Wednesday 31 August 2022

On The Cusp

The three weather forecast apps that I use suggested that the wind strength in terms of suitability for ringing was on the cusp this morning, and I hate forecasts like that. A bit stronger than forecast, it would be a waste of time setting nets, a bit less, then game on. What to do? I looked at the forecast for cloud conditions overnight, and it suggested a 'clear-out' morning rather than a 'grounded' morning, and I decided to go birding instead.
I went to the cemetery first, as the cemetery is only about 155 metres from the coast, and is often the first place you will find any grounded migrants on the peninsula. At 0630 I had 2 oktas cloud cover, with a light east-north-easterly wind. And there were no grounded migrants, just a little bit of vis with a small movement of Goldfinches heading south and west. 
I then headed to another coastal location, the Mount, which is a little further from the coast than the cemetery, but still only 200 metres. As the name suggests, it is a small hill with some woody, parkland vegetation on it, and again it attracts migrants. Like the cemetery, it is well lit, and this adds to its attractiveness to nocturnal migrants. It was very quiet in the Mount with no grounded migrants and just a Grey Wagtail over that made it on to the pages of my notebook.
If I had gone ringing, it would have been to the Nature Park. The Nature Park is still fairly coastal, lying just 335 metres from the Wyre estuary, 1.7 km from the north coast (Morecambe Bay) and 2.4 km from the west (Irish Sea and Liverpool Bay) coast. Based on what I found, or didn't find, in the Cemetery and Mount, I felt justified that I had made the right decision, and would have caught very little.
I decided to head to the estuary and walk along the Quay towards the mouth of the river. Out on the mud of the quay few waders were feeding, with just 22 Redshanks, two Curlews and a single Oystercatcher. There was a flock of 42 Goldfinches, mainly juveniles, feeding on seed heads of a variety of plant species along the edge of the quay and the saltmarsh, and four House Sparrows and a couple of Linnets were amongst them.
The Wyre Estuary (above & below)


On the superstructure of the former ferry port, a Peregrine was perched, but as I approached it headed off towards the mouth of the river. Walking back along the quay I heard the call of a Whimbrel, and two birds dropped onto the mud at the edge of the saltmarsh. 
A dodgy, distant shot of the Peregrine before it flew off
One of the two Whimbrel

The only vis I had here was a single Tree Pipit over, and after a pleasant hour's walk I was back where I started. 
Two out of the three weather apps that I check are suggesting that it will be very much too windy for ringing tomorrow morning, so it might be more of the same as today. 
I was reading in the summer edition of the Buglife publication, 'The Buzz', that UK flying insects have declined by nearly 60% in less than twenty years. This came from the results of a citizen-science survey, led by Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT) and Buglife, that found that the abundance of flying insects in the UK has plummeted by nearly 60% over the last 17 years. As Buglife stated, this highlights a worrying trend and the crucial need for insect-focussed conservation research, nationwide. 
The findings, published in a report published by KWT and Buglife, show that the number of insects sampled on vehicle number plates across the UK reduced by a frightening 59% between 2004 and 2021, and these findings are consistent with research which has widely reported declining trends in insect populations globally. Very worrying indeed! 
England suffered the greatest decline, with 65% fewer insects recorded, Wales recorded 55% fewer insects and Scotland saw the smallest decline, but still with 28% fewer insects. The observed declines are statistically significant, and are indicative of a worrying decline. Why the difference between the three countries I'm not sure, but I can speculate that it is as a result of climate change (less of an effect in Scotland, combined with a northwards expansion of some insect populations) and habitat quality. 
I'll leave the last words to Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive Officer at Buglife, and Paul Hadaway, Director of Conservation at KWT. Matt said this vital study suggests that the number of flying insects is declining by an average of 34% per decade, this is terrifying. We cannot put off action any longer, for the health and wellbeing of future generations this demands a political and a societal response, it is essential that we halt biodiversity decline - now!
Paul said the results from the Bugs Matter study should shock and concern us all. We are seeing declines in insects which reflect the enormous threats and loss of wildlife more broadly across the Country. These declines are happening at an alarming rate and without concerted action to address them we face a stark future. Insects and pollinators are fundamental to the health of our environment and rural economies. We need action for all our wildlife now by creating more and bigger areas of habitats, providing corridors through the landscape for wildlife and allowing nature space to recover. 
As Paul said, this needs a political and societal response. The only way we are going to get a political response is through the ballot box, and it is probably time that the mainstream political parties receive a wake-up call! The societal response is very much down to us, and we can all do our bit to try and halt this decline before it is too late for the insects and us, but will the 'Love Island', soap opera and social media obsessed general public at large care enough to do something about it? We can only hope so!

Thursday 25 August 2022

Still Ticking Over

At last, I managed a ringing session this morning at the Nature Park, my first since 13th August, but more of that in a moment. 

Things are still ticking over for me as far as autumn birding is concerned, and its Sod's law that I have loads of time at the moment, but the weather hasn't been playing ball. A few days ago, I had to check a hedge for nesting birds, and Gail accompanied me on what was a dreich morning. The highlight after standing in the rain for over an hour, was a flock of at least 60 House Martins that had been brought down by the low cloud and constant wet stuff. 
The following morning had more of a migratory feel to it, but once again it was too windy for any ringing. Two Grey Wagtails south over the garden added to the migratory feel, and later in the morning Gail and I had a wander along the quay. Out on the mud were 160 Redshanks, four Oystercatchers and a Little Egret, and a 1CY/female type Wheatear grounded at the old ferry terminal. 
A few Swallows were flying in and out of a few of some of the wrecks in the quay, and I don't doubt that these former fishing boats will be providing a safe place to nest for the Swallows. The wrecks out on the saltmarsh certainly used to, so I suspect these wrecks will too. 
Some of the wrecks that used to have Swallows nesting in them
Back to this morning. Conditions were perfect for operating mist nets, with no wind and at least 6 oktas cloud cover, but along with the conditions you need the birds, and it felt very quiet this morning. Sometimes it feels quiet, and you still catch reasonable numbers, but not today, with just ten birds ringed as follows:
Robin - 2
Goldfinch - 1
Blackcap - 5
Chiffchaff - 1
Dunnock - 1
At least it was a leisurely 5:45 a.m. start! There was nothing going over at all, other than a handful of Swallows that headed south and east. As I was putting the nets up, all two of them, I had a flock of about 15-20 'twittering' Swallows, that probably had come from a roost close by. Unlike Starlings, Swallows do leave their roost early, and there would probably have been more, had I been there earlier. 
Three Cetti's Warblers and a Chiffchaff were singing before it warmed up, and a Stock Dove went over. I had a flock of 73 Goldfinches, which I'm guessing are part of the larger flock of 200 on the old landfill site. A Great Spotted Woodpecker in reedbed and scrub is always noteworthy, but that was it. 
At the moment the forecast is looking favourable into next week, and I've still got time, so hopefully Sod's law won't make an appearance again! 
On this date in 2007, it was a very different morning with a brisk west-north-westerly wind, and most definitely sea-watching weather. A few hours at the Point logged 172 Oystercatchers, 422 Knot, 46 Gannets, 102 Sandwich Terns, a Great Crested Grebe, 85 Common Scoters and one pale morph, and four dark morph Arctic Skuas. A very different kind of a morning indeed!

Sunday 14 August 2022

Ticking Over

It's been fit for ringing all week in terms of wind strength, but as I mentioned in my last but one Blog post, I decided not to bother as it has been too clear and too hot. Looking at other posts by fellow ringers, I feel happy that I made the right decision. However, I did always plan to get out this weekend, and I managed a ringing session at the Nature Park yesterday, and it was most certainly a case of 'ticking over'. 
It was nice and cool when I arrived on site at 5:30 a.m., and two thousand Starlings were in the process of exiting their roost. I just put two nets (100 feet) up under clear skies, with the slightest of breeze from the east. As I said before, it was certainly just ticking over, and I ringed 14 birds as follows:
Whitethroat - 1
Robin - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Reed Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Greenfinch - 8
Wren - 1
Lesser Whitethroat
Normally, when reporting on what I have managed to ring, the above would also say recaptures in brackets, but rather alarmingly, I haven't had any recaptures (birds previously ringed on site or elsewhere) for some time. I say alarmingly, because it is the recaptures that provide you with the data on survival, both in adults and juveniles, and to a certain extent on movement. Ringing is basically a mark and recapture ecological survey, and it is the recaptures that provide a great deal of conservation data. Why no recaptures?  I'm not sure. I'll have to look at the bigger picture later in the year. It could point to poor survival from previous years, but why, certainly something that warrants further investigation. 

The birding was very quiet, certainly no grounded migrants, and the only visible migration, that wasn't actually visible, was a calling Tree Pipit bombing south up in the stratosphere. I have mentioned a few times before, that I feel very lucky that as a birder of a certain age, I can still hear species like Tree Pipits, as a lot of birders my no longer can! And that was all that was worth mentioning. 

It's cooling off from tomorrow onwards, and the weather is going to stir things up a bit, so I'll try and get out on any morning that's fit. 
I read an interesting short article in a recent volume of Scottish Birds, about a Tawny Owl thawing out a dead House Mouse! The article told of a guy who regularly operates trail-cameras in a mixed woodland near Forfar, and in the past, he has placed dead day-old chicks on stumps and branches in front of his camera to capture photographs and videos of Buzzards. Whilst downloading some of the images, he saw that a Tawny Owl had taken one of the chicks.
He found a dead House Mouse in one of the mouse-tarps in his home, and he took it to place in front of the camera. It subsequently rained, and then turned cold with an overnight frost. When he retrieved the camera and looked at the video footage, it showed a Tawny Owl swooping onto the mouse. The Tawny Owl attempted to peck the mouse loose from the branch, but it was frozen on. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the owl fluffed up, settled on the mouse, and appeared to brood it for 26 minutes! At the end of this period, it stood up, picked up the, now thawed, mouse in its bill, and immediately swallowed it. Amazing!

Friday 12 August 2022

Slight Return

I hope you all got the Jimi Hendrix reference in my Blog title, and Gail and I could have done with a bit of voodoo, when we made a slight return to Bowland this morning. I say 'slight return' because it wasn't quite as good for insects as when GT and I were there earlier in the week.

We wanted to get to the farm early enough to avoid the worst of the heat, whilst still making sure it was warm enough for plenty of insects to be on the wing. What we didn't count on, was the easterly breeze that we had this morning, which kept it a little cooler for us, well at first anyway, but it had obviously reduced the number of insects that were active. 

The Chicory (above) and Knapweed (below) were attracting lots of bees and 


We walked through the central wetland complex, along the pools by the lane, and up to the wader scrapes in the top field. The increase in the number of Meadow Pipits was obvious with birds flocking now, and we had at least 60 - 70 individuals. 
Meadow Pipit

A pair of Stonechats had at least two or three youngsters in tow, and at one stage they were all perched up on a wall with a couple of bright yellow juvenile Willow Warblers, and we had about ten Willow Warblers in total. 
Male Stonechat
The scrapes look absolutely fantastic for some 'fresh' waders at the moment, but alas there was nothing on them other than a Grey Heron and some 50 or 60 moulting Mallards on one of the larger ones. The Belted Galloways are doing a fantastic job of keeping them open and the margins nice and poached. 

Most of the ponds, pools and scrapes had blue damselflies on them. I say 'blue damselflies' because at a distance it is hard to tell Azure and Common Blue Damselfly apart, well it is for me anyway! However, habitat-wise the pools are more suitable for Common Blue Damselfly as they are more open, and some of the blue damselflies that I managed to have a good look at were definitely Common Blue.

How may were there, I'm not sure. On one pool I counted at least 60-70 Common Blue Damselflies, so if you were to extrapolate this to cover all the wetlands, there was probably in the region of at least 4 - 500 Common Blue Damselflies on all of the pools this morning. We only had one Blue-tailed Damselfly and a couple of Emerald Damselflies, and just one Emperor Dragonfly patrolling one of the pools. 
Blue-tailed Damselfly
I read recently that the International Panel on Climate Change has issued its sixth report, which warns that any further delay in global action to slow climate change and adapt to its impacts will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. Even with an increase of 1.5 degree C, species extinctions will be high, and above this many impacts of global warming will be irreversible. Will governments listen? Absolutely not, and I'm afraid that it is already probably too late!
On this date (12th August) in 2000, Gail and I were on our way to Belfast from Heysham. Seawatching from the deck, we recorded 71 Gannets, 5 Kittiwakes, 2 Fulmars, 86 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Great Skuas, 5 Razorbills, 14 Guillemots, 2 Shags and a Storm Petrel, and it made me think about the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza that some of our beleaguered seabird populations are suffering with at the moment. 

The RSPB has reported that avian influenza has been confirmed on Grassholm, which supports the third largest colony of Northern Gannets in the world. Apparently, the outbreak on Grassholm is small, but of course it has the potential to escalate, but let's hope that as the birds disperse at the end of the breeding season, this will help to keep the number of casualties down. We can only hope!

Wednesday 10 August 2022

Too Clear and Too Hot

I know what you're thinking, here come the excuses for something or other, and you're not wrong there! Monday morning, I headed to the Nature Park to have a ringing session to monitor breeding birds, and any early migrants, but as soon as I left the house at 5:00 a.m. I could see that it was crystal clear, and I knew straight away that I wouldn't catch many birds. And I didn't, with just singles of Cetti's Warbler, Robin and Sedge Warbler ringed.
Cetti's Warbler
In terms of wind strength, it is suitable for operating mist nets for ringing right through until Sunday (14th), but I have decided not to bother based on the clear conditions again, and more importantly the temperatures. The combination of clear conditions and high temperatures means that few birds will be in the reedbed and willow scrub because of a 'clear-out' effect and inactivity due to high temperatures, and the weather isn't conducive to dropping any birds in. I'll probably have one ringing session over weekend with Alice, as she is till training, and any birds she rings will help with her ringing permit application.
As it was quiet ringing-wise, it was equally quiet birding-wise, and I didn't have any sightings that I want to trouble you with. 
Yesterday, I was doing some work at my client's cracking farm in Bowland with a friend and colleague from the RSPB, and the place was alive with insects. The combination of the hot weather, with the sheer number and diversity of flowering plant species, and the numerous wetland features on the farm, meant it was hooching with butterflies and dragons, and we recorded such species as Emerald Damselfly (just one, but probably more), Azure Damselfly (numerous), Common Blue Damselfly (numerous on all the ponds and scrapes with copulating pairs and lots of ovipositing), Emperor Dragonfly (several hawking over the ponds and scrapes chasing damselflies), Golden-ringed Dragonfly (one in some streamside vegetation), Common Darter (several immature individuals), Small Skipper (several), Large Skipper (several), Small White (several), Small Copper (several), Red Admiral (several), Small Tortoiseshell (several), Peacock (several), Meadow Brown (numerous), Ringlet (odd individuals) and Small Heath (odd individuals).
Azure Damselfly
A couple of the wetlands on the farm (above & below)

There are some very vague estimates there, so Gail and I are going to go back on Friday morning for a good mooch round, and we'll attempt a few counts. In some of the species-rich pastures were carpets of Sneezewort, which is something that I have never seen before, and I think it is because we have got the management of the grasslands spot on with native breed cattle (Belted Galloways). So, it just goes to show that if you get the habitat right, the wildlife will respond. Marvellous! 
Sneezewort carpet (above & below)


I just pulled a notebook off my bookshelf for 1996, and on the same date 26 years ago in a reed-filled railway cutting close to the Nature Park, we ringed 270 Swallows from an estimated roost of 3,000. Wow!

Wednesday 3 August 2022

A Quick Update

To keep the blog going as we start to get into the autumn migration period proper, I thought I would provide a quick update of the ringing session that I had at the Nature Park on Monday morning. 

In terms of operating mist nets, the weather couldn't have been much better, with 6 oktas cloud cover and virtually flat calm, with just the hint of some air movement from the northwest. I put 4,000 Starlings in my notebook this morning, so maybe the roost is starting to drop-off after all, as over the last three times I have estimated 6,000, 5,000 and now 4,000. It does start to drop-off as we move through autumn, and birds switch to roosting under a pier in Blackpool, or in the reedbed at Leighton Moss. 

I ringed 20 birds as follows:

Lesser Whitethroat - 2
Whitethroat - 1
Reed Warbler - 4
Sedge Warbler - 2
Robin - 4
Greenfinch - 5
Willow Warbler - 2
Sedge Warbler

From a birding perspective there was little to report other than the Starlings and calling Redshank, Dunlin and Whimbrel from the estuary. 

Over on the right, if you are viewing this in the web version, you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of July. Three new species for the year were ringed in July, and these were Cetti's Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Treecreeper.
Lesser Whitethroat
Below you will find the 'Top 5 Ringed in July' and the 'Top 10 Movers and Shakers' for the year.

Top 5 Ringed in July

1. Sand Martin - 55
2. Willow Warbler - 19
3. Sedge Warbler - 13
4. Reed Warbler - 12
5. Blue Tit - 10

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Sand Martin - 160 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 96 (same position)
3. Great Tit - 73 (same position)
4. Willow Warbler - 34 (up from 9th)
5. Pied Flycatcher - 26 (down from 4th)
    Sedge Warbler - 26 (straight in)
6. Goldfinch - 23 (up from 7th)
    Blackbird - 23 (up from 7th)
9. Tree Sparrow - 20 (down from 5th)
    Chaffinch - 20 (down from 5th)

It's looking like it will be weekend based on the weather forecast before it will be calm enough for ringing again.