Saturday 27 October 2018

Hoglet Update

Hoglet number 4 scuppered my birding plans for this morning, but it was worth it to rescue another wee fella, or wee girl should I say as she is a female! Somewhere between midnight and one o'clock this morning our security light went on and off a couple of times and I guessed it was just the wind, but due to the fact that we had rescued three small Hedgehogs in recent days I thought I would get up and have a look.

I shone my head torch on to our mini meadow through the back door and there on the edge of the grass was another Hoglet! I went out and collected the wee girl, weighed her (240g) and placed her in the cat carrier with bedding, food and water. This is becoming a habit! A quick text to my good friend Terry and he arranged for me to take it in the morning to a lovely lady called Jean who cares for Hedgehogs.

Jean's set up was impressive, and she has basically converted her conservatory in to a Hedgehog hospital. She has banks of keeping boxes full of Hogs and there must have been 20-30 Hedgehogs in her remarkable care. Jean weighed her and she was 300g, more than I thought, but again far too light to hibernate for the winter. Jean asked us for a name for the Hoglet, just to make it easier for her records rather than recording Hedgehog 32YRT50, or something similar, so I named her Gail after my Gail!

 Gail 'the Hedgehog'

I was surprised at the number of ticks on her and Jean expertly removed at least five and placed her in a keeping box with one of her brothers/sisters, the Hoglet from our garden that Terry took to Jean yesterday. Jean said that she would keep us informed of her progress, so we just need to hope that she responds well and puts on weight. She certainly was a feisty little lady, so I remain hopeful.

I've rescheduled my birding for tomorrow, but it won't be an early start as I have four days of wintering bird surveys next week the length of breadth of the northwest with some very early starts!

Friday 26 October 2018


Over the past six days it has been quite a saga with young Hedgehogs in our garden. I've rescued three Hoglets in six days! Last Saturday (20th) evening I went out to the beer fridge in the garage to procure another bottle of real ale, and just next to the back door step was a Hoglet feeding on some food I had spilled when putting some hedgehog food out earlier.

I feed the Hedgehogs in my garden every night, and at the moment I am getting at least one large individual every night just after it has gone dark. I am also getting the same or another just before it becomes light. This Hoglet looked small, too small in fact to survive hibernation, so I made a quick call to my good friend Terry who is involved in caring for Hedgehogs. Terry acts as coordinator locally for hedgehog rescue and he has a number of people that he homes hedgehogs with who look after them over the winter.

They are kept awake, by keeping them warm, over winter and fed to reach a weight where it is safe to release them in the Spring. To survive hibernation Hedgehogs as a general rule need to weigh 600g, if they try and hibernate weighing less than this then it is unlikely that they will wake up, passing away in their sleep because they don't have enough reserves.

At the end of the winter the rescued Hedgehogs are released in enclosures where they are re-nocturnalised (if there is such a word), before being released at a safe release site.

Terry said that if I could hatch the Hoglet he would call the following day and collect it. I went back out and it had gone. However, later on just before I went to bed I went out with a torch and searched my garden and found it on a small grassy area. Terry called the following day and collected it; Hoglet number one!

 This is Hoglet number one before it was settled in for 
the night.

This is the wee fella in the morning prior to us 
changing its bedding.

On Tuesday (23rd), I was err, going out to the beer fridge and noticed a Hoglet feeding on the food that I had put out. So once again, I picked it up and took it indoors. Another text to Terry and the following day he called and collected it.

After the second Hoglet we realised that it was highly likely that they were both from the same late litter, and in fact Terry later found out from the carer that they were brother and sister and this latest Hoglet weighed 240g. Hoglet number two!

It was raining last night so I had put the hedgehog food and water under cover in the feeding station I have made, and once again I was going out for a fine bottle of real ale, when I noticed yet another Hoglet in the feeding station. I brought the little chap indoors, weighed it, and at 250g it was again too small to survive hibernation. I made it comfortable in our cat basket with a bed, food and water and once again sent a text to Terry. Hoglet number three!

Terry called to collect the wee fella this morning and gave us an update on the first two, who are doing really well and have already put on 30g.

Hedgehogs normally have 4-5 Hoglets, so there is a chance that this saga hasn't ended yet. If there are another 1-2 Hoglets out there I hope they come into our garden to feed so we can save them too! I'll keep you posted.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Birding Mersehead

One of my favourite birding sites is Mersehead RSPB in Dumfries and Galloway, on the northern shores of the Solway. And I had an opportunity to go birding there this week as I had a couple of site visits to do north and south of Castle Douglas on Monday. Gail came with me and we stayed overnight so we could go birding on the Tuesday. It's something we've done for several years now and we thoroughly enjoy it!

My two work related site visits are well and truly in Red Kite country, one more so than the other as it is very close to Lock Ken. On our drive to and from Castle Douglas we counted ten without trying, including one over the garden of a house that we looked at in Crossmichael!

The following morning as we drove from Castle Douglas to Mersehead RSPB we had a further two Kites. We arrived at Mersehead under full cloud cover, with a moderate westerly wind, and we looked forward to some decent birding and a good walk.

There are a variety of habitats at Mersehead including saltmarsh, sand dunes, open shore, mudflats, coastal mixed woodland, arable land, low input pastures and freshwater pools. So a great mix, and the beauty is that it is quiet. In fact we were at the reserve for three hours on Tuesday morning and other than us there was just one other couple on the reserve. We had it to ourselves. In fact when we got to the glorious white sandy beach, covered in shells, there was nobody to be seen!

 The white sandy beach (above & below)

On the reserve are a number of wildbird seed plots with a high density of sunflowers in the mix and they were alive with finches. One plot is adjacent to some low coastal mixed woodland and a lot of the birds were flying in to the trees and then in to plots to feed. A rough estimate of the finches we saw included fifteen Tree Sparrows, 370 Greenfinches, three Bramblings, 65 Chaffinches, five Yellowhammers and 82 Linnets. Stonking!

Other passerines that we encountered included a Siskin, four Song Thrushes, two Redwings, five Goldcrests, a Reed Bunting, a Fieldfare and a Bullfinch. Funnily enough the only raptor that we saw on the reserve was a single Sparrowhawk, but I did half expect Merlin, Peregrine, Hen Harrier etc.

Of course the main reason that I like Mersehead so much, apart from how lovely and quiet it is, is the fact that it is a wintering site for my favourite goose, the Barnacle Goose. I love everything about Barnacle Geese; their stunning monochrome colours, the 'barking' dog like call and just their overall loveliness! It was hard to say how many 'Barnies' were on the reserve, but we certainly came across at least 1,700.

Below you will find a number of pictures of Barnacle Geese and I make no apologies for this because I think they are a stunning bird!

The freshwater pools held a variety of wildfowl with eight Pintails, 59 Teal, 35 Wigeon and 22 Shovelers. There was more than this, but this is just what was in view immediately in front of the two hides.

 Mixed wildflowl outside one of the hides


The view from one of the hides

With a heavy heart we had to return to the car and head home, but we'll be back soon I'm sure!

Saturday 20 October 2018

Not In The West Yet

This morning Graham and me got to the pools at the Obs early to get a couple of nets up in the dark to hopefully ring some thrushes. Large numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares are appearing at watch points further east, but they have yet to get this far west. There has been a few, but none in any numbers. Last night I kept going outside to listen for Redwing, but I didn't hear a single one, and it was the same this morning when I was loading my car.

We had six oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph southerly wind throughout the morning. As soon as the nets were up I put Fieldfare and Redwing on the MP3 players. A few Redwings started arriving in response to the MP3 players, but not in any real numbers, and in fact I think they were only just in double figures!

We ringed thirteen birds as follows:

Redwing - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Chaffinch - 3
Reed Bunting - 4
Blackbird - 1 continental male
Sparrowhawk - 1 female
Pied Wagtail - 1



The birding was quiet as well this morning as you might have gathered and there was very little going over, other than perhaps 15 Redwings, a Song Thrush, two Bramblings and a handful of Chaffinches. Pied Wagtails were dispersing to feeding areas from their overnight roost on the marina, and a few Reed Buntings 'dropped in' to investigate the MP3 calls. Five Stock Doves and a male Shoveler dropping on to the pools, and that was it!

 Reed Bunting

It's a funny old forecast for tomorrow with the wind remaining southwesterly and some light rain coming in during the morning. I've had three early starts on the bounce and I have an early start on Monday as I am heading up to southwest Scotland to do some work. However, on Tuesday I am hoping to be birding on the Solway, so it might have to wait until then.

Friday 19 October 2018

From Inland Cheshire To Coastal Cumbria

Over the past two days my birding has been work based and they have been completely different; inland Cheshire yesterday and coastal Cumbria today!

It was a beautiful day yesterday everywhere it seemed, other than my survey site that was fog bound! On the drive down it was glorious until I got near my site, and then on the return journey foggy until a few miles from the site where it was glorious again! It was one of those mists where horizontal visibility was compromised, but not vertical!

 The sun was trying it's best to make an appearance!

I did have a few birds at my misty Cheshire site including five Song Thrushes, which were almost certainly migrants. No Fieldfares or Redwings though! A Buzzard was ever present as usual, but the best bird of the morning was undoubtedly a Little Owl.

I could hear Blackbirds and Chaffinches alarm calling and I approached the area where I knew that they were scolding a predator of some sort. I looked through a gap in the hedge and perched up on a post was a Little Owl. It was really close, and soon spotted me and sadly flew off. It still put a spring in my step though!

The site holds a population of Tree Sparrows and I had five on this morning. A flock of seventeen Long-tailed Tits moving along a hedge was nice, and these were really all the highlights.

Gail and I were at a site in northwest Cumbria today, and if it wasn't for the relatively murky conditions, the views across to Dumfries and Galloway and down to the Isle of Man would have been superb. The site is on the coast and today's visit was just to plan my transect route and VPs (vantage points), so I wasn't really recording my sightings thoroughly. Of interest we had 33 Skylarks, eight Linnets, a Rock Pipit, four Stonechats, two Ravens and a nice covey of six Grey Partridges. I didn't look on the sea today, but when I start the surveys soon I will be doing.

Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee. It was nice to record this today and I have 
had one or two in my garden over recent days

Tomorrow I'm hoping to get out ringing at the Obs, but I'm leaving it until the morning to make a decision as the forecast is marginal in terms of wind strength. I'll let you know if I do!

Wednesday 17 October 2018

False Start

If you remember I had commented on the potential interesting weather synopsis for yesterday morning, but as often happens it didn't come to fruition. The weak weather front moved through, with light drizzle, but after it had come light the effect was more of a 'blocking' feature than of a 'dropping' feature, if you know what I mean.

Having said that, after my 8 o'clock Doctor's appointment I decided to have an hour or so's birding before hitting the office for the day. I arrived at the cemetery under full cloud cover, with a moderate southeasterly wind. Where had that wind come from?

As I got out of my car I could hear some Chaffinches 'pinging', looked up and could see just a couple of birds. I looked harder and there high above, just dots in my bins, were a tight flock of 42 heading west. When we get flocks like this down on the coast at the Obs, it's a sure sign that they are continental birds. I sent a quick text to Ian saying "it looks like continental Chaffinches are on the move this morning". After that I had very little vis, so it had in fact been a false start.

The only grounded migrant I had in the cemetery was a single Goldcrest, so I headed to the coastal park, but I didn't hold out much hope. There were a few more grounded migrants in the coastal park in the form of four Goldcrests, 14 Chaffinches and two Redwings. Vis was restricted to just 13 Chaffinches and ten Starlings. It was time to go home!

There are three Woodpigeons that seem to be permanently hanging around our garden at the moment, although I must admit I am putting food out for them. One of the birds has been moulting its wing feathers and when it takes off it 'clatters' it's wings even more than usual!

Looking back to this day in 2010 Ian and me were ringing at the farm fields/school in the Obs recording area. We ringed 52 birds; a Song thrush, a Redwing, three Goldcrests, a Long-tailed Tit, six Reed Buntings, three Blue Tits, a Dunnock, five Blackbirds and 31 Greenfinches. So, not a bad haul!

The birding wasn't bad either and it stood out for one reason, and that was a Great Grey Shrike that headed north at 0800! I remember it well as both Ian and I picked it up at the same time, knowing there was something odd about this bird with undulating flight that was approaching! That was the last Great Grey Shrike recorded at the Obs, so we are over due another one!

Monday 15 October 2018

You Couldn't Make It Up

I was out yesterday looking for more eastern sprites, but it wasn't to be, in fact it was very quiet both in terms of vis and grounded migrants. I had seven oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph northwesterly wind. I'm blaming the northwesterly wind.

I visited the cemetery first as it is closest to home and I didn't have a single grounded migrant and just the odd Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch over was the only vis.

The coastal park was a little better as there was some grounded migrants in the form of five Goldcrests, a Chiffchaff, four Coal Tits and a Song Thrush that dropped in. Vis was similar to the cemetery with a handful of Chaffinches and three Grey Wagtails west.

Last night the forecast for this morning looked good for some ringing locally, and it was forecast for some rain at my Cheshire wintering bird survey site, so I decided to go to the Nature Park and try my luck with a couple of nets and a few MP3 players. Interestingly after dark last night and before light this morning I didn't hear any Thrushes going over, and one of my plans was to get there in the dark and try and tape lure some Redwings and Fieldfares.

I loaded my car up at 6:30 am and headed out along the short five minute drive to the site. On arrival I noticed that the first gate was open and in the distance I could see the lights of a vehicle moving around. I drove round to the second gate and this was open too, so I assumed it was somebody official doing some work on the site, but in the dark?! I headed off towards the third gate that takes you into our ringing area, and the vehicle that was moving around pulled alongside me and it was Greg the part-time Ranger of the site.

We exchanged a few niceties and Greg informed me that he was there early as he was meeting some contractors that were going to put a trench in near the first gate to install a fibre optic cable, and he wasn't sure whether they would be digging the track up to do it! This meant that if I carried out my ringing session as planned I might not be able to get off site until the end of the day! You couldn't make it up! What a coincidence that the first decent morning for ringing for days coincides with a day when some work was going to be completed that might block my exit from the site! Of course, the decision was made and an enforced full day's birding at the Nature Park didn't appeal, so it was off home for some breakfast.

There's a potentially interesting weather synopsis for overnight with easterly winds and a weak weather front in the early hours, it might just drop something in. I've got an appointment early doors, but might just sneak out for an hour afterwards.

Saturday 13 October 2018

Eastern Sprite

Ian's garden is an important component of the Obs recording area, as it is directly on the coast, and the habitat in his and neighbouring gardens are very attractive to migrants. The garden is one of the sites where we trap migrants for ringing and good numbers of Lesser Redpoll, for example, are ringed every Spring in the garden.

I didn't set my alarm this morning as the forecast was poor and I'm ashamed to say that a phone call from Ian got me out of bed. He phoned me to say that even though it was wet, even very wet at times, there were migrants around as he had just had six Blackbirds and a Song Thrush 'drop in' to his garden!

I got up and dressed, and decided I would go out if and when the rain eased. I then received another phone call from Ian saying that he had just caught a Yellow-browed Warbler in his garden, and did I want to come up. Luckily Ian only lives about a six minute drive from me, and as I was up and ready with my birding gear at hand, I was in his house getting the gorgeous little 'eastern sprite' out of the bird bag to ring in less than ten minutes.

 Yellow-browed Warbler

It was an immature bird and it was in very fresh plumage, even though it had flown all the way from the Siberian taiga! These little birds weighing only c.7g should be wintering in southeast Asia, but every year more and more reach western European shores, including the UK. This was actually the second we have ringed at the Obs, and the third ringed by the group. When I got up this morning I didn't think I would be doing any ringing, let alone ringing a Yellow-browed Warbler!

Yellow-browed Warbler

The forecast is for rain again tomorrow morning, but lighter than today, and there might be a few clear spells during the night, so I will try and get out in the morning to see if any more eastern sprites have arrived.

Friday 12 October 2018


As I write, it is blowing a southerly gale outside, and it is forecast to start raining soon and carry on for most of the night and tomorrow! Earlier in the week in sunnier and warmer times I had two site visits to undertake; one in southwest Lancs and the other in Cheshire. Without a doubt, both of them well and truly landlocked!

My southwest Lancs site visit was on Tuesday and it was a gloriously sunny morning as I wandered around some intensive agricultural fields. I wasn't completing a bird survey, but I was outdoors and that was all that mattered. Skylarks were a feature of the morning and these 'blithe Spirits' would make another appearance later in the week. I had eighteen head south during my short walk, and three Tree Sparrows calling noisily as they went by were good to see.

It seemed odd in these beautifully warm conditions to have twenty Whooper Swans go over, my first for the Autumn, and I never tire of their bugling calls. Stonking!

Fast forward to Wednesday and I was in Cheshire doing a wintering bird survey and the weather was glorious; clear skies and a light-moderate southeasterly wind. The main feature of the morning was the vis, and there was quite a bit, particularly Woodpigeons, even though again I was landlocked.

 Migrating Woodpigeons (above & below)

My vis totals (all south) included 19 Skylarks, 18 Meadow Pipits, two Redwings (my first of the Autumn), eight Linnets, 677 Woodpigeons and 15 Alba Wags.

I couldn't detect any grounded migrants but other bits and pieces included 21 Tree Sparrows, 15 Linnets feeding in some maize stubble, a Song Thrush, a male Kestrel, three Reed Buntings, a Goldcrest, two Stock Doves and three Buzzards.


 Ash Trees are a feature of the landscape in this area and 
I love a good Ash Tree!

For the past week or so a/the/our Hedgehog has been still visiting our garden. It comes shortly after dark and again just before first light in the morning. It's so mild of late that I guess that he/she will be visiting for a while yet.

As I mentioned before the forecast is grim for the rest of the day and tomorrow, but I am hoping that I will be able to get out on Sunday. Fingers crossed as it is Autumn!

Monday 8 October 2018

East and West

Yesterday morning before it got light I loaded my car up with my ringing gear, tied my poles on to the roof rack and headed to the pools at the Obs. I was looking forward to a few hours ringing and the forecast had been spot on all week for Sunday morning, even before I went to bed just before midnight.

Looking north I could see black clouds looming, and what's this, rain on my windscreen! The wind turbine was also spinning round at more of a rate than it should given the forecast. I parked up before unlocking the three gates to get access to the ringing area and checked the forecast again, not that I needed to as I could see, feel and hear that the weather had changed! And sure enough the wind strength was due to increase as the morning went on, so I made the decision to abort and headed home to drop my poles off before checking a few coastal migrant spots.

Unfortunately it had been a clear out kind of night and it was a vis kind of morning, and if I had managed to get some nets up anything I caught would have been down to the MP3 players. First port of call was the Cemetery; no grounded migrants bet definitely some vis. My second and final port of call was the coastal park, and again more vis. I'll lump my vis totals together for both the cemetery and the coastal park as they are close to each other.

 Looking across Morecambe Bay from the coastal park

The highlight of the vis were three Jays (scarce here) that headed west and a Great Spotted Woodpecker that dropped in to the trees before heading west. The vis was both east and west this morning; west because that's the usual autumnal direction on this stretch of coast, and east because some birds were obviously heading in to wind.

My vis totals, whether it was east or west, were ten Chaffinches, 22 Greenfinches, a Rook, a Meadow Pipit, an Alba Wag, 184 Pink-footed Geese, four Magpies, twelve Goldfinches, three Jays, six Mistle Thrushes, twenty Carrion Crows, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Swallow, a Grey Wagtail and a Siskin.

 Pink-footed Geese

The only grounded migrants were two Goldcrests and a Song Thrush. An immature male Sparrowhawk was nice to see, as always, and that was about it.

It's survey work this week for me in southwest Lancs and Cheshire, and hopefully on Saturday some birding in southwest Scotland, although the weather is looking a bit grim fro Friday/Saturday! Hopefully it will change!