Saturday, 4 December 2021

Winter Skyscapes

Thursday afternoon found me at one of my arable northwest Lancs wintering bird survey sites, under two oktas cloud cover, with a biting 2 - 3 NNW wind. And boy was it cold! That's the problem when you're standing still for several hours at a VP! In fact, I am looking at getting some of those heated socks; I must be getting old! I had some fairly good birds, including one that got away (more of that later), and some lovely skyscapes.
I'll start off with the skyscapes, with a series of pictures below illustrating how varied and quite spectacular they were. I was hoping for a decent sunset, but as the sun dipped towards, and below, the horizon, it just didn't happen. 


Not so many Brown Hares this afternoon, but nevertheless it was good to see at least two. Just to the north of my survey site, about 400 Pink-footed Geese kept lifting and dropping back down to feed, but they didn't budge from where they were feeding. A few Pinkies, 176 to be precise, flew over in different directions and in differing sizes of skeins. 
I picked this lone Pink-footed Goose as it flew high and north, and this is about 
the same view of it as I had. I just thought it made a good image against the sky.
 There was still quite a few Woodpigeons feeding in the stubble turnips, somewhere in the region of 115, alongside seven Stock Doves. Good numbers of Jackdaws and Rooks were either in the stubble turnips with the Woodpigeons, or else on an adjacent field of winter wheat, and they numbered 298 and 150 respectively. Later I watched them fly to some local woodland to roost.
A few Redshanks surprised me, and they were a new addition to the site list, the first being a flock of five that looked as though they were going to land on a fairly open pond in some stubbles, but they flew on instead. Every time I walk past this pond on my way to my first VP location, I walk close enough so I can see all the margins as it looks good for a Green Sandpiper or two. I then had four fly north, and a single bird on a field of fairly recently sown winter wheat. The second of three new species for the site, was also a wader, in the form of a single Jack Snipe. It did that classic Jack Snipe thing; flushed when I was nearly on top of it, and then didn't fly very far! 

The third new species for the site, was a cracking female Merlin that belted east past me at a rate of knots. You can't beat a Merlin. Other raptors that made an appearance were three Buzzards and two Kestrels

There are still quite a few Skylarks in the stubbles and this afternoon I had 46. The movement of thrushes seems to have finished now, but on my travels around the site I recorded four Song Thrushes, four Redwings and 38 Fieldfares

The bird that got away was at the end of my survey towards sunset. I heard a bird calling, and my brain, very casually just for a nano-second, said "Yellow Wagtail!" Of course, in that split second, I was telling myself not to be stupid as it was the 2nd December, and then it called again, and I noted that it had a harsh quality to it! I struggled to get onto the bird as it was obviously fairly high, but I did manage to get on to it as it was flying away from me, and into a bright sky lit-up by a setting sun, and all I can say is that it was a wagtail! Frustrating, but that's how it goes sometimes! 

I was supposed to be ringing at the feeding station tomorrow morning, but it is forecast to be too breezy, so I'll still go and top the feeders up and see what's coming in to feed.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Snow Go

This is just a quick update really, jut to let you know that I have nothing to report! On Sunday morning Gail and I were due to have a ringing session at the feeding station, but when we got up at 6:30 a.m. it said 'snow'! Where did that come from? I knew it was going to be cold, but there was no snow in the forecast the day before. 

For obvious reasons, we can't be catching birds for ringing in such inclement conditions. As it happened, the snow didn't come in until later in the morning, so we might have managed a short session, but even if we had, we would have ended up with a wet mist net, which at 60 foot long is a bit of a nightmare to dry!

On Monday, Gail and I went to the feeding station to top the feeders up, and it was another cold and frosty morning, as you can see from the picture below, with a dusting of snow still present. After the feeders were duly topped up, we had a look on the wetland, but it was devoid of any waders and wildfowl because of the freezing conditions. There was only one thing to do, and that was to join Robert and Diana in their cosy farmhouse and drink a gallon or two of coffee! 
A snowy feeding station
The forecast is looking like I'll get a couple of surveys in towards the end of the week, with perhaps a ringing session at the feeding station at weekend. I'll let you know.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

It's the survey season...

..., or so it would seem, based on the number of wintering bird surveys I have completed of late! Over the past ten days I have completed seven surveys, and had a ringing session at our new feeding station in between. I'm not complaining at all, because it means we have had a spell of decent weather, and long may it remain so. 

In my last post I talked about all the 'Vikings' that were around at the time, and since then there has been more of these Nordic birds arriving, but over the past few days this has slowed down. I am still hearing Redwings and the odd Blackbird moving at night, but the calls/minute that I record as a measure of how heavy the passage is, has reduced. 

I have five wintering bird survey sites this year, and all except one in west Lancashire, near Ormskirk, are close to home. On 16th November, I was at one of my arable sites in northwest Lancs under full cloud cover, with a 10 mph south-westerly wind. At this particular site all the arable land has now been sown with winter wheat, which the Brown Hares seem to be enjoying, and on this morning, I recorded nine of these stonking mammals. 

Watching the Brown Hares reminded me of a poem by Robert Macfarlane about Mountain Hares, but his description of how the Mountain Hare moves is equally applicable to Brown Hares.

Hare, walking, is graceless lollop,
Awkward piston, awkward shunt.
Running, hare smooths sudden into speed,
flows over hill-top, lee-slope - 
Each quick arc a mark of hare, a sign of hope
Absolutely brilliant. Awkward piston, awkward shunt, I love it, such a perfect description! 

Most of my wintering bird surveys are connected to the fact that most of Lancashire falls into what is known as a 'Pink-footed Goose and Whooper Swan wintering area', but the only Pink-footed Geese I recorded were 164 flying over. In addition to the Brown Hares making use of the winter wheat, eight Stock Doves and 176 Woodpigeons were also foraging in these areas. 
Raptors were represented by a female Sparrowhawk, a male Kestrel and two Buzzards, and for the second week running I had a calling Chiffchaff. I mentioned that I had some more Vikings, and this morning was no exception, with six Song Thrushes, 263 Redwings, 13 Blackbirds and 205 Fieldfares present. 
One of my wintering bird survey sites has nothing to do with wintering Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans, it is an enlightened land owner who is interested to know what is on their farm over winter. Again, it is northwest Lancs, and under 7 oktas cloud cover, with a 2 - 3 NW wind, I had a wander along the hedges, round the ponds and through the woodlands, the day after my previous survey. 
I recorded 26 bird species on my wander round, and there were a number of species absent that I'm sure I'll pick up later in the winter. That's the problem with surveying, it is just a snapshot of what you encounter on one particular date, and that's why a number are completed during the winter to try and smooth out the peaks and troughs. 
When I was undertaking this survey, I was recording quite a number of Blackbirds, and I started to think back on other recent surveys, and I realised that I was recording a good number of Blackbirds on all of my surveys. It would seem that there has been quite an arrival of them with Redwings and Fieldfares. Looking through them, I could pick out several continental male type Blackbirds, indicating that a high percentage of the Blackbirds that I was recording, were arrivals from Scandinavia. When I counted up from my survey maps, I could see that I had recorded 23 Blackbirds alongside seven Song Thrushes, a Mistle Thrush, 34 Redwings and ten Fieldfares.
I can't resist photographing Gorse, mainly because it gives you a lift with its 
bright yellow flowers in the dark of winter. And often you smell it first, with 
that delicate coconut scent, before you see it. There was plenty of Gorse in
flower at this site.
My third morning surveying 'on the bounce' found me again in northwest Lancs at my other arable farm under full cloud cover, with a 3 - 4 westerly wind. This was an afternoon survey to cover the dusk period, and throughout the afternoon I was plagued with showers, and some of them were heavy, causing me to scurry to the nearest hedge and take shelter. In fact, I was about to call the survey off as the sun started to set, but thankfully it stopped raining and brightened up. 
Sunset after the rain cleared
I've mentioned before that close to one of my VP locations is a fishing lake that I can see part of, and this morning there were two Gadwalls on it, which was a new species for me for the site. Woodpigeons were feeding amongst the stubble turnips, which is quite a weedy crop, and I had 505 of them, but I could only see two of their Stock Dove cousins. 
I added another new species for me for the site, in the form of 14 Black-tailed Godwits that were heading north. A flock of 42 Skylarks and 53 Linnets in some of the stubbles was noteworthy, and the best of the rest included 138 Black-headed Gulls, a female Sparrowhawk, two Buzzards and Kestrels, 112 Jackdaws, 96 Rooks, a Raven and three Song Thrushes. There's been a few Songies about this autumn on the quiet. 
Last weekend, Alice, John and I had our first ringing session at our good friends Robert and Diana's farm near Garstang. We managed to ring 36 birds as follows:
Great Tit - 12
Blue Tit - 11
Coal Tit - 2
Robin - 1
Chaffinch - 5
Blackbird - 1 (continental female)
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1
Nuthatch - 2
Treecreeper - 1
The masked bandit, aka a Nuthatch
We were quite busy, so birding records were thin on the ground, but did include 57 Redwings, a Tree Sparrow, a Siskin, a Grey Wagtail, a Lesser Redpoll, a Kestrel and that Fylde scarcity, a Bullfinch. I didn't see the Bullfinch, I could just hear it calling. 
Earlier this week at another of my northwest Lancashire survey sites, this time all permanent pasture with hedgerows, ponds and scrub, I again noticed that there seemed to be quite a few Blackbirds. I counted up, and I had recorded at least 25. Another numerous species was Magpie, and I had 24 feeding in some maize stubbles!  
My second VP is next to a fairly large pond, and for the two hours that I 
was stood there, this Grey Heron kept me company. At one stage I watched it
catch a large frog that was covered in bits of mud and debris from the bottom
of the pond, and the Heron kept dipping the frog in the water to rinse it, before
swallowing it down in one! 
Mid-week I was down in west Lancashire surveying some arable farmland with a mix of stubbles and field vegetables. I was in my position at my VP half an hour before first light, and the first birds that I recorded, were a small group of eight Whooper Swans winging their way north, presumably to some feeding areas out on the moss. Pink-footed Geese were doing exactly the same, and I had 1,221 moving over in various directions. 

I have surveyed this site previously, about 3 - 4 years ago I think, and one of the features then was the number of Mistle Thrushes I recorded, and today was no different, as I had at least five of these beautiful, monster thrushes. The stubbles held a flock of 89 Linnets, and 104 Lapwings and a calling Corn Bunting over were pleasing to note. 

The following day I was back closer to home surveying, and it was Blackbirds and Magpies that featured again, with counts of 19 and 53 respectively! Gail and I should have been out ringing again this morning, but when we got up at 6:30 a.m. a quick check of the forecast before we headed out showed sleet/snow in the forecast where we were going, and very obviously, this isn't conducive to ringing!

And that's about it. I'll be out and about later in the week if the weather plays ball, so fingers crossed for some more decent weather!

Monday, 15 November 2021


It's been just over two weeks since my last post, but I have been out and about communing with nature, and that's the reason that I haven't posted for a while, I've been busy with surveys. I just wanted to mention this, as this post might end up being a bit long as I play catch-up. 
At the moment, here in the UK, we have lots of Vikings arriving on our shores in the form of wintering thrushes from Scandinavia, and since the 4th November I have seen over 700 Fieldfares and 1100 Redwings. Most nights of late, if you step outside after dark, you will hear the 'seep seep' calls of migrating Redwings, with a few Blackbirds thrown in for good measure. I've also been hearing Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans as well, more Vikings from Iceland.
I had my first Fieldfares of the autumn on the 4th November when I was undertaking a wintering bird survey at one of my sites in northwest Lancashire. It was a lovely clear morning, with a light northerly wind, and at first light I had a flock of 15 Fieldfares heading north. They were perhaps heading into wind, or reorientating to head towards their favoured wintering area. I also had 302 Redwings during the morning, and they too were heading in a general northerly direction.
Small numbers of Pink-footed Geese moved through during the morning and I had 262 moving in various directions, depending on whether they had roosted on the Ribble or Wyre estuaries. There are a number of ponds on this site, and my notes for Wigeon and Teal say 2+ and 4+ respectively, which basically means I heard Wigeon calling from two ponds and Teal from four! 

The fishing lake held 29 Coots and 35 Mallards, but no singing Cetti's Warbler on this morning. Talking about water, there wasn't half a lot of flood water about after all the rain we have been having of late, and this led to a count of ten Snipe on an area of flooded arable land. The only other wader species that I recorded in any numbers, was a flock of 37 Lapwings heading north. 
Flooded arable land
Raptors were represented by a couple of Buzzards, and the now regular Peregrine keeping watch from an electricity pylon. There were still plenty of Skylarks in what remains of the stubbles, and I counted 40, along with a Tree Sparrow, 17 Chaffinches, twenty Linnets, seven Goldfinches and four Reed Buntings
On 5th November, I had a site visit in north Lancs, where I am working with a friend from the Wildlife Trust, producing a seasonal nature trail for a landowner. The idea is that people staying at the self-catering cottages can walk on self-guided trail around the farm. As we walked the trail after lunch, and updating it for the autumn/early winter version, we encountered at least 120 Fieldfares and 50 Redwings here too. And as has been the case at all of the sites where I have recorded these Viking thrushes recently, there were a few continental Blackbirds, and one or two Song Thrushes with them as well. 
The following day, Alice and I went to our friends Robert and Diana's farm near Garstang to locate where we will operate a winter feeding station from over the next few months. We found a good location between the end of an area of woodland and the adjacent hedgerow, where Robert will put two posts into the ground for us to mount our two 20 kg, six port feeders on.
Afterwards, we had a look on the wetland, and we had a good count of wildfowl. There were 233 Teal, 16 Shovelers, 47 Wigeon and 30 Mallards. A small group of eight Whooper Swans headed south, but they weren't tempted to call in at the wetland. Here too, were some more winter thrushes with 20 Fieldfares and 200 Redwings. The oak tree photographed below, against a brooding sky had a number of Redwings perched in it just prior to me taking the picture.
Brooding sky
A few days later found me on my client's farm in Bowland, where I was checking some of the breeding wader fields, and whether they needed much winter grazing on them between now and the end of the year, and also to have a look at the complex of scrapes that John had put in for the breeding waders. 
The complex of scrapes above (it was a murky mornng), and one of the 
scrapes a bit closer below 


I had a new species for me for the farm, when a Bullfinch flew over calling, heading northeast. A pair of Stonechats were in a rushy pasture, and three Jays were noisily making their presence felt. There were 140 Fieldfares and 30 Redwings here as well, and a couple of Bramblings were additional Viking visitors. 
The 10th saw me at another of my northwest Lancs survey sites, and I had to sit out some fairly hefty showers early on, but they soon cleared, although it remained overcast. On the recently seeded arable fields Brown Hares were fairly numerous, and I had at least ten of these gorgeous mammals. 
Very few Pink-footed Geese moved over, and all I had were 217 heading south. There was still a few Woodpigeons in the hedges and fields, and I counted 98 along with a just a couple of Stock Doves. Five Grey Herons in various locations on my map was notable, but just how many individuals were involved I'm not sure. 
Raptors were represented by a single Buzzard and a male Kestrel. I had been at my second VP for a while, and I had the feeling that something was watching me. I turned round and looked up, and a Buzzard was on top of a pylon with a firm gaze fixed in my direction! 
There might have been a handful of migrants around on this morning, because in addition to the two Song Thrushes, two Mistle Thrushes, four Blackbirds (at least one continental male), 256 Redwings and 392 Fieldfares, I had two Goldcrests and a calling Chiffchaff. Can I stretch this to call it a mid-November fall? Funnily enough, I had another Bullfinch here, again my first for the site, that went over calling, heading southeast. 
Last Saturday I was back at Robert and Diana's farm to put out my 'monster' bird feeders. Robert fitted the brackets to the posts, and the feeders were duly filled and latched on to the brackets. We then headed to the field over-looking the wetland, and as we started looking through and counting the wildfowl, Black-tailed Godwits started to drop in. They were dropping in and feeding in the short-cropped grass along the edge of the wetland, and they fed like mad for a good while, probing the ground with their long sensitive bills, as if they were stitching something invisible to the ground. An impressive 436 of these long-legged Vikings from Iceland graced us with their presence! 
Black-Tailed Godwits (above), and shaky video below!

The feeding station (above), and Peacock butterfly (below) that was on the 
wing during the warm morning conditions

Sunday morning found Alice, John and I at the Nature Park for a last ringing session of the year there, unless there is a Pied Wagtail roost later in the winter. We got there before first light, to get a couple of nets up in the dark in readiness for hopefully some more thrushes. Under four oktas cloud cover, with the slightest of easterly breezes, we switched the MP3 players on, and headed to the ringing station to drink coffee and watch the sun rise, and a fairly spectacular sunrise it was too! 
Sunrise at the Nature Park (above & below)


The MP3 players worked, and we caught a few more Vikings. We ringed 50 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Redwing - 23
Cetti's Warbler - 2 (1)
Reed Bunting - 2
Song Thrush - 2
Fieldfare - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 3 (1)
Greenfinch - 12
Goldfinch - 5
Before it was light, we could hear the magical calls of Pink-footed Geese from their roost site out on the estuary. The sound increased, almost to a cacophony, as these stonking birds greeted the rising sun with excited calls, and headed out to their chosen feeding areas. They must have mainly headed east, as only about three hundred departed to the southwest. In fact, there a are a few fields, that are only a few flaps away from the Pinkies roost site, and it would have been to these fields that these three hundred birds were heading. We had a further 172 over later in the morning, heading east over the river.
As I said before, the MP3 player performing the 'Latvian Love Song' for the Redwings pulled in 247 of these northern birds, along with nineteen Fieldfares, three Song Thrushes and four Blackbirds. At one point earlier in the morning, we had a British race of male Blackbird alongside a continental male, and it was educational to see both alongside each other. 

We didn't really detect any vis other than 28 Woodpigeons west and 31 Jackdaws south, although the twelve Greenfinches that we pulled in for ringing would have been moving beyond the range of our sight and hearing. The best of the rest included a Little Egret and a female Stonechat. 
When we packed up towards lunchtime it had warmed up, and a number
of insects were on the wing like this Common darter
I've got more surveys this coming week, topped off hopefully with a ringing session at our newly set-up feeding station. 

On 14th November 1993 I had a bit of a shock when I was ringing at a finch and thrush roost on my own, at a site near Clifton, Preston. It was a former large country house, with associated woodland and mature Rhododendrons along the drive and formal paths. And it was these 'Rhodies' that provided the perfect structural habitat for wintering finches and thrushes to roost in. The main target species for ringing at this site, was the sometimes large number of Chaffinches that roosted here.

As I said before, I was on my own and I had put up four 60-foot mist nets. In those days I used to make a note of which nets the birds had come from, and on this afternoon 28 years ago I can tell you that 30% of the birds ringed came from the 'south tree drive net', 21% from the 'north tree drive' net, 31% from the 'south gate drive' net and 18% from the 'green gate' net!

It was a bird from the 'south gate drive' net that caused all the excitement, and it was a humble Reed Warbler, a first calendar year bird in fact. Reed Warblers of course aren't rare, but 14th November is a very late date indeed, and it had come from a net that was in front of a line of Rhododendrons, that were in turn on the edge of some broad-leaved woodland. Most unusual!

This was before mobile phones of course, and I wanted somebody else from the group to make sure that I was right, and it was indeed a Reed Warbler and not a rare Acro. I had to furl my nets, drive in to the village to the phone box, and make a few phone calls. The nearest group member to the site was Graham, and he was only ten minutes away, which was perfect, as it only meant keeping the bird for a short period of time. We checked the emargination on P3 relative to the wing, the notch on P2, emargination, primary projection and P2 to wing tip, and all looked spot on for Reed Warbler. Phew! This late migrant was ringed, and released, and sent on its way. I wondered what would happen to it. Would it make it to Africa, or would it winter perhaps somewhere a little bit closer, who knows?

In case you are interested I ringed 32 birds that afternoon/evening, and these were a Goldcrest, a Song Thrush, the aforementioned Reed Warbler, 18 Chaffinches, 4 Blackbirds and a 2CY Sparrowhawk. All good stuff!

Monday, 1 November 2021

Another Survey Saturday

I was amazed that Gail and I manged to get my last wintering bird survey for October in on Saturday. It's been a week of constant wind and rain, more than a bit dreich, and the forecast was relentless. I had no choice to keep rolling it over to the following day, but by the time we got to Saturday (30th) we were nearly running out of October! 

We had an afternoon survey to do, and we knew we would get wet, but the forecast promised that it would clear as the afternoon wore on. Now, annotating a map with species codes, activity codes and flight direction etc., isn't easy when it is raining! The map very quickly becomes a soggy ball of wet paper! I have a 'weather writer', which is basically an A4 clipboard with a clear pop-up cover, allegedly allowing you to continue to write/annotate maps in the rain. I say allegedly, because in practice they don't work either. There are two issues. One is that it is virtually impossible to write towards the top end of the weather writer because this is where the pop-up cover joins, and it is impossible to hold a pen/pencil upright here! The second issue, is what I call 'wet sleeve' syndrome. If the weather writer is keeping your paperwork dry, as soon as a wet sleeve has ventured under the pop-up cover a time or two, it will no longer be dry. So, we deployed plan B, and that was to have a big umbrella that Gail could hold over us both if it was raining hard, so that I could annotate the maps in relative dryness. And it worked! 
We set off under 7 oktas cloud cover, with a 15 - 20 mph westerly wind, and frequent heavy rain showers at first. The rain eventually stopped, and the skies cleared to at least 2 oktas, and dried us out. Walking across the recently sowed arable fields was a bit treacherous, as the tilled earth had turned almost to a type of slurry with all the recent heavy rain, and every few steps you sank in above your ankles, which was a bit disconcerting! 
With it being a late afternoon survey, I did expect to see a few roost flights of Pink-footed Geese, but with the wild weather we have had of late, I suspect that for the past few days they will have been feeding very close to their roost sites. As a result, we only had 104 go west. 
The most numerous species we recorded was definitely Woodpigeon, and we had at least 94. They were all feeding either in berry laden Hawthorn hedges, or I suspect on the fresh and tender shoots of emerging winter wheat! 
A berry laden Hawthorn hedge along one of the former toll roads that cross
the site. 
Waders were thin on the ground, and all we had were four Lapwings and two Snipe over. A Little Egret heading southwest during late afternoon was probably heading towards a roost site on the river, and as the clouds cleared, and the sun came out, we had three Buzzards on the wing. 

There were a few winter thrushes in the hedgerows, in the form of three Song Thrushes, 22 Redwings and five Blackbirds, and these were joined by a single Goldcrest and nine Long-tailed Tits.

On the arable fields we encountered seven Brown Hares, probably one of, if not my favourite mammal. A Common Frog entertained us at our second VP watch-point, as it made its way from the tilled field, to the grassy margin alongside.
Common Frog
The forecast is looking good, for a change, for the next few days, so it should enable me to catch up on some more surveys.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

A House Tick

The only bird list that I keep is a house list. Basically, that is any species of bird that I have heard or seen from my house. It could be a bird in my garden, a flyover migrant, or something calling in the darkness perhaps. The only rule that I set my self, is that I have to be somewhere within the boundary of my property, when I record any said bird species.
I was sat at my computer this morning entering some bird records onto the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) BirdTrack, when I looked out of the window and picked up a Jay heading south, and battling against the strong southerly wind that is blowing at the moment. 
I shouted Gail, and managed to get her on to the Jay from the back bedroom window, and we watched it head south until we could no longer see it. 
That was bird species number 73 for our house, so I was very pleased with that. Looking at my list, I have just realised that I need to sort it into the latest scientific order as published by the British Ornithologists' Union (BOU). In fact, I might just do that right now!
Not the Jay from my house this morning, but a similar view. And below is 
a Jay in the hand from 2008

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Monitoring Monday

On Monday I was back at the same wintering bird survey site, and this time the weather wasn't as good, and it had a noticeable effect on bird numbers. I started the survey under 7 oktas cloud cover, with a 15 mph south-westerly wind, and finished it with a 20-25 mph westerly wind and rain! 

There were no Whooper Swans sadly, and Pink-footed Geese only numbered 115. There were 38 Mallards on the fishing lake, but I only had two Teal. I say two Teal, as there was probably considerably more than this, as I recorded the call(s) of Teal from two different ponds. 

The vis was virtually non-existent, other than 14 Woodpigeons, six Skylarks, a Redwing, a Grey Wagtail, five Pied Wagtails, a Meadow Pipit, 21 Chaffinches, 13 Linnets, a Goldfinch, a Siskin and a Reed Bunting. Raptors included five Buzzards and three Kestrels, but none of the Peregrines from Saturday. 
On the former maize field, that has now been ploughed, tilled and probably sown with winter wheat, at least 120 each of Jackdaw and Rook were foraging here. There were still Skylarks in the remaining stubbles, and I counted 58, and with them were 23 Linnets and seven Reed Buntings. 
Reed Bunting
A female Stonechat was new in, and two Cetti's Warblers were again singing from two different locations on site. A Goldcrest in a Hawthorn hedge, was the first for a while, keeping company with just one Tree Sparrow this time. I recorded 40 species in total, but the above are just the meagre highlights. 
I type this after a cancelled site visit on Wednesday morning due to heavy rain, again, and I've still to get another survey in before the end of October. The forecast is poor until the end of the week, so we'll see!

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Survey Saturday

What a month October has been so far for weather, and I mean poor weather by that. Day after day of rain, showers, wind, and often all three. Dreich it certainly has been, and days out in the field have been at a premium. It's been a case of just taking any opportunity of a weather window and going for it, and as such, most of my days in the field have been to keep the wolf from the door, rather than for pure pleasure and indulgence. But they have been just as enjoyable nevertheless. 
And this brings me to 'Survey Saturday'. Saturday just gone to be precise, and I was at one of my now three wintering bird survey sites that I have this winter. I was in the west of the county, under six oktas cloud cover, with a 10-15 mph southerly wind, that was just a tad too strong for ringing. This was the first half-decent morning for some movement, but not as much was on the move as I expected. 
This is how the day dawned from my first VP
Wildfowl dominated the morning, and I had a number of Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans over, and both Pinkies and Whoopers are always good to see. The Pinkies were behaving in various ways, and some were dropping in to feed in fields just to the west of my survey site, others were obviously heading north from their roost on the Ribble to feeding areas over Wyre, and some were probably arrivals from the north. In total, I recorded 1,140 Pink-footed Geese.
Pink-footed Geese
It's hard to beat the call of Whooper Swans as they fly over, to evoke the wild places that they inhabit, whether that's their tundra breeding grounds in Iceland, or some of their wild and windswept wintering areas on coastal grazing marshes in the UK. I had 30 of these bugling beauties over, and they made my day. 
Whooper Swans (above & below)


In the 'also ran' category of wildfowl, were two Canada Geese, eleven Greylags, 15 Wigeon, 18 Teal and 19 Mallards. Within this particular survey area, is a fishing lake, and on there in addition to the Mallards, were two Moorhens, 17 Coots and a Little Grebe. Interestingly, from a pond next to the fishing lake I heard a singing Cetti's Warbler, and I had another Cetti's Warbler singing from a water-course that forms the northern boundary of the site.
There were a few raptors about, including a Kestrel, five Buzzards and three Peregrines. I had an adult Peregrine perched on an electricity pylon, and two immature Peregrines that were squabbling and flying over the currently non-existent wetland. It's still not wet enough for it to form! 
There was a little bit of vis, and a family party of six Ravens calling to each other as they headed east was a bonus. I always enjoy Ravens. As I hinted at earlier, the vis was a bit thin on the ground, and I recorded just 13 Starlings, a Redwing, a Pied Wag, two Chaffinches, three Bramblings, eight Greenfinches eleven Linnets and a Reed Bunting. That's more than a bit thin on the ground!
Not all of the stubbles have been ploughed and tilled, and on the remaining stubbles was a respectable flock of 85 Skylarks, along with ten Linnets and five Reed Buntings. Three Tree Sparrows in a hedge, with three of their 'House' neighbours, is all that remains to report. 
An obliging Reed Bunting that was feeding in some of the stubbles 
(above & below)


Looking back in my notebook from 1983, I did a bit of twitching on this date (23rd October) that year. On a bright, and cold morning, I headed to Pickmere in Cheshire, with some of my teenage birding mates, to see a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver. I have no idea why we went all the way to Pickmere to see a Great Northern, but we did. Anyway, we saw the bird, and as I mentioned it was in summer plumage, so I suppose that was a bonus. 

On the way back we called in at Seaforth NR on the Mersey, but saw very little other than a few Red-breasted Mergansers. However, in the fading light that day, in a Layton garden on the outskirts of Blackpool, we managed to see another Red-breasted species that had been found by ME, and that was a 1CY Red-breasted Flycatcher! So, not a bad day in all 38 years ago! Mind you, I wouldn't travel to see any of those birds now, I just prefer to bird my own patches. However, it's each to their own.

Monday, 18 October 2021

A Few Northern Thrushes At Last

I finally managed to get out ringing on Saturday morning, and an early start resulted in a few Redwings being ringed, but more of that later. 

The weather during the week has been disappointing to say the least, and I struggled to get the second wintering bird survey completed at one of my sites. I had a window of opportunity on Wednesday morning that I took, but during the morning I had a few light showers, but not enough to abort the survey. 

As I set off walking along the margin of one of the arable fields towards the maize crop, a Buzzard was perched up in a dead tree, and in the dreich half-light it didn't see me until I was close. It was far too dark for a photograph, and if it had been lighter, I wouldn't have got anywhere near it. In the same field were three Roe Deer, and as soon as they saw me, they were off. 

I didn't have as many Pink-footed Geese as in recent surveys, and I just had 910 in three skeins flying north from their Ribble roost to feeding areas north of the River Wyre. There are a few ponds within my survey area, and at one of my VPs, I look down towards a couple of ponds where seven Teal were flying round, until they decided which pond to drop in to. 

Most of the stubble had now been ploughed and tilled, and I'm guessing sown with winter wheat. As a result, there were far fewer Woodpigeons, and all I had were 13. There was still a good number of Skylarks around, and I recorded at least 66. 

The ploughing was inevitably attracting gulls, and 215 Black-headed Gulls, a Common Gull, 46 Herring Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, were all taking advantage of the feeding opportunities presented to them. It was the same with Jackdaws and Rooks, as the maize crop had been harvested, 228 and 122 respectively, were feeding on discarded cobs in the stubble. 

I mentioned a Buzzard earlier, and I had another two, as well as two Kestrels. I also had two Peregrines, a male and a female perched on a pylon, the male was at the very top of the pylon and the female about half way down. 

I just had a few Redwings here, 14 that's all, as well as two Song Thrushes and three Blackbirds. A couple of Tree Sparrows called from a hedgerow adjacent to the now harvested maize field, and a flock of 63 Linnets were mobile in some cereal stubbles. 

As I mentioned before, it was a dreich morning, and as a result there was absolutely no vis to speak of, other than perhaps very local movements e.g., the Pinkies. 

Returning to Saturday morning, it too was another dreich morning, and when Alice, John and I arrived at the Nature Park in the dark, we had full cloud cover, with some light rain and a south-easterly breeze. The light rain eased very quickly, and we got three nets up in the dark. However, I had been out listening for Redwings the evening previously without success, and none were calling this morning either. Nevertheless, we still put 'Redwing' on the MP3 players, and it did pull a few of these northern thrushes in.
We ringed 40 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Redwing - 8
Reed Bunting - 3
Goldfinch - 13
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Robin - 1
Blackbird - 1
Greenfinch - 13
Long-tailed Tit - (1)

We also had a bit of vis this morning, including 30 Redwings, two Chaffinches, 530 Jackdaws, 20 Woodpigeons, a Meadow Pipit, 13 Siskins and three Bramblings. The direction of movement of visible migrants is always interesting. During the autumn, a number of the finches head east, and this morning was no exception, with the Chaffinches, Siskins and Bramblings all heading east. The Jackdaws and Woodpigeons however, were either moving west or south. It's probable, that the westerly moving birds, turn and head south when they reach the Irish Sea coast, which is only 2.3 km from the Nature Park, as the Jackdaw or Woodpigeon flies! 

A Little Egret, Goldcrest and a Sparrowhawk made it in to my notebook, but there were no Starlings roosting. And that was it, but at least it was good to enjoy a few northern thrushes at last!

An update on our hedgehog house in the garden; it's being used! Our regular hog has moved in, and he/she has been bringing in their own nest material to add to the hay that we provided. See picture below. 
Hedgehog house with nest material
I've got four more wintering bird surveys to get in before the end of the October, and at the moment the forecast for that period isn't very good. I'll have to keep everything crossed!

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

It Is October After All

The forecast on Friday evening didn't inspire me with confidence for my planned ringing session at the Nature Park on Saturday morning. I spent quite a bit of time outside in my garden after dark listening for migrants, Redwings in particular, and gazing up at the sky to see if I could get any clues regarding the weather. I didn't hear a single Redwing, and the cloud was low, and it looked a tad murky to me. 

The plan was to get to the Nature Park in the dark Saturday morning, and get at least one net up in the darkness and put Redwing on the MP3 player. I was up at 6:00 a.m. and stood in my garden again for a while, and there wasn't any Redwings going over, and that cloud base was still low, and again it looked murky. The only saving grace was that the wind was south-easterly in direction. I must admit, in view of the weather conditions I struggled to motivate myself to go out and put some nets up, when my 'gut feeling' was that there wouldn't be any migrants grounded, on vis, or otherwise. But that little over-optimistic voice in my head said, "it is October after all", so off I went.
Driving there I could see some light drizzle on my windscreen, and wet I hit the farm fields, looking both east and west the cloud base was low; not good. Anyway, under full cloud cover with a 10 mph south-easterly wind I put up a couple of nets in the reedbed and scrub. 
A couple of singing Cetti's Warblers kept me company as I put the nets up, as did one or two ticking Robins. The Starlings exited their reedbed roost, but only 200 now. The reedbeds here are just a summer/early autumn roost, and the large winter roosts locally are under the piers at Blackpool, and at Leighton Moss and Marton Mere nature reserves perhaps. 
A telephone conversation with Ian during the morning told me that the whole of Morecambe Bay was 'locked down' with murk to the east and north, and hence the lack of any migrants. The vis was less than a dribble, with just single figures of Grey Wagtail and Skylark. Two Stonechats are now on site, and it is likely that they will over-winter. 
I have noticed that over recent weeks, late summer into autumn, Blackbirds have been thin on the ground, probably as a result of the long dry spell we have had through this period. They will have struggled to forage for ground invertebrates because of the dry ground conditions. So, the three very active, bordering on agitated, Blackbirds I had this morning will have been continental migrants. 

I ringed twelve birds as follows:

Chiffchaff - 1
Wren - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Robin - 1
Chaffinch - 1
Greenfinch - 7
Sunday morning the wind had changed direction to a stiff north-westerly, too windy for ringing, and the worst wind direction possible for birding, so a few pints of real ale beckoned instead!

I was out doing a wintering bird survey this morning, and it was very quiet, and I couldn't justify writing a separate blog post detailing this morning's exciting sightings, because there weren't any, well, except one that is!

It was north-westerly again this morning, so not good, and I had five oktas cloud cover. The last time I was at this site it was the first decent morning after several days of rain, and lots of Pinkies were on the move, and if you remember, I had a Snow Goose over with some of those Pinkies. This morning I had another good bird on vis, in the form of a Lapland Bunting! I think I was nearly as surprised, as I was with the Snow Goose. As usual with these things, I didn't get any 'crippling' views, just a chunky bunting flying over calling like a Lapland Bunting! Quite bizarre, but it is October after all! 
One of the VP locations at this site
And it didn't get any better, it really was quiet. If I was to scrape the ornithological barrel for some highlights, they would include 222 Pink-footed Geese, 59 Stock Doves (a good count), six Snipe, two each of Buzzard and Kestrel, 139 Jackdaws, 93 Rooks, 13 Skylarks, singles of Song Thrush and Tree Sparrow, a Grey Wagtail and a Reed Bunting. I said it was quiet!

It's north-westerly again tomorrow, and there's going to be some rain around during the morning, so it will be Wednesday before I'm out again on another survey. 

In other news, Gail and I installed a Hedgehog house in the garden yesterday, to see if the Hedgehog that we feed every night would use it. We set our trail cam nearby, and the Hedgehog was going in and out of it straight away! We put some hay in it for bedding, and when we recovered my trail cam, we could see that the Hedgehog had taken some leaves in. Brilliant! 
Hedgehog house

Saturday, 9 October 2021

More Geese and Some Autumnal Nostalgia

This is a post of two halves; the first half is a brief summary of yesterday's sightings during one of my surveys, and the second half is an autumnal walk down memory lane for me. 
I was at my wintering bird survey site number two yesterday, again in west Lancs, under 6 oktas of cloud cover, with a light south-easterly wind. No dramas this morning, just five hours of uninterrupted bird surveying. Marvellous!

Geese were certainly the order of the day, and of the Pink-footed variety, and for the first hour or so, 'Pinkies' were arriving from the south, and heading predominantly northeast. They will have been coming from their southwest Lancs roost sites, probably around the Ribble marshes, and heading towards foraging areas in the Over Wyre district towards Lancaster. It is possible that some birds might also have been motoring on towards the Solway, and even to one of my favourite places, Mersehead. In total I had 4,447 of these cracking little geese go over!
 The view from one of the hides at one of my favourite nature reserves;
Mersehead RSPB
There is lots of stubble within the area that I am surveying, although some of it was being ploughed and tilled yesterday, and the stubbles held somewhere in the region of 271 Woodpigeons, 45 Skylarks, 15 Goldfinches and 44 Linnets. Hunting over the stubbles were a couple of male Sparrowhawks and two Kestrels. The only other raptor species that I had, was a Buzzard that stood sentinel on top of a pylon. 
One particular field that was being ploughed, had at least 213 Black-headed Gulls and 62 Herring Gulls, that either followed the tractor, or loafed in another part of the field. It was interesting to note, that once the farmer started to till the ploughed land, they lost interest and slowly drifted away. Presumably, it was the cutting and turning of the soil by the plough that provided the greatest feeding opportunities. 
It was another day, with another Jay, but only one this time, flying along the edge of a field of maize. However, the best corvids were three high, flying, croaking Ravens, that headed south under the late morning sun. Rooks and Jackdaws numbered 111 and 73 respectively, and were continually flying from an area of woodland to feed on the adjacent farmland. 
High flying Raven
Other than the Pinkies, which I suppose weren't technically vis, there was a small amount of passerine vis, and again not as much as I would have expected, but I did have my first Brambling and Redwing for the autumn over, as well as 24 Skylarks, two Swallows, three Tree Sparrows, ten Meadow Pipits, six Chaffinches, two Linnets and a Reed Bunting
Of course, during the five hours I was there I recorded a number of other species, but these were the highlights. 
As a keen teenage birder and naturalist, before I was old enough to learn to drive, I used to walk to my local nature reserve, Marton Mere. I also joined a local naturalists group called the Fylde Naturalists' Society, and on alternate Saturdays they ran coach trips to various locations throughout Cumbria and Lancashire. This gave me the opportunity to get out to other sites, and immerse myself in habitats that I couldn't find closer to home, and more importantly, learn under the tutelage of some very fine local naturalists. As an adult, it was a privilege to return to the Fylde Naturalists' Society and talk to them about my work at the time as a Farm Conservation Adviser, and also on another occasion I talked to them about the BTO Ringing Scheme.
Anyway, I digress, because what I wanted to say, is that on this date in 1978 I was on a walk with them around the Silverdale area, and to be more precise, between the villages of Yealand Conyers and Yealand Redmayne. In the programme, the walk was detailed as Yealand and Berry Walk, and that is how I entered it in my notebook. 
As you can imagine, as a 14-year-old I had a lot to learn, but I always kept a notebook, and I still do. And looking at my old notebooks from this time they make me smile, mainly because of my rather naive use of language, and how I wrote as a young boy.
I can tell you that during this walk 43 years ago, it was "dull and fairly warm, and it spotted slightly". Spotted slightly? I assume that this is a reference to light rain/drizzle, weather that I would call dreich today. My description of the habitat that we walked through wasn't even as detailed as a Phase 1, and I said that the habitat was "open and dense woodland, and open fields". I tried my best! 
We were out from 8:31 a.m. until 5:50 p.m. Very precise! Whenever I entered field outings in my notebook at this time, I had various standard headings that I used from site to site, that I would record various details under. For example, it could be 'weather ', 'habitat' etc, but after the list of birds that I recorded, I always had a section called 'Interesting Points', and it is from the interesting points of that trip in October 1978, that I have detailed below. Please forgive my 14-year-old self, but sometimes I am reminded of some nugget of interesting information, particularly changes in the range and population of certain species, and the sighting of a Red Squirrel is a classic example. At that time, they still hung on in this part of Lancashire, which to me is of great interest. So, on with 'Interesting Points'.
"As we were walking at the beginning of the walk, my friend Andrew noticed a moth on a leaf. We showed it to Mr. Watson (President of the Fylde Naturalists Society) and he identified it as a Brick Moth".
I like how respectful I was to Arthur, calling him Mr Watson. Arthur Watson was one of the greatest entomologists in Lancashire, and he was a lovely, lovely man, and I learned a great deal from him. My first conservation hero perhaps? Arthur became chairman in 1963, and remained chairman until his untimely death in 1980. Back to those interesting points.
"Then in the trees there was a movement. Everyone looked up, and there was a Red Squirrel scrambling through the branches of the trees. 
Deeper in the woods we came across some Badger setts. These might have been disused, but we couldn't tell. On a young tree there were some deer rubbings, probably from Red Deer because of their height. Amongst the trees November Moths were around.
After dinner we went through some more open woodland. Amongst the Birch trees along the ground was a lot of fungi called Tricholoma album".
And that was it. My interesting sightings came to abrupt halt. I can tell you that the species of fungi was identified by another of my conservation heroes, and another lovely man, called Norman Woods. Norman was a brilliant naturalist, and one of those amazing people who are knowledgeable on all taxa. Norman became Chairman after Arthur passed away in 1980, and he remained chairman until 1991.
For a few years, during my teenage birder/naturalist period, I used to illustrate my notebook with coloured pencil drawings, and the drawing that accompanied the above 'Yealand and Berry Walk' was that of a male Pheasant, and I have posted it below.
Not quite Ian Lewington or Killian Mullarney standard, but I think you can tell 
what it is!
I really enjoyed that trip down memory lane, and I am thankful that my enthusiasm for the natural world remains undimmed after all these years, and I retain that boyish enthusiasm!

Friday, 8 October 2021

Snow Goose

Wednesday morning got off to a bad start when I arrived at first light at one of my two wintering bird survey sites in west Lancs. It was a glorious morning, with more or less clear skies, and a 15 mph north-westerly wind. The first decent day for some bird movement after several days of blocking wet weather.

The track that I usually drive down to park my car was very wet, and some heavy farm machinery had been using it to access the fields to lift some potatoes. I got half way down, and realised that if I continued, I would likely get stuck! However, my car didn't want to reverse along the wet and muddy track, so I had no option other than to drive to the end and turn round in the field if I could. Eek! 

Amazingly, I did manage to turn round, and I thought that the only way I was going to get back to the road along the track was to 'floor' it and keep moving. And so, I did, and I spent the next half a minute or so driving along with full opposite lock! I had to park in the village, and this was a twenty-minute walk to my first VP, so it put me back a bit.
As I said before, this was the first morning where conditions had unblocked, and it looked good for some visible migration, and indeed numbers of Pink-footed Geese were arriving high from the north, and heading south. I was stood at my VP, and I hadn't even had time to set my 'scope up, because I was busy counting all the Pinkies going over. 
Pink-footed Geese
I was counting one skein of Pinkies, when I noticed a pale bird, similar size to the Pinkies, at the tail end of the left-hand side of the 'v'. I lifted my bins, and was surprised to see that it was an adult 'white morph' Snow Goose! No photo I'm afraid, as my camera was in in my rucksack. There's always an issue with wildfowl as to whether individuals are genuine vagrants or not. There is no doubt that Snow Geese are a genuine vagrant to the UK, but telling a genuine vagrant from a 'fence hopper' from a wildfowl collection is impossible to tell. However, a Snow Goose arriving with lots of Pinkies high from the north, is probably of as genuine provenance that you could hope for. 
I had 2,984 Pink-footed Geese in total, and most were heading high to the south as I said previously. There were some smaller groups coming back north and west, and were probably re-orientating themselves to head to favoured feeding areas. I also had my first Whooper Swans of the autumn with a group of 14 heading west. 
As the morning wore on, it warmed up, and this gave perfect conditions for the three Buzzards that were making use of the thermals. The only other raptors that I had were a female Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel. I had three Jays, that continues to support my thoughts about it being a Jay autumn/winter this year.
There was some vis, but surprisingly not as much passerine movement as I might have expected. All heading in a general south-ish direction, I had 16 Swallows, two Grey Wagtails, six Meadow Pipits, eleven Chaffinches and a Siskin
There were a few Chiffchaffs around and I recorded three, but only one Goldcrest. Goldcrests do seem to be thin on the ground this autumn. A flock of 22 Linnets and 12 Goldfinches were mobile, and passed me at my second VP several times. The five hours passed very quickly, and it was soon time to return to my car.