Monday 26 September 2022

Another Quiet September Morning in the Reedbed

I met Alice and John at first light yesterday morning at the Nature Park to carry out a ringing session. The weather conditions rang some alarm bells, as it was cold and clear, a 'clear out' type of night, and any vis would be high, too high for the MP3 players to have any effect. So, we didn't expect much, and it was a good job that we didn't, but as I am always fond of saying it is autumn!
At first, the wind was south-easterly, but by the time we had put the three nets up, it had dropped off completely, so at least that was a bonus. We ringed 12 birds as follows:
Robin - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Chaffinch - 2
Greenfinch - 7
There must have been some Greenfinches on the move for us to ring seven birds, but any other vis was limited to a handful of Meadow Pipits, a Grey Wagtail and 362 Pink-footed Geese, all heading south. And nothing else really featured in my notebook. 
Contrast this to a reedbed on the south coast. I have a good friend who lives in East Sussex, and he was ringing in a reedbed down there the day before with two fellow ringers, where they managed to ring an amazing 440 birds in a morning. To quote Graeme, it was a crazy morning today at the reedbed. Blackcaps were simply streaming into the site from first light, accompanied by a nice selection of other species, resulting in a session the like of which none of us have been previously involved with. The 440 birds consisted of:
Kingfisher - 1
Spotted Flycatcher - 2
Wren - 1
Blue Tit - 2
Goldcrest - 1
Meadow Pipit - 3
Great Tit - 1
Whitethroat - 6
Linnet - 1
Sedge Warbler - 6
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Reed Warbler - 38
Dunnock - 1
Chiffchaff - 72
Blackcap - 304
Compare that to our reedbed up here in the northwest. In fact, there is no comparison. It just shows how migrant birds gather on the south coast before crossing the Channel. Superb stuff!
The big environmental news as I type this, is that of the Conservative government showing its' true colours and demonstrating how un-green they are, and how they care little about the biodiversity of the UK.
There was a major overhaul of farm subsidies in progress, and it was progressing well, that rewarded landowners in England for their environmental work, and this is now in doubt after the government signalled a review over weekend. 
Environmental groups are rightly concerned, that the government could water down, or even scrap the new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) that were proposed to be launched in full in 2024, with a great deal of time, effort and money already being spent on the trials. ELMS is designed to replace the agri-environment element of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and apparently the government has confirmed that it is reviewing its plans.

I don't intend to say any more at the moment, as this is on-going and more details will emerge as the week progresses. However, all I will say is that it is a very sad state of affairs, and it is a huge backwards step as far as the environment and farming is concerned. I fear that some very dark days for nature conservation in the UK beckon under this new un-elected government that we have the misfortune to have.

Thursday 22 September 2022

At last a southerly...

...but not before another 'watch' on a northerly. I headed to my coastal vantage point at the farm fields at weekend under 1 oktas cloud cover, with a bird clearing north-easterly wind. It was cold this morning, and I wished that I'd put another layer on.
Once again, the vis was poor with just two Grey Wags, 597 Pink-footed Geese, five Meadow Pipits, four Swallows, 5 Alba Wags and a Linnet. Meagre stuff indeed! The sea didn't fare any better, with 17 Cormorants, two Shelducks, three Sandwich Terns, four Eiders, eight Common Scoters, an Auk sp. and an Atlantic Grey Seal logged. There were no grounded migrants at all, so I didn't linger, nor did I check anywhere else. 
 Pink-footed Geese
 A couple of mornings ago Gail and I had a walk along the quay besides the estuary and we had cracking views of a Greenshank, one of my favourite birds, but could I get a picture of it? Not at all! In fact, the Redshanks are hard to photograph here as well, and I think it is because you are looking down on them, and consequently they are looking up at us, and I'm pretty sure that our outlines are breaking the sky-line, and hence their nervousness. 
With the Greenshank were 38 Redshanks, six Oystercatchers, five Teal and two Curlews. We had a fly-over Rock Pipit and a fly-over Grey Wag, before another favourite bird of mine made an appearance, a Raven. They are regular here now, and it was flying backwards and forwards, giving that fantastic deep croak that seems to come from the back of their throat. Superb! 
Yesterday, the wind finally turned southerly, but I don't know why I was getting excited, as it was a southerly off a northerly system. Anyway, it was calm enough to attempt a ringing session at the Nature Park, and so under 7 oktas cloud cover with a 5 - 10 mph southerly I put a couple of nets up in the reedbed and scrub.  
At first light I could hear Pink-footed Geese leaving their roost on the estuary, but as I was in the reeds and scrub, I couldn't see them. Later in the morning there was some passage of Pinkies, 770, and all were birds heading either north or north-east, and I assume that these were birds that had roosted on the Ribble, that were heading to feeding areas further north into Lancashire and Cumbria.
I spoke to Ian during the morning, who I know would be birding at the Point, and he said that there was no vis, and this is what I was seeing, or not seeing as the case might be, at the Nature Park. However, when I started playing Meadow Pipit and Greenfinch song/calls on my MP3 players birds started dropping in, so there must have been some movement.
I ringed 29 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Meadow Pipit - 2
Great Tit - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Greenfinch - 21
Chiffchaff - 2
Long-tailed Tit - 1 (1)
Cetti's Warbler
Two singing Cetti's Warblers and a Raven made it into my notebook, and that was it. 
Some new research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) implicates rising temperatures in the steep decline of the Willow Warbler in Britain. 
Willow Warblers are doing better in Scotland, where temperatures are cooler, and evidence is building to suggest the population in southern Britain is a casualty of recent anthropogenic climate change. 
The BTO used data from the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) to separate the impacts of climate change and habitat change on Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff populations. The analysis revealed that Willow Warbler numbers across the UK fell by 41% between 1994 and 2018, while those of the closely related Chiffchaff grew by 133%. In Scotland, where temperatures are cooler than the UK average, Willow Warblers increased by 77% and Chiffchaffs by 244%.
During the period studied, the mean breeding season temperature was 12.7 C in England and 10.2 C in Scotland, close to the optimum breeding temperatures for Chiffchaff (13.5 C) and Willow Warbler (11 C), respectively. 

Met Office data show that UK temperatures in the last 30 years have been about 1 C warmer than those during the three preceding decades. Changes like these can have impacts including producing a mismatch between young birds' food requirements and insect abundance, an overall reduction in food abundance and shifts in habitat suitability. Anecdotally, I have noticed a decline in Willow Warblers in the 47 years that I have been birding. Worrying! 

Thursday 15 September 2022

When the north wind blows...

...the Pinkie migration flows, but that's about it over here in the west when we get a series of northerlies. I've blogged many times before about how awful a northerly in the west is for migration in autumn, and two recent visits to the coastal farm fields demonstrated this. 
At weekend, I headed along the sea wall at first light under 7 oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph north-easterly wind, and got set-up at my vis mig and sea watching vantage point. A few Swallows were moving, and after a while watching them, I decided that most of them weren't on the move, and they were just feeding on aerial insects over the fields and shore. I had 53 that I didn't consider were moving, and nine that were. In addition to the Swallows, ten House Martins and a Sand Martin headed north into the wind. The only other vis that I had were five Meadow Pipits south, and singles of Alba and Grey Wagtails.  

The sea was equally as quiet, with a pair of Eiders, 23 Cormorants, two Gannets, five Common Scoters and a Sandwich Tern. I had a walk around the farm fields afterwards and I recorded no grounded migrants other than a single Wheatear

This morning was when the Pink-footed Geese were heading south under 7 oktas cloud cover, with again a ten mph north-easterly wind. I had 1,467 Pinkies head south, and they were still heading south over my garden well into the afternoon.  
Pink-footed Geese
A few more Meadow Pipits, although still woefully low numbers moved south, with a total of 13, plus eleven grounded individuals. And that was it for the vis! The sea was once again very quiet, although I did have a summer plumaged Red-throated Diver head south, and the sprinkling of other birds at sea included seven Cormorants, 16 Common Scoters and 7 male & 4 female Eiders.

A flock of 22 Linnets and 15 House Martins made it into my notebook, and a Little Egret entertained, as it ran around a tidal pool chasing food. I doubled the number of grounded Wheatears to two, and one was particularly confiding (see below). 
Distant Little Egret on a tidal pool
It's forecast to be northerly again tomorrow, so even though I've semi-complained about these rubbish northerlies, I'll still have a look as it is September after all! 

I've just pulled a notebook off my book shelf for 2010, as I am want to do, and how very different it was on 15th September that year. I was at the Point and the wind was a force 6 westerly, and it was producing a few seabirds. It must have been good as I had a session in the morning, and again in the evening! I won't go into detail, but just list some of the highlights in the order that they appeared on the day, and of course in my notebook:

Guillemot -9
Little Tern - 1 juv.
Common Scoter - 89
Leach's Petrel -29
Kittiwake -15
Manx Shearwater - 2
Gannet -6
Long-tailed Skua - 1 pale morph juv.
Great Skua -3
Red-breasted Merganser - 2
Arctic Skua - 3 dark morphs & 1 pale morph
Red-throated Diver - 1 
Razorbill - 5
Sandwich Tern - 2
Pink-footed Goose - 76
A very different day indeed! 
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing group up until the end of August. Three new species for the year were ringed during August, and these were Grey Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and Tree Pipit.  

Below you will find the top five ringed during August and the top ten 'movers and shakers' for the year so far.

Top 5 Ringed in August

1. Linnet - 29
2. Willow Warbler - 21
3. Greenfinch - 16
4. Blackcap - 10
    Robin - 10

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Sand Martin - 160 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 98 (same position)
3. Great Tit - 75 (same position)
4. Willow Warbler - 55 (same position)
5. Linnet - 46 (straight in)
6. Sedge Warbler - 33 (down from 5th)
7. Robin - 27 (straight in)
8. Pied Flycatcher - 26 (down from 5th)
    Goldfinch - 26 (down from 7th)
10. Blackcap - 25 (straight in)

Thursday 8 September 2022

Where Have All The Birds Gone?

This is a question that I, and other Naturalists, have been asking for a while, and I'll come back to it later. Yesterday morning, I headed to the Point for first light to have a look on the sea, and the lack of birds, particularly for this time of year, brought that question to my mind once again.
Under 6 oktas of cloud cover with a south-easterly wind force 2 - 3, I headed along the shore to where I was going to position myself for a bit of migration monitoring in the form of sea-watching and vis migging. 
There was some vis, but it was slow, and the direction of movement was either westerly or easterly. This stretch of coast at the head of the Fylde peninsula, overlooking the border between Liverpool and Morecambe Bay, runs east to west, and any visible migration observed from the Point moves either west or east. As a general rule, the movement in spring is easterly and in autumn westerly. However, because of the wind direction there was some autumnal westerly movement, but also some birds were moving east into the wind. 
Anyway, all the vis that I recorded were 12 Meadow Pipits, three Grey Wagtails and three Linnets. Quiet indeed! As the tide was running in there were a number of waders roosting on the shore, and I was hoping for a Curlew Sandpiper or two amongst the Dunlin, except there were no Dunlin! Roosting waders numbered 43 Oystercatchers, nine Turnstones, 201 Sanderlings and 47 Ringed Plovers.
Ringed Plovers
The sea was equally as quiet as the vis, and the sea-watching has been quiet here for a few years now, and that question 'where have all the birds gone' keeps coming back to haunt me. Cormorants moved west from their roost to foraging areas in Liverpool Bay and numbered 34, and the best of the rest was three Gannets, 33 Common Scoters, two Auk sp., a pair of Eiders, a Guillemot and only five Sandwich Terns.
Just five Sandwich Terns! At this time of year their numbers should be in three figures, but the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is wreaking havoc with Sandwich Tern populations as well as that of Gannets, and partly answers the question of where have all the birds gone. 
Out on the golf course were a few birds, and it often holds a number of migrants because there is quite a lot of cover, and there are also large open areas of course, being a golf course, that attract pipits, wagtails, finches, hirundines and waders etc. 
A flock of 14 Curlews were feeding out on the golf course, with a single individual of their cousin, the Whimbrel. I thought that there was a few Swallows moving, but then I realised they were birds that were feeding over the golf course, and were just wheeling over my head as they flew round. A conservative estimate put the Swallow numbers at about 60 - 70.
Whilst I was watching an Atlantic Grey Seal bobbing up and down in the sea through my scope, I heard a Yellow Wagtail calling, and when I looked up there were three that had been flushed by some golfers. They then headed in the correct autumnal direction for here to the west.
The only grounded migrant at the Point was a single Wheatear, but probably the best, or most exciting bird of the morning came in the form of an Osprey that I picked up low over the sea heading west. What was interesting, that by flying just over the sea, it wasn't attracting the attention of any Gulls that would normally give an Osprey a hard time. The views were great through my scope, but the views through my camera not so great, as you can see below. But you can tell what it is though. 
Osprey at sea (above & below)


Even though I didn't have any grounded migrants to speak of, I decided to have a look in the cemetery to see if there were any, err grounded migrants, and unsurprisingly there were none. I did have four Whimbrel go over, heading south-east, so that was okay. 
My next, and final stop, was at the Quay to see if there were any waders feeding on the newly exposed mud created by the falling tide. And indeed, there were, but nothing scarce, just 188 Redshanks, 10 Oystercatchers and a Curlew. I had four Little Egrets at the Quay, which is a good count for me at this site. 
I had walk round onto the estuary, and at the old ferry port I had two Ravens. It started off with one bird calling from some of the superstructure, and this attracted in another bird from across the river. I encountered them again when I headed back round to the Quay. At this point the heavens opened, and I had to beat a hasty retreat back to my car. 
That question of where have all the birds gone has been cropping up a lot recently. In fact, you could say that it has been cropping up for fifty years, but over the past few years, and this year in particular, things seem very noticeable that all is not well. Of course, all the main conservation organisations have been talking about population declines, but I've noticed more and more from Naturalists blogging about their local patch, that there is a distinct lack of birds.
Climate change is undoubtedly one of the major players in the mix, and I think that adding in the impacts from HPAI, a perfect storm is brewing. There are other factors at play, and how big an impact they are having is not clear. An example of this is lead shot, and the fact that there is still no decline in its use. In February 2020, shooting organisations across the UK called for a voluntary phasing out of the use of lead shot for game shooting, and two years on a study has found no decrease in its use at all! In fact, over 6,000 tonnes of lead shot are still finding its way into the British countryside annually, contaminating land and posing a significant risk to the health of wildlife, as well as that of people and livestock.  
So, where have all the birds gone is a difficult question to answer, and it is a question that we need to be able to answer soon, before it is too late!