Friday, 20 May 2022

More BBS and Boxes

A week ago today I had a breeding bird survey (BBS) at a site that I have blogged about all autumn, winter and spring, and my surveys there will be shortly coming to an end, just three more to do. I had full cloud cover during the survey, and the wind was just getting to the top end of where you can complete a survey successfully, with a WSW 4 - 5. 

It wasn't an amazing survey, as surveys go, but a surprise was the flock of 32 Tufted Ducks on the fishing lake. I suspect that Tufted Ducks breed on this lake, as there are some quieter corners, and a few smaller pools associated with the main body of water, but a flock of 32 of these stunning monochrome diving ducks in mid-May, is noteworthy.
 
Tufted Ducks

What about the breeders? Warblers topped the table in terms of singing males, and I recorded a Willow Warbler, a Chiffchaff, six Sedge Warblers, a Reed Warbler and ten Whitethroats. Six singing Skylarks would hold a good position in the table if it was opened up to all passerines, as would seven Wrens and two Reed Buntings
 
Whitethroat
 
 
Male Reed Bunting
 
I don't think any of the Lapwings have got chicks yet, as I had two displaying birds and a further six loafers. No agitated, alarm calling adults. They had started to nest on the stubble fields, and then these were ploughed, tilled and sowed with either oats or potatoes, so I any early nesting attempts would have been wiped out, and they would have started again. So, a week or two yet before any chicks at this site. 

At the weekend Alice, Gail and I were back at our two nest box sites in the Hodder Valley in Bowland and on Robert and Diana's farm on the fringe of the Fylde, near Garstang. 
 
The River Hodder
 
We did a full check of the boxes at each site, and it is looking rather worrying for our Pied Flycatchers, with just five occupied boxes. However, there is a chance that another pair or two could have started during the intervening time, and this would then be about average occupation rate for this site. 
 
Pied Flycatcher nest
 
Amazingly, we found a further two boxes with Pipistrelle sp. bats in! Nearly as many Pips as Pied Flys! 
 
Male Pied Flycatcher
 
We then went to Robert and Diana's farm to check our boxes there. When we arrived, Robert informed us that he had found two broods of Blackbirds in some of his out-buildings, and two broods of three were duly ringed. One brood was ahead of the other brood by a few days. 
 
Blackbird
 
In the boxes we ringed three broods of Tree Sparrows; 4, 6 and 5 respectively. The remaining two broods of Tree Sparrows should be ready to ring next weekend, as should some of the Blue and Great Tits. I'm looking forward to that. 

I've had more BBS to do this past week, including a site in Greater Manchester. This site looks to be on former open cast coal workings, and is now a lovely area of semi-mature woodland, with some more open scrubby areas. It's certainly a good area for Song Thrushes and I had six singing during my survey. Warblers were in fine voice too, with four Willow Warblers, four Blackcaps, three Whitethroats and four Chiffchaffs. 

In fact, I did three breeding bird surveys this week, and the second was on a farm in the Fylde, near Wrea Green. There were two Lesser Whitethroats singing on site, and from a distance you can hear their distinctive 'rattle' of a song, that sounds like nothing else. Before the 'rattle', it is preceded by a scratchy warble, which you can only hear when you are close. It is not often that I hear this bit of the song, but this morning I was close enough to one of the birds to hear it. 

Tree Sparrows were very obvious this morning, and I had at least four juveniles, and a further 13 birds that I either heard just calling, or they flew over calling. Not a bad total. A singing Yellowhammer was noteworthy, and it's a sign of the times when a single singing yellowhammer is noteworthy! 
 
As always, I encountered some Brown Hares, and this site isn't the best of the sites for Brown Hares that I am surveying at the moment, but it's always a pleasure to encounter any Brown Hares, and on this morning, it was five. One was fairly close on an arable field margin, and I managed a half decent snap or two. Well, at least I think so. 
 
Brown Hare (above & below)
 

 

My third and final BBS of the week was yesterday, another arable farm, and I recorded thirteen Brown Hares here. The wind was a bit gusty from the southwest, and I think this had a bit of a dampening effect on bird song. 
 
I don't often hear Tufted Ducks calling, but on this site, I have heard them calling several times around the fishing lake. This morning there was a female flying round, pursued by either just one, or two males, and the female was calling constantly. I assume that it is part of courtship etc., but I must look it up.
 
Sedge Warblers are great mimics, and I have heard them including lots of snippets of other species song/calls within their own song. This morning a Sedge Warblers singing along the dyke was throwing Reed Bunting call into his song, and of course there are a few pairs of Reed Bunts along the dyke!
 
A Great Spotted Woodpecker flying across a large arable field looked a bit odd, and I can only assume that it was on a foraging trip to provision young in the nest.  

It's boxes again at weekend, and another week of breeding bird surveys. As always, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

BBS, Boxes and Breeding Waders

Just under a week ago, I had a Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) to complete at one of the arable farms that I have been surveying all winter and spring. I set off under complete cloud cover, with a light WNW wind; perfect. 

I always record any mammals that I encounter during a BBS, and pretty much anything else if I can identify it, and this morning I had fifteen Brown Hares and a single Roe Deer buck. 

Gadwalls have been a feature of this site all winter, and I have seen them on the lake and along the large dyke that forms the northern boundary of the site. I was walking along the dyke, and I had a female whizz past me, with four males in hot pursuit! I can only see part of the lake from my BBS transect, and therefore could only add a single male Gadwall from there, and I know there would have been more. Also on the lake were 22 Tufted Ducks, 19 Canada Geese, six Greylag Geese and a pair of Mute Swans

Just two species of wader; a Whimbrel calling and heading north, and eleven Lapwings, including two displaying birds. Raptor species were even thinner on the ground, with just Buzzard, but at least there were three of them. 

The Rookery was busy, and with the leaf burst it is hard to see the occupied nests, so 30 was a gross under-estimate. The Rooks obviously have young now, as I could see several birds flying towards the colony carrying food. The local Blackbirds have young as well, as I had a male carrying food. I also had a female Blackbird at a different part of the site carrying nest material, and this pair might well be on to brood number two. 

Skylarks are perhaps the widest spread farmland bird on the site, and I recorded eleven singing birds as I walked round. Warblers were busy singing too, and I had a Willow Warbler, a Chiffchaff, eight Sedge Warblers, a Reed Warbler, a Grasshopper Warbler, four Blackcaps, a Lesser Whitethroat and ten Whitethroats.
 
Whitethroat
 
There was a trickle of vis, mainly Hirundines, and 21 Sand Martins, 24 Swallows, a Tree Sparrow, two late Meadow Pipits, a Tree Pipit and a Lesser Redpoll all headed north. Male Reed Buntings were very obvious, but I didn't see a single female, indicating that they are probably busy incubating eggs. So, nothing exciting, but then that's not what BBS is about, it's about collecting data, and that's what it said on the tin this morning!
 
Reed Bunting
 
On Sunday morning, Alice, Gail, John and I completed our first check of the boxes at our Pied Flycatcher nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley in Bowland. We checked 42 boxes, with the following outcomes, in terms of occupation:

Empty - 19
Nuthatch - 1
Pied Flycatcher - 5
Great Tit - 2
Blue Tit - 4
Pipistrelle bat - 2
Wasp sp. - 2 
Tit sp. - 7
 
Nuthatch nest
 
As you can see, we had quite a few boxes that were empty. This is quite normal, as not all the boxes will be as suitable for the birds' requirements as we think they will, as there will be something that the birds don't like. Also, territories come in to play, and every box couldn't be occupied because of the territory size of the various hole nesting species.

Some of these empty boxes will get taken up by Pied Flycatchers I'm fairly certain, as out of the five boxes currently occupied, two were at the cold egg stage (not finished laying the complete clutch), two were incubating, and the fifth was just at N1 stage of nest construction (quarter completed).
 
We managed to lift both the females from the two nests. One female Pied Flycatcher was a new un-ringed bird, so Alice ringed her (see picture below), and the second had a ring on that wasn't one of ours, so it will be interesting to see where she is from. I'll let you know, when I know.  
 
Female Pied Flycatcher being ringed
 
Male Pied Flycatcher
 

There were at least nine male Pied Flycatchers singing in the piece of ancient semi-natural woodland that we monitor. The males always arrive before the females to setup the territories, and sometimes the females can get held up by bad weather on their migration in Europe, and I suspect that this might be the case here.
 
Bluebells and Lesser Stitchworts. I love the contrast of the colours
 
Pied Flycatcher habitat
 

The boxes occupied by Blue and Great Tits all had sitting females in them, and the Nuthatch had cold, covered eggs, so she hadn't finished laying. 

Occasionally during the winter, when we carry out our maintenance checks of the boxes, we will find a Pipistrelle sp. roosting in one of the boxes, but it is quite unusual to find one in our boxes during the breeding season, so to find two individuals roosting is very unusual. I am fairly sure that these will be males, as during the breeding season they often roost singly or in small groups. I am no expert on bats, and they look like Pipistrelle sp. to me, so if anybody thinks they are something else, please let me know. 
 
Pipistrelle sp.
 
All of the boxes will get a second check next weekend, except the two with wasps in of course! We will also be back at our Tree Sparrow nest box scheme as well.

In addition to the box contents, we had a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Siskins, two singing Garden Warblers, a Chiffchaff, at least four singing Blackcaps and a distant singing Lesser Whitethroat.

On Monday, I was surveying a client's farm in Bowland for breeding waders. The plan was to also find any waders chicks using my thermal imager, and as it turned out the thermal imager was very good for locating Brown Hares, and I found at least 39! I only found one wader chick, a Lapwing, and as the day warmed, it was difficult to distinguish between muck (spread), bare ground and birds based on the image in the thermal imager.
 
Lapwing chick
 
There was somewhere in the region of eight pairs of Curlews, seven pairs of Oystercatchers, a pair of Redshanks, nine pairs of Lapwings and a pair of Common Sandpipers. However, it did feel very quiet on the breeding wader front, so I'll go back in a couple of weeks and have another look. 
 
Oystercatcher
 
This site is one of the most regular sites that I see Cuckoos at, but on this visit, I didn't see or hear a single Cuckoo. I had at least six singing Willow Warblers, a singing Sedge Warbler (fairly scarce in Bowland) and my first Swift of the year. 

I've got another BBS later in the week, and as I said earlier, it's back to the boxes at weekend. I can't wait. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Quality Not Quantity

I've used the above Blog title before, and probably more than once, but it certainly sums up the Bank Holiday weekend for me. It wasn't just the birds and wildlife that was the quality, but the sites that I visited, and just as importantly, the company that I kept. 
 
My weekend started on the Friday with a ringing session at the Nature Park. It was another cold spring morning, calm but cold, with a ground frost. In fact, putting the nets up I had to stop frequently and try and get some heat back into my fingers! 
 
As I was putting the nets up a number of warblers were singing, and I had three Sedge Warblers, a Willow Warbler, three Cetti's Warblers, a Blackcap, two Whitethroats, a Lesser Whitethroat, a Reed Warbler and a Chiffchaff. A male Wheatear was probably the only grounded migrant that I had, and the vis was equally as quiet, with a single Lesser Redpoll and five Swallows heading north.  
 
Wheatear
 
Whitethroat
 

Out on the pools, the 21 Coots had seven young with them, and the best of the rest on the pools were eleven Canada Geese, five Great Black-backed Gulls, two Shelducks, 17 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 106 Herring Gulls, two Mute Swans, a Great Crested Grebe, two Little Grebes (two that I could see!), a Grey Heron and a pair of Tufted Ducks. The only raptor I had was a female Sparrowhawk that drifted east. A migrant maybe?
 
Canada Geese
 
The ringing was equally as quiet as the birding, probably quieter, and I ringed just four birds (recaptures in brackets):
 
Song Thrush - 1
Blackcap - 2
Blackbird - 1
Reed Warbler - (1)
Dunnock - (1)
 
Male Blackcap
 
The Blackcap that I recaptured was ringed at the Nature Park on 14th July 2019, and we aged it as a '4' male, which means that it wasn't hatched in the calendar year of ringing, but could have been hatched in any year previously. This means that this bird hatched in 2018 at the latest, so he, as it's a male, is at least four years old! 
 
We encountered him three times at the Nature Park in 2021, between 1st May and 11th July, but we never encountered him in 2020. It might well be that he was nesting in an area of the site away from our nets. 
 
Saturday morning saw Gail and I checking boxes with Alice and John at the farm of our lovely friends, Robert and Diana, near Garstang. We had 38 boxes to check; 30 Tit/Tree Sparrow type boxes, two Swift boxes (occupied by Tree Sparrows), a Sparrow hotel, three Tawny Owl boxes, a Kestrel box and a Little Owl box. Of course, not all the boxes end up being occupied by the species that you are aiming at!
 
We found ten boxes occupied by Tree Sparrows, five by Blue Tits, four by Great Tits, five by Tit sp. (Blue or Great), one by a Kestrel, one by a Tawny Owl, one by a Jackdaw, one by a Grey Squirrel and ten empty. 
 
Jackdaw nest
 
Kestrel nest

Tawny Owl nest
 
Eagle-eyed Alice then spotted a couple of nests in what I consider to be fairly unusual locations, although both were in natural sites. First up was a Great Tit nest in a tree cavity. Nothing unusual about that I hear you say, but the tree cavity was only about half a metre above the ground! Very susceptible to predation from mustelids in particular. See picture below. In fact all of the nest pictures included in this post are courtesy of Alice. Anyway, we'll keep an eye on it and I'll keep you posted as to whether it is successful or not. 
 
Great Tit nest in low tree cavity
 
The second unusual nest that Alice found was in the Bluebell wood. John had never been in the Bluebell wood before, so we decided to have a walk down and show him what a beautiful area of woodland it was. We'd just crossed the bridge, when Alice stopped, as she'd seen a bird fly from the ground. She didn't get enough on the bird to identify it, but she did find the nest on the ground amongst some Bluebells for concealment. The nest was full of very small chicks, still with their eyes open and whisps of fluffy down on their heads. We retreated and waited for the adults to return, and within a few minutes a Robin returned to the nest. Now, a Robin nesting on the ground was a first for me, but when I looked in the literature it is actually fairly common!

Robin nest

 If Alice hadn't spotted the adult Robin flying from the ground just in front of her, it is possible that we might have stood on the nest! Again, we'll keep an eye on it and I'll let you know the outcome. You can see a picture of the nest below. 
 
On Bank Holiday Monday I returned to the Nature Park for a second ringing session over the long weekend. It's been such a cold, trickly spring, that I was pretty certain that I wouldn't catch much. However, it was 2nd May, and you just never know!
 
As three days before, there were a few warblers singing as I put the nets up and they included five Sedge Warblers, six Cetti's warblers, three Whitethroats, a Blackcap, three Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler, a Grasshopper Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat and three Reed Warblers. Certainly a few more than the Friday.
 
On the scrape, I noticed five Mute Swans, which I thought was unusual because there is a breeding pair on one of the other pools next to the scrape, and I wondered why a nesting pair were being so tolerant of five interloping Mute Swans. When I looked at them through my bins I got the answer, as they were all sub-adults with some brown colouration still in their plumage. Mute Swans take four years to reach maturity, so I guess these were probably third calendar year birds. They only stayed for about an hour before taking off and heading west. 
 
Once again there was very little vis, in fact just nine Swallows and a single Sand Martin. The ringing wasn't much better, but I did catch a bird that made it worthwhile. Nothing mega, but a cracking adult Spotted Flycatcher! Our group has ringed 88 Spotted Flycatchers, and we ringed ten last year, but they were all pulli. This was only the eighth adult that we have ringed, and I think most of the others have been in late summer/early autumn. You can have a look at this beauty below. 
 
Spotted Flycatcher
 
Including the Spot Fly, I ringed just four birds as follows:
 
Whitethroat - 1
Spotted Flycatcher - 1
Chiffchaff - 1
Blackbird - 1  
 
Whitethroat
 
I read with interest in a recent BirdGuides newsletter that a number of Swallows survived the winter in Britain, which meant that they skipped the usual 9,600 km autumn migration. A risky strategy, that paid off, as undoubtedly some of the over-winterers, if not all, would not have survived the return migration to and from south Africa. 

Professor Juliet Vickery, Chief Executive of the BTO, said that the change in behaviour of these Swallows is one of the most remarkable signs yet of the warming world being caused by climate change. 

The BTO's BirdTrack recording system received almost a hundred sightings of up to 12 individual Swallows by 1st February, with most being seen in the warmer south and south-west of Britain, and also in Ireland. 

Swallows aren't the only species being affected by global warming. The BTO's recent report on British birds and climate change indicated that a quarter of British breeding species might be negatively affected, with the Puffin at severe risk. Worrying news indeed!
 
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of April. Six new species for the year were ringed during April, and these were Wren, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and Song Thrush.
 
We didn't really ring any individual species in any numbers during the month, other than ten Willow Warblers perhaps. Below you will find the top seven 'movers and shakers' for the year'.
 
Top 7 Movers and Shakers for the Year
 
1. Great Tit - 35 (up from 2nd)
2. Blue Tit - 26 (straight in)
3. Chaffinch - 20 (down from 1st)
4. Goldfinch - 17 (straight in)
5. Reed Bunting - 15 (down from 3rd)
6. Blackbird - 10 (straight in)
    Willow Warbler - 10 (straight in)

Friday, 29 April 2022

Yet Another Trickly Spring

I'm not sure whether 'trickly' is an actual word or not, but it does describe the migration during this, and recent springs. Every year of late, the spring starts cold and dry, before turning wet and warm, just as sub-Saharan migrants, like Pied Flycatchers, are hatching. And by trickly, I am referring to the pace and volume of the spring migration. Birds are just trickling through in small numbers, rather than surges that we used to have. When we have a spring like this, migrants tend to filter through and straight on to their breeding grounds, and large coastal movements that excite birders are bypassed. 
 
I have been exceedingly busy of late, with wintering/migrating and breeding bird surveys, in fact too busy to update the Blog. So, apologies for that. I'll try and bring you up to date, but I apologise in advance that it might get a bit lengthy.
 
Even though all my survey sites are away from coastal hotspots, I have nevertheless been able to observe the trickly spring. A couple of the farms that I have been surveying all winter, and into spring, are arable farms and there has been a lot of activity from displaying Lapwings. At one farm in northwest Lancs, I had six pairs displaying over one of the large arable fields, and it is a joy to hear and see these amazing waders. Skylarks have been similarly busy, and on the same farm in mid-April up to eleven Skylarks were singing their hearts out from the skies above. 
 
Hirundines have been just trickling through, with low numbers of Sand Martins and Swallows heading north. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have been the main warbler migrant at this time, and on this particular farm I had four each singing away. Willow Warblers have been thinner on the ground, with just one exception that I'll come to later, and on this morning, I only had two males singing. 
 
Changing the subject slightly, one or two Hedgehogs are regular in our garden every night, visiting the feeding station for a helping of dried cat food. When I get up in the morning, if it is starting to get light when I leave, I have to block the entrance to the feeding station as a local pair of Herring Gulls pull the newspaper out, in attempt to get to any left-over food, and shred it before it then blows around the garden!

Talking of the garden, on the 14th April I had two good birds in the form of a Raven that headed southeast and a Great Spotted Woodpecker that headed west. I can't think how many Ravens I have had from the house, but it's probably in single figures, but the Great Spot was only my second record! 

As this trickly spring has moved on, I have been adding various new summer migrants for the year, and on 15th April I was surveying a farm near Wrea Green in the Fylde, and I had my first Garden Warbler for the spring. It might have been two, because I had one singing bird, and then another, but equally it could easily have been just one bird moving around. Other warbler species during the morning were just seven Chiffchaffs and two Blackcaps. 

I had my first Whimbrels of the year, when a group of five headed north, and my first House Martin of the year, when it too headed north. Thirteen Tree Sparrows was a good count, and it was pleasing to note a singing Yellowhammer that seems to be holding territory on the farm. Besides all the singing that was going on, other evidence of breeding included a Coot sitting on the nest on one of the ponds, and a female Great Tit carrying nest material. 
 
The following day, Alice and I had a ringing session at the Nature Park, and despite the full cloud cover and light SSE breeze, all we managed to catch was a retrap Blackcap. Interestingly, this male Blackcap was ringed at this site in August last year by Alice as a juvenile, so we know that this bird is exactly one year old. When we ringed it last year, it had probably hatched fairly locally, and now it was returning to the site to nest itself. 
 
Blackcap
 
At least five Cetti's Warblers could be heard with their explosive song as we put the nets up, and a Grasshopper Warbler was 'reeling' away, which was another first for the spring for me. A singing Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat were new in, and my first records for the spring, and 40 Pink-footed Geese headed north. Over on the main pool we had a pair of Coots with two young, my first chicks of any species for the year. 
 
Whitethroat
 
I ran my garden light trap overnight on 16th/17th April and all I caught were singles of Herald, Hebrew Character and Common Plume Moth. I love the white feet of the Herald, that you can see in the picture below.
 
Herald (above & below showing it's white feet)
 

 

Gail and I had a very early start one morning in late April (3:00 a.m. alarm call - ouch) to survey a small area of farmland near Newcastle. It was a glorious morning with clear skies and a light north-westerly breeze, but it was very quiet bird-wise. Singing Skylarks and a fly-by Yellowhammer were the few highlights.  

I mentioned earlier that I thought Willow Warblers had been thin on the ground so far during this trickly spring, and I still think that, but one site that I surveyed bucked the trend, and this was probably due to the habitat. I picked up some breeding bird surveys on a site close to the River Ribble, and it includes about 8 ha (20 acres) of Willow scrub. I recorded at least 14 singing Willow Warblers at this site. Other warbler species were present too, and I had 7 singing Chiffchaffs, 9 singing Blackcaps, 11 singing Whitethroats, and singles of singing Sedge Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat. So, a bit of a warbler fest. I'm looking forward to going back in a couple of weeks' time to see if anything has changed. 

I had my first Holly Blue butterflies in the garden on the 21st, when at least two were flitting about. I mentioned an arable farm where I had at least six displaying Lapwings, and by the 22nd at least two females were on the nest. I've got to survey this block of farmland until early July, so it will be interesting to see what the productivity is like. Funnily enough, it was during this visit that I had my first Wheatear for the spring, a single female in a field down to potatoes, at least a month later than I normally expect my first. To be fair, I haven't birded the coast this spring, otherwise this wouldn't have been my first. 

One of my regular wintering bird survey sites over this winter and into spring has been a great place to see Brown Hares, and a few days ago I was completing the last survey at this site and I encountered 21 of these magical creatures. It's not often that I record three species of Heron on my surveys, but on this morning, I had a Great White Egret fly in with a Grey Heron and drop into the dyke, and I had six Little Egrets keeping them company. 
 
Grey Heron

It's been very hit and miss this site, although there have been some highlights such as Lapland Bunting, Snow Goose, Cattle Egret and Ring Ouzel, but there have been more misses than hits. So, it doesn't take much to lift the spirits and a Grasshopper Warbler 'reeling' from a hedge and ditch just outside the village where I park my car was welcome. 

From my first VP, as the early morning sun was low, it looked as if there were coloured jewels scattered across the field of wheat. I could see white, yellow, orange, red, blue, violet and green, which was in short, the light refracting through the droplets of water on the end of the wheat leaves. I took a closer look at these droplets of water, that looked like a glass globe fastened to the end of the leaf. I photographed a few, and they look like glass baubles with a garden in miniature contained within. Have a click on the pics below and you'll see what I mean. 
 
Click on the pic to the see the garden within the glass bauble (above & below)
 

It's great when spring works its magic, and it certainly did in a very simple way a few days ago. It was another early start, at another long-term wintering bird survey site in northwest Lancs, an area of pastoral farmland with associated hedges, ditches and an area of scattered scrub and reeds. I was walking across the area of reed and scrub, when suddenly behind me a Tree Pipit started singing. The site isn't in Tree Pipit territory, but in the lowlands of northwest Lancs as I said, and as I turned round, I could see it perched on top of a Willow singing away. I enjoyed the moment for a short while before thinking about taking a picture, but before I could raise my camera it was off. And as it flew away, it was joined by a second bird. Not a rare species, and I record them on vis every spring and autumn in reasonable numbers, but just great to hear and see it out of context. These two birds had probably just stopped off during migration, in what superficially looked like Tree Pipit habitat.
 
Another reeling Grasshopper Warbler at this site, but this time on the edge of some woodland, and a supporting cast of five Willow Warblers, four Blackcaps, four Chiffchaffs, four Whitethroats and two Lesser Whitethroats. 
 
I added two more new species for the spring when I was back at my arable farmland survey site. When I set off to walk my transect I had nearly full cloud cover with a light easterly wind. Adjoining the south-east boundary of the site is a small lake, with a couple of smaller reed-fringed pools, and here there were two singing Reed Warblers, my first for the spring, accompanied by three Sedge Warblers. 
 
Walking away from this area, I could see a passerine perched up on the fence that looked very chat like even through the naked eye, and as soon as I got my bins on it, I could see that it was a female Whinchat. Nice. In addition to the Whinchat, I recorded a couple of House Martins, three Chiffchaffs, just one Willow Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat, eight Whitethroats, three male Wheatears and a pair of White Wagtails. Nothing mega, but a pleasure to be out as always. 
 
Wheatear
 
I came across an interesting piece in the Scottish Ornithologists Club (SOC) e-newsletter, The Hoot, about the colour of migratory birds, and I have detailed the salient points below. 
 
The recent discovery that migrating Great Reed Warblers and Great Snipes increase their flight altitude after dawn, sometimes by thousands of metres, adds a potential new challenge: overheating. Flying high, where air temperatures are low, could allow migratory birds to dissipate the heat absorbed from the sun during diurnal flights, when there is no way to avoid the sun. If this is the case, migratory birds should also be lighter coloured, because lighter coloured animals absorb less solar radiation, and stay cool even when there is no shade. A recent study encompassing all species of birds found general support for this hypothesis, since migratory birds are on average lighter coloured than residents and long-distance migrants are lighter than short-distance migrants. Interesting stuff! 

Friday, 15 April 2022

A Few Decent Birds At Last

As spring progresses, more and more migrants arrive, both in terms of the range of species and numbers of birds, so it was good to catch up with a few decent migrants over the past week. 

I'm going to rewind to this time last week, when I visited my clients farm in Bowland, with some friends and colleagues from the RSPB, to have a look at the breeding wader habitat, and to assess how successful the winter grazing has been. That bit was easy, the fields all looked spot on in terms of sward height and wet features to support breeding Curlews, Lapwings and Redshanks. It just needs the birds now. 

Driving along the track to my client's house, with thick hedgerows on each side of the track, and several feeding stations interspersed along the track, it was great to see numbers of finches flying from the feeders as I drove past. There were Lesser Redpolls, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Siskins and at least 20 Bramblings, maybe more. All good stuff.
 
Lesser Redpoll
 
It felt as though spring hadn't quite made it up here yet, as it was still quite cold, and it was obvious that not all of the waders were in. There were several pairs of displaying Curlews and Lapwings, and two pairs of Redshanks was the really good news. We had one pair nest last year, so to get two pairs present this year is good news indeed, and it shows that the habitat management that we put in place last year and over winter is perhaps paying dividends. 
 
Oystercatchers were still in winter mode, as 20 - 30 were flocking alongside one of the larger pools. A pair of Stonechats were in suitable breeding habitat, and two Ravens, a Buzzard and Kestrel are part of the regular avifauna. I'm looking forward to my next visit in late April when I will carry out a full breeding wader survey. 
 
Oystercatchers
 
One of my wintering bird survey sites is going to be extended into mid-May to cover the migration period, and I will also be carrying out a breeding bird survey at the site following the new BBS guidelines of six survey visits. I was there last Saturday, and this was a combined BBS and migration survey. 
 
I park my car in a layby and enter the arable farmland by way of a track. The land is very undulating, and from where I enter the farmland, I can see down on to a wet flood that escapes cultivation each year because of how wet is. As I crested the hill and headed down towards the wet flush, I heard a wildfowl call that I knew was different. Lifting my bins, I could see a pair of Garganey flying round. They had obviously been flushed by my outline against the sky. They flew round in a wide circle and dropped back onto the wet flush when I was out of the way. At last, a decent bird, or pair of birds, for the site.
 
Most of the stubbles have now been ploughed, and there were several Lapwings displaying with that fantastic tumbling display and crazy call. I even saw one Lapwing creating a nest scrape in one of the fields that had been tilled. 
 
When I was at my second VP, I had my second decent bird of the morning, and it was whilst I was making a quick call to Gail to ask what was for lunch! Gail is used to some of our conversations on the phone stopping when I say "hang on a minute, what was that", or "hang on a minute, just let me count these Pinkies flying over"! This time it was "hang on a minute, that looks interesting", and it was, it was an Osprey heading north. Surprisingly, it was being escorted by a load of Gull wing-men, but it was high, and I suspect that it was managing to sneak through without being seen by any Gulls!
 
I've mentioned before that a Rookery lies along the southern boundary of my survey site, and it's a very busy place at the moment. I had a count, and there looks to be about 63 occupied nests. It's certainly noisy! 
 
Even though I had a couple of half decent migrants, generally migrants were thin on the ground or in the air. I had singles of singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff, and the vis just consisted of (all between north and northeast) three Collared Doves, a Skylark, a Tree Sparrow, 31 Meadow Pipits, a Chaffinch, eleven Linnets, a Goldfinch and two Siskins. 
 
On the Monday, I was at one of my other wintering bird survey sites close to the Ribble estuary that was receiving a survey in April at the request of Natural England. I had full cloud cover, with a light south-easterly wind, and I was hopeful for a migrant or two. 
 
Amazingly, I had my first Sand Martins of the year when three headed northeast. I say amazingly, as it was 11th April and these were my first 'Smarties'! I have been so busy doing surveys, that I haven't had time to bird my local coastal sites, and hence the very late date for my first Sand Martins. In addition to the Smarties, I had four singing Chiffchaffs, and I thought that was going to be it migrant wise, until I had one of those telephone moments again.
 
Gail had phoned me to ask me what time I was likely to finish my survey, and I said to her "hang on a minute, there's a thrush sp. perched on top of an Alder". I lifted my bins, and there perched up was a cracking male Ring Ouzel. Superb! Whilst still on the phone to Gail, I ran round the other side of the pond where my VP is located to pick up my scope and tripod up, and ran back round. It was still there, and I had great views through my scope, but sadly it was a little too distant to photograph. 
 
A heavily cropped, phone-scoped pic of a male Ring Ouzel, that I took in 2010
 
As I watched it through my scope, I could see it looking round. I love moments like this. It would tilt its head to one side and look skyward, presumably keeping an eye out for predators. After a couple of minutes, it flew over the field of winter wheat to another hedge, where it perched up, and displayed that migratory restlessness, giving that glorious 'chakk' call. The Collins Bird Guide describes the call as a stony clicking' tuck', but I think 'chakk' describes it better. It wasn't there for long, and that migratory restlessness took it into the air, and it was gone. 
 
The rest of my survey was quiet, but it would be hard to beat a male Mountain Blackbird. There are about twenty local names for Ring Ouzel, and some of my favourites include Ring Blackbird, Heath Throstle, Hill Chack (I'm with that one. At least the good folks on Orkney think the call is a chack), Mountain Blackbird, Tor Ouzel, Ditch Blackie and again from Orkney, Flitterchack. 
 
I was out surveying most days this week, but more of that in another post. The forecast is looking quite good over this holiday weekend, so hopefully I'll get some ringing and coastal birding in. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

Back In The Reedbed and Scrub

In the middle of March, Gail and I checked our net rides in the reedbed and scrub at the Nature Park to see if we could actually get in. During the winter months our ringing area floods, and in recent years it has been as late as June sometimes before we have been able to start ringing again after the winter. We guessed that there might be a half-chance, as the area where we park our car wasn't flooded. We ventured in wearing wellies, and surprise, surprise, managed to get to our net rides. There was some water at the lower end of the rides, but there was enough of the rides not flooded to enable us to do some ringing. We took some tools into the Willow scrub with us, just in case we could to do some management work, and we coppiced some of the Willows along the net rides. All we needed now was some decent weather and a few birds. 
 
There's something magical about being in a reedbed!
 

 

The decent weather sort of materialised, in as much as it was calm, but it was cold, and this had an impact on the number of birds that we ringed. We have had three ringing sessions so far, and all we have managed to ring are three birds; a Greenfinch, Chiffchaff and Long-tailed Tit. In fact, the third session that we had, we drew a complete blank!
 
Greenfinch
 
On the morning of 18th March when all I ringed was a Greenfinch, a flock of 60 Pink-footed Geese and 27 Whooper Swans headed northeast, and other than three Meadow Pipits heading east, and a singing Chiffchaff, this was the only evidence of migration.

Four Cetti's Warblers are regularly singing from the area that our nets are in, and three Reed Buntings were singing also. A pair of Goldfinches were nest building, so some real evidence of birds starting to prepare for the breeding season. 
 
Reed Bunting
 
Out on the pools were five Snipe, four Shovelers, 81 Herring Gulls, two Mallards, seven Little Grebes, six Tufted Ducks and 27 Coot

I was back the following weekend, and doubled my catch of the previous weekend by ringing two birds, the aforementioned Chiffchaff and a Long-tailed Tit. The Long-tailed Tit was probably a local breeder, and a male, with evidence of a developed cloaca.
 
Chiffchaff
 
It was another cold morning, but there was evidence of a little more migration. There were seven grounded Redwings in the Willow scrub, and a flock of 37 headed east. Other visible migrants, all heading northeast, included two Carrion Crows, nine Meadow Pipits, three Lesser Redpolls and a Brambling

I was back again on 2nd April with Alice and John, and that was when we drew a blank. A couple of highlights of the morning were my personal earliest ever Yellow Wagtail. We sadly didn't see it, just heard it, and by the calls it sounded like it had been flushed from the ground by some dog walkers. The other highlight was a pair of Ravens that flew over the pools croaking loudly, and being mobbed by a pair of Carrion Crows. 

There's half a chance that we will get out to the reedbed and scrub again this coming weekend, but whether it will produce any birds, who knows, but I'll let you know. 
 
Looking back to this date in 2017, it was a completely different day for migration. I was at the coastal farm fields with virtually clear skies, with a light north-westerly wind, and there was a good bit of visible migration. I recorded 165 Linnets, 161 Goldfinches, seven Carrion Crows, three Alba Wags, five Siskins, a Lesser Redpoll, four Swallows, a Sand Martin, two White Wagtails and 835 Meadow Pipits all heading north! That's what makes migration so interesting! 

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of March. Seven new species for the year were ringed during the month, and these were Linnet, Goldfinch, Sparrowhawk, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpoll and Long-tailed Tit.
 
I haven't done a top 10 ringed during the month, but ten Reed Buntings was noteworthy. Below you will find the 'top 3 movers and shakers' for the year so far.

Top 3 Movers and Shakers

1. Chaffinch - 18 (same position)
2. Great Tit - 17 (same position)
3. Reed Bunting - 14 (straight in)

Friday, 25 March 2022

The Return of the Viking Army

At this time of year, our avian Norse visitors start gathering together in flocks, feeding frenetically, laying down fat to enable them to return to Scandinavia. This Viking army consists of Fieldfares, Redwings, Starlings, Blackbirds and even Linnets, as some of our Linnets that winter in northwest England, breed in Orkney, a Viking kingdom of old. These Vikings are very much a part of spring migration as they are of autumn migration, but I suppose in the autumn we look forward to, and herald their arrival, but tend not to in spring. It's the same with our summer migrants, it's their arrival, and not their departure that we celebrate. 
 
Of course, the Vikings didn't just come from Scandinavia, they settled in Iceland and Greenland too, and earlier in the month when I was completing a late wintering bird survey on the west Lancashire mosses, a flock of five Whooper Swans flew over me heading north. Their ultimate destination will be Iceland, but these birds won't be heading that far just yet. 

Woodpigeons are still flocking, and feeding in numbers on the mossland, and I had a flock of 409 perched up in some tall willows surrounding a group of ponds and alongside drainage ditches, out on the moss.  

Towards the middle of March, I was back in northwest Lancs at two of my wintering bird survey sites. Site number one, closest to the Ribble, was very quiet indeed, and the highlights here were probably some of the encounters I had with the six Brown Hares that I recorded. There are a few shots below of some of these gorgeous animals.
 

 


I recorded nearly thirty bird species during the survey, but I'm struggling to pick out any highlights. Raptors were thin on the ground with just two Buzzards, and the Viking army certainly wasn't gathering here, with just a single Fieldfare and Redwing. 

The following day I was at site number two, which is probably mid-way between the Ribble and the Wyre, and it was here that I encountered the returning Viking army. 

It's nice to see this area of arable land starting to come to life with at least four pairs of displaying Lapwings, and six singing Skylarks. A flock of 23 Common Gulls is worth mentioning, as is the three Buzzards that I recorded. In fact, the Buzzards were the only raptors that I had. 

It was a cold morning with clear skies, and the 15 - 20 mph south-easterly wind was biting, so much so that I had to move my VP slightly. By the nature of what they are, VPs are often exposed, but I managed to move towards the lee of a hedge close by, without it having any impact on the results. 

In front of this VP is a stubble field, and it was here that the Viking hordes were gathered. The most numerous being the 1,453 Starlings that foraged in the stubbles, with a supporting cast of seven Redwings, 215 Fieldfares and 81 Linnets. Below are a few shots of some of the Fieldfares.
 


This Viking warrior was watching me very closely!
 

It won't be long before these birds are winging their way back to Scandinavia.