Friday, 28 October 2022

Back On The Moss

I like mosslands, but I'm not exactly sure why. Most of our mosses are now completely degraded and have been drained for agriculture, but even so, there is still something about them. I wondered whether it was the open landscape with 'big' skies', perhaps that's part of it, but I think what it probably is, is that some of the last remaining farmland bird populations are to be found on mossland. Even though most mossland has been 'improved' for agriculture, the wet, peaty soils means that from an arable perspective at least, spring cropping still takes place, and this provides habitat for some of our declining farmland birds. This is certainly the case in the northwest, but in East Anglia it is a different story. 
 
Earlier in the week, I was on some mossland in south-west Lancashire to start a series of wintering bird surveys at this particular site. It was a pleasant morning, with sunny intervals and a light - moderate southerly wind. 
 
The site that I am surveying is permanent pasture, quite rare on a lot of mossland, bounded by mature hedgerows, and plonked in the middle of a predominantly arable landscape. From the word go, Pink-footed Geese were on the move, commuting between their estuarine roost sites to inland feeding areas, and I had 1,249 go over. In fact, my survey site is only 4 km from the coast as the 'Pinkie' flies.
 
One of the farmland bird species that I now only ever record on mossland is the Grey Partridge, and I was pleased to see a pair this morning. I suspect the mature hedgerows and spring cropping are providing some good habitat for them. Raptors were thin on the ground, with just a male Sparrowhawk being mobbed by a Magpie, the only species. 
 
To the northwest of the site is a block of woodland, and Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay were calling from here. It was hard to say whether there was any vis or not, but 16 Skylarks, two Meadow Pipits, two Chaffinches and singles of Greenfinch and Siskin all heading south, suggested there might have been.

A party of 12 Long-tailed Tits moved along a hedge, and the network of hedges held two Song Thrushes, six Redwings, 52 Fieldfares and six Blackbirds, including a continental male. Alongside the track that forms the northern boundary of the site, are some telegraph wires and 17 each of Goldfinch and Linnet were perched up on them. A single Reed Bunting ended a pleasant morning.
 
Reed Bunting
 
The forecast for the weekend isn't great, and it is looking like another weekend where there will be no ringing for me.  

I read an interesting snippet in British Birds that was reporting on some new research published in the journal Current Biology (not a journal that I am familiar with), that revealed that Jackdaws use a democratic process to decide when to leave their roosts en masse! 

In the snippet it stated that the study was undertaken over two winters at roost sites in Cornwall. Using audio recorders to monitor noise levels, researchers found that birds call out when they are ready to leave and, when the noise reaches a critical level, it signals that the roost is ready to depart. Amazing!

Thursday, 20 October 2022

Coast To Coast Thrush Spectacular

At last, some birds to talk about, including a scarce migrant and breeder, but more spectacular, a huge movement of Fieldfares and Redwings

As I have posted before, autumn has certainly been very quiet so far, well for me it has, with a lack of migrant birds, until yesterday. But before that, I need to rewind to the beginning of the week to one of my wintering bird survey sites in the northeast, not far from Middlesborough. 

The site comprises of rank grassland, with some scrub and young Birch woodland. I did three surveys in the first three months of this year, and I am back to complete a whole winter of surveys at the original site, and at another site directly to the north of the original site that overlooks the Tees estuary, just! 
 
Under mainly clear skies, with a light easterly wind, I completed my first survey at the original site. There was some vis, it was very light, and because of the clear conditions I suspect that there were birds moving beyond the range of my sight and hearing. In fact, the Skylarks, Chaffinches and Siskins were very high, and I could only hear them. The vis included 75 Pink-footed Geese, eight Woodpigeons, four Skylarks, one Swallow (singing away as it headed west), one Fieldfare, five Meadow Pipits, four Chaffinches, one Brambling, one Goldfinch and three Reed Buntings. I must admit that I was expecting more.
 
A Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Goldcrests calling from the Birch woodland made it onto the pages of my notebook, but very little else did. 
 
I then moved to my second site, where I can just about see on to the Tees estuary. The cloud had now thickened, increasing to five oktas, and the wind had swung round to the north. The tide was in, and bobbing around in the water were at least six Harbour Seals. I see Atlantic Grey Seals from my local patch on the west coast of Lancashire, but only see Harbour's when I am away in other parts of the UK. 
 
I had some more Pinkies heading south, 87 this time, and I also had two Barnacle Geese heading southwest. Other wildfowl included 37 Wigeon and two male Pintails. As the tide was in I had very few waders, other than 21 Curlews and twelve Dunlins
 
The best bird of the day was undoubtedly the Woodlark that I had go over calling and head south. I had only just walked on to the site when I heard this bird, and it took a second for the old grey matter to register that it was a Woodlark. I used to see lots of Woodlarks when I lived in Norfolk, and I have carried out breeding surveys for them in the midlands, but it's been a few years since I last saw or heard one, hence the second delay in my brain registering the call! Although the views were flight views, it still made my morning. 
 
The only potential grounded migrants that I had were two pairs of Stonechats that were on site, and it will be interesting to see if they are still present on site when I next go in November. A Rock Pipit called from the shore, and only five Meadow Pipits headed west. 
 
Yesterday was the day of the autumn so far for me, and I have never witnessed as many Redwings and Fieldfares on the move as I did yesterday. I had planned to go birding yesterday morning, and as the wind was a fresh south-easterly, I was hopeful of a few birds. As I popped my head out in the garden at about 0730, I immediately heard Redwings, Fieldfares and Chaffinches calling, and I could see groups of all three species heading south/south-east. Little did I know what would unfold. A quick text to Ian to say that Redwings and Chaffinches were 'pouring' over my house, and I headed to the cemetery.
 
Fieldfare, but not from yesterday
 
Redwing. I didn't have any decent pictures of a Redwing in the field, hence the 
above picture of one in the hand. You can see its red 'wing' though
 

The wind had picked up, and it was a good 20 mph south-easterly and the vegetation certainly had a vigorous sway to it, not good for looking for migrants! Whilst in the cemetery, I had a couple of Grey Wagtails over and a single Brambling battled east. Based on my experience in my garden at first light, I decided to go to the Mount to get some elevation, and see what was going on with the vis. It was a good move.
 
Looking north from the Mount above, and west below. You get a good idea
of the elevation and aspect, and hence why it is good for vis in autumn
 

 

Straight away I had Redwings, Fieldfares and to a lesser extent Chaffinches on the move. They were heading east to the north of me, west to the south of me and southeast to the west of me! As I looked west, I could see large numbers of Redwings coming in off the sea and heading southeast into the wind. A quick chat with Ian who was further west than me, and I decided to change location, and see if I could intercept these south-easterly moving birds at the Nature Park.
 
Before I reveal the totals from the Nature Park, from the Mount I had 5,868 Redwings, 82 Chaffinches, two Siskins, a Grey Wagtail, 95 Pink-footed Geese, 1,260 Fieldfares, a Song Thrush and a Brambling all head between east and south. 
 
At the Nature Park I found a mound that I could stand on with a little shelter from the now 25 mph south-easterly wind, and I had a pretty good view all the way from the Irish Sea coast to my west, to the Wyre estuary to my east, and I started counting. It was a hell of a spectacle, and the short snatch of video below doesn't really do it justice, it was phenomenal! 
 
Redwings. Click for a better viewing experience
  
Over the couple of hours that I was counting I had 11,344 Redwings, 24 Chaffinches, 2,400 Fieldfares, two Song Thrushes, four Bramblings, five Meadow Pipits, four Pink-footed Geese, three Goldfinches and a Reed Bunting all head south-east. 

A Sparrowhawk tried to intercept the thrushes, but was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of potential prey items. My observation point overlooked the main pool, and a Cetti's Warbler was giving its explosive song, and out on the water were six Teal, 22 Coots and three Shovelers.

Back home the amazing Redwing and Fieldfare movement continued until at least 1500, and I think that if I had remained at home, I would have recorded similar numbers as my garden was right underneath their direction of travel. Throughout the day, for all three sites that I watched from, I recorded an astounding 22,720 Redwings and 6,068 Fieldfares. Phew!

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

The Quiet Autumn Continues

The quiet autumn continues, with little or no improvement in the number of birds passing through over here in the west. During most Autumns, the visible migration of Meadow Pipits can be spectacular with several four figure counts of birds on the move, but not this Autumn, in fact it has been a struggle to record three figure counts! 

A couple of days ago, I was at the coastal farm fields from first light, under 6 oktas cloud cover, with a 10 - 15 mph south-easterly wind that increased as the morning went on. I was supposed to be at the Nature Park ringing, but with that wind, it would have been impossible. 

I mentioned the lack of visible migration so far this autumn, but the sea has been equally as quiet, and it has been for a good few years now. Something is going on, but I'm not sure what it is. This morning all I recorded were eleven Cormorants, two Shelducks, 22 Common Scoters and a male Eider

I've already touched on the vis, or lack of it, and this morning from my watch-point all I could muster were 25 Meadow Pipits, two Reed Buntings, 37 Carrion Crows, a Grey Wagtail, three Skylarks, a House Martin and an Alba Wag. Demoralising!
 
A/the Little Egret was feeding in a tidal pool as usual
 
I had a look in the cemetery afterwards, to see if there were any grounded migrants, and there was diddly squat! There's a pattern emerging here!

In my last post I talked about the government reviewing their plans for agri-environment schemes, with the fear that Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes could be scrapped. Every week we receive a veg box from Riverford Organic Farmers, and in the box, besides the delicious vegetables, is an opinion piece from Riverford founder and creator, Guy Singh-Watson. Guy's opinion pieces are always well-written and thought provoking, and this week he talked about the latest government plans regarding environmental schemes for farming. I hope Guy won't mind, as I have reproduced Guy's piece word for word below, as it sums up the chaos and incompetence from this government, and how I feel about the current situation.
 
The EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which paid subsidies to farmers, was an expensive environmental and economic failure since its inception in the 1960s. By the time we left the EU, it amounted to a little more than a levy on taxpayers to support landowners. Arguably it increased production, but at huge environmental cost, and with minimal respect for the rights and welfare of the non-landowning public or potential new entrants to farming. For me, the silver lining to the Brexit cloud of uncertainty was the prospect of a saner agricultural policy of our own.
 
"Public money for public goods" emerged under Michael Gove as the guiding principle of the UK's new farming policy. Indeed, it was enshrined in the Conservative manifesto in 2019. The idea of incentivising environmental benefits was heartening, but defining and measuring "public goods" was always going to be a challenge; one which Defra and successive ministers repeatedly underestimated, resulting in delays, confusion, and frustration for farmers. But details of new Environmental Land Management (ELM) subsidy schemes slowly emerged from endless consultations, and after six painful years, something usable did seem to be appearing. Last month, we filed an application which really did seem to promise public money to support tree planting, rewilding, and more. Finally there was hope, and we were moving from madness to sanity. 
 
Then, last week, Defra announced that they are reviewing their plans - prompting fears that ELMs will be scrapped, and we will return to the indefensible system of area-based farm subsidies with little or no reference to environmental performance, just like the EU. Wildlife trusts and environmental organisations are furious. It seems that the rearguard lobbying of the National Farmers' Union and certain landowners may once again have taken its toll. If ELMs are lost, the future of our food and farming will be shaped by the commercial interests of a rich landowning elite and the agrochemical industry, and subsidised by your taxes. 
 
Six years of agonising failure of governance, and the unprecedented uncertainty that creates, is progressively destroying the industry and countryside I love. While our leaders indulge in debates of ideological dogma, the resulting policy vacuum is crippling anyone tasked with making the long-term decisions needed to deliver economic growth and environmental sustainability. We deserve much better.
 
Well said Guy, I couldn't agree more!