Wednesday 25 July 2018

Birding Both Sides Of The Border

I always smile when I cross over the border and see that sign 'Welcome to Scotland' (Failte gu Alba), and almost breathe a sigh of relief to be back in bonny Scotland. I do have Scottish ancestry, but not immediate family, although I do consider myself a Celt, relating more to my Irish half, in fact I consider myself Irish first and English second, and perhaps that's the connection! I'm not sure why I shared that with you, and need to rewind a little to south of the border at first light.

I was at one of my favourite survey sites this morning, not too far from Wigton in north Cumbria and I am envious of the farmer, Ian's, house! The front of the house overlooks the Solway and you can see across into Dumfries and Galloway with the splendid Criffell dominating the view! Out back the view isn't too shabby either looking on to the north Lakes with Skiddaw and Blencathra standing proud in the landscape!

At first light I had five oktas cloud cover and the wind was a very light south-southeasterly. I have three compartments to survey at this site and this morning all three compartments turned up trumps. For the sake of this posting I'll lump all my observations together including five Lesser Redpolls, six House Sparrows, a singing Yellowhammer, three Buzzards, 22 Swallows, 23 House Martins, three Willow Warblers, five Tree Sparrows, four Redstarts, two Stock Doves, a Nuthatch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

House Sparrow

Oh, before I forget a Merlin carrying prey flew in front of me as I drove over Faulds Brow on my way to the site. I also had my first autumn Tree Pipit when a single high flying bird went over calling. The site is on high ground, and the Tree Pipit was high over me, so it was obvious that this bird had just crossed the Solway.

After I had completed my survey I headed to the Scottish side of the Solway to do some birding at a little place called Browhouses. This wasn't my only reason for crossing the border, it was also to procure some fine Orkney ales from Tesco's in Annan. In fact below is a fine Scottish ale that I am consuming as I type, to chill after just three hours sleep and a 3:45 am alarm call!

Being a birder of a certain vintage Little Egrets still turn my head so five feeding along the edge of the Esk was still noteworthy to me! A few waders were about including 43 Lapwings, three Redshanks, five Curlews, four Oystercatchers and 51 Dunlin.

On the passerine front I had ten Linnets, a Grey Wagtail, a Tree Sparrow, 15 House Sparrows, two Song Thrushes, five Whitethroats, three Willow Warblers and most interesting of all a Treecreeper in some scrub alongside the merse!


I was also impressed by the flock of 30 Goosanders which would be as a result of several families coming together. They drifted upstream on the incoming tide, with some of them coming ashore to preen. Just two species of raptor a male Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard, and other than a Stock Dove that was your lot.

There was plenty of butterflies about in the form of Small, Large and Green-veined Whites, Meadow Browns and Peacocks.


I've got another survey coming up in north Cumbria soon so another trip north of the border could be a distinct possibility, as if I needed an excuse.

I'm now on one of those Orkney ales I procured in Annan, a lovely pint of Corncrake. Quite apt for a birder!

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Three Layers

Over the past two mornings I have been undertaking bird surveys and it's been a bit nippy, and for the first time in a while it has necessitated three layers of clothing! However, within an hour or two I have been down to just a T-shirt. Why do you mention this I hear you ask, well that early morning nip is just another signal that we are indeed in autumn!

Yesterday I was in north Cumbria not a million miles from Carlisle and I always enjoy this survey because of the views across the Solway to bonny Scotland! Weather conditions for the survey were good with no wind and full cloud cover, perfect conditions for ringing incidentally, but that's another story for another day.

The weather conditions were good but the birds weren't performing as it was very quiet. That's the problems with surveys sometimes as they are a snapshot in time, and that's why to produce meaningful results a series of surveys is required. My notebook didn't remain totally empty and two singing Yellowhammers, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two Buzzards, a Grey Wagtail, five Stock Doves and a Lesser Redpoll filled its pages.

This morning I was in north Lancashire in the Wenning valley. It started off clear, but within an hour it was nearly full cloud cover, similar to yesterday it was virtually calm with just the hint of a breath of a southeasterly. So, another good morning weather-wise, and a few birds to boot! I've probably mentioned before, but there's no harm in re-capping, the purpose of the surveys at this site is to look at the numbers of birds utilising old/restored hedges versus newly planted hedges with a wide range of hedge plants, somewhere in the region  of twenty species.

There are three hedges to survey in two sections; below the road and close to the river and above the road in a more elevated position. I alternate which block I survey first in attempt to remove as many variables as possible.

I started above the road first in a lovely mature hedge and straight away recorded two juvenile Redstarts; lovely! One of them had a ring on, so it's probably come from a box not far away. With the Redstarts moving along the hedge were twelve Willow Warblers, and I spent a very pleasant ten minutes sat on the ground watching them go past! I also had two Lesser Whitethroats further up the hedge and there could well have been more. Lesser Whitethroats certainly seem to have had a good breeding season.

 Willow Warbler

This particular site is great for Brown Hares and in early Spring I always get some good counts, and nine at this time of year was pleasing.

 Brown Hare (above & below)

Below the road I seemed to have a few fly by's; twelve Lapwings, a Little Egret, two Tree Sparrows, a Grey Wagtail, a Lesser Redpoll, three Stock Doves, a calling Raven, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Kestrels.

One of the fields between two of the hedges I was surveying here had  a nice post-breeding flock of 68 Lapwings. Shortly after the Lapwings I came across a section of flowering Thistles and I estimated that there were at least 45 Small Whites, a single Green-veined White, three Small Tortoiseshells and at least a couple of Silver Y moths. It was also stuffed full of bees too!


 Early Bumblebee

White-tailed Bumblebee

On the way home I called to see some farmer friends of mine near Inskip to talk about putting a Barn Owl box or two up in their buildings, and when David and I were putting the world to rights in the yard we had a couple of calling Ravens go over!

It's Hawkshead Brewery Summer Beer Festival for me tomorrow afternoon so I am looking forward to that, and I am ever grateful of Gail acting as my chauffeur. Mind you I have to take her to Lakeland in Windermere first though for some retail therapy!

Sunday 15 July 2018

Sylvias Still Dominate...Just

This morning I met Graham and Ian at 5:30 a.m. for another ringing session at one of the pools at the Obs. We were greeted with 6 oktas cloud cover and a 10 mph southeasterly wind. The cloud cover gave some welcome cool relief to the recent hot weather, but within an hour or so the sun dispersed the cloud and it was a tad warm again!

There were a few more signs of autumn this morning including the first few Pied Wagtails flying over, dispersing from their overnight roost. On the subject of Wagtails a single Grey Wagtail over was another autumnal sign, as was the single Snipe that left the pools to head out towards the river/saltmarsh to feed.

From a birding perspective the pickings were slim and trying to pick out some highlights from my notebook isn't easy. Grasshopper Warblers always delight and a distant 'reeling' bird brought a smile to my face, as did a Great Spotted Woodpecker that dropped in to some Willows. Formerly scarce at the Obs, they still turn my head because of this!

We ringed thirteen birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Reed Warbler - 3 (1)
Lesser Whitethroat - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 1 (1)
Blackcap - 3
Whitethroat - 1
Greenfinch - 1
Wren - 1
Song Thrush - 1


 Cetti's Warbler

Last weekend it was a real Sylvia fest with 57% of the catch being Sylvia warblers. This week the percentage of Sylvia had dropped to 46%, but they still dominated...just!

Work and a beer festival in The Lakes towards weekend will curtail my natural history outings this week, but I do have a bird survey or two to do in north Cumbria so hopefully there will be something to fill my notebook with and ultimately make it on to here!

Saturday 14 July 2018

Garden Inverts

Sadly I haven't been birding this week, but fingers crossed that will be remedied tomorrow. During the week on various excursions into the garden to look for invertebrates I spotted a humble Greenbottle Fly that looked reasonably photogenic i.e. it would remain still long enough for me to snap it! I grabbed my camera and took a few shots and below is the result of one of the better cropped pics!

Greenbottle Fly

I ran my moth for the first time in a while last night and out of the catch managed to identify fourteen moths of nine species as follows:

Dot Moth - 2
Common Wainscot - 1
Common Rustic - 4
Buff Arches - 1
Large Yellow Underwing - 2
Riband Wave - 1
Heart and Dart - 1
Garden Carpet - 1
True Lover's Knot - 1

 True Lover's Knot

The True Lover's Knot was a first for my garden and totally unexpected. They are usually found on lowland heathland and upland moorland, so basically acid habitat with heather sp. A quick conversation with Pete informed me that there had been a few records recently in lowland Lancs probably caused by easterly/katabatic winds. These are winds that blow down from higher ground out on to plains or valleys. I did wonder that whether some of these fires on moorland areas of Greater Manchester and Lancashire, combined with easterly winds, had displaced them from their upland habitat. Whatever the reason for its occurrence it was a nice addition to my garden fauna!

Sunday 8 July 2018

Reedbed Monitoring

It was great to be back in the reedbeds at the Obs this morning, albeit very early! This was our first ringing session in this habitat of the autumn, yes it's autumn in the bird world now, and when I met Ian at first light we were greeted with clear and calm conditions. The idea was to have a couple of hours ringing before the temperatures got up.

As you all know it was a very cold and late spring and large numbers of migrants either didn't make it back to the UK or started very late with their breeding cycle. It is going to be interesting to see what sort of results we have in terms of our catches, particularly the ratio between adult and juvenile birds. Of course after just one ringing session it is impossible to draw any conclusions.

We had a reasonable catch of 28 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Wren - 2
Chiffchaff - 2
Willow Warbler - 2
Lesser Whitethroat - 8
Reed Warbler - 2 (1)
Blackcap - 8
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Greenfinch - 1
Goldfinch - 1


So out of the 28 birds ringed 21 were juveniles and the rest adults, which is what you would expect at this time of year.

The birding was quiet other than a flock of twelve Lapwings that we put up driving through the site, a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, a group of twelve Swallows (exiting a roost?) and a distant Green Sandpiper calling from the river.

That was the first early morning out of the way, so I am looking forward to more early starts over the coming weeks. Honestly!

Sunday 1 July 2018

First Moths For A While

Friday into Saturday I ran my garden moth trap for the first time in a couple of weeks and caught thirteen moths of nine species. Well, I actually caught more than that but I don't attempt to identify many of the micro moths; shame on me I know!

The moths I recorded were as follows:

Angle Shades - 1
Buff Ermine - 1
Large Yellow Underwing - 2
Gothic - 1
Bright-line Brown-eye - 1
Heart and Dart - 2
Dot Moth - 2
Green Pug - 1
Common Marbled Carpet - 2

Buff Ermine

 Angle Shades