Monday 28 May 2018

Quick Box Update

At weekend Gail and I checked our Pied Flycatcher boxes in Bowland. We were down to just 17 boxes to check taking account of empty boxes and those occupied by bees! Out of those seventeen we have:

Blue Tit - 5 boxes occupied
Nuthatch - 1 box occupied
Great Tit - 6 boxes occupied
Pied Flycatcher - 5 boxes occupied

We managed to ring 39 chicks and these were 19 Blue Tits, 8 Nuthatches and 12 Great Tits. The Pied Flycatchers had mostly hatched or were in the process of hatching. The hatched broods had only hatched that day or the day before, and were therefore too small to ring, so hopefully they will all get ringed next week.


Postings this coming week are going to be infrequent as I've got a busy week ahead with surveys and a family wedding, but I'll try my best to post something!

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Back To Brown

It was a return to the brownfield site in the south of my region for me this morning, and what a glorious morning it was as I headed south down the M6 at 5:00 a.m. The weather was equally glorious at my survey site with clear skies and a light northeasterly breeze.

I was keen to find out what was happening with the Little Ringed Plovers (LRP). I got out of my car and stood in front of a mound to give some background to my outline, and scanned with my scope. It seemed quiet at first and I thought "had they gone", but then I picked up one, then a second and then a third, and a breathed a sigh of relief.

 Little Ringed Plover

I decided to change position to get the sun behind me and have a proper systematic look across the site. As I headed round to the other side to stand in front of a hedge, again to give some background to my outline, I could see a large Lapwing chick and the adult alarm called when it thought I was too close.

In position I started scanning left to right and I immediately picked up a LRP chick, probably about 4-5 days old. It was running around feeding, gleaning invertebrates from the ground and the surface of vegetation. An adult approached it and it dived underneath the adult to be brooded, meaning to get a warm! This chick started feeding again and it joined two of it's siblings, looking quite comical on their out of proportion long legs. Even though it was nice, it was still early and still cool, so the adults were periodically brooding the youngsters.

Scanning further right I picked up another chick and an adult, and again it was being brooded every so often. I couldn't see any other chicks with this adult, but there was another adult further back so there could have been chicks with this bird.

Continuing my scan right I picked up an adult LRP 'sitting' on eggs. As I watched the other adult came in with short runs, stop, listen, short run, stop etc. The sitting bird then got up and the other adult settled down on the nest scrape.

Scanning right some more, I picked up another adult on eggs, so that was at least four pairs. I didn't check the extreme east of the site as I didn't want to disturb the four pairs that I had found! So, there could easily have been a fifth pair as there was enough habitat. Little Ringed Plovers are given special protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and I had to be licensed to visit the site. 

With all my attention on the LRPs I sort of kept my eye off the other birds using the site. Having said that the reason for the survey in the first place was that it looked suitable for Little Ringed Plover. The other bits and pieces of interest that I had were a singing Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap.

There was also good numbers of Common Blue butterflies, and I must have had at least 30 in area of grassland when I walked back to my car.

 Common Blue

I'm northward bound tomorrow, to that National Park in Cumbria with the mountains in it. I'll be glad to heading north again because on my way back this morning the M6 northbound was shut because of an accident and the hour and twenty minute journey took me three hours!

Tuesday 22 May 2018

First Numbers Of Swifts

Certain species have been giving birders cause for concern this Spring with their lack of numbers and/or lateness of arrival, and Swift is one of them. Others include Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Whitethroat and Reed Warbler. What the Hirundines and the Swift have in common is that they are aerial feeders and need flying insects during their migration back from Africa to sustain them.

This morning I was doing the second of a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in north Lancs and I had a few Swifts, thirteen in fact. And this is by far my largest count this Spring.

I also had a few House Martins, nine, and four Swallows. Just a single Whitethroat, one of the other missing species, and a single Chiffchaff took care of the Warblers. Best of the rst included a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a singing Song Thrush, four Mistle Thrushes, a Kestrel, four Lapwings (two displaying) and three Oystercatchers. The most numerous species I recorded during the BBS was Jackdaw with a count of 41.

 Mistle Thrush

I'm Cheshire bound tomorrow, so more of that later if I see anything interesting.

Monday 21 May 2018

Starting The Week Amongst The Trees

I was north Cumbria bound this morning, for one of my woodland bird surveys. I have three in this area and I always look forward to them because I enjoy the drive once I leave the M6, and more particularly the views across the Solway to Scotland!

I had 6 oktas cloud cover with a light southeasterly wind when I set out to survey compartment one. Three Willow Warblers tried to out-sing each other and I missed a golden opportunity to get some great photos of probably a female. She was skulking around along a hedge and then she perched up out in the open on a strand of the wire fence. I pointed my camera, looked through the view finder and could see the male Lesser Redpoll I had photographed earlier! I had been reviewing my photos and left it on the same setting. By the time I had switched it over, it or she was gone. I think there's a lessen to be learned here.

 Lesser Redpoll

The trees in compartment one

The only other songster in this compartment was a male Lesser Redpoll, who was displaying more than singing. He was flying from tree top to tree top, with a quivering flight and trilling at the same time. Beautiful!

A single Tree Sparrow on some telegraph wires was noteworthy, as was the singing Yellowhammer off site.

Compartment two was graced with two singing Willow Warblers as well, but they were joined by two singing Blackcaps. Two Tree Sparrows and a female Bullfinch were good to record, and I think the Bullfinch was a new record for the site.

That's one of my early starts out of the way, just four more to go this week. In fact tomorrow I've got a lie in until 4:50 a.m.!

Sunday 20 May 2018

Quick Nest Box Update

Gail and I made the second visit to our Pied Flycatcher boxes in Bowland and sadly no new birds had come in since last week. In fact even sadder was the loss of a pair at the egg stage. When I checked this particular box the clutch of seven eggs were cold, and last week they were warm. It is likely that something has happened to the female and the box has been abandoned. I will check it again next week, just in case though.

We had the first of our clutches hatching today and there was a single brood of Nuthatches, three Great Tits and a single brood of Blue Tits that had hatched. All the Pied Flycatchers were on eggs, which is to be expected.


 Great Tits

The only other thing of note was a singing Redstart at the far end of the woodland. A pair used to nest in one of my boxes there, but no longer, so I'll definitely put a few more boxes up in this area during the winter in preparation for next year in the hope that a pair of Redstarts will use one of our boxes again.

The forecast is looking good for the coming week, so I've got bird surveys scheduled for every morning; three in Cumbria, one in Lancashire and one in Cheshire. My earliest alarm call this week will be 3:30 a.m. and latest 4:45 a.m. Ouch!

Friday 18 May 2018

Birding In The Kingdom Of Rheged

Most of the week I have been carrying out bird surveys in the former Kingdom of Rheged! Outside of natural history one of my interests, when I have time, is history, and I have my better half Gail to thank for this because she is a real history buff and drags me round lots of historical sites, but not kicking and screaming as I enjoy it!

Rheged was the Britonic speaking region of what is now northern England and southern Scotland during the post-Roman and early Middle Ages era, and as I was in north Cumbria overlooking the Solway with sweeping views to Dumfries and Galloway I was firmly in Rheged. Interestingly I read in a recent copy of 'Current Archaeology' about an excavation of a fort at Trusty's Hill near Gatehouse of Fleet.  Analysis of the artifacts found at this site in the context with other sites and their finds suggest that the Kingdom of Rheged was centred on Galloway early in the 7th century!

Anyway enough history, let's get back to the birds. My first survey was at a site in north Lancs, so not technically in Rheged, although some scholars think that Rheged covered the whole of Lancashire as far south as Rochdale based on place names.

The forecast for this particular morning was pretty good; light cloud, coupled with light winds and not the 'pea-souper' of a mist that engulfed me as I got out of my car. In fact wayward weather forecasts would become a feature of the week! I was at this site for two and a quarter hours and the mist/fog remained stubborn and didn't shift. Luckily I was surveying hedges, so it was less important that I could see far, my ears were the important tool.

It was a fairly quiet walk round and I recorded eight House Sparrows, two Willow Warblers, two Blackcaps, four Lapwings, a Chiffchaff, two Stock Doves, two separate Song Thrushes carrying food, a Buzzard, a Garden Warbler, a pair of Grey Wagtails and two Redstarts.

I also had six Brown Hares and you can see a murky photograph below that gives you and idea how foggy it was!

 This isn't out of focus, nor had my lens steamed up, it's a Brown Hare in 
the mist! 

This is what a Brown Hare should look like when it's not foggy!

Wednesday morning saw me surveying some plantation woodland near Dalston in north Cumbria. Another bland but reasonable forecast of light cloud and light winds. When I arrived at the site it was raining! My BBC weather app. for the area said 0% chance of precipitation! The rain lightened to a light drizzle, and it was just possible to do the survey. If the forecast had said that the weather would have been like this I wouldn't have got up at 3:30 a.m.!

In the drizzle I managed to commit to paper five Willow Warblers, a Chiffchaff, a Blackcap and a Stock Dove. So, very quiet!  

Thursday morning I was at another plantation woodland survey site with stupendous views over the Solway to Dumfries and Galloway, with the Criffel dominant in the landscape. I was truly in the heart of Rheged here. It was a glorious morning with clear skies, light winds and surprisingly a ground frost!

 Looking back to the North Lakes (above & below)

The Solway

When I could keep my eyes off the views I recorded eleven House Sparrows, two Mistle Thrushes, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Stock Dove, two Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff, three Tree Sparrows, a Song Thrush, a Jay, a Garden Warbler, a Goldcrest and a Song Thrush.

It's back to my nest boxes this weekend, so at some point I'll let you know how we got on. Hopefully some Pied Flycatchers will have arrived; fingers crossed!

Monday 14 May 2018

Manxie Madness

At weekend one of the bird related things that I had to do was for me and Gail to carry out the first check of our Pied Flycatcher boxes. As this didn't require an early start I decided to do this on the Sunday as I was going to be out, and indeed I was out, on my nephew, Aidan's, stag do Saturday night. So Saturday morning I headed to the Obs for a bit of seawatching.

A few real ales Friday evening prevented me from getting there at the 'crack of dawn', but by 0620 I was in position, scope set up and looking at the sea. Skies were virtually clear with a light southerly breeze, but by 0850 cloud cover had increased to 5 oktas and the wind had swung round to a northwesterly direction and picked up a little.

My first view through my scope was of mayhem! Manx Shearwaters and Sandwich Terns everywhere, and my thoughts were "how on earth was I going to count this lot" and "do I count the Terns or the Manxies first"? It was most certainly 'Manxie madness' out there.

 Manx Shearwaters (honest)

The Manx Shearwaters were constantly moving west out of the Bay, with only a handful doubling back to head east. In addition to this westerly passage was a raft of about 300 birds that would occasionally lift of the sea if disturbed. I have never seen anything like this off the Fylde coast in 42 years of seawatching! I can only assume that there was a plentiful food source in the Bay that they were feeding on in such large numbers.

In total I had 1,293 Manxies, including the raft of 300! In addition to the Manxies I recorded 18 Auk sp., 72 Arctic Terns, 366 Sandwich Terns (another amazing count), 34 Gannets, 76 Common Scoters, six Red-throated Divers, two Great Crested Grebes, two Shelducks, two Eiders, two Common Terns, a Great Skua that harassed the Manxies, six Kittiwakes and a Little Gull.

With all the action on the sea monitoring the vis at the same time was tricky. From the vis perspective the best record was that of a female/immature Marsh Harrier that Ian first picked up a long way out at sea slowly heading south. Sadly it never came close and when it headed south it remained offshore!

Other bits and pieces of vis included 151 Swallows, two Tree Pipits and four House Martins. I didn't get chance to count the waders roosting on the beach and I could see that they were continually getting kicked around by the inconsiderate dog walkers (note I said 'inconsidrate', as there are plenty of considerate dog walkers that come and chat to us and are keen on wildlife). Whizzing past I had 129 Dunlins and 35 Ringed Plovers.

 Ringed Plovers

Sunday morning saw Gail and Me checking our boxes in the Hodder Valley in Bowland. At this particular site we have 39 boxes, and out of the 39 the occupation was of five Blue Tits, a Nuthatch, six Great Tits, six Pied Flycatchers and two Bee sp.! This means that nineteen were empty, so there is still time for some late Pied Flycatchers to set up home! I managed to lift three female Pied Flycatchers off the nest; two were new birds and were therefore ringed and the third bird was a recapture and she was originally ringed at this site in 2016 as a chick.

Pied Flycatcher nest

Walking around the woodland we had singing Blackcap, Pied Flycatcher, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest and Song Thrush.

I've got breeding bird surveys most days this week, in fact every day other than Friday, so I'll be a bit bleary eyed by the end of the week! 

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Otterly Fantastic

Before I get to my Otterly fantastic Otter sighting I need to rewind to the beginning of the week and to the fact that I had to work on Bank Holiday Monday! I was doing the penultimate site of the first round of breeding bird surveys (the second round kicks off next week) at a site in south Cumbria. Gail joined me and I was impressed because it was a 4:30 am alarm call, but she rose to the challenge and the morning sunrise.

We had clear skies with a light southeasterly wind and it was warm. The survey didn't live up to expectations and it was relatively quiet, even for this relatively quiet site. In order of appearance it's only worth mentioning a singing Chiffchaff, two Song Thrushes, a Tree Sparrow, three House Sparrows, a Bullfinch, a Great Spotted Woodepecker, a Buzzard and a singing Blackcap.

We decided to treat ourselves to breakfast number two at Low Sizergh Barn, and as we had an hour to spare before it opened we did a short woodland walk close by. I recorded my first Swifts (two) of the year and the woodland held singing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler etc. There was a good selection of woodland plants on show including Early Purple Orchid, Bluebells, Lesser Stitchwort, Lesser Celandine, Wood Anenome and Common Dog Violet. Breakfast was consumed and a fine selection of Hesket Newmarket Brewery ales procured!


 Early |Purple Orchid

This morning I was in south Cumbria again doing the last site of the first round of breeding bird survey visits and I was at the eastern end of the Furness Peninsula. I had 6 oktas cloud cover with a 5 - 10 mph SSW wind, and it was a little cooler than of late. It was quiet in the newly planted woodland and I struggled to record a singing Blackcap, three Sedge Warblers, a Lesser Redpoll, a Chiffchaff, two Swifts and a Reed Bunting. In fact I need to come clean with you, most of the above species weren't actually in the newly planted area, but in adjacent habitat.

The woodland is bounded to the north by the River Winster and at one section of my transect I have a good view of the river and I noticed some ripples emanating from the bank, and just assumed it was the Moorhen carrying nest material that I had seen earlier, when suddenly an Otter surfaced just 15 metres from me! I switched my camera on, pointed....and it was gone! I then picked it up further upstream and for the next five minutes I played a game of 'daft Birder and Otter' as I followed it failing to secure any decent pictures. Below you will see a shot of it diving and that was the best of the lot! With hindsight I should have not bothered trying to get a photograph, but just enjoyed my time with this remarkable animal.

 Otter - honest!

For donkey's years I have driven past Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve along the A590 with the intention of calling in, but for one reason or another I never have. Except for today, and I will be back several times over the next few weeks!

 A view over Foulshaw Moss from the raised viewing platform

As soon as I got out of my car the air was filled with bird song; seven Willow Warblers, Blackcap, four Sedge Warblers, Garden Warbler, six Reed Buntings, Grasshopper Warbler and Tree Pipit doing it's parachute display! A boardwalk takes you out on to the lowland raised bog habitat and through bits of Birch woodland. Lesser Redpolls zipped here and there and a Water Rail called from a pool out on the bog. There's lots of different viewing platforms in place that give great views over the bog.

 Reed Bunting

There was even an Otter connection here as I found an Otter spraint on the board walk close to the raised viewing platform!

Otter spraint

It warmed up slightly, but perhaps not quite enough for most invertebrates, but I did have a single Large Red Damselfly. And of course not to forget the Ospreys and the best views were on the visitor centre monitor via the webcam on the nest! You can keep up with the Ospreys at Foulshaw by clicking here.

 Large Red Damselfly

I finished the day off with a lunchtime visit to the Mount at the Obs to look for the singing male Firecrest that Ian found. It was favouring the conifers and feeding fairly high up, but it did respond to 'pishing' and came to investigate the noise. Sadly it was always against the bright sky, so a shot, even a record shot was out of the question.

Sunday 6 May 2018

Weekend Round-up

On Saturday morning I decided to have a walk around the coastal farm fields at the school as it has been at least a week since I was last there. I had full cloud cover with a light southeasterly wind. About an hour in to my walk it felt cooler and the wind had switched to the northwest, and when I looked on the sea it was murky!

What a difference a week makes! In the last seven days Spring has suddenly arrived and I touched on this in my last post. There were a good number of migrants around, just how it should be. Sometimes it can be difficult working out what is grounded, or which birds have arrived at their breeding grounds and are in the process of setting up territory, there is a difference. For example at this site on 29th April I had two lesser Whitethroats; grounded migrants or breeding birds? The site is suitable for breeding Lesser Whithethroats, but as I had none this morning the birds on 29th were obviously grounded migrants and on their way through.

So, back to Saturday morning and grounded migrants included five Whitethroats, eight Sedge Warblers, four Wheatears, a cracking male Whinchat and a Chiffchaff. Yesterday was the big arrival day, so little could be expected of today.


Due to the murky conditions there was very little vis other than 14 Swallows, a Linnet and two Sand Martins. Slow indeed! As you might expect the sea was very quiet too with just 300 Knots heading southwest, a male Eider, seven Cormorants, three Sandwich Terns and two Common Scoters.

Offshore were two Atlantic Grey Seals and one of them was eating a large prey item. I couldn't tell what the prey item was other than it looked like a large flat fish of some sort. Whatever it was it was attracting the attention of the local Gulls!

Back home I checked my moth trap and it was quality rather than quantity with a stunning Angle Shades, well I think they are stunning anyway, an Early Grey and a Common Quaker.

 Angle Shades

I was a bit of a lightweight this morning as I decided to have a lie in. Yes, I know it's Spring and I should have been out, but six mornings on the bounce with 4:00 am alarm calls meant that I needed a lie in. It all kicks off again tomorrow as I try and finish the last of my first BBS surveys.

I did run my moth trap last night, but it was quiet with just four Hebrew Characters and a Light Brown Apple Moth. I'll let you know if I have anything interesting on my survey tomorrow!

Friday 4 May 2018

Catch Up

I couldn't think of a better blog title than 'catch up', well because that's what it is I suppose. With lots of early mornings, it means less time in the evening and therefore less time to update the blog!

At the start of the week I had a bird survey to do northeast of Penrith and Gail came along with me. It was in some plantation woodland again, but part of this site is one of my favourites as it does hold a few birds. The first few woodland compartments that we surveyed were thin on the ground bird-wise, but it improved as we went on. This part of Cumbria is good for Redstarts and we could hear at least two singing off site as well as two Song Thrushes.

There are six woodland compartments that I survey at this site varying from very small indeed up to about 3 ha in area. The last three compartments are the best and I'll call them compartments one, two and three for the sake of this blog post. Compartment one held a singing Sedge Warbler (there's a nice wet area in this compartment), two Willow Warblers and a pair of Bullfinches. This was only the second time that I had recorded Bullfinches at this site in the four years I have been doing these surveys, and the first time in this particular compartment. The second compartment was unusually quiet with only a single singing Willow Warbler of note.

Alongside compartment three is a smallish area of conifer woodland with some broad-leaves around the edge. For the past four years Buzzards have successfully nested in this woodland and each year the nest gets bigger as the birds carry out repairs and add to it. I try not to get too close, but I did notice what I assumed was the female quietly slip off the nest.

We had a pair of Tree Sparrows in this compartment and actually witnessed them mating! Only one singing Willow Warbler, but we did have a stunning male Redstart. Not that this male was particularly stunning, all Redstarts are stunning! It made me think that this compartment is crying out for some nest boxes and I have fed this back to the owner.

I then took Gail out for breakfast and after that we headed to the English Heritage property of Clifton Hall. Close by the last battle to be fought on English soil was fought at Clifton Moor in 1745 when the Jacobites returning from Derby were engaged by English forces. Gail's passion is history, so it's always a pleasure to visit an English Heritage or National Trust property, and after Clifton Hall we visited the National Trust property of Acorn Bank.

 Clifton Hall

Acorn Bank

At Acorn Bank we had a walk through the woodland and it was full of bird song; Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs in the main. Numerous woodland flowers were showing and some pictures of these can be found below.



 Lesser Celandine



Wood Anenome

Later in the week I was at another plantation woodland survey site in the North Pennines to the east of Kirkby Stephen. Nothing too outstanding but I did have three singing Willow Warblers, two displaying Curlews, a Song Thrush carrying food, three Lesser Redpolls, a pair of Bullfinches (first for the site), singing Mistle Thrush, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, singing Blackcap and a displaying Lapwing.

I was hoping to get into one of the reedbeds at the Obs this weekend to do some ringing and I called this morning to check the water levels. The forecast had looked good this morning for a fall of migrants, but sadly I had other commitments. My hunch was confirmed by Ian when he phoned to tell me that the Obs was 'dripping' with migrants!

I had a quick look at the pools to see if I could get in and I could, but there was still a little too much water to operate mist nets safely. Never mind, I'll just have to go birding in the morning instead! It was obvious that there had been an arrival of migrants as I had five Whitethroats, a Blackcap, four Cetti's Warblers, six Sedge Warblers, three Reed Warblers and two Grasshopper Warblers.

On the pools were six Tufted Ducks, a pair of Greylag Geese with four young, seven adult Coots with 14 young in total, a Great Crested Grebe and two Little Grebes.

 Tufted Duck

It's looking good for some vis in the morning, and my moth trap is set, so hopefully I should have something to report tomorrow!