Saturday 30 January 2021

Coast To Coast

I can't believe that it is over a fortnight since I posted, and for that I apologise, but to be honest, I don't have a great deal to report. With the current lockdown here in the UK, that some take seriously and incredulously others don't, I haven't been getting out birding other than through work. I have thought about walking to some of my patches, and it is possible as a number of them are within about 5 km of home, but at this time of year birding is relatively quiet anyway. Once we get into late February things move on, with finches and buntings getting itchy feet and starting to move. 

We are still not ringing, other than in our gardens, and the same advice that applies to ringing, applies to all BTO surveys, and yet birders are still doing WeBS counts etc. I suppose the difference is that you have to have a licence to ring, and in theory if you go against BTO advice, they could put sanctions in place against your permit. I still believe that some survey work, both Ringing and WeBS, could be undertaken in a complete Covid secure way. Locally, you only have to have a walk along the coast and all the parking places are full, the sea front is rammed at weekend, and the beaches are full of people and dogs. As all the car parking places are taken, they can't be people that have walked from their own homes. I have never known the coast so busy at this time of year, and we are supposed to be in a lockdown!
I have a survey in northeast Lincolnshire at the moment, and I'll come back to that in a wee while, and when I travel from home to my survey site on the Humber Estuary early in the morning (0530-ish), the M62 across the Pennines is as busy as ever with commuter traffic. What happened to working from home during the lockdown? I appreciate that some people can't do their job from home, me being one of them, but when in the middle of a lockdown you can't notice any discernible difference in the volume of traffic, then something isn't right! In fact, of the three lockdowns that we have had so far, only the first one felt like a true lockdown!
I notice that on some bird news What's App groups, a few people are still putting details of scarce birds out; why? The point of these What's App groups is to disseminate information on scarce birds so people can twitch them, but in the middle of a lockdown! I am quite certain that the information could be added to local databases later in the evening or even a day or two later for now. 
Having said all that, I can understand people wanting to get out birding, botanising etc, for their own well-being, and mental health issues are already becoming a big part of this pandemic. Going birding etc maintains a bit of normality in one's life, and helps to take your mind off the serious situation we find ourselves living through at the moment. It's complicated, frustrating and difficult. I suppose I am quite lucky, in that my work gets me out in the field, and a lot of my survey work is even classed as essential by the government, because it is connected with planned development.
There are no easy answers, and the priority for all of us is to stay safe until we can get out the other end, and get back to some sense of normality, whatever that is or will be.
My Blog title refers to recent bird surveys that I have completed that have been quite literally coast to coast, with sites on the west coast and now a site on the east coast. 
In the middle of the month, I headed to my survey site that is virtually on the west coast of Lancs and it was cold, very cold in fact. I had only been at my VP for about half an hour when a mist rolled in, that turned to fog, and eventually I had to abort my survey because the visibility was very poor. As the mist/fog rolled in, it started to freeze on contact with every surface as the frosty looking photos below show. 
Hoar frost (above & below)


Just over ten days ago, I had my first visit to my new wintering bird survey site located on the Humber Estuary. A site with what you would describe as having a good habitat mosaic, and adjacent to the estuary, so from a pure birding perspective it looks like an interesting site. The only downside is the drive there which is about two and a half hours along seven different motorways! Yes, seven different motorways! 
My first visit coincided with high water, and as the tide started to run out, a number of waders and wildfowl dropped in to feed on the mud, including 55 Curlews, 572 Dunlin, 155 Black-tailed Godwits, 12 Bar-tailed Godwits and 53 Redshanks.
Black-tailed Godwit
The habitat mosaic element of the site includes areas of dense scrub, open scrub/rank grassland, wet scrub, reed-fringed ditches, rank grassland and small shallow pools. There wasn't much utilising the habitat mosaic on this cold January morning, other than three Snipe, three Stonechats, 12 Skylarks, a Water Rail, seven Blackbirds, two Song Thrushes, 15 Goldfinches, a Reed Bunting and five Yellowhammers. However, when I come to do the breeding bird surveys later in the year, I think it will be hooching with warblers etc. 
At the start of the week, I was at my inland site with the area of marsh in northwest Lancs, and it was another cold morning with a heavy frost, some lying snow and three oktas of cloud cover. 
Buzzards were a feature of the morning and I had at least three at various points of the site. A male Stonechat was along the edge of the frozen marsh, and a Water Rail called form this area too. Some of the ditches alongside the marsh were unfrozen, probably because of the movement of water along them, and I flushed six Teal from one as I walked along. 
The frozen marsh
The unfrozen ditch
In the middle of the week, I was back in northeast Lincolnshire at my Humber Estuary site, and it was another cold morning with full cloud cover. As I walked through the scrubby areas of the site to get to my VP overlooking the estuary, I came across a group of four Roe Deer. Also in this area, I recorded five Meadow Pipits, four Skylarks, two Reed Buntings, a male Stonechat, a Buzzard and two Yellowhammers. 
My survey period was over low water, and again there was a nice assortment of waders and wildfowl feeding on the estuary at this location including 54 Curlews, 238 Shelducks, a Little Egret, a Ringed Plover, nine Grey Plovers (gorgeous birds; one of my favourite waders), 880 Dunlin, 94 Black-tailed Godwits, eight Bar-tailed Godwits and 26 Redshanks. 
It's going to be more of the same over the coming weeks I'm afraid, until we can ease out of lockdown, so there will be some more coast to coast trips for me.   

Wednesday 13 January 2021

Lockdown 3

If you live in the UK you will be aware that we are now in our third period of lockdown as a result of Covid 19. I don't want to dwell on this at all, as it is something that we all need to strive to reduce transmission of, to return to a state of relative normality, but it is worth mentioning how it will affect my activities, and as a result what will appear on this Blog. 
We have been asked by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to err on the side of caution, and only undertake ringing activities on land where we reside. Under the tier system we were permitted to continue through the exemptions provided by the 'voluntary or charitable activities' clause, and technically this also applied to lockdown, but the BTO felt that this wasn't in the spirit of what lockdown is striving to achieve, and hence being asked to err on the side of caution. From a personal perspective, I think that some of the ringing surveys that I undertake are completed safely, and I think that they could have continued without any risk, but I do respect and fully support the BTO's advice and guidance on this. The sooner we can get the transmission rate down, and save lives, the sooner we can get out again and continue collecting essential conservation data to help our beleaguered bird populations.
On a different, but connected note, the government is allowing shooting to count as a form of exercise during the lockdown! The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) on their website states that..."in light of the government providing greater clarity on its Covid-19 guidance and regulations, BASC is advising that outdoor shooting activities as a form of exercise are permissible once per day in England during the national lockdown, subject to two conditions:
1. You should only travel locally to shoot which is to stay local in the village, town, or part of the city 
    where you live as defined in government guidance.
2. When shooting you should only meet with people you live with, your support bubble; or when on    
    your own, with one person from another household".
I wonder how easy it is to find a shoot that operates in a village, town or city! Similarly, the fishing community, particularly the Angling Trust, has been celebrating that the "Government have now formally responded to the representations made by the Angling Trust...and (we) have been able to present a case to which the Government have listened. On this basis I (Angling Trust) am pleased to announce that fishing will be permitted during the third national lockdown in England".
I think from the above you can draw conclusions as to where the governments priorities sit, and also which organisations are doing the right thing. I think this smacks of double standards as far as the government is concerned!

So, for the period of the lockdown I won't be able to do any ringing, other than in my own garden, and also my birding will be restricted, because of the local aspect of the guidelines. However, the government has failed to define 'local area', and I think this is a serious error on their part. My work as an Ecologist will continue during the lockdown period, as this is allowed by government, and it has also been classed as essential. So, this will at least keep me in the great outdoors! As I work alone, and seldom come across anybody at all during my site visits, the Covid risk is very low. 
Anyway, enough of Covid. I don't mean to dismiss it as something unimportant, but rather want to focus on more positive things for my own well-being. 
Prior to the start of lockdown, Gail and I visited our Bowland feeding station to top the feeders up. It was a cold, crisp morning with a small amount of lying snow. At the feeding station were the usual suspects including Chaffinches, Robins, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits. We duly topped the feeders up, and set off for a half hour walk through the woodland. 
It was quiet in the woodland, as woodlands are in winter, but with a dusting of snow and a crisp frost it had a magical to look to it. We flushed a Brown Hare, and the only birds to make it in to my notebook during our walk were a Song Thrush and a couple of Redwings
A winter wonderland
Yesterday, I completed a survey at the wintering bird survey site in northwest Lancashire that has an area of marsh just to the east of it. It was another cold one, but nevertheless pleasant under the clear skies. I lost the feeling in my toes rather rapidly, but later after a few hours in a sheltered spot in the sun, was taking a couple of layers of clothing off and I could feel my toes once again!
As I walked along the first hedgerow, I pushed a flock of ten Fieldfares and five Redwings along the hedge, and they then dropped into a wet field to feed. In the wet field was a further thirty Fieldfares, and it seems that as most of the berries have now been depleted, they are turning their attentions to ground invertebrates, particularly when the high water table is pushing them to the surface. 
Next up was a bird that I don't see many of every year, and that was a Woodcock that I flushed from a wet ditch; nice. During my first VP observation period, I picked up a number of Rooks that were flying from a woodland roost to foraging areas, and 110 of these delightful Corvids flew past. 
A number of Pink-footed Geese were moving around, particularly shortly after first light, and I recorded 1,100 moving in various directions, but mainly north and east. This particular VP is closest to the area of marsh, and I had a Barn Owl hunting over the marsh for a good half hour. It would periodically stop and perch up on a fence-post, before continuing to forage. 
Pink-footed Geese
Out on the marsh I could hear Teal and Water Rail calling, but I have no idea how many, so they are recorded as 1+. I had five Skylarks head high south late morning from my second VP, and Sparrowhawk and Goldcrest were welcome additions to both the maps and my notebook. 
It's dreich as a I write, and the forecast for tomorrow, is for more of the same. It's looking better on Friday, and I have another wintering bird survey to complete, so I look forward to that.

Monday 4 January 2021

First Ringing Session Of The Year

It was cold Saturday morning when I headed off to my Bowland feeding station for a ringing session with Alice, in fact my car thermometer registered -6 Celsius at one point! The road conditions were pretty awful, with frozen, slippery, un-gritted lanes. In fact, Alice didn't feel comfortable driving in such conditions and returned home. I turned the traction control off on my car, as it was driving me mad, and preferred to rely on my own 'feel' for the conditions, and progress was much better. 

I arrived at the feeding station under 7 oktas cloud cover and it was flat calm. I decided that I wouldn't bother putting a net up, I'd just feed and head back home instead. However, the sun came out and because there was absolutely no wind it felt rather pleasant, so I decided to put just one net up and limit my ringing to just a couple of hours.

I ringed 38 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Coal Tit - 5 (4)
Great Tit - 9 (1)
Blue Tit - 13
Robin - 3
Chaffinch - 7
Nuthatch - 1 (1)
Coal Tit

Other than the birds that I ringed, and others at the feeding station, it was rather quiet. In fact, the only other species of note were all heard. I heard a couple of Ravens calling, and a noisy Jay, plus a Tawny Owl and Fieldfare

The weather is looking to be set fair for the coming week, although cold, so I am hopeful of getting a few surveys in, and perhaps a bit of birding/ringing.

Over on the right I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group for the year. With a ringing session already in the bag, it won't be long before January 2021's totals appear there.