Wednesday 28 October 2020

Data Memories - Part 3 - Waders

I know I probably don't need to tell you, but here in northwest England the weather has been pretty awful for nearly ten days now. We're back in a cold westerly air stream with frequent heavy showers, and periods of heavier more prolonged rain. The result has been that I have struggled to get out, or more to the point, I haven't been bothered about dragging myself around coastal migration spots seeing diddly squat! So, to keep the Blog going, here is part 3 of an occasional series on data memories inspired through ringing birds over many years.
Waders are a family that we haven't ringed a great deal of, but they evoke some of the best memories, mainly because they are such cracking birds. Over 36 years we have ringed 1,183 waders of 12 species as follows:
Oystercatcher - 58
Little Ringed Plover - 6
Ringed Plover - 98
Lapwing - 683
Sanderling - 1
Dunlin - 8
Jack Snipe - 10 
Snipe - 102
Woodcock - 13
Curlew - 98
Common Sandpiper - 6
Redshank - 51
Turnstone - 98

So, I suppose we have ringed on average just over 30 waders per year, except that's not quite true, as a good proportion of our wader ringing was in the earlier years of our group (Fylde Ringing Group).

Most of the waders we have ringed have been pulli, and wader chicks certainly have that aaah factor, because of their cuteness, in fact their cuteness is off the scale! Just take a look at the Ringed Plover chicks below if you don't believe me!
Ringed Plover (above & below)


We used to ring quite a lot of Lapwing chicks, and Lapwings are one of the few waders that we still ring in small numbers most years; just two in 2019 for example. 
One of our best sites for ringing Lapwing chicks used to be behind the then new sea wall at Pilling Marsh, when the saltmarsh was enclosed, and before these fields became improved, and ultimately sheep-wrecked. We used to leave a car at Pilling, and then drive to Cockerham, and Phil and I used to walk along, behind the sea wall from Cockerham to Pilling. 

When the sea wall was constructed, the material used partly to construct the sea wall left a wide shallow channel that ran behind the sea wall for its full length, and breeding Lapwings on the now reclaimed fields, used to take their chicks down to this channel/ditch to feed. At certain intervals along the channel were piped crossing points to gain access to the sea wall and foreshore for grazing on the salt marsh, and these crossings provided excellent places to hide behind and peer over the top and scan the next section of ditch for any Lapwing chicks that might be feeding along the ditch. If birds were there, one of us, receiving directions from the other, would run along and pick the chicks up.
A fledged juvenile Lapwing with just a bit of down left
The chicks would freeze and squat if small, and rely on their camouflage to conceal them, and well-camouflaged they were. In addition to Lapwings we also picked up a few Oystercatchers and Redshanks as well. Sadly, waders no longer nest in these fields, mainly because of how much they have been improved for agriculture and also because of very high stocking densities of sheep; lots of feet causing lots of nest destruction.
As I mentioned before, most of our wader ringing has been through ringing pulli, but we have dabbled a little bit with mist nets at night, and using whoosh nets. The Sanderling, eight Dunlin, ten Jack Snipe, 102 Snipe and some of the Redshank, have been caught with either mist or whoosh nets. 

All of the thirteen Woodcocks that we have ringed, have been caught in either woodland or scrub with mist nets, when we have been targeting passerines, except for one bird that got caught in some chicken netting behind Ian's hen shed in his garden. Ian came home from work, and he could see all of his chickens gathered at the back of the hen shed and looking up. When he looked there was a Woodcock that had somehow got fastened in the chicken wire. The Woodcock was none the worse for wear, and was released shortly afterwards, flying off strongly! 
A recovery of one of those thirteen Woodcocks that we ringed really stands out. This was a bird that we ringed at a finch and thrush roost at Clifton Hall, near Preston, on 9th February 1991. It was shot on 14th April 1992 near Gorky, Moscow, some 3,001 km east! At the time, it was one of the furthest east recoveries of a British ringed Woodcock. See Google Earth image below.

The total of 98 Turnstones ringed reminds me of a project we ran in 2012/13 where we were ringing and fitting leg flags to a population of wintering Turnstones in the Fleetwood area. Sadly, we had to end the project early because of disturbance, mainly from dog walkers, at the ringing site. Whilst it lasted, it was an interesting and enjoyable project, but sadly it never really got going, and we only managed to fit leg flags to about 50 Turnstones over one winter, when we really wanted to fit leg flags to at least five times that number of the proposed five-year life time of the project. I've included a few pictures of Turnstones from the project below.

Earlier this week I set up my winter woodland feeding station in the Hodder Valley in Bowland. This year I am using two five port feeders, produced by a company called Perdix, that hold 20 kg of seed in each feeder. The idea being, to reduce the number of trips necessary to keep the feeders topped up. I've no idea how good they will be, but I have seen these feeders very busy with birds on a farm in south Cheshire, so I am hopeful. I'll keep you posted.
Substantial bracket for the 20 kg feeder
Perdix feeder in situ

This wet westerly weather is set to be the weather pattern into the middle of next week, when it will hopefully pick up. But I am hoping I don't have to wait that long to get out!

Monday 19 October 2020

Another Back To Back

Alice and I had another back to back ringing session at the pools at the Obs on Saturday and Sunday, and managed to ring another 75 birds over both days.

Saturday dawned with full cloud cover, with a light north-easterly breeze. We got the nets up in the half-light, and once again played the 'Latvian love song' on the MP3 players to attract Redwings. 
Starling numbers seemed to be back up near 10,000 again, so numbers definitely fluctuate on a daily basis. There wasn't as much moving on 'vis' as yesterday, and numbers of birds moving progressively decreased from the peak on Thursday (15th). Of note we had 123 Redwings east and 250 Jackdaws west. 

We ringed 37 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Redwing - 8
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Goldfinch - 5
Blue Tit - 3 (1)
Greenfinch - 11
Wren - 2
Long-tailed Tit - 4 (3)
Fieldfare - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Chiffchaff - 1
Sunday morning was nearly a carbon copy of Saturday, from both the weather, birding and ringing perspective, except that for most of the morning it was virtually calm. 

The first bird that I recorded Sunday morning, as I drove on site was a Barn Owl perched on a fence, that melted away into the dark as I got close. We had a similar lack of birds on vis, with just 38 Redwings, 29 Greenfinches, three Grey Wagtails and four Chaffinches heading east.

There was certainly more Pink-footed Geese around, and birds were lifting from their roost on the river, others were heading north to feeding areas in the wider Morecambe Bay, and some were arriving from the south (Ribble Estuary?), and in total we had 2,020 birds. 
Pink-footed Geese
We ringed 38 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Wren - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 6 (1)
Redwing - 4
Greenfinch - 22
Goldfinch - 2
Blue Tit - 1
Reed Bunting - 1
Long-tailed Tit
Reed Bunting

It's looking unsettled this coming week, with a return to Atlantic weather systems, so getting out, and the quality of the birding could be 'iffy', but I will keep you posted if I do.

Friday 16 October 2020

Latvian Love Song

I've had two mornings of ringing at the pools yesterday and today, and it all started with a, or I should I say the, 'Latvian love song'! The Latvian love song that I refer to, is a recording of Redwing song and calls that has proved over recent years very effective in attracting migrating Redwings for the purposes of ringing. I thought I had a copy, but I didn't, so my good friends Pete and Peter (father and son ringing team) furnished me with a copy in quick time. Thanks guys!
As I was putting my mist net poles onto the car in the dark yesterday morning, I could hear migrating Redwings calling in the darkness, and I thought "this bodes well". I put a couple of nets up in the dark, and put on the 'Latvian Love Song' and retired to my car for a coffee. As dawn broke, I was greeted with two oktas cloud cover and a light north-easterly wind. 

Before I headed off on my first net round the Starlings came out of their roost, and their numbers had increased to about ten thousand birds. The last time I counted them out, I thought their numbers had been dropping. Perhaps it fluctuates. 

Two Cetti's Warblers serenaded me with their explosive calls, and overhead Thrushes were on the move. I counted 220 Redwings, a Mistle Thrush, 32 Fieldfares, three Blackbirds and two Song Thrushes all heading east. Between net rounds, I managed to count other bits of vis as well, and moving between north and south I had 25 Chaffinches, three Bramblings, 31 Jackdaws, two Carrion Crows and thirteen Whooper Swans
Whooper Swans
Raptors were represented by a single species, Sparrowhawk, and I had at least three, including a lovely adult male that shot past me when I was at the ringing table. I say at least three, because later in the morning I had three thermalling to the west, and this may have included the adult male. Two Goldcrests and a Brambling made up all of what I would say were grounded migrants, but it is difficult to tell.

I ringed 40 birds as follows:

Blackbird - 2
Wren - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Redwing - 15
Song Thrush - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 2
Robin - 1
Greenfinch - 14
Dunnock - 1
Reed Bunting - 1
Great Tit - 1
I was back again this morning with Graham, and this time we put three nets up, and day two for the Latvian love song ensued. It was a different morning weather-wise with full cloud cover at first light, and a 5-10 mph north-easterly wind.
It was obvious that there wasn't as many birds on the move, and even the Starling roost looked to have dropped in numbers to about 5,000 birds. But as I said before, maybe it fluctuates.

On vis we had 56 Redwings, 49 Jackdaws, a couple of Grey Wagtails, four Skylarks, six Chaffinches, two Rooks, just one Fieldfare, thirteen Greenfinches and 30 Pink-footed Geese

We didn't get chance to look on the pools properly, but we did see three Shovelers wheeling round, and a group of 20-30 Snipe. A female Sparrowhawk and two Ravens were also noteworthy. 
We ringed 33 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Robin - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 2
Great Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Goldfinch - 1
Chaffinch - 3
Redwing - 6
Song Thrush - 2
Dunnock - 3 (1)
Greenfinch - 6
Long-tailed Tit - 4
Wren - 2
Reed Bunting - (1) 
Cetti's Warbler
The forecast is looking good over the next couple of days, with the wind remaining in the east, so it looks like a couple more early-ish starts for me!

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Norse Invaders With Red Wings

The winds were forecast to be a tad too strong for any ringing this morning, so I headed to the coastal farm fields at first light. I walked along the sea wall under two oktas cloud cover with a 10-15 mph east-notheasterly wind. 

The tide was still running in, but most of the shore was covered apart from some large rocks that 18 Turnstones were roosting on. An hour later, and even these rocks were covered, and all that was left was a solitary Turnstone on the sea wall.
I stopped at my seawatching/vis mig position towards the end of the sea wall, and had a look on the sea. It still wasn't jumping, but there was a little more activity over recent days, in the form of a pair of Wigeon on the sea, 80 Common Scoters, twelve Oystercatchers south, a Little Egret south, 19 Golden Plovers north, two Auk sp., five Pintails, three Red-breasted Mergansers, a Shelduck, two Red-throated Divers, a Grey Plover north and four Dunlins north.
There wasn't really any vis until the Norse invaders arrived mid-morning in the form of some Redwings. We never get anywhere near the numbers of Thrushes that move down the western edge of the Pennine spine. I think the birds that we get, are re-orientating after arriving on the coast, and heading back east again to continue on their planned route. Bryan, at his Hutton Roof/Burton-in-Kendal (south Cumbria) watchpoint recorded 7,086 Fieldfares NW and 5,721 Redwings NW this morning, far more than we ever get.

However, I had 111 Redwings north over the farm fields, and a further 42 east-northeast when I was at the cemetery a little later. Starlings were on the move as well, and I had 58 head north. Other bits and pieces on vis were two Rock Pipits, five Alba Wags, eleven Pink-footed Geese, two Chaffinches, five Skylarks and a Brambling all heading between northeast and east, except for the Pinkies who headed south. 

I didn't have any grounded migrants at all, it wasn't that kind of morning. The pair of Stonechats were still knocking about, so that answers the question as to whether they were migrants or not, and the answer is no. 
The forecast is looking okay for some ringing tomorrow, so I'll let you know how I get on.

Monday 12 October 2020

Migration Action In Miniature

I wasn't sure what time the rain was going to come in this morning, the forecast wasn't clear. Depending on which forecast you looked at, it could be around dawn, or an hour or two after. Was there a chance that it would drop a few birds in, or was that south-westerly wind going to be a problem?

I drove into the cemetery under full cloud cover, with a moderate south-westerly wind. Some of the trees and shrubs were moving back and forth, and it looked far from conducive for seeing a few migrants. 
First up was the ubiquitous ticking Robins, autumn wouldn't be autumn without the soundtrack of ticking Robins, and five were 'ticking' away on my walk round this morning. A few Goldcrests called, four to be exact, and the same number of Coal Tits were never far away from the 'crests. 
I'd walked the western side of the cemetery, and I was walking along the northern perimeter, before cutting across the middle and heading for the trees and shrubs that form the southern boundary, when I heard the distinctive call of a Brambling as it headed east. 
There was nothing along the southern boundary, and as I continued on my circuit heading back along the western boundary, I could hear Whooper Swans calling, and looked up to see a pair winging their way south.
Whooper Swans
So far, there had been no rain, and at this point I bumped into Ian, and it started to rain. Straight away six Redwings and a Song Thrush dropped out of the sky, and a party of eight Long-tailed Tits carrying a Chiffchaff (not literally), moved through the trees. So, a little bit of migration action in miniature!
It was more of the same in the coastal park with more ticking Robins, Goldcrests, Coal Tits and a migrant Song Thrush. I headed to the coastal farm fields, and the rain had set in now, so I saw very little else. I did have a pair of Stonechats, and as always with Stonechats at this time of year, it raises the questions of whether they were migrants, local breeders or a soon to be over-wintering pair. The only way to answer that, is to see if they are still there over the next few days and weeks. 
I bumped into a party of ten Long-tailed Tits, but they weren't carrying anything other than a couple of Blue Tits. Four Blackbirds and a Song Thrush feeding on Hawthorn berries along the big hedge by the ditch had a 'migrant' feel about them, or was that down to the morning, and a small flock of 22 Goldfinches also made it into my notebook. 
I returned to my car via the shore and a group of twelve Turnstones were roosting on some exposed rocks not covered by the tide. 
At the moment it looks like it's remaining northerly until Friday, then switching to easterly, and the wind is dropping, so hopefully that will bring a few birds in. 

Thursday 8 October 2020

Doing The Rounds

For the past two days I have been out at first light doing the rounds irrespective of the weather, because it is October after all! I joined a meeting of the Highland branch of the Scottish Ornithologists Club (SOC) yesterday evening, via Zoom, to hear a talk by John Callandine on Short-eared Owls, and it was brilliant by the way, I learned so much. However, the main reason I mention this is because before John gave his presentation, some members were saying what they were seeing in their gardens. The locations of these gardens were spread across Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland etc, and most people were reporting lots of Yellow-browed Warblers in their gardens. One person would say they had three in their garden yesterday, and another person would say they had six! We do get Yellow-browed Warblers, and numbers are increasing, and there has probably been at least three seen in the past few days within the Obs recording area, but they have been hard won, and it takes a lot of effort continually doing the rounds day after day. Some lucky people due to their geographic location in Britain, can just open their curtains in the morning, and see one of these eastern sprites!
It was cold yesterday morning, with virtual full cloud cover, and a 20 mph north-westerly wind. I'm not sure why I bothered going out really, hang on I remember, because it's October, the migration month! As usual I started off in the cemetery, and the trees were whipping from side to side, making it pretty difficult to detect any birds, if any birds were indeed around! 

I heard some Carrion Crows alarm calling and I could see that they were mobbing and chasing a female Sparrowhawk, in fact it went on for several minutes. They were chasing her over and through the headstones, round the trees, but they were no match for her flying skills. Occasionally she would have enough, turn, and chase one of the Crows. Eventually it all calmed down, and peace ensued. 
Walking along the northern edge of the cemetery, I saw a small bird fly from some of the Japanese rose that has established along here (the Greenfinches love the hips on it at this time of year), and I thought that looked interesting, a bit chat-like. It perched up out in the open, and I lifted my bins, and it was a male Stonechat. Actually, I was quite pleased with that, as they are a good bird for the cemetery. 
There was nothing else grounded other than four Goldcrests, so I moved on to the coastal park. It was even quieter in here, with just a single Goldcrest to add. In fact, there was a lot of disturbance due to building work, as the local authority secured some Lottery money to restore elements of the park. 
I wasn't exactly enthused by the morning's sightings, so I cut my losses and headed home for a coffee!
The second day of doing the rounds, saw me start off again at first light at the cemetery under four oktas cloud cover, with a 15 mph north-easterly wind. A north-easterly is a tricky direction in the cemetery, as most of the cover is along the south, west and north sides leaving it exposed from the east. In fact, I really struggled to find any grounded migrants, other than three Robins and three Coal Tits
A Sparrowhawk was present again, but this time it was a young male, and it didn't have a Corvid escort. I moved on to the coastal park, knowing it was sheltered in places when the wind is coming from a northerly direction, but all I could add was a single Goldcrest. I came across the Red Admiral below, with its 'solar panels' open, catching some rays in a sheltered spot. In fact, in the bright morning sun, it looked more orangey-red, rather than reddish-orange!
Red Admiral
The farm fields beckoned, so I headed there for a walk around the fields and hedges. I started off by walking along the sea wall and I had a cursory look on the sea, and had a male Eider, and a Razorbill still virtually in summer plumage, relatively close in. It was nice to see a Razorbill on the patch so close in, as they are often just whizzing north or south in spring and autumn. 
The view from the farm fields looking across the Bay to the Furness peninsula
I had my first Whooper Swans of the autumn from this spot as well, with five birds heading south along way out to sea. Talking of wildfowl, I also had a flock of 200 Pink-footed Geese head south, contrasting nicely against the azure sky.
Pink-footed Geese
There was next to no vis, and a species that you normally associate with vis in autumn, the Meadow Pipit was a grounded migrant this morning, and at least 50 were in the wet fields. The four Robins I had, could have been grounded, but the Wheatear on the sea wall definitely was. 

It's a bit of an iffy forecast again for tomorrow, but unless it is absolutely awful, I'll get out, because it is October after all! Who keeps saying that?

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of September. Only one new species new for the year was ringed during September, and that was Grey Wagtail.

Below, as usual, you will find the top five ringed for the month, and the top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year.

Top 5 Ringed in September

1. Meadow Pipit - 101
2. Greenfinch - 35
3. Blue Tit - 20
4. Chiffchaff - 15
5. Goldcrest - 14

Top 10 Movers and Shakers for the Year

1. Linnet - 128 (same position)
2. Meadow Pipit - 116 (straight in)
3. Willow Warbler - 92 (down from 2nd)
4. Blue Tit - 80 (up from 5th)
5. Pied Flycatcher - 73 (down from 3rd)
6. Great Tit - 66 (same position)
7. Sand Martin - 63 (down from 4th)
8. Blackcap - 56 (down from 7th)
9. Greenfinch - 54 (straight in)
10. Goldfinch - 51 (down from 8th)  

Monday 5 October 2020

North From Here

I headed to the cemetery for first light, although first light isn't that early at this time year with sunrise just after 7:00 a.m., to look for grounded migrants. At first light, there was one okta cloud cover with a 10-15 mph NW wind. 

Grounded migrants were thin on the ground with just a single Redwing, three Robins, two Goldcrests and two Coal Tits falling into that category.
There was some vis, and interestingly everything was heading north from here into the wind. It's almost as if direction of travel isn't that important for some of the partial migrants that I recorded, but more important was gaining the extra lift by flying into wind (increased air flow over wings = extra lift with little energy expenditure). So, heading north, which after a few wing beats would take the birds out over Morecambe Bay, I had two Grey Wagtails, 23 Linnets, four Goldfinches, 34 Chaffinches, three Greenfinches, two Siskins, a Reed Bunting, a Meadow Pipit (why so few Mipits in early October?), a Carrion Crow and twenty Jackdaws.
I was going to go to the coastal park next, but a text from Ian telling me not to bother, as there were workmen in the park with radios blasting out, meant that I did a u-turn and headed to the coastal farm fields. 

The vis had really quietened off, and you could argue that it really never got going, but what I did have was a mixture of birds both heading north in to the wind, and also travelling in the classic autumnal direction of south. Of interest were nine Skylarks (3N & 6S) and 44 Pink-footed Geese south.
Pink-footed Geese
I did have a quick look on the sea, but I was plagued with heat haze and after just three Auk sp. and four Common Scoters I gave up. Grounded migrants were limited to a Wheatear, a Coal Tit, six Robins, three 'agitated' Dunnocks and another Redwing. 
The farm fields are listed as a Biological Heritage Site (think Site of Importance for Nature in counties outside Lancashire) for their botanical interest, particularly surrounding some of the ditches, but also for the population of Roesel's Buch-cricket that occurs here. Until the early 20th century Roesel's Bush-cricket had a southeast distribution, but they have expanded slowly north and west. It favours damp meadows and grassland, and this is what is found here. They were in fine song this morning, and their long, monotonous, mechanical song accompanied me in places on my walk round. 
It warmed up as the morning progressed and I had a lovely Migrant Hawker sunning itself on the south facing side of a scrubby Hawthorn hedge. See picture below.
Migrant Hawker
I also photographed another invertebrate this morning, which was a Common/Garden Snail making its way along the mollusc motorway, aka the sea wall to you and me. 
Common Snail motoring along the mollusc motorway (above & below)

It's not a brilliant forecast for the morning, but it is October after all, so I'll try and make the effort and get out for a couple of hours.

Friday 2 October 2020

Short and Sweet

It 'felt' quiet this morning, as I walked along the sea wall to my sea-watching/vis mig point at the farm fields next to the school, within the Obs recording area. Sometimes it can feel quiet, and be the opposite, but this morning it felt quiet, and it was quiet.
I had a conversation with Ian during the  morning, as I walked the farm fields checking the hedgerows for any grounded migrants, and I said that I had given it an hour and decided to give it up, and Ian replied that giving it an hour is a good barometer to see if ones 'it felt quiet' hunch is correct. And I quite agree, and I gave it an hour and a half, and it was still quiet.

So, let's rewind a bit to see what I didn't see during my short and sweet outing this morning. The morning dawned with six oktas cloud cover, with a cold 15 mph north-easterly wind. Northerlies are an awful wind direction for us, unless there is more easterly than northerly in it, and this morning there wasn't.
As I walked to my observation point, I thought I might at least have a Wheatear or two on the sea wall, but I didn't, but I did have a Turnstone that perplexed a dog walker, as I could see him looking at it, and by his expression I could tell that he wondered what it was. 
I got into position and started to see and hear a trickle of visible migration. To cut to the chase, I had four Grey Wags, six Alba Wags, 460 Pink-footed Geese, 71 Meadow Pipits and two Skylarks all heading anywhere between east and south. 
A good number of the Meadow Pipits were coming in off the sea, and I have always wondered if on clear conditions they can cross the Irish Sea, and by default Liverpool and Morecambe Bay, from the Mull of Galloway (via the Isle of Man) or Walney Island (western extremity of the Furness peninsula), and make landfall in North Wales, or anywhere east of that line.
Today Walney Island was very clear, but I couldn't make out the North Wales coast, so maybe they were setting off and deciding to make landfall, as they couldn't see across Liverpool Bay to Merseyside or North Wales. I don't know the answer, and I'm glad that I don't, as it keeps the magic of migration alive for me!
The sea was equally as quiet with just four Pintails, 20 Common Scoters and two Guillemots entered into my notebook. After about an hour I gave up looking on the sea, and had a walk along the hedges of the farm fields as I mentioned earlier. I didn't detect anything grounded other than five Robins perhaps, and my telephone conversation with Ian had confirmed there wasn't much grounded stuff about, as he had checked the coastal park and cemetery, with just a couple of Goldcrests for his efforts.
However, it was whilst walking the hedges that I recorded the best bird of the morning, and it was a new species for me at this particular sub-site, in the form of a female Goosander! She was flying across the peninsula from west to east, so from the sea to the estuary. Nothing very exiting in the grand scheme of things of course, but it did brighten up my morning.
Later in the afternoon Gail and I had a walk along the coast along the edge of the golf course, and we had two Stonechats, a Wheatear and a Swallow. So, a few migrants at least! 


The forecast for tomorrow is for a 10 mph NNW wind, with light rain from just before first light. There is a chance that it might produce something, so if it isn't absolutely throwing it down, I'll head out because I quite enjoy looking for migrants in the rain.