Sunday 30 August 2020

First Frost

When I set off to the pools to meet Alice this morning my car thermometer showed 6 degrees Celsius, but it certainly felt colder than that. And the evidence on the ground showed that it most certainly was colder than that, as in the shade some of the leaves on the vegetation had a coating of frost!

The other thing that it felt, was quiet, and I must admit I didn't expect that we would catch very much. For the previous few days, it had been northerly, quite a strong northerly, and overnight and into this morning the wind had dropped, and it was clear as well. The combination of a light northerly airstream, low temperatures and clear skies are the ingredients of what I like to call a clear out morning. Any birds that had been held up by the unsettled week this past week, would have been most certainly on the move last night.

Undaunted by this rather bleak prognosis, that proved to be spot on, we continued, and put just two nets up. In the reeds and Willow scrub it was quiet, very quiet in fact, with very little calling. I don't actually mind this, as it is part of the magic of migration monitoring, and whether it is hooching with birds, or whether it has the feel of an avian desert doesn't really matter, as each scenario tells a different story.

The Starlings are still roosting, and approximately, well who knows how many thousands exited the roost shortly after first light. I have put ten thousand in my notebook, but this really was a guess. As I have already mentioned, because it was a 'clear out' morning it was difficult to tell whether there were any grounded migrants; a couple of Willow Warblers called, and two or three Whitethroats fed on Elder berries in the sunshine.

 One or two Starlings (above & below)

We ringed just four birds; two Reed Warblers, a Blackcap and a Robin. So, I suppose there were one or two migrants around! 


I didn't detect any vis, other than a steady passage east throughout the morning of Swallows in ones or twos. If there was anything else it could well have been up in the 'stratosphere' beyond the range of my hearing. It's also a funny time of year, that short period between the departure of British summer migrants and the arrival of continental migrants.

Some alarm calling Swallows gave a Sparrowhawk away as it flew off carrying prey, and a single Redshank thought about landing on the scrape, but only thought about it!

I can't quite believe that I have written all the above about, well virtually nothing really, but as I am fond of saying it is always a pleasure to be out. In fact, we are going to do it all again tomorrow, but it's going to be cloudy overnight and into the morning, with the wind swinging round to the southeast. So maybe.....

I have just pulled a notebook off the book shelf from 2015, and I was out ringing at the same site on this day then, and it was quiet too. We ringed just eight birds; a Lesser Whitethroat, three Reed Buntings, a Linnet, a Reed Warbler and two Wrens. So maybe it is just the time of year!

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Glorious Mud

It's decidedly dreich this morning, but yesterday wasn't, so I headed down to the estuary, and as the days are shortening as we move towards the Autumn equinox, I don't have to get up as early, so a 5:30 a.m. alarm call didn't seem too bad.

It was a glorious morning with only one okta of cloud cover, but the wind was a tad chilly as it came out of the north. Northerly winds generally don't produce the goods from a birding perspective, well not in the west on the Fylde peninsula they don't, but they do produce good, clear visibility, with that cooler, denser air.

As I walked down towards the estuary, along the footpath through the 'Hawthorn tunnel', the usual avian suspects accompanied me in this scrubby habitat, with calling Great Tits, Blue Tits, Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds and three Willow Warblers.

 The Hawthorn tunnel

I crossed the old railway line and emerged on the path alongside the estuary. Straight away I had a calling Whimbrel and half a dozen Curlews. There's something about the calls of both these related species, that really evokes wild places. In both its breeding and wintering haunts, Curlews occupy wide open and wild places; moorland/upland areas during the breeding season, and estuaries and coastal areas during the winter.

 Early morning estuary

As I headed upstream along the footpath, I had a look on the reservoir and there was just a Grey Heron, eight Little Grebes, two Moorhens and three Mallards. As I crossed the first muddy creek, I inadvertently flushed a Little Egret, Redshank, Common Sandpiper and two Curlews that were feeding in the creek.

 The first muddy creek


Further upstream the falling tide had exposed an area of mud that was swarming with feeding Redshanks. It was the first suitable, and sizeable feeding area that was exposed, and the Redshanks were taking advantage of it. In fact, I had 427 Redshanks on the estuary in total, with 263 of them on this area of exposed mud.

 Redshanks (above & below)

I enjoyed watching the Redshanks feed on the area of sticky mud revealed by the falling tide. This newly exposed wet, ever shiny in the rays of the rising sun, mud, was even a bit too soft and sticky for the Redshanks, and as they fed, they sank up to their knees.

It was interesting to observe their feeding action, and they were either probing more or less directly in front of them with a 'stabbing' action, or stretching their necks out and moving their bill from side to side over, or just beneath, the surface of the mud. I suppose it was a type of filter feeding.

I mentioned before about them sinking up to their knees in the mud, but sometimes they would sink up to their bellies, and the action of tugging their feet out of the mud led to a jerky, almost clockwork-like, walk across the jelly-like surface. It's amazing what you see, if you just take the time to watch!

After half an hour or so I had to give up on watching the Redshanks, as I was starting to suffer from 'mud blindness' as the bright sun from the east, reflected its early morning rays on the reflective surface of the wet mud.

I then changed positions and moved to the spit looking downstream towards the former fishing port of Fleetwood. The Lakeland Fells provided the backdrop to the mouth of the estuary, and stood exposed on the spit, I thought it wouldn't be long before there would be white caps on those Lakeland Fells, and I would be hearing the 'wink-wink' calls of Pink-footed Geese leaving their estuarine roost.

The wind was northerly this morning and it was cool, but not as cold as it would be here with those mountains covered in snow. But for now, it's still August, and the "...Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness..." is still firmly upon us.

 If you 'click on the pic' you can make out the Lakeland Fells forming the
backdrop to the former fishing port of Fleetwood at the mouth of the 

From the spit I added a few more Redshanks, sixty to be precise, and a flock of 41 Lapwings. My walk back to my car produced two Grey Wagtails heading southeast, a Linnet and six House Sparrows.

It's looking very unsettled for the remainder of the week, and it might be weekend before I venture forth again.

Friday 21 August 2020

Jackdaw Skies

One of the positive things to come out of Covid, is that I am spending more time observing wildlife in, around and above my garden. I'm not neglecting getting out in to 'proper' habitat, although the weather of late is doing its best to prevent me from doing that, I'm just making more of an effort to look at what is under my nose.

I was recently stood in the drive chatting to my neighbour some time towards dusk, and I noticed a number of Jackdaws heading roughly in a southerly direction, very probably towards a communal roost site. This got me thinking, and over several nights since early August I have spent time in my garden at what I thought was the right time, trying to see and count this roost movement of Jackdaws.


There are a few variables at play here. There's the ever earlier sunset on each subsequent day, cloud cover influencing the timing of the roost flight, and perhaps wind direction. Oh, and of course our evening meal that Gail seems to unintentionally time it to perfection, for when the Jackdaws are going over! I'm not complaining I hasten to add! All of this has meant that I haven't managed to time it right, and have a good prolonged count. This evening was a classic example, because of the pretty poor weather conditions (overcast and blowing a hooley) I thought I had missed them, when I looked up from writing this blog and 35 flashed past my office window!

Anyway, in case you are interested a sample of my counts over recent evenings has been 56, 13, 54, 15, 73, 16 and 49. Looking at those counts I think you can see when I have timed it right, and when I haven't.

When I first started counting, I was recording a few Swifts going over, and I had my last three on 12th August. Funnily enough, I had nine Swallows and a female Sparrowhawk on the same evening. One evening when I left it too late for the Jackdaws, I had three Pipistrelles whizz past, presumably heading from their day-time roost to wherever they were intending to forage, so not all bad.

Because I have been spending time staring up at the sky, I have snapped some of what I think are interesting skies, too early for any spectacular sunsets, but interesting enough to warrant said snapping of. I like to think of them as 'Jackdaw skies'.

 Jackdaw skies (above & below)

Two nights ago, I had one of my sporadic mothing sessions and I noticed, not unexpectedly, that the numbers and diversity of species is starting to go down. Amongst the morning egg cartons were two Garden Carpets, 15 Large Yellow Underwings, a Light Brown Apple Moth, a Six-striped Rustic, a Square-spot Rustic and a Common Rustic. Nothing amazing, but it all adds to the picture of what is going on in my local area.

The forecast over the weekend is looking like the sort of forecast that lends itself to quaffing real ale, rather than birding, but there is a chance that Sunday morning might be reasonable for an hour or two, we'll see.

Saturday 15 August 2020


I was hoping to be able to report on a quadruple-header, as earlier in the week, based on the forecast it looked like I might get out ringing at the Obs reedbed Thu, Fri, Sat and Sun...if only!

During the first part of the week there was a lot of thundery weather around, and the three forecasts that I use, we've talked about these before (BBC, Met Office and XC), weren't forecasting these weather systems with any confidence. The plan was to get out Thursday morning, and when I watched the thunder storm in the early hours I didn't hold out much hope of getting out. Fast forward to 4:30 a.m. and it was still raining, so it was back to bed!

I managed to get out on Friday morning and today, with Alice and Graham, but it is likely that it will be too breezy tomorrow. I've lumped the ringing totals together for the two days (8 and 6) as it was so quiet, so 14 birds it was for both days as follows:

Song Thrush - 1
Willow Warbler - 3
Goldfinch - 3
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Reed Bunting - 1
Whitethroat - 2
Chiffchaff - 1
Greenfinch - 1

Plenty of quality, but lacking in quantity!
Willow Warbler

Early on yesterday, as I was putting the nets up at 5:30 a.m. I heard a calling Yellow Wagtail, and at such an early hour it must have been coming out of an overnight roost in the reedbed. In previous years, though not for some time, we have ringed Yellow Wagtails with roosting Swallows.

Between net rides, when sat at the back of my car, I kept on hearing Sandwich Terns but couldn't see them. Eventually I picked up a 4,1 & 5 flying over high from the estuary, and heading northwest.

The only vis I had was a single Tree Pipit over, and we didn't have any vis today. In fact, if it was possible, today was even quieter than yesterday, and the best bird from a birding perspective was a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler.

It's mixed messages again for tomorrow from the various weather forecasters, so I will have to study them again later over a pint of real ale!

Saturday 8 August 2020

A Few More Warblers

I was back in the Obs reedbed again this morning under full cloud cover and a light north-easterly wind. As always, when I was putting the nets up, I try and gauge whether there was 'much in', and this morning it felt quiet; very little calling as I put the nets up. Mind you, that might be because the nets were up and open by 5:30 am!

As I sat at the back of my car with my first coffee of the morning, I noted a few Alba Wags heading north, that had obviously come from a roost not too far away to the south. I counted about fifteen in all, but I imagine others would have flown in different directions to feeding areas, and I was just seeing the birds heading north over me.

Talking of roosting birds, I could hear the Starlings before they came out of their reedbed roost. I have been close to the roost early in the morning before they disperse, and the noise of thousands of wings sounds like waves rolling on to the shore, but from the distance I was this morning, it was more like a gentle 'swish'. When they come out of the roost it's like an explosion, a noise of a giant Champagne bottle popping, as ten thousand wings take to the air! Not much of a murmuration in the morning, it's more of an up and away to the first feeding areas of the day.

 Starlings (above & below)

I didn't really have any vis this morning other than two Tree Pipits over, a Swallow east and a Lesser Redpoll south. I did have my first wader on our newly restored scrape though, in the form of a Whimbrel. I saw it fly in, but sadly it only remained for a few minutes before taking off and heading east across the estuary.

I ringed 22 birds this morning with no recaptures as follows:

Greenfinch - 5
Willow Warbler - 6
Reed Warbler - 5
Goldfinch - 1
Blackcap - 3
Sedge Warbler - 1
Garden Warbler - 1


 Willow Warbler

It's looking too windy for ringing in the morning, otherwise I would have been back out in the reedbed again. In fact, it's not looking too good all week, but as always there's time for it to change.

Friday 7 August 2020

Rained Off

Just in case you are tuning in, to see how I got on again this morning ringng in the Obs reedbed, I need to let you know that I was rained off. I suppose you could say 'drizzled' off, which would be more accurate!

My alarm was set for 0430, and I was up by 0415. As is the norm when I am up early, I shone my head torch into the garden to see if I could see any Hedgehogs, and I noticed it was wet! I then stepped out to examine this wet stuff further, and it was drizzling. That kind of fine drizzle you get on a dreich day. And what's more, judging by how wet it was, it had been raining for some time.

I hung around for half an hour, checked again, and still it drizzled, so it was back off to bed for me. With the amount of rain that had fallen, I doubt there would have been any new birds in, because if it had rained all night, and I expect it had, it would have had a blocking effect on any migration.

The forecast is looking okay for tomorrow, I know I said that yesterday, so I should be back in the Obs reedbed early tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday 6 August 2020


Just as I had got out of my car at 5:15 am at the reedbed at the Obs, I picked up a wader heading north at quite a rate of knots. I could see that it was a large wader, long bill and its wing beat was all on the wing tips; Avocet! I dashed round to the back of my car to lift my hatch to get my bins out, but I forgot my poles were on the roof-rack, and I couldn't get to my bins quickly enough, and it was gone. Ah well, you win some and you lose some!

As I put a couple of nets up under 2 oktas cloud cover, and no wind, the Starlings started coming out of their reedbed roost. I couldn't really count, or should I say estimate them accurately (oxymoron?), but I guessed that there was in the region of 7,000 birds.

I couldn't tell how well I was going to catch or not, as the case maybe. As I put the nets up, I could hear a Cetti's Warbler and Reed Warbler calling, the harsh tack of a Sylvia Warbler, a 'hu-itting' Willow Warbler and a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler. Were they freshly grounded birds, or had they been in for a day or two and held back by the rain over the previous two days?

I didn't get an answer to that last question, but I caught reasonably well with 37 new birds and no recaptures as follows:

Chiffchaff - 2
Wren - 2
Willow Warbler - 1
Reed Warbler - 10
Whitethroat - 9
Lesser Whitethroat - 5
Blackcap - 2
Greenfinch - 4
Blue Tit - 1
Dunnock - 1

 Lesser Whitethroat

So, out of 37 birds ringed 29 were Warblers! Then again at a reedbed and scrub site, you wouldn't expect much else.


Earlier in the week I ran my garden moth trap for the first time in a couple of weeks and caught 35 moths of eleven species:

Grey Dagger - 1
Ruby Tiger - 1
Riband Wave - 2
Large Yellow Underwing - 18
Light Brown Apple Moth - 1
Dark Arches - 3
Common Rustic - 7
Buff Ermine - 1
Gothic - 1
Scalloped Oak - 1
Uncertain - 1

 Ruby Tiger

Scalloped Oak

There were one or two micros that I couldn't identify, or is that more like didn't attempt to identify, but never mind, just don't tell the micro moth recorder!

The forecast is okay again for tomorrow morning, so like a glutton for punishment I'll set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. and try again at the reedbed. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday 1 August 2020

Why did I get up at 4:30 a.m....

...when I didn't get to bed last night until nearly midnight, is a very good question that I asked myself several times this morning when staring out to see and seeing next to nothing!

There was a tide this morning, so last night I decided that I would have a look at the tide this morning and see if there was anything moving. By 5:15 a.m. I was stood in front of the tower at the Obs under full cloud cover, with a fresh westerly wind. And as I have already hinted at, it was quiet.

 Looking northwest, above, and northeast, below, you can see that the tide 
had a way to run in.

I have written in my notebook that it was a bit murky out to sea, with the wind turbines only just visible through the murk and that was the problem. The murk had more or less locked the bay down, and not very much was motoring in or out. If you are really that interested, I can tell you that I had 84 Common Scoters, six Shelducks, five Sandwich Terns and two Cormorants, and that was it.

As I had given up long before the tide ran in, waders were at a premium, and all I had were ten Curlews, 35 Oystercatchers and 41 Sanderlings.

If you thought that was bad, the vis was even quieter with just three Swallows west....eek! A nice spangly, fresh, juvenile Stonechat along the edge of the dunes must have fledged locally, and a flock of 32 House Sparrows on the edge of the golf course was noteworthy.

On my way home I called in to have a look on the scrape, and sadly there was no waders. On the main pool were 21 Coots, eight Tufted Ducks, six Little Grebes, a Moorhen and twelve Mallards. So, you can see why I asked why did I get up at 4:30 am!

A few days ago, I was trying to photograph bees in the garden again, and managed to snap the Western Honey Bee below. At least it adds a splash of colour!

Talking of my garden, we had three Hedgehogs in our Hedgehog feeding station last night; an adult and two young ones.

Over on the right you will notice that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of July. Below you will find details of the top 5 ringed during July, and the top 10 'movers and shakers' for the year.

Six new species were ringed for the year in July and these were Siskin, Greenfinch, Treecreeper, Cetti's Warbler, Buzzard (new species for the group) and Tree Pipit.

Top 5 Ringed in July

1. Willow Warbler - 42
2. Blackcap - 19
3. Chiffchaff - 14
4. Great Tit - 12
5. Goldfinch - 11

Top 10 Movers and Shakers for the Year

1. Linnet - 116 (same position)
2. Pied Flycatcher - 73 (same position)
3. Sand Martin - 63 (same position)
4. Blue Tit - 56 (same position)
5. Willow Warbler - 55 (up from 7th)
6. Great Tit - 52 (down from 5th)
7. Blackcap - 33 (down from 6th)
8. Chaffinch - 23 (straight in)
9. Goldfinch - 19 (straight in)
10. Reed Warbler - 14 (straight in)

So, not much movement at the top of the table, but plenty of movement lower down. There's a slight chance that I might be able to add to these totals on Monday, but failing that it could be Thursday before it's fit to get out ringing at the Obs again.