Tuesday 28 January 2020

Slav At Last

I have been rather busy over the past week, and work has been getting in the way of my birding, but to be brutally honest because of this my only birding has been work related! And because I have been busy, this brief post details a few sightings from nearly a week ago now.

I was back in the northeast and as I drove to my vantage point (VP) just the other side of the dunes I noticed that the Brent Goose was still feeding on the roadside verge.

 Brent Goose

It was quieter than last time out in the estuary, and from a sea-duck perspective all I had was three male Eiders and a male Goldeneye.


As I looked upstream I had brief views of a Slavonian Grebe before it dived. After I had finished at this VP I was moving to another closer to where the Slav was. A little later on, I arrived at my second VP and low and behold the Slav had moved and was closer to my original VP! "Never mind" I thought, and I marked on my maps the 88 Pink-footed Geese that flew over, 20 Curlews and a couple of Rock Pipits. Then the Slav Grebe surfaced no more than ten metres in front of me and I didn't have time to get my bins to my eyes, never mind pick up my camera, before it dived again never to be seen again that morning.

 The view from one of my VPs

I had a very pleasant morning yesterday, leading a farmland bird identification walk in south Cheshire for some former colleagues. The idea behind the event was to help some farmers with some bird identification so that they would feel more confident taking part in the Big Farmland Bird Count in ten days time.

The weather was glorious for a change and we managed see species such as Stock Dove, Buzzard, Pink-footed Goose, Pintail, Skylark, Redwing, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer. So a good smattering of farmland birds, with some very pleasant company! You can find a link to a lovely report on the event by CLICKING HERE.

The weather these past few days has been pretty awful and sadly it has thwarted attempts to get out ringing. Looking at the forecast over the coming week it doesn't look much better, but as always I am ever hopeful that it might change. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Turbo-charged Ducks and Divers

At the end of last week I was back in the northeast close to Berwick continuing with my series of wintering bird surveys. It was a cold, cloudy morning with a light southwesterly wind. It was also quite a quiet morning, but as always it was a pleasure to be out.

I recorded two species of geese during the survey, 86 Pink-footed Geese that flew over, and a Brent Goose that was feeding along a roadside verge. You don't expect, while I don't anyway, to see a Brent Goose feeding on a roadside verge alongside the river with some Oystercatchers and a Curlew! Having said that, there is plenty of grass in this location, so maybe the Brent Goose is on to a winner.


There was a lot of water in the river and large quantities of debris were being carried towards the estuary including large tree trunks and even sections of vegetated eroded bank material! We have had a lot of rainfall recently and this combined with a falling tide meant the river was running was seriously fast.

It was amusing to watch the antics of turbo-charged ducks and divers, and species such as Goldeneye, Goosander and Red-throated Diver were being carried downstream at a high rate of knots! They would dive, appear further upstream, and then streak past me again! I couldn't quite believe how fast a male Goldeneye, in particular, travelled down river.


In addition to the above it was quiet, as I said before, and my notebook records just two Rock Pipits, five Eiders, six Turnstones, two Shags and 93 Redshanks.

After a few hours of survey it was time to head back west through the beautiful Borders country of Scotland, and home to Lancashire.

Sunday 19 January 2020

Mud...And Not The Glorious Kind

It was a case of mid-week mud for me last week, and not mud of the glorious kind either! I was back at my wintering bird survey site in the west of the county, and I had to move my VP location by about ten metres because of the wet and muddy conditions under-foot. Lots of rain resulting in a high water table and many sets of sheep feet had poached the area where I usually stand. So, under 7 oktas cloud cover, with a stiff-ish SW wind I undertook another survey.

 My muddy VP location

Thrushes were still very much the order of the day, and they had switched from feeding on berries (they have cleaned the Hawthorns out) to feeding on the wet grassland. The higher water table was presumably bringing invertebrates to the surface, and there was rich pickings for them and the Starlings. More Redwings this week, 21, and a few more Fieldfares totalling 327!

As the morning progressed it went from 7 oktas cloud cover, as stated above, to clear, sunny skies. The blue skies and sunshine encouraged a good deal of activity from the local Buzzards, and I was treated to a display from at least six individual birds. Other raptors were a male and female each of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk.


The Sparrowhawk was a young male, and it whizzed past me close to my VP. I was first alerted to his presence by the flock of Meadow Pipits (52 of them) that lifted from the field in front of me. I then lost him from view behind the network of hedges, which he will have been using as cover to lay an ambush as he traversed the landscape. However, I could monitor his progress by the flocks of birds he was putting up; first a large flock of Starlings took to the air, relying on their numbers to try and confuse him, and then a smaller flock of Fieldfares 'chack-chacked' as they moved out of his way. You've got to love a Sparrowhawk, as they will provide the patient observer with no end of pleasure and entertainment!

After 268 Pink-footed Geese, a Grey Wagtail, a  Mistle Thrush, three Skylarks and a Song Thrush my survey ended, and it was time to head home.

Pink-footed Geese

Saturday 11 January 2020

You Never Know What's Lurking In A Ditch

Yesterday morning I was back at one of my wintering bird survey sites in the west of Lancashire and it was a tad chilly under the leaden skies with a cool east-southeasterly wind. However, the skies later cleared and the sun came out. And it must have got warmer because I took my woolly hat off and replaced it with my baseball cap!

As of recent visits to this site Fieldfares have been the main species that I have recorded and this morning I had a cracking total of 282 of these Norse invaders. Interestingly, I only had seven Redwings and two continental Blackbirds.

Raptors were thin on the ground and were just represented by three Buzzards and two Kestrels. A flock, in fact a very small flock, of three Whooper Swans southwest was nice, with a few Pink-footed Geese over too, somewhere in the region of 524 birds mainly heading in a north-ish direction.

 Pink-footed Geese

I watched a Little Egret in the next field to where my vantage point (VP) was located. It walked along the boundary in front of a 'gappy' Hawthorn hedge and then disappeared in to a ditch. Now, I know this particular ditch quite well as I used to have to walk along it in previous surveys, and to say that it is uninteresting is an understatement, but not to a Little Egret obviously!

I never saw it emerge from the ditch the whole time that I was there, so it either popped out without me seeing it, or it was finding lots of food and was having its fill! It made me think that you never know what's lurking in a ditch, because I wondered how many other nondescript ditches have an unseen Little Egret wandering along them?!

I mentioned before how it warmed up during the morning and I noticed lots of dancing non-biting Midges around some of the Hawthorns. I decided to see whether I could photograph them or not, and I think the answer is probably not as you will see from the pictures below. Looking back on my attempts on the screen on the back of my camera they looked like flocks of birds, well perhaps squinting with your eyes half closed they did!

 Non-biting Midges above & below

Two warbler species in the hedge behind my VP was noteworthy, with a calling Goldcrest and Chiffchaff. The Chiffie was more interesting and was my first over-winterer this year. A distant flock of 52 Pintails heading south, and a fly-over Great Spotted Woodpecker later my survey finished.

The forecast is looking wet for tomorrow, and ringing is definitely out of the question, but I will keep checking just in case.

Thursday 2 January 2020

A Wee Dander

On New Year's Day Gail and I took a wee dander down to the estuary. I love the word 'dander' which is a word from Ireland that means a gentle, meandering walk with no particular haste or purpose. The reason that I love it so much is because a favourite Uncle of mine, who sadly passed away some years ago now, used to use the word whenever he announced he was going out for a walk. He used to take my brother and me for a wee dander back home in Ireland, along the lanes around the village after dark, recount ghost stories and generally frighten us both to death, but we loved it! Oh to go for just one more wee dander with Uncle Tommy...

Gail and I don't celebrate New Year in any real way, it's just an arbitrary date decided upon for a relatively recent calendar. For us the real New Year, is the Solstice, when as you know the return of the Sun is cause for celebration. It certainly makes more sense to us anyway.

Whether you celebrate New Year or not, it was certainly a nice morning for a wee dander down to the estuary under sunny skies with a light southerly wind.

 The Wyre Estuary

The walk down to the estuary through the 'Hawthorn tunnel' yielded the expected garden/woodland birds; Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackbird (16 of them), Great Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Magpie, Cariron Crow, Fieldfare and Woodpigeon.

Once we reached the estuary we headed to the point passing by the pool on the way. No Kingfisher on the pool today sadly, but we did have two male Shovelers, eight Tufted Ducks, nine Coots, three Little Grebes and a pair of Mute Swans.

On the other side of the pool was a cracking dog Fox with his red coat looking resplendent in the morning sun. He looked around as though he didn't have a care in the world and slowly tip-toed off along the far bank of the pool. I always think that Foxes are very cat-like in their  movements and tip-toeing to me seems how they walk.

The telescope legs were extended at the point and we had a look on the estuary. The tide was just starting to turn and as it did it lifted, shuffled and gently tugged at the flocks of waders and wildfowl, causing the Lapwings, with a dash of Dunlin to lift, twisting and turning as they did so. I don't think the twisting and turning was all the work of the turning tide, as a couple of Sparrowhawks flew along the edge of the saltmarsh.

Counts out on the estuary included 135 Teal, 19 Redshanks, 239 Wigeons, 300 Lapwings, 71 Dunlins, ten Mallards, 17 Shelducks and two Little Egrets.

 Wigeon - above & (closer) below

Two Rock Pipits and thirty Pink-footed Geese later, we retraced our steps back past the pool and along the 'Hawthorn tunnel' back to the car.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Finches Of Gold

On Monday Alice and I had a ringing session at the feeding station in the Hodder Valley. I was a bit surprised that my car was frozen up when I headed out just after 7:00 am, as a frost wasn't forecast. At the site it was a glorious crisp morning, with clear skies, no wind and a touch of a ground frost.

From a birding perspective I haven't got much to report from amongst the trees, but there was a good number of Siskins around. They were constantly calling and moving around the tree tops in ones and twos, and then we had a group of about thirty or so. In total there was a good 50 plus, but they don't seem interested in our feeders as yet and seem to be sticking to natural food in the form of Birch and Alder catkins.

There was perhaps about a dozen Redwings moving about the woodland, and I registered the calls of at least two Fieldfares too. Other calling birds included Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Redpoll and Jay.

We ringed 39 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Great Tit - 1 (1)
Coal Tit - 4 (2)
Goldfinch - 13
Blue Tit - 11 (2)
Chaffinch - 5
Nuthatch - 1 (1)
Greenfinch - 1
Redwing - 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1
Blackbird - 1

It was a good total of Goldfinches, and they have obviously found the nyjer seed, and hopefully in a week or two the Siskins will have too!

Coal Tit