Thursday 28 February 2019

No Scotland

I was at my survey site in northwest Cumbria again yesterday, and thankfully it wasn't fog bound like the last time I visited, just a tad murky with no Scotland visible. It was however a great morning's birding, well I thought so anyway!

I had clear skies with a 10-15 mph southeasterly wind, and perhaps a little bit stronger at times, when I set off on my transect walk and later VP watch. Birds were on the move straight away, and the direction of passage varied between and within species. Some individuals were flying down wind in the strongish wind, heading anywhere between north and east, which is to be expected in the spring, whilst others headed south in to the wind to gain lift. In fact some of the southwards heading birds dropped in front of the cliff face to get shelter from the easterly element of the stiff southerly.

Chaffinches headed north as expected, but my notebook only records three, and this was because I could hear birds but couldn't see them, so there was obviously more. A couple of Reed Buntings headed north and they weren't phased by the brisk tail-wind either. Meadow Pipits seemed to employ both strategies; nine headed NE and two south into the wind.

The Siskins and Goldfinches were some of the more interesting movers during the morning with most of them heading south and below the cliff top, to gain shelter from the wind...I think! I had 28 Siskins and 16 Goldfinches.

Later in the morning I heard Crossbill calling and looked up and saw a flock of twenty birds heading south. I just assumed that one, or perhaps two birds, had latched on to some Goldfinches or Siskins. I lifted my bins to count them and was surprised to see all twenty were Crossbills, and a mix of gorgeous red males and green females!

As I was packing up at my VP watch point I heard the familiar honking behind me of Whooper Swans, and fifteen birds headed due west out to sea. I thought this was an odd direction as they were heading straight for the Ards Peninsula in Ireland, but they then turned and headed northeast in to the Firth.

Whooper Swans

The Skylark flock had reduced in number that have been over-wintering in the stubbles, and this morning all I had were 29. A few Skylarks were also on the move and six headed purposefully north. Two Grey Partridges were nice to see, and one of the two male Stonechats I had was giving some song. In addition to the two males I also had a female.


Raptors were represented by two Kestrels, a female and a male, and a male Peregrine that motored past me carrying prey. Two Goldcrests were definitely new in, but the two Rock Pipits on the edge of the cliffs had been around all winter.


The sea was quiet and all I had was a Fulmar, a Great Crested Grebe, four Auk sp., three Red-throated Divers, a Guillemot, six Common Scoters and interestingly a male Goosander.

So all in all a good job of work and an enjoyable morning's birding!

Tuesday 26 February 2019

A Smattering Of Farmland Birds

It was Cheshire again for me this morning and my farmland wintering bird survey site to be more precise. The weather was glorious with clear skies and a light southeasterly breeze.

As I drove along the track to the site I was greeted by two Buzzards perched up in a tree right next to the track! Where was my camera? In the boot of course! It is a good site for Buzzards and I added a further three on my walk round.

The hedgerows and hedgerow trees are starting to fill up with birds and it is always a pleasure to record Long-tailed Tits, five this morning, and singing Yellowhammer, plus a site first in the form of a Treecreeper was nice.

The Yellowhammer was part of the smattering of farmland birds that I recorded this morning and other members of this group included six Skylarks, three Stock Doves, a nice flock of 80 Linnets, three Tree Sparrows, four Lapwings (including one displaying), a female Reed Bunting and a singing Song Thrush.

 Distant Lapwing

The numbers of Fieldfares have dropped since my last visit, and this morning I only recorded nine. I have mentioned before the Snipe that unusually, unusually to me anyway, roost in some maize stubble, and this morning when I walked this particular field I pushed up 24! I tried scanning ahead to see if I could see any of them on the ground, but without any success.

 A number of Pied Wagtails were also in the maize stubble

It's a good old fashioned early alarm call tomorrow for me, somewhere in the region of 4:00 am, to head north to northwest Cumbria. Let's hope that it isn't foggy again!

Sunday 24 February 2019

Foggy Firth

An alternative blog title, or sub-title might have been Follow Your Instincts to describe this morning's survey, or should I say lack of survey, because I should have followed my instincts and stayed at home. Read on!

Gail and I rose to a 4:30 am alarm and got all of our kit together, and when I went out to put it in the car it was foggy. Flippin' 'eck, or words to that effect, fell from my mouth and I dashed back inside to check the weather forecasts...again! Last night the forecast for northwest Cumbria, around the Solway Firth area, was fine; light cloud with a 5 mph ENE wind and moderate visibility. Spot on! Another look this morning and it did indeed show fog for northwest Cumbria, but clearing by 0800. That was on the BBC weather app., so I checked the Met Office forecast and XC, and all agreed. Great, back out to the car and off we set.

The drive north varied from light mist, to fog, to clear skies and everywhere in between. We arrived at our coastal survey site and it was foggy. In fact you can see what it was like from the picture below taken from my VP location.

We decided to do the transect first in the hope that the sun would burn the fog away, but it wasn't to be. On our walk round we recorded four Skylarks (three of them singing), eleven Meadow Pipits, at least one Grey Partridge, three Song Thrushes (two singing) and a single Rock Pipit.

Back at the VP and it hadn't changed, it still looked like the above shot, so we packed in and headed home. I'm back there later in the week, so I'm looking forward to some decent weather this time.

Two first for the year visitors in the garden this evening; Common Plume moth and Hedgehog. It was great to see the hedgehog again, and you might remember from last autumn all the under weight youngsters I had to rescue! Let's hope that this year they don't have as late a litter, fingers crossed.

Friday 22 February 2019

A Raptor Kind Of Day

After declaring that I would be out surveying at least four days this week, three of the days fell through! On Monday access wasn't arranged in time for the site that I was at today, Tuesday I set off for northwest Cumbria and it rained all the way from home to Penrith, so I turned round and headed home, and Wednesday the forecast changed from a dry picture to a wet one! So today was my first time out in the field this week!

My site close to the River Wyre this morning is potentially influenced by the tide so I have to do a series of low and high water visits, and today it was a high water visit, so with a mid-day high tide it was a late morning start time. It was a very pleasant morning and afternoon, with just one okta cloud cover and a light-moderate southeasterly wind. The southeasterly wind was warm, and it made it feel like a raptor kind of day.

I did have a few raptors actually in the form of at least six Buzzards, a female Kestrel and a female Sparrowhawk. I thought a couple of the Buzzards were possibly migrants as they headed east and north on the kettles of warm air.

 Buzzard (with its back to us!)

Finches were represented by 15 Goldfinches, eleven Chaffinches and a single Siskin that headed north. The Siskin was probably on vis, and the two Skylarks I had certainly were. Only four Pink-footed Geese this morning and a group of 64 Lapwings headed high east; continental birds?

In the woodland I noted five Long-tailed Tits and single Jay and Song Thrush, and out on some of the pasture were 211 Jackdaws.

My favourite bird was a Woodcock that I put up from some scrub adjacent to some woodland. Other than that I have to mention all the Hazel catkins that looked resplendent shimmering in the spring sunshine. 


The moth trap is on in the garden as I type, and I'm going to check the water levels in the reedbed tomorrow morning. I know I won't be able to get in, but I want to see just how much water is in there to try and gauge if I can get some ringing done there in early spring.

Sunday 17 February 2019

Timing Is Everything

Timing is everything, and this morning Gail and I got our timing wrong. We had to go and get some logs for our wood burner and our plan was to have a look at the quay on the falling tide. We like looking at the quay on the falling tide as the mudflats here are the first to reappear, and therefore have the effect of concentrating any waders looking for somewhere to feed.

 The Quay

However, when we arrived the tide was only just falling and very little mud was revealed, so we could have done with being there at least half an hour later. So, this blog post will be very short. In fact the above waffle will be longer than the bit out the birds!

 Waders on a small area of exposed mud

On the exposed mud we had 138 Redshanks, ten Dunlin, five Shelducks, seven Oystercatchers and a Curlew. Seven Teal flew in, and that was it. Like I said short and sweet!


Oh, and there was nothing in my trap this morning again!

I'm out surveying at least Mon - Wed this week, and probably Friday as well, so hopefully I will have something to report.

Saturday 16 February 2019

A Quiet Morning With Just One 'Red' Bird

I headed to the Obs this morning and had a look on the sea, but it was very quiet. It wasn't a bad morning weather-wise with 4 oktas cloud cover and a 15 mph south-westerly wind.

 The view from the Obs this morning

I parked my car and walked to the coast along the edge of the golf course, and there is always some noisy House Sparrows in the scrub along here, and this morning there were ten. Accompanying the House Sparrows in the scrub were three Linnets, and the only other passerines I recorded were two female Stonechats in the dunes.

 House Sparrow


At high tide the only waders roosting were 108 Oystercatchers and 147 Sanderlings. A few Dunlins and Turnstones were 'zipping' about, but no numbers roosted. Mind you they are constantly disturbed by people with dogs on the beach, so it's amazing that any roost at all!


As I stated before the sea was very quiet indeed and over an hour and a half all I recorded was a Cormorant, a male Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and a male Eider. How quiet is that? I'll probably give looking on the sea a miss tomorrow and just have a look in the quay on the falling tide. Roll on spring migration!

In case you wondered I didn't get anything in my moth trap overnight. It's on again tonight, so fingers crossed!

Friday 15 February 2019

Another Cracking 'Red' Bird

The alarm went off at 5:15 a.m. for Gail and I to head off to my wintering bird survey site in Cheshire. On arrival we were greeted with clear skies, with a moderate SSE wind. It was a glorious morning, but I didn't envisage recording too much of interest.

The first bird to make it into my notebook was Buzzard, four of them to be exact, including a very pale bird that received a bit more scrutiny than normal! In fact it was a bit of a Buzzard day with the wall to wall sunshine creating thermals, and driving home we saw numerous Buzzards from the motorway.

Tree Sparrows are often a feature of this site and this morning we had six all calling noisily, probably getting a bit frisky with the signs of spring in the warm air. The Fieldfares were still about, but only 66 today, and I we didn't see a single Redwing.

A walk across the maize field where I had a good few Snipe earlier in the week, produced only four. The Linnets had moved to a field of cereal stubble, but the flock only contained twenty birds. I'm guessing this is the same, or part of the same flock that I recorded earlier in the week, but perhaps the approaching spring has caused the flock to break up a bit.

A Siskin over could have been on vis, as Ian had a few Siskins over on the coast back at the Obs. As Gail and I approached the hedge along the track, I saw a Robin-like bird fly a few metres along the hedge and there was a flash of a rusty-red tail! It perched up and I was looking at a female/imm. Black Redstart! I raised my camera to get a quick shot and it flicked over the hedge! We tried in vain to relocate it, but it had vanished. It certainly made our morning.

The moth trap is on as I write for the first time this year, so it will be interesting to see if there is anything in it in the morning. The tides are early-ish in the morning at the moment, so if I can get out of my pit I might just have a look on the sea at the Obs tomorrow.

Wednesday 13 February 2019


I wasn't expecting to be posting again until the end of the week, but as you might have guessed from my blog title I had a Red Kite this morning. "So what", I can hear you say, "Red Kites are everywhere now"! But, not round here they ain't.

I was surveying closer to home this morning and I wasn't really expecting much. It was a grey old morning, with full cloud cover and 15 mph southerly wind. I was stood at my vantage point mapping the various species flying overhead when I noticed a long-winged, fork-tailed raptor slowly drifting west. It was of course a Red Kite and it was quite high. I tried to get a few shots, but they were awful, and it fairly quickly drifted out of camera range. It occasionally circled, before recommencing it's drift west. After a couple of minutes it was lost from view.

 A proper Red Kite above (Dumfries & Galloway), and my blurry spec of 
a record shot of all record shots below!

Of course I have seen lots of Red Kites in my time, but this was only the third I had seen in Lancashire, and the first in the Fylde area of Lancashire. Besides being a scarce bird still in these parts, I still get a buzz from seeing Red Kites as I remember a time when the only place you could see them in the UK was in Wales!

I had a few other raptors this morning in addition to the Kite, including a female Sparrowhawk, a pair of Kestrels and two Buzzards. One of the Buzzards was receiving a great deal of attention from the local Herring Gulls, and I had to smile because if there ever was a villain of the bird world the Herring Gull would be a good contender!

I didn't really have much else other than a singing Song Thrush, twelve Chaffinches, 33 Goldfinches, a Grey Wagtail, 100 Common Gulls, two Teal and three Long-tailed Tits. Whilst I was on the phone to Gail a Woodcock flew from one area of woodland to another, so that was the best of the rest after the Kite.

Fingers crossed for something equally as good when I am out later in the week.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Winter To Spring?

I can't quite believe that it's been nearly a month since I posted, and for some bird species we are already moving from winter to spring. However, before we get to spring I need to rewind back to winter.

I had some work to do on some of the southwest Lancashire mosslands, and on a very cold and crisp day in late January Gail and I set out on a 5-6 mile round trip on foot photographing some habitat features for a report I was writing.

One of the main features of the mossalnds is the network of drainage ditches, as a great deal of the land is actually at or below sea level, and the ditches are required to keep the intensive farmland well-drained. Some of the ditches are 'managed' on a regular basis with bank sides trimmed and silt removed annually. However, some aren't managed as intensively, and it was in one of these ditches where we came across two Little Egrets.

Corn Buntings are scarce now, so it was both pleasing and sad to come across a single bird perched on some overhead telegraph wires: where else? A number of winter stubbles are retained on the moss and we came across a flock of 70 Lapwings in one of them. Twelve Skylarks, 40 Meadow Pipits, ten Goldfinches, 30 Linnets and two Reed Buntings were other users of the stubbles.

Two groups of Whooper Swans, 427 and 110, were nice to see, as always, and a Peregrine terrorising Woodpigeons flew the flag for raptors.

 Whooper Swans

On 31st January winter returned with a vengeance, but it was a short-lived vengeance, as these cold snaps often are in these worrying days of climate change. I had a site visit in northwest Cumbria, and as I headed north along the M6 in the pre-dawn darkness I watched my car thermometer drop. I called in at Tebay services at 6:30 a.m. for a coffee, and it was a decidedly chilly minus 12!

As I motored on towards the Cumbrian coast the temperature rose and as the day dawned I could see that the Lakeland fells were carpeted in snow.

I think I might have mentioned before but my survey site includes some coastal arable fields that are currently stubbles, and 91 Skylarks in them was impressive. Three Song Thrushes and three Stonechats (two males and a female), also made it in to my notebook from the terra firma bit of my survey site.

Over recent visits it has been quiet on the sea and all I had during this survey was four Common Scoters, two Shags, a Guillemot, two Red-throated Divers, two Auk sp. and five Kittiwakes.

The number of Fulmars on the cliffs had increased to 29 and a female Merlin perched on a fence was the highlight of my visit.

Last week I had a survey closer to home in the north of the county and the site comprises mainly of intensive grassland, hedgerows and a couple of small woodlands. I noted a nice flock of 92 Common Gulls on some pasture with Black-headed Gulls, a definite sign of spring for me.

I was back at my northwest Cumbria survey site yesterday and there was a few signs that winter is slowly slipping into spring. The main feature of the morning was the movement of Pink-footed Geese northwest across the Solway to Dumfries and Galloway. In total I had 727 in six skeins, and all were high and motoring northwestwards.

 Looking towards The Criffell in Dumfries & Galloway; aka God's own 

The stubbles still contained the large Skylark flock, and today I counted 117, along with a couple of Grey Partridges. Another scarce farmland bird these days! Birds have been singing for a few weeks now and every day I keep adding new songsters to the list, and this morning was no exception with the addition of displaying Rock Pipit!

Fulmar numbers on the cliffs had dropped to 17, but I did have a female Peregrine in the area too. Other raptors recorded were restricted to a Buzzard and a female Kestrel. The pair of wintering Stonechats were still present, but they wouldn't come close enough for a photograph.

The sea was marginally better than last time with 75 Cormorants, 16 Red-throated Divers, 21 Common Scoters, a Great Crested Grebe and two auk sp.

Bringing you right up to date I was out surveying at one of my farmland wintering bird survey sites in Cheshire this morning, and thrushes were the order of the day. Under the cold grey conditions I had 92 Fieldfares and 77 Redwings. They were associating with Starlings in varying numbers, but my finally Starling tally, courtesy of a single flock of 800, was 1,008.

A new songster for me for the spring was Yellowhammer, and I had a further two individuals fly over during my walk. Other bits and pieces in the hedgerows were three Song Thrushes, seven Long-tailed Tits, a Great spotted Woodpecker, two Tree Sparrows and two Reed Buntings.

Surprisingly the maize stubbles held a few interesting birds; a flock of 60 Linnets (they have been around all winter), 32 Snipe and five Skylarks. Other than a fly-over Grey Wagtail and four Buzzards that was it.

Over on the right I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of January. Unfortunately I can't claim any credit for any of the birds ringed!

Fingers crossed and weather permitting I've got another three days of bird surveys this week. I'll let you know what I see.