Monday, 3 May 2021

Three Different Days

As I sit here at my computer on Bank Holiday Monday, looking out of the window, it is decidedly dreich, so the perfect opportunity to look back on three different days from Friday - Sunday. 

Friday morning, I was back at my wintering bird survey site with some freshwater marsh, but this time it was to complete the first of three breeding bird surveys (BBS). It was a calm, overcast morning, and when I got to the site at 6:00 a.m. there was a ground frost! However, as soon as the sun moved in-between the marsh and the sky, the frost disappeared. 

I thought I might have had a few more warbler species this morning, but in the end my BBS maps just showed two singing Blackcaps and four singing Sedge Warblers. The Sedge Warblers reflecting the area of wetland habitat of course. Reed Buntings were expected, and recorded, with 2-3 pairs on the marsh.

I added another summer migrant to my (invisible) list of new arrivals in the form of a single House Martin, and two Tree Sparrows were along the last hedge that I surveyed. 

I just wanted to mention that I have at least two Hedgehogs coming into my garden nightly, and they are eating all the dried cat food that we leave out for them. In return, they leave several 'deposits' in and around the feeding station as a thank you! We wouldn't have it any other way.

On Saturday morning, Alice and I tried our luck in the Willow scrub at the pools again. The water levels had dropped once more, and instead of just managing to put 60 feet of net up, we managed to get 100 feet up. Did we manage to ring many more birds with this increase in netting? Barely!

At first light we had clear skies, and it was calm, so apart from the clear skies it was perfect for ringing. As I hinted at before, we didn't have a brilliant ringing session and only ringed three birds; one each of Lesser Redpoll, Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting. Just one recapture, and that was a Reed Warbler, so it was a morning of quality, rather than quantity. 
 
Lesser Redpoll
 
Reed Warbler
 

As we were putting the nest up, we did so to a background of calling/singing birds that included, two Cetti's Warblers, two Sedge Warblers, three Whitethroats, a Blackcap and a Whimbrel that called from somewhere on the scrape. 
 
The only 'vis' that we had was a light passage of Swallows and Sand Martins north, that numbered 14 and 4 respectively. As always, there was probably more than this, but when you are disappearing into the reeds at regular intervals to check the nets, you miss quite a bit of what's going over. 
 
Between net rounds, a very confiding Song Thrush was feeding round our parked cars. I think what was attracting him/her, was the short sward created in the area we park our cars, so it was easy to forage for invertebrates. On several occasions he/she flew off carrying food towards the marina. 
 
Song Thrush
 
Yesterday morning I headed to the coastal farm fields, and when I arrived at 5.45 a.m. the weather wasn't too bad. I had about 7 oktas cloud cover, with a light south-easterly wind. After a couple of hours, the skies blackened, the wind increased to a blustery westerly, and I had both hail and rain!
 
Black cloud over my vis and sea watch point
 
As I was pulling on my Muck Boots at the back of my car, I could hear Pink-footed Geese calling fairly loudly, and I looked up to see a skein of 130 heading north. They are starting to get a bit late now. That was the first bit of vis that I had, and there were a few other species on the move including two Linnets, three Rooks (where were they going), 18 Black-headed Gulls, a Lesser Redpoll, a Tree Pipit, 22 Swallows, a White Wagtail and four Goldfinches. Out of the 22 Swallows that I recorded, nine of these I picked up with my telescope heading north out at sea. Migration in action. 

The sea delivered the usual suspects, but in low numbers, and with some species missing (no Skuas for example), and my totals included 9 males & 2 female Eiders, 21 Sandwich Terns, two Cormorants, 72 Common Scoters, two Red-throated Divers, six Gannets, six Red-breasted Mergansers and an Auk sp. I also had an Atlantic Grey Seal that was taking its time to devour a large fish!
 
At 7:20 a.m. three Whimbrels dropped on to the foreshore, and fed alongside a tidal pool, before calling it a day ten minutes later, and continuing their northwards journey. I had a walk round the farm fields after the sea quietened down, or became even quieter than when I started looking, and all I could add to my notebook was three singing Sedge Warblers, a singing Skylark, a singing, or should that be a 'rattling' Lesser Whitethroat and a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler
 
Two of the three Whimbrel that dropped in (above), and the three leaving 
(below)
 

 

I called in at the cemetery on my way home, no migrants as such other than the Swallows that nest in the chapel, but a juvenile Mistle Thrush looked funky and punky, with bits of sticking out down here and there. It was time to return home for a coffee.
 
It's still dreich as I look out of the window again, and it's forecast to be dreich tomorrow, but that means that I'll be able to have a few pints of real ale this evening!

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Tewits

Earlier this week Gail and I visited a farm of one of my clients in Bowland, that I have been working with, and providing conservation advice to manage a population of breeding waders for 20 years now. It's not just breeding waders, it's all of the wildlife, or it's a case of encouraging as much wildlife on to the farm, by creating and managing a number of different habitats.
 
We had 7 oktas cloud cover and a light easterly wind, as we set off on what would be a very pleasant four hours walk. Willow Warblers were a constant companion to us on our walk, and there had obviously been a decent arrival, and dare I say it, during this cold spring a first decent arrival, with ten singing males. 

One of the main reasons for our visit was to survey the breeding waders, and try and assess how their populations are doing. I have mentioned numerous times recently, what a cold, late spring we are having, and I think this is also having an effect on the breeding cycle of waders this year. It was hard to say for definite what affect the spring is having, and as a result of this, I am going to have another look next week to try and get a better idea. I estimated that on the bit of the farm that we surveyed there was four pairs of Oystercatchers, 13 pairs of Lapwings, two pairs of Common Sandpipers and ten pairs of Curlews
 
Common Sandpiper
 
My Blog title of 'Tewits' refers to the breeding Lapwings that we were surveying, and Tewit is a Scottish and northern English name for Lapwing! In fact, the magazine that I used to produce for the members of the conservation charity that I used to work for, was called 'The Tewit'. 

Even though it was 8:00 a.m. before we set off on our walk, we did have a number of Brown Hares, with at least 16 recorded in my notebook. You can't beat a Brown Hare; gorgeous animals! Besides the Willow Warblers, the only other warbler species we recorded was a singing Sedge Warbler in one of the wetland areas on the farm. 
 
Brown Hare (above & below)
 

 

We did have two other summer migrants though, a male Cuckoo and a singing Redstart. The male Cuckoo was utilising a large area of the farm, and if I hadn't seen how far he was flying, I might have entered two in my notebook. At one point he flew directly over us 'Cuckoo-ing', and instead of just enjoying watching him fly over, as Gail did, I faffed around trying to photograph him, and ended up with just a dot against the sky as a result! At one stage, I could see the Cuckoo perched on top of a mature Ash tree in a hedgerow, and a number of birds (Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and Chaffinches) were perched up round him. I wasn't sure that they were semi-mobbing him because he looks a bit like a raptor, or whether they know that Cuckoos are a brood parasite. 
 
Cuckoo. Honest!
 
There wasn't any obvious vis this morning, other than the infrequent calls of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls that remained unseen. There were Tufted Ducks on all of the ponds, and the farm has a good breeding population of them. We recorded two pairs of Stonechats; one pair in the wetland complex and another along the edge of the fell. 
 
Siskin at one of the farm feeding stations
 
Two Ravens commuted back and forth, occasionally displaying, and doing a complete roll as they do. Raptors were thin on the ground, and we had two Buzzards and a Kestrel. It looked a good morning for a migrant raptor, but it wasn't to be. 

On this date (26th April) in 1989, I was at Long Point Bird Observatory on Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada, with Phil from our ringing group. We went for four weeks, and had a fabulous time witnessing migration action at this superb bird observatory. 

On this particular morning, it was mild, with full cloud cover and intermittent drizzle, and we had a huge fall of birds, but the number of species was limited. We had some nets open, and after a short while we had to close them because we were catching so many birds. The main species arriving was Golden-crowned Kinglets and we could hear them bumping into the banding lab windows, and they were even coming into the cabin! 

We estimated that there was at least 1,800 Golden-crowned Kinglets at the Breakwater field station that we were running. This field station is on a wooded ridge that juts out into some wetlands, about five miles from the base of Long Point. We extracted somewhere in the region of 2-300 Golden-crowned Kinglets, but rather frustratingly at this time Long Point didn't hold a band small enough to fit them, so they had to be released unringed! They do now by the way.

We also recorded 200 Brown Creepers (ringed 47), 100 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 60 Hermit Thrushes (9 ringed), 75 Chipping Sparrows (12 ringed), 15 Field Sparrows, 25 White-throated Sparrows and 200 Slate-coloured Juncos (40 ringed). A busy morning!

Other species encountered, but in lesser numbers included, a female Northern Harrier, 50 Common Grackles, 5 Pine Warblers (1 ringed), 5 Myrtle Warblers (2 ringed), Eastern Phoebe, 70 Tree Swallows, 3 Brown Thrashers and a Savannah Sparrow
 
Brown Thrasher, courtesy of Long Point Bird Observatory
 
I'm hopefully out ringing in the Willow scrub at weekend, but it will be nothing like that morning at Long Point 32 years ago!

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Wet

A few Blog posts ago I mentioned the possibility of getting back into the Willow scrub at the pools to do some ringing, and at weekend Alice and I did just that, but it was wet! Very wet in fact. We would normally put up 160 feet of net, but we could only get 60 feet up because of the wet conditions. It wasn't terribly deep in the very wet bits, perhaps about 2 feet, and it was dry as I expected at the northern ends of the net rides. However, the dry bits only extended to about ten feet, so the end of both 30-foot nets we put up were over water. We will attempt another ringing session there this coming weekend, and I expect that the water levels will have dropped a little more. 
 
The day dawned with 7 oktas cloud cover, with a light easterly breeze. Singing warbler wise we had two Grasshopper Warblers, a Blackcap, a Reed Warbler, a Whitethroat, three Cetti's Warblers and a Sedge Warbler. There was very little vis, that seems to be a common theme this Spring, with just a couple of Swallows and a Sand Martin north, and a couple of Siskins northeast.
 
A Common Sandpiper flew round the scrape calling, looking for somewhere to land, but couldn't, and headed off east. A pair of Sparrowhawks made it on to the pages of my notebook, but little else did. 
 
All we ringed was a female Blackcap and Blackbird, and we recaptured a male and female Cetti's Warbler. Both Cetti's Warblers were ringed in 2020. Let's hope that we do better this coming weekend! 
 
Cetti's Warbler
 
One of my favourite wintering wildfowl species is Scaup, and over the years I have noticed that I see less and less. I never came across lots of them, but anecdotally my records over each subsequent winter seemed to paint a declining picture. With that in mind, I was interested to read a snippet in British Birds and on Birdguides that stated that an analysis of coordinated count data from the last 30 years has shown a 38.1% decrease in wintering numbers of Scaup in northwest Europe, from 309,000 individuals during 1988-91 to c.192,300 during 2015-18. The short article went on to say that annual trends in wintering numbers differed throughout the range, with numbers decreasing in the UK, Ireland and Netherlands, stable in Denmark, and increasing in Germany, Poland, Sweden and Estonia. This suggests a shift in the distribution of the species within its wintering grounds towards the east and north. 
 
One theory put forward for this decline and shift in distribution, is increasing winter temperatures in the north and east of the Scaup's wintering range, with climate change seemingly opening up more wintering sites to the species, as winter ice cover extent decreases. There are other potential factors cited as well, including a deterioration in food quality in the south and west. All very worrying. 
 
As a little aside, the scientific name for Scaup is Aythya marila and the Scaup was the favourite bird of Peter, who is sadly no longer with us, but he was a long standing member of our ringing group, and a dear friend. When his daughter was born, Peter and his wife decided to call her Marila! What a beautiful name.

Monday, 26 April 2021

A Game Of Two Halves

Four days ago, I was over at my survey site on the Humber Estuary, and it was very much a game of two halves. The first half being the last of my VP surveys overlooking the estuary, as well as the site itself, and the second half being the first of two breeding bird surveys (BBS). As far as my Blog post is concerned, I won't be presenting it as a game of two halves, but that of a pleasant five and a half hours in the sun surveying birds! 
 
It was cold at first with, a ground frost, clear skies and a light north-westerly breeze. In terms of looking over the estuary, it was low water, and there were a few birds feeding on the foreshore, but not that many. Shelducks have been a feature of my estuarine counts all winter, and this morning there was just nine birds spread out along the mudflats. 
 
Frosty Bramble
 
A Grey Plover was nice to see, but it's a pity that it wasn't in summer plumage as you can't beat that black and silver spangly plumage! Four hundred and fifty Knots and 72 Dunlins headed downstream, but they were quite away out and flying in front of the morning sun, so I couldn't tell what plumage they were in. Other waders on the shore included nine Oystercatchers, a Whimbrel, 16 Curlews and twenty Redshanks

I recorded four species of raptor this morning, which I didn't think was too bad. First up was a pair of Sparrowhawks that drifted west across the site, followed by a pair of Kestrels. I was watching the male Kestrel hovering in front of me, as I was looking on the estuary, and he suddenly dropped to the sea wall, and started calling excitedly. I looked up and he was on the sea wall mating with the female! 

                                                                            
 
Mr & Mrs Kestrel
 

The third species of raptor was a Buzzard that flew north being mobbed by a Raven, which I think was another new species for the site. And raptor species number four was a Peregrine that motored northwest, coming in-off the estuary. 

The vis was quiet, and it has been a quiet spring so far for vis, and in fact for migration in general. Swallows have been very thin on the ground and this morning I only had four heading north, along with two of their Sand Martin cousins. A Yellow Wagtail called overhead from somewhere in the stratosphere, and quite literally just a handful of Linnets and Lesser Redpolls also headed north.

There was a noticeable increase in singing warblers since my last visit, and I recorded three Chiffchaffs, four Sedge Warblers, four Blackcaps, two Whitethroats and a Cetti's Warbler.

I'm looking forward to my second BBS visit in late May, and maybe it will have warmed up by then! 
 
I thought I would have a look at an old notebook, and on the evening of 22nd April 1987 I was at Shotton in North Wales watching a male Little Crake. If my memory serves me correct, it was at the site of an old power station where there was a series of reed-fringed muddy pools. My notebook states that I watched the bird down to 25 feet, feeding on a small muddy pool. The bill was a yellow to lime colour, with a reddy-orange base. The upperparts were a slate/blue grey. The under-tail coverts were white with brown striations, and the upperparts were streaked medium-dark brown. Sadly, I didn't take photographs then, but the bird is firmly locked away in the old grey matter, and in my notebook of course. The only other birds in my notebook for that trip, are two Short-eared Owls and a Grasshopper Warbler.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Back In The Willow Scrub?

The plan this morning was to check the water levels in the reedbed and willow scrub at the pools at the Obs, after I had completed a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in an area of grassland and dry scrub nearby.

It was a bit cooler this morning, with a stiff easterly breeze and full cloud cover. As I have said in previous posts, it's been a slow spring this year, and there are a few species that I have yet to record, or they have only arrived in low numbers as yet. An exception to this is Blackcaps, and I have been seeing and hearing a number of Blackcaps this spring, and this morning I recorded six at my site, including four singing males.

I recorded two singing males of a cousin of the Blackcap, the Whitethroat, this morning, and they were my first of the Spring. Whitethroats have been missing, or they are certainly down in numbers, this spring, and let's hope that they are just running late, and the full force is yet to arrive. 

A single Swallow zipped through, and this is another species that is causing concern this spring, and the plight of Swallows this spring even made it on to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning! The only other summer migrant that I recorded at my survey site was two singing Chiffchaffs. 

The last bird I recorded at my BBS site this morning, was a Song Thrush, and the first bird that I recorded at the pools at the Obs was a singing Song Thrush. I didn't hear a single Reed or Sedge, but a 'reeling' Grasshopper Warbler was a pleasant addition to my spring arrivals. Two Cetti's Warblers with their explosive song drew a line under the warbler section.
 
Grasshopper Warbler
 
I had my first two Coot chicks of the year, that were foraging on one of the pools close to a Moorhen that looked very incongruous, swinging back on forth, perched near the top of a handful of dead reed stems that it was grasping in its feet! 

A Great Crested Grebe was actively feeding and being successful in its foraging attempts, whilst the other bird was sitting tight on the nest. Ten Tufted Ducks and the loan male Shoveler still graced the pools, and a Grey Heron was attempting to be as successful as the Great Crest at the back of one of the pools. 
 
Grey Heron

I walked round to where we drive into the ringing area, unlocking the gate and checking that the padlock hadn't seized up over the winter. It has been very dry of late, and I wanted to see if I could get a net or two up in an area of Willow scrub that we don't usually ring in, but I thought might be dry enough to do so. It wasn't, but I did flush three Snipe looking! 

I decided to try and walk in to the area that we usually ring in, and I nearly made it to the first net ride in my wellies. I didn't try and get any further, as I didn't want to 'over top' them with water as they're needed tomorrow on the Humber Estuary. It did get me thinking though, that we might get back in the willow scrub if we put waders on just to get to the net rides. 

The net rides are slightly higher, and therefore drier, than the surrounding reeds and willows, so potentially with waders we could get to the net rides. The net rides tend to be drier at their northern end, and wetter at their southern end, where they slope ever so slightly towards the water. So, it might be a case of putting 40-foot nets up in the 60-foot rides, and a 30-foot net in the 40-foot ride. Either way, I am fairly confident that we will be back in the willow scrub at weekend having a ringing session!

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Marsh Harrier 'Makes' My Day This Time

I am stuck in my home office today, but every so often I venture out into the garden and look skywards with both my eyes and my ears! I usually record a bit of vis, mainly passerines, but now and then something interesting goes over. 

This afternoon was one of those 'something interesting goes over' occasions. I was stood on my 'vis chair', as I call it, that gives me a better view over the neighbouring houses, gardens and most importantly the sky. A few Gulls were behaving a little bit odd, alarm calling half-heartedly, but certainly not enough to make me think there was an interesting raptor around. Usually, if there's an interesting raptor abou,t they go absolutely ballistic!
 
Anyway, I decided to have a scan round just in case, and there to the west I picked up a female type Marsh Harrier heading south, over what I know would be the coast. It was in a hurry, mainly because it was trying to shake-off its Gull escort! A new bird species observed from my garden/house, taking the total to 72. Well, I think it's 72 as I'm not very good with lists, or at least not very good at keeping them up to date. In fact, the only list that I keep in some sort of order is my 'house list'!
 
 
Not the Marsh Harrier from this afternoon, but one that I had more or less 
to the day this time last year at the Nature Park. Also, complete with a Gull 
escort!

Only Two

At weekend Alice and I ringed only two birds at our Bowland ringing site, but it was a pleasure to be out. The weather wasn't bad, with 7 oktas cloud cover and a light south-easterly wind.

Unloading the gear from my car and heading to the area where we put the nets up, there were a few migrants singing, including two Blackcaps, a Chiffchaff, a Willow Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher from the wooded valley. 
 
Pied Flycatcher
 
We caught and ringed a Blackcap and Willow Warbler on the first net round, and recaptured a Goldcrest and Wren, but that was it from a ringing perspective for the morning. 
 
Blackcap
 
A few Brown Hares were good to see moving along the track and through the woodland. Two Lesser Redpolls feeding on top of Birch trees gave us hope that there might be a few on the move, but we had no luck with them.  

Brown Hare

Talking of Lesser Redpolls, Ian has managed to ring 75 over the last three mornings from his garden within the Obs recording area! 

I've got local surveys this week, and a trip to the Humber again, so I'll let you know how I get on.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Marsh Harrier Saves The Day.....Just!

On Thursday morning at 0820, I sent a text to Ian from my Humber Estuary survey site, saying, "it's feckin' cold in this sh*te, birdless, northerly". And it was, both cold and birdless! It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and a moderate north-northwesterly wind. It was the NNW wind that was the problem.
 
My VP location
 
As soon as I got out of my car on site, I could hear a Blackcap and two Chiffchaffs singing, but that would be it in terms of grounded migrants. Visible migration was similarly nearly non-existent with just three Woodpigeons, a Tree Sparrow (first site record), three Goldfinches and seven Linnets north. 
 
Two Buzzards and a Kestrel were present on site, and the Marsh Harrier in my blog title made an appearance heading southwest. I am guessing that this cracking male bird had come 'in-off' and was heading inland to a breeding area. 
 
Kestrel
 
In the field north of my survey site 31 Curlews were roosting over the high tide period, and a group of 32 Black-tailed Godwits, looking superb in their brick-red summer plumage, headed along the shore. 
 
The site holds a number of breeding species, and over the coming weeks I expect to record a variety of warblers, but this morning the dawn chorus songsters included Great Tit, Skylarks (four singing), Wren, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Linnet and Reed Bunting.
 
I've got a ringing session in the morning, so I'll let you know how I get on with that.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Holly Blue

I returned from my walk just before lunchtime today, and as I looked out on to the garden, a small butterfly caught my eye, and then it was in the bird bath! It managed to get itself out, and on to the side of the bird bath, by the time I had ran out in to the garden to rescue it. 

It was a beautiful Holly Blue, and after a few minutes warming up and drying off on my hand, it flew off none the worse for its experience.

If it wasn't for small green birds......

 ......Alice and I would have had an even more miserable ringing session than we did on Saturday morning at our Hodder Valley ringing site! It was cold again, minus 4 Celsius in fact, to start, with clear skies and a light northerly breeze.
 
The usual songsters were singing in the crisp air, with two Song Thrushes, a Chiffchaff, a Robin, a Chaffinch, a Wren and a Coal Tit, all proclaiming their territories immediately surrounding our ringing station. Other species making their presence known by vocalisations, were a calling Mistle Thrush, two noisy Jays, a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker and a calling Tawny Owl

As I mentioned before, it was crystal clear this morning, and it was very difficult to detect much vis. Vis is difficult to detect at the best of times at this site, so when you add clear conditions right up in to the stratosphere, it becomes even more difficult. We registered the calls of perhaps 10 - 20 Siskins, but didn't see any of them! That's not quite true, because amongst the poor catch of four birds, we did see two (recaptures in brackets):
 
Robin - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Siskin - 2
Wren - (1)
 
Male Siskin
 
I've got some local site visits this week, and a trip over to the east coast as well, so as always, I'll keep you posted as to what I see. 

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Barely Double Figures

I completed the final wintering bird survey at my site in northwest Lancs with a bit of freshwater marsh yesterday, and just for a change (note the sarcasm), the wind was from the north, well, northwest to be precise. And following the pattern of this spring, it was cold! 

There was some vis this morning, and I recorded my first Tree Pipit of the spring, but it barely reached double figures. I recorded (all moving between northwest and east) two Goldfinches, the aforementioned Tree Pipit (too high to see, just a couple of calls), seven Swallows, seven Meadow Pipits, a Linnet, a Siskin and a Chaffinch.

As you would expect wildfowl numbers had reduced, and on the marsh were five Teals, with a Little Egret for company. Just three raptors this morning; two Buzzards and a Kestrel. I didn't have any grounded migrants, but a singing Goldcrest and Chiffchaff from the strip of woodland along the burn could have been fresh in.
 
For some reason this Greylag Goose found the winter wheat interesting, and
dropped in mid-morning!
 
I'll report tomorrow on a quiet ringing session, yet again, that Alice and I had this morning.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Back To Winter

As I am completing the final visits at two wintering bird survey sites, I suppose it's apt that the weather has reverted back to winter. There's been snow up and down the country, and some quite substantial falls in northern Scotland. Even in coastal Lancashire, there has been a few flurries, not what you have in mind for April! 

The wintery weather over the past week or so, with cold northerly winds, has slowed migration down to a trickle. It feels like it will be one of those springs where migrants slowly find their way back to their breeding grounds, without any of the excitement of decent movements on the coast. Having said that, it is still relatively early, and I'm sure there will be a few good days. 

This morning wasn't a good day, and it was very, very quiet over the four and a half hours I spent in the field in coastal northwest Lancs. I'll cut to the chase, I had five summer migrants of two species, two Chiffchaffs and three Swallows. And as I sit here looking in my notebook for inspiration, I am struggling to report anything else of interest. I could mention a single Great Spotted Woodpecker, a pair of Teal and Lapwings, a handful of Goldfinches, Linnets and Meadow Pipits over, and that would be it! Perhaps best to move on.
 
Lapwing
 
Over on the right, you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of March. Nine new species for the year were ringed during the month, and these were Jay, Meadow Pipit, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Treecreeper, Greenfinch, Wren, Chiffchaff and Blackcap.
 
Below you will find a list of the top three ringed during March, and the top six 'movers and shakers' for the year.
 
Top 3 Ringed in March
 
1. Chaffinch - 23
2. Blue Tit - 15
3. Coal Tit - 11
 
Top 6 Movers and Shakers for the Year
 
1. Linnet - 60 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 46 (same position)
3. Chaffinch - 43 (up from 4th)
4. Great Tit - 27 (down from 3rd)
5. Coal Tit - 24 (same position)
6. Goldfinch - 14 (straight in)  

Monday, 5 April 2021

Cold And Quiet

This will be a short Blog post.
 
Alice and I attempted a ringing session at our site in the Hodder Valley in Bowland, and it was cold and quiet. The wind was a sharp north-easterly, with relatively clear skies. In the arboretum it felt quiet, and that was because it was quiet, and there were very few birds around. 
 
We ringed five birds (recaptures in brackets) as follows:
 
Robin - 2
Goldcrest - 1 (1)
Wren - 1
Lesser Redpoll - 1 
 
Lesser Redpoll
 
It's hard to come up with any birding highlights, but if pushed I would say that we had a singing Mistle and Song Thrush, four Siskins, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a male Sparrowhawk and two Long-tailed Tits

It's remaining northerly, or thereabouts, and cold for the remainder of the week. Later in the week I have two bird surveys to get in, so it will be interesting to see what I record, or perhaps more to the point, not record! I'll let you know.

Friday, 2 April 2021

When the north wind blows...

...the migration slows. Well, not quite, as it is Spring, and even when the wind does turn northerly as it has done over these past few days, and is forecast to stay the same over the next few days, a few birds still battle through. And this morning was a classic example. Nothing rare, no large numbers, but a few birds in unsuitable conditions.

It wasn't an unpleasant morning, although I did have to scrape ice off my car windscreen first thing, and I had clear blue skies with a cold, light north-easterly wind. As soon as I stepped out of my front door, I had nine Meadow Pipits heading north, an indication of the kind of morning it would be. It is often the case when we have a high pressure system sat over us and winds are from the north, that you get a little rush of migration for an hour or so and then it dries up.
 
I headed to the Nature Park at the Obs where the pools are located, as I wanted to check what the water levels were like, and to see whether I could get in yet to do some ringing. To give you a clue as to what the water levels were like, two Coots swam over where I usually park my car, so I think that sums it up!
 
It was some singing birds that first made it into my notebook, and a Song Thrush was singing loud and clear, and repeating its lines, and an 'explosive' Cetti's Warbler sang from just the other side of the wall. I recorded five singing Cetti's Warblers from around the site, although it isn't always easy to be certain how many there are, as they do move around a fair bit. 
 
On the bridge across the artificial pool, there were three bird photographers stationed along it, and when I left, I could see six of them. I still don't understand bird photographers, and I'm being cautious in labelling these folk as bird photographers, because I take photographs of birds myself, so does that make me a bird photographer? I think what I should say is that I don't understand 'some' or 'all' bird photographers. They all had lenses on their cameras, bigger than my telescope, and they were taking pictures of some exceedingly tame and close Tufted Ducks and Great Crested Grebes
 
I watched one guy walk on to the bridge and straight past a singing Cetti's Warbler, and he didn't even flinch! And, as you know, these birds have a very loud, explosive song as I am fond of saying. Now, it might be that he was super cool, and he had logged the Cetti's in his brain, but I doubt it. As I walked past them there were Meadow Pipits and Linnets flying over calling, a migration spectacle, and not one of them looked skywards. Mind you, they probably couldn't hear anything above the noise of all those shutters continually going off on their cameras. A beautiful male Stonechat was singing its heart out, just at the end of the bridge, I could hear it as soon as I stepped on to the bridge, but there was no response from the photographers! I didn't even see a pair of bins on any of them. Like I said before, I don't understand 'some' bird photographers! Mind you, I don't understand some birders either, but that's another story. 
 
The singing male Stonechat. The bird photographers with their big lenses
could have got a far better shot than me, if only they knew it was there!
 
 
On all of the pools combined I counted three Little Grebes, six Mallards, 15 Coot, 40 Tufted Ducks, two Canada Geese, two Great Crested Grebes, two Shelducks, two Mute Swans, two male Shovelers, three Greylag Geese and a Snipe.
 
Tufted Duck
 
As I hinted at before, there was a bit of vis this morning, and I stood for a while in the shelter of one of the stone walls and recorded (all north) a Sand Martin, 110 Meadow Pipits, four Woodpigeons, eleven Linnets and two Siskins
 
I detected a few grounded migrants this morning in the form of two male Wheatears, two Willow Warblers, a Chiffchaff and a male Blackcap. The male Blackcap flitted through some Bramble that I was stood close to, counting the vis. 
 
Wheatear
 
Driving off the site a female Sparrowhawk flew across the road, and I headed to the cemetery for a quick look. As expected, it was quiet. The vis had slowed down, and the only grounded migrants were two Coal Tits. I could see and hear them calling excitedly from the top of a pine tree, and they suddenly launched themselves into the air, and started flying round in circles gaining height. I was waiting for them to head off north or east, when they changed their minds and dropped back down to the trees! Perhaps they weren't ready to go just yet.  
 
One of the two Robins singing in the cemetery this morning
 
As I said before, it's remaining northerly for a few days yet, but I'll keep plugging away because it's spring, and unlike autumn, migrants still come through even when the conditions aren't perfect.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

A Bit Of A Push

It was a bit of a push getting up at 3:30 yesterday morning, and this morning at 5:00 a.m., although compared to yesterday, today I had a bit of a lie in! The bit of a push in my blog title refers to the push of spring migrants that was evident the day before. It wasn't a big push, as it can't be at this time of year, but a push it was nevertheless. 

I was in Northeast Lincolnshire yesterday morning on the Humber Estuary again, and it was a lovely clear morning with a light south-westerly wind. The southerly wind was warm, and responsible for a movement of birds. A phone call from Ian as I was getting out of my car, and the first singing Chiffies of the morning were registering, told me that he had just had a stonking male Ring Ouzel on the golf course back at the Obs in Lancs. I must admit, Ring Ouzel was on my radar this morning, but it wasn't to be. 

As I headed off through the scrub towards my VP, I recorded a total of three singing Chiffchaffs. New in at the site was a singing Cetti's Warbler, and it was very vocal with its explosive song. Whether it was a migrant, or a returning breeder I'm not sure, but I'll find in a few weeks when I complete the first Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). 

Other summer migrants were in the form of two Swallows that headed northwest, following the edge of the estuary, and a female Wheatear perched up on the sea wall. Wheatears certainly do like sea walls. 

It was definitely a vis type morning, in fact more of a vis than a grounded morning, and I'll cut straight to the chase with my totals as follows (all between northwest and northeast); 490 Pink-footed Geese, 35 Woodpigeons, three Jackdaws, three Carrion Crows, the aforementioned two Swallows, 28 Meadow Pipits, a Chaffinch, four Goldfinches, three Siskins, 26 Linnets and a Lesser Redpoll

As I mentioned before, there is plenty of scrub on site, some wet, some dry, some open, and as a result it provides good nesting habitat for a number of species, like the five Skylarks, a further 13 Linnets, a pair of Yellowhammers and ten Reed Buntings that I recorded. 

Raptors were represented by a male Sparrowhawk and a female Kestrel, and it was the first time out of six, that I didn't see or hear a Buzzard. 

Six Roe Deer were present, and I think I have recorded them on every visit. I suspect that as there is no access to the site, they are a little more confiding than they usually are. A Fox was a first for me for the site, and the vixen sat soaking up some warming rays from the early morning sun. As soon as I moved though, she was off. 
 
Roe Deer
 
Fox
 

I don't see a huge number of Brimstone butterflies in my travels, so it was a pleasure to see a male moving along the sunny south side of a hedge. Unfortunately, it was a little too quick for my limited photographic skills!

This morning, as I mentioned before, it was another earlyish start, but not terribly early, and I headed to my ringing site in the Hodder Valley in Bowland, and put a couple of nets up in the arboretum. It was a bit of an experiment to see whether I could catch in this area, which species, and whether it was worthwhile. 

On my first round I caught a male Blackcap with a fat score of 40, which means it was carrying quite a bit of fat and had a way to go yet on his migratory journey, a Chiffchaff and two Goldcrests. Not a bad first round I thought, but that was it other than a Song Thrush recapture. So, it was a success and a bit of a failure at the same time I suppose, but I was probably there on the wrong day, as there had been a bit of a push the day before, and the wind was northerly. A quick call to Ian on the coast confirmed that it was quiet there too, so I'll head back in the next day or three. 
 
Blackcap
 
Chiffchaff
 

In addition to the ringing, I did have a few bits of pieces in the form of two singing Song Thrushes, two singing Chiffies, a singing Goldcrest, a singing Mistle Thrush, a Siskin over, two Jays, a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Buzzard, two Coal Tits, two Lesser Redpolls and a female Sparrowhawk.

No early start for me in the morning, as it's a beer night tonight!

Friday, 26 March 2021

The Working Week That Was

My excursions into the great outdoors this past week have been all work related, so let's hope that over the weekend, the weather allows to me get out just for pleasure, not that I don't enjoy it when I'm out and it's work related!
 
It was a week of penultimate wintering bird survey visits, and on Tuesday I was at my site close to the coast. It was a grey old morning, with a stiff south-westerly breeze. A Chiffchaff singing as I got out of the car was nice, and so far, Chiffie is the only true summer migrant that I have had. Greenfinches were very active with lots of calling, song-flighting and general spring-like behaviour, and I do believe that they have made a bit of a recovery from their worrying population crash of recent years. 
 
Next to my VP, I could see a female Chaffinch moving around fairly low down in a Willow sp., and as I watched I could see that she was delicately collecting bits of lichen. Chaffinches use lichen in the construction of their nest to make it more camouflaged, and it certainly works. 
 
I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming from an area of mature scrub, and then two birds flew past me in the open, chasing each other, and calling like mad; superb!  

Mid-week I was at my inland site with some freshwater marsh, and it was a brighter day, with 5 oktas cloud cover and a 10 mph west-southwesterly wind. I was there at first light, and when that sun got up, I could feel the increased warmth from its rays. 

Reed Buntings were singing out on the marsh, and I had at least three different birds singing. Moorhens called from within the dense, luxuriant vegetation, and notable in their absence, were the calls of Water Rails. This was my first visit, I think, with no calling Water Rails. However, this is to be expected as they are probably winging their way now to breeding areas anywhere from the UK to northern and central Europe. 
 
Reed Bunting
 
I detected a trickle, and it was a trickle, of visible migration this morning, but the first birds certainly weren't trickling, when thirteen calling Whooper Swans powered their way north. The 'trickle' referred to a single Meadow Pipit north, two Chaffinches, an Alba Wag, a Grey Wagtail and six Woodpigeons
 
Whooper Swans
 
The two Coots were still on the marsh, so I imagine they will be nesting shortly, and a Little Egret fed on one of the open pools. A first for me on the marsh was a Cormorant that dropped in to the largest bit of open water, but I wouldn't exactly describe it as Cormorant habitat! The only raptor I had was a calling Buzzard that flew backwards and forwards over the stubbles in the sunshine, flushing the 36 Goldfinches that were foraging there.

It was late morning when I finished my survey, and I headed to my feeding station in the Hodder Valley in Bowland to take down the feeders. The smaller sunflower heart feeders were empty, as expected, and there was just a small amount of feeder seed in my two monster Perdix farmland bird feeders.

After I had packed up the feeding station, I cut a few net rides in the arboretum area of the site, that my predecessor of the conservation charity that I used to work for had designed. Some areas haven't taken as well as others, and these have remained fairly open, and might be suitable habitat for some warbler species. I have had nest boxes up in the valley at this site for Pied Flycatchers since 2002, but I haven't tried the arboretum area for ringing. So, as I can't get into the reedbed and scrub at the pools at the Obs, I intend to have a few ringing sessions here throughout April and May. It will be interesting to see how I get on, and I will of course keep you posted. 

One of the new net rides in the arboretum area

Monday, 22 March 2021

Another Quiet One

I had my final ringing session of the season at my Hodder Valley feeding station at weekend. It wasn't definitely going to be the last, but I had a good idea it would be. Conditions were perfect for ringing with full cloud cover and it was calm, but it would seem that the birds didn't know this!

I ringed just seven birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Goldfinch - 2
Coal Tit - 1
Chaffinch - 4
Great Tit - (2)

As usual between net rounds I was serenaded by Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch, Robin, Great Tit, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Siskin. I'm not sure that Siskins do any serenading, as they have quite a harsh and metallic song, but it was good to hear nevertheless. The singing Chiffchaff was my first summer migrant of the year. 

I've had a couple more moth trapping sessions in my garden and over the past two days I caught just a Hebrew Character yesterday, and a Hebrew Character and Early Grey today.
 
Early Grey
 
This morning I headed to the pools at the Obs to see if it would be possible to get a couple of nets up in the 'drier' area of scrub. There was an awful lot of water in the pool, and I could see that it would be a few weeks before we could get to our main ringing area. However, from the car park the drier area of scrub looked like it could be accessible. I walked round to where you can look down on this area, and it was, err..., very wet! So that was that plan scuppered!
 
Later in the week I am going to pack my feeding station up in the Hodder Valley and select a couple of net rides in some open scrub/young woodland that I can use until I can get into the pools at the Obs. The area I have in my mind looks good for warblers, and perhaps calling down a few Lesser Redpolls, Siskins etc. I have also seen a Bullfinch or two in this area over the winter, so I am looking forward to giving it a go.
 
Back to this morning, and whilst I was checking on the very wet, drier area of scrub, I spent half an hour wandering round doing a bit of birding. There are three pools at the site, and over all three I counted 46 Herring Gulls, 13 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, three Little Grebes (there were more), four Mute Swans, 15 Coots, two Great Crested Grebes, two Canada Geese, nine Mallards, 22 Tufted Ducks, a male Shoveler and two Greylag Geese.
 
Tufted Duck
 
A couple of Cetti's Warblers were singing, as was a Song Thrush, a Skylark and three Reed Buntings. A female Sparrowhawk caused a bit of chaos as she flew over the scrape, and that was that. 
 
On my way home I had a quick look in the cemetery to see if there were any grounded migrants, and there was just two Goldcrests.
 
I have got a penultimate visit to one of my wintering bird survey sites tomorrow, and the wind is going to be southerly, so perhaps there might be a migrant or two.

Friday, 19 March 2021

First Moth Of The Year

It was my second trapping session of the year with my garden light trap, and I caught my first moth of the year this morning in the form of the humble, although in my opinion beautiful, Hebrew Character
 
Hebrew Character
 
I should have been checking a site for Meadow Pipits this morning, but my car was in for a service and MOT yesterday, and their emissions testing machine broke down, so they asked if they could keep my car until today. Why I am I telling you this? Because I was grounded, 'sods law' came into play, as it often does in these circumstances, and when I was in my garden checking my light trap Meadow Pipits were going over constantly in two to threes. Add in a few Siskins, Chaffinches, Linnets and Greenfinches, and a good bit of visible migration was going on. Even by late morning when Gail and I were out for a walk, the odd Mipit was still winging its way north. 

I would like to have run my light trap again tonight, but I have a 5:00 am alarm call for a ringing session, followed by a four hour shift as a volunteer Covid Marshall at a Covid vaccination centre. 

Fingers crossed for a few birds in the morning, but I have a feeling that it will be time to pack the feeding station up. We'll see.

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Was It The Fog?

Or was it the time of year, the fact that the feeders needed filling up, or all three, that caused me to have a weary ringing session yesterday morning at my Hodder Valley feeding station. When I arrived at 0700, I had 7 oktas cloud cover with a light westerly breeze, but it looked like it was going to brighten up, as the sun was trying to break through. However, within half an hour the fog rolled in, and it remained like that for the next couple of hours. 

I ringed ten birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Chaffinch - 4 (1)
Siskin - 1
Coal Tit - 2 (1)
Blue Tit - 1 (1)
Greenfinch - 2
Great Tit - (2)
 
Siskin
 
Coal Tit
 

In all honesty, I think it was a combination of factors that caused such a poor ringing session. At this time of year birds are visiting feeding stations less frequently, as they move away to nesting sites. 

There's a definite dawn chorus now, and songsters this morning included two Song Thrushes, two Chaffinches, Mistle Thrush, four Robins, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit and Woodpigeon. There was a bit of a territorial dispute going on with the Mistle Thrushes, as at one point three birds shot past me calling away. In addition to the Siskin ringed, there were at least five other birds around.  

Chaffinch

Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were present, and a female Bullfinch was a nice addition to my notebook. From outside the woodland, the sound of displaying Curlews and Lapwings was being carried through the dense air, and that further raised the joys of spring! 

I ran my garden moth trap last night for the first time this year, but I didn't catch anything. But it looks like we are in for a dry, but perhaps cold, spell over the next few nights, so I'll try again. 

I'm checking out a drier area of one of the wetland sites at the Obs tomorrow morning, to see if there is anywhere suitable for pulling in Meadow Pipits for ringing, and I plan to give it one more go at my feeding station Saturday or Sunday morning. I'll let you know how I get on.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

All Quiet On The Eastern Front

On Tuesday this week I was back over on the Humber, and it was all quiet on the eastern front. I had full cloud cover with a light westerly wind, and I must admit I did expect a Chiffie, Sand Martin or Wheatear or two, but it wasn't to be.

There was a little bit of vis, and I mean a little bit, with just 17 Linnets, 36 Starlings, a Meadow Pipit, two Chaffinches, a Lesser Redpoll, 10 Woodpigeons and a Goldfinch heading in a more or less north-westerly direction. The only grounded migrant as such was a single Redwing. 

As usual I recorded some wildfowl, with six Teal in the ditches and 158 Shelducks out on the shore. The only raptors I had were a Buzzard and a male Kestrel, and a single Little Egret put in an appearance. Wader numbers had certainly dropped on my stretch of the estuary, although I could see thousands of waders further downstream, and all I had were six Oystercatchers and 52 Curlews.
 
Buzzard
 
Little Egret (above & below)
 


A few species were in song including Skylark, Wren, Song Thrush, Chaffinch and Reed Bunting. And those were the highlights of a quiet few hours!