Sunday 25 February 2018

Med to Moss

Blimey, what a busy week it's been, I'm looking forward to sinking a few real ales this evening! I've been doing wintering bird surveys everyday this week, and it's been a case of 'making hay whilst the sun shines', or more of a case of catching up on surveys whilst it's been bl**dy cold, but dry!

Monday saw me on a site close to some intertidal areas with adjacent 'bog standard' improved farmland. The first thing in my notebook for that day is a note saying "it's great seeing the number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls build up as they arrive from Africa in immaculate plumage". And I'm not wrong! I only had five this morning, but they looked stunning with crisp white head, neck and underparts, contrasting with sharp slate grey mantle. Beautiful!

Continuing on the Gull theme I also had three adult Med. Gulls among the Black-heads and all were adults in summer plumage! Raptors were thin on the ground with a single female Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, and two Buzzards.


There was just twelve Teal on the pond, but two Little Egrets there as well was a result of the high tide pushing the birds off the river.

Little Egret

Tuesday saw me on some agricultural moss land in the southwest of the county and it was very cold with a biting 15 - 20 mph northerly wind, and consequently birds were thin on the ground. Only just worthy of mention are eleven Linnets, three Mistle Thrushes, a female Kestrel and two Buzzards.


Wednesday I was in an area of improved grassland again and it was another cold day, although thankfully the northeasterly wind had abated a bit and made it feel more comfortable. It's interesting doing these surveys because you have to count everything you see or hear over a set period and this can sometimes lead to some interesting totals of species that you perhaps wouldn't normally count and record. An example of this was the 47 Carrion Crows I had.

On the subject of Corvids I did have a Raven heading northeast and I never tire of seeing these giant cousins of the Carrion Crow. A couple of Tree Sparrows was nice to see, but I don't want to trouble you with anything else.

On Thursday on a cold and frosty morning I was again on some agricultural moss land in west Lancs, and I had a few half decent farmland birds. There was more of those spanking Lesser Black-backed Gulls and I had 24 over the three hours I was there.

Perhaps the most impressive count I had, and of a red listed species, was 272 Linnets! Other farmland species included 24 Skylarks, 32 Lapwings, two Grey Partridges, twelve Stock Doves and a single Corn Bunting.

There was the merest trickle of vis in the form of a Grey Wagtail and two Siskins, all heading high east. I love the bugling calls of Whooper Swans and party of 17 flew over me with that haunting call, so evocative of the wild!

 Whooper Swans

A brief interlude Thursday afternoon was a calling Chiffchaff in my garden. Ian and me were sat in my sun lounge enjoying a coffee and putting the birding world to rights when we both looked up and said "Chiffie"! As soon as I opened the back door for better look and listen I caught sight of it high-tailing over the house! We could then hear it on the other side of the road calling away.

On Friday morning I was back on the same piece of moss land in the southwest of the county and it was a Thrush sort of morning. Again it was cold with clear skies and a ground frost, with that cold niggling southeasterly wind.

Most of the land in this area is managed as arable land for cereals or vegetables, but behind my watch point is a largish area of permanent grassland grazed by a herd of Belted Galloways. This field is fairly wet and has a number of wet flushes on it and it was here that a good number of Thrushes were feeding. I had 233 Fieldfares, eight Blackbirds and 17 Redwings. In the same field with the Thrushes were 367 Woodpigeons and 123 Starlings. I also recorded six Mistle Thrushes and two Song Thrushes, not in this field but on my transect walk.

A number of Gulls also fed in this wet field and I had 85 Black-headed Gulls and 78 Common Gulls. Eight Stock Doves, two Buzzards, 19 Chaffinches, 13 Skylarks, 18 Goldfinches, three Shovelers over, a Grey Wagtail, a Grey Partridge and five Lapwings were best of the rest.

I'm giving birding a rest tomorrow so I can spend some time harvesting some Willows from my garden for later planting at the Obs, and I'll also make a start on making half a dozen nest boxes or so for Pied Flycatchers to replace any dilapidated boxes at my Pied Fly nest box scheme. 

Sunday 18 February 2018

First Trickle Of Vis

I headed to the southern section of the Obs recording area and had a walk over the farm fields and a brief look on the sea. I had 6 oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph southeasterly wind..

There was quite a few Magpies around this morning and in total I had 15. If any of them had been flying a little higher I would have said that they were on vis. However, I did have the first trickle of vis this morning in the shape of 13 Woodpigeons, five Skylarks and two Siskins. All were high and heading S/SE into the wind. Ian had a similar mix of species at the Point with the addition of Grey Wagtail and Mistle Thrush.

Pink-footed Geese were dropping in to the farm fields across the road from first light. I could hear them, but not see them, other than a group of 97 and another skein of 50 heading north.

I just go to the sea wall as the tide was turning and as such the muscle beds on the rocks were exposed for a short while and I had an unusually high count of waders for here. I counted 134 Oystercatchers, five Redshanks, 15 Sanderlings (not feeding on the muscle beds of course!), 170 Turnstones and a single Curlew.

I didn't walk through the dunes, as just before I was due to enter the grounds of the public school at this juncture, an ignorant, trespassing dog walker with his rat on a stick (some kind of small terrier) headed that way. He would have flushed anything that was in there, so what would have been the point.

I have permission to go on the land owned by the school for the purposes of bird ringing and bird recording, but some of these dog walkers just think that having a dog entitles them to access all areas. We are talking about school grounds adjacent to a promenade and the beach here, so it's not as if there isn't anywhere to walk a dog! I hasten to add that I have friends who are dog owners and they are lovely law abiding people, as most dog walkers are, but sometimes you get a few that give the many a bad name!

Back to the birds. A quick look on the sea revealed very little, just six males and two female Eiders! On my way back to my car a Water Rail was calling from a ditch and it was close. As soon as I made a slight move to take a better look in to the ditch it stopped! It was a good record for the site though and could well be a bird on it's way back north as this site isn't typical Water Rail wintering habitat.  

 Snowdrops. The only thing I photographed this morning.

The weather isn't looking too bad this week, so I am hoping to get a few of my wintering bird surveys in. It won't be long until spring and then I can get back to the Obs properly and do some migration monitoring and ringing!

Saturday 17 February 2018

VP Red Kite and Raven

Yesterday morning I was out at one of my wintering bird survey plots on some Lancashire mossland carrying out a Vantage Point (VP) and transect survey. It was a lovely clear day, for a change, with a light southwesterly wind and Gail had joined me for a bit of fresh air and exercise. Gail does occasionally join me and in addition to providing me with some most welcome company, another pairs of eyes is useful. She is very good at picking birds up at a distance, even though she might not be able to identify them, and sometimes gets on birds before me! I had quipped on Facebook yesterday that it was a belated Valentine's Day treat for her, but in reality the treat was the sighting of a Red Kite.

Anthony McGeehan in his book 'Birds Through Irish Eyes' says Red Kites are big, lanky basketball players. Gangly at rest, with long limbs and a loping gait, launched into flight they exude elegance and agility. They are ballet on wings. The forked tail swivels freely and operates independently of wing hands that arch and thrust forwards. How can a raptor the size of a lumbering Buzzard be so graceful? And lumbering Buzzard is what I first thought when I picked up the Red Kite. It was a dot in the distance and I thought I would have a look at it when it got closer as I was busy recording some singing Skylarks on the map. I then looked up again and Gail said "what's that"?, and I said "oh it's a Buzzard, I mean Red Kite"! This lanky basketball player of a bird slowly made it's way past us and headed southwest across the moss. Where was my camera? In the fecking car!

Not this mornings Red Kite, obviously, but one of many we saw in Dumfries
and Galloway a few years ago! 

Ravens and Red Kites are certainly seen more often in Lancashire now and indeed in the lowland areas of  Lancashire. The Raven is far more common than Red Kite, and is making a come back due to decreased persecution from game keepers, though this still goes on in the uplands. This morning we had a calling Raven heading north.

Out on some recently tilled land a group of Thrushes and Starlings were feeding, very probably, on invertebrates brought closer to the surface by agricultural activity; six Mistle Thrushes, 40 Fieldfares and 15 Starlings made up the throng. In addition to the Thrush ensemble 24 Stock Doves was a reasonable count alongside larger numbers of Woodpigeons.

A large finch flock was still present on the moss, and has been all winter, and we recorded 253 Linnets and 52 Goldfinches! Two Kestrels, two Buzzards (including the leucistic bird) and a female Sparrowhawk played mayhem with the finches continually putting them up. A lack of Pink-footed Geese was notable, but that didn't detract from a very pleasant morning spent surveying with my bestest bud, her indoors! I have to say that as Gail reads my blog!

The forecast is half decent for tomorrow, so I will get out somewhere at the Obs, and at last it is getting light earlier. You can't beat early mornings!

Thursday 8 February 2018

Brass Monkey Weather

It's funny how a brief interlude of cold weather gets us all talking these days. Frost has now become a scarcity in my neck of the woods, a bit like how snow used to be; snow is virtually non-existent now! Gone are the days when farmers couldn't lift their spuds because the ground was frozen, now they can't lift them because it is too wet to travel on the fields, or the numerous days in winter when I was at infant school and our little bottles of milk would arrive frozen!

It was cold this morning when I started my hedge survey in the north of the county, in fact it was minus 5 degrees Celsius with glorious clear skies and not a breath of wind. The farm I was on is divided in two by a road and I surveyed hedgerows below the road close to the river first, before surveying the hedges across the road on the hillier section of the farm.

The farm has a gloriously large old barn and it has been sympathetically restored for agricultural use still, retaining all its nooks and crannies that House Sparrows nest and roost in. As I got out of my car the House Sparrows were noisily awakening from their slumbers and my count of 8 is woefully low, this is just how many that I saw.

On to the frost covered low pastures and a flock of 254 Lapwings in a tight pack was nice to see. I then had a good count of 126 Linnets; two groups heading south across the farm, fairly low, as though they were exiting a roost from somewhere.

Frosty Lapwings

As I weaved my way along my survey hedges towards the river I encountered two Song Thrushes, six Stock Doves and 32 noisy Fieldfares in with a larger group of noisy Starlings! There were four Brown Hares in the meadows by the river and on the river itself was a group of three female Goosanders.

 Distant Goosanders

It was a bit quieter on the other side of the road on the hillier section of the farm, and all I added was a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, a single Buzzard and a fluffy looking Goldcrest feeding in a mature hedgerow.

 Looking towards Yorkshire

It's looking unsettled over the next few days and I've got a few days at a beer festival, so it could be after weekend before I post again.

Tuesday 6 February 2018


It was chilly yesterday morning at my survey site in west Lancs, and the cloudy conditions with a biting east-northeasterly wind didn't do anything to raise the temperature or my spirits! But some Thrushes did, well raised my spirits anyway.

Bits of field work has been done since my last visit here and some stubble has been ploughed, but a flock of 43 Chaffinches were still finding areas to feed. Woodpigeons, numbering 122, were also feeding in similar areas to the Chaffinches, but others were feeding on some wet fields.

The wet fields were where the Thrushes were and they were a pleasure to watch; 133 Fieldfares and 37 Redwings. Occasionally a few rays of sun momentarily broke through the clouds, and if the Fieldfares and Redwings were facing the right direction they were illuminated like a spot light on an actor or soloing musician on a stage! Stunning!

 Fieldfare (above) and Redwing (below). I didn't photograph any of these
beauties yesterday, so these are shots of two individuals I ringed from my 

Accompanying the Thrushes were 19 Rooks, 16 Jackdaws, 127 Black-headed Gulls, nine Common Gulls and 178 Starlings. All were taking advantage of invertebrates close to or on the ground surface because of the wet conditions.

I can't imagine many wet conditions for a few hours tomorrow morning at my next survey site as it is forecast to be cold tonight, and a quick look at my BBC weather app shows that it will be hovering around -5 celsius! I must remember to get out my fleece lined winter seawatching trousers!

Monday 5 February 2018

Sounds Of Spring

There's some snow threatened for tomorrow, but over recent days there's been some sounds of spring with an increase in bird song. Day's are lengthening, hormones are building and birds are singing!

This was very noticeable during a survey last week. Even though it was a cloudy and cold day a good few songsters could be heard. The avian orchestra consisted of a Goldfinch, a Great Tit, two Song Thrushes, two Dunnocks, five Robins, a Mistle Thrush and a Wren. Even one of the Redwings was doing a bit of sub-song!


The morning started spectacularly when a female Sparrowhawk brought down a Feral Pigeon 30 metres in front of me! I saw the Feral Pigeon fly from left to right and then thwack, the Sparrowhawk hit! She had the Pigeon on the ground and was struggling to subdue it, so I moved away in case my presence was keeping her from her meal. After that,the female Kestrel and single Buzzard seemed tame in comparison!

There seemed to be a few more Reed Buntings around compared with previous surveys, and my count of 13 made me wonder whether it included a few returning birds. There also seemed to be an increase in Redwings with 48 counted, and it won't be long before they are returning to Scandinavia.

Ravens are always good value and I see more and more of them now. This morning a pair flew overhead calling and landed on top of an electricity pylon. I have known them to nest on electricity pylons, so you never know.

Down on the river the tide was in and I just caught the tail end of 45 Redshanks, a Golden Plover and 120 Black-tailed Godwits that the tide had pushed off. A calling Rock Pipit was also shoved off it's feeding area by the incoming tide.

The return leg across the fields produced just two Stock Doves, a Snipe and twelve Teal on a pond. So, some sounds of Spring and over the coming days and weeks that Spring bird song will only get better!