Thursday 29 July 2021

Spotted Flycatcher Update - Part 2

Alice and I checked our two Spotted Flycatcher nests in the Hodder Valley in Bowland yesterday evening to see how they were progressing, and to check if the chicks were big enough to ring.

In the first nest we found three healthy and large chicks, which under the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Nest Record Scheme (NRS), would be coded as FL; primary feathers large - more than 2 thirds emerged from the sheath. We ringed these three stonking youngsters, and placed them back in the nest. And in probably a week's time they will set off on their journey to tropical Africa. Amazing!
Spotted Flycatcher chick (above & below)

The second nest is only 40 metres form the first, as the Spotted Flycatcher flies, and that made me wonder whether Spot Fly's were polygamous. A quick check of the Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa - Volume VII - Flycatchers to Shrikes told me that they are typically monogamous. In a three-year study in West Germany of 151 nests, there were only three cases of polygamy, and the individual birds that were polygamous, bred monogamously in other years of the study. 
It's the first time in a while that I've lifted a volume of
BWP down from my book shelf
As we approached the second nest, the female slipped away, and a quick check revealed three very small chicks and one egg, so they had probably hatched that day. So, a return trip is in order next week, and I'll provide a 'Spotted Flycatcher Update - Part 3'.

Monday 26 July 2021

Sylvia Fest

Yesterday morning Alice and I had a ringing session in the reedbed and willow scrub at the Obs, and it was a bit of a Sylvia fest based on the number of Sylvia warbler species that we ringed. I had attempted to do some ringing Thursday morning, but as I was still awake when my alarm went off at 4:00 a.m., so basically having zero hours sleep, I decided not to bother. Anyway, back to yesterday.
Lesser Whitethroat
Thankfully, the temperatures have now dropped, and we also have some cloud cover, so that improves things tremendously for ringing. At 5:00 a.m. yesterday, we had 4 oktas cloud cover, with a light north-easterly wind. Our net rides all run NW - SE, so a wind from the NE gives a little shelter. 
As I have hinted at in my blog title, and above, we ringed a fair few Sylvia warblers yesterday. In fact, the Sylvia warbler total was 32 of three species. We ringed 54 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Blackcap - 17
Reed Warbler - 4
Robin - 1
Greenfinch - 2
Lesser Whitethroat - 7
Blue Tit - 4
Willow Warbler - 1
Wren - 2
Whitethroat - 8
Great Tit - 2
Goldfinch - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Cetti's Warbler - (1)
Willow Warbler
Other than what we ringed, I have very little to report as we were kept fairly busy processing birds. The Starlings were early again yesterday, and there were similar numbers to last time exiting the roost, perhaps somewhere in the region of 6,000. A Grasshopper Warbler was still singing from an area of grassland, and we had a vocal Cetti's Warbler as well. Other than a couple of Swifts over, that's about all I can wring from the pages of my notebook. 
Bags of Sylvia warblers waitng to be processed
Fingers crossed that we might have some Spotted Flycatcher chicks to ring one evening this week, and hopefully I can have another session in the reedbed and scrub before weekend.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Ticking Robins

At 5 o'clock yesterday morning, from a soundscape perspective, it felt like Autumn, as there were several 'ticking' Robins as I put the nets up in the reedbed and scrub at the Obs. However, the temperature made it feel like the height of summer, as already it was 18 Celsius even at this early hour. The plan was to have a short ringing session, and I mean short, because of the hot conditions. The session was indeed short, as unsurprisingly, the bird activity reduced as soon as the sun was fully up, and the temperature started to climb. Birds, like us thermoregulate, and become less active when it is hot to regulate their body temperature. And that is why I wasn't planning to catch and ring any birds when the temperature increased. So, I had a pleasant couple of hours under clear skies, with no wind, and acceptable warm temperatures.
As I was driving through the site and unlocking the gates, I could hear a Grasshopper Warbler, I was going to say singing, but I should probably say 'reeling'. Singing or reeling, it was the first one I had heard on site since spring. Whitethroats, Sedge Warblers and Cetti's Warblers were all singing as well. 
The Starlings were up earlier this morning, and I wondered whether it was because of the high temperatures. I aim to get to the site at the same time every time in relation to sunrise, and usually I have put the nets up, and I'm back at the ringing station before they exit the roost. This morning the numbers looked to have increased, and I would say that there was somewhere in the region of 6,000 birds. They even did a reverse murmuration over the reeds before heading off east to foraging areas. 
I was sat at the ringing table processing some of the birds that I had caught, and I heard a 'whoosh' of wings. I looked up to see a Peregrine pulling up from a stoop, and then there was a thud as it hit a Woodpigeon! This was followed by a cloud of feathers (shock moult to confuse predators), and the Peregrine flew on. I saw the Woodpigeon drop down, presumably into cover. What a spectacle!
The water level on the scrape is now very low because of the dry conditions, and I noticed that the invasive non-native species (INNS) New Zealand pygmyweed Crassula helmsii, has started to take over again after we held it back for a while when we cleared the scrape. Out on the dryish scrape were nine Moorhens (6 juvs), eight Coots (5 juvs) and three Mallards.  

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

Great Tit - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Robin - 1
Blackcap - 4 (1)
Blue Tit - 1
Whitethroat - 1
Wren - 1

It's looking okay for ringing tomorrow, but it is remaining hot, so it will be another short session.

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Birds, Bugs And Botany

Yesterday, Gail and I had to check two Spotted Flycatcher nests in Bowland, and to make a morning of it, I decided to show Gail two pieces of nice grassland; one on one of my client's farm, and another on a friend's. Both are in Bowland, and fairly close together. 
Belted Galloways; the main conservation management tools on both farms

It was another sweltering hot day as we left the car and headed to have a look at the first piece of grassland. On the main pool, within the central wetland complex, a large flock of 115 Greylag Geese were on the water, and over 100 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were in attendance too. With the current dry weather, lots of farmers are mowing their meadows, providing feeding opportunities for the Gulls, and they were dropping in to the main pool for a drink and a bathe, before heading off to feed once again. 
Greylag Geese
We finally got to the field that I wanted to show Gail, which is an area of Purple moor-grass and rush pasture, associated with some fen-type habitat. It was absolutely alive with invertebrates, and the hum of all the bees and hoverflies visiting the profusion of flowering plants, was a joy to be heard. A sound missing from huge swathes of our countryside. In addition to the unidentified bees and hoverflies, we recorded Blue-tailed Damselflies, Common Blue Damselflies, Ringlet, Small Heath, Small Skipper and Meadow Brown butterflies. 
Blue -tailed Damselfly
Small Skipper
As I said before there, was a profusion of flowering plants including Sneezewort, Heath bedstraw, Cuckoo flower, Tormentil, Meadow vetchling, Birds-foot trefoil, Water mint, Yarrow, Meadowsweet and Greater Burnet, to name just a few. But I think that you get the idea what it was like. 
Cuckoo flower
Greater burnet
Meadowseet in front of one of the ponds

A Sedge Warbler called form the wet areas, a Meadow Pipit was in the drier bits, and Swifts and Siskins called overhead. 
Meadow Pipit
We then moved to my friend's farm, and had a look at their field full of orchids. Common spotted-orchids were everywhere, with a few Fragrant orchids interspersed. How many there were, I don't know, but there were certainly several hundred spikes. In this field the wetter areas contained Meadow sweet and Greater burnet like the other farm, with Harebell and Selfheal in drier areas. Two farms, and two cracking, surviving fields of unimproved grassland. 
Common spotted-orchid (above), and lots of them below

Fragrant orchid

On the way home we checked the Spotted Flycatchers in the Hodder Valley, the main purpose of the morning, and one female was incubating four eggs, and in the other nest was at least one chick that had only just hatched, and there were also two eggs that I don't doubt will have hatched later in the day. We will return next week to hopefully ring all the chicks!

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Rain Stop-Starts Play Twice

Last Saturday, Alice and I had to furl our nets twice in the wet scrub at the Obs, but we still had a reasonable ringing session. When we put the nets up at 5:00 a.m. it was under full cloud cover, and the wind was a light south-easterly. It was a tad murky, and it wasn't forecast, but it was to become dreich!
We ringed 19 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Great Tit - 1
Blackcap - 6
Robin - 1
Reed Warbler - 2 (4)
Blue Tit - 2
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Whitethroat - 1 (1)
Willow Warbler - 1
Wren - 1
Dunnock - 1
Greenfinch - 1

One of the Reed Warblers that we captured, that was a breeding male, was ringed at the site in 2017 and hadn't been recaptured at all until last Saturday. In 2017, we ringed it as a '4' male, which means that it wasn't hatched during the calendar year of ringing, but could have been hatched any year previously. So, this means that the latest year that this bird hatched was in 2016, so he is at least five years old! Reed Warblers winter in tropical Africa, south of the Sahara, so just think how far this little fellow has flown, crossing the Sahara at least ten times, whilst only weighing 11-12 g. Amazing! 

When I was heading back into the scrub to furl the nets for the first time, the Starlings were coming out of their roost, and I estimated the numbers to be somewhere in the region of 5,000 birds. I did wonder whether there was a Rose-coloured Starling amongst them, as the UK has seen a huge influx of them this summer. 

From a birding perspective, there wasn't really much else to report. Whitethroats, Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers are still holding territory, and singing away. In fact, a male Sedge Warbler close to the ringing station, sang and song-flighted his heart out, for the five hours we were on site! The scrape still held the juvenile Coots and Moorhens, and three House Martins and a couple of Swallows were hawking insects over the pool. 

Towards the end of May I created a small pond in my garden (see pictures below). I say 'created', but it was really a case of digging the right sized hole, and putting the pre-formed plastic pond in said hole! It is only small as I said, but it is already attracting a few beasties. The pond itself has what looks like non-biting Midge (Chironomids) larvae in it, swimming up to the surface, and then diving down. 
My small garden pond, and how it looked shortly after I put it in towards the end 
of May (above), and how it looks now, attracting a few beasties (below)

There are several Helophilus pendulus (I think) hoverflies knocking about around the pond, and assuming that is indeed what they are, they do like ponds and ditches! I've also recorded my first dragon at the pond, and that was a Blue-tailed Damselfly. So, I'm really pleased with that. 
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Helophilus pendulus

I was at my client's farm in Bowland yesterday checking some meadows for breeding Curlew, to make sure there were no chicks present prior to them being cut. We are hoping to start the process of restoring at least one meadow this year, and several more next year. We visited a neighbouring farm to look at some meadows/pastures that could act as a source for some donor seed, and they looked fantastic to say the least. The meadow was a riot of colour with species such as Yellow rattle, Knapweed, Meadow buttercup, Eyebright, Hawkbits, Meadowsweet, Meadow vetchling, Pignut, Ribwort plantain, Red clover, Selfheal and Bird's-foot trefoil to name but a few. The species-rich pasture was full of Common Spotted-orchids, with lesser numbers of Fragrant Orchid as well. Sadly, the weather was dreich to say the least yesterday, so I had to abandon any thought of getting any pictures.  So, I'm really excited about getting this started.
There were no Curlew chicks in any of the meadows, but GT did pick up a juvenile flying with an adult, so that was evidence of successful outcome for one pair. A rather miserable looking Barn Owl was out attempting to hunt later in the morning when the rain had stopped. This was towards mid-day, so it shows how desperate it must have been to try and hunt at this time to feed its chicks. 
Hopefully, I'll be out birding, ringing and botanising over the next few days. I'll keep you posted.  

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Spotted Flycatcher Update - Part 1

Gail and I checked the two Spotted Flycatcher nests at our Bowland site in the Hodder Valley yesterday morning, and the results were mixed. The first nest, above the door to an office/shop, had three warm eggs in it, and therefore the eggs were being incubated by the female. So, this was good news. 
Spotted Flycatcher
The second nest, which is on top of a beam in an open, lean to shelter/building, had three eggs, but they were neither cold or warm. The owner of the site sent me a picture of this nest on 1st July, and there were three eggs in then, so it's not a case of the female not finishing laying yet. It's possible that for some reason the nest has been abandoned/deserted, with the most likely reason being that something has happened to one of the adults, or it was just a case that the female had been off the nest for a while when I checked it. We will go back in a week or so's time, and we'll know for sure then.

Today we received details from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) of the recovery of two of our birds. On the face of it, they weren't over-exciting, but they do tell us a little bit about the migration of these two species, and particular their use of 'stop-over' sites on their way south in the autumn. 

Both birds were ringed at the Nature Park/Pools within the Fleetwood Bird Observatory recording area, and controlled (caught by another ringer) at Middleton Nature Reserve near Heysham, by Alan and his team. 

The first is a Reed Warbler that we ringed on 30th August 2020, and it was controlled at Middleton NR on 28th June 2021. The second is a Lesser Whitethroat, that we ringed on 10th September 2020, and it was controlled on 28th June 2021. The distance travelled is only 16 km, and the direction is north-northeast. See Google Earth image below.
(Click the image to enlarge)
As I said before, not overly exciting in terms of the distance travelled, but we have had several exchanges between the Nature Park and Middleton NR over the years. Sometimes, it has been a case of the birds being ringed at Middleton NR and we have controlled them, but often it is the case of the above Reed Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat. 

The dates when these two individuals were ringed, show that these birds were undoubtedly on their return autumn migration when we ringed them (30th August and 10th September), and when controlled at Middleton NR were at, or close to their nest sites. This demonstrates the importance of stop-over sites during migration, where birds can refuel before the next leg of their journey. These birds may well have stopped off at other sites, but because ringing only takes place at a few sites, these other sites will remain unknown. However, what is does tell us though, is that we need to make sure that there are pockets of suitable, invertebrate rich, habitats scattered throughout the wider landscape. And as climate change bites, these pockets of habitat will become even more important as adaptation against the effects.
Talking about climate change adaptation, I read in a recent volume of British Wildlife that a new project is using one million seeds to establish 20,000 square metres (2 ha) of seagrass Zostera meadow off Pembrokeshire in Wales. Seagrasses rapidly absorb and sequester atmospheric carbon and provide seabed habitat for marine life. So, a win-win all round!

Saturday 3 July 2021

Seven Up

The first bird that I had yesterday morning on the five-minute drive from home to the pools at the Obs, was a Barn Owl flying across the road. Funnily enough, I started a new notebook yesterday morning, so a Barn Owl was a good bird to grace the top of the first page!

I am three ringing sessions in to the programme of autumn ringing at the pools, and normally that would lead to each visit starting slightly later than the last, but for some reason I have got progressively earlier, and I was at the pools by 4:30 a.m. yesterday. 
I put a couple of nets up under complete cloud cover and it was calm. Perfect conditions for ringing once again, but was there any birds? I only managed to ring twelve birds, but amongst that twelve were seven species of warbler. My totals were as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Whitethroat - 3
Blackcap - 2
Sedge Warbler - 2
Reed Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Willow Warbler - 1
Great Tit - 1
Lesser Whitethroat
First juvenile Sedge Warbler of the autumn

Shortly after putting the nets up the Starlings exited their over-night roost, and I estimated that there were about 4,000 birds. In the mornings they don't mess about, no real murmurations, just up, out and away!
The scrape held seven Moorhens (4 juv.'s), a Mute Swan, three Black-headed Gulls, nine Coots (5 juv.'s) and three Mallards. Birds still on territory included singing Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, Wren, Goldfinch and Whitethroat
Three Stock Doves and fly-over Curlew, six Lapwings and an Oystercatcher, and that was your lot. So, a quiet morning, but I was pleased with the 'seven up'! 
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of June. Five new species for the year were ringed during June and these were, Cetti's Warbler, Oystercatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat. 
Below you will fing the 'top 3 ringed in June' and the 'movers and shakers' for the year so far.
Top 3 Ringed in June
1. Sand Martin - 69
2. Pied Flycatcher - 25
3. Great Tit - 11
Top 10 Movers and Shakers
1.   Lesser Redpoll - 158 (same position)
2.   Sand Martin - 123 (up from 4th)
3.   Blue Tit - 104 (down from 2nd)
4.   Linnet - 60 (down from 3rd)
5.   Great Tit - 52 (up from 6th)
6.   Chaffinch - 49 (down from 5th)
7.   Goldfinch - 35 (same position)
8.   Coal Tit - 27 (same position)
9.   Pied Flycatcher - 26 (straight in)
      Robin - 26 (up from 10th)
      Blackbird - 26 (same position)
10. Long-tailed Tit - 18 (straight in) 

Friday 2 July 2021

More Farmland Fayre

Before I get into some more farmland fayre, courtesy of my second breeding bird survey in deepest, darkest Notts, an update on the Spotted Flycatchers at our Pied Flycatcher site in Bowland is in order. 

The site owner, Simon, messaged me to say that he had found a second pair of Spotted Flycatchers nesting behind a building, and they had just fledged three young, so sadly too late for us to ring the chicks. However, they had now started with their second brood, and were incubating four eggs. The original pair, with the five young of whom we ringed, are now busy at the nest again, getting on with their second brood. Gail and I will check both pairs over weekend, so hopefully in a week or two we will have a further eight or nine Spot Fly chicks to ring! 
As I mentioned before, mid-week I was back completing the second BBS on a block of farmland in Notts. The four-hour survey commenced under full cloud cover, with a light northerly wind, and it remained overcast for the duration of the survey. 
The site is divided into three blocks if you will, and the land rises from south to north, with a block of arable on both the higher and lower ground, and pasture in the middle. On the lower end, of the higher block of arable land (that's confusing), there is a flood at one end of a large field, and looking at the Willow scrub that has developed along the edge of it, it would seem likely that it rarely dries up, and it provides a nice piece of habitat. In fact, the muddy edge looks good for a 'fresh' wader or two to drop in, but not on this day, just a female Mallard with a family of ducklings. A Grey Heron on the flood looked a little menacing and I wondered if it was eyeing up the ducklings. Probably!
The arable flood providing some good and varied habitat
Only one species of raptor during this visit, and this was two calling Buzzards, but I did have a Buzzard sized bird fly over in the form of a Raven. I recorded a number of Swifts and Swallows foraging for aerial insects, probably brought lower by the overcast conditions, and I had 12 and 22 respectively. 

I think I mentioned when I blogged about this site before, that the arable land is sown with spring cereals, providing good nesting habitat for Skylarks, and this morning I had seven singing birds. Six species of warbler graced the hedgerows, copses, scrub and woodland, and I had seven singing Chiffchaffs, a single Willow Warbler, a singing Sedge Warbler, five singing Blackcaps, a singing Garden Warbler and eleven Whitethroats, including seven singing birds, and one carrying food. 

The site supports a good population of Song Thrushes, and I heard seven singing males during my survey. The site also supports good numbers of Robins, as I had at least twenty individuals. Four male Yellowhammers and a singing Reed Bunting rounded off what was a pleasant morning. 
On this day in 2012, Ian and I ringed three Barn Owl chicks at our friend's farm near Garstang. Barn Owls still nest at this lovely farm, and I have mentioned before that Robert has a camera installed in the box now, and I can tell you that the female is still on eggs. It's been a late spring for Barn Owls this year, and it has taken the females longer than normal to get in to condition to be able to lay eggs. The beauty of the camera in the box of course is that Robert can monitor what's going on; commencement of egg laying, clutch size, hatching date, number and type of food provision for the chicks, and also, we can make sure that we ring them at a good age, when we know that they will survive and successfully fledge. Useful tools these nest cameras!
Barn Owl