Wednesday 29 August 2018

Three Counties

It was a 4:00 am alarm call for me yesterday to head once again to Cumbria to undertake a bird survey. As usual I got my three hours sleep before the alarm, and worryingly I am starting to be able to cope on just a few hours sleep! Cumbria was just one of three counties that I would visit that day in the course of my work!

I arrived at my survey site to two oktas cloud cover with a light southerly breeze. There was a definite autumnal nip in the air and the birding had an autumnal feel to it as well. There are still plenty of Swallows around and this morning I recorded about a dozen all perched up on the telegraph wires close to the farm yard.

 The view across the trees

Willow Warblers are still present and moving through and this morning I had one or two birds giving their autumnal sub-song. In total I had five birds across the plantation woodland. In addition to the broad-leaved woodland planted at this site, the farmer has also planted a large area of short-rotation coppice Willow, so it will be interesting to see if this pulls some more birds in over the yaers. The short-rotation coppice Willow that I surveyed some ten years ago in Yorkshire for Drax power station certainly was good for birds and invertebrates.

A few Song Thrushes were knocking about this morning and I am guessing that they will have been juvenile birds, and I was pleased with a count of five. A few finches made it into my notebook including four Lesser Redpolls, four Siskins and 78 Linnets. I was stood below a Birch sp. writing in my notebook and bits of seeds keps floating down, a but like snowflakes, and when I looked up some of the Linnets and Siskins were feeding in the tree top!

It was the Grey Wagtails as much as any other species that gave it an autumnal feel this morning and I had five in total. There was no evidence of any vis as such, but they had certainly moved to the site in recent weeks. Three Tree Pipits could well have been migrants too as I have never recorded them 'within' the site before, just flying over.

Other bits and pieces included four Greenfinches, three Chaffinches, a Coal Tit, a Goldfinch, three Reed Buntings, two Buzzards, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Roe Deer.

 There was quite a lot of Sneezewort present in the open former grassalnd
areas, but most of it was past it's best

A distant Roe Deer

I then had to head to a site in east Bowland and this would take me through my second county, North Yorkshire, to work in my third county, Lancashire. Funnily enough pre-1974 my site near Slaidburn would have been in West Yorkshire!

This site is an upland farm that I have been providing conservation advise to for seventeen years now and today I was looking at some of the breeding wader fields and sward heights in particular. Everywhere I went I came across flocks of Meadow Pipits. I didn't count them but they certainly numbered in their hundreds.

I had a nice size comparison between two Ravens and three Buzzards as they interacted together, and the size comparison was that there isn't one! Those Ravens certainly are big birds, and sometimes you don't realise how big until you see ones alongside a Buzzard.

At the moment the forecast is looking okay for weekend and fingers crossed we'll get both days in! I'll be sure to let you know how we get on.

Friday 24 August 2018

No Mountains - But Plenty Of Berries On The Mountain Ash

I tried for a couple of days this week to get one of my surveys in just west of Penrith, close to the mountains in the north Lakes. From the third woodland compartment that I survey I usually have great views looking towards Blencathra, but not this morning. Driving to my survey site I was driving through low cloud all the time, particularly through the Lune gorge in the Howgills, and the weather as I started my survey at 0615 was full cloud cover with a light south-southeasterly breeze and moderate visibility.

Funnily enough on the coast this weather was responsible for dropping a few migrants in. I got a phone call from Ian saying that back at the Obs there was good numbers of Willow Warblers around, and he'd had grounded Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat and Tree Pipits. It was a little different here!

Willow Warblers and Tree Pipit did feature at my survey site too, and a grounded Tree Pipit was a new species for the site. I am surprised that I haven't recorded Tree Pipits more often as the habitat within these woodland compartments does look suitable. In fact one of my Scottish survey sites close to Dalbeattie always has Tree Pipits.

Of interest from all the four compartments I recorded 49 Swallows (brought low by the inclement weather and were hawking for insects over the trees), a Buzzard, five Willow Warblers (including one doing a bit of sub-song), ten  Goldfinches, eight Chaffinches, a Raven flew over calling, four Tree Sparrows, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Stock Doves and a Tree Pipit.

What I have noticed this year at this and other survey sites is the bumper crop on the Rowan. Nearly every Rowan I come across is laden with berries, so they will be providing lots of food for birds and small mammals this autumn. Maybe for a Waxwing or two!

Lots of Rowan and lots of berries!


I was supposed to be surveying another site this morning, in the shadow of Blencathra, but it was wild and wet up here this morning, so that's re-scheduled for Monday. The forecast for the weekend is looking grim as well; strong northwesterlies tomorrow and wet on Sunday. There won't be much ringing getting done at the Obs this weekend!

Saturday 18 August 2018

Too Early

I set my alarm this morning for 0430, not a good idea as it was gone midnight before I got to bed, but high tide was at 0445 and I wanted to get to Rossall as soon as it was light so I could have a look on the sea before the tide dropped! I actually wished I hadn't bothered, as you will find out in a moment as it was very quiet, but as Ian Wallace (I think?) once said "time out = birds in"! I got there at about 0515 and it was too early as it was still very dark!

I had full cloud cover with a 20-25 mph southwesterly wind, and the visibility in the bay was pretty poor; I couldn't see the wind turbines or across to Walney. And consequently there was little movement. My notebook records 28 Common Scoters, a Cormorant and an Auk sp. and that was it on the sea. Not a Tern, Gannet, Manxie or anything! In fact by 0700 I'd had enough and headed home.

A few waders moved past including five Ringed Plovers, four Curlews, 19 Oystercatchers, two Dunlins, 20 Turnstones and twelve Sanderlings.

The highlight of the morning was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth that flew past me and round the observation tower. I followed it, but it was constantly on the move and sadly I couldn't get a photograph of it.

The forecast is grim for tomorrow so I can have a few beers tonight and a lie in before early mornings and north Cumbria beckons again next week!

Sunday 12 August 2018

A Typical August Mixed Bag

Yesterday morning saw Graham, Ian and Me undertaking a ringing session at one of the reedbeds at the Obs. It had been crystal clear and cool overnight, so every indication was that it had been a 'clear out' night. At first light we had four oktas cloud cover with a 5 - 10 mph southwesterly wind.

As we were putting the nets up the morning murmuration of Starlings, as they exited their roost, entertained, and I estimated that there was somewhere between three and five thousand birds. Pied Wagtails also exited their roost on the marina and they flew over in ones and twos heading south to feeding areas.

An adult male Sparrowhawk, Little Egret and Great Spotted Woodpecker made it into my notebook, but that was it from a birding perspective.

We ringed 27 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Wren - 3
Willow Warbler - 3
Chiffchaff - 1 (1)
Robin - 1
Blackcap - 2
Reed Warbler - 4
Whitethroat - 4
Linnet - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 3
Reed Bunting - 3
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Greenfinch - 1

 Willow Warbler

Where are all the Sedge Warblers?

We've got a Swallow roost inland in some maize to work if and when the weather picks up this week, so I'll keep you posted about that.

Thursday 9 August 2018

Solway Soothes The Soul

It's been a traumatic ten days or more and I have spent it with my wife and her family, either in hospital or the hospice, watching her dear father pass away. I'm not looking for a sympathy vote dear reader, just letting you know that this is the reason that I haven't posted in a while.

I was 'back in the saddle' work-wise yesterday and had a bird survey to complete in north Cumbria. And after I finished my survey, just like my previous post, I headed to the northern shore of the soothing Solway for some communion with nature!

 The Solway looking south towards the Lakes

My survey site was another of my favourite plantation woodland surveys that I have been doing for four years now, and I like the way the landowner manages this one, creating wide open rides within the trees and I think increasing the number and range of bird species.

I added a new species for the site this morning in the form of a female Yellowhammer. I often hear Yellowhammers singing close by, but I haven't recorded one on site before. The best of the rest included eight Willow Warblers, seven Bullfinches (mainly juvs), five Song Thrushes and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Once across the border I headed to Browhouses. Driving down the lane a flock of thirty House Sparrows frequented the hedgerow, and I would add a further 36 House Sparrows and 22 Tree Sparrows during the morning.

I set my scope up and looked over the estuary. The tide was starting to run in and push some of the waders fairly close. I had to count quickly as the tide races in on the Solway, and as such there is often a bore! My wader totals included four Curlews, three Oystercatchers, 372 Dunlin, five Black-tailed Godwits, 113 Lapwings and 75 Redshanks. Honorary waders included a Grey Heron and six Little Egrets.


I had a single Tree Pipit over heading south and the only other real passerine migrant was a calling Goldcrest in the coastal scrub. I did have two Whitethroats and two Willow Warblers, but I suspect these were local dispersing juvenile birds, sort of migrants I suppose!

On the river I had thirty Goosanders, six Mute Swans and eight Canada Geese. A single Stock Dove and 21 Goldfinches was really it on the bird front. There was some butterflies about including Green-veined Whites, Walls, Painted Lady's, Small Whites and a Red Admiral.

 Goosanders (above & below)

Painted Lady


The weekend is looking wet and windy, but I will attempt to get out.