 2017

Willow Planting

Every year I harvest Willow stems from the Willows in my garden,drop them in a bucket of water for a week or three and then plant them out at the Obs to bulk out some of the net rides, and yesterday was my planting day. I hadn't realised just how many there were in my bundle, but let's say I was planting Willows for some time!

After I had finished planting as it was quite warm and sunny I decided to have a wander around the farm fields to see if there were any migrants about. First up were a pair of Stonechats working their way along the fence posts and also perching up in the dry Phragmites reedbed.

I didn't have any more migrants until I was back along the main hedge and here I managed to 'pish' two Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. I couldn't see the Blackcap, but just hear it's hard Sylvia 'tack'.

A number of Woodpigeons were flying out of this hedge and I noticed that one of the birds had left a nest. A quick scan and I could see two eggs, which is an average clutch size for a Woodpigeon. Talking of nests and eggs, I noticed that a female Blackbird is sat on a nest in the hedge in my garden, so I'll have to keep an eye on her and hope that none of the local cats get any of the young.

Woodpigeon nest

Before heading home I bobbed in to the cemetery and added three Goldcrests and two Chiffchaffs to my morning migrant tally!

Singing In The Rain

The forecast was for it to be a bit mixed last night with some cloud, rain, clear periods and most importantly of all a southerly wind. With thoughts of migrants in mind I headed to the cemetery after breakfast. I had to sit in my car for a while as the rain was quite heavy. It's not that I'm bothered about getting wet, it's that when the rain is really heavy birds aren't very active. If the rain is light, then they will feed away, and of course the rain does drop migrants in.

So sat in my car just to prove me wrong I could hear a Chiffchaff singing away and the contact calls of Goldcrests! The rain eased and I set off to do my usual circuit. I had a single Goldcrest first of all and then two together further round. I clocked the singing Chiffchaff and then had a further three working their way through the trees. On the other side of the cemetery I had another singing Chiffie taking my total to five.


At last a decent view of a Blackcap, compared with my calling only bird yesterday, and this was a female feeding and flitting through the tree tops. She kept shaking herself to remove excess rain from her feathers, but was obviously on a migration mission and she was actively feeding.

A Turdus moving rapidly from tree to tree and silhouetted against the sky lead me a merry dance as it wasn't calling. Anyway, I eventually nailed it down and it was a Redwing that then rapidly left to the east.

I joined Ian in the coastal park where five Siskins were amongst 40 Goldfinches, and an immature male Sparrowhawk flushed a few Woodpigeons as it 'burst' out of the pines. Ian had heard a Chiffie and a Goldcrest, but it was certainly quieter than the cemetery.

Monday 27 March 2017

More Moths

Three moths again in my trap this morning, but this time they were three Common Quakers and a Hebrew Character.

Hebrew Character

Sunday 26 March 2017


I trapped my first moths of the Spring in my moth trap last night and when I checked the trap this morning I had three Common Quakers. Nothing amazing, but then that's not what it's about, it was just good to kick start the mothing season!

Common Quaker

Saturday 25 March 2017

Pollen Horns

It was my first ringing session at the Obs this morning for the Spring after the lifting of the ringing suspension in the area due to the avian influenza outbreak at HyFly hatcheries near Pilling. At first light I was greeted with clear skies, a ground frost and it was calm. It felt quiet and I wondered whether it was too clear!

The first birds on the move were a hundred Pink-footed Geese that headed north and they were high, positively stratospheric! This would reflect the rest of the vis (all north) that I would record and all I had was two Carrion Crows, a Woodpigeon, two Linnets, 31 Meadow Pipits and three Siskins.

I didn't detect any grounded migrants other than the Chiffchaff that I ringed. Talking of ringing my totals were as follows:

Meadow Pipit - 8
Robin - 1
Chiffchaff - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 2
Greenfinch - 1

The Chiffchaff that I ringed had 'pollen horns' (see picture below) which are feathers that have become encrusted with pollen whilst the bird is foraging for insects or pollen on flowers. Research carried out at Portland Bird Observatory in Dorset showed that pollen from 19 plants was found on species like Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, with the most pollen coming from Eucalyptus and citrus plants. Presumably the birds were picking this pollen up at plantations in North Africa, Spain or Portugal. Amazing stuff!


The forecast is looking okay again for tomorrow so I'll try some more ringing at the Obs!

Thursday 23 March 2017

Vis - the Variety of (Bird) Life

I headed to the Point this morning for a couple of hours birding, and based on the weather I predicted that there would be quite a lot of vis this morning and there was! The weather has been pretty awful these past few days with strong winds and rain, and this morning was the first decent morning for a while and the flood gates were certainly opened. I joined Ian before seven (Ian had been there since six), and spent a pleasurable couple of hours. We had 6 oktas cloud cover with a 10 - 15 mph east-northeasterly wind.

All of the birds moving on vis were heading between east and northeast and we had 502 Meadow Pipits, 51 Carrion Crows, six Linnets, 40 Whooper Swans, three Jackdaws, nine Alba Wags, eleven Goldfinches, a Rook, a female Sparrowhawk, 32 Woodpigeons, a Pied Wagtail, a male Kestrel (at sea), a female Merlin (at sea), three Magpies, a Siskin and a Stock Dove! As I said before Ian was there before me and I left him there, so I imagine the final Obs totals will be considerable and you will be able to find them HERE later.


In comparison the sea was very quiet with just a Cormorant, two Red-throated Divers, four Eiders, two Red-breasted Mergansers and an Auk sp. There was a steady passage of Gulls heading in to the bay, but sadly I had my ears and eyes full counting everything else, so didn't count the Gulls.

I didn't have any grounded migrants until I got home where I had a cracking male Siskin in the garden and a Goldcrest. So it is likely that a few grounded migrants could have been found in a sheltered, sunny spot.

I had a walk at lunch time in the local woods and had a queen Bumblebee sp. on the wing as well as the Red Admiral below.

 Red Admiral

The forecast is looking reasonable over the next few days so I'll try and get out tomorrow morning again and fingers crossed Saturday morning I'll get some ringing done at the Obs! I'm at Hawkshead brewery beer festival tomorrow, but just in the afternoon so it should give me plenty of time to recover for a 5:00 o'clock alarm call Saturday morning!

Monday 20 March 2017

In Only Seven Days... a brilliant song by Queen, but it also only a short period of time when your blog can become out of date! In the past seven days I have been busy with lots of things 'birdie' but haven't seemed to have the time to update my blog!

Last weekend I had a look on the farm fields on the coast hoping for an early Wheatear, but that wasn't to be. In fact grounded migrants were a bit thin on the ground and all I could muster was a male and two female Stonechats and a single Goldcrest. I suppose I would class the Meadow Pipits that had gathered on the fields as grounded migrants too, as they were certainly migrants and weren't going anywhere at present; in total I had 66!

Vis was virtually non-existent as well with just two Alba Wags north. It was murky out at sea and as a result was very quiet other than the 25 Whooper Swans that I picked up on the sea. They rested there for a while before taking off and heading north.

 Whooper Swans (honest) above & below

The only raptors I had was the male Kestrel from the resident pair and an adult male Sparrowhawk that shot through.

Earlier in the week Gail and I headed to the Hodder Valley to make sure that our boxes were 'ship shape' for the coming breeding season. A few numbers needed re-painting and one or two boxes needed replacing, but over all they were in fine fettle! On the way home we noted a few fields that had been recently been spread with slurry with large numbers of newly arrived, pristine, Lesser Black-backed Gulls. At this time of year they look absolutely fantastic!

This past weekend we found ourselves in Dunfermline for the joint British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Scottish Ornithologists Club (SOC) Scottish Birdwatchers' conference, and what a cracking conference it was!

The conference was opened by Norman Elkins of 'Weather and Bird Behavior' fame, who talked about the new Fife atlas and picked out a number of winners and losers since the last atlas to highlight population changes within Fife. This was followed by a presentation by Allan Perkins called 'Developing conservation solutions for Scotland's Corn Buntings', and the conservation solutions proposed could be applied to Corn Bunting populations anywhere in the UK. I was particularly surprised at how much the Corn Buntings in the Outer Hebrides are struggling and it really is the eleventh hour to prevent them from becoming extinct here.

Gavin Siriwardena from the BTO was up next with 'Farmland birds - problem solved after 15 years of agri-environment?'. I was particularly interested in Gavin's presentation as I have a keen interest in farmland birds and professionally have put together a good number of agri-environment scheme agreements. The positive and negative association with scheme options and population declines and increases of farmland birds was both uplifting and vexing at the same time!

I'd heard of Professor Will Cresswell, but had never seen one of his talks before and it was brilliant. He reminded me of a young Professor Ian Newton in as much as he is a boffin, but managed to present scientific information in an easily understandable way. His research into african-palearctic migrants was fascinating.

David Steel, formerly head ranger at the Farne Islands, but now warden on the Isle of May gave a highly entertaining and informative talk on the Tern populations on the May, and what he is doing to increase their breeding population there. Considering he had the 'grave yard' slot straight after lunch he captivated the audience.

Owen Selly from the RSPB talked about White-tailed Eagles in eastern Scotland, and what amazed me was the distances these birds travelled. Several birds from the eastern Scotland population flew over to Mull in the winter and associated with Eagles there before returning in the spring!

John Calladine from BTO Scotland gave a presentation on the results of the 2007-11 Atlas from a Scottish perspective and looked at what could be done with the data to provide sound conservation science. To finish we were treated to some stunning photography from Fife birder John Anderson. His shots of a North American Mink attacking a juvenile Gannet had everybody on the edge of their seats! What a way to end what was a brilliant conference and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

We have recently been notified that the ringing suspension that was affecting us because of a 10 km surveillance zone around an avian influenza outbreak has now been lifted! So I just need some decent weather to get out ringing again!

Thursday 9 March 2017


It was a tad cool on the coast yesterday as there was some northerly in the westerly, and with full cloud cover no sun to warm things up! It was also murky out at sea and as a result the sea passage was even slower than the day before, and the vis was nearly non-existent!

The sea produced six Common Scoters, eleven Eiders, a Red-throated Diver, seven Shelducks, a Great Crested Grebe, three Red-breasted Mergansers and two Cormorants.

Grounded migrants were restricted to three males and a female Stonechat, but it won't be long until the first Sand Martins, Wheatears and Chiffchaffs appear! Roosting waders included twenty Sanderlings, eleven Oystercatchers, eight Ringed Plovers and three Turnstones (all the Turnstones were at the Marine Lakes).



The near non-existent vis was just a single Alba Wagtail, a Meadow Pipit and a Grey Wagtail; early days yet!

I then had a look at the Marine Lakes and counted 148 Turnstones, including at least four of our leg-flagged birds that I managed to read. The beauty of the Marine Lakes for the Turnstones is that they can continue to feed over the high tide if they wish to do so, but if there is too much disturbance they will roost on the island.


It's deepest, darkest Merseyside for me this afternoon for my last winter bird survey, so more on that tomorrow.

Wednesday 8 March 2017

It's All In The Flex!

It was a beautiful spring-like day yesterday when I headed to the Point for a sea watch. I had 3 oktas hazy cloud cover with a 5 mph westerly wind. High tide was about an hour before I got there and the tide was just starting to turn.

Spring seawatching is one of my favourite disciplines within the broader umbrella of birding, and I particularly like the spring Red-throated Diver passage when birds are travelling in to the bay at height to cross over land to the North Sea! There was some diver passage this morning with five 'Red-throats' in and two out, but none of the birds moving in to the bay were high. Some of the divers were close in and I always enjoy watching them 'motor' along with that long neck of theirs flexing up and down; superb!

The supporting cast on the sea included twelve Eiders, 28 Common Scoters, a Shelduck, a Great Crested Grebe, 20 Whooper Swans heading northeast, four Cormorants and two Red-breasted Mergansers.

Vis is starting to trickle through now and this morning I had three Meadow Pipits, a Skylark, a Carrion Crow and a Siskin head east. Grounded migrants were just represented by two male and three female Stonechats, and the males looked particularly resplendent in their black and burned orange attire!


It was soon time for me to head home and chain myself to the desk, but some early morning birding before work doesn't half set you up for the rest of the day!


Monday 6 March 2017


It was a glorious spring-like day today with lots of warm sunshine. I went to the water treatment works to top my feeders up and the first bird I had was a fly-catching Chiffchaff! It is likely that it is an over-winterer as we've had Common Chiffchaff and Siberian Chiffchaff wintering close by. Nevertheless it made it seem even more spring-like!

The feeders were empty so they are obviously busy at the moment. We still have ringing suspended because of the avian influenza outbreak and I hope it gets lifted soon because March can be quite busy ringing wise at the Obs!

The willows where moments before a flycatching Chiffie delivered 
it's sorties from!

It's Starting To Get Early

My latest survey in deepest, darkest Merseyside required a 4:00 am alarm call to enable me to get on site one hour before sunrise and I thought to myself "it's starting to get early"! On the morning in question I had three oktas cloud cover with a 10 - 15 mph south-southwesterly wind.

It was probably one of my quietest surveys to date at this site and there wasn't really any highlights. Of moderate interest I recorded four Song Thrushes, 21 Goldfinches, a Kestrel, eleven Chaffinches, nine Lapwings, ten Skylarks, three Goldcrests, two drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a female Sparrowhawk, eleven Blue Tits, eleven Blackbirds, 226 Black-headed Gulls and 19 Carrion Crows.

I tell a lie there was a highlight, well for me anyway, and that was three Red Squirrels! Always a pleasure to see!

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Garden Mega!

This is just a really quick post to say that I had a 'mega' in the garden this morning in the form of a Tree Sparrow, yes a Tree Sparrow! I can hear you all saying that they're not that rare and that you get them in your garden all the time, but round here they are scarce!

The nearest population is some miles away, so I can only assume that this bird was a migrant. Every spring we get a few birds moving over the coast on vis. This 'smart dressed individual' was associating with the House Sparrows, but wasn't a full member of their gang as it was always on the edge of the group.

Funnily enough my sister-in-law, Kim, was visiting last Saturday and over breakfast she said to me "is that a Tree Sparrow"? Now I have to admit that I didn't look up and said "no it'll be a House Sparrow". Whoops! So, who knows it might have been around since weekend!