Thursday 31 December 2020


Before I get into the 'nitty gritty' of today's post, I just wanted to have a moan about the weather...again! Alice and I were due to have a ringing session at our Bowland feeding station this morning, and I had to call it off at 6:30 this morning, for what feels like the umpteenth time in the past few weeks! 
There seems to be a pattern emerging, in that I check the forecast the night before, and all looks tickety boo, then in the morning the forecast has changed, or it is raining/sleeting/snowing/blowing a hooley etc. This morning was yet another case in point. I rolled out of my bed at 0630, as I said before, and I could hear water gurgling in my sun lounge guttering. A quick look outside and it was sleeting, and in the time it took for me to text Alice to say that ringing was off, it then started to rain! Three hours later, and it was still raining. As I look out of my office window as I type this, glorious sunshine. I think it's called Sod's law! 
Anyway, today's blog title refers to two bird species that I observed perched when I was out surveying yesterday morning that always surprise me when they do; one species does perch, but only occasionally, and the other perches more regularly, particularly when nesting, but looks rather incongruous when it does. But more of that later.
As I have mentioned before, this particular survey site in west Lancs has four VPs, plus a length of transect. I alternate the VPs around in terms of order, and yesterday morning I was in the layby of the busy road that I have mentioned before. It was cold and grey, with a light north-westerly wind, and later some showers would run in on the prevailing wind. But, there were some Pink-footed Geese opposite the layby, and they looked to be in good numbers too. I had to climb over the central console of my car to sit in the passenger seat, because if I had got ou,t they would have flushed for sure. In total I counted 1,867 Pinkies and I gave them a good grilling, but I couldn't find any other Geese species amongst them. The only other birds in this field was a small flock of 17 Lapwings.
I moved on to my second VP and transect, and this area contains an area of scrub that is impenetrable, so it's a case of standing and listening along the edge. The ditch that forms the eastern boundary had recently been re-profiled with a tracked digger, and this allowed some access to the easternmost scrub, and it also played host to perching bird number two.
A number of Blackbirds fed and called from the area of scrub, as did a single Song Thrush and three Fieldfares. A Goldcrest, ten Greenfinches, a Grey Wagtail, a Reed Bunting and the usual roosting six Snipe were also recorded from this area.
Adjoining the scrub is a Hawthorn hedge and I picked up three birds flitting along the top of the hedge and periodically they were perched. At first, I couldn't get my brain in gear because they didn't call and I only had fleeting glimpses; streaked upperparts, long tail, streaked underparts.... Then the penny dropped and they were three Meadow Pipits flitting along the top of the Hawthorns. Of course, Mipits will perch up on scrub, trees etc, especially during migration, and I have seen them do this before, but it always takes me by surprise.
Below you will find a picture of perched bird number two, and I apologise for the quality of the picture as it was some distance away. Little Egrets of course nest in trees, so they do indeed perch a lot, particularly during the breeding season, but they never look comfortable when they do. This bird was perched in some scrub above the re-profiled ditch, and I am sure that it was using the elevation to enable it look down into the water. It was trying to walk along the branches at times, and as I said before it looked so incongruous doing so. 

I finished the day off with a quick walk along part of the Wyre estuary with Gail, and noted in my head the 20 Redshanks and 32 Oystercatchers feeding in the quay, and tried to remember to put them in my notebook when I got home. 

It's looking fairly settled, or it is according to the pesky weather forecasts, so hopefully I'll get out ringing over weekend. I hope I don't regret saying that!

Tuesday 29 December 2020

Jinxed It

I saw the late weather forecast for the northwest after the BBC news last night and it looked iffy. A quick check with the various online forecasts that I use, and all still looked well for this morning. Although I must admit, that I went to bed with the suspicion that things might have changed by the morning. 

I rolled out of bed at 6:30 this morning and the first thing I did was check the online forecasts, and my suspicions were confirmed, it wasn't looking good and sleet showers were forecast from 0800 - 1000, exactly the time when we would be ringing. A quick text to Alice to let her know that ringing was off, and that was it, I'd jinxed it by saying that it looked favourable yesterday! I don't actually believe that, but nevertheless it is frustrating. 

Gail and I headed to our Bowland feeding station later in the morning to put some food out and fill up the feeders, and it was a different day; overcast with a sharp north-easterly wind, but no sleet showers. There had obviously been some snow overnight, as all the high ground had a fresh dusting of snow. 

The usual suspects were all present at the feeding station, and after all the food was put out,
 we had a walk up the wooded valley to get some warmth back into our fingers and toes. Nothing much to record other than Nuthatches, Chaffinches, Coal Tits, Blackbirds, Wrens, Robins and eleven Mallards on the semi-frozen pond. 

Below are a few pictures from one of the feeders. 

                                      Blue Tit                                       
Coal Tit
Great Tit (above & below)

Monday 28 December 2020

That Was Hard Work

I headed to the coastal farm fields this morning at first light, and it was a cold old morning that got progressively greyer. I could see that there was snow around, as the Lakeland fells and Bowland were covered in the white stuff, but down here on the coast it was clear.
My blog title sums the morning up perfectly, and I could easily have titled it 'A Birdless Walk', 'Wot No Birds', or some other title that conveyed that it wasn't half a quiet morning. So, this is going to be brief. 
I had a look on the sea for about three quarters of an hour and saw 'diddly squat'! Not a single Merg, Diver, Eider or Scoter. Nothing except a flock of seven Cormorants. I had two Turnstones on the sea wall and a Kestrel perched on a post and that was it. And that includes my walk around the farm fields. 
Driving to the coast I noticed Pink-footed Geese dropping in to one of their regular feeding areas on farm fields between the coast and the estuary, and I thought that on my way back home I would have a look through them. On my way back home, they had moved into another field that wasn't viewable from either of the two lay-bys on this busy stretch of road. 
I hope tomorrow fairs better when we attempt some ringing at my Bowland feeding station. I hope I haven't just jinxed it!

Sunday 27 December 2020

Seasonal Snippets

Although it's a little late, I would like to wish you all Seasonal Greetings, and hope that you enjoyed the solstice. Now that we are beyond the shortest day, and into the new year, we can celebrate the return of the light, and already the sun is setting nearly five minutes later!
On Christmas eve I visited my Bowland feeding station to top the feeders up, erect another feeder for sunflower hearts, and put some seed on the ground, along with some apples. It was a glorious morning with crisp, clear blue skies and a light northerly wind.
There were plenty of birds coming to the feeding station including 26 Chaffinches, 7+ Coal Tits, 2+ Nuthatches and five Goldfinches. As it was such a lovely morning, I decided to go for a walk up the valley along one side, and back down to the feeding station along the other.
Coal Tit
Blue Tit

I didn't expect to see much, as it is mid-Winter after all, but it was just a pleasure to stretch my legs. Not long after I had set off, I flushed a Roe Deer, that ran a short distance and stopped to look back at me, before heading out of sight through the wooded valley.
On the eastern edge of the woodland, I came across a standing dead Birch tree with a community of Piptoporus betulinus, common names Birch Polypore or Razorstrop Fungus, growing on the decaying trunk. It takes its common name from an old use for sharpening razors. See pictures below.

Further along my walk, I came across two males and a female Blackbird, and one of the males was a lovely sooty continental bird. Six Mallards on the pond at the top of the valley, and it was time to head back down.

On Christmas day I headed to the Point for an hour and a half to have a look on the sea as there was a tide. The sea was like a mill pond, but due to the differences in temperature between the relatively warm sea, and the cold air there was a slight heat haze. It's a pity, because without the heat haze the visibility would have been even better, even though it was already fairly good. 

On the shore I recorded Turnstones, Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers, but the only species in any real numbers was the 128 Oystercatchers. A pair of Stonechats flitted along the dunes and across to the shore to forage for invertebrates as I walked along the path heading to my watch point. 
Ringed Plover
There were too many jolly people around for my liking, and numerous people wished me a Merry Christmas. That was very nice of them, but as somebody who doesn't really celebrate Christmas I would rather they would have left me alone. I'm not critical of anybody that does celebrate Christmas, but it's not for me. And anyway, when I am out birding, I just want leaving alone so I can concentrate on what I am doing and 'get in the zone'. I'm not complaining, honestly...well, maybe just a bit!

As for Christmas eve it was quiet, but again a pleasure to be out, and on the sea all I had was two male Red-breasted Mergansers, 20 Eiders, five Red-throated Divers, a Shelduck and a Common Scoter.
Red-breasted Merganser
The forecast is looking reasonable for next week, and I am hopeful of getting out birding, ringing and surveying!

Friday 18 December 2020

Temporary Patches

It's funny how quickly a site that you are undertaking a series of wintering bird surveys at, becomes almost like a patch. It will usually be a site that you have never visited before, it might not be the best site in the world, but after you have completed somewhere in the region of twelve surveys, with a minimum of 36 hours observation time, it becomes familiar, you get to know it fairly intimately, and you sort of, start getting patch ticks. And then it's over, the survey period has finished and you never return. I like to call them temporary patches.
I have one such patch this winter in west Lancs, and I have mentioned it before, it's the one with a bit of a marsh. I was there earlier in the week, on a reasonable morning with three oktas cloud cover and there was a light south-easterly wind. I also had a patch tick too! 

I walked along the busy road to where I access the site down a bramble covered embankment and on to the first, now quite wet, arable field. It's always a relief to get away from the road, as the noise from the traffic does actually hurt my ears. There's a bit of a ruined orchard that I walk past, orchard might be too strong a word as there is literally a couple of apple trees, and a Song Thrush called from here, barely audible above the traffic noise.

I dropped down onto the field, and a number of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead, 128 to be precise, and then I headed north along the edge of the marsh to my VP. As usual I could hear Teal, Mallards, Moorhen and Water Rail calling, but it was the bird perched up on some Bramble and Willowherb stems that drew my attention. A male Stonechat, and a new species for this temporary patch! Another bird flew past me low, perched up, and it was a female Stonechat. So, a pair of Stonechats new to my temporary patch and I was made up!
Stonechat (male above & female below)

There were a few birds on the stubble field again, including 138 Woodpigeons, 74 Black-headed Gulls, 53 Herring Gulls, twelve Fieldfares, 86 Starlings and three Stock Doves. A Buzzard, and a female Sparrowhawk were causing a bit of mayhem this week over the stubbles. 
I've got one more survey to get in, and that's me finished for the Solstice festivities until the New Year. Fingers crossed for some decent weather to get out birding or ringing, or maybe even both!

Wednesday 9 December 2020

First Snow

This post is really just to report, that I haven't really got anything to report! And once again, it's down to the weather.
Towards the end of last week, we had our first snow. On the Friday, I headed to my feeding station in Bowland, and there was a sprinkling of the white stuff on the fells. Whilst I was at my feeding station topping the feeders up it was snowing there too, but it wasn't quite cold enough for it to settle. 
A sprinkling of snow on the fells (above & below)


The feeders were duly re-filled, seed scattered on the ground for the ground feeders, all ready for a ringing session on Sunday morning. Sunday morning came round, and I met up with Alice, and it was raining! Not the sort of rain that would trouble you if you were out for a walk, or birding on the hoof, but it was the sort of rain that is impossible to ring in. 

Instead, we had to settle for a walk. We didn't really see a great deal, there was the usual Coal Tits, Nuthatches and Chaffinches visiting the feeders, and a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the woods. A few Goldcrests called from some conifers, and a Raven flew over croaking. A Buzzard and a Redwing later, and that was it. That's two weekends in a row where the dreich weather has prevented us from doing any ringing. And the forecast isn't looking great for the coming weekend either, but never mind, the Solstice will be upon us soon and we can look forward to the return of the light.

Today I was at one of my wintering bird survey sites in west Lancashire, the one with a bit of a marsh. My survey period was from mid-morning to early afternoon to cover the low tide period, and it was quiet. The first entry onto my maps was a Roe Deer that slipped round the end of a hedge and along the edge of the marsh. The only other mammal that I recorded was a Brown Hare that I flushed from a drier bit of the marsh where it abuts an arable field. The male Kestrel was in residence, and I saw him in a variety of locations; perched up on power lines, hovering over the marsh and keeping watch from some Willows surrounding a pond. 
Brown Hare
Talking of raptors, I had a Buzzard that kept on upsetting the Starlings, Fieldfares and Woodpigeons that were feeding in a stubble field, by flying backwards and forwards over them to some woodland, but most interesting was the female Sparrowhawk hunting over the marsh. I don't know whether she had become a bit of a Snipe specialist in terms of her prey selection, or perhaps even Teal, as I suspect she was capable of tackling Teal, but she was flying back and forth over the marsh flushing Snipe and giving chase. I never actually saw her catching any, but she certainly gave me the impression that she had done this before, and it wasn't just pure opportunism.

The marsh is a bit frustrating as I don't really know what is on/in there in terms of numbers. I hear Mallard and Teal calling, but how many I don't know, and I entered two Water Rails on to the maps based on calls from different parts of the marsh, but there could well be more than that. 

I mentioned Fieldfares and Starlings before in relation to the Buzzard, and I recorded 32 of the former and 435 of the latter. I had a Raven go over, and I only mention it because I like Ravens, as a single Raven these days isn't as exciting as it used to be in this part of the world when I was a nipper. 
Behind my second VP there is a ribbon of woodland alongside a burn, and I had a couple of Grey Wagtails close to this area. A flock of 49 Goldfinches were feeding on Ash seeds, and in fact they were virtually above my head, but were feeding quietly and it was only when they flew and called that I knew they were there. A party of eight Long-tailed Tits bounced from the hedge and across to the woodland. I think last time I was at this VP a couple of weeks ago, they numbered fourteen, but then again, they could easily be different birds. 
This Robin (above & below) kept me company at my second VP


 Although it was quiet, it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours working. As I hinted at before, the weather isn't improving anytime soon, and I will struggle to get another survey in before weekend, but I always live in hope!

Thursday 3 December 2020

Tundra Bean

Earlier in the week I was back at one of my wintering bird survey sites in West Lancashire. The conditions were perfect with four oktas cloud cover and a light northerly breeze. Two of my VPs are from my car, parked in a layby on a busy A road. However, the fields to the east of my VPs can be good for wintering Pink-footed Geese, and I do watch them as they are close to home.
Pink-footed Geese
When I pulled into the first layby, I could see that there was already some Pinkies feeding in the field. Over the next hour, small numbers kept dropping in, and in total I counted 618. On a couple of occasions, I thought I had a Tundra Bean Goose, but it was distant and I kept losing it. Later in the morning I moved round to another location overlooking the next field along from the geese, but I could still see them through some gaps in the hedge, and they were a lot closer. I had just got my scope on the Pinkies through the gap in the hedge and a Tundra Bean popped its head up. A lot closer now, and no mistaking it, so my original thoughts were correct. Unfortunately, they were just too far away for a photo that would make any sense. 
Only two raptors here, a Buzzard and a Kestrel. The Buzzard flew in and perched on top of a pylon, and one of the local Kestrels took offence at this and mobbed the Buzzard, but the Buzzard wasn't for moving! 
At another section of my survey that involves a transect over some rank grassland and scrub, a Sparrowhawk was perched on top of a building with a Magpie escort. After a few hard stares from the Magpies, the Sparrowhawk was off, and surprisingly it didn't receive any further attention from the black and white bandits. I like Magpies. And I like Sparrowhawks.  

It seemed like there had been an influx of Blackbirds over these past few days, as I recorded 15 during my survey, and that is a good number for this site. Reading various east coast bird blogs etc over the past week, and a number of them have been reporting an influx of Blackbirds and Redwings, so that fits in with the west coast always being several days later for the birds to arrive here. 

A calling Chiffchaff from the mature hedge was probably the same bird that I recorded here about ten days ago, and is probably over-wintering. I suppose if I record it over the next couple of visits I will know for sure. 

I saw an unusual bird perched, well awkwardly stood really, in a Hawthorn this morning in the form of a Moorhen. It had flown/clambered up into the Hawthorn to reach some rose hips on the rose sp. that was using the Hawthorn as scaffolding. What made me laugh was the way it attempted to walk through the Hawthorn flicking its tail and bobbing, as if walking along the ground.

The Snipe were in the usual position roosting on the Bramble covered concrete hard standing, and the picture below shows where they are roosting by the number of droppings on the ground. 
Snipe poo!
The weather didn't play ball last weekend, and it was dreich at best, and not good for any ringing at my Bowland feeding station. I did call to the top feeders up however, and caught the Roe Deer in the picture below taking seed from one of the feeders! The feeder was obviously at perfect deer height! 
Roe Deer
I am hoping that the weather will be okay for this coming weekend, and that we can get some ringing done.