Tuesday 29 June 2021

A Bit Quieter This Time

I was back in the reedbed and scrub at the Obs this morning, for another ringing session, and it was a bit quieter this time. I arrived on site at 4:45 a.m. and snapped the sunrise over the estuary, and put just two nets up. It was perfect conditions for ringing, with 7 oktas cloud cover, and it was flat calm.
 Sunrise over the estuary
I only managed to ring eight birds as follows:
Cetti's Warbler - 2
Blackcap - 4
Great Tit - 1
Robin - 1
Female Blackcap
The two Cetti's Warblers were juveniles, as were three of the Blackcaps, with the fourth being an adult female with a brood patch. Even though it was just eight birds, I was pleased with the make-up of species.
Cetti's Warbler
No young Acro's as yet, but I expect the first young Reed and Sedge anytime soon. A few Swifts and House Martins hawked for aerial insects, but not in any numbers. A couple of Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats were singing close to the ringing station, and a flock of twelve Goldfinches were in the same area. 
Out on the scrape were five juvenile Moorhens, along with two adults, and four juvenile Coots with two adults as well. Other than that, the scrape was very quiet. 
I'm in deepest, darkest Notts tomorrow finishing off a breeding bird survey, and hopefully back at the reedbed ringing towards, or over the weekend. 
I think one of everybody's favourite birds has to be the Puffin, so it was worrying to see the headline in May's British Birds of Lack of prey is causing Puffin chicks to starve in the News and comment section. 
Puffins in the northeast Atlantic have been in decline for decades, and one example cited of a Norwegian colony on the Rost archipelago, formerly home to one million pairs, has declined by over 80% since the 1970s!
To try and identify the mechanisms causing poor breeding success in declining populations, a team of scientists studied and compared the feeding behaviour of four different Puffin populations with contrasting success in Iceland, Norway and Wales. To do this, they used GPS loggers to track the feeding movements of Puffins from their study colonies. By combining the GPS tracking data, footage from camera traps near their burrows, and DNA analysis of the birds' droppings, they were able to explore where the Puffins were feeding, how often they fed their chicks, and what prey they were eating. 
The results showed that at the colonies with poor breeding success, the Puffins needed to fly much further afield to find food (round trips of over 100 km) than at more successful colonies. These longer journeys required the parents to spend more time in flight, and cause the chicks to be fed less often. The birds also brought back smaller fish and fed on lower quality prey, which caused many chicks to grow less well or starve. 
These results indicate that a lack of prey near some Puffin colonies in the northeast Atlantic has a major impact on the breeding success of these colonies, leading to population declines. Climate change is partly responsible for this lack of prey, with changes in currents and sea temperatures affecting the abundance and availability of fish that the Puffins require to rear their chick. 
This study highlights the huge impact that climate-driven changes in prey availability can have on seabird populations. It is also likely that the effects detected in Puffins are also likely to occur in other species as well. Very worrying indeed! 

Sunday 27 June 2021

First Ringing Session Of The Autumn

I met Alice and John at 5:00 a.m. yesterday, to ease us back into ringing at the pools at the Obs, it could easily have been an hour earlier, but it was early enough. As we put the nets up, we had just 1 okta cloud cover, but by the time we packed up five hours later, we had full cloud cover. The wind was a hardly noticeable north-easterly, so perfect conditions for mist nets.

We ringed 34 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Reed Warbler - 3 (2)
Cetti's Warbler - 4
Robin - 3
Blackcap - 3
Reed Bunting - 1
Great Tit - 4
Whitethroat - 2
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Dunnock - 2
Chiffchaff - 3
Long-tailed Tit - 8 (1)
All the Cetti's Warblers, Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs were juvenile birds, whilst the Reed Warblers and Lesser Whitethroat were adults. Probably indicative of a later arrival, and therefore later breeding season, for the latter two species this year. 

Reed Warbler

From a birding perspective, I don't have a great deal to report as we were kept fairly busy with the ringing. Ten Swifts were notable, as was a Great Spotted Woodpecker flying from the houses to the more mature planting surrounding the water treatment works. The scrape was quiet with just a handful of Coots and a Little Grebe

The forecast is looking settled all week, so I am hoping to get another session in before weekend, after I have got my final breeding bird survey out of the way.

Friday 25 June 2021

First Wee Bit Of Autumnal Vis With A Corresponding Autumnal Nip

The first three days of this week has seen me carrying out breeding bird surveys at three different sites. First up, was a jaunt to what is to me southern England, but I guess if you live in Notts, I suspect that you wouldn't class the area as the deep south. Technically, I would think that it in the east Midlands. 

I was undertaking a BBS on a block of farmland, mainly arable, but with some grassland that actually had some quite nice meadows, that I would class as semi-improved.
I set off under complete cloud cover with a light north-easterly wind. I've mentioned before, that when completing breeding bird surveys, you note down any activity that is shown by the species recorded, and one activity is coded as 'food'. So, on one of my maps I recorded 'K.food' with the symbol for male, and a flight direction arrow. So, a male Kestrel carrying food. I got a good view of the male Kestrel flying over with food, and that food was a young Rat! The only other raptors that I recorded were four Buzzards and a male Sparrowhawk.
The crops being grown on the arable land were spring wheat and barley, and this type of crop provides nest sites for Skylarks, as the crop isn't too dense when they are trying to breed and it enables them to rear two broods, as the harvest is comparatively late when compared to winter sown cereals. So, as expected, I had at least nine pairs of Skylarks in the arable block of land.
Only four species of warbler were encountered, with the most numerous being Whitethroat, with eleven birds recorded. The remaining three species were seven singing Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler and two singing Blackcaps
All of the arable land and the pasture had decent hedgerows, and this had a positive effect on Song Thrushes as I recorded six singing males. Other birds making use of the hedgerows were the ten Yellowhammers that I recorded, with seven of them being males, so a reasonably healthy population of at least seven pairs. 
Song Thrush
Four and a half hours later, I was back at my car, ready to return to the 'north'.
The autumnal vis and autumnal nip in my blog title are as a result of my survey the following day in northwest Cumbria. As I set off from home my car thermometer was reading 5 degrees Celsius, but as I pulled in to Tebay service station at 5:00 a.m. on the M6, nestled among the Howgills, it showed a chilly 2 degrees! My fleece was required to walk to the kiosk to get a much-needed coffee!

In fact, it was still chilly when I arrived at my survey site on the coast, and a number of layers were required as I set off under 4 oktas cloud cover with a light south-easterly wind. 
The view along the coast
This site has always been good for Linnets and I recorded 15 during my survey. There is a block of arable land here too, and I recorded a Grey Partridge as well as a couple of singing Skylarks. Once again Whitethroats were the commonest warbler species, a reflection of the habitat, and I recorded five. 
I mentioned a 'wee bit of autumnal vis' in my blog title, and this took the form of four Sand Martins motoring very purposefully, and rapidly south along the cliff tops. So, for me that makes it officially autumn now! 
I recorded a Meadow Pipit and a Song Thrush carrying food, and I watched the Song Thrush relieving the Snail of its shell! Other bits and pieces included a Raven, a Rock Pipit, two Stonechats, three Kestrels and a Painted Lady butterfly. 
The Song thrush with the shell-less snail
Painted Lady

On Wednesday Gail accompanied me on my survey to the Wirral side of the Mersey, not far from the Manchester Ship Canal, and we were blessed with clear skies and a light westerly wind as we completed the survey. Fast forward a few hours later, and we were driving home in rain.
Looking down the ship canal
The survey site here is made up of areas of open grassland, through the various successional stages to closed canopy woodland. Most of it you would class as mature scrub. 
We recorded six species of warbler; eight singing Blackcaps, seven Chiffchaffs (five singing males), a Sedge Warbler, two singing Garden Warblers, three Willow Warblers (two singing males) and a singing Whitethroat. Undoubtedly the warbler species were the main feature of the site. 
Three Ravens, two Jays, a Buzzard, a Stock Dove, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Song Thrushes and a Peregrine also made it on to the pages of my notebook.
Common Spotted Orchids were fairly common at the site
On this day in 2009 I had the privilege of ringing some raptors in Bowland with a dear departed friend of mine, David. On the way up to this particular Hen Harrier nest (all completely licenced of course) we had stonking views of a juvenile Ring Ouzel, and we were then treated to views of a juvenile Peregrine being mobbed by a male Hen Harrier. Superb!
One of the Hen Harriers
We ringed three Hen Harrier chicks (two males and a female), and we also fitted wing-tags to the female and one of the males. On the way back we also ringed two Curlew chicks.

Next up were two Merlin nests, and we ringed six chicks in total. Once again, we were treated to views of a pair of Peregrines with a juvenile, and another male Hen Harrier. A fantastic day firmly etched in my memory. 
One of the Merlins
Fingers crossed, I might have some news from a ringing session tomorrow.

Saturday 19 June 2021

Here, There And Everywhere

What a busy ten days or so it's been since I last posted, and it feels like I have been here, there and everywhere, and that's probably because I have! All of my birding, or nearly all of it, of late, has been through work. But once all my breeding bird surveys finish at the end of June, I am hoping for a couple of months of relative quiet. But I am not going to complain.

At the end of the first week in June, I was at one of my sites that I have been surveying throughout the winter, and now I am in the process of completing a set of three breeding bird surveys, and this was visit two. It looks a lot different now with all the winter wheat well on its way, but the adjacent fresh water marsh still provides some interest.

I had been saying recently, that I hadn't seen a huge number of Whitethroats so far this spring, but since I said that, they have arrived in good numbers. In fact, on this morning, I recorded eight, including five singing males. You've got to be careful with Whitethroats when you are mapping territories as they move around quite a bit, and it's easy to record individuals twice. The only other warbler species I recorded were seven Sedge Warblers, and two of these were singing males.

Five Tree Sparrows called from one of the hedgerows, and I'm guessing that they would have been a family party, but I didn't see them well enough to see if any were juv's or not. On the subject of juvenile birds, I had six observations of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and I say six observations, as the six birds I recorded could have been one or two of the same individuals moving around. Anyway, at least two of the Great Spots were juv's, including one that landed noisily on a branch above my head, but flew off as I raised my camera! 

With an adjacent freshwater marsh, you would expect Reed Buntings, and I recorded six, including two singing males. Three Grey Herons were on the marsh, and the only raptor I had was a male Sparrowhawk

The following day I was over at my former industrial site on the Humber estuary, and under clear skies with a light south-easterly breeze, I had a bit of a warbler fest. Nothing mega, but a singing Cetti's Warbler, three singing Chiffchaffs, two Willow Warblers (one singing), eight Sedge Warblers (seven singing), seven Whitethroats (five singing), six Lesser Whitethroats (four singing) and two Blackcaps (one singing and one female), made it on to the pages of my notebook. 

The warblers really were the feature of the morning, but 40 Linnets was a good count. The site is perfect for them, and the numbers reflect the ideal habitat. 

Last weekend, Gail, Alice and I finished off the boxes at our nest box scheme in Bowland, and we ringed the last brood of eight Pied Flycatchers that were too small the previous weekend. 
Pied Flycatcher chick in Gail's hands
We also checked the Spotted Flycatchers, and the five eggs were now five very small young, probably only hatched the day before. Alice and I returned today, and ringed five healthy Spotted Flycatcher chicks! A quick check on DemOn, and the last Spotted Flycatcher chicks ringed by the group was in 2010, and at this site in 2008. In fact, we have only ever ringed 29 Spotted Flycatchers, with 22 of these being pulli. So, to ring another five this morning was excellent, and it all adds to the conservation data generated for this declining red-listed species. 
Spotted Flycatcher - adult with food above, and chick in Alice's hands below


I have operated my moth trap infrequently this year, mainly because of lots of early morning starts for bird surveys, but hopefully once June is out of the way, I should be able to run my light trap a few times a week throughout July and August. However, earlier this week I did run my trap on one night, and caught twelve moths of six species as follows:

Brimstone Moth - 2
Garden Carpet - 1
Heart and Dart - 6
Large Yellow Underwing - 1
Lychnis - 1
Common Marbled Carpet - 1
Brimstone Moth
Towards the end of this week, I was back at my inland arable survey site, with an adjacent area of marsh, and it was fairly quiet. As you know, it's been a late spring, and normally you would expect a few juvenile birds out of the nest by now, but a lot of the summer migrants are still feeding dependant young in the nest. 

I recorded five Tree Sparrows again in a similar area, and I recorded a whopping eleven Reed Buntings. Watching the Reed Buntings, it was obvious that some of them were nesting in the winter wheat, so let's hope that they manage to fledge their young before harvest! 

Only three Whitethroats during my survey, but two Lesser Whitethroats were new in. They have certainly arrived later this year. Other than that, like I said before, it was quiet. 

Yesterday I was back on Anglesey, and I was on site by 4:45 a.m. under clear skies, with quite a cold northerly wind. In fact, it was cold enough for five layers of clothing! Part of my survey at this site entails two hours of VP survey effort looking over the sea. It was quite busy with seabirds coming and going, commuting from their colonies to foraging areas, and the highlights included two Fulmars, 24 Manx Shearwaters, twelve Gannets, two Shags, nine Kittiwakes, an adult Med. Gull, twelve Sandwich Terns, a Common Tern, eight Arctic Terns, 48 Guillemots, seven Razorbills, five Puffins and seven Auk sp.

I had two Harbour Porpoises close in, which was brilliant, and I also had a mystery dorsal fin! A flock of Herring Gulls feeding on the sea off a close offshore rocky islet, where they nest, grabbed my attention, and amongst the feeding frenzy I had the briefest of views of a tall dorsal fin. It was for a split second only, and it disappeared completely. So,who the dorsal fin was attached to, I have no idea. It's like that sometimes. 

Three species of raptor made an appearance during the morning; a male Sparrowhawk, a pair of Buzzards and a Kestrel
A pair of Choughs was a mega sighting for me, but of course Anglesey is a Chough hotspot in the UK, so it wasn't really a surprise. I saw a pair perched up on a building, and they flew around calling when I walked past, and then I saw them later fly over me close to my VP. Two Ravens were present on site as well, and seeing them fairly close reminded me of just how big they are. At one point during my VP survey period, I picked them up flying from the offshore islet back to the mainland. I am guessing that they were visiting the Gull colony for a feeding opportunity!
Raven (above & below)

I recorded 41 species during my survey, but other than 211 Herring Gulls, three Chiffchaffs, four Whitethroats and four Rock Pipits, the above were the highlights.
Herring Gull
I'm going to finish off with a common butterfly species that I recorded for the first time (I think) in my garden this morning, and that's the Large Skipper (below), a female in fact. The caterpillar's main foodplant is Cock's-foot, and there is Cock's-foot in my mini-meadow. Hopefully we'll see some more of her, or others!  

Tuesday 8 June 2021

Flycatchers To Foulshaw

Last Saturday, Gail, Alice and I made what we thought would be the last visit to our Bowland Pied Flycatcher nest box scheme. As we approached the site, we were treated to a cracking view of a Red Kite drifting over the road and into the wooded valley; superb! 

We had two boxes of pulli Pied Flycatchers to ring, or so we thought, and for the Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project, that we are involved in with other ringers in Bowland, we needed to trap the two respective males from these boxes. 

We ringed one brood of six Pied Flycatchers, but the other brood of eight were too small, and will have to wait until next weekend. However, we were successful in trapping both males, and both were ringed. The first male had been ringed at this site on 5th June 2016 as a chick from a brood of six, making him five years old! The typical lifespan for a Pied Flycatcher is two years, and the maximum age recorded from ringing is 9 years and 7 days, so our male is certainly long-lived! Just to think, that he has flown to West Africa and back five times, crossing the Sahara ten times! The other male was ringed elsewhere by another ringer, and we await the details of where, from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

After we were finished, we were chatting to the landowner, Simon, when we noticed a bird fly down from a nest under the eaves of a low wooden building, and it was a Spotted Flycatcher! A quick lean of the ladders against the building, and a check of the nest, revealed that the Spotted Flycatcher was incubating five eggs. Brilliant!

We called at our friend's farm near Garstang to check the remaining two Tree Sparrow boxes. One pair is still on eggs, but the other pair had two chicks. A third chick was sadly dead in the nest. The two remaining chicks looked healthy enough, and were duly ringed.
Yesterday, I had a breeding bird survey to complete at one of my long-standing survey sites in northwest Cumbria, and I headed off on my transect under 6 oktas cloud cover, with a light northerly breeze. Compared with my last visit there seemed to have been an arrival of Whitethroats, and I recorded eight during the survey, including six singing males. A Grasshopper Warbler singing from the margin of an arable field along the cliff top was new in, and the only other warblers I recorded was a single singing Willow Warbler
Skylarks are ever present at this site, both during the winter and summer, and I recorded seven, with three of them singing from the heavens.
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart 
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
An exert from 'To a Skylark' by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
I had a few finches in the form of eight Linnets, a Siskin high north (very late now), 18 Goldfinches and a single Lesser Redpoll
Two male Stonechats were singing, with no sign of females, so I assumed that their 'other halves' were on the nest incubating eggs of second broods. The only raptors I had were a pair of Kestrels.
On the way home I called in at the Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve, Foulshaw Moss. In fact, it is one of my favourite reserves locally. I was hoping for some sunshine to bring inverts and reptiles out, but this wasn't to be, but it was warm and bright, and I hoped this would be enough.
I had a look at the feeding station first, mainly because you have to walk past it anyway, and it was being visited by a few juvenile Tree Sparrows, plus a few Lesser Redpolls, Goldfinches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Tree Sparrow
Throughout my walk, I was accompanied by singing Willow Warblers, and there were at least eight males in song as well as a Chiffchaff. A Tree Pipit sang from the top of a Birch, with occasional song flights over the bog. As I passed the Osprey watchpoint, the staff pointed out an adult Osprey and three chicks on the nest that could be viewed on a screen; through my bins they were four blobs! Foulshaw is well known for its breeding Ospreys, and as you approach the site there are road signs directing you to the 'Osprey Watchpoint'! It's a great opportunity to get new members for the Wildlife Trusts.
Just after here were four Common Lizards on the boardwalk, plus lots of Large Red Damselflies. A little bit further on I encountered a few White-faced Darters, but unfortunately every one that I tried to photograph was facing away from me, so you couldn't see that lovely white face!
Common Lizard (above & below)

Large Red Damselfly (above & below)


White-faced Darter (above from yesterday and facing away, and below from 
2019 showing it's white face) 
An hour and a half had been whiled away in very pleasant surroundings, and it was time to jump back on the M6 and head home. 

Over on the right I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of May. Five new species for the year were ringed during May, and these were Reed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Pied Wagtail.

Below, you will find the top three species ringed during the month, and the top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year so far.

Top 3 Ringed in May

1. Blue Tit - 52
2. Sand Martin - 25
3. Great Tit - 12

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Lesser Redpoll - 158 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 102 (up from 3rd)
3. Linnet - 60 (down from 2nd)
4. Sand Martin - 54 (up from 5th)
5. Chaffinch - 48 (down from 4th)
6. Great Tit - 41 (down from 5th)
7. Goldfinch - 32 (same position)
8. Coal Tit - 26 (same position)
9. Blackbird - 19 (up from 10th)
10. Robin - 18 (down from 9th)

Tuesday 1 June 2021

From Anglesey To The Mersey With Some Boxes Along The Way

Last week I was fortunate enough to have to undertake a breeding bird survey on the north coast of Anglesey, and on the morning of the survey, the weather was glorious, with hardly a cloud in the sky, with just a light northerly wind. I had a two-hour breeding bird survey (BBS) transect to complete, plus two hours of VP observation over the sea. As you can imagine, it was a real chore...not! 

I like Anglesey, and I like Wales, a lot in fact, but I always seem drawn to either the Celtic kingdom to the north of me, or the one to the west across the Irish Sea, rather than the Celtic kingdom to the south, and I don't know why really. As soon as I crossed the border in to Wales, I felt that warm fuzzy feeling that I get when I cross the border in to Scotland, or alight from the ferry in Ireland.
I have probably mentioned this before, but if I ever get a spare minute or two, I spend some time researching my family tree. Fairly recently, to help with this, I had a DNA test done to estimate my ethnicity and the results were surprising and not surprising at the same time. I knew I was of Irish origin of course, having an Irish mother and lots of Irish family, so any Irish ethnicity in my DNA wouldn't be a surprise. The results came back, and my ethnicity estimate was 32% Scottish, 16% Irish and 52% Northwest England and the Isle of Man. So, I like to think that I have some Celtic blood coursing through my veins that makes some of these places feel like home. A rather romanticised view perhaps, but it's one that I like.
I digress.
Walking around the coastal headland there was lots of Thrift in flower, and I have to say that it is probably one of my favourite flowers. In addition to the Thrift there was Scarlet Pimpernel, Red Valerian, Bird's-foot Trefoil and Ox-eye Daisy to name but a few. I was also accompanied by the continuous song of Rock Pipits, as there always seemed to be a bird singing, with that fantastic song-flight, whenever I stopped. I recorded six Rock Pipits, including four singing birds. 
A bank of loveliness!
There were quite a few Common Blue butterflies on the wing
Red Valerian

I didn't record too many other passerines other than ten Swallows, a singing Chiffchaff, five Willow Warblers (including two singing and one carrying food), a singing Whitethroat, four Siskins and nine Linnets.
Being in Anglesey I had one eye open for Choughs, but I didn't see or hear any, but I did have a Raven, which is probably my favourite Corvid. 
I found a good location for my VP watchpoint on a nice stretch of headland, and had a rather pleasant two hours watching the comings and goings of all the local sea birds. However, one bird was a surprise, that I picked up on the sea directly below me and just offshore. Earlier, I had been watching a Shag fishing off the rocks, and later out of the corner of my eye I saw a bird just offshore and I thought it was the Shag back again, until I had a look, and could see that it was a Brent Goose! Not rare by any stretch of the imagination, but not a bird I would have expected off a rocky headland in late May!
Brent Goose
I had the usual suspects on and above the sea, and this included a male Common Scoter, six Fulmars, 22 Gannets, two Shags, three Cormorants, twelve Kittiwakes, 283 Herring Gulls, six Sandwich Terns, four Common Terns, eight Arctic Terns, 30 Guillemots, five Razorbills and 54 Auk sp. Like I said, a pleasant two hours!
At weekend, Alice and I were checking boxes again. As per our usual routine, we checked our Pied Flycatcher boxes in Bowland first, and we were bitterly disappointed to discover that yet another female Pied Flycatcher had been predated out of one our boxes, leading to a failed breeding attempt. Out of just seven boxes with Pied Flycatchers, that's five that have been predated so far! We did manage to lift and ring the female off the nest out of one of the two remaining boxes.
We ringed four broods of Blue Tits; a nine, seven, six and a four, and a brood of six Great Tits, before heading downhill to our friend's farm on the Fylde. Here we ringed a brood of five and nine Blue Tits, and hopefully next weekend we will have two broods of Tree Sparrows to ring. 
I ran my garden moth trap over weekend and caught just six moths of six species; Brimstone, Heart and Dart, Light-brown Apple Moth, Garden Carpet, Flame Shoulder and Shuttle-shaped Dart
Gail and I were working, for our sins, very early on Bank Holiday Monday, as we completed a BBS on the Wirral side of the Mersey. We set off just as the sun was rising into azure blue skies, but as we neared the Mersey, we were greeted with full cloud cover, and it was a tad cool. I won't go into great detail, but some of the highlights were a singing Whitethroat, six Blackcaps, seven Chiffchaffs, two Song Thrushes, seven Willow Warblers, a Goldcrest, a singing Garden Warbler, two Bullfinches, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Jay, a Buzzard, a Swift and eleven House Martins. So, you could say, a bit of a warbler 'fest'!
I've got surveys to do locally, on the Humber and in Bowland this week, before we complete the last checks of our boxes next weekend. I'll keep you posted.