Sunday 31 March 2019


Steady is how Ian and me described this morning's vis migging and sea watching at the Obs. It was a pleasant change not to get up until 6:00 a.m. with the clocks going forward, and at sunrise we were greeted with 6 oktas cloud cover with a chilly 10 mph easterly wind.

We perched ourselves on top of the dunes so we could count the vis and watch the sea as well. The vis started immediately and it was steady. It always amazes me watching Corvids head out over Morecambe Bay, and it makes you wonder where they are going and why does such a generalist feeder move in the first place. Similarly with Woodpigeons, and they were moving out over the bay as well.

Siskins were as elusive as ever in terms of being heard and not seen; was that just one bird calling going over or was it three, is the thought process when one hears a Siskin in the stratosphere. A flock of noisy Twite heading east was a vis highlight, and a calling Tree Sparrow over engendered the same thoughts as the Corvids; where had this been largely sedentary farmland bird come from, and where was it going?! That's the beauty of migration, so many questions and thankfully we don't have all the answers to maintain an air of mystery about it.


They were the vis highlights, and the totals included (movement between north and east) 18 Goldfinches, 25 Linnets, two Reed Buntings, 159 Meadow Pipits, seven Jackdaws, four Alba Wags, five Carrion Crows, two Swallows, 17 Woodpigeons, eight Siskins (at least), a Tree Sparrow, two Skylarks, two Collared Doves, three Sand Martins and thirteen Twite.

There was some interest on the sea and our totals included two Great Crested Grebes, eight Sandwich Terns, ten Red-breasted Mergansers, twelve Red-throated Divers (including three high flying over-landers), five Shelducks, 19 Eiders, ten Common Scoters, two Gannets and seven Auk sp. There was also a continual passage of Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls east into the bay. Unfortunately with everything else that was moving, they sadly remained uncounted.

I didn't look for grounded migrants, so a female Stonechat in the dunes could have been a grounded bird or it could have been a local breeder. So a pleasant couple of hours watching and recording the spectacle of migration was had.

Female Stonechat

Friday 29 March 2019

3:00 a.m.

I semi-bottled it yesterday morning and got up at 3:00 a.m. I couldn't bring myself to getting up at 2:45 a.m., something about the fact that if the number two is involved in the early hours, then that's more like night than morning! It's all psychological I know.

My early start meant that I was at my northwest Cumbria survey site by 0600, ready to completed the final wintering bird survey of the year. I was greeted with six oktas cloud cover and a 15 mph SW wind. Later in the morning the cloud cover would melt back to about two oktas, but it remained fairly murky out at sea. Murky enough so that I couldn't see Scotland at least!

There was a little bit of vis this morning and at first everything was heading south into the wind, and using the cliff face to get some shelter. As the morning warmed and the wind dropped slightly the birds were moving north. It sounds like I am talking about hundreds of birds here, when in reality it was more of a trickle. My vis totals included four Meadow Pipits, six Chaffinches, 21 Linnets, 22 Goldfinches, 51 Pink-footed Geese and a Siskin.

As I've said previously about this site, the inland sector of my survey area does hold some breeding birds and this morning I had a pair each of Grey Partridge, Stonechat and Reed Bunting. In addition to this were six singing Skylarks, and a Brown Hare that I flushed was noteworthy for this site.

I had my first Wheatear of the Spring this morning, in the form of a cracking male, that the local Meadow Pipits took exception to and chased around! The only other grounded migrants that I had were four Goldcrests in the Gorse.

Compared to when I was here last, three days previously, the sea was a little more interesting, or there was certainly more birds. My totals included 47 Common Scoters, four Red-throated Divers, two Great Crested Grebes and a Gannet.

The most interesting aspect of the morning was the movement of Whooper Swans. I was busy sea watching from my VP and I could hear the noisy bugling calls of a number of Whooper Swans. I looked round and couldn't see them, and then they suddenly appeared over the cliffs just to my south and headed straight out to sea, even though it was a tad murky. This flock contained 180 birds and a short while later I had a flock of ninety! Looking at the direction they were flying it would take them round the Mull Of Galloway, and who knows after that. Stonking birds!

 Some of the Whooper Swans

Raptors were thin on the ground, and they were so thin on the ground, that all I had was a single male Kestrel. Other than a Rock Pipit that made it onto the pages of my notebook that was it.

It's looking dry, but cold over the weekend, with a northerly element to the wind at times which will slow Spring migration down a bit. Having said that it will be good to get out on the patch again!

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Frog Spawn and Boxes

My Blog title was going to be No Pictures and Not Many Birds because when I was going to originally post, that was exactly the situation. I had been out finishing wintering bird surveys and not seeing very much, nor taking any pictures! Thinks have changed a little, thankfully!

A week ago I was at my survey site close to home not too far from the River Wyre. I had full cloud cover, with mist at first, and a moderate southwesterly breeze. People cite lots of examples of first signs of Spring; frog spawn, Blackthorn blossom, queen Bumblebees, the first Chiffchaff etc, but for me one of the first signs of Spring is the return of Shelducks to inland breeding sites after spending the winter on the coast. And this morning was just one of those occasions when I recorded four birds in suitable habitat.

The Rookery was busy as usual with somewhere in the region of 20-25 pairs, with several pairs sitting on their nests. I had a first for the site this morning in the form of a calling Water Rail from a former meander of a rivulet that would have once upon a time fed into the main river. I have no doubt that this would have been a migrant along with the singing Chiffchaff and calling Fieldfare that I had.

Whilst I was walking towards the Rookery a female Sparrowhawk, and she was a large lass, flew along the woodland edge and perched on the edge of the Rookery. As you can imagine the Rooks went ballistic, but what did surprise me was how quickly they settled down again even though the Sparrowhawk remained. It's as if they knew where she was, so she wasn't a threat. A Buzzard flew out of the wood and was escorted off the premises, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Coal Tits and two Song Thrushes were 'best of the rest'!

On Sunday just gone, Gail and I headed to our nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley to carry out our annual maintenance visit on the boxes. The woodland has changed hands recently and we met the new owner and he was extremely keen for us to carry on. He is a keen conservationist and he invited us to have a look at his farm on the Fylde to see if there was any ringing potential there, so that was great. In fact that's perhaps two new ringing sites that might come on stream later this year, but that's for another time.

 The nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley

We replaced four boxes and put an extra one up, making it forty boxes in total all ready to provide homes for Pied Flycatchers this year. When I was checking one of the boxes I noticed a large dollop of frog spawn on it. How on earth had that got there was my thought. Most of it looked viable, so I found a plastic bag in my rucksack, poured some water into it from my water bottle and deposited the frog spawn in the bag. I knew of two ponds on site, so on our way out I placed the frog spawn in one of the ponds.

 Frog spawn on a nest box lid!

A friend in Northumberland, Stewart, thought that the most likely explanation was that the frog in question was probably being carried off by a predator, such as a Corvid or Grey Heron, and the frog shed it's spawn, and the rest is history as they say. And I agree with Stewart's theory.

Monday saw me carrying out the penultimate wintering bird survey at my northwest Cumbrian survey site. I had clear skies with a 15 mph northwesterly wind. It was a pleasant day, but one of my quietest surveys here, particularly on the sea.

 Even though it was quiet the Coltsfoot (above) and Primrose (below),
brightened up the morning!

One of the first things we had was a flock of 38 Whooper Swans at sea heading towards the Mull of Galloway, and it made me think that perhaps it was going to be an interesting morning. As I sated before the sea was very quiet with just a single Common Scoter and an Auk sp. recorded. There was very little vis, other than a handful of Meadow Pipits north, and the only grounded migrant was a single Goldcrest.

The breeding bird flag was flown by a pair of Ravens, two pairs of Stonechats and 44 Fulmars on the cliffs to the south.

Yesterday I was at my survey site in Cheshire and I was surprised to find a ground frost on arrival at 6:00 am. A few Tree Sparrows were calling from the hedgerows as I walked round and I had eight in total. Other farmland birds included fifty Linnets, a female Yellowhammer, three Skylarks, nine Lapwings and two Song Thrushes.

 Sunrise in Cheshire

A Brambling was noteworthy, and the only raptors I had were two Buzzards. The Snipe were still roosting in the maize stubble and I had 34 in total. This was my last visit to this site, and as I have completed breeding bird surveys here as well, I have got to know the site and grown to like it.

Tomorrow is an early alarm call, and depending on how brave or stupid I'm feeling when I go to bed, it will be a 2:45 am alarm call at the earliest and 3:45 am at the latest! Ouch!

Saturday 9 March 2019


There is always something of interest when out in the natural world, that's the nature of it, but sometimes it is less exciting and perhaps a bit more routine. And routine it was yesterday morning,when I was at one of my wintering bird survey sites close to home. This site comprises of intensive grassland, a small area of even-aged woodland and a small stretch of a tidal watercourse. In fact it has routine written all over it!

I knew that rain was going to come in around lunchtime, and I had to get three and half hours of survey time in before the rain arrived. When I started my survey I had full cloud cover with a 10-15 mph SW wind, and by the end it was raining! Thankfully the rain started off quite light, and it only increased in intensity for the last twenty minutes of the survey when I was back under some shelter at my VP.

Bordering the site is a Rookery with about twenty pairs of Rooks in residence. They were coming and going all morning flying from the Rookery to feeding areas and back again, and were quite entertaining. Chaffinches were mainly paired up with several singing males dotted about the site, but there was still a flock of fifteen mobile birds moving around feeding areas.

A pair of Jays were knocking about the woodland, as were four Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Coal Tits. Two Grey Herons, two Moorhens, two Grey Wagtails, two Lapwings, two Mute Swans and two Song Thrushes had a bit of a 'two' theme going on. And a Kestrel was the only raptor of the morning.

I came across some jelly fungi, which shame on me I didn't know what it was even though it is very common! It was Yellow brain Tremella mesenterica, well I think it is unless somebody tells me it isn't it.

 Yellow brain

The only other photo that I took was of some lovely Blackthorn blossom, and that alongside the green buds of the Hawthorn and the Hazel catkins, showed that the hedgerows and woodland are finally waking up. 


It's been a day of strong winds and showers today, and I haven't ventured forth, and it's forecast for more of the same tomorrow, so it seems unlikely that I'll get out. Monday is looking better, so I might leave it until then.

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Trusting The Forecast

Yesterday I was in deepest, darkest Cheshire carrying out the penultimate visit to my wintering bird survey site. When I got up at 4:45 am it was windy and wet here in coastal Lancashire, so I decided to check the forecast for my survey site in Cheshire, and the weather people said it would be clear with a moderate breeze! Now, I've done this before when the weather has been rubbish at home, but it has been good for my survey site, and I have set off and low and behold it has been rubbish at my survey site too! However, for some reason I decided to trust the forecast and I headed off to my site and I was greeted with just 1 okta cloud cover, with a 10 - 15 mph SW wind. So the forecast was spot on!

It was indeed a glorious morning, and it was made all the more glorious by the three singing Skylarks I encountered, and the flock of five Buzzards thermalling in the warm morning air. Definite proof of how good the weather was. On the subject of raptors I had a male Peregrine head purposefully south, and it was escorted off the premises by a pair of Lapwings.

The Lapwings were displaying in one of the four fields of maize stubbles that I survey at this site, and one or two other species were making use of the stubble as well. I had a flock of 42 Linnets that were in a particularly weedy stubble, and I think this has been the secret, as they were in a different maize stubble earlier in the winter that too was a tad weedy. I don't normally associate maize stubble as being particularly good for anything, but there was obviously some feed value in these.

 Fourteen of the 42 Linnets

Another stubble held a flock of 47 Meadow Pipits and 23 Pied Wagtails, so I had something to count! I've mentioned the Snipe that roost in this particularly large field with maize stubble before, I know, and this morning I put up 36 birds as I walked across.

Fieldfares and Redwings were also a feature of the morning and I had 92 and 33 of each respectively. A male Reed Bunting, a male Yellowhammer and a Tree Sparrow flew the farmland bird flag, but that was about it.


Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of February. All the hard work has been carried out by Phil and Andy.

In February seven new species were added to the totals for the year and these were Siskin, Skylark, Coal Tit, Dunnock, Lesser Redpoll, Goldcrest and Wren.

Below you will find the top two species ringed for the month and the top five 'movers and shakers' for teh year.

Top two Ringed in February

1. Linnet - 34
2. Goldfinch - 28

Top Five Movers and Shakers For the Year

1. Linnet - 67 (same position)
2. Goldfinch - 53 (same position)
3. Blue Tit - 20 (same position)
4. Great Tit - 12 (same position)
5. Chaffinch - 11 (same position)

It's looking fairly unsettled for the remainder of the week, and Friday is looking like the only morning I'll be able to get out at the moment. I'll keep you posted as always.