Tuesday 31 October 2017

Some Ringing At Last

Yesterday morning at the Obs I headed to one of the reedbeds just before first light to do my first ringing since September! In fact it was the first morning that I had seen a frost this autumn, but it wasn't that heavy, just a light and brief dusting. Skies were clear and it was calm, something that it hasn't been for some time!

Being a birder of a certain age I still have to pinch myself every time I hear a Cetti's Warbler, and I hear them an awful lot now, and this morning was a classic example, a Cetti's calling from a frosty reedbed in Lancashire!

There was quite a few Pink-footed Geese moving around this morning in all directions, some obvious arrivals from the north and other birds moving from their roost site to feeding areas. The 5-600 logged in my notebook is probably a gross under estimate, but I was quite busy ringing this morning so couldn't always look up!

When I was putting the nets up a number of Fieldfares and Redwings were moving amongst the reeds and willows, perhaps 30 and 15 of each respectively, and I did wonder whether I would catch any, and I did. In total I ringed 31 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Fieldfare - 2
Wren - 1
Redwing - 4
Song Thrush - 1
Chaffinch - 2
Reed Bunting - 2
Goldfinch - 5
Greenfinch - 13 (1)
Blue Tit - 1
Goldcrest - (1) 


In addition to the Pinkies there was some vis involving Fieldfares, Redwings, Song Thrush, Jackdaws, Woodpigeons, Brambling, Greenfinches, Meadow Pipits, Carrion Crow and Linnets. However, my counts are woefully low as I said earlier, so I haven't bothered to report them here.


It's looking okay for some ringing later in the week at the Obs so hopefully I'll be out again. Twice in one week, what's going on?!

Friday 27 October 2017

Big Skies

I was surveying on some deepest, darkest mossland this morning and it was the first morning that you could say that it was actually cold. When I arrived at my survey site there was a ground mist and lateral visibility wasn't brilliant to say the least, but vertically it was crystal clear which meant birds were still on the move.

 That orange ball soon cleared all the low lying mist

The mosslands aren't everybody's cup of tea as in Lancashire they are usually used for intensive agriculture, mainly field salad and veg, and where I was today was no exception. However, it is the big skies that lend these areas some wildness. I also like the habitat islands that you find. When I say habitat island it could be a group of Birch trees for example surviving along a track, and they are indeed islands in their position and richness within the surrounding agricultural landscape.

 An island of Birch in a mossland sea

The main theme of the morning was the 'vis' but this was a tad limited, or the birds were so high they were out of my sight and hearing range. Skylarks were a good example; I could hear them calling, but often I couldn't see them. They were somewhere coasting in the stratosphere.

A few flocks of Pink-footed Geese were on the move, scribbling across the sky like a spider dipped in ink and running across the page, a page of crystal clear cobalt blue! Continuing the wildfowl theme I had three parties of Whooper Swans (10/4/4) heading south, announcing their presence by their loud bugling calls. Magic!

As I said before there was some vis. Interestingly some of the Skylarks were heading north into the light northerly wind. My vis totals, irrespective of direction, were as follows; six Tree Sparrows, four Alba Wags, 68 Woodpigeons, two Chaffinches, a Magpie, 45 Skylarks, 161 Jackdaws, a Linnet, 85 Starlings, four Meadow Pipits, a Reed Bunting, six Carrion Crows, 11 Goldfinches, four Redwings and a Greenfinch.

The only raptor I had this morning was a female Sparrowhawk that coasted over a small area of wild bird seed flushing 45 Goldfinches and 15 Linnets in the process. I thought I might have had a few more thrushes this morning, but other than the Redwings all I had was seven Blackbirds, a Fieldfare, three Song Thrushes and three Mistle Thrushes.

I came across a flock of 13 Lapwings on a small flood and there was no way of approaching them without flushing them, which was a shame because the light was perfect in my head I thought I could have got a cracking photo. The problem there is that it was all theoretical and I hadn't factored in my lacking photographic skills!

It was nice to hear a Corn Bunting singing from, where else, some telegraph wires and that brought to an end a pleasant job of work!

 Big skies

Thursday 19 October 2017

Farmland Vis

Yesterday and today I have been doing some bird surveys, yesterday in the Fylde and today in the Lune valley. The vis hasn't really been part of the surveys, but I record it anyway for my own interest, and after the stormy weather earlier in the week the flood gates opened. 

The day dawned with clear skies and very little wind, perhaps just a tad from the east, and birds were on the move straight away. My totals below don't really justify the true numbers of the birds involved, as I was having to concentrate on other things, but the species make-up is accurate. So a flavour of yesterday morning included 654 Pink-footed Geese, 49 Skylarks, 4 Woodpigeons, 13 Meadow Pipits, four Redwings, a Snipe, a Tree Sparrow, 44 Jackdaws, a Lesser Redpoll, five Alba Wags, two Grey Wags, a Brambling, a Greenfinch, a Siskin, a Raven, a Fieldfare and nine Lapwings.

 Some of the Pinkies yesterday

This morning the vis was a lot quieter and as I said before I was in the Lune valley. I was preoccupied with looking at hedgerows, but the vis was so light I am pretty sure I recorded most of it. My totals included a Siskin, 23 Meadow Pipits, two Reed Buntings, three Goldfinches, 122 Redwings, a Fieldfare, three Chaffinches and 16 Skylarks.

 A typical hedge that I was surveying today

I had a few other bits and pieces, non vis related, when I was surveying the hedges, and this included two Mistle Thrushes, two Grey Wagtails, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 16 Blackbirds (some continental birds), a Stock Dove, five Song Thrushes, a Goldcrest and two Bullfinches.

I had two Sparrowhawks during the morning, an immature male and a female. I watched the female mobbing one of the two Buzzards that I had.    

I've got another work related bird survey tomorrow and then at weekend it looks like more sea watching based on the forecast.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

The Birding Highs and Lows of Ophelia

The press has been full of reports of the damage and sadly loss of life that ex-hurricane Ophelia wreaked upon the UK, particularly Ireland, Wales and southwest Scotland. Luckily here in northwest England we escaped the full force of the storm, but when I went out sea watching at the Point yesterday it was still a force 9 southwesterly!

I was at the tower for first light and was soon joined by IG and GH, and later AD. The first bird I had was a dark morph Arctic Skua shearing west, but sadly it was some way out. We had another two Arctic Skuas, and these were followed by both Great and Pom. We had three Bonxies head west and then at 1140 whilst I was on the phone to my Doctors I heard IG shouting for me to get back up quick. Two gorgeous Pom Skuas were heading west and they were close in. Both were adults; one was in winter plumage and the other was a full summer bird with spoons! Stunning!

As might be expected we had a few Leach's Petrels heading out of the bay and we had 2, possibly 3. We weren't sure whether the third bird was the second bird that had gone into the bay and was coming out again or not. The best of the rest included 13 Common Scoters, four Red-breasted Mergansers, nine Kittiwakes, an adult Med. Gull, a Little Gull, five Whooper Swans, two Auk sp., 13 Shovelers (yes 13 Shovelers - we don't get anywhere near that number at the Obs all winter!), eight Pintails, three Eiders and a Guillemot. Sea watching never ceases to amaze me, what were 13 Shovelers doing heading west in to a force 9 storm?!

 Pintails (honest)

These were the birding highs. The birding lows were represented by a mystery Petrel that flew west at about 0815. I picked it up about half way out, tracking west, and getting closer all the time. I called it as a Petrel sp. as I didn't think it looked like a Leach's, but I wasn't sure what it was! IG and GH were soon on to it and we watched it for about 3 - 4 minutes, before we all lost it. It was struggling to fly against the wind and kept being blown back before pushing on again. It could only be either a Storm-petrel or a Wilson's Storm-petrel! Factors against it being a Wilson's were that we couldn't see the toes projecting beyond the tail and we couldn't see any short pale panels on the upper wing. Having said that, I couldn't see the long pale panels on the upper wings of any of the 2/3 Leach's we saw either, as we were viewing in pretty horrendous conditions. The main and only factor for it being a Wilson's was that we couldn't see a broad white band on the under wing, which it would have it was a Stormie. And we saw it well enough to see this feature if it was there, as we have all seen numerous Stormies in varying conditions and have always been able to see the under wing bar. It had a broad white rump and a square cut tail, and that was it. It wasn't a Leach's, I don't think it was a Stormie, so what was it?

The only other interesting thing was that even in the gale force winds I picked up two Meadow Pipits coming across the bay and they made it, making landfall on the golf course!

It was a vis kind of day this morning and I did a bird survey for work, but more of that later.

Sunday 15 October 2017

Some Migration At Last

First of all I need to apologise for a lack of recent updates. This isn't for the want of trying, but mainly it's because most of my birding in October so far has been work related (start of wintering bird surveys), and it's been uninteresting or site confidential, so it's great to be able to report some migration at last! Generally the month has been dire here on the Lancashire coast, whilst north, south and east of us have been having good birds!

This morning I headed to the Point at first light with 6 oktas cloud cover and a force 3 south-southeasterly wind. The first entry in to my notebook was sadly a dead Harbour Porpoise washed up on the beach. By the chunks of flesh missing from it's neck, I would guess that it had been hit by a boat's propeller.

The skies cleared to probably 3 oktas soon after and by 0945 had become 8 oktas. The clear skies got some 'vis' going and a feature was the number of Pink-footed Geese coming across the bay. Due to the fairly brisk southerlies that they were flying in to, they were often coming in low and in total we had 2,523. I say we as I joined Ian on top of the dunes where we could monitor the vis and look out to sea. Mind you with murk in the bay sea passage was next to nothing.


The other vis records included four Chaffinches (probably a lot more than this), eleven Reed Buntings, 44 Meadow Pipits, eleven Skylarks, three Magpies, 25 Alba Wags, three Rock Pipits, 64 Greenfinches, 21 Linnets, 17 Starlings, 18 Goldfinches, 53 Carrion Crows, two Mistle Thrushes, three Swallows, a Woodpigeon and six Rooks (could have been more). Some of the birds were coming in off the sea, such as Linnet and Starling; migration in action!

There was even a few grounded migrants with four 'agitated' Dunnocks, a Wheatear and a Chiffchaff that dropped out of the sky into some vegetation in front of us! As I said earlier the sea was very quiet and the best of next to nothing was a female Scaup that flew west. Other than that it was a single Red-throated Diver, ten Eiders and five Shelducks.

I had a look in the cemetery on my way home and was treated to a bizarre site of a Song Thrush being mobbed by a Grey Wagtail. The Songie had come out of Sycamores and was circling to gain height before heading off south no doubt and the Grey Wagtail was giving it a serious mobbing. I've never seen that before! A few continental Blackbirds and a party of eleven mobile Long-tailed Tits that had started at the coast and worked their way inland was all I could add.

The weather conditions are not fit enough for one of my wintering bird surveys tomorrow, so I might just get out for a couple of hours first thing.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

September's Ringing Totals

Over on the right I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of September. To date we have ringed 1952 birds of 50 species and we are 640 down on this time last year. Two new species for the year were ringed in September and these were Grey Wagtail and Pied Wagtail.

The top 5 ringed for the month and the top 10 'movers and shakers' for the year are as follows:

Top 5 Ringed in September

1. Meadow Pipit - 102
2. Goldcrest - 52
3. Goldfinch - 49
4. Blue Tit - 31
5. Linnet - 23

Top 10 'Movers and Shakers' for the Year

1. Linnet - 227 (same position)
2. Goldfinch - 202 (same position)
3. Swallow - 145 (same position)
4. Blue Tit - 134 (same position)
5. Meadow Pipit - 121 (straight in)
6. Lesser Redpoll - 112 (straight in)
7. Reed Warbler - 92 (down from 5th)
8.  Pied Flycatcher - 79 (down from 6th)
9. Goldcrest - 78 (straight in)
10. Great Tit - 73 (down from 8th)

Wednesday 4 October 2017

When the Northwest Wind Blows.........

..........it's hard to find any shelter at the Point and the sea watching isn't so good either! It was a northwesterly when I joined Ian at the Point yesterday morning. The only shelter we could find was alongside the western elevation of the tower, and that wasn't brilliant. There was a near complete cloud cover and squally showers periodically raced in to the bay.

I only saw the male Stonechat as I walked towards the front. He was trying to forage in an open area but was continually getting battered by the wind. I'm guessing he's left over from a fall of migrants a few days ago, as was probably the Wheatear that I had on the beach as well.

As I hinted at earlier, and as I have said many times before, a northwesterly isn't any good on this stretch of coast for sea watching, although this morning there was one or two highlights, including the first Brent Geese of the autumn. The sea produced seven Common Scoters, 79 Cormorants (including 40 on the offshore island), two Red-throated Divers, eight Gannets, three Brent Geese, three Guillemots, seven Kittiwakes, seven Eiders, two Canada Geese and an Auk sp.

 This male Eider was struggling to stay off the shore and it looks to have some 
oil on its head and neck. fairly recently there was an oiling incident along this 
stretch of coast that required cleaning up.

There was a few waders on the shore including 395 Oystercatchers (190 on the offshore island), 15 Turnstones, 13 Sanderlings, three Ringed Plovers and eight Knots. Surprisingly there was even a bit of vis in the form of 15 hardy Meadow Pipits that bravely battled west against the strong northwesterly!


I've got a couple of site visits for work tomorrow, so it could be Friday before I'm back out on the patch again.

Monday 2 October 2017

When the West Wind Blows

It was blowing a hooley this morning and as such I headed to the tower for a sea watch. I suppose in the back of my mind I was perhaps expecting a Leach's or two, but thinking about it the 'blow' picked up too quickly and blew its self out just as quick. The depression was a rapid affair that had speedily crossed the Atlantic, and it looked better for an American vagrant than a wreck of seabirds. The former has already proved correct with an American Cliff Swallow on Scilly this morning!

It's not very often that you write wind WSW force 8 - 9 in your notebook, but that's what it was this morning and with full cloud. Squally showers kept dancing across the bay, some making landfall and causing a brief replacing of lens caps on Scopes until they passed, and others just skated across the angry sea.

 The view from the tower this morning

As I walked along the eastern edge of the golf course heading for the front I heard a Goldcrest calling from the scrub! And on my return walk as I headed home I had a male and two female Stonechats in more or less the same place. It certainly wasn't a morning for passerines, but Skylark and Meadow Pipit also made an appearance trying to head west, whilst being pushed quickly backwards!

There was some movement on and over the sea including 28 Gannets, 9 Kittiwakes, 26 Common Scoters, two Red-breasted Mergansers, thirteen Cormorants, six Auk sp., a Sandwich Tern, two Little Gulls, a Red-throated Diver, a Guillemot, an Eider, two Arctic Terns and a lone Pink-footed Goose!

Walking, or should I say being blown back, to my car a few waders were trying to shelter over the high tide behind some of the shingle ridges and there was a group of 40 Turnstones, 80 Sanderlings and 27 Ringed Plovers.

The wind is easing overnight to a 25 mph northwesterly. Not an ideal wind direction off this part of the coast, but as there's a morning tide I'll have another look.