Sunday 29 April 2018


For the past week I have been up everyday at 4:00 am, so this morning a 5:15 am alarm call almost seemed like a lie in, but not quite! I headed to the coastal farm fields bit of the Obs for a good old mooch round. I had 6 oktas cloud cover and a cold 10 mph northeasterly wind. It's been a cold Spring this year and I still haven't managed to get out of my Winter plumage!

As soon as I got out of my car I could hear a Lesser Whitethroat giving its rattling song, and I wasn't sure whether he was a freshly grounded migrant or setting up territory. As the morning went on the conditions cleared and within an hour I had clear skies. Although it wasn't particularly a grounded kind of morning, I did have a few grounded migrants in the form of two Lesser Whitethroats (including the aforementioned gentleman), five Willow Warblers, a Reed Warbler, ten Wheatears and five Sedge Warblers.

Where are all the Whitethroats? At this time of year in this part of the Obs recording area it should be hooching with Whitethroats, but they are conspicuous by their absence! Like the Swallows I hope they are just late and that nothing serious is afoot!

Considering the clear conditions the vis (all north or thereabouts) was limited this morning and all I had was seven Goldfinches, three Meadow Pipits, 55 Linnets, two Whimbrels, seven Lesser Redpolls, five Swallows (eek!), a Tree Pipit, a White Wagtail and three Alba Wagtails.

I sea watched for a while and at 0715 I had a Hooded Crow fly north along the beach, on the edge of the tide, gaining height all the time as it motored rapidly north. I gave Ian a ring to let him know it was coming his way and he picked it up heading northeast across the Bay towards Cumbria.

 Hooded Crow (honest!)

The supporting cast during the sea watch was 18 Sandwich Terns, 112 Common Scoters, 750 Knots, seven Arctic Terns, a male Eider, an Auk sp., a Manx Shearwater and an Atlantic Grey Seal.

I've got a few surveys coming up this week and if I have anything interesting I'll let you know!

Saturday 28 April 2018

Brown and Green

Towards the end of the week I was working at two very different sites, one brownfield and the other green, one in the south of the region and the other in the north (the National Park with the mountains in the middle of it)!

My southern site was a former industrial site, and perhaps a surprise to some readers, full of biodiversity. My job was to survey it for birds, but I don't doubt that it would be brilliant for invertebrates and have one or two unusual plants up its sleeve!

It was a cold grey morning when I was at my brownfield site, but this didn't dampen any of the birds. One of the first birds I had was a Raven flying across the site, and this was closely followed by a second bird being mobbed by what looked like three diminutive Carrion Crows; Ravens are big birds. A pair of Ravens, and I had hardly got out of my car!

Talking of Ravens please take a look at the Raptor Persecution UK blog here and read about Scottish (un) Natural Heritage's (SNH) shocking, misguided, un-scientific and just downright stupid licensing of a mass cull of Ravens in Perthshire just to see what happens! And if you feel so moved please email the Chair of SNH and sign the petition that you will find links to in the various blog postings. 

A number of warblers were singing around the site including Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Lesser Whitethroat. But it was the breeding waders that were most impressive; three pairs of Lapwings, two pairs of Oystercatchers and three pairs of Little Ringed Plovers. Yes, that's six LRPs and there could possibly have been eight! It will be interesting to see when I go back again in four weeks time whether all or some of the LRPs have settled down to breed, it might just be that some of them were just moving through.

 Little Ringed Plover

My second visit at the end of the week was to the north Lakes and one of my plantation woodland surveys. Driving north I had quite a bit of rain until I emerged from the Lune gorge to beautiful clear blue skies. At my survey site it was cold at first with a heavy dew and I had four oktas cloud cover. Oh, and it was calm!

The most abundant songster was the Willow Warbler and I had three in total. Other songsters included a Song Thrush, Robin and Blackcap. Somewhere in the stratosphere I could hear Lesser Redpolls and Siskins flying over, but I have no idea how many. 

An addition to the site list was a Jay that flew in to the relatively young woodland, before heading off to some mature trees on the steading. Swallows are still thin on the ground and I only had 2 or 3 birds during the morning. My survey was finished off with a Red Squirrel crossing the lane and over a wall!

 Blencathra through the trees

Sunday 22 April 2018


I had a busy morning yesterday ringing at the School with lots of buzzy Lesser Redpolls! I've said this numerous times before, probably every year at this time of year when Redpolls are on the move, but you can't beat clear skies in April with Redpolls flying overhead giving their buzzy call as they head to woodlands north and east!

 Lesser Redpoll

I got to the School about 5:00 a.m. and had my nets up by half past. I had clear skies with a light easterly wind. It didn't feel like a grounded morning, but there was obviously a few grounded migrants about as I had four Lesser Whitethroats (including 3 that I ringed), two Blackcaps (one ringed), a Chiffchaff and six Willow Warblers (all ringed).

 Willow Warbler

As I hinted at above I had a busy morning ringing and I ringed 49 birds as follows:

Blackbird - 2
Willow Warbler - 6
Lesser Redpoll - 35
Dunnock - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 3
Blackcap - 1

 Lesser Whitethroat

In addition to the above I controlled two Lesser Redpolls, so it will be interesting to see where they came from!

There was some vis this morning, and for me it was mainly Lesser Redpolls. There was probably actually a good mix of species, but as I was so busy ringing it was difficult for me to record the vis in any detail as well. My vis totals for what they are worth included 240 Lesser Redpolls, a Goldfinch, three Tree Pipits, a Carrion Crow, a Meadow Pipit, two Whimbrels and a female Sparrowhawk.

Today Gail and I headed to our Pied Flycatcher nest box site to put up six replacement boxes. We left it purposefully late, rather than putting them up over the winter, to perhaps provide some extra boxes for the Pied Flys in the hope that if they go up late they won't be used by Tits.

 Gail putting up a Pied Flycatcher box!

We had a couple of calling Pied Flycatchers in the wood, probably males at this stage. Other species we noted were Nuthatch, Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and a Redstart singing across the river. The Oystercatchers were on eggs on the tin roof of a pig shed! They nest here every year and are usually successful at getting a few chicks off!

I'm office bound for at least two days this week, but on the other days I've got bird surveys from Cheshire to Cumbria, so if I see anything good I'll let you know.

Thursday 19 April 2018

Where Are All The Swallows?

Another bird survey for me today in north Cumbria, not a million miles from Wigton, and again in some plantation woodland. The woodland is part of a dairy farm and normally, even on the April survey, I have good numbers of Swallows flying from the buildings around the yard to forage for insects over the trees. But not today!


Swallows are now a March bird and in recent years by this time in April you can record large numbers on the coast on vis, but not this year. At the moment at the Obs they are barely reaching double figures. Time will tell whether something calamitous has happened, perhaps on the wintering grounds in south Africa or on migration between Europe and Africa, or perhaps they have just been held up. I'll keep my fingers crossed for the latter.

Ian tells me that there was a half decent arrival of birds today on the coast, but at my land-locked survey site in Cumbria I couldn't really get a feel for this at all. There was certainly a few warbler species around, but perhaps not any more than I know breeds at this particular site.

Willow Warblers were very vocal and I had at least four singing males with perhaps just one female. Two Chiffchaffs were present, as was a singing male Blackcap. A Yellowhammer singing off site is always a pleasure to hear, and this part of north Cumbria does seem to be a stronghold for them. I had Lesser Redpolls and Siskins going over in the stratosphere, so they were heard and not seen! And that was about it other than three Stock Doves and a single Swallow making it to the pages of my notebook.

 Willow Warbler

Of course during my survey I recorded a lot more, 22 species in fact, but I'm sure you don't want to hear about my counts of Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wren, Robin etc!

 Blue Tit

I've got a breeding bird survey to do in north Lancs tomorrow and hopefully at weekend I'll be able to get on with some none work birding; maybe ringing on Saturday and checking nest boxes on Sunday. I'll let you know.

Sunday 15 April 2018

One Of Those Mornings

It was one of those mornings where it wasn't brilliant, nor was it poor. It seemed to have promise, but failed to deliver. Perhaps frustrating would be a better description.

I headed to the coastal farm fields at the Obs at first light to be greeted with 4 oktas hazy cloud with a 15 mph southeasterly wind. By 0800 the cloud had increased to 7 oktas, and as I found out when I tried to do a short sea watch it was pretty murky out at sea with poor - moderate visibility at best!

The first bird I recorded was a singing Chiffchaff as soon as I got out of my car and this gave the feeling that there might be more grounded migrants. And there was, but not that many. In total I had three Chiffchaffs, a Goldcrest, a Willow Warbler and best of all a singing, or should I say reeling, Grasshopper Warbler.

 Grasshopper Warbler

There was some 'vis' but it didn't last long, perhaps some blocking weather moved in further south. The short burst included one hundred Meadow Pipits, four Siskins, 16 Goldfinches, 21 Linnets, 14 Lesser Redpolls, a Swallow and three Alba Wags.

As I mentioned before it was murky out at sea and there didn't seem any point in prolonging my sea watch so all I had was three Sandwich Terns, 32 Common Scoters, two Gannets, a Red-throated Diver, two Great Crested Grebes, a Guillemot, 70 Pink-footed Geese and a male Eider.

Back at home I checked my moth trap and I had trapped three Early Greys, two Hebrew Characters, three Common Quakers and a Clouded Drab.

It's a mixed week weather-wise coming up, so I'm not sure what I'll get done. I've got plenty of breeding bird surveys lined up should the weather play ball. I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Woodland and Waders

It was part two yesterday of the wader project I'm involved in and the morning was spent assessing some of the less suitable land to see if it could be brought into positive management for a suite of breeding waders, mainly Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank. We didn't see as much as before, but it was pleasant to be out amongst displaying Curlew and Lapwing.


One thing that was very obvious was how far behind Spring is so far this year. It's still cold and we didn't come across any bids on eggs. There was a distinct feeling that there is more to come!

Talking about Spring being behind, I was in north Cumbria today and it is at least a week behind the balmy south of Lancashire. Close to home lots of trees are in buds, Blackthorn is flowering and Hawthorn is coming in to leaf, but there was none of that in the north of Cumbria today.

Once again I was surveying some plantation woodland and it was quiet; the weather didn't help with full cloud cover and a cold east-northeasterly wind. I won't 'beat about the bush' but just give you my limited highlights which was as follows; four House Sparrows, three Great Spotted Woodpeckers (two drumming), five Stock Doves, two Buzzards, four Tree Sparrows, a Mistle Thrush, two Chiffchaffs and a Goldcrest.

It's forecast to warm up from weekend onwards with a change in wind direction to southerly, so hopefully that will open the migrant floodgates!

Tuesday 10 April 2018


I spent a pleasant day yesterday working with Gavin at a site looking to improve the habitat for breeding waders, although to be honest with you the site is already very good! I left my house in fog, then on my journey through Bowland it cleared, and when I got to the site it was foggy again! However, the sun soon burned the mist off and it became a glorious sunny day!

I do an annual breeding wader survey at this site and today I wasn't surveying the waders, but as a crude estimate I would say that we recorded one pair of Snipe, at least six pairs of Curlews (more to come) and eighteen pairs of Lapwings. Even though it was a relatively warm day, it felt like it was earlier in the year, and I don't doubt there will be more birds arriving over the coming weeks.

 Lapwing. Look at the colours on this bird!

The highlight of the morning was when Gavin picked up an Osprey thermalling and drifting east, my first of the year. Other summer migrants were limited to a male Wheatear and a singing Willow Warbler.

Other sightings included four Ravens, four Buzzards, a Kestrel, a Stock Dove, four Mistle Thrushes, four Siskins and five Lesser Redpolls.

There was lots of Brown Hares about too and we had somewhere in the region of 20 - 25, including some boxing. I never tire of watching these gorgeous creatures!

 Brown Hare

It's wet as I write, but the weather looks like it might improve later in the week so I should be out and about somewhere!

Friday 6 April 2018

A Glimpse of Alba

I was working in north Cumbria today on the higher land overlooking the Solway, and driving to the plantation woodland where I was going to do my bird survey I kept getting glimpses of Alba across the Solway. It's still cold, and on all the higher ground from Dumfries and Galloway, to the North Pennines, round to the main black of the Lakeland Fells and the northern outliers such as Blencathra there were patches of snow. It's forecast to be warmer next week so maybe some of this snow will disappear.

When I pulled in to the gateway of my survey site to park my car the first bird I saw was a Barn Owl 'ghosting' down the lane and over in to the area of plantation woodland I was about to survey. These relatively newly planted woodlands do support large numbers of small mammals and hence the presence of Barn Owl. At this particular site a pair of Barn Owls breed and the chicks are ringed each year.

 Small mammal runs

Singing Yellowhammer, Chiffchaff and drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker were the first members of the dawn chorus orchestra to greet my ears. In the first compartment of woodland I had a Redwing that was giving a little bit of sub-song, as these winter migrants often do in Spring on their return migration.

It was the second day running for an early Swallow and a probable male bird was attempting to forage over the trees. I certainly didn't notice any insects on the wing! A distant Tawny Owl called and closer to me a Starling was mimicking Lapwing and Buzzard!

I had a Lesser Redpoll fly over giving that 'buzzy' call of theirs which I love, and a few Meadow Pipits were heading north too. I moved on to the second compartment and it was fairly quiet in here apart from another singing Chiffchaff. With no leaves on the trees it was easy to spot an old Blackbird nest low down in the fork of a tree.

On the way to the third compartment I encountered three Brown Hares, nowhere near the twenty that I had yesterday! A female Kestrel hunted over the plantation, small mammals again, and a pair of Bullfinch were in the hedgerow alongside the woodland. I always mention Bullfinches when I see them as they are so scarce on my home turf in the Fylde.

 Brown hare, above and below

On my way home I called in at Shap Abbey, as I often do, for a bit of peace and contemplation, although I wouldn't describe myself as religious by any means, it's just a lovely quiet spot. A female Wheatear, three Grey Wagtails, two Mistle Thrushes, a Buzzard and a Nuthatch all made it in to my notebook whilst I was there.

 A cold looking Shap Abbey on a cold grey day

We've got high pressure on the continent that's slipping away east at the moment with a run of weather fronts coming in from the Atlantic. It's going to be southeasterly overnight, but turning northerly tomorrow by late morning, with some rain from about 9:00 am. It might just drop some migrants in, or it might not, but I'll probably get up and have a look just in case even though I'm out at a gig tonight. I actually enjoy birding in the rain this time of year!

Thursday 5 April 2018

It's the Breeding Season (?)!

It's the breeding season, allegedly, and for me that means the start of early, well early-ish, alarm calls and today was the first one. I wasn't going too far, just into north Lancs to continue with some on-going bird surveys and my alarm was set for 5:00 am. Tomorrow I'm in north Cumbria doing a breeding bird survey and my alarm will be set for a proper early time, 4:00 am! I'm not complaining because I actually enjoy getting up at that time; the roads are quiet and there's few people about!

Pre-dawn I had my first decent bird as I was driving to my survey site when a Barn Owl flew over the road. This particular stretch of road has fairly high hedges so this kept the Barn Owl high enough not to be hit. I had another driving bird sighting and this was a male Goosander that flew over the M6 somewhere near Lancaster.

 There was a dusting of snow on higher ground this morning. Above is 
Bowland to the south of where I was and the Lakeland Fells below to the 

It was quite cold at my survey site and the temperature hovered just below or at zero and there was a frost. I set off to the glorious sound of a singing Song Thrush from one of the hedgerows that I was surveying. This hedgerow lead me to some of the 'top fields' and a number of Lapwings were displaying, in fact I had a total of 21 Lapwings during my wanderings and all were breeding birds.

Brown Hares seemed to be everywhere this morning and in total I counted twenty! I didn't witness any boxing, but I did see a nice group of five animals that would have been undoubtedly a female with four males in attendance.

 One of this morning's Brown Hares.

Down by some of the lower land towards the river the Gulls started to alarm call and I hoped for an Osprey, and realised it was too early in the morning for a migrating Osprey to be on the wing! I had to make do with a female Sparrowhawk, but she wasn't second best at all as I love Sparrowhawks!

I had two migrants during my survey. The first was a Chiffchaff making it's way along the sunny side of a hedge and frantically searching for food. The second was a long distant trans-Saharan migrant in the form of a male Swallow singing away from some telegraph wires. A Swallow singing away when the temperature was barely above freezing! Thankfully it warmed up later in the day and there was a number of insects on the wing, so the Swallow would have been able to feed okay.

Well I'd better sign off and go and set my alarm for tomorrow morning!