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

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. 

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)
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.  


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.
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!

Feeding Station Ringing Session

Last weekend Alice and I had a ringing session at our feeding station in the Hodder Valley, and we were joined by Dan, who is one of the two Assistant Wardens on Fair Isle. Dan had joined us so I could support his application for a C permit. 

This will be a short post, as other than our ringing totals there is very little else to report. We ringed 37 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Chaffinch - 13 (1)
Goldfinch - 2
Coal Tit - 3 (3)
Great Tit - 4(4)
Greenfinch - 2
Siskin - 1
Nuthatch - 2
Blue Tit - 10 (7) 
Robin - (1) 
For most of the morning a Song Thrush was singing from the top of a favoured pine tree, and we also heard some sub-song from a Fieldfare. Two Mistle Thrushes made it a trio of Thrushes. Other calling birds included a Raven, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a couple of Siskins.
I was back at the feeding station yesterday morning in the heavy rain, on my way to a client's farm near Slaidburn, to complete what was quite literally a 'splash and dash'! The feeders were busy with the usual suspects including eleven Chaffinches, at least two Siskins, two Nuthatches and numerous Blue, Great and Coal Tits.
The forecast isn't looking great for this coming weekend, so I'll try and get a ringing session in during the week. 

Wednesday 10 March 2021

A Tale of Two Marshes

At the end of last week, I found myself birding at two inland marshes; one as part of one of my wintering bird survey sites (marsh 10, and the other at my good friend's farm near Garstang (marsh 2). 
Marsh 1
Marsh 2

I was at my wintering bird survey site first thing in the morning, and I had full cloud cover with a light north-easterly wind. There seemed to be a number of Chaffinches around this morning, no obvious visible migration, but I recorded 20 in total, and these were mostly in the hedgerows. Also, in the hedges, were six Tree Sparrows, and I hadn't had any Tree Sparrows at this since late Autumn, so again I'm guessing they were migrants. 

Fieldfares were conspicuous by their absence, and I only had a single bird this week, but there was still a few Teal on the marsh, about 16 or so. There was a lot more on the other marsh, but more of that later. Good numbers of Mallards seemed to be everywhere, and there were gangs of males and females on the marsh, on shallow floods, and just generally in some of the arable fields, all full of the joys of spring. A look back in my notebook shows that I had 54 in total! 
A gang of amorous Mallards
There was a Water Rail still somewhere on the marsh, giving itself away by its call, and two Reed Buntings were singing from the dense vegetation. I was scanning across the marsh, and on the other side I noticed a large brown bird wandering around a field looking at the ground. And this large brown bird was a Buzzard, and these large raptors are partial to a few invertebrates, and this bird was probably looking for earthworms or something similar, digging them up with its powerful feet. 

I had two nice fly-over birds. The first being a Raven being mobbed by a Carrion Crow, and the second was a Great White Egret that flew over me when I was at my second VP and headed towards the marsh. Other fly-overs included 208 Pink-footed Geese and a male Sparrowhawk. The Great White Egret came right at the end of my survey period, and I headed off to my friend's marsh near Garstang.
Pink-footed Geese
There were a lot more wildfowl on this marsh, and I had 250 Teal, four Pintails (a good inland record), 49 Wigeon and twelve Shovelers. I had a look along the hedgerows and in the woodland, and recorded the usual suspects Robins, Great Tits, Blackbirds etc, and in a fairly wet field I had a flock of 12 Fieldfares and 10 Redwings. These Viking invaders will have been feeding on invertebrates brought to the surface by the wet conditions. 

So, a pleasant day in all, at two inland, but quite different wetlands!

Thursday 4 March 2021

Boxes Again

Gail and I headed to our nest box scheme for Pied Flycatchers in the Hodder Valley this morning. Before we headed off into the woods with ladder, boxes and tools, we had a beautiful Stoat in full ermine! It was completely white, with just a black tip to its tail. A few weeks ago, in another bit of woodland, at this same site, we had a Stoat in partial ermine; stunning to see. 

As we headed off into the woodland, we were accompanied by calling Nuthatches and a Mistle Thrush in full song. So loud, and vibrant, but at the same time with a liquid quality, as if its song was cascading from the top of the tree it was singing from.
Mistle Thrush
Two Buzzards were displaying above the woodland, and a pair of Curlews across the river joined in with all the spring joyousness and enthralled us with their bubbling display flight. 
We replaced seven dilapidated boxes, and put one extra up, taking the total number of boxes here to 42. It won't be long now before the Pied Flycatchers land on our shores from Africa. I can't wait! 

My lovely assistant and other half, Gail. I didn't
really let her carry the ladder and boxes!
Pied Flycatcher. Coming soon to an upland Oak wood near you.

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Avocets, Boxes and Peckers

What a busy couple of weeks it's been, with lots of wintering bird survey work, nest box building and erection, and March is shaping up to be a busy month too! I'm not complaining, as you can't beat spending time out in the great outdoors. 

About a week ago I was at my site with some freshwater marsh, and it was cold and blustery; full cloud cover with a 20-25 mph south-easterly wind. Now, vantage points do what they say on the tin, and by name and nature, they are an observation point that gives a good vantage over the area that you are surveying, and as such tend to be exposed and cold! And my two VPs at this site were very cold on this particular morning. 

The last time I was here, I had a number of Fieldfares and that hadn't changed with 89 feeding in some arable fields. You wouldn't know they were there unless they flew, and because of the blustery conditions, even then they were sticking low to the ground. Talking of sticking low to the ground, I had a Little Egret that popped up out of a ditch and it flew away low to the ground, but the one I had before that, was flying fairly high over the marsh, before disappearing out of sight to the south. 

The only species that seemed to be enjoying the blustery conditions were a couple of Buzzards that were flying backwards and forwards and interacting with each other. They weren't quite displaying, but there were lots of calling to each other. 

Ten Teal were on the marsh, and they had been joined by three Coots, a new species for me for the site. There were lots of Gulls moving south, and I haven't put the counts in my notebook, although they are on a spreadsheet of results, and what was notable was the number of Lesser Black-backed and Common Gulls, a sure sign of spring. Another sure sign of spring was a Shelduck over, and when you start seeing them inland you know it's spring.
The middle of last week found me surveying at my site on the Humber Estuary. I had six oktas cloud cover, with a light south-westerly wind. Depending on what I'm doing and where I am, I take either my steel tripod (heavy, but sturdy; good for seawatching) or my carbon fibre pod (light and fits in my rucksack), and at this site I use my carbon fibre as I can carry it in my rucksack along with my scope. I was at my VP counting the waders on the estuary, when the 'head' seized on me and it wouldn't turn either way. Luckily, I had nearly finished, and I managed to unscrew it slightly from the tripod so I
 could at least get some movement. I would have been annoyed if this had happened earlier on! I now have a new head for my tripod. 
Amongst all the waders on the shore I picked out a group of three Avocets, and they looked odd amongst throngs of Godwits. Talking of waders, I had a single Ringed Plover, 97 Dunlin, 525 Black-tailed Godwits, ten Bar-tailed Godwits, 72 Curlews and four Redshanks. Associated with the feeding waders were 80 Shelducks.    

Walking through the areas of scrub and rank grassland to my VP, I had six Roe Deer. One of them hadn't seen me, and walked past me fairly close. I managed to photograph it, but when I looked at the results, I'd managed to capture it with stems of dead grass in front of its face, as you'll see below!
Roe Deer
Two Buzzards were active in this area, as were two Skylarks, five Long-tailed Tits, 22 Linnets, a male Yellowhammer and seven Reed Buntings.

I even had a bit of vis in the form of 120 Pink-footed Geese and 18 Woodpigeons, all heading northwest. 

Lat Friday, I spent a pleasant day at my good friends Robert and Diana's farm near Garstang. The aim of the day was to help Robert put some boxes up, but to be fair it was Robert who did most of the work! We replaced the Kestrel box in the wood that has been used annually for several years now, put up a Little Owl box and several Tree Sparrow boxes. 
Kestrel box
Little Owl box

We put boxes up mainly on mature trees in hedgerows and in the woodland, so we were wandering about a bit, and as a result recorded a few birds. It was a gloriously warm day for late February, with virtually no wind and full sun. 

A few birds were taking advantage of the clear conditions including 130 Pink-footed Geese that headed high northwest and three Skylarks that headed southwest. A pair of Buzzards were displaying with the usual climb and stall with folded wings. The male was also gliding slowly, and calling, with its legs pulled fully forward as if it was going to land, or using them as some kind of air brake; fabulous stuff.

A Woodcock and a Great Spotted Woodpecker put an appearance in the woodland, but it was the wetland that provided the greatest spectacle. We had noticed that the wildfowl kept on getting up, and generally looked very nervous, and at first, we thought it was us that was spooking them, but then the reason flew into view, a fantastic adult female Marsh Harrier! It flew round a couple of times before heading off north. Funnily enough, we had seen the wildfowl wheeling round earlier from a distance, and I wouldn't mind guessing that it was the Marsh Harrier causing it. Our estimate of the number of wildfowl included 29 Shovelers, 400 Teal and 80 Wigeon. Not a bad count!
Over weekend, I continued with the nest box theme, and Gail and I made eight boxes as replacements for dilapidated Pied Flycatcher boxes at our nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley. We have put aside tomorrow to go and out them up, and make sure that all the others are in tip-top condition, ready for the arrival of Pied Flycatchers!
Pied Flycatcher boxes
Whilst we were out in the garden working on the boxes, I could hear a Med. Gull calling, and looked up to see an adult winter bird circling round calling away. However, I was sure I could hear another, and sure enough an adult in summer plumage flew into view, and both flew round calling before heading off. I have mentioned on here in the past that I have had a Med Gull wintering in the vicinity of my house for a few winters, and maybe there has been more than one in the past, and it has been different birds that I have been seeing. Whatever it is, they're stonking birds though!
Alice and I also had a ringing session at our Hodder Valley feeding station and we managed to ring 31 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Blue Tit - 11 (2)
Great Tit - 8 (3)
Chaffinch - 5
Coal Tit - 3 (1)
Goldfinch - 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 2
Song Thrush - 1 
Nuthatch - (3)
Great Spotted Woodpecker
I'll finish with some interesting behaviour that I observed whilst out surveying this morning, well I thought it was interesting, and I'm pretty sure that I haven't observed it before. I was stood at my VP when I heard a Mistle Thrush singing, and it got closer and louder, and then the bird flew over me, whilst singing at the same time! A few minutes later it flew back over me, and again it was singing away. Amazing! 

Over on the right you will notice that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of February. Six new species were ringed for the year during February, and these were Tree Sparrow, Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Song Thrush.

Below you will find the top 4 ringed in February, and the top 5 'movers and shakers' for the year.

Top 4 Ringed in February

1. Linnet - 30
2. Great Tit - 14
3. Chaffinch - 13
    Blue Tit - 13

Top 5 Movers and Shakers

1. Linnet - 57 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 31 (same position)
3. Great Tit - 23 (straight in)
4. Chaffinch - 20 (straight in)
5. Coal Tit - 13 (straight in)