Saturday 30 June 2018


Tuesday evening found Huw and Me at our good friends Diana and Robert's farm to hopefully ring a brood of Kestrels from a box that Robert put up on the edge of his woodland. We have ringed the Kestrel chicks from this box for the last two years, so fingers were crossed on Tuesday evening.

Prior to me going away on holiday we had checked the box and the female Kestrel was sitting, so we had high hopes that when I got back there would be chicks and that they would be big enough to ring. Huw went up to the box and there were three chicks, plus one egg. The chicks were probably somewhere in the region of 10-12 days old so there was no chance of the egg hatching. The three chicks were duly ringed and placed back in the box.


We headed up to the yard to check the Barn Owl box that Robert has up in the barn. We've ringed the Barn Owl chicks from this box for six years now.Prior to me going on holiday we had checked the box and there was just two small young, perhaps just 3 - 4 days old, and we did wonder whether there was some more yet to hatch. When we checked the box on Tuesday evening we found it empty!

It was obvious that the box had been predated, but by what? A few culprits sprang to mind with Jackdaw being top of the list. In the same barn as the Barn Owl box a pair of Jackdaws were nesting and they are more than capable of taking eggs or small chicks. Other possibilities could be Little or Tawny Owl, both of which are found on the farm. It's very sad as this might be this pair's only nesting attempt this year.

Friday 29 June 2018

Eyed Hawkmoth

Earlier in the week, Monday to be precise, Gail and I were giving our two Oriental cats one of their daily walks in the garden when Woody (see picture of Woody below) found an Eyed Hawkmoth close to the Apple tree.


 Eyed Hawkmoth

Eagle eyed Stewart in Northumberland contacted me to say that the Eyed Hawkmoth was a female based on the width and pointed end to the abdomen; thanks Stewart!

On Tuesday morning Gail went out into the garden to have a look at the Apple tree to see if the Hawkmoth was still there, after me saying that it wouldn't be as it would have moved on during the night. A delighted shout from Gail at the bottom of the garden saying that there wasn't one, but two Eyed Hawkmoths now! Mrs Hawkmoth had presumably now been joined by a Mr!

 Eyed Hawkmoths

Thursday 28 June 2018

Castles And Old Kings

Gail and I have just got back from a weeks holiday in Aberdeenshire on the edge of the eastern Cairngorms. We had a fantastic week and the weather remained dry throughout. Normally we go to western Scotland, but this year we fancied a change and the chance of some better weather perhaps. Having said that my heart still belongs to western Scotland!

Our first port of call on the Sunday following our rain soaked journey north was to Craigievar Castle. This castle is the castle that Walt Disney based his castle on. This is really a trivial fact of a castle so full of history, but our guide did make us laugh when she said on one tour an American lady said to her that the Walt Disney castle must have been the inspiration for the building of Craigievar! She obviously wasn't listening to the guide when she was told that Craigievar was built in 1570! Americans!

 Craigievar Castle

In this part of Aberdeenshire there is a lot of arable land and it was quite different to see arable crops growing in what was quite hilly land. As a result of this Tree Sparrows were around in good numbers and so too were Yellowhammers. We had a number of Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers at Craigievar and one pair of Tree Sparrows were nesting high up on the side of the castle. House Martins nested all over the castle as well, and in the woodland surrounding the castle we had a Spotted Flycatcher.

On the Monday we visited Kinnaird Head Lighthouse and Scottish Lighthouse Museum. There was a constant passage past the lighthouse at sea of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Guillemots, Razorbills and Sandwich Terns. Most of these species would be from Troup Head a few miles further west where Scotland's largest mainland Gannet colony is located.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse. Robert Stevenson built a lighthouse tower 
through the medieval castle!

Troup Head was spectacular and the Gannets even more spectacular. Below are a few pics to give you an idea of the atmosphere of the place, but the one thing you won't get is that characteristic smell of a seabird colony!

Close to Troup Head is the beautiful former fishing village of Pennan. Driving down the narrow road from the top of the cliffs to the village, with lots of hairpin bends, reminded me of some of the fishing villages in Cornwall.

During the week we visited Brodie Castle and having cake and coffee outside in the late afternoon sunshine the cheeky wee male Chaffinch below stole cake crumbs from our plates!

 Brodie Castle

One of Gail's passions is history and when we are on holiday we try and indulge in as much history and archaeology as we can. On a dreich afternoon (the only one) we visited Whitehill Stone Circle that is set in a Forestry commission forest clearing. The walk up to the stone circle was along a track through the forest and along the forest edge there is always an element of the natural woodland that would occur in this area, and this is where any birds will be found. We encountered two Blackcaps, two Goldcrests, three Coal Tits, two Willow Warblers, a Siskin, a Lesser Redpoll and a pair of Bullfinches.

 Willow Warbler

Whitehill Stone Circle

On our last full day in Aberdeenshire we spent the morning at Muir of Dinnet NNR. At the heart of the Reserve are Lochs Davan and Kinord, with their near pure water and associated bogs and fens providing ideal habitat for a wide mix of species; from rare water beetles to the elusive Otter, feeding and breeding on the reserve. During winter, the lochs are an important roost site, attracting migrating geese and other wildfowl.

Dry heaths, including the internationally important Bearberry heath, thrive on the drier hummocky ground. The heaths support rare moths, such as the Netted Mountain and cousin German, and in summer are home to ground nesting birds, such as Curlew and Meadow Pipit. Young pine and birch now cover large areas of the reserve and provide an interesting transition from open heath, young scrub to pine and Birch woodland. These woodlands also support a rich variety of invertebrates and breeding birds including, the Kentish Glory moth, Wood Warbler and Chaffinch.

Gail and I did a circular walk from the visitor centre through the woodland, around the lochs and back. Just to rewind before we arrived at the visitor centre we passed a recently cut silage field and a Red Kite was flying low over the field, presumably looking for carrion. Later on our walk we saw the Red Kite again.

Walking through the woodland we had a number of birds including two calling Cuckoos, one of which we got fleeting views of as it flew through the open woodland.

Birch and Pine Woodland

Other species we recorded included five Siskins, a Goldcrest, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, eight Willow Warblers, a singing Garden Warbler, two Coal Tits, a Song Thrush, a Lesser Redpoll, six Long-tailed Tits, a juvenile Yellowhammer, four Reed Buntings, 170 Lapwings in a field adjacent to the woodland and two Goldeneyes on the loch.

 Amongst the 170 Lapwings were some large flying young, like this one

There was a number of invertebrates abroad including lots of Chimney Sweeper moths and Common Blue Damselflies.

 Common Blue Damselflies

Along the woodland path we came across this Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar below that proceeded to demonstrate that it could cross anything in it's path!

I'll finish with a few miscellaneous pictures of places we visited that I haven't covered above.
 Acorn Bothy; the cottage we stayed in
 Celtic Cross at Muir of Dinnet NNR
Howe of Cromar

Wednesday 13 June 2018

Another Moth

Yesterday morning I checked a Barn Owl and Kestrel box at my good friends Robert and Diana's farm. In the Barn Owl box were two chicks about two days old, so there could be a couple more eggs to hatch. The female Kestrel was in residence at the box and she was sat, presumably incubating eggs or brooding small young, so we didn't disturb her. I'll be back in ten days or so to hopefully ring the Barn Owl and Kestrel chicks.

 Highly zoomed picture of the Kestrel in her box

This morning as I was putting my ringing box away in my storage box in the garage I caught out of the corner of my eye what I thought was a Hornet resting on my tool bag! My first thought was "that's going to be interesting getting that beastie out of the garage"! Still thinking I was dealing with a Hornet I thought I would carefully lift my tool bag up, carry it outside, and release the Hornet from the confines of my garage. As I was slowly walking out of my garage with my tool bag at arms length as best as I could, I was pleased at how calm the Hornet was, and then I noticed its moth-like antenna and furry abdomen!

At that point I knew I had one of the Hornet Moths and could hardly contain my excitement as I have always wanted to see one! I ran into the house and grabbed my camera and 'Townsend and Waring'. I took a quick snap of it on my tool bag and then checked to see which Hornet Moth it was (there's only two) and it was Lunar Hornet Moth!

 Lunar Hornet Moth on my tool bag (above) and vegetation

I then moved the stunning beast to some vegetation and took a few more pictures! It's not particularly rare, but they are seldom seen, so to have one in my garden was fantastic! The food plant of the caterpillars are sallows and willows, and I have a lot of willow in the garden. So this Lunar Hornet Moth certainly made my day! 

Sunday 10 June 2018


After a full week of 4:00 a.m. alarm calls I was determined not to get up too early over weekend in order to recharge my batteries before the early alarm calls kick in again Monday morning!

The potential Barn Owls that I mentioned in a previous post turned out to be Jackdaws! I checked the box that one of my farmer friends has in one of his buildings that he thought was occupied by Barn Owls, but when I peered into the box the beady eyes of large Jackdaw chicks peered back at me! Anyway, at least we know he doesn't have Barn Owls, well not in that box!

I ran my garden moth trap on Friday and Saturday night and although I didn't get huge numbers I did catch a few interesting species. New for the garden were Setaceous Hebrew Character, Clouded-bordered Brindle and Figure of Eighty. My totals over the two nights of what I could identify, in addition to the aforementioned, included six Brimstone Moths, a Poplar Hawkmoth, a Miller, a Scalloped Hazel, twelve Heart and Darts, two Bright-line Brown-eyes, a Buff Ermine, two Garden Carpets and a Green Pug.

Below are pictures of a selection of the moths trapped.

    Poplar Hawkmoth (above & below), with Gail's arm for scale!

 Brimstone Moth

 Figure of Eighty

Thursday 7 June 2018


I love trees, and trees are featuring strongly in my work at the moment, because as you know I am carrying out a number of bird surveys across Cumbria in recently planted woodland. On my travels this week I noticed the shape and form of a few trees and you will see a few snaps below.

On Wednesday I was at one of my larger sites northeast of Penrith where I have to survey ten woodland compartments. It sounds like a lot, but some of them are quite small. There was lots of trees, but I did have a few birds too. My list of noteworthy birds included eight Tree Sparrows (including one recently fledged juv.), seven Willow Warblers, two Stock Doves, a Curlew, two Blackcaps, two Buzzards and two Redstarts

Two trees stood out on my wanderings; an Oak tree and a Sycamore. I can't begin to guess how old the Sycamore is, but it's old, have a look at it's girth in the picture below.


 Sycamore; look at that girth!

This morning I was in the North Pennines east of Kirkby Stephen. I'll start with the birds and I had two Stock Doves, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a male Bullfinch, two Song Thrushes, a Mistle Thrush, three Willow Warblers, a Redstart, two House Sparrows, a Cuckoo, five Oystercatchers, four Curlews, two Blackcaps, two Lesser Redpolls and a Linnet.


 Song Thrush

It was an Ash and Sycamore that stood out at this site. The Ash was amongst a few Ash and Scots Pines that formed a nice mature hedgerow/line of trees. A bit of habitat amongst a Rye Grass desert!


It's more trees for me tomorrow and possibly some Barn Owls at weekend!

Tuesday 5 June 2018

The Quiet Peak Of The Breeding Season

For the past two days I have been in north Cumbria continuing with the second of three bird surveys that I do at several sites recently planted with woodland. Following standard Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) methodology I do a first visit in early April - mid-May and a second visit mid-May to June. In addition to this I do a third survey from July to August. The third survey is to look at the value of these sites as foraging areas after post-breeding dispersal. The second visit, particularly for those sites surveyed in June tends to be the quietest as birds are generally busy feeding young. However, there is always something to record.

On Monday I was near Penrith and this site is isolated from other habitats in as much as it is set within fields of intensively managed grassland with no connecting corridors to other habitat; it's a walled landscape. But still it is providing some valuable habitat withing the wider landscape.

One of the first birds I noticed was one of this year's juvenile Blue Tits. So what I hear you say, but it just shows that the site is used by woodland species once they have fledged. I could hear Redstart singing from the usual spot away from the site, but then I picked up a movement up out of the corner of my eye in the plantation and it was a stunning male Redstart. Sadly I was looking into the sun, and getting a photograph was impossible.

Two Willow Warblers were singing from the young woodland and a couple of Stock Doves flew back and forth over the trees. Swallows are ever present flying low over the trees foraging for aerial insects.


Today I was near Troutbeck close to the foot of Blencathra, and it was a glorious morning with wall to wall sunshine. Interestingly it was cool at first, with almost an autumnal nip in the air! And the Midges were out, every time I stopped for a listen walking my transect they feasted on me!

 Looking towards Blencthra

This site has four woodland compartments. In compartment one I had a singing Willow Warbler and an over-flying Siskin, with again the ever-present Swallows. Talking of all things hirundine, before I set off I watched 3 or 4 House Martins collecting mud from a pool on the track, and then carrying it off to a white-washed cottage close by. We're in June and they are just nest building! These are probably some of the birds that got held up this Spring.

 Pied Wagtail

Another Willow Warbler was singing from compartment two, but it was the two singing Cuckoos that was the most exciting. Sadly they weren't on site; one was singing fairly close towards Blencathra and the other was some distance away and I could only just hear it.

 Several young trees were covered in the silk of what I think is the Spindle
Ermine moth caterpillar

Spindle Ermine Moth caterpillars?

In compartments three and four there was some  more Willow Warbler action, two to be precise, and also Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, two Stock Doves and two Reed Buntings. I also flushed two Roe Deer.

I've got more early starts for the remainder of the week. I'm not sure at what time it gets light, but I am getting up at 4:00 am at the moment and it's fully light then!

Saturday 2 June 2018

More On Boxes

This morning Gail and I met Huw at our nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley in Bowland, to make our final visit of the year and ring the Pied Flycatcher chicks.

 Pied Flycatchers

The first Pied Flycatcher box I checked was empty. "Strange" I thought, because six days earlier my note book entry read "7 young; naked and blind". Which basically means that they were too young to ring. I estimated that they were about two days old last Sunday (27th May), and on average Pied Flycatchers are 16 days in the nest. This would give an estimated fledging date, giving a day or two, of 10th June. This would mean that if they had fledged it would have been at least eight days early. The weather has been good this week, but even so could they have fledged so quickly?

The next box I checked should have had between eight and ten Blue Tit chicks, but it was empty. Again last Sunday my notebook read "8 eggs and 2 young naked and blind! So these Blue Tits were in the process of hatching and there is no way they could have fledged so soon.

What solved the mystery of these two broods was the fact that in each of the two boxes the nest itself was intact. Normally as the chicks grow and they become large and boisterous the nest gets flattened completely, and there is so sign of the nest cup left. In fact you can use this to check boxes later in the season to see if the young successfully fledged. So it was obvious that both these broods had been predated, but by what? My best guess would be that they were predated by a Weasel. Weasels are small enough to get through the hole in the box and can climb trees. I have observed this before at another site where we had several boxes predated by a rogue Weasel, and at this site we caught the culprit in the act!

Thankfully the rest of the boxes were okay and we ringed six Blue Tits, 27 Pied Flycatchers and 14 Great Tits. All the chicks that we ringed last week had either fledged or were still in the box as big as the adults and about to fledge; the warm weather has certainly helped!

 Great Tits

It's more small boxes tomorrow and next week it's on to Barn Owls and Kestrels.