Saturday 19 January 2019

The Times They Are A Changin'

Over the past ten days I have been surveying at five different sites the length and breadth of the northwest of England. Nearly ten days ago I was at my coastal survey site in northwest Cumbria and it was a glorious day, a tad misty, but the Isle Of man, Ireland and Scotland were all visible. I can rate the visibility at this site by the number of countries I can see!

The most interesting element of the morning was the southerly passage of Cormorants. I have noted a good passage of Cormorants here before and their direction of flight seems to be dependant on the state of the tide; high or low water. This morning they were heading south in groups numbering from 1-2 to 3-400, and anywhere in between. A quick tally from my notebook shows 1,003 flew past my watch point!

 Eleven of the 1,003 Cormorants with Scotland visible in the background.

I did have reasonable numbers of their smaller cousin the Shag, and 19 is as good a count of Shags that I have ever had in northwest England. I had very little else at sea other than nine Fulmars at their cliff nest sites. Not even a Common Scoter, Auk sp. or Red-throated Diver; very strange! It will be interesting to see what I get when I am back there next week after these cold northerlies.

I had very little on land as well, other than a Song Thrush, a pair of Stonechats, two Rock Pipits, a Kestrel, 17 Meadow Pipits and four Grey Partridges, which are always a pleasure to see these days. Grey Partridges are very scarce now and this is the first species that reflects my blog title of 'The Times they Are A Changin'.

I had one or two fly-bys/fly-overs including a female Peregrine heading south carrying prey, and two Ravens north calling.

Eight days ago I was at a site in north Lancashire surveying some intensive farmland under full cloud cover with a 10 mph northwesterly wind. The most interesting observation was twelve Siskins. they were perched in some trees bordering a housing estate, and I got the impression that they were probably birds visiting local garden feeders. It won't be long before these and other finches are on the move. A male Blackcap, two Song Thrushes and three Great Spotted Woodpeckers also made it into my notebook.

A couple of days ago I was out on the mossland in southwest Lancashire and it was a glorious but bitterly cold day; clear skies and a brisk NNW wind. As I was walking along taking photographs of various habitat features I looked up and flying west in front of me was a Great White Egret. I tried to take a few pictures, but as you will see from my results below they weren't much cop! Great White Egrets, Cattle Egrets and more particularly Little Egrets are getting fairly common now, and Little Egret very common. Once upon a time when I was a youngster they were top drawer rarities; a second instance of 'The Times They Are A Changin'!

 Great White Egret - honest!

A few raptors were around as I walked the moss including a female Sparrowhawk, male Kestrel and four Buzzards. Best of all though was a female/immature Marsh Harrier that made a half-hearted attempt to catch some Partridge sp. that it flushed. Again, it wasn't that long ago that up here that Marsh Harriers were very much summer migrants and almost always found in wetlands away from migration. You would not have expected to see one in January hunting over farmland. Another one of those 'The Times They....' moments!

Yesterday I was in deepest, darkest Cheshire at one of my wintering bird survey sites and it was another cold one; ground frost, full cloud cover and a biting ESE wind. Not a drop of sun to raise the temperatures!

Today you almost expect to see Ravens every time you go out birding, and this morning was no exception with two birds calling overhead. The cold weather had also brought a Woodcock in that I flushed from maize stubble close to a mature hedge. The 'wanderers from the north' were still present in the form  of 112 Fieldfares and five Redwings. It's very likely that most, if not all, the three hundred Starlings associating with the Fieldfares were 'wanderers from the north' too!

It's more survey next week, and maybe one day soon I can get back on the patch!

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Wanderers From The North

You may remember me telling you about Gail hurting her hand whilst we were out birding on Christmas Eve, well she has actually broken it! When she went back to work after New Year her colleagues persuaded her to get it checked out, and an X-ray later it's confirmed that it is broken! Her hand and arm are now in plaster, and it has certainly put the brakes on my birding, hence the lack of updates. I'm not complaining because when you're married that's what you sign up for, I'm just telling you this to explain my 'radio silence'.

I've had to keep my paid bird surveys going as that's what keeps the 'wolf from the door' and last week I found myself at my survey sites in Cheshire and northwest Cumbria. First up was Cumbria and on the morning of my survey it was cold, frosty in fact, with clear skies and a light ENE wind. Visibility wasn't bad, the Isle of Man and Scotland, but no Ireland!

As usual I spent some time recording activity at sea and it wasn't exactly rocking, just 108 Common Scoters, 240 Cormorants, two Shags and two Red-throated Divers.

I had a female Sparrowhawk head south over the sea, and I think she was the culprit that flushed all the Skylarks because shortly before I picked her up I had 79 Skylarks in the air! The only other passerines of note were a single Rock Pipit, Stonechat and Reed Bunting.

During my sea-watch I heard the familiar call of Pink-footed Geese behind me and I looked up to see 24 heading northwest very high. They kept on motoring across the sea until they were lost from view. Looking at their flight direction and extrapolating this, assuming they carried on in the same direction, they would have made landfall somewhere in the region of the River Dee estuary in Dumfries and Galloway!

Later in the week I was at my 'landlocked' Cheshire site, and again it was very cold with 6 oktas cloud cover, and to be honest I didn't expect very much but I did have a couple of nice surprises. Well, nice in terms of good birds for the site!

The Meadow Pipits were still around in the wet maize stubble, and I had a flock of 38, but it was the 'wanderers from the north' that was one of the nice surprises. At this time of year you often find Fieldfares foraging in improved pastures mixed up with Starlings, and on this particular morning I had a nice flock of 106.

 I didn't manage to photograph any of the Fieldfares, so here's one in the hand
from a few years ago.

Four Buzzards wasn't really a surprise, but a female Yellowhammer perched on some telegraph wires was. The second of the nice surprises. A couple of Song Thrushes and a Raven later and it was time to head off home.

It's surveys for the remainder of the week for me, so I am hoping for a few more wanderers from the north.