Thursday 28 October 2021

A House Tick

The only bird list that I keep is a house list. Basically, that is any species of bird that I have heard or seen from my house. It could be a bird in my garden, a flyover migrant, or something calling in the darkness perhaps. The only rule that I set my self, is that I have to be somewhere within the boundary of my property, when I record any said bird species.
I was sat at my computer this morning entering some bird records onto the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) BirdTrack, when I looked out of the window and picked up a Jay heading south, and battling against the strong southerly wind that is blowing at the moment. 
I shouted Gail, and managed to get her on to the Jay from the back bedroom window, and we watched it head south until we could no longer see it. 
That was bird species number 73 for our house, so I was very pleased with that. Looking at my list, I have just realised that I need to sort it into the latest scientific order as published by the British Ornithologists' Union (BOU). In fact, I might just do that right now!
Not the Jay from my house this morning, but a similar view. And below is 
a Jay in the hand from 2008

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Monitoring Monday

On Monday I was back at the same wintering bird survey site, and this time the weather wasn't as good, and it had a noticeable effect on bird numbers. I started the survey under 7 oktas cloud cover, with a 15 mph south-westerly wind, and finished it with a 20-25 mph westerly wind and rain! 

There were no Whooper Swans sadly, and Pink-footed Geese only numbered 115. There were 38 Mallards on the fishing lake, but I only had two Teal. I say two Teal, as there was probably considerably more than this, as I recorded the call(s) of Teal from two different ponds. 

The vis was virtually non-existent, other than 14 Woodpigeons, six Skylarks, a Redwing, a Grey Wagtail, five Pied Wagtails, a Meadow Pipit, 21 Chaffinches, 13 Linnets, a Goldfinch, a Siskin and a Reed Bunting. Raptors included five Buzzards and three Kestrels, but none of the Peregrines from Saturday. 
On the former maize field, that has now been ploughed, tilled and probably sown with winter wheat, at least 120 each of Jackdaw and Rook were foraging here. There were still Skylarks in the remaining stubbles, and I counted 58, and with them were 23 Linnets and seven Reed Buntings. 
Reed Bunting
A female Stonechat was new in, and two Cetti's Warblers were again singing from two different locations on site. A Goldcrest in a Hawthorn hedge, was the first for a while, keeping company with just one Tree Sparrow this time. I recorded 40 species in total, but the above are just the meagre highlights. 
I type this after a cancelled site visit on Wednesday morning due to heavy rain, again, and I've still to get another survey in before the end of October. The forecast is poor until the end of the week, so we'll see!

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Survey Saturday

What a month October has been so far for weather, and I mean poor weather by that. Day after day of rain, showers, wind, and often all three. Dreich it certainly has been, and days out in the field have been at a premium. It's been a case of just taking any opportunity of a weather window and going for it, and as such, most of my days in the field have been to keep the wolf from the door, rather than for pure pleasure and indulgence. But they have been just as enjoyable nevertheless. 
And this brings me to 'Survey Saturday'. Saturday just gone to be precise, and I was at one of my now three wintering bird survey sites that I have this winter. I was in the west of the county, under six oktas cloud cover, with a 10-15 mph southerly wind, that was just a tad too strong for ringing. This was the first half-decent morning for some movement, but not as much was on the move as I expected. 
This is how the day dawned from my first VP
Wildfowl dominated the morning, and I had a number of Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans over, and both Pinkies and Whoopers are always good to see. The Pinkies were behaving in various ways, and some were dropping in to feed in fields just to the west of my survey site, others were obviously heading north from their roost on the Ribble to feeding areas over Wyre, and some were probably arrivals from the north. In total, I recorded 1,140 Pink-footed Geese.
Pink-footed Geese
It's hard to beat the call of Whooper Swans as they fly over, to evoke the wild places that they inhabit, whether that's their tundra breeding grounds in Iceland, or some of their wild and windswept wintering areas on coastal grazing marshes in the UK. I had 30 of these bugling beauties over, and they made my day. 
Whooper Swans (above & below)


In the 'also ran' category of wildfowl, were two Canada Geese, eleven Greylags, 15 Wigeon, 18 Teal and 19 Mallards. Within this particular survey area, is a fishing lake, and on there in addition to the Mallards, were two Moorhens, 17 Coots and a Little Grebe. Interestingly, from a pond next to the fishing lake I heard a singing Cetti's Warbler, and I had another Cetti's Warbler singing from a water-course that forms the northern boundary of the site.
There were a few raptors about, including a Kestrel, five Buzzards and three Peregrines. I had an adult Peregrine perched on an electricity pylon, and two immature Peregrines that were squabbling and flying over the currently non-existent wetland. It's still not wet enough for it to form! 
There was a little bit of vis, and a family party of six Ravens calling to each other as they headed east was a bonus. I always enjoy Ravens. As I hinted at earlier, the vis was a bit thin on the ground, and I recorded just 13 Starlings, a Redwing, a Pied Wag, two Chaffinches, three Bramblings, eight Greenfinches eleven Linnets and a Reed Bunting. That's more than a bit thin on the ground!
Not all of the stubbles have been ploughed and tilled, and on the remaining stubbles was a respectable flock of 85 Skylarks, along with ten Linnets and five Reed Buntings. Three Tree Sparrows in a hedge, with three of their 'House' neighbours, is all that remains to report. 
An obliging Reed Bunting that was feeding in some of the stubbles 
(above & below)


Looking back in my notebook from 1983, I did a bit of twitching on this date (23rd October) that year. On a bright, and cold morning, I headed to Pickmere in Cheshire, with some of my teenage birding mates, to see a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver. I have no idea why we went all the way to Pickmere to see a Great Northern, but we did. Anyway, we saw the bird, and as I mentioned it was in summer plumage, so I suppose that was a bonus. 

On the way back we called in at Seaforth NR on the Mersey, but saw very little other than a few Red-breasted Mergansers. However, in the fading light that day, in a Layton garden on the outskirts of Blackpool, we managed to see another Red-breasted species that had been found by ME, and that was a 1CY Red-breasted Flycatcher! So, not a bad day in all 38 years ago! Mind you, I wouldn't travel to see any of those birds now, I just prefer to bird my own patches. However, it's each to their own.

Monday 18 October 2021

A Few Northern Thrushes At Last

I finally managed to get out ringing on Saturday morning, and an early start resulted in a few Redwings being ringed, but more of that later. 

The weather during the week has been disappointing to say the least, and I struggled to get the second wintering bird survey completed at one of my sites. I had a window of opportunity on Wednesday morning that I took, but during the morning I had a few light showers, but not enough to abort the survey. 

As I set off walking along the margin of one of the arable fields towards the maize crop, a Buzzard was perched up in a dead tree, and in the dreich half-light it didn't see me until I was close. It was far too dark for a photograph, and if it had been lighter, I wouldn't have got anywhere near it. In the same field were three Roe Deer, and as soon as they saw me, they were off. 

I didn't have as many Pink-footed Geese as in recent surveys, and I just had 910 in three skeins flying north from their Ribble roost to feeding areas north of the River Wyre. There are a few ponds within my survey area, and at one of my VPs, I look down towards a couple of ponds where seven Teal were flying round, until they decided which pond to drop in to. 

Most of the stubble had now been ploughed and tilled, and I'm guessing sown with winter wheat. As a result, there were far fewer Woodpigeons, and all I had were 13. There was still a good number of Skylarks around, and I recorded at least 66. 

The ploughing was inevitably attracting gulls, and 215 Black-headed Gulls, a Common Gull, 46 Herring Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, were all taking advantage of the feeding opportunities presented to them. It was the same with Jackdaws and Rooks, as the maize crop had been harvested, 228 and 122 respectively, were feeding on discarded cobs in the stubble. 

I mentioned a Buzzard earlier, and I had another two, as well as two Kestrels. I also had two Peregrines, a male and a female perched on a pylon, the male was at the very top of the pylon and the female about half way down. 

I just had a few Redwings here, 14 that's all, as well as two Song Thrushes and three Blackbirds. A couple of Tree Sparrows called from a hedgerow adjacent to the now harvested maize field, and a flock of 63 Linnets were mobile in some cereal stubbles. 

As I mentioned before, it was a dreich morning, and as a result there was absolutely no vis to speak of, other than perhaps very local movements e.g., the Pinkies. 

Returning to Saturday morning, it too was another dreich morning, and when Alice, John and I arrived at the Nature Park in the dark, we had full cloud cover, with some light rain and a south-easterly breeze. The light rain eased very quickly, and we got three nets up in the dark. However, I had been out listening for Redwings the evening previously without success, and none were calling this morning either. Nevertheless, we still put 'Redwing' on the MP3 players, and it did pull a few of these northern thrushes in.
We ringed 40 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Redwing - 8
Reed Bunting - 3
Goldfinch - 13
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Robin - 1
Blackbird - 1
Greenfinch - 13
Long-tailed Tit - (1)

We also had a bit of vis this morning, including 30 Redwings, two Chaffinches, 530 Jackdaws, 20 Woodpigeons, a Meadow Pipit, 13 Siskins and three Bramblings. The direction of movement of visible migrants is always interesting. During the autumn, a number of the finches head east, and this morning was no exception, with the Chaffinches, Siskins and Bramblings all heading east. The Jackdaws and Woodpigeons however, were either moving west or south. It's probable, that the westerly moving birds, turn and head south when they reach the Irish Sea coast, which is only 2.3 km from the Nature Park, as the Jackdaw or Woodpigeon flies! 

A Little Egret, Goldcrest and a Sparrowhawk made it in to my notebook, but there were no Starlings roosting. And that was it, but at least it was good to enjoy a few northern thrushes at last!

An update on our hedgehog house in the garden; it's being used! Our regular hog has moved in, and he/she has been bringing in their own nest material to add to the hay that we provided. See picture below. 
Hedgehog house with nest material
I've got four more wintering bird surveys to get in before the end of the October, and at the moment the forecast for that period isn't very good. I'll have to keep everything crossed!

Tuesday 12 October 2021

It Is October After All

The forecast on Friday evening didn't inspire me with confidence for my planned ringing session at the Nature Park on Saturday morning. I spent quite a bit of time outside in my garden after dark listening for migrants, Redwings in particular, and gazing up at the sky to see if I could get any clues regarding the weather. I didn't hear a single Redwing, and the cloud was low, and it looked a tad murky to me. 

The plan was to get to the Nature Park in the dark Saturday morning, and get at least one net up in the darkness and put Redwing on the MP3 player. I was up at 6:00 a.m. and stood in my garden again for a while, and there wasn't any Redwings going over, and that cloud base was still low, and again it looked murky. The only saving grace was that the wind was south-easterly in direction. I must admit, in view of the weather conditions I struggled to motivate myself to go out and put some nets up, when my 'gut feeling' was that there wouldn't be any migrants grounded, on vis, or otherwise. But that little over-optimistic voice in my head said, "it is October after all", so off I went.
Driving there I could see some light drizzle on my windscreen, and wet I hit the farm fields, looking both east and west the cloud base was low; not good. Anyway, under full cloud cover with a 10 mph south-easterly wind I put up a couple of nets in the reedbed and scrub. 
A couple of singing Cetti's Warblers kept me company as I put the nets up, as did one or two ticking Robins. The Starlings exited their reedbed roost, but only 200 now. The reedbeds here are just a summer/early autumn roost, and the large winter roosts locally are under the piers at Blackpool, and at Leighton Moss and Marton Mere nature reserves perhaps. 
A telephone conversation with Ian during the morning told me that the whole of Morecambe Bay was 'locked down' with murk to the east and north, and hence the lack of any migrants. The vis was less than a dribble, with just single figures of Grey Wagtail and Skylark. Two Stonechats are now on site, and it is likely that they will over-winter. 
I have noticed that over recent weeks, late summer into autumn, Blackbirds have been thin on the ground, probably as a result of the long dry spell we have had through this period. They will have struggled to forage for ground invertebrates because of the dry ground conditions. So, the three very active, bordering on agitated, Blackbirds I had this morning will have been continental migrants. 

I ringed twelve birds as follows:

Chiffchaff - 1
Wren - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Robin - 1
Chaffinch - 1
Greenfinch - 7
Sunday morning the wind had changed direction to a stiff north-westerly, too windy for ringing, and the worst wind direction possible for birding, so a few pints of real ale beckoned instead!

I was out doing a wintering bird survey this morning, and it was very quiet, and I couldn't justify writing a separate blog post detailing this morning's exciting sightings, because there weren't any, well, except one that is!

It was north-westerly again this morning, so not good, and I had five oktas cloud cover. The last time I was at this site it was the first decent morning after several days of rain, and lots of Pinkies were on the move, and if you remember, I had a Snow Goose over with some of those Pinkies. This morning I had another good bird on vis, in the form of a Lapland Bunting! I think I was nearly as surprised, as I was with the Snow Goose. As usual with these things, I didn't get any 'crippling' views, just a chunky bunting flying over calling like a Lapland Bunting! Quite bizarre, but it is October after all! 
One of the VP locations at this site
And it didn't get any better, it really was quiet. If I was to scrape the ornithological barrel for some highlights, they would include 222 Pink-footed Geese, 59 Stock Doves (a good count), six Snipe, two each of Buzzard and Kestrel, 139 Jackdaws, 93 Rooks, 13 Skylarks, singles of Song Thrush and Tree Sparrow, a Grey Wagtail and a Reed Bunting. I said it was quiet!

It's north-westerly again tomorrow, and there's going to be some rain around during the morning, so it will be Wednesday before I'm out again on another survey. 

In other news, Gail and I installed a Hedgehog house in the garden yesterday, to see if the Hedgehog that we feed every night would use it. We set our trail cam nearby, and the Hedgehog was going in and out of it straight away! We put some hay in it for bedding, and when we recovered my trail cam, we could see that the Hedgehog had taken some leaves in. Brilliant! 
Hedgehog house

Saturday 9 October 2021

More Geese and Some Autumnal Nostalgia

This is a post of two halves; the first half is a brief summary of yesterday's sightings during one of my surveys, and the second half is an autumnal walk down memory lane for me. 
I was at my wintering bird survey site number two yesterday, again in west Lancs, under 6 oktas of cloud cover, with a light south-easterly wind. No dramas this morning, just five hours of uninterrupted bird surveying. Marvellous!

Geese were certainly the order of the day, and of the Pink-footed variety, and for the first hour or so, 'Pinkies' were arriving from the south, and heading predominantly northeast. They will have been coming from their southwest Lancs roost sites, probably around the Ribble marshes, and heading towards foraging areas in the Over Wyre district towards Lancaster. It is possible that some birds might also have been motoring on towards the Solway, and even to one of my favourite places, Mersehead. In total I had 4,447 of these cracking little geese go over!
 The view from one of the hides at one of my favourite nature reserves;
Mersehead RSPB
There is lots of stubble within the area that I am surveying, although some of it was being ploughed and tilled yesterday, and the stubbles held somewhere in the region of 271 Woodpigeons, 45 Skylarks, 15 Goldfinches and 44 Linnets. Hunting over the stubbles were a couple of male Sparrowhawks and two Kestrels. The only other raptor species that I had, was a Buzzard that stood sentinel on top of a pylon. 
One particular field that was being ploughed, had at least 213 Black-headed Gulls and 62 Herring Gulls, that either followed the tractor, or loafed in another part of the field. It was interesting to note, that once the farmer started to till the ploughed land, they lost interest and slowly drifted away. Presumably, it was the cutting and turning of the soil by the plough that provided the greatest feeding opportunities. 
It was another day, with another Jay, but only one this time, flying along the edge of a field of maize. However, the best corvids were three high, flying, croaking Ravens, that headed south under the late morning sun. Rooks and Jackdaws numbered 111 and 73 respectively, and were continually flying from an area of woodland to feed on the adjacent farmland. 
High flying Raven
Other than the Pinkies, which I suppose weren't technically vis, there was a small amount of passerine vis, and again not as much as I would have expected, but I did have my first Brambling and Redwing for the autumn over, as well as 24 Skylarks, two Swallows, three Tree Sparrows, ten Meadow Pipits, six Chaffinches, two Linnets and a Reed Bunting
Of course, during the five hours I was there I recorded a number of other species, but these were the highlights. 
As a keen teenage birder and naturalist, before I was old enough to learn to drive, I used to walk to my local nature reserve, Marton Mere. I also joined a local naturalists group called the Fylde Naturalists' Society, and on alternate Saturdays they ran coach trips to various locations throughout Cumbria and Lancashire. This gave me the opportunity to get out to other sites, and immerse myself in habitats that I couldn't find closer to home, and more importantly, learn under the tutelage of some very fine local naturalists. As an adult, it was a privilege to return to the Fylde Naturalists' Society and talk to them about my work at the time as a Farm Conservation Adviser, and also on another occasion I talked to them about the BTO Ringing Scheme.
Anyway, I digress, because what I wanted to say, is that on this date in 1978 I was on a walk with them around the Silverdale area, and to be more precise, between the villages of Yealand Conyers and Yealand Redmayne. In the programme, the walk was detailed as Yealand and Berry Walk, and that is how I entered it in my notebook. 
As you can imagine, as a 14-year-old I had a lot to learn, but I always kept a notebook, and I still do. And looking at my old notebooks from this time they make me smile, mainly because of my rather naive use of language, and how I wrote as a young boy.
I can tell you that during this walk 43 years ago, it was "dull and fairly warm, and it spotted slightly". Spotted slightly? I assume that this is a reference to light rain/drizzle, weather that I would call dreich today. My description of the habitat that we walked through wasn't even as detailed as a Phase 1, and I said that the habitat was "open and dense woodland, and open fields". I tried my best! 
We were out from 8:31 a.m. until 5:50 p.m. Very precise! Whenever I entered field outings in my notebook at this time, I had various standard headings that I used from site to site, that I would record various details under. For example, it could be 'weather ', 'habitat' etc, but after the list of birds that I recorded, I always had a section called 'Interesting Points', and it is from the interesting points of that trip in October 1978, that I have detailed below. Please forgive my 14-year-old self, but sometimes I am reminded of some nugget of interesting information, particularly changes in the range and population of certain species, and the sighting of a Red Squirrel is a classic example. At that time, they still hung on in this part of Lancashire, which to me is of great interest. So, on with 'Interesting Points'.
"As we were walking at the beginning of the walk, my friend Andrew noticed a moth on a leaf. We showed it to Mr. Watson (President of the Fylde Naturalists Society) and he identified it as a Brick Moth".
I like how respectful I was to Arthur, calling him Mr Watson. Arthur Watson was one of the greatest entomologists in Lancashire, and he was a lovely, lovely man, and I learned a great deal from him. My first conservation hero perhaps? Arthur became chairman in 1963, and remained chairman until his untimely death in 1980. Back to those interesting points.
"Then in the trees there was a movement. Everyone looked up, and there was a Red Squirrel scrambling through the branches of the trees. 
Deeper in the woods we came across some Badger setts. These might have been disused, but we couldn't tell. On a young tree there were some deer rubbings, probably from Red Deer because of their height. Amongst the trees November Moths were around.
After dinner we went through some more open woodland. Amongst the Birch trees along the ground was a lot of fungi called Tricholoma album".
And that was it. My interesting sightings came to abrupt halt. I can tell you that the species of fungi was identified by another of my conservation heroes, and another lovely man, called Norman Woods. Norman was a brilliant naturalist, and one of those amazing people who are knowledgeable on all taxa. Norman became Chairman after Arthur passed away in 1980, and he remained chairman until 1991.
For a few years, during my teenage birder/naturalist period, I used to illustrate my notebook with coloured pencil drawings, and the drawing that accompanied the above 'Yealand and Berry Walk' was that of a male Pheasant, and I have posted it below.
Not quite Ian Lewington or Killian Mullarney standard, but I think you can tell 
what it is!
I really enjoyed that trip down memory lane, and I am thankful that my enthusiasm for the natural world remains undimmed after all these years, and I retain that boyish enthusiasm!

Friday 8 October 2021

Snow Goose

Wednesday morning got off to a bad start when I arrived at first light at one of my two wintering bird survey sites in west Lancs. It was a glorious morning, with more or less clear skies, and a 15 mph north-westerly wind. The first decent day for some bird movement after several days of blocking wet weather.

The track that I usually drive down to park my car was very wet, and some heavy farm machinery had been using it to access the fields to lift some potatoes. I got half way down, and realised that if I continued, I would likely get stuck! However, my car didn't want to reverse along the wet and muddy track, so I had no option other than to drive to the end and turn round in the field if I could. Eek! 

Amazingly, I did manage to turn round, and I thought that the only way I was going to get back to the road along the track was to 'floor' it and keep moving. And so, I did, and I spent the next half a minute or so driving along with full opposite lock! I had to park in the village, and this was a twenty-minute walk to my first VP, so it put me back a bit.
As I said before, this was the first morning where conditions had unblocked, and it looked good for some visible migration, and indeed numbers of Pink-footed Geese were arriving high from the north, and heading south. I was stood at my VP, and I hadn't even had time to set my 'scope up, because I was busy counting all the Pinkies going over. 
Pink-footed Geese
I was counting one skein of Pinkies, when I noticed a pale bird, similar size to the Pinkies, at the tail end of the left-hand side of the 'v'. I lifted my bins, and was surprised to see that it was an adult 'white morph' Snow Goose! No photo I'm afraid, as my camera was in in my rucksack. There's always an issue with wildfowl as to whether individuals are genuine vagrants or not. There is no doubt that Snow Geese are a genuine vagrant to the UK, but telling a genuine vagrant from a 'fence hopper' from a wildfowl collection is impossible to tell. However, a Snow Goose arriving with lots of Pinkies high from the north, is probably of as genuine provenance that you could hope for. 
I had 2,984 Pink-footed Geese in total, and most were heading high to the south as I said previously. There were some smaller groups coming back north and west, and were probably re-orientating themselves to head to favoured feeding areas. I also had my first Whooper Swans of the autumn with a group of 14 heading west. 
As the morning wore on, it warmed up, and this gave perfect conditions for the three Buzzards that were making use of the thermals. The only other raptors that I had were a female Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel. I had three Jays, that continues to support my thoughts about it being a Jay autumn/winter this year.
There was some vis, but surprisingly not as much passerine movement as I might have expected. All heading in a general south-ish direction, I had 16 Swallows, two Grey Wagtails, six Meadow Pipits, eleven Chaffinches and a Siskin
There were a few Chiffchaffs around and I recorded three, but only one Goldcrest. Goldcrests do seem to be thin on the ground this autumn. A flock of 22 Linnets and 12 Goldfinches were mobile, and passed me at my second VP several times. The five hours passed very quickly, and it was soon time to return to my car.

Sunday 3 October 2021

The Right Pollinators

It might seem odd to be posting about pollinators as we rapidly move through autumn, and even more so, in the most un-pollinator weather we have been having lately! 

I've been a member of the fantastic invertebrate charity Buglife for a number of years now, and to quote from their website...Buglife is the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates..., and they work tirelessly to save...Britain's rarest little animals, everything from bees to beetles, worms to woodlice and jumping spiders to jellyfish. And that's why I support them. Take a look at what they do HERE 
In their most recent newsletter, 'The Buzz', was an interesting article entitled 'Save the bees (but which ones?). The opening paragraph started the article with...contrary to a popular belief, adding more honeybees is not the answer to pollinator declines. It may do more harm than good..., and when you think about it for a moment, you can see why. 

I think if you were to ask members of the public what they think of, when pollinators are mentioned, and they are thankfully mentioned a lot in the media these days, they will more than likely say it is a honeybee. It probably isn't a fly, wasp, moth, butterfly or even a wild species of bee! That is my experience, and as the article states the experience of Buglife too. In the eyes of the press and the media, pollination is all about honeybees. They write articles about pollinator declines, illustrated with pictures of honeybees and beekeepers, and well-meaning pollinator conservation projects focus on increasing the number of honeybee hives in our towns, cities and countryside. Are they the right pollinators?

The article goes on to say that there are estimated to be more than 4,000 species of insects in the UK that pollinate our crops. And there is mounting evidence that they are in serious trouble. In contrast, there is one species of domesticated honeybee that is kept by nearly all beekeepers in the UK, the Western honeybee Apis mellifera. 
Honeybees do provide valued pollination services for a range of agricultural crops, especially in the absence of wild pollinators, or where large numbers of bees are required to pollinate monocultures of mass flowering crops. Honeybees also provide humans with honey, beeswax and other products, so their economic contribution to people is significant. They cope with domestication, hives can be easily moved and they can live in a range of habitats, feeding on a wide range of flowers. They are often described as a cosmopolitan super-generalist for these reasons. 

However, there are hundreds of thousands of other species of insect that are also pollinators, including wild bees, such as bumblebees and solitary bees, flies, butterflies, moths, beetles and wasps; the list goes on. Buglife tells us that many of these pollinating insects are specialist species, requiring a narrow range of flower types or habitats, and many plants are only pollinated by these specialists. 

I wasn't aware, for example, that Cocoa is only pollinated by midges! Think about that the next time you unwrap your favourite chocolate bar! Tomato flowers can only be pollinated by bumblebees, and I was aware of this through the Linking the Environment And Farming (LEAF) Landscape and Nature Conservation Audits I complete on behalf of some of these growers. 

Surprisingly, there is very little monitoring of the health of our wild pollinators, and Buglife rely upon surveys and monitoring of species like butterflies, moths and bumblebees, and on the distribution data that is collected by specialist recording schemes. You would think that with the economic importance of wild pollinators, their health would be monitored, because without them, humanity is toast! 

The results of surveying and monitoring of various species are extremely troubling. There is a reduction in both the abundance, and diversity of pollinator species. More and more, pollinator assemblages are becoming dominated by a reduced number of widespread, generalist, more mobile species. We see this in bird populations too, and it is the result of our destruction and fragmentation of habitat, and climate change is a factor too. The bottom line, is that it is negative human influence that is causing these declines. The result is that the more specialist and less mobile species are suffering the greatest declines and becoming locally extinct. 

To quote directly from the article,...a small number of unfussy and pollutant-tolerant species are able to cope with the damage that humans are doing to our planet. These hardy species are replacing the rich diversity of specialist species that make up the fabric of life on Earth. 
And therein lies the problem. While honeybees are affected by many of the same issues that are affecting our wild pollinators, the domesticated honeybees are not in decline, they are probably the most numerous bees on the planet, and definitely not a conservation priority! 

To put this into context, in a recent study of changes in distribution of 202 bee species, 93 species of wild bees were rapidly declining, but the honeybee as the third fastest expanding species, its distribution apparently spreading by 5% a year between 1971 and 2015.

Coming back to Buglife, they state that...while honeybees are sometimes used as a proxy for pollinator populations and the health of the countryside, this is problematic. At a 'population' level the numbers of hives is directly related to the number of beekeepers and the effort they put into sustaining their hives. So, the populations of honeybees are artificially maintained at a high level. Their large colony size and honey stores also mean that domesticated bees are more robust to environmental shocks and pesticides when compared with bumblebees or solitary bees. 
The problem with all of this, is that there is growing evidence that honeybees can actually pose a threat to wild pollinators. If you increase the number of honeybee hives in an area, this vastly increases the number of individual bees in that area, and a hive can support between 30 and 40 thousand honeybees during the summer! It is then obvious, that by increasing the number of bees in an area, it will also increase the competition for flower resources, and this puts pressure on wild pollinators. 

There are some startling statistics in the article regarding this competition, and...these competition effects can be measured 600 - 1,100 m from the hive, and, over six months a single hive will use the resources that would otherwise have supported 2000,000 wild bees. Yes, 200,000 wild bees, and think what a disrupting effect this will have on pollination services, and the negative impacts on biodiversity. 

The increase in honeybee populations has been far greater in urban areas. In London the density of honeybee colonies is more than twice the European mean of 4.2 hives/sq. km. As the greenspaces of London aren't carpeted with pollen rich plants such as lavender, it has been calculated that the area of London greenspace required to support one honeybee colony is 13.28 ha. That's 32.81 acres, or 18 football pitches! 

Buglife think that too much focus on honeybees ignores the thousands of other creatures essential to a functioning ecosystem, and I totally agree. By focussing the attention on honeybees, there is a real risk that we miss the real crisis here, the decline of wild pollinators, and it is they that are in most urgent need of our help. The increasing numbers of honeybees, increases the pressures on our suffering and declining wild pollinators. 
So, what can be done? Buglife state that...honeybee hives should not be introduced to an area without first assessing the current density of honeybee hives, and the carrying capacity of the local environment. Where insufficient flower resources are present, sufficient new resource should be established before more honeybees are introduced... Buglife suggests that at least an additional 2 hectares (5 acres) of wildflower-rich habitat per additional hive. The tricky bit will be estimating the carrying capacity of the local environment, but I think it is essential that this is done. 
They go on to say that honeybee hives must not be established within, or adjacent to protected sites such as SSSIs, and perhaps even County Wildlife Sites. It's a similar position regarding the gamebird industry, and restrictions on releases within and close to, protected sites such as SSSIs. 
I'll leave the final words to the brilliant Buglife!
To address the pollinator crisis, focus and attention must be given to resolving problems that are faced by wild pollinators, fixing these problems will also help honeybees. Actions focussed solely on keeping honeybees can at best only help one domesticated species. 
Messaging about "saving bees" must highlight and focus on wild species. Our forgotten wild pollinators - flies, wasps and the rest - must be celebrated as part of the rich diversity of species that provide this essential ecosystem service. Amen to that! 
Below are just a few pictures of some of my favourite pollinators.
Early Bumblebee
Painted Lady
'The Footballer' or Helophilus pendulus

As I write this, it is blowing a hooley outside, with heavy, squally showers auditioning at my window (a little Marillion reference there). And as I said at the start, not very pollinator friendly weather! In fact, it wasn't very 'birder' friendly weather this morning either, and my planned seawatching had to be abandoned because of the rain, and more to the point, a lack of shelter. I don't want to say too much, in case I get my hopes up, but there could be an improvement in the weather towards the middle of the week. Yippee!    

Friday 1 October 2021


Trying, is the best way to describe the weather conditions over this past week. I had two wintering bird surveys to get in this week, if the weather played ball, and I managed to only just get one in on Wednesday morning. Even then, it was touch and go weather-wise, and during the survey I had 7 oktas cloud cover with a 4 - 5 NW wind, and frequent, squally showers. During the showers I had to abandon my VP, and seek shelter behind a hedge. Thankfully, as the morning progressed into afternoon, the showers died away, and the cloud cover decreased to 4 oktas, and the sun made an appearance. It had its hat on though!
Two species were the order of the day; Pink-footed Geese and Skylarks. During the early part of my survey, Pink-footed Geese were arriving high from the north, and moving rapidly south with the stiff NW tail wind, and in total I had 1,321 go over. 
Pink-footed Geese
A large part of this particular survey site in west Lancs is arable farmland, and most of that is stubbles at the moment, and attracting a number of feeding Skylarks. I didn't have any Skylarks on vis, but at least 91 were foraging in the stubbles. The odd ones were singing, and others would take off, calling as if wanting to move, but would quickly return in the blustery conditions. 
Stubbles (above & below)

There probably isn't much lowland farmland these days, particularly with an element of arable land, that doesn't have a shoot over some of it, with the associated release of numbers of non-native gamebirds, and this site is no exception. I came across at least 32 Red-legged Partridges in habitat that looked good for supporting our native Grey Partridge, but not a Grey Partridge was to be seen. 
The stubbles attracted large-ish numbers of Woodpigeons, Jackdaws and Rooks, and I had 292, 178 and 162 respectively. I mentioned a post or two ago that I thought it might be shaping up to be a Jay autumn, and this morning driving to this site through some 'not typical' Jay habitat, I recorded a couple of birds, and this morning I had a Jay motoring south-east across a large expanse of stubble. Time will tell. 
Raptors were thin on the ground, and having said that it wasn't really a raptor kind of day. Three species made it onto my maps; a female Sparrowhawk, that had me looking twice at her, and two each of Buzzard and Kestrel.
It wasn't really a vis kind of day either, and a Swallow, House Martin, Grey Wagtail, 15 Meadow Pipits and a Chaffinch did go over south, and were probably moving. The only grounded migrant I had was a single Chiffchaff.
When it warmed up later during the afternoon, and despite of the blustery conditions, I had a Red Admiral and Migrant Hawker on the wing. 
Red Admiral
Migrant Hawker

The forecast isn't looking great for the next week or so either, and I expect more 'trying' conditions. A bit of seawatching might be in order over weekend, perhaps on Sunday, when the wind will be south-westerly, rather than the south-easterly of tomorrow.  
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of September. Three new species were ringed during September, that were new for the year, and these were nine Grey Wagtails, 2 Tree Pipits and a Sparrowhawk.
Below you will find the top 5 ringed during the month, and the 'Top 10 Movers & Shakers' for the year.
Top 5 Ringed During September
1. Meadow Pipit - 70
2. Linnet - 60
3. Goldfinch - 44
4. Chaffinch - 24
5. Blue Tit - 17
Top 10 Movers & Shakers For The Year
1. Lesser Redpoll - 158 (same position)
    Linnet - 158 (up from 4th)
3. Blue Tit - 13 - (same position)
4. Sand Martin - 123 (down from 2nd)
5. Goldinch - 89 (up from 8th)
6. Meadow Pipit - 81 (straight in)
7. Chaffinch - 74 (same position)
8. Great Tit - 73 (down from 5th)
9. Blackcap - 65 (down from 6th)
10. Reed Warbler - 43 (same position)