Sunday 26 September 2021

The Meteorological Trinity of Weather Apps

For the past two mornings I have supposed to have been out ringing at the Nature Park, and on both mornings, I have been thwarted by the weather, despite what the trio of weather apps I use tried to tell me!
I use the BBC weather app, Met Office and XC, but there are many more. In fact, so many apps, that you will find the forecast that you are looking for, if you keep on looking, whether they are accurate or not!

The BBC weather app.
The Met Office weather app.
 The XC weather app.


Yesterday morning, the BBC app was telling me that it would be dry, and winds would be light, great. The Met Office was giving me a more cautionary tale with the wind strength, and XC said the wind strength would be okay, but it would be foggy. What?! 
It's not too early a start at the moment, and I got up at 5:30 a.m. yesterday. Checked the meteorological trinity of weather apps that I use, and no change. Had a look out of the upstairs windows to see if it was indeed foggy. It wasn't, so I got all my gear together, and headed to the Nature Park. As soon as I cleared the houses, and was driving across the farmland, it looked decidedly dreich! Low cloud, a tad misty and drizzle! So, XC was the closest on this occasion. I knew that it was pointless continuing, so I returned home.
This morning was virtually a repeat of yesterday morning, although I didn't get as far. The 'met trinity' on Saturday evening were virtually saying the same as Friday evening, with the 'Beeb' being the most optimistic, the Met Office somewhere in the middle, and XC the most pessimistic, still saying fog! Once again, I rolled out of my pit at 5:30 a.m., checked the mist/fog situation, and it was clear. I then checked the forecasts again, and they were all giving rain showers, and an increasing picture for the wind strength. Ringing was therefore off. I could see it had rained overnight, and as it had been dreich all day yesterday, overnight and into the pre-dawn morning, I didn't see any point in going out birding and looking for migrants. Another autumn day wasted. 
On Friday, I was out reccying another wintering bird survey site on some more arable land in west Lancs. On my travels so far this autumn, whether birding or not birding, I've noticed a few Jays in areas that I don't know normally see them in, so I'm wondering if it's shaping up for a bit of a Jay autumn. 
If it's a 'Jay' autumn, perhaps we'll get them moving along the coast like this
individual in 2014
At this site where I was wandering around looking for suitable areas to site two VPs, I heard a Carrion Crow alarm calling, and I looked up to see a small raptor mobbing the Crow. Lifting my bins, I could see that the small raptor was a male Sparrowhawk. The Sparrowhawk repeatedly harried the larger corvid, and eventually the Crow made good its escape. Thinking that was it, the Sparrowhawk moved away, but the Carrion Crow turned, and came back at the Sparrowhawk mobbing it, until they separated again for good, and went their separate ways. I suppose it was a case of a Sparrowhawk mobbing a Carion Crow, that was mobbing a Sparrowhawk!
On the drive I home I could see lots of Pink-footed Geese north of the river, that were coming in from the east, and moving in a south-westerly direction, presumably making use of the added lift by flying into wind, and generally heading in the right direction. 
Pink-footed Geese
 Looking ahead for the next ten days or so, there isn't a forecast without any rain in it at the moment. But as I always say "there's time for it to change", and I will try to remain optimistic despite what the 'met trinity' might say!

Thursday 23 September 2021

Fly Over Fish Hawk

On Monday morning I visited the Nature Park to hopefully ring a few birds, and it was only a few birds, and as soon as I arrived, I knew that would be the case. It was crystal clear above, and there was a low mist that I suspected would quickly burn off, and these conditions generally lead to a lack of grounded migrants and visible migration up in the stratosphere! I was right. 

I ringed seven birds as follows:

Chaffinch - 3
Reed Warbler - 1
Greenfinch - 2
Wren - 1

In addition to the Reed Warbler ringed, the only other bird(s) that fell into the grounded category were two calling Chiffchaffs. As predicted, and alluded to above, the vis was virtually non-existent (or so high that it was beyond the range of my sight and hearing), and all I had were a handful of Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches and three Grey Wagtails over. 

However, at 0955 I noticed all the Gulls had got up to the north of where I have my ringing base, and it was obvious that there was a raptor about, but I couldn't see it! After a minute of squinting at the sky, I picked up a large raptor circling over the marina. I lifted my bins, and it was an Osprey, or Fish Hawk to give it its old Scottish/Shetland name.
For the next few minutes, I watched it circle to the north of me, and then it drifted south, funnily enough over the area that I put my nets up in. It then turned over the scrape, before heading north and ultimately east, and I lost it over the river. 

I should have spent time just watching it, rather than trying to photograph it, as I took loads of shots of it, and they were all pretty awful. The one below isn't too bad, or should I say you can tell what it is at least! So, the Fish Hawk saved what was a fairly miserable morning.

The wintering bird survey season kicked off for me mid-week, with a visit to a site in west Lancs where I will be carrying out surveys, 24 in all, throughout the winter. The site consists mainly of arable farmland, with some wetland habitat, and a few hedges and ditches.

The day of the survey dawned with four oktas cloud cover and a 10 mph north-westerly wind. I had two vantage point surveys to do, with a transect route to and from the VPs. The area is known as a wintering area for Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans, but it is a tad early yet for any numbers of these two species, but part of the survey is aimed at monitoring the migration of these two species through the site, hence the September start to make sure the autumn is covered properly. 
I did have a few Pinkies actually, 44 to be exact, that flew south over me. A group of nine Wigeon heading north was noteworthy, as was a flock of 61 Lapwings. There were lots of Woodpigeons around feeding in the stubble fields and I had 315 in total. The stubbles were also attracting Skylarks, and I recorded at least 31. 

A male Sparrowhawk put up a flock of 21 Linnets, and a couple of Kestrels and five Buzzards also flew the raptor flag. A fly-over Great Spotted Woodpecker looked odd, as it 'bounced' over a large stubble field heading to the nearest woody habitat. Close to my second VP location is an area of woodland that very obviously contains a Rookery, and at least 110 of these 'baggy trouser' corvids were using the woodland as a roost, alongside twenty of their noisy Jackdaw cousins.  

There was some vis, and in the main this was made up of the 81 Meadow Pipits that headed in a general south-ish direction, but I also had 29 Skylarks, four Swallows, two Grey Wagtails, five Alba Wags and a Greenfinch over. 
I recorded just three warbler species; a Blackcap, a Goldcrest and two Chiffchaffs. Not the most exciting of mornings, but pleasant enough nevertheless to be out and about. 
During the past week, I attempted to photograph some of the Garden Spiders in my garden, and I have posted a couple of pictures below. Amazing beasties!
Garden Spider with prey (above & below)

It was a very different morning when I was out ringing at the coastal farm fields, adjacent to the school, on 21st September 2014. It was fairly clear, and flat calm, conditions that you might expect to cause high-flying vis. But I suspect, that on this morning even though that was the case, the sheer number of birds inevitably meant that some were low enough for me to record. 

I had 527 Meadow Pipits go south, and I even managed to count this number even though I was busy ringing as well, plus 819 Pink-footed Geese, 11 Swallows, 19 Skylarks and a Rock Pipit. I ringed 45 birds; 3 Robins, 26 Meadow Pipits, 4 Blue Tits, 1 Great Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 2 Wrens, 5 Greenfinches, 1 Woodpigeon, 1 Dunnock and 1 Blackbird. 

I'm reccying another wintering bird survey site tomorrow, but hoping to be out at the Nature Park at the weekend as the forecast looks okay at the moment. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday 16 September 2021

Another Grey-ish Day

Driving down the road to the Nature Park I was surprised to see that it had rained quite heavily overnight, well, based on the puddles on the road it looked like it had. It wasn't forecast to rain, bit it made me think that perhaps the rain might have dropped a few migrants in. I was soon disabused of that idea!

The day dawned with four oktas cloud cover, with a light northerly wind. The photo below of the sky around sunrise gives you an idea of the conditions. Just as the Starlings were exiting their roost, only 1,500 now, I was putting the nets up. Play was pressed on the MP3 players, and I retired to my car for a coffee and some breakfast. 
Sunrise this morning
It wasn't the most exciting of ringing sessions, and it soon became obvious that there was very little about. I ringed just three birds as follows:

Grey Wagtail - 2
Robin - 1
Look at those lovely yellow underparts on this Grey Wagtail

So, no grounded migrants, but was there any vis? No, not really! A couple of Grey Wagtails headed south, and that was it. 
Shortly before packing up, I could see eight ducks wheeling round over the far pool, and they looked like Wigeon, but they were a long way off. On my way off site, I stopped to have a look on the main pool and they were indeed Wigeon. In addition to the Wigeon, the pool held a couple of Mallards, 40 Coots, seven Shovelers, three Little Grebes, three Teal, eight Tufted Ducks, four Moorhens and two Mute Swans.

It's going to be a tad breezy for ringing tomorrow, so I might have a look on the sea for a couple of hours instead. It is autumn after all, so I should be out doing something. 
I read an article on BirdGuides about a new report that has highlighted the threats facing unprotected North American bird species, that complements a 2019 publication that hinted that two-thirds of Nearctic birds could end up at the risk of extinction. What a shocking statistic!
The Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 report, produced by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), features 269 bird species under threat, of which none are currently listed under the Endangered Species Act! 
The report did not assess the threat of climate change comprehensively, but a 2019 publication from the National Audubon Society (think BTO crossed with the RSPB) showed that two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extinction if nothing is done to address climate change. Two thirds! Just think about that for a moment.

Sunday 12 September 2021

A Grey Day

It was actually a grey day this morning on two counts, when Alice and I had a ringing session at the Nature Park, because we had full cloud cover throughout, and we also caught a few Grey Wagtails! Of course, Grey Wagtails aren't just grey as you know, because they have a contrasting splash of bright lemon yellow on their underparts. Gorgeous!
Grey Wagtail
It was a huge improvement on the three birds that we ringed just over a week ago, as we managed to ring 28 birds this morning as follows:
Reed Warbler - 3
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Goldfinch - 9
Grey Wagtail - 7
Robin - 2
Blackcap - 1
Greenfinch - 4
Song Thrush - 1
Lesser Whitethroat
In addition to the seven Grey Wagtails that we ringed, there was a further 15 birds that we didn't catch that headed south, after a brief detour to inspect the MP3 player singing just like a Grey Wagtail! And funnily enough, there was very little else on the move. A Tree Pipit headed north, as did a couple of Swallows (presumably heading in to the northerly wind), and a single Meadow Pipit headed south. Later on in the morning, 22 Pink-footed Geese headed high to the south, and that was it for visible migration.
The numbers of Starlings roosting have decreased, and there are perhaps just about 2,000 birds now. A couple of Cetti's Warblers were still singing, and other than the other warbler species that we ringed, a calling Willow Warbler was all we could add to the warbler score sheet. 
The only raptors were a male and female Sparrowhawk that flew over the site during the morning, and a distant calling Raven rounded off what would have been a quiet morning if it wasn't for a half decent ringing session.
Yesterday, Gail and I had a walk along Jubilee Quay. It was a high tide, so all the mud was covered, and therefore we didn't record any waders. A few butterflies were active in the breezy conditions along the quay side, including the Small Copper below.
During the evening, I decided to see how many active Garden Spiders I could find in my small back garden, by counting the active webs i.e., a web with a spider in attendance, and I found 36. I don't think this is half bad, because as I said my garden is fairly small, but I do think it is testament to the number of invertebrates that are in my garden because of all the native plants and habitat. 
I am hoping to get out birding/ringing during the week, but as always it will depend on the weather and work.

Thursday 9 September 2021

Back In Bowland

I was back in Bowland yesterday with a group of farmers from the Peak District, led by my old Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) boss Chloe. It was lovely to catch up with Chloe, and what a great bunch of farmers they all were.
The idea of the day was to have a look at part of my client's farm, and in particular the work we are doing on the Curlew project, but the bulk of the day was spent on my friend Malcolm's upland farm, looking at how he manages the heather moorland, with summer and winter grazing with his cattle. We then had a look at one of Malcolm's species rich pastures, and spent time looking at how he stores and manages the muck from his cattle, for the best environmental outcomes. 

It wasn't really a day of good birds, more a day of good company, glorious weather, and a glorious landscape as the back-drop to match the weather. 

I sat waiting down by the river for the party from Derbyshire to arrive, with the calls of Nuthatch and Grey Wagtail, coming from the river itself, and the line of Alders along the banks. The party arrived, and we loaded them up in the tractor and trailer, and headed to the hills.
Our 'office' for the day (above & below)


Our first stop was to have a look at an area that was formerly dense Purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea. The spread of Molinia concerns both farmers and conservationists alike, as it is relatively unpalatable to stock, and it can produce monotonous species-poor landscapes, which suppress other moorland species such as Heather. The spread of Molinia is thought to be caused as a result of overgrazing and excessive burning. 

The cattle have been grazing these Molinia dominated areas, over summer, for a number of years now, and have started to produce results. The dominance of the Molinia has been reduced, and a more varied sward has developed, with the result that the amount of dwarf shrubs present, such as Heather and Bilberry, has increased. Result!
Further up the fell, we looked at areas where the cattle have been out-wintered on the heather until January, and they have been encouraged to remain in certain areas by supplementary feeding. This has resulted in the cattle 'trashing' the older stands of heather, allowing new growth, and creating a varied age structure within the heather. A varied age structure within the heather has huge ecological benefits, from invertebrates, to Red Grouse and Hen Harriers. And this is achieved without the need to burn. Result!
There was a steady passage of Swallows south over the fell, with a few Meadow Pipits and Siskins thrown in, and we were treated to views of Kestrels and Buzzards out hunting over the moors. 
Returning to lower ground, we had a look at a species-rich pasture, that although past its best, was still full of Sneezewort and Devil's-bit scabious for example. Amongst this grassland Chloe found a female Four-spotted Orbweb spider, which was a first for me, even though it is fairly common and widespread. 
Four-spotted Orbweb spider

It is noted for being our heaviest spider, and it has some amazing prey catching abilities, with wasps and bumblebees making up part of its diet! What a beast!  

So, a fantastic day spent with friends old and new, in a glorious landscape, with weather that couldn't be bettered!

Tuesday 7 September 2021

Fogged Off

I was fogged off this morning, not your Keat's season of mists and mellow fruitfulness kind, but full blown, can't see your hand in front of your face stuff..., well almost. 

When I got up at 5:30 a.m. it looked fine outside, but as I drove to the Nature Park a little later on it was foggy across the farm fields. I carried on, and drove down the road towards the estuary and the Nature Park, and still the pea-souper cloaked the landscape in its grey, damp shroud. There was no point carrying on and putting some nets up to do some ringing, as it was blatantly obvious that I wouldn't catch. And, after 37 years of ringing I don't need the practice of putting up and taking nets down!
There wasn't any point in going birding either, as the whole peninsula was locked down in the grey murk. The only thing for it, was to return home for a pot of coffee and some breakfast. Never mind, I've got a day in the hills in Bowland tomorrow with a group of farmers from the Hope Vally in Derbyshire, so I am looking forward to that.
I read an interesting, and worrying, article in the 'Buglife Scotland' newsletter recently about Crayfish in north America. A study carried out by researchers from the University of Florida, found that when exposed to low levels of antidepressants, Crayfish were more outgoing! They were emerging from hiding relatively quicker, and spent more time foraging, behaviours that make them more susceptible to predators. 
Low levels of antidepressants, excreted by humans or disposed of incorrectly, are found in many waterbodies, and I wonder what negative impact they are having on other aquatic invertebrates, both here in the UK, and in other parts of the world!

Sunday 5 September 2021

August Ringing Totals

If you are reading this in the web version, as opposed to the mobile version, you will see over on the right that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of August 2021. And I still haven't managed to get the totals to run down the page as a list!

Only one new species was ringed during August for the year, and that was a Redstart. The only two species to move up the table were Blackcap from 7th to 6th, and Reed Warbler straight in to 9th place.

Below you will find details of the top two species ringed during August (it was a quiet month due to the weather), and the top 10 'movers and shakers' for the year.

Top 2 Ringed during August

1. Linnet - 38
2. Reed Warbler - 19

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Lesser Redpoll - 158 (same position)
2. Sand Martin - 123 (same position)
3. Blue Tit - 113 (same position)
4. Linnet - 98 (same position)
5. Great Tit - 58 (same position)
6. Blackcap - 52 (up from 7th)
7. Chaffinch - 50 (down from 6th)
8. Goldfinch - 42 (same position)
9. Reed Warbler - 37 (straight in)
10. Robin - 34 (down from 9th)

I've received lots of enquiries and kind words regarding my shoulder, and I thank you all for that. It's still bothering me a little, but nowhere near as much, and 'touch wood', I should be out birding and ringing this coming week! 
On this date (5th September) in 2008, I made my first 'feed' drop of the 2008/09 winter at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss. The weather was very different to today, and it was most certainly dreich, with cloud and light rain. Brown Hares were very much in evidence, and I encountered five as I was putting out the seed.
Brown Hares
Grey Partridges used to hang on at this farm, probably as a result of the mixed farming, spring cropping, network of hedges, and options employed under a Higher Level Stewardship scheme. And on this morning, I had a pair close to where I used to put the seed out.
My notebook reminds me that Marsh Harriers were the highlight of the morning, and I had an adult female and a sub-adult male. The female Marsh Harrier was hunting over the 'big field', and it started to get mobbed by a Carrion Crow. However, the Harrier wasn't as docile as the local Buzzards, and would only put up with so much mobbing by the aggressive Corvid, before it retaliated, and drove the Crow away! 
Talking of feeding stations, I am hoping to run a feeding station at our good friends Robert and Diana's farm this winter. Robert and Diana have a good population of Tree Sparrows at the farm, and it will be good to see if we can catch and ring a few adults of this red-listed species.

Tree Sparrow

Saturday 4 September 2021

Ten Out Of Ten For Effort

My pesky rotator cuff woes plagued me for a few more days this week, and it wasn't until this morning that I was fit enough again to go out ringing. I had arranged to meet Alice at the Nature Park at 6:00 a.m., and I was looking forward to a good ringing session, and a morning's migration monitoring. However, at 5:15 a.m. I sent a text to Alice saying "it's fairly breezy here on the coast, and the forecast is backing that up. I'm still happy to give it a go, but I suspect we might well call it off when we get on site. However, you've got further to travel, so I thought I would see what you think first". Thankfully, Alice replied with "I'm just about to leave, I'll head over your way, and we'll see how it is if that's okay"? 
We arrived on site to be greeted with full cloud cover, and a 10 mph east-southeasterly wind. And it wasn't too bad, it was certainly doable, and we quickly put up three nets. 
The Starlings came out of their roost, but numbers seemed to have dropped, and there was perhaps just 4,000. We started off with Tree Pipit on one of the MP3 players, and a couple of birds dropped in, flew round a couple of times, lost interest, and continued on their southerly journey. A Grey Wagtail over, was the only other vis that we would record in the two and a half hours that we were there, and I think you can see where this is heading. 
This is what a Tree Pipit looks like in the hand. This is a spring bird that I 
ringed earlier, in fact 10 years earlier!

We ringed just three birds; two Reed Warblers and a Great Tit, and the Reed Warblers were the only species that we could remotely class as grounded migrants. The only other things of slight note on the pages of my notebook, were a singing Cetti's Warbler and a Kestrel!
I spoke to Ian during the morning, and he had walked the length and breadth of the peninsula and recorded no grounded migrants, with the only vis being a handful of Swallows moving east into the wind. 
So, it was never meant to be this morning, and that's perhaps a little bit reassuring that it wasn't us getting it wrong, and I would certainly give us ten out of ten for effort! That's migration for you. Of course, the dilemma now is what to do tomorrow, and I'm still not sure.
There was a bit of doom and gloom reading in British Wildlife recently, regarding the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is part of the Gulf Stream. The AMOC is at its weakest for over 1,000 years, and it has already weakened by 15% since 1950, and new projections suggest that by 2100 this might reach 45%. This would be a potential tipping point that could destabilise this ocean current, leading to huge climatic shifts to the UK, including extreme summer heat and very cold winters, owing to the lessened influence of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. In fact, some scientists are saying that the climate emergency is already hitting 'worst case scenario' levels with extremes of weather and flooding. Very sobering indeed. On that happy note...........  

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Rotator Cuff Pauses Play

The plan was to do some seawatching yesterday, as it was forecast to be too windy for ringing, and to ring at the Nature Park today and tomorrow. What I hadn't factored in was a flare up of my rotator cuff injury in my shoulder, that prevented me from doing any birding yesterday, and I most certainly couldn't have done any ringing. My rotator cuff issues put me out of action all day yesterday, but with plenty of pain killers and exercise, I was able to get out birding this morning.
I headed to my seawatching spot at the coastal farm fields, and I walked along the embankment under full cloud cover with a stiff north-easterly breeze. In terms of clothing, I am now starting to moult into winter plumage, and over recent mornings I have started off wearing the lighter of my two woolly hats, before reverting back to my baseball cap later in the morning when it warms up! 
Swallows were the main species on vis this morning, and as is often the case when it is a northerly wind, they were moving north into the wind, rather than the expected south. I had 55 Swallows head north, and a couple of Meadow Pipits, an Alba Wag and a Grey Wag head south. 

Sandwich Terns dominated the limited movement at sea, and most of the passage was southerly. There were some birds moving north as well, but they were probably just in a big feeding loop from Liverpool Bay into Morecambe Bay and out again. A lot of the early birds would be birds moving south from roosts in the Wyre estuary, and out into foraging areas. Anyway, whatever they were doing I had 236, with a supporting cast of 161 Common Scoters, 23 Gannets, 31 Cormorants, two Teal, two Auk sp. and my first Red-throated Diver of the autumn. 

The tide was in when I got there this morning and 17 Turnstones were roosting on one of the stone breakwaters. The only other waders I had were three Dunlins and a single Oystercatcher

The only grounded migrants I had were two Wheatears on the sea wall, and other bits and pieces that made it into my notebook included a Kestrel, 27 Goldfinches, a Reed Bunting and four singing Roesel's bush-crickets. 

Depending on how my pesky rotator cuff is in the morning, I could be birding if it is paining me, and ringing if it isn't! I'll keep you posted.  
One of several Carrion Crows that I encountered this morning, and also the
only photo that I took!