Saturday 25 July 2020

I'm Glad I Did

I nearly didn't go out yesterday morning, but I'm glad I did. Due to a recurring shoulder injury I only managed an hours sleep the night before, so when the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. I nearly didn't bother. I'm not after any kind of sympathy, but I did wonder whether I would be able to manage with the pain. But when I opened the door, inhaled that autumnal air and could see the first fingers of dawn stretching across the sky, the pain melted away.

I headed to the reedbed at the Obs and under 2 oktas cloud cover, with a light north-westerly wind I had the nets up by 5:30 a.m. But it felt quiet. There were no 'tacks', 'tseeps' or 'hweets', and I began to think maybe I should have stayed in bed.

However, as the morning wore on it was obvious that there were birds around, and I ended up ringing a respectable 21 birds, and that was without putting up one of the 60 foot nets. The 21 birds were made up of:

Whitethroat - 1
Reed Warbler - 3
Sedge Warbler - 2
Great Tit - 1
Goldfinch - 3
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Blackbird - 2
Willow Warbler - 3
Dunnock - 2
Greenfinch - 3

 A 'spangly' juvenile Dunnock

Willow Warbler

Either the Starlings got up earlier this week, or the numbers roosting had dropped, because I only counted about a thousand or so birds exiting the roost. A family party of juvenile Whitethroats were in the scrub close to where I park my car, but they didn't venture any further than this.

A calling Common Tern flying over carrying a small fish made it into my notebook, as did a Garden Warbler that was feeding alongside one of the net rides. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was noteworthy, as they aren't overly common in this area, mainly because of a lack of woodland.

I had a look on the pools on my way off the site and counted 30 Coots, four Moorhens, five Little Grebes, a Pochard and two Tufted Ducks.

It was a pleasure to be out, and in case you were wondering my shoulder is a lot better thank you. I might just have to sample some real ale pain killers from north of the border though this evening, just in case!

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Which Forecast?

I had a long and very pleasant day in Bowland yesterday, on one of my client's farms, looking at the management of his hedges in the future. The forecast was for a decent morning this morning, good enough to do some ringing in the reedbed and scrub. I got all my gear together, charged my MP3 players and speakers, and all was well for a hopeful half decent morning.

However, just before bed I had a quick look at the BBC weather app and it was now showing rain coming in between 0800 and 0900; what?! I looked at the Met Office site, and all was well; light cloud with only a 10% chance of rain. I thought I would look at the XC weather site, and this was a half-way house between the two! So, which forecast to believe?

I decided to ignore the forecasts, get up in the morning and go anyway, as I had got all my gear together. I arrived on site at 0500 and got the nets up fairly quickly. There was full cloud cover with a light south-easterly wind, so far, so good. Then about 0700 the rain arrived, the thick blobby stuff, and I had to pack up. I suppose the BBC forecast was closest, as it said the rain would come in between 0800 and 0900, but it came in at 0700. The met Office were now saying something similar, and so was XC. So, which forecast? I'm not sure.

All I managed to ring before the rain came in were four birds as follows:

Reed Warbler - 2
Blackcap - 1
Willow Warbler - 1

As I was putting the nets up, I could hear a Grasshopper Warbler 'reeling' away from some grassland and scrub on the far side of the scrape, and I could also hear the 'rattle' of a Lesser Whitethroat, close to where my nets were.

As always, the Starlings were late getting up, and when they did emerge from their reedbed roost they numbered somewhere in the region of 7,000 birds. I recorded very little else, and after I had taken the nets down, I gave the net rides a god 'hair cut' ready for the next session, and the next session might be as early as Friday.

I've only had one session with my garden moth trap in the past week, and I caught the following:

Scalloped Oak - 1
Large Yellow Underwing - 4
Cabbage Moth - 2
Common Rustic - 2
Willow Beauty - 1

 Scalloped Oak

Fingers crossed that whichever forecast I use, 'they' get it right for Friday!

Friday 17 July 2020

Coastal Pecker

Earlier in the week the plan was to do some ringing in the reedbed at the Obs today, but as the week wore on, the forecast changed, and it was too windy. In fact, it was far too windy, not blowing a hooley, but too windy for ringing.

Instead, I went to the Point to do some seawatching over the incoming tide. I like seawatching, I always have, but it's not every birders cup of tea. By 5:30 a.m. I was stood in front of the tower with three oktas cloud cover, and a moderate westerly wind.

One of the reasons that I like seawatching so much, is that air of expectation, something unusual might come past, and it is that air of expectation that nourishes you when it is quiet, which is often the case! The other thing, is that you are seeing birds that you don't normally see, birds that you need to put time and effort in to see. And it's the environment that they occupy, the sea is almost like another dimension, often inhospitable and savage, but these magical creatures have mastered it. You can stand on a wild and wind-swept shore, or on a shore firmly anchored in our modern and sometimes mundane world, and look over a vast area of wilderness. For to me, the sea is a kind of wilderness that we can access from our far from wild lives.

And there's the changing moods that a change in the weather brings. This morning for example it started off fairly quiet and clear, and then I could see a line of squally showers stacked up in the mouth of Morecambe Bay, that raced inwards and shoreward, and suddenly this vast open area was closed down, as though a blanket of murk had been cast from shore to shore. Droplets of rain started to appear on my telescope lens, and I had pull out the rain guard to try and keep it dry. And then it was clear, the dreich blanket had been lifted, the sun was coming out again, and the outline of the Lakeland fells reappeared. Magic.

I didn't take any photos this morning, so below I have posted a few pictures taken from more or less the same spot at different times of the year, that I think reflect the changing moods of this salty wilderness. 

 Don't foregt to 'click' the pics to enjoy a larger view

There were three highlights this morning; a summer plumaged Mediterranean Gull, a dark morph Arctic Skua chasing terns and the 'coastal pecker' alluded to in my Blog title. I had just taken my eye away from the eyepiece of my telescope, when out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a largeish black-and-white bird with a bouncing flight flying from right to left, and there it was a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying over the beach! It headed over the dunes, and I lost it behind the sandy peaks.

A number of Gannets were feeding in the inner bay, and they seemed to be feeding in a large feeding circuit; heading out west, and then returning east back in to the bay, and there was somewhere in the region of perhaps 60 birds in total. A range of ages could be detected from second calendar year birds, through to adults.

The best of the rest on the sea included 38 Common Scoters, seven Cormorants, twelve Sandwich Terns, four Shelducks and two Kittiwakes.

I had packed in before the tide had fully run in, so all I had in terms of waders were seven Curlews, 46 Oystercatchers, two Turnstones and a single Ringed Plover. The only vis I had were seven Swifts west.

It's going to be wet tomorrow, so a few beers beckon this evening, but I might get some ringing done Sunday morning, we'll see.

Monday 13 July 2020

Saved By A Mega

There was a distinct Autumnal nip in the air yesterday morning when Ian and I met at the pools at 5:30 a.m. at the Obs to do some ringing. In fact, I nearly put my woolly hat on, but resisted! We were keen to do some ringing, because the recent period of wet weather meant that we hadn't ringed anything here since 24th June.

The nets went up quickly under 2 oktas cloud cover with a light southerly breeze. This southerly breeze picked up later, and became a bit of a nuisance as our net rides run north - south, so they became a little exposed to the increased wind.

On the whole it was a disappointing session because we only ringed nine birds, but we were saved by a mega in the form of a juvenile Treecreeper. Up until then we had ringed more Yellow-browed Warblers at the Obs than Treecreepers, but yesterday's Treecreeper made it three apiece.


The nine ringed were as follows:

Reed Warbler - 2
Blackcap - 4
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Treecreeper - 1
Chiffchaff - 1


From a birding perspective, we observed very little else other than about 5,000 Starlings exiting the roost and three Swifts and a Sand Martin that fed over the scrape.

I had another mega yesterday evening when Gail spotted a large, black and yellow insect flying from the Willows in our garden, to the Sycamore next to the Conservatory. I was outside, and Gail pointed to where it was and my immediate reaction was that it was a queen Hornet, but the jizz was all wrong, and look at that antenna! It landed on a Sycamore leaf, and it was a stonking Lunar Hornet Moth, only the second I had ever seen, and both have been in our garden.

Lunar Hornet Moth

A good friend of mine, Graham (what Graham has forgotten about moths isn't worth knowing), asked whether I had been using the new pheromone lure, or whether I had just found it. I explained to Graham the circumstances of its occurrence and said that I thought Lunar Hornet Moths were associated with Willows, and that I had a number of Willows in my garden.

Graham responded saying that "Willow is the foodplant of the larva that feed internally on the wood for two years before the adult emerges. And it looks like you've got a resident population in your Willow". I was chuffed with that, a resident population in our garden, so hopefully we can look forward to a few more sightings!

And to finish off what started as an unpromising day, that turned in to a day of megas and surprises, we now have a young Hedgehog coming to our 'hog' feeding station as well as a couple of adults. I wish you could see the smile on my face!

Wednesday 8 July 2020

The Wrong Rucksack

Yesterday morning when finishing off some survey work in Greater Manchester, I realised I had the wrong rucksack with me, and this prevented me from getting a cracking photo of a very confiding juvenile Kestrel!

This survey site is small, and therefore I didn't need to take a flask of coffee with me, or a few snacks in case I got peckish, just a bottle of water and a banana would do. So, I took my smallest rucksack, hoisted it on to my back, and slung my camera and case around my neck. Hang on, that didn't feel very comfortable. The waist straps of this rucksack meant that my camera didn't hang right off my shoulder, and kept swinging forward and getting in the way. I put my camera back in the boot of my car, set off, and thought there would probably nothing to photograph anyway.......

I was walking across a recently cut meadow, and in the middle of this meadow two public footpaths intersect, and this intersection is marked by a way marker. On top of this post, which incidentally was only about four feet high, I could see a bird perched. I lifted my bins and could see a juvenile Kestrel, all looking fresh with its pin-sharp, new plumage. No worn feathers here, just the beauty of unblemished shades of brown, beige, grey and cream. I looked at the Kestrel and it looked at me. I dropped my bins and walked on.

Still the Kestrel sat on the post, and I lifted my bins once more, and drank in again the freshness of its plumage. I could almost smell the newness of this enchanting little raptor, and was entranced by the perfection of its form.

I carried on, and still it didn't move, and now I was only about fifteen feet from the bird. I instinctively felt for my camera, but it wasn't there, and I remembered I had left it behind because I had the wrong rucksack with me! I would have got a beautiful frame filling picture of it, but maybe that's why it was so confiding. Another step closer, and it was off, flying low across the meadow and over a hedge.

So, in celebration of this little chap I have posted below a few pictures of Kestrels that I have had the pleasure of encountering over the years.

Back to my survey in Greater Manchester under leaden skies. I had been trying to get this survey in, for at least ten days now, but every morning it was wet. And if it wasn't wet, it was windy. This morning I just had a couple of hours to complete the survey before the rain set in.

The low cloud, with showers scudding across the landscape in the distance, brought in a few Swifts; nineteen to be precise. These jet-propelled, scythe shaped avian projectiles, were taking advantage of aerial insects brought down by the low cloud. They were a joy to watch as they cut through the air with stiff, swept back wings. Four House Martins and a couple of Swallows accompanied them, to add some metallic blues to the grey back-wash of the morning.

There is a small area of wetland at this site, and emanating from it, was the 'reeling' song of a Grasshopper Warbler. Grasshopper Warblers have a strange song, as their name suggests they sound a little bit like a Grasshopper, but actually their song is more like the whirring noise made by a fishing reel. It is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly where they are singing from because they are master ventriloquists, and can throw their voice. They do this by moving their had side to side when singing, giving the impression that the song is coming from all directions.

Grasshopper Warblers always make me think of my dear, departed Mum. My Mum grew up in County Down in Ireland, in a small fishing village. Just outside the village, along a road called Dunover Road, is a Dun. A Dun is an ancient or medieval fort, and along this road in an adjacent field was an example of such a fort. My Mum was fond of ghost stories, and she said that on a summer's evening, close to the Dun, you could hear the noise of a treadle sewing machine whirring away.

She had heard this noise herself, and the story was that the noise was the restless spirit of a long-departed lady, forever doomed to sew away across the centuries. Now, the Dun is surrounded by a tangle of dense vegetation, and I don't doubt that it will also be wet in places, so perfect habitat for a Grasshopper Warbler! And 'Groppers' are best heard in the still, dense air of evening or early morning. I once played Grasshopper Warbler song to my Mum, and she agreed it sounded like the noise she had heard. But I think she still believed in the old tale of a ghostly maiden, forever bound to the Dun.

The supporting cast on this morning included eighteen Woodpigeons, with seven attendant youngsters, a Willow Warbler (scarce this year), a singing Blackcap, a lovely flock of 22 House Sparrows close to some adjacent houses, an over-flying Siskin and a pair of Reed Buntings from the 'Gropper' wetland.

I'll finish off with a few pictures taken in my garden, during a sunny interlude, of some Buff-tailed Bumblebees and Common Carder Bees. A splash of colour and loveliness!

 Buff-tailed Bumblebee (above & below)

Common Carder Bee (above & below)

Wednesday 1 July 2020

Scraping The Barrel

With a blog title like that you can tell that...well...I am scraping the barrel to keep the blog going, as I have very little to report really. The main problem has been the spell of cold, wet, windy weather we have been having recently, and any good days in between have been taken up with finishing off late breeding bird surveys.

I have only run my moth trap once in the intervening period and I trapped thirteen identifiable species as follows:

Garden Carpet - 1
Anaria Coronata - 1
Marbled Beauty - 10
Bee Moth - 1
Dark Arches - 2
Heart And Dart - 2
Plain Golden Y - 1
Light Emerald - 1
Large Yellow Underwing - 1
Small Angle Shades - 1
Grey Dagger - 1
Grey Pug - 1
Clay Triple-lines - 1

 Plain Golden Y

Grey Dagger

And I caught another Hawthorn Shieldbug! The other bit of garden wildlife to report is a regular Hedgehog(s) coming to my Hedgehog feeding station. I have now got a camera trap, and I have various bits of footage of it coming and going over recent nights. One of these days soon, I'll edit the footage together and I'll post something here.

 Hawthorn Shieldbug

At weekend Gail and I visited our good friends Robert and Diana near Garstang, to check the Barn Owl box in the barn at their farm. Unfortunately, there was just one chick, but it was a good, healthy chick, and as long as the parents can bring plenty of food in, it will fledge successfully.

 Barn Owl

Talking to a friend and fellow ringer of Barn Owls in southwest Lancs, Peter, he was telling me that Barn Owls seem to be having a poor breeding season this year, very probably as a result of a shortage of prey items. He mentioned one brood that had five chicks at first, and when they checked the box at the optimum time for ringing the chicks, there was just two!

This is probably a result of the cyclical nature of the breeding ecology of species such as Barn Owl, that rely on the populations of small rodents such as Short-tailed Vole. These populations vary from year to year, and this has a knock-on effect on a particular breeding season for the Owls.

For my sins, I was in deepest darkest Worcestershire yesterday completing a late second breeding bird survey visit. As is often the case with these surveys, nothing unusual, but some good numbers of some common species, such as four Skylarks, two Swifts, three Blackcaps, six Chiffchaffs, a pair of Kestrels, two Coal Tits, three Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 16 Whitethroats, two Song Thrushes and four Linnets.


Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of June. Below you will find the top 3 ringed during the month of June, and the top 7 'movers and shakers' for the year. Nine new species for the year were ringed during June and these were Long-tailed Tit, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Song Thrush, Avocet, Starling, Kestrel and Barn Owl.

Top 3 Ringed in June

1. Sand Martin - 32
2. Pied Flycatcher - 19
3. Willow Warbler - 12

Top 7 Movers and Shakers for the Year

1. Linnet - 115 (same position)
2. Pied Flycatcher - 73 (same position)
3. Sand Martin - 62 (up from 5th)
4. Blue Tit - 49 (down from 3rd)
5. Great Tit - 40 (down from 4th)
6. Blackcap - 14 (straight in)
7. Willow Warbler - 13 (straight in)

Once again, the forecast is looking ropey for the next few days, but if there's an opportunity to get out, I'll take it.