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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.