Thursday 25 April 2019

Still Cuckoo

Yesterday I was surveying the wetland complex on one of my client's farms in Bowland, and this farm is probably the only place in Lancashire that I can still guarantee to hear a Cuckoo.

I arrived at the farm to complete my survey under three oktas of hazy cloud, with a light northeasterly wind. It was a tad cool at first, but it soon warmed up. As I got out of my car, a movement caught my eye and a stonking Barn Owl lifted off one of the fence posts of a newly planted hedge. I was to see this Barn Owl several times during the course of the morning, but I was never quick enough, or good enough, to get a picture.

There was a reasonable number of Willow Warblers along the wetland complex that I was surveying and my total of nine, included six singing males. The only other warbler species I had was a singing Blackcap.

Even though I was only walking a small portion of the farm, and not in the best areas for Brown Hares, I still managed to record eighteen of these delightful creatures!

 Brown Hare

The wetland complex is away from some of the best breeding wader fields, but nevertheless I still had five Curlews, four Common Sandpipers, a Snipe, ten Lapwings and sixteen Oystercatchers.

 Common Sandpiper

As I stated in my introduction this farm is the only place where in recent years I can guarantee hearing or seeing a Cuckoo. This morning was no exception and I had two calling birds from different parts of the farm. There's nothing like a Cuckoo to reassure you that the world is still turning!

The wetland complex that I was surveying consists of 10-12 interlinked wetlands/ponds and on some of them were breeding Tufted Ducks, totalling about ten pairs.

A Raven, a Buzzard, four Lesser Redpolls, two Siskins and a Mistle Thrush later and I had completed my survey. Of course, the above is only the potted highlights of all the species I recorded and I didn't want to bore you with counts of Mallards, Moorhens, Coots etc.

The forecast is changeable over the next few days, but that can often mean some interesting birds!

Thursday 18 April 2019

Patch Magic

You can't beat a patch, or several patches as I have. A patch could be as small as your garden, or as large as an estuary. You can record anything from invertebrates, to wildflowers, birds or mammals on it. You can visit a patch once a day, once a week, once a month or even just once a year. The excitement and motivation is getting to know that patch, and when you record something new for your patch, even if it is common, you get a buzz from it. It's also excellent citizen science, and records from your patch can contribute and make a difference to conservation.

Some of the sites that I survey for my job have become patches, like my nine plantation woodland sites in Cumbria. I've got to know them well, even though I only visit them three times per year. And when I record something out of the ordinary for that patch, a little bit of patch magic happens.

I stumbled upon a bit of patch magic yesterday morning at one of my sites near Wigton. I had just started to survey the first woodland compartment and was walking along the edge of the trees adjacent to a field that had been ploughed and tilled ready for re-seeding, when a 'white rump' bounced past me! A 'White Arse' as they used to be known , but Wheatear to you and me! Now, a Wheatear isn't unusual by any means, and if back at the Obs all I had recorded was a single Wheatear on any given day in April, I would be disappointed. But this was a new bird for the 'patch', a bit of that patch magic if you will!


I carried on under the grey gloom and biting easterly wind and notched up a few bits and pieces; three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two singing Blackcaps, three Willow Warblers, two Ravens, two Song Thrushes, eight Tree Sparrows (one carrying nest material), two Chiffchaffs, fourteen House Sparrows, three Stock Doves, a Buzzard, a Swallow, a singing Redstart and a Jay.

My survey finished, I headed to one of my patches on the Scottish side of the Solway between Gretna and Eastriggs for the second bit of patch magic, although I didn't manage a photograph this time. 

As I was scanning a section of rocky shore and counting the Redshanks, I caught a movement in my telescope and there on the water's edge was an Otter! I couldn't believe it and I could hardly contain my excitement. I had cracking views through my telescope, but unfortunately it was just too far away for a photograph. Another bit of patch magic!

It was still quite cold down on the Solway and I had to don woolly hat and gloves! In the scrub along the edge of the estuary and around the gardens of the hamlet, I had 17 Goldfinches and 18 Tree Sparrows. Other passerines along this stretch included six Siskins (5 east), 31 Meadow Pipits (27 grounded), a singing Chiffchaff and two singing Willow Warblers.

Out on the river were 23 Goldeneyes, a pair of Gadwall, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, a pair of Goosanders and 20 Shelducks. There wasn't the same number of waders around and all I had were 87 Redshanks, twelve Oystercatchers and four Curlews.

The Easter weekend is looking glorious weather-wise, but I'm out surveying on Good Friday and Easter Monday, but I'm hoping to get some birding and ringing done at the Obs over weekend.

Saturday 13 April 2019

Birding Both Sides Of The Border

Over the past couple of days I have been fortunate enough to have been carrying out bird surveys in north Cumbria, and also birding the Solway on the Scottish side of the border. Long time readers of this blog will know the passion I have for Scotland, and I still hope that in the not too distant future it will become our home, so any opportunities to bird north of the border are gratefully received.

Yesterday it was the first of my plantation woodland breeding bird surveys and it is the last year of this five year project. Even though at times the surveys haven't been exactly hooching with birds, I will nevertheless miss not doing them next year!

It was a cold clear morning as I set off at my survey site not too far from Carlisle, with a light southerly wind. As always at this site the first birds I hear whilst walking to the first compartment are singing Yellowhammer, Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker. In fact I had two singing Chiffchaffs on this morning and a third feeding bird. Just one singing Willow Warbler in the first compartment, and four Stock Doves came out of an old ruined barn.

 Willow Warbler

In the cold conditions the second compartment was thin on the ground with noteworthy birds, other than a singing Song Thrush and a Tree Sparrow. The third compartment was quiet too, but at least there was a singing Blackcap to listen to. It felt as though Spring hadn't quite sprung up here, but that might be me looking for reasons for a lack of birds.

I then headed north of the border to bird the Solway between Gretna and Eastriggs. This site has become a bit of a 'patch' in recent years, and I always look forward to a few annual visits. One of the beauties of the site is that there is nobody there and the waders on the shore tend not to get disturbed. 

 The Solway

Out on the river a group of Goldeneyes drifted past on the falling tide and the flock was made up of two males, five females and six immature birds. Other wildfowl included fifteen Wigeon, a male Goosander, two Teal and six Shelducks.

There was a few waders on the shore and the numbers of passage waders had started to build up with 207 Ringed Plovers and 65 Dunlins. Other waders included eleven Curlews, 53 Redshanks and three Oystercatchers. A single Little Egret was roosting with head tucked in and I turned my attention to terra firma.

Along the edge of the estuary here above the high water mark is a line of scrubby habitat consisting mainly of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Gorse, Broom, Alder and Birch sp. This habitat does hold a few migrants and this morning it was just three Chiffchaffs, three Willow Warblers and two Siskins.

 The habitat along the edge of the estuary (above & below)

Friday morning saw Gail and I at our northwest Cumbria wintering bird survey site, now doing the first of a couple of breeding bird surveys, and it was quiet. Well, quiet on the breeding bird front, but there was a bit of vis including Siskin, 24 Meadow Pipits, four Lesser Redpolls, 19 Linnets, Swallow and four Goldfinches.

The resident pair of Grey Partridges were still present and grounded migrants were limited to a male Wheatear and a Willow Warbler. Raven and male Peregrine both made it into my notebook and that was it.

I've got bird surveys everyday except Thursday next week, and I am hoping to get out at the Obs tomorrow, and as usual I'll keep you posted.

Monday 8 April 2019

More Twite and a Great White

I started off at the cemetery yesterday morning under full cloud cover with a 5 mph ENE wind. I thought that there might be a few grounded migrants this morning but I was greeted with that eerie silence, where your first instincts based on this are usually right, that it is going to be quiet.

A few Meadow Pipits were going over, 77 in total, as well as two Goldfinches and five Woodpigeons heading in the same northerly direction. After a full circuit I didn't have a single grounded migrant.

I headed to the coastal park and again it 'felt' quiet, no singing Willow Warblers etc. After a short while I could hear the familiar fast trills and buzzing sounds that emanate from a flock of excited Twite. There in the top of a Sycamore again were 34 of these delightful birds.


There were a few grounded migrants here in the form of two Chiffchaffs, a male Blackcap and a Goldcrest; all three silent and not calling at all.

There was some vis over the coastal park and I had my first Lesser Redpoll over for the Spring, and a handful of Meadow Pipits headed north. Equally as excitable as Twite are Siskins, and a few headed east. Some were dropping in and feeding on the Sycamore buds before heading off again, and a party of six did just that as they called noisily to each other.

The best bird on vis was a Great White Egret that headed east over me at 0740, and I see it was picked up further east over Preesall at 0754! I tried to get a shot, but the results on the back of my camera were a large white, blurry mess!

A Swallow over ended a couple of hours out in the field.

 One of the resident male Chaffinches

Saturday 6 April 2019

Spring Has Sprung

I've talked before about the various events that are the first signs of Spring, or make Spring etc, and recently I mentioned Shelducks returning to inland breeding sites, but the one thing for me that tells me Spring has sprung, is that first snatch of Willow Warbler song, and this morning was one of those mornings!

At first light under 1 okta cloud cover with a 5 mph northeasterly wind I was at the pools checking how flooded our net rides were. I could get into the reeds and Willow scrub okay, but there was some flooding in the net rides themselves. We generally just put up three nets at this site, two 60 foot nets and one 40 foot net, but this morning it would only have been possible to put up three 20 foot nets, as the reedbed end of all the rides was quite flooded. However, I did think that if we have another week of dry weather, it might be possible to do some ringing here next weekend. Fingers crossed!

Sunrise over one of our flooded net rides

It never ceases to amaze me how Cetti's Warblers have colonised all the wetlands at the Obs in recent years and just this one wetland area had five singing males this morning. The only other warblers I had here were two singing Chiffchaffs.

The pools were quiet in terms of a wildfowl, obviously because of the time of year, but also because females will be on the nest, so 17 Tufted Ducks, a male Gadwall and a pair of Shovelers was noteworthy. After the ubiquitous Raven and a male Wheatear, it was time to have a look in the cemetery.

As soon as I got out of my car I could hear a glorious sound, the sound of a singing Willow Warbler; Spring has sprung! I moved on to the coastal park and was greeted with three singing Willow Warblers here, and a singing Blackcap!

There was quite a lot of vis this morning, particularly Meadow Pipits, even though I wasn't in a particularly good place to count them I could see streams of Meadow Pipits heading northeast out over Morecambe Bay. I recorded 246 in my notebook, but there was probably at least four or five times this number.

Siskins were also going over, often just heard and not seen! Some would drop into the tops of the conifers and Sycamores and then continue heading east. My notebook records eleven, but again there was a good deal more.

A female Brambling and a Goldcrest were the last of what I would call grounded migrants that made it into my notebook.

Twite were the main interest here and Ian had phoned my whilst I was in the cemetery to say that he had 28 Twites in the tree tops in the coastal park, a first record for the site. When I was later at the site stood on top of the mound watching and counting some of the vis, the Twite appeared and whipped over the top of my head into the Sycamores. I walked round and located 28 birds calling away to each other from the tree tops! It's not often that you see Twite in trees. They were also dropping down and feeding on the amenity grassland within the park and were obviously able to find some food.

 Tree top Twites above and below

 A nice end to an interesting morning. I wonder what tomorrow will bring, Spring has sprung after all!

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of March. During the month five new species were ringed for the year and these were Meadow Pipit, Brambling, Treecreeper, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting.

below you will find the top nine 'movers and shakers' for the year and the top three species ringed for the month.

Top Nine Movers and Shakers

1. Linnet - 67 (same position)
2. Goldfinch - 65 (same position)
3. Blue Tit - 25 (same position)
4. Lesser Redpoll - 21 (straight in)
5. Chaffinch - 20 (same position)
6. Great Tit - 15 (down from 4th)
7. Goldcrest - 13 (straight in)
    Siskin - 13 (straight in)
9. Coal Tit - 10 (straight in)

Top Three Ringed in March

1. Lesser Redpoll - 19
2. Goldfinch - 12
3. Goldcrest - 11