Saturday 29 December 2018

Early Songsters

As soon as I get to the Solstice I get excited as it is the start of the new year, and the 25th has a special significance as it is the first day when you can actually detect lengthening day light, as there is a minute more of the stufft! Not much I know, but at least it is heading in the right direction.

It even seems to me that our avian songsters detect this lengthening in the day and more and more species start to sing. Whilst out and about this past week I've had, in no particular order, singing Song Thrush, Great Tit, Wren, Robin (Robins do sing throughout the winter though), Dunnock and drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker. It certainly lifts the heart, even though I know we have a couple of tough winter months ahead of us.

Just before Christmas, on Christmas Eve in fact, Gail and I had a walk down to the estuary and it didn't turn out to be the successful birding walk we planned, as Gail took a tumble crossing a particular muddy bit near the saltmarsh and hurt her hand. Nothing broken, just a bad sprain, but she wasn't overly enthusiastic about the rest of our walk, not just because of being in some pain, but she was covered from head to foot in mud!

 The view across to the Lakes at the mouth of the estuary (above) and 
Bowland to the east (below)

Before her tumble we had quite a few Blackbirds, fifteen to be exact, walking through the Hawthorns. Winter Thrushes have been scarce of late, so it was nice to record so many Blackbirds. As we approached the saltmarsh a Water Rail called from the reedbed and 129 Pink-footed Geese came from the coast and headed inland over the river. It was just about at this point when Gail went bog snorkling!

 High flying 'Pinkies'

Bravely she soldiered on, but she wasn't enjoying scanning and counting the wildfowl on the river, so three hundred each of Wigeon and Teal had to do, but there was a lot more. I managed to enter 80 Redshanks and 200 Lapwings in my notebook, before I decided Gail had suffered enough and we headed home. A quick detour past a regular Waxwing spot in recent winters revealed zero Waxwings, but I will be keeping an eye out over the rest of the winter.

It's funny that I mention a lack of Winter Thrushes as a few days later whilst surveying in Cheshire I did have a few Fieldfares and Redwings, but only 17 and 10 of each respectively. Three Buzzards made there presence felt calling away, as did a couple of noisy Jays. Jays always seem excitable, and give the impression that they are permanently cross about something. I've ringed a few Jays in my time and in the hand they are just as excitable!


I know I've said before, but the habitat at this particular survey site is intensive farmland consisting of maize stubbles, rye grass desert and hedges flailed within an inch of their life, so it was nice to record 48 Meadow Pipits in a wet bit of maize stubble, and Grey Wagtail and Raven are always a bonus.

The weather is looking settled for a few more days, so I'll try my best to get out in the morning and northwest Cumbria beckons for some survey work on New Year's Eve.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Here's A Blog Post For Ya!

Yesterday on the Solstice I had a bird survey to do fairly close to home. I was a little concerned about the weather as it forecast light rain throughout the morning, but I took the chance that it would be light enough for me to complete my survey without any issues. Sure enough at first light, not very early at this time of the year, I had full cloud cover, the forecast light rain and a light easterly breeze.

To the north of my vantage point I could see flock after flock, though not large flocks, of Pink-footed Geese heading east from their overnight roost on the river. In total I had 972 head east with some of them treating me to an overhead flypast. I can't think of a more evocative call than that of the 'Pinkie' and other wild geese, as their call immediately brings to mind the wild places that they inhabit.

Pink-footed Geese

I've had some decent counts of Lapwings from this site, although the Lapwings haven't been using the site, when local birds have been flushed from their feeding areas. A couple of flocks have numbered over a thousand birds, but today it was a mere three hundred. 

 A handful of Lapwings 

One of the seasonal cards we received from a good friend in York had a picture of Long-tailed Tits on the front as it is her favourite bird, and I must admit I never tire of watching them. A favourite nature writer of mine, Jim Crumley, in his book 'A High and Lonely Place' said about Long-tailed Tits..."the place bristled with Robin song, although it was only January, and flocks of Long-tailed Tits rolled through the twiggy crowns of fieldside trees like squeaky airborne puffballs. There is no aerobatic feat beyond them, no pose too precarious, no impossible demands of landing and take-off". Marvellous! Oh, and I had nine of these squeaky airborne puffballs this morning!

 A squeaky airborne puffball!

Round here winter Thrushes are a bit thin on the ground at the moment, so it was nice to record a Redwing, and as always it was a delight to encounter three Song Thrushes. Anecdotally, and without looking up figures from the BTO, I think Song Thrushes are having a slow up-turn in fortune. The same can't be said for their larger cousin the Mistle Thrush, of which I only had one this morning, that has disappeared from a number of sites I used to regularly record them at. 

Other bits and pieces that I had were 24 Chaffinches, a Greenfinch, a Reed Bunting, a Grey Wagtail, 43 Goldfinches, a Jay and thirteen Meadow Pipits

It's going to be very wet tomorrow morning, so it will be next week before I am out again. High pressure is nudging in on the 24th and it looks set fair for the week. At last!

Friday 21 December 2018

Solstice Greetings

Wow, I can't quite believe it has been two weeks since I posted anything! No excuses, I've just been busy, busy, busy! The weather is bucking up next week, and as such the only day I won't be working is the 25th. When the sun shines the bird surveyor has work to do!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to send you Solstice Greetings, and however you celebrate the mid-Winter, I hope you enjoy the festivities!

Woodland is a brilliant place to visit on the Solstice, to think about the old
year and contemplate the new.

Friday 7 December 2018

It's becoming a habit...

...this only getting out birding a couple of times per week! The weather has been so appalling of late that I haven't bothered going out. I could go through the motions and go out for the sake of it, but luckily I can get my birding 'fix' through work!

In fact sometimes you have to complete surveys in weather that you wouldn't go out birding in for pleasure, and a week ago this was the case. I have a survey site close to home and there are a mix of habitats including grassland, broad-leaved woodland, hedgerows and water courses.

My notes state that on the day I had four oktas cloud cover with a 5-6 SW wind and frequent heavy showers; eek! Luckily on site there was somewhere I could shelter to carry out my Vantage Point (VP) observations. Surprisingly I did have a few bits and pieces despite the weather and they included a male Sparrowhawk, two Little Egrets, two Grey Wagtails, 59 Goldfinches, two Redwings, two Coal Tits, seven Long-tailed Tits, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, three Song Thrushes, 900 Lapwings, a Buzzard and 24 Chaffinches. Not bad considering the weather!

I was back at the site earlier this week on a clear, calm frosty morning and to be honest with you I didn't have as many birds! My totals included four Song Thrushes, 324 Pink-footed Geese, three Stock Doves, two Mistle Thrushes, a Little Egret, a Brambling, 37 Rooks, 1100 Lapwings, a Grey Wagtail, two Skylarks, 19 Goldfinches and two noisy Jays.

The photo below is of the sunrise at the site on that frosty morning. The weather is looking a bit grim for this weekend, although Sunday is a possibility!

Saturday 24 November 2018

Groundhog Week

I do apologise dear readers as there will be a sense of deja vu regarding this post! I've only been out twice since my last post and it was to the same two sites again; deepest darkest Cheshire and glorious northwest Cumbria.

It dawned clear and frosty in Cheshire with a light easterly wind. I had an experience that I have never had before when out birding and that was moisture forming in my beard because of the cold conditions (I've experienced that bit before), and then it was dripping onto the eye-pieces of my bins! Very annoying!

There wasn't much to report really other than seven Fieldfares, a Jay, four Buzzards, a Brambling, two Stock Doves, six Linnets, ten Skylarks, four Redwings and seven Lapwings. I was surprised I had that much in the ryegrass desert, with butchered hedgerows, habitat that I was in!

Fast forward to glorious Cumbria and it was a morning where Stonechats would feature strongly. It was another beautiful morning and walking down towards my cliff-top vantage point I came across a male and two female Stonechats. The male showed really well in the November sunshine and proceeded to have a good old preen in front of me, and I took the following snaps.

Interestingly, on my way home I stopped in a parking area to have my lunch, in view of the coast, and there in front of me working their way along a wire fence fly-catching was a pair of Stonechats, and the female is pictured below. Is this part of Cumbria the Stonechat capital of the UK?

Going back to my survey there are two elements to it, a land-based bit and a coastal bit. The land based bit didn't turn up much other than three Siskins, 17 Meadow Pipits, the aforementioned Stonechats and a Buzzard.

Looking from my coastal watch point I had a male Peregrine fly south and I wish I had it seen it coming sooner as it looked fantastic in the crisp light. Where was my camera I hear you ask, and the answer was in it's case on the floor next to my rucksack! 

I'd not long sent a text to Gail saying "no Harbour Porpoise so far, or indeed any other marine mammals", when two Harbour Porpoises appeared slowly moving and feeding offshore! I got cracking scope views with my new x 25-60 wide angle zoom lens, as they did their rolling breach in full glorious sunshine! Maybe I should have sent Gail a text saying "no Orca's so far"!

I'm used to seawatching off the Fylde coast of Lancashire where any views of Common Scoters are miles away, even though they might be in good numbers. So it was refreshing being at a site where I could look down on them relatively close and watch them diving and feeding! The best of the rest from the coast was two Shags, two Red-throated Divers, a Guillemot and three Auk sp. 

Driving back home I noticed that the first snow of the winter was on the tops of some of the lakeland fells such as Skiddaw, and very seasonal it looked too!

Sunday 18 November 2018

The Working Week That Was

During the past week I have had two site visits to complete on-going wintering bird surveys, and as winter tightens it's grip and autumn loses it, the surveys get quieter and quieter, until you approach March and spring then tightens it's grip as winter loses its! I've said this before, but Naturalists do tend to spend a lot of time wishing their lives away!

Monday morning saw Gail and I at my Cheshire survey site under two oktas cloud cover with a niggling 10-15 mph south-southeasterly wind. Not impossible conditions for the survey, but the wind was more of a nuisance than a benefit.

During October at this site I recorded quite a few Woodpigeons on visible migration, but this has now stopped and the only members of that family were three Stock Doves that I recorded.

Talking of vis I did have a few Fieldfares go through, 62 in fact, all heading south. Cousins of the Fieldfare included a Song Thrush and ten Redwings, and all made it in to my notebook. Two Buzzards and seven Skylarks were best of the rest, and it was then time to face the onslaught of the M6 on our way home.

On Friday I was in northwest Cumbria, and again Gail accompanied me. No views across to Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland today as the visibility was only moderate-good with full cloud cover and a southeasterly wind force three.

Along the coast at this site are some arable fields and numbers of Skylarks are presently foraging in them. Sometimes the Skylarks seem to be heading south and then you will see them coming back! Whatever they were doing we had an impressive 65 this morning.

There was a lack of members of the Thrush family other than two Song Thrushes that look to winter in the area alongside a handful of Reed Buntings and a male Stonechat. A couple of Rock Pipits moved up and down the coast, and the most unusual bird I had looking out to sea was a female Pheasant that flew south just off the cliffs!


Sea mammals put in an appearance and these made Gail's day. First up were two Harbour Porpoises feeding offshore, but sadly not close enough for any photos, and then we had an Atlantic Grey Seal make it's way along the coast.

It was quiet on the sea with just two Shags, a Guillemot, ten Common Scoters, two Red-throated Divers, and a male Peregrine that flew rapidly south.

It's going easterly over this coming week and I will be trying my best to get out, so if I do I'll be sure to let you know.

Saturday 10 November 2018

The River

I apologise for a lack of posts of late dear readers, it's been mainly due to poor weather that I haven't been out. In fact I haven't even managed to get any work surveys in since 2nd November! I had an aborted trip earlier in the week to one of my wintering bird survey sites in Cheshire, but didn't get there because of a complete closure of the M6 southbound between Junctions 21 and 20! I managed to muscle myself off the motorway at J23, and high-tailed it home!

I suppose I could have gone out just for the sake of it, but as we approach early winter autumn migration has slowed down, nearly to a full stop, and birding round here in particular has become hard work. In fact birding in this part of Lancashire gets less pleasurable every year, with more and more people, and more and more disturbance! So all being well the Hairy Birder is likely to be 'upping sticks' and moving north in the not too distant future! How far north really depends on Mrs Hairy Birder! The preferred location for me would be Dumfries and Galloway, but I would say that anywhere from north Lancs, through to Cumbria and onwards to Scotland is a possibility!

Anyway, back to the river. And the river on this occasion was the River Wyre. Earlier in the week Gail and I had to go to Fleetwood to pick up some Birch logs to burn in our wood burner along with some Ash that we had taken a delivery of. I knew that the tide was falling so we decided to have a walk alongside Jubilee Quay on the Wyre. Funnily enough, there is a connection with Whitehaven in Cumbria where I presently have some work in the area, and Fleetwood, as some of the fishing boats from Whitehaven in days gone by used to land their catch at Jubilee Quay.

 Some of the inaccessible quayside is used by Gulls to roost on like this 
Black-headed Gull

On the falling tide waders come in to feed on the freshly exposed mud and it's the first part of the estuary that Black-tailed Godwits feed on at this state of tide, and on this occasion we had 26. Other waders included six Oystercatchers and 44 Redshanks.

 Even though it is silhouetted and it has its back to us, I rather like this 
picture of a black-tailed Godwit

This morning I was back on the Wyre, but a little further upstream, and I had a pleasant walk under the five oktas cloud cover with a stiff southerly breeze. Walking down the path to the estuary I pushed twelve Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and a couple of Redwings from the Hawthorns. I could hear Chaffinches going over on vis, but couldn't see them, but I could certainly see the 36 Woodpigeons that headed east.

 The path down to the river

On the edge of the saltmarsh was a nice flock of 65 Goldfinches that were feeding on the seeds of what looked like Sea Lavender. I had a walk across the saltmarsh to my vantage point where I can see both up and down stream and I put 43 Snipe up.

On the river were 226 Lapwings, 244 Wigeons and 117 Teal. There was probably quite a bit more than this as I could see bits of birds on the edge of creeks and behind mud banks that were impossible to count. Walking back to the main path a Little Egret flew upstream and four Rock Pipits called as they flew around the marsh.

 Little Egret

A quick look on the reservoir revealed 22 Mallards, twelve Coots, five Little Grebes, eleven Tufted Ducks and a male Goldeneye. Other than ten Linnets, three Reed Buntings and a Grey Wagtail on my walk back to the car that was it.

The weather is looking a bit mixed this coming week with perhaps some opportunities to get out at the start and then end of the week. As ever I'll keep you posted!

Friday 2 November 2018

Four Countries

Both today and earlier in the week I have been undertaking a series of wintering bird surveys, and if you include the country I was standing in (England) I could see four countries! Well, three countries and a self-governing British Crown dependency; Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland and England! On Monday the visibility was great and I had clear skies with a light southeasterly wind.

There were a number of Stonechats about, at least two pairs, and they showed well, usually when my camera wasn't at hand, or when the light wasn't right! But today I managed to get a few snaps of this female below.

I had quite good numbers of Skylarks and I must admit it was difficult to say whether they were moving, or just feeding in the coastal fields. I would have birds that looked as if they were heading south, and then they would come back north again! Anyway whatever they were doing I had 18 on Monday and 23 today.

Raptors have been thin on the ground other than a Kestrel, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk, but maybe that's all I can expect. What was a pleasant surprise was the covey of five Grey Partridges that flew past us as Gail and I were huffing and puffing walking up a hill! Up to four Song Thrushes have been present, and being a coastal location two Rock Pipits have been moving up and down the coast.


I spent some time seawatching, but it wasn't exactly rocking, and my totals included two Red-throated Divers, seven Pintails, three Guillemots, a Razorbill and 49 Common Scoters.

The best seawatching record I had on Monday was of two Harbour Porpoise that I watched for about fifteen minutes. At about 1:00 pm I picked up a Harbour Porpoise fairly close inshore. It was drifting back and forth, actively feeding, below the cliffs, and breaching with that lovely rolling action that they have. I suspected that there might be a second individual, but for a while I could just see one. After about five minutes two breached together! I tried to get a few shots and you will see my efforts below! They made my day anyway!

Just one Harbour Porpoise

 Suspicions of two!

 Definitely two!

More Hoglets

Since I last posted we have had two more Hoglets in the garden, taking the total to six, and we are hoping that we have now managed to rescue them all! The second Hoglet (no. 6) was with it's mother and sadly we had to take it in because it was woefully under weight. Both Hoglets have gone to the lovely Jean and hopefully they will put weight on and be able to get back to the wild in the Spring!

 Hoglet No. 6

We still have at least one large Hedgehog coming to feed every night, but it has turned cold of late, so how long it will be visiting I'm not sure. We think it is the mother of our six Hoglets and she looks large and healthy, so when it's time for her to get her head down I don't think she'll have any problems.

Saturday 27 October 2018

Hoglet Update

Hoglet number 4 scuppered my birding plans for this morning, but it was worth it to rescue another wee fella, or wee girl should I say as she is a female! Somewhere between midnight and one o'clock this morning our security light went on and off a couple of times and I guessed it was just the wind, but due to the fact that we had rescued three small Hedgehogs in recent days I thought I would get up and have a look.

I shone my head torch on to our mini meadow through the back door and there on the edge of the grass was another Hoglet! I went out and collected the wee girl, weighed her (240g) and placed her in the cat carrier with bedding, food and water. This is becoming a habit! A quick text to my good friend Terry and he arranged for me to take it in the morning to a lovely lady called Jean who cares for Hedgehogs.

Jean's set up was impressive, and she has basically converted her conservatory in to a Hedgehog hospital. She has banks of keeping boxes full of Hogs and there must have been 20-30 Hedgehogs in her remarkable care. Jean weighed her and she was 300g, more than I thought, but again far too light to hibernate for the winter. Jean asked us for a name for the Hoglet, just to make it easier for her records rather than recording Hedgehog 32YRT50, or something similar, so I named her Gail after my Gail!

 Gail 'the Hedgehog'

I was surprised at the number of ticks on her and Jean expertly removed at least five and placed her in a keeping box with one of her brothers/sisters, the Hoglet from our garden that Terry took to Jean yesterday. Jean said that she would keep us informed of her progress, so we just need to hope that she responds well and puts on weight. She certainly was a feisty little lady, so I remain hopeful.

I've rescheduled my birding for tomorrow, but it won't be an early start as I have four days of wintering bird surveys next week the length of breadth of the northwest with some very early starts!

Friday 26 October 2018


Over the past six days it has been quite a saga with young Hedgehogs in our garden. I've rescued three Hoglets in six days! Last Saturday (20th) evening I went out to the beer fridge in the garage to procure another bottle of real ale, and just next to the back door step was a Hoglet feeding on some food I had spilled when putting some hedgehog food out earlier.

I feed the Hedgehogs in my garden every night, and at the moment I am getting at least one large individual every night just after it has gone dark. I am also getting the same or another just before it becomes light. This Hoglet looked small, too small in fact to survive hibernation, so I made a quick call to my good friend Terry who is involved in caring for Hedgehogs. Terry acts as coordinator locally for hedgehog rescue and he has a number of people that he homes hedgehogs with who look after them over the winter.

They are kept awake, by keeping them warm, over winter and fed to reach a weight where it is safe to release them in the Spring. To survive hibernation Hedgehogs as a general rule need to weigh 600g, if they try and hibernate weighing less than this then it is unlikely that they will wake up, passing away in their sleep because they don't have enough reserves.

At the end of the winter the rescued Hedgehogs are released in enclosures where they are re-nocturnalised (if there is such a word), before being released at a safe release site.

Terry said that if I could hatch the Hoglet he would call the following day and collect it. I went back out and it had gone. However, later on just before I went to bed I went out with a torch and searched my garden and found it on a small grassy area. Terry called the following day and collected it; Hoglet number one!

 This is Hoglet number one before it was settled in for 
the night.

This is the wee fella in the morning prior to us 
changing its bedding.

On Tuesday (23rd), I was err, going out to the beer fridge and noticed a Hoglet feeding on the food that I had put out. So once again, I picked it up and took it indoors. Another text to Terry and the following day he called and collected it.

After the second Hoglet we realised that it was highly likely that they were both from the same late litter, and in fact Terry later found out from the carer that they were brother and sister and this latest Hoglet weighed 240g. Hoglet number two!

It was raining last night so I had put the hedgehog food and water under cover in the feeding station I have made, and once again I was going out for a fine bottle of real ale, when I noticed yet another Hoglet in the feeding station. I brought the little chap indoors, weighed it, and at 250g it was again too small to survive hibernation. I made it comfortable in our cat basket with a bed, food and water and once again sent a text to Terry. Hoglet number three!

Terry called to collect the wee fella this morning and gave us an update on the first two, who are doing really well and have already put on 30g.

Hedgehogs normally have 4-5 Hoglets, so there is a chance that this saga hasn't ended yet. If there are another 1-2 Hoglets out there I hope they come into our garden to feed so we can save them too! I'll keep you posted.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Birding Mersehead

One of my favourite birding sites is Mersehead RSPB in Dumfries and Galloway, on the northern shores of the Solway. And I had an opportunity to go birding there this week as I had a couple of site visits to do north and south of Castle Douglas on Monday. Gail came with me and we stayed overnight so we could go birding on the Tuesday. It's something we've done for several years now and we thoroughly enjoy it!

My two work related site visits are well and truly in Red Kite country, one more so than the other as it is very close to Lock Ken. On our drive to and from Castle Douglas we counted ten without trying, including one over the garden of a house that we looked at in Crossmichael!

The following morning as we drove from Castle Douglas to Mersehead RSPB we had a further two Kites. We arrived at Mersehead under full cloud cover, with a moderate westerly wind, and we looked forward to some decent birding and a good walk.

There are a variety of habitats at Mersehead including saltmarsh, sand dunes, open shore, mudflats, coastal mixed woodland, arable land, low input pastures and freshwater pools. So a great mix, and the beauty is that it is quiet. In fact we were at the reserve for three hours on Tuesday morning and other than us there was just one other couple on the reserve. We had it to ourselves. In fact when we got to the glorious white sandy beach, covered in shells, there was nobody to be seen!

 The white sandy beach (above & below)

On the reserve are a number of wildbird seed plots with a high density of sunflowers in the mix and they were alive with finches. One plot is adjacent to some low coastal mixed woodland and a lot of the birds were flying in to the trees and then in to plots to feed. A rough estimate of the finches we saw included fifteen Tree Sparrows, 370 Greenfinches, three Bramblings, 65 Chaffinches, five Yellowhammers and 82 Linnets. Stonking!

Other passerines that we encountered included a Siskin, four Song Thrushes, two Redwings, five Goldcrests, a Reed Bunting, a Fieldfare and a Bullfinch. Funnily enough the only raptor that we saw on the reserve was a single Sparrowhawk, but I did half expect Merlin, Peregrine, Hen Harrier etc.

Of course the main reason that I like Mersehead so much, apart from how lovely and quiet it is, is the fact that it is a wintering site for my favourite goose, the Barnacle Goose. I love everything about Barnacle Geese; their stunning monochrome colours, the 'barking' dog like call and just their overall loveliness! It was hard to say how many 'Barnies' were on the reserve, but we certainly came across at least 1,700.

Below you will find a number of pictures of Barnacle Geese and I make no apologies for this because I think they are a stunning bird!

The freshwater pools held a variety of wildfowl with eight Pintails, 59 Teal, 35 Wigeon and 22 Shovelers. There was more than this, but this is just what was in view immediately in front of the two hides.

 Mixed wildflowl outside one of the hides


The view from one of the hides

With a heavy heart we had to return to the car and head home, but we'll be back soon I'm sure!

Saturday 20 October 2018

Not In The West Yet

This morning Graham and me got to the pools at the Obs early to get a couple of nets up in the dark to hopefully ring some thrushes. Large numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares are appearing at watch points further east, but they have yet to get this far west. There has been a few, but none in any numbers. Last night I kept going outside to listen for Redwing, but I didn't hear a single one, and it was the same this morning when I was loading my car.

We had six oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph southerly wind throughout the morning. As soon as the nets were up I put Fieldfare and Redwing on the MP3 players. A few Redwings started arriving in response to the MP3 players, but not in any real numbers, and in fact I think they were only just in double figures!

We ringed thirteen birds as follows:

Redwing - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Chaffinch - 3
Reed Bunting - 4
Blackbird - 1 continental male
Sparrowhawk - 1 female
Pied Wagtail - 1



The birding was quiet as well this morning as you might have gathered and there was very little going over, other than perhaps 15 Redwings, a Song Thrush, two Bramblings and a handful of Chaffinches. Pied Wagtails were dispersing to feeding areas from their overnight roost on the marina, and a few Reed Buntings 'dropped in' to investigate the MP3 calls. Five Stock Doves and a male Shoveler dropping on to the pools, and that was it!

 Reed Bunting

It's a funny old forecast for tomorrow with the wind remaining southwesterly and some light rain coming in during the morning. I've had three early starts on the bounce and I have an early start on Monday as I am heading up to southwest Scotland to do some work. However, on Tuesday I am hoping to be birding on the Solway, so it might have to wait until then.

Friday 19 October 2018

From Inland Cheshire To Coastal Cumbria

Over the past two days my birding has been work based and they have been completely different; inland Cheshire yesterday and coastal Cumbria today!

It was a beautiful day yesterday everywhere it seemed, other than my survey site that was fog bound! On the drive down it was glorious until I got near my site, and then on the return journey foggy until a few miles from the site where it was glorious again! It was one of those mists where horizontal visibility was compromised, but not vertical!

 The sun was trying it's best to make an appearance!

I did have a few birds at my misty Cheshire site including five Song Thrushes, which were almost certainly migrants. No Fieldfares or Redwings though! A Buzzard was ever present as usual, but the best bird of the morning was undoubtedly a Little Owl.

I could hear Blackbirds and Chaffinches alarm calling and I approached the area where I knew that they were scolding a predator of some sort. I looked through a gap in the hedge and perched up on a post was a Little Owl. It was really close, and soon spotted me and sadly flew off. It still put a spring in my step though!

The site holds a population of Tree Sparrows and I had five on this morning. A flock of seventeen Long-tailed Tits moving along a hedge was nice, and these were really all the highlights.

Gail and I were at a site in northwest Cumbria today, and if it wasn't for the relatively murky conditions, the views across to Dumfries and Galloway and down to the Isle of Man would have been superb. The site is on the coast and today's visit was just to plan my transect route and VPs (vantage points), so I wasn't really recording my sightings thoroughly. Of interest we had 33 Skylarks, eight Linnets, a Rock Pipit, four Stonechats, two Ravens and a nice covey of six Grey Partridges. I didn't look on the sea today, but when I start the surveys soon I will be doing.

Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee. It was nice to record this today and I have 
had one or two in my garden over recent days

Tomorrow I'm hoping to get out ringing at the Obs, but I'm leaving it until the morning to make a decision as the forecast is marginal in terms of wind strength. I'll let you know if I do!

Wednesday 17 October 2018

False Start

If you remember I had commented on the potential interesting weather synopsis for yesterday morning, but as often happens it didn't come to fruition. The weak weather front moved through, with light drizzle, but after it had come light the effect was more of a 'blocking' feature than of a 'dropping' feature, if you know what I mean.

Having said that, after my 8 o'clock Doctor's appointment I decided to have an hour or so's birding before hitting the office for the day. I arrived at the cemetery under full cloud cover, with a moderate southeasterly wind. Where had that wind come from?

As I got out of my car I could hear some Chaffinches 'pinging', looked up and could see just a couple of birds. I looked harder and there high above, just dots in my bins, were a tight flock of 42 heading west. When we get flocks like this down on the coast at the Obs, it's a sure sign that they are continental birds. I sent a quick text to Ian saying "it looks like continental Chaffinches are on the move this morning". After that I had very little vis, so it had in fact been a false start.

The only grounded migrant I had in the cemetery was a single Goldcrest, so I headed to the coastal park, but I didn't hold out much hope. There were a few more grounded migrants in the coastal park in the form of four Goldcrests, 14 Chaffinches and two Redwings. Vis was restricted to just 13 Chaffinches and ten Starlings. It was time to go home!

There are three Woodpigeons that seem to be permanently hanging around our garden at the moment, although I must admit I am putting food out for them. One of the birds has been moulting its wing feathers and when it takes off it 'clatters' it's wings even more than usual!

Looking back to this day in 2010 Ian and me were ringing at the farm fields/school in the Obs recording area. We ringed 52 birds; a Song thrush, a Redwing, three Goldcrests, a Long-tailed Tit, six Reed Buntings, three Blue Tits, a Dunnock, five Blackbirds and 31 Greenfinches. So, not a bad haul!

The birding wasn't bad either and it stood out for one reason, and that was a Great Grey Shrike that headed north at 0800! I remember it well as both Ian and I picked it up at the same time, knowing there was something odd about this bird with undulating flight that was approaching! That was the last Great Grey Shrike recorded at the Obs, so we are over due another one!

Monday 15 October 2018

You Couldn't Make It Up

I was out yesterday looking for more eastern sprites, but it wasn't to be, in fact it was very quiet both in terms of vis and grounded migrants. I had seven oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph northwesterly wind. I'm blaming the northwesterly wind.

I visited the cemetery first as it is closest to home and I didn't have a single grounded migrant and just the odd Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch over was the only vis.

The coastal park was a little better as there was some grounded migrants in the form of five Goldcrests, a Chiffchaff, four Coal Tits and a Song Thrush that dropped in. Vis was similar to the cemetery with a handful of Chaffinches and three Grey Wagtails west.

Last night the forecast for this morning looked good for some ringing locally, and it was forecast for some rain at my Cheshire wintering bird survey site, so I decided to go to the Nature Park and try my luck with a couple of nets and a few MP3 players. Interestingly after dark last night and before light this morning I didn't hear any Thrushes going over, and one of my plans was to get there in the dark and try and tape lure some Redwings and Fieldfares.

I loaded my car up at 6:30 am and headed out along the short five minute drive to the site. On arrival I noticed that the first gate was open and in the distance I could see the lights of a vehicle moving around. I drove round to the second gate and this was open too, so I assumed it was somebody official doing some work on the site, but in the dark?! I headed off towards the third gate that takes you into our ringing area, and the vehicle that was moving around pulled alongside me and it was Greg the part-time Ranger of the site.

We exchanged a few niceties and Greg informed me that he was there early as he was meeting some contractors that were going to put a trench in near the first gate to install a fibre optic cable, and he wasn't sure whether they would be digging the track up to do it! This meant that if I carried out my ringing session as planned I might not be able to get off site until the end of the day! You couldn't make it up! What a coincidence that the first decent morning for ringing for days coincides with a day when some work was going to be completed that might block my exit from the site! Of course, the decision was made and an enforced full day's birding at the Nature Park didn't appeal, so it was off home for some breakfast.

There's a potentially interesting weather synopsis for overnight with easterly winds and a weak weather front in the early hours, it might just drop something in. I've got an appointment early doors, but might just sneak out for an hour afterwards.

Saturday 13 October 2018

Eastern Sprite

Ian's garden is an important component of the Obs recording area, as it is directly on the coast, and the habitat in his and neighbouring gardens are very attractive to migrants. The garden is one of the sites where we trap migrants for ringing and good numbers of Lesser Redpoll, for example, are ringed every Spring in the garden.

I didn't set my alarm this morning as the forecast was poor and I'm ashamed to say that a phone call from Ian got me out of bed. He phoned me to say that even though it was wet, even very wet at times, there were migrants around as he had just had six Blackbirds and a Song Thrush 'drop in' to his garden!

I got up and dressed, and decided I would go out if and when the rain eased. I then received another phone call from Ian saying that he had just caught a Yellow-browed Warbler in his garden, and did I want to come up. Luckily Ian only lives about a six minute drive from me, and as I was up and ready with my birding gear at hand, I was in his house getting the gorgeous little 'eastern sprite' out of the bird bag to ring in less than ten minutes.

 Yellow-browed Warbler

It was an immature bird and it was in very fresh plumage, even though it had flown all the way from the Siberian taiga! These little birds weighing only c.7g should be wintering in southeast Asia, but every year more and more reach western European shores, including the UK. This was actually the second we have ringed at the Obs, and the third ringed by the group. When I got up this morning I didn't think I would be doing any ringing, let alone ringing a Yellow-browed Warbler!

Yellow-browed Warbler

The forecast is for rain again tomorrow morning, but lighter than today, and there might be a few clear spells during the night, so I will try and get out in the morning to see if any more eastern sprites have arrived.

Friday 12 October 2018


As I write, it is blowing a southerly gale outside, and it is forecast to start raining soon and carry on for most of the night and tomorrow! Earlier in the week in sunnier and warmer times I had two site visits to undertake; one in southwest Lancs and the other in Cheshire. Without a doubt, both of them well and truly landlocked!

My southwest Lancs site visit was on Tuesday and it was a gloriously sunny morning as I wandered around some intensive agricultural fields. I wasn't completing a bird survey, but I was outdoors and that was all that mattered. Skylarks were a feature of the morning and these 'blithe Spirits' would make another appearance later in the week. I had eighteen head south during my short walk, and three Tree Sparrows calling noisily as they went by were good to see.

It seemed odd in these beautifully warm conditions to have twenty Whooper Swans go over, my first for the Autumn, and I never tire of their bugling calls. Stonking!

Fast forward to Wednesday and I was in Cheshire doing a wintering bird survey and the weather was glorious; clear skies and a light-moderate southeasterly wind. The main feature of the morning was the vis, and there was quite a bit, particularly Woodpigeons, even though again I was landlocked.

 Migrating Woodpigeons (above & below)

My vis totals (all south) included 19 Skylarks, 18 Meadow Pipits, two Redwings (my first of the Autumn), eight Linnets, 677 Woodpigeons and 15 Alba Wags.

I couldn't detect any grounded migrants but other bits and pieces included 21 Tree Sparrows, 15 Linnets feeding in some maize stubble, a Song Thrush, a male Kestrel, three Reed Buntings, a Goldcrest, two Stock Doves and three Buzzards.


 Ash Trees are a feature of the landscape in this area and 
I love a good Ash Tree!

For the past week or so a/the/our Hedgehog has been still visiting our garden. It comes shortly after dark and again just before first light in the morning. It's so mild of late that I guess that he/she will be visiting for a while yet.

As I mentioned before the forecast is grim for the rest of the day and tomorrow, but I am hoping that I will be able to get out on Sunday. Fingers crossed as it is Autumn!