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)

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