Tuesday 28 June 2022

Bits And Bobs

Last week found me at two of my breeding bird survey sites, the penultimate visit for the first site, and the final visit for the second. 

My first visit (Wednesday) was local, and I have blogged about it many times, and is in the main a large block of arable farmland. It was a 4:45 a.m. start under clear skies, with a light north-westerly wind. There was a heavy dew, and it was heavy enough to cause a dew in my beard, something that always feels a bit strange! Some of the low-lying parts of the site were enveloped in mist, but as soon as the sun made an appearance, the low-lying mist soon disappeared. After that, it was a gloriously warm and sunny morning. 
Misty hollow
Brown Hares were noticeable, and I counted about ten on my walk round. The low-lying mist meant that I couldn't see properly onto the fishing lake, so eight juvenile Greylag Geese, three Gadwalls and three Mallards isn't representative of what was on there at all. 
Brown Hare
Swifts were present, carving the thick, warm air, with their scythe-like wings as they flew low, hawking for insects, and twelve were sortieing back and forth. Swifts weren't the only species on the hunt, as I had a Barn Owl early on, quartering the grassland along the edge of some woodland. 

The dawn chorus is less of a noisy affair by this time of year, and players in the dawn chorus orchestra, in full song, included nine Skylarks, two Willow Warblers (where have all the Willow Warblers gone this year?), a Chiffchaff, eight Sedge Warblers, two Reed Warblers (Sedge and Reed making up the 'metal' element of the orchestra), a Blackcap, six Whitethroats and five Reed Buntings.
Reed Bunting
The prize for the most unusual sighting goes to a Yellow Wagtail that I had fly over. I heard a Yellow Wagtail calling, looked up, and got my bins on it as it flew over a crop of Oats, before dropping into the oats close to a pond. It was very probably visiting the nest. Yellow Wags are scarce breeders now in Lancs, but this block of arable land that I was surveying is large, with a mix of crops (Winter Wheat, spring Oats, spring Barley and Potatoes), and no public access, so a Yellow Wag here could nest without any attention from birders/naturalists, and it would seem that it has! 
On Friday, Gail and I were up in the northeast near Teesside carrying out the final BBS visit to a site there. It was another pleasant day, although a little cooler, with 6 oktas cloud cover, and a light south-westerly wind.  

Although it was a BBS that we were completing, we couldn't help but record the butterflies and day flying moths that we came across. In total we had the following lepidoptera:

Wall - 2
Meadow Brown - 9
Grayling - 14
Ringlet - 3
Cinnabar - 3 (lots of caterpillars though)
Five-spot Burnet - 2
Cinnabar caterpillars
Five-spot Burnet

The biggest surprise of the survey bird-wise was a cracking adult summer plumaged Mediterranean Gull amongst the 14 Black-headed Gulls. The site is very sandy, and is Rabbit grazed, and consequently there is quite a lot of bare sand and short vegetation, all good for inverts, and this is what the Gulls were feeding on. I only managed a very dodgy record shot, as you can see below, but you can tell what it is! 
Med. Gull - honest!
Just two species of raptor; a Buzzard and a female Sparrowhawk carrying prey, and being mobbed by eight Swallows. Three Skylarks were singing and 14 Meadow Pipits were feeding in the sparse scrub and grassland, as were six Linnets
On Sunday, Alice, John and I carried out some wader monitoring at a farm in Bowland where I manage the conservation interests. When we arrived at 6:00 a.m. we couldn't quite believe how cold it was, and had to get togged up in coats with a few layers. Is it really June? 

We had at least four pairs of Curlews alarm calling on the part of the farm that we were surveying, and 'eagle-eyed' John spotted a pair with two chicks. We managed to pick up one chick and ring it, but the other successfully disappeared into the tall meadow grass. What was interesting, was that my thermal imager was struggling to penetrate the tall grass, so the grass obviously has pretty good thermal properties. 
A Green Sandpiper was a surprise on one of the scrapes, and is probably one of the earliest that I have ever had. It was joined on the scrape by an adult Common Sandpiper, with a large 'flying' youngster. It was good to have proof of breeding for Common Sandpiper on the farm. 
Common Sandpiper
Odd Lesser Redpolls were moving around calling, and Linnets are obviously starting to flock as we had a group of 20. Raptors were represented by a Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk, and only two singing Willow Warblers continues the worrying picture for this species. 

It's looking showery for the next few days, so I'm not sure when or where I'll be out, but I should have news on some Barn Owls later in the week.

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Solstice Greetings

Solstice Greetings to you all! I would like to say that the picture below of the sunrise was taken this morning, but it wasn't, it was taken a couple of days after the Solstice last year. I would have liked to have been out to enjoy the sunrise this morning, but I didn't get home until the wee hours after watching a stunning performance by Yes in Liverpool. They were playing all of their 1972 classic album Close To The Edge, plus a selection of other great songs from their back catalogue. Awesome gig! 
Sunrise over the estuary
I mentioned in my previous post that most of my breeding bird survey is nearly completed now, with a survey tomorrow, Friday, early July, and then that's it. Just in time for autumn! I've said this before, but in the bird world autumn starts more or less on 1st July! 

Since my last post, I have completed a few breeding bird surveys, with one in the northeast near Middlesborough. Nothing spectacular during this survey, in fact no real highlights to mention here, but there was some great botanical diversity on this site, and a couple of orchid species were frequent across the area; Northern Marsh and Pyramidal, I think! Have a look at the pictures below, and if you think differently, please let me know. 
Northern Marsh Orchid
Pyramidal Orchid

The following day I was in Greater Manchester completing the second BBS at a site there. Again, nothing exciting but two Song Thrushes, four Chiffchaffs, four Blackcaps and a Goldcrest, all singing, are worth mentioning. 

I was closer to home on the banks of the Ribble six days ago at a site with a good area of Willow Scrub. Breeding birds were represented by seven Chiffchaffs, ten Whitethroats, three Blackcaps, a Sedge Warbler, nine Willow Warblers and three Song Thrushes, again all singing.

Brown Hares are fairly numerous at this site, and I had at least ten individuals. I photographed one confiding individual that you can see below. You can see how wet it is from feeding in wet vegetation. 
Brown Hare (above & below)


Three Buzzards were knocking about the site, and I had about fifteen Sand Martins that were flying back and forwards over the river, presumably from a colony to foraging areas, and back again. A Grey Wagtail, Jay, Little Egret and three Bullfinches, all made it in to my notebook.

I finished the week off by joining Alice at our friend's farm near Garstang to ring a brood of Swallows, and four healthy chicks with feathers 'FM', primary feathers a third to two thirds emerged from the sheath, were ringed. 

I'll let you know how the other surveys go this week.

Saturday 11 June 2022


My breeding bird survey work is slowing down now, and I only have five surveys left to do before the end of the month. I was out doing a survey yesterday fairly locally, on an area of pastoral farmland, with a network of hedges, ditches and ponds. It was a glorious morning, but it was a tad windy, not too windy for the survey, but approaching the top end of what is tolerable for a BBS.
It's a good deal quieter at this time of year as most bird species are either feeding young, or have fledged their first broods and are on with their second. Trying to pick some highlights from my maps is difficult, but worth a mention were the five Whitethroats, 23 Magpies (!), two Chiffchaffs, two Reed Buntings, two Blackcaps and two Sedge Warblers, the majority of which were singing males. 
I particularly enjoyed listening to and watching a male Sedge Warbler singing away from a dried Willowherb stem that was swaying in the wind, and it looked like the Sedge was riding a 'bucking bronco'! Whilst this bird was singing its heart out, I could clearly see the reddish-orange colouration inside the bill, and I always love this. As Sedge Warblers often do, it was doing a bit of mimicry, and it was including snatches of Linnet and Pied Wagtail calls within its own song. Fantastic. 

The highlight of the past few days was ringing some Kestrel chicks this morning at Robert and Diana's farm near Garstang. We have a box up in the woodland on the farm, and for a number of years now it has been occupied by Kestrels. We knew there were five chicks as we checked them last weekend and they were too small to ring, but this morning when Gail, Alice, Sally, Robert and I checked them again, they were a perfect size. Five healthy Kestrel chicks were duly ringed, and all we can do now is hope that the parents manage to bring enough food in, and they fledge successfully. Fingers crossed! 

Wednesday 8 June 2022

What About the Marsh Tits?

I completely forgot to mention the Marsh Tits from the weekend before last, when we were checking our Pied Flycatcher boxes. We had driven down and parked by the River Hodder, and I was just unloading my ladder to head off into the woodland, when I heard a snatch of song that sounded instantly familiar, but my brain was slow in coming up with the identification. The bird flew over our heads into an Alder by the river, and just as John said "that Tit has got a bib", my brain yelled "Marsh Tit"! The Marsh Tit continued to sing for a few seconds in the Alder, and it was joined by another, and then they vanished as quickly as they appeared. 
I see Marsh Tits whenever I am in the Silverdale area, in northwest Lancs, and I've also recorded them on one of my clients' farms alongside the River Wenning, but this was the first time that I have recorded Marsh Tit in Bowland for about twenty years! At the site where we have our nest boxes, the former landowner used to have a feeding station, and when I first started visiting the site in 2002, the odd Marsh Tit would visit the feeding station, so they were obviously just hanging on in the Hodder Valley then. 
The Birds of Lancashire and North Merseyside states that in "east Lancashire Marsh Tits were described as widespread though scarce breeders throughout the Ribble, Calder and Hodder woodlands as recently as 1986. Up to seven pairs nested in the Whitewell area in the 1980s, occasionally in nest-boxes, and breeding season presence was recorded fairly regularly around this time... By 2000, however, a major decline throughout the region was all too evident... Occasional sightings at Whitewell and Doeford Bridge, however, indicate continued presence in this stretch of the Hodder Valley" (White, McCarthy & Jones, 2008, p.331).
So, a scarce bird indeed in this area, but perhaps just hanging on as a breeder!
Back to last weekend, and we carried out the final check of our nest boxes in the Hodder Valley and at our friend's farm near Garstang. We ringed 24 Pied Flycatcher chicks at our Hodder Valley site from four nest boxes. This is probably the worst year, in terms of productivity, for Pied Flycatchers at this site, with the exception of last year when there were lots of predation. I'm not sure of yet what the reason is for this, and it will be interesting to see what the results are for the Bowland-wide Retrapping Adults for Survival project that I am part of. Meaning, is it an issue across all Pied Flycatcher sites in Bowland this year, or is it just localised to our site? There does definitely seem to be a shortage of females, based on the number of males present, and this might well be the cause. 
Pied Flycatcher chick
Male Pied Flycatcher
Talking of flycatchers, we did enjoy watching a Spotted Flycatcher fly-catching when we stopped for a coffee break. However, we have yet to find the nest(s) of the Spot Flys, and last year we found two nests! We have checked the usual places, but no luck so far.
On to Garstang, and we just ringed a single brood of six Blue Tits. We checked the Kestrel box and there were five chicks, and an unhatched egg, that were too small to ring. So, I look forward to doing those next weekend. We checked three Tawny Owl boxes, including one that had a Tawny Owl egg in it earlier in the year, and all had Grey Squirrels in. 
I ringed an Oystercatcher chick yesterday when I was checking on breeding waders at my clients' farm near Slaidburn in Bowland. I spotted one chick running ahead of me along a track, and I thought "when I climb this gate, I'll pick you up", and when I went to climb the gate another chick was squatting, and trying it's best to blend in with the surface of the track. I picked this chick up, and lost the other! 
I didn't get a picture of the Oystercatcher chick that I ringed, but this was one 
of the adults
On my walk round I encountered alarm calling Lapwings, or one or two large flying Lapwing chicks, suggesting that they are coming to the end of their breeding season. Curlews were very quiet, and are probably at the late incubation stage, and I saw a few 'on-guard' males. I had two Common Sandpipers in an area where they regularly nest, but I couldn't work out what was going on with them. 
Out on one of the many pools on this farm were a brood of six Tufted Ducks, with the female in close attendance. Other proof of breeding was obtained for both Stonechat and Willow Warbler, as I saw adults of both species carrying food. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to wait, watch and find the nest. 
Tufted Ducks
Some of the wildflowers surrounding one of the pools
The only other bird of note that I had on my walk round was a singing Cuckoo, my first for the year at this site. When I was last here on 9th May I didn't hear any. 
Over on the right, if you are viewing in web version, you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of May. Ten new species were ringed for the year during May, and these were Reed Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Wheatear, Skylark, Pied Flycatcher, Lapwing, Nuthatch, Pied Wagtail, Bullfinch and Garden Warbler. 
This is the Spotted Flycatcher that was ringed in May
Below you will find the 'top 3 ringed in May', and the 'top 9 movers and shakers' for the year. 
Top 3 Ringed During May
1. Blue Tit - 54
2. Great Tit - 37
3. Tree Sparrow - 16
Top 9 Movers and Shakers
1. Blue Tit - 80 (up from 2nd)
2. Great Tit - 72 (down from 1st)
3. Tree Sparrow - 20 (straight in)
    Chaffinch - 20 (same position)
5. Blackbird - 17 (up from 6th)
    Goldfinch - 17 (down from 4th)
7. Reed Bunting - 15 (down from 5th)
8. Willow Warbler - 13 (down from 6th)
9. Sedge Warbler - 10 (straight in)