Friday 30 March 2018


Migrants are still thin on the ground, and at the moment it feels like one of those 'blocking' Springs where migrants just trickle through straight on to the breeding grounds. Certainly at the moment there is some blocking weather across the Bay of Biscay where low pressure currently dominates. Looking at the weather charts some high pressure is due to build from Saturday into Sunday in this area, and fingers crossed this should allow some migrants through. However, on Sunday night into Monday this migrant highway will be shut down again by weather fronts here in the UK, so Sunday looks like the day for a small arrival. I'll keep my fingers crossed!

At first light I was at the Point at the Obs again monitoring any migration should it occur! I had full cloud cover with a 5 - 10 mph easterly wind and the visibility across the Bay varied throughout the morning, and this would have an effect on the direction of movement.

The Meadow Pipits this morning seemed to be waiting for improving weather before leaving the golf course and heading northeast across the Bay. When it was clear with views over to Cumbria birds would set off and head northeast. If the weather closed in a tad, they would either stop moving or move directly east, taking a longer circumnavigation around the bay.

 Meadow Pipit

Numbers of vis this morning were similar to yesterday, but there was less species. My totals included (all east/northeast); 251 Meadow Pipits, six Alba Wags, five Linnets and nine Woodpigeons. The Woodpigeons were really unsure of the conditions this morning and would circle round a few times before committing themselves to a sea crossing!

There was a bit more action on the sea with Red-throated Divers and Little Gulls on the move. I had 16 Red-breasted Mergansers, 17 Eiders, five Red-throated Divers, three Common Scoters, 37 Little Gulls, a Little Egret and a Razorbill.

The 'Red-throats' and Little Gulls were all heading east, and under normal clearer conditions would probably have 'over-landed' to the North Sea, but this morning none were climbing high as they headed east. I had cracking views of a Red-throated Diver in full summer plumage close in, and it was stonking. No photographs I'm afraid as they were cracking scope views and not camera views! Some of the Red-breasted Mergansers were entertaining as males displayed to the females with out-stretched bobbing heads!

The only waders I had this morning were 75 Turnstones (as usual being continually disturbed by dog walkers) and 48 pre-high tide Grey Plovers hunkered down behind ridges in the sand.

I'm not sure what I am going to do in the morning yet as it is forecast to remain cloudy overnight with rain coming in about 0700 with a fairly strong northeasterly wind (15 mph). I might just have an extra real ale or two and save it for an early start ringing Sunday morning.

A Short Burst Of Vis

It seemed as though the vis was switched on yesterday morning for an hour or so at the Obs, and then switched off again, just giving a short burst of diurnal migration!

The weather started off with virtually clear skies at first light, increasing to 3 oktas by 0830. The wind was a cold 10 - 15 mph southeasterly and visibility was pretty good across the Bay. Birds were on the move from the 'off' and without further ado my totals included (all east/northeast) 28 Linnets, 136 Meadow Pipits, nine Goldfinches, a Tree Sparrow, ten Alba Wags, 48 Woodpigeons, nine Carrion Crows, 40 Pink-footed Geese, two Chaffinches, a Lesser Redpoll and a Rock Pipit.

 Carrion Crows

I left more or less at high tide and there was very little in terms of waders on the beach, mainly because of the usual flushing dog walkers and two guys were flying a drone! Early on there was a nice flock of 80 Grey Plovers, and 93 Oystercatchers and 45 Sanderlings were best of the rest.

The sea was quiet with just 58 Eiders (50 roosting on King Scar island), five Auk sp. and 15 Common Scoters. Grounded migrants were even thinner on the ground with just a single Goldcrest calling from some Brambles in the dunes.

 Whilst I was sea watching and counting vis this Dunnock kept perching
up in front of me and singing away!

Back home I checked my moth trap before retiring to my office for the rest of the day and all I had was a single Early Grey.

Winter Lingers On

Although it is officially Spring, winter lingers on and migrants are thin on the ground. Since my trip north it has been quite apt that I have been finishing off a series of wintering bird surveys, because during these past couple of weeks it has certainly felt like winter!

About ten days ago I was at one of my survey sites that covers some intertidal river as well as 'bog standard' improved farmland, and it was cold with a biting northeasterly wind. The pond that I've mentioned before probably held its last Teal of the winter with a male and female still present. Soon it would revert back to a very uninteresting pond, devoid of any obvious life!

A week ago I was on one of my mossland sites on another cold day, with you guessed it, a biting northeasterly wind. It's getting busy on the moss as over-wintered stubbles are getting ploughed in, land tilled and seed-beds created in readiness for the sowing of field veg. As a consequence the habitat available to support over-wintering farmland birds is diminishing.

Lapwings are attracted to the tilled land and six present on this morning were new birds in. A flock of Linnets was holding on, but their numbers have dropped to 60 individuals and over the coming days this flock will break up further as birds move off to nesting areas.

At my second mossland site a few days later the wind had veered to the southwest and lifted the temperature somewhat, and in fact I had my first Red-tailed Bumblebee in the form of a recently emerged from hibernation queen.

Continuing the Spring theme for this morning it was great to watch a displaying Buzzard and then after one of it's climbs, stalls and dives it landed on a nest in a tree relatively close to my vantage point! On the large field to the south of my vantage point there is a wet flash and this morning a flock of 14 Black-tailed Godwits, some of them in summer plumage, dropped in to feed; migration in action!

A flock of 36 Linnets and also a flock of 102 Fieldfares maintained the winter feel, although Linnets and Fieldfares are very much Spring migrants as well!

I've carried out twelve surveys at this site and never noticed the two ornate gate posts (see below) before, even though I must have walked past them twelve times! They don't make them like that any more!

Sunday 18 March 2018

Barnie's At Mersehead

I've just come back from a very pleasant couple of days in Dumfries and Galloway. I was attending the Scottish Ornithologist's Club and BTO's Birdwatcher's conference at Dumfries, and what a great conference it was! Gail and I made a weekend of it and we headed up on Friday and spent a couple of hours in the afternoon birding at the RSPB's Mersehead reserve.

I have always wanted to go to this reserve, but for some reason I have never got round to it, but I will most certainly go again! If I lived close by, it would certainly become one of my local patches. Primarily it is managed for the wintering Barnacle Geese, but there is a good range of habitats and these include merse (saltmarsh), freshwater grazing marsh, semi-improved grassland, wet woodland, sand dunes and hedgerows.

 Barnacle Geese (above & below)

Outside the visitor centre, in front of a cracking looking set of scrapes, there is a feeding station and it was swarming with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Tree Sparrows. Among the avian throng was a male Yellowhammer looking quite exotic with its bright, canary yellow head!

It was bitterly cold as Gail and me set off around the reserve with a strong biting easterly wind driving stinging showers of hail, rain, sleet and snow! We just had a walk through the farmland, wet woodland and looked from the hides over the two pools. We decided to give walking down to the coast a miss because of the weather.

There was a reasonable number of Barnacle Geese in the fields and I counted 586. Sometimes I wish I could switch off from counting and just immerse myself in the atmosphere of the moment! A number of Little Egrets were trying their best to find food on the pools and we had three in total. In a field close to the visitor centre 28 Lapwings looked thoroughly miserable in the cold weather and were doing their best to hunker down out of the cold.

Out on the pools we had excellent views of Gadwall, Teal, Pintail, Wigeon and Shovelers. I won't bore you with the counts as I imagine they would be huge under estimates compared with the numbers actually present.


Three Reed Buntings and a Goldcrest in the hedgerow along the track later we were back at the visitor centre, and shortly after that heading off to the Sulwath brewery in Castle Douglas, one of my favourites!

Thursday 15 March 2018

Winter To Spring?

Over the past couple of weeks it seems that we have moved from winter to spring! However, I have put a question mark at the end of my blog title because sometimes in March winter has a tendency to bite back, so it might not be all over yet!

Towards the end of the month I was at one of my wintering bird survey sites that includes a section of intertidal river and the weather conditions I jotted down in my notebook states that there were "occasional snow flurries". This was as much snow as we got, but it was cold, and there was evidence of some hard weather displacement of birds.

First up was a Jack Snipe that I picked up high flying south! It's so unusual to see Jack Snipes like this, as normally you have to virtually step on them before they fly. The next cold weather induced movement was of a Woodcock that I picked up, again high, flying across the river and heading southwest. At first I did a double take, because my brain was failing to compute what this dumpy, long-billed and high flying wader was! Again, the views of Woodcocks are normally when you put them up whilst walking through woodland in late winter!

My garden feeders were fairly busy during the cold snap and I was putting dried meal worms out for the local Blackbirds, but inevitably this was attracting large numbers of Starlings too. A flock of Starlings dropped in to the apple tree, and amongst them were four Fieldfares! Another example of some hard weather movement as the only other time I have had Fieldfare in my garden was again during some hard weather.

About a week ago I was at one of my mossland winter bird survey sites in southwest Lancs. It was a lovely clear day, still cold, with a light-moderate southwesterly wind. There was lots of agricultural activity and most of the land had either been ploughed, or was in the process of being ploughed. Even so, there was still a few birds to be seen.


Raptors were represented by a female Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, but there was no sign of the leucistic Buzzard. The ploughed fields were still attracting birds and one field held a number of corvids plus ten Lapwings and 24 Stock Doves. Even the Linnet flock was still finding food and I counted an impressive 236!

 Stock Dove

Two days later I was surveying on some mossland on the border between Lancs and Merseyside and it was another glorious, but cold day. As soon as I got out of my car I had three Corn Buntings calling and singing from overhead wires, not something you see or hear everyday.

The main feature of the morning was the number of Fieldfares and in a large field of damp permanent pasture I had 240 of these magnificent Thrushes. Twenty Redwings, 71 Common Gulls, 23 Lapwings and a cracking adult summer Med. Gull accompanied them in the same field.

Last Sunday saw me undertaking the first ringing session for the year at the Obs and it was a fairly typical quiet early spring affair. All I ringed was two Meadow Pipits, but like I said this is fairly typical for early March. There was some vis and I recorded 40 Meadow Pipits, 56 Woodpigeons, two Alba Wagtails, nine Goldfinches, a Rook, a Grey Wagtail and a Siskin all heading north, or thereabouts!

 Meadow Pipit

The only grounded migrant I had was the first spring Chiffchaff that worked its way along the hedge and ditch and some how managed to avoid the net!

It's going cold and easterly again this weekend, so that will probably put any migration on hold again for a few days. And thankfully I should have finished all my wintering bird surveys by next week, so I should be able to switch to fully spring mode and get out more on the patch.