Thursday 21 December 2023

A Sad End

We received notification recently, that one of our Redwings had been recovered in Spain. I ringed Redwing RL06461 at the Nature Park on 14th November 2021, and I aged it as a 1st calendar year bird, so sometime during the summer of 2021 it hatched somewhere in Scandinavia, but of course we don't know where. When I caught it for ringing on 14th November, it would almost certainly have not reached its wintering area, as I caught it with another 22 Redwings, two Song Thrushes and a Fieldfare, just as it was getting light, and these birds were on the move. 
A Redwing, but not RL06461
Where this gorgeous bird was in 2022, we do not know, but what we do know, is that in the spring of 2022 it would have crossed the North Sea and returned to Scandinavia, back to where it hatched, and probably paired up with another Redwing, and hopefully successfully reared some chicks. In the autumn of that year, it would have left Scandinavia, and headed further south and west to winter in a milder area of Europe. Redwings show poor winter site fidelity, and can winter in different countries from year to year. 
It would have made another return journey to Scandinavia in the spring of 2023 from its wintering area, and hopefully it would have reared another brood of chicks from some swampy ground, in an area of birch or mixed woodland, perhaps with pines and spruces, or in some birch scrub, with dwarf willow and juniper. And again, in the autumn it would have set off south. 
On the 2nd November 2023, RL06461 was in Gaintza in northern Spain, 1,208 km south of where I had the pleasure of encountering it at the Nature Park. On this day, it was to meet a sad end, because instead of encountering an individual with a passion for the natural world, it encountered a f*ckwit with half a brain cell and a shot-gun, who decided that for a giggle they would shoot this delightful thrush. It was probably shot that day in the company of hundreds of other Redwings, Fieldfares and Song Thrushes, not dissimilar to the morning when our paths crossed two years ago, when I had the privilege of handling this Norse wanderer, and spending a couple of minutes in its company. This beautiful Redwing weighing just 58 grams was shot just for fun, not for food, and by somebody who would probably cite 'tradition' for their motivation, when in reality, their motivation is a joy in killing. What a sad world we live in, where our beleaguered wildlife needs all the help it can get, and not obliteration by some twisted individuals.
The fateful journey of Redwing RL06461
A week ago, Gail and I were back at our wintering bird survey site, and it was a fairly quiet morning. It was clear and cold, but not frosty, with the northerly wind, and we did our VP sheltering behind the car. The cabbage field still holds a number of birds including 44 Skylarks, 49 Linnets, 69 Woodpigeons, 34 Meadow Pipits, a Grey Wagtail and 14 Pied Wagtails. Walking around this field after our VP, we also flushed two Snipe from a ditch. 
Thrushes were once again thin on the ground, and we only had twenty Fieldfares, seven Redwings and a male Blackbird. Just to the north of 'our', field was a flock of 417 Canada Geese that left the field in dribs and drabs for about three quarters of an hour after first light. 
Our transect revealed little else other than two Tree Sparrows, a Little Egret, 14 Lapwings, five Whooper Swans, two Stock Doves and 110 Pink-footed Geese. On the way home we called at the feeding station to top the feeders up, and again our two big 20 kg feeders were virtually empty. 
We have had a couple of walks along the Wyre estuary from the Quay these past few days, but it has been fairly quiet. We had the usual numbers of waders, with 97 Redshanks, 62 Oystercatchers and a single Dunlin. Wildfowl included 16 Teal, eleven Mallards and 40 Wigeon. The only raptor we recorded was a Sparrowhawk crossing the river, and Twite numbers had increased to sixteen, and ten Long-tailed Tits were in what we call the Buddleia scrub on the old ferry car park. 
We've had a few more trips to our feeding station, and again there's lots of birds visiting based on the fact that the 'big feeders' are emptying quickly. Wildfowl have now returned to the wetland, and there was at least 200 Teal, 30 Wigeon and ten Shovelers
I purchased another piece of artwork this week, in fact it arrived yesterday, from uber talented Orkney artist Tim Wootton. You can see below the beautiful painting of a Ringed Plover, and I think it is superb. So, thank you Tim.
How good is this Ringed Plover?
It just remains for me to wish you Solstice Greetings, and we can all celebrate the return of the sun!   

Friday 8 December 2023


Gail and I had two intimate and amazing encounters with two species of raptor this week. First up, was a stonking male Merlin when we were out completing a wintering bird survey on Wednesday, at our survey site south of the Ribble Marshes.

We were stood at our vantage point, on a cold and crisp morning, when I picked up a male Merlin coming in from our left. The field that we overlook is full of cabbages, and these cabbages are more than a bit rotten now! I think the combination of rotten plant material, plus it being a weedy crop, is creating a good seed and invertebrate food source for a number of passerines. In the field on this morning were 25 Skylarks, 34 Meadow Pipits, a Grey Wagtail, 30 Linnets and seven Pied Wagtails, at least.
As the Merlin flew over the field, no more than fifteen metres from us, it was flushing these birds left, right and centre. Whether that was the hunting technique that it was employing, or whether it was pure chance, these birds were being flushed by the Merlin, and this was his opportunity for some breakfast.
He would climb high into the sky, and then turn, flipping over (a stall turn I would have called it in my brief flying days) and then dive towards the ground, pulling up at the last moment to see if he could flush any birds. He did flush some birds, but only gave a half-hearted chase, and then he would climb, and try again. This seemed to go on for quite some time, but in reality, it was probably only for about two minutes. Gail and I just stood there in awe, with our mouths wide open watching the amazing spectacle in front of us. He then headed back west from the direction he came. Stupendous! 
I didn't get any pictures I'm afraid, mainly because I was enjoying the show, and he was too fast! I did try and get some video footage, but it was useless. The picture below is of a Merlin chick from a brood of three, that I had the pleasure of ringing with a dear friend of mine, sadly no longer with us, fourteen years ago. 
A gorgeous Merlin chick
Raptor number two, was a female Sparrowhawk in our back garden this afternoon. Gail and I had just finished a late lunch, and I walked into the kitchen just before 2:00 p.m. and in the garden in front of the Hedgehog house, I could see a female Sparrowhawk devouring a pigeon sp. I shouted Gail, and she ran in to enjoy the rather gruesome spectacle. I think she had only just taken the pigeon, and for the next hour and fifteen minutes she fed on it continually. Watching her through our bins, we could see her crop getting bigger and bigger, as she was getting fuller and fuller!
After this 75-minute marathon eating session, she eventually flew off, and I went out to have a look at the remains of the prey. I could see that it was a Woodpigeon that she had taken, and she had stripped the carcass to the bone. No wonder her crop was full. I had a look in my copy of Professor Ian Newton's book The Sparrowhawk, and he states that to cope with large meals, Sparrowhawks have a capacious crop, which in the female can hold up to 45g, with a further 10 g in the gizzard! And I suspect that she was full to capacity.
It was a dreich afternoon as we watched the Sparrowhawk, and the photograph below was taken through a grubby, rain splattered conservatory door, but you get the idea. What a fabulous encounter we had with two stonking species of raptor. By the way, if you like raptors I can thoroughly recommend Ian's book, it is absolutely fascinating, and Ian has a gift in being able to put across scientific work in a very readable, and enjoyable way. 
Female Sparrowhawk devouring a Woodpigeon
In addition to the fabulous Merlin at our wintering bird survey site, we did have two Kestrels, but no other raptors. The cabbage field also attracted a Redshank, and I was surprised when I heard it calling, and dropping into the field. I watched it for a while through my scope, and it seemed to be finding plenty of food, so those rotting cabbages must have been attracting invertebrates, even on a cold December morning. 
Another odd cabbage field encounter, was a Great Spotted Woodpecker that we had flying over and heading northwest. Where it was heading to, I'm not sure. A few Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese were moving around, and we even had a Black Swan fly past with two Mute Swans
Gail and I topped our feeding station up this morning, nothing to report really, other than there is obviously lots of birds using it as one of our 20 kg seed feeding bins had emptied since Saturday. The other 20 kg feeder was half empty, and as we expected, the two, six port, sunflower seed feeders were empty, but we suspect that they empty within a couple of days.
It is looking a bit windy and unsettled for the next few days, but it looks like improving conditions by the middle of next week. Fingers crossed for some more raptor encounters.   

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of November. Two new species for the year were ringed during November and these were Crossbill and Nuthatch. In fact, the four Crossbills that were ringed by Will at Oakenclough were a new species for the group. 

Below you will find the Top 5 ringed for the month and the Top 10 'Movers & Shakers' for the year.

Top 5 Ringed in November

1.Chaffinch - 35
2. Greenfinch - 27
3. Blue Tit - 24
4. Great Tit - 17
5. Tree Sparrow - 15

Top 10 Movers and Shakers

1. Goldfinch - 198 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 140 (same position)
3. Chaffinch - 125 (up from 4th)
4. Great Tit - 103 (up from 5th)
5. Sand Martin - 101 (down from 3rd)
6. Greenfinch - 79 (same position)
7. Meadow Pipit - 45 (same position)
8. Lesser Redpoll - 43 (up from 9th)
9. Linnet - 40 (down from 8th)
10. Redwing - 37 (straight in)

Sunday 3 December 2023

From Estuary to Feeding Station

In the past four days Gail and I have had two visits down to the Wyre estuary and Quay, and it has been cold. No snow for us, thankfully, but plenty of frost. Both our visits coincided with high tide, and during our second visit, the tide started to drop.
When we had a walk along the Quay and estuary late Thursday morning, there was just a couple of small areas of mud remaining, and crammed in on these areas were fourteen Oystercatchers, 54 Redshanks and 51 Black-tailed Godwits.
The high tide was pushing the wildfowl out of the saltmarsh vegetation, and they continued to feed, presumably on seeds floating in the water. We had twelve Teal, 26 Mallards and 46 Wigeon.
We were back the following day, but this time in the afternoon, and it was a gloriously bright, crisp afternoon, and the wind had dropped, making it feel quite pleasant in the sun.
The tide was fully in when we set off on our walk, and on the return leg it had started to fall. The saltmarsh vegetation was fully covered, and we had fewer wildfowl than yesterday, with twenty Mallards, two Teal and two Shelducks
As we turned the corner from the Quay to the estuary, and started heading downstream, we had a new species for the year for the site, in the form of a group of five Twites. A number have been feeding all winter so far on the other side of the estuary, but these were the first on 'our' side. Always a pleasure to encounter. 
From the scrub that has started to take over the old ferry car park, we could hear a Chiffchaff calling, and eventually it worked its way fairly close to us, so we could see it, as well as hear it. The Chiffie, combined with the Common Sandpiper that we had, made it seem more like an early March afternoon, rather than December!
As the tide dropped, an area of mud appeared on the edge of the estuary where the channel runs into the docks, and a few waders dropped in. We sat and watched a lovely assortment of seven Dunlins, 37 Black-tailed Godwits, two Curlews, nineteen Knot and an Oystercatcher. 
Yesterday, we had a ringing session at our farmland/woodland feeding station on our friend's farm, and it was another chilly one. We always start later in the morning at the feeding station to give the birds chance to feed before we start, and we only ever ring for a couple of hours, so there is plenty of time for the birds to feed after we have packed up.   
We ringed 20 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Chaffinch - 2 (3)
Blue Tit - 5 (8)
Tree Sparrow - 4
Great Tit - 4 (4)
Robin - 1 (1)
Goldfinch - 1
Dunnock - 2
Greenfinch - 1 


From our ringing table base, we could see birds moving from the feeding station that our friends Robert and Diana have in their farmhouse garden, to our feeding station at the edge of some woodland, and in addition to the four Tree Sparrows ringed, there was at least twenty birds moving backwards and forwards. 
Just after we had put the net up, we could see a Great Spotted Woodpecker perched up on a branch adjacent to one of the seed feeders, and attempting to extract some sunflower hearts from one of the ports. A few Siskins could be heard from around the feeding station, but none were seen. 
We had very few winter thrushes, just two Fieldfares and singles of Redwing and Mistle Thrush. Next to where we had placed our ringing table, three Moorhens (below) were on the grass adjacent to a ditch, so I threw a few handfuls of seed out, and they came running in and had a good feed. Note to self; feed the Moorhens on subsequent visits. Two Grey Herons, 172 Pink-footed Geese and a Goldcrest all made it on to the pages of my notebook, but very little else. It was then time to retire to the warmth of our friend's farmhouse kitchen, where we were treated to a pot of steaming hot coffee, and bacon egg and barms! Thanks Robert and Diana. 

Sunday 26 November 2023

Feeding Station Fortunes

Under beautiful clear, sunny skies, Gail and I had a ringing session at our feeding station yesterday morning, and ringed 77 birds. Before I get to our feeding station fortunes, I want to rewind to about ten days ago, when funnily enough we were at our feeding station!
We had called at our good friends Robert and Diana's farm, near Garstang, where we have our feeding station, to top the feeders up, something we will have to do at least twice a week between now and the end of March. The 'big green' feeders still had seed in, which is a good job as they hold 20 kg in each, so the feeding station was still holding lots of birds. We duly filled the feeders up, and then had a look on the wetland.
It was pleasing to note that wildfowl numbers had increased and we had 300 Teal, 20 Shovelers and 80 Wigeon. On a neighbouring farm, I could see a flock of 80 Common Gulls in a wet field, probably taking advantage of invertebrates brought to the surface by a higher water table. 
A couple of days later, Gail and I had a walk along the Wyre estuary from the Quay, under six oktas cloud cover, and a light south-westerly wind. The tide was out, and consequently very few waders were in the Quay, just eleven Oystercatchers, six Redshanks and a Knot, which is unusual here. When we got close to the mouth of the estuary, we could see on the mudflats on the east side of the estuary at least 400 Oystercatchers!
A few wildfowl were on the river, and as we headed back upstream the tide was just starting to turn. We had 52 Wigeon, two Eiders (adult and imm. male) and 29 Mallards. The only other thing of interest we would add before we got back to the car was a couple of Little Egrets
The following afternoon we headed to the RSPB's Ribble Discovery Centre, as we wanted to buy a couple of their seed feeders for the garden. We already have two, but we wanted to be able to take the two feeders down to clean, put up two clean ones, and keep doing this on rotation. Now, the feeders that the RSPB sell are not the cheapest, but they are the best quality of any feeders that I have seen. Seed feeders purchased, plus a few Christmas cards, we decided to have a walk around the lake. 
To be honest, I didn't manage to fill the pages of my notebook with much, other than a Goldcrest with a flock of sixteen Long-tailed Tits, or perhaps the group of 37 Black-headed Gulls roosting out on the water. I photographed one of the Black-heads that was perched on a tyre acting as a fender, to keep boats away from the outflow, and when I had look at the image on my computer screen, I could see what looked like a crab holding on to the bird's belly! Have a look on the pictures below and see what you think. Click to enlarge. 
Black-headed Gull and 'friend' (above & below).

Earlier in the week, I headed up to my client's farm in Bowland to collect the trail cams that Gail and I had put out two weeks earlier. I have yet to go through footage caught on the cameras properly, but a quick flick through some of them is showing lots of footage of Roe Deers and Brown Hares, but I'll report more on this at a later date. 

I had a few birds as I drove round collecting the cameras, including a Buzzard, a Kestrel, two Ravens, and my first Little Egret for the site. 

The following day we were back at the feeding station topping the feeders up again, and there seemed to be plenty of Tree Sparrows, Chaffinches and Greenfinches visiting the feeders. On the wetland the numbers of wildfowl had dropped, and we had 28 Shovelers (actually increased), 212 Teal and 31 Wigeon. 

On Friday morning, Gail and I completed the second November visit to our wintering bird survey site south of the Ribble, and it was cold, with a keen north-northwesterly wind, with four oktas cloud cover. 

Just beyond the field that is the main focus of our surveys, a flock of 151 Canada Geese were feeding from first light, and as the morning wore on, they left in small groups until they were all gone. We had some Pink-footed Geese over, 357, but it was the Whooper Swans that made the morning. Not particularly large numbers, 58 in total, but just the spectacle of these magnificent birds flying over us, some very close, with their evocative, bugling calls. Magical!
Pink-footed Geese
Whooper Swans (above & below)

As always, there were a number of Skylarks, 34 this morning, in 'our' field, and 37 Chaffinches and 21 Goldfinches were still feeding in the sunflower crop. Three Little Egrets was our best total for these small, adorable egrets, so far this winter, and it was good to see a couple of Kestrels on site. 

Back to our feeding station fortunes. As I said before, Gail and I had our first ringing session at our feeding station yesterday, and we managed to ring 77 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Tree Sparrow - 15
Chaffinch - 13
Greenfinch - 13
Great Tit - 12 (3)
Blue Tit - 20 (4)
Goldfinch - 2
Nuthatch - 1
Dunnock - 1
Coal Tit - (1)
We were only ringing for a couple of hours, as we don't like to keep the birds away from the feeders for too long, and as you can imagine we were quite busy. In fact, we were too busy to do any 'birding' as such, and the only additional information entered into my notebook are observations of two Nuthatches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
We were thrilled that we managed to ring fifteen Tree Sparrows, as this is the main purpose of the feeding station, which is to monitor the wintering population of this red-listed species. We hope to generate some data on survival, by recapturing birds that we have ringed from the nest boxes that we provide, but they were all new birds this morning. In addition to this, we are also helping to ensure that adult birds can get access to food over winter to aid in their survival, part of the 'big three' that conservation organisations such as the BTO and the RSPB talk about; a safe place to nest, insect for chicks during the summer and seed over winter. And the farm provides all of these three elements. 

All good and interesting stuff, well we think so anyway.

Saturday 11 November 2023

Trail Cams and Feeding Station

It has probably been nearly two weeks since I last posted, but I haven't been idle, it is more a case of trying to find time to sit down in front of the computer. 
Since I last posted, Gail and I have been keeping an eye on the Wyre estuary and walking along the Quay. Rather than go into any great detail, I will just list the highlights, which were, 80 Redshanks, 38 Mallards, 20 Turnstones roosting, three Teal, a Little Egret, 280 Pink-footed Geese, two Grey Wagtails, thirteen Shelducks, eleven Oystercatchers, two Black-tailed Godwits, two Rock Pipits (new in), 17 Whooper Swans and two Ravens. Nothing exciting, but pleasant to be out nevertheless, particularly with all the wet weather we have been having of late.  

Whooper Swans

A few days ago, Gail and I headed to my client's farm in Bowland, near Slaidburn, to set up six trail cams in the main areas where we have breeding waders, to try and attempt to see how much Fox activity there is at the moment, and of course it will be interesting to see if the cameras catch anything else. I'll keep you posted. We will leave the cameras up for about 10 - 14 days, and then bring them back in and see what we've managed to capture. 
One of the trail cams that we put out
Whilst setting the cameras up, it was a morning of sunshine and showers, and although we weren't birding in 'anger', we did have a few bits and pieces. Down here on the Fylde, we haven't really had any numbers of Fieldfares as yet, so it was nice to encounter a flock of at least 80, with twenty Redwings mixed in. In fact, along some of the lanes close to the farm, we were putting up lots of Thrushes from berry laden Hawthorn hedges. Just two species of raptor, a Kestrel and two Buzzards. In the field with numerous scrapes in it, I expected to perhaps see some wildfowl on a couple of the larger scrapes, but there was just twenty Mallards with a single Teal. 
The sunshine and showers created this rainbow
The following day, Gail and I were at our good friends Robert and Diana's farm, near Nateby, to set the feeding station up for the winter. With Roberts help we made light work of it. We put up two, six port sunflower hart feeders, and two large, five port seed feeders, that hold 20 kg of see in each! Within five minutes of putting the feeders up, the first birds were coming to them, in the form of a Chaffinch and a Robin
Feeding station (above & below)


There was a few Fieldfares here as well, about thirty, and out on the wetland were at least ninety Teal and twenty Wigeon. We look forward to our first ringing session for the winter at the feeding station.
Yesterday morning Gail and I carried out our first November visit to our wintering bird survey site south of the Ribble. It was a glorious morning with clear skies, and it was calm. 

It was just getting light when we arrived, and a number of birds were obviously moving from their overnight roosts to feeding areas, including 46 Collared Doves, 67 Black-headed Gulls and 18 Jackdaws. Geese and Swans were represented by Canada Geese, Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans, and we had 180, 407 and 23 of each respectively. We had a flock of ten Golden Plovers head north, and fifteen of their Lapwing cousins. 
There was less Skylarks around this morning, and we only had thirteen in the cabbage crop. Similarly, numbers of Linnets, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails in the same crop had dropped, and we had ten, thirteen and seven of each. The best bird we had in the cabbage crop was a 1CY Wheatear, which will be one of my latest ever. You can see a record shot of it below. 
Wheatear - honest!
As well as observing from a vantage point, we also walk a transect, and in the small field of sunflowers, which are really going over now, we had fifteen Chaffinches and twenty Greenfinches. Close by three Tree Sparrows, two Fieldfares and a Grey Wagtail made it from the map, onto the pages of my notebook. 
From our VP, we picked up a 1CY Marsh Harrier, but it was distant, but we could have reasonable views through the scope. The only other raptor that we had was a female Sparrowhawk, and other than a Little Egret that was it. 
This morning, Gail and I headed to the Nature Park for probably the last ringing session at this site until the new year. It was cold and clear when we arrived with a light NNE breeze, that was barely detectable. We were hoping for a few thrushes, but there wasn't really any on the move. We had four Redwings go over and six Fieldfares, but that was it. In fact, I kept popping my head outdoors last night for a listen but couldn't hear any Redwings going over.
One of the pools at the Nature Park
The first species in my notebook was Golden Plover, and this was a flock of 34 that we had heading south-west. In fact, other than the Goldies, the vis was limited to three Woodpigeons, 24 Jackdaws and two Sparrowhawks. We had a walk from the ringing station, to have a look on one of the pools and flushed six Snipe. From the ringing station we could hear two Water Rails calling from the margins of the same pool. 
Cetti's Warblers were ever present, and we ringed our 14th for the site for the year, and in addition to the bird that we ringed, at least two were giving their explosive song. In addition to the moving Sparrowhawks, we had a Kestrel, and other birds that we recorded included a Raven, three Song Thrushes, six Long-tailed Tits and a female Stonechat.
We ringed 24 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Song Thrush - 1
Redwing - 1
Wren - 1
Goldcrest - 2
Cetti's Warbler - 1 
Robin - 1 (1)
Blue Tit - 1
Goldfinch - 1
Long-tailed Tit - 1
Greenfinch - 14

As always, the forecast is looking a bit mixed for the coming week, but fingers crossed that there will be a few windows of opportunity to get out.
Gail and I bought a superb piece of original art this week, from a hugely talented wildlife artist based on Orkney, Tim Wootton. We were so lucky in managing to secure the beautiful painting of a Woodcock, from an online exhibition that Tim is currently hosting. Thrilled is an understatement! You can see a snap of the painting below. We can't wait to get it framed and displayed.   

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of October. Three new species for the year were ringed during the month, and these were, Redwing, Brambling and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Below you will find details of the 'Top 5 Ringed in October' and the 'Top 10 Movers and Shakers for the Year'.
Top 5 Ringed in October
1. Goldfinch - 83
2. Chaffinch - 56
3. Redwing - 28
4. Linnet - 21
5. Blue Tit - 17
Top 10 Movers and Shakers for the Year
1. Goldfinch - 193 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 116 (up from 3rd)
3. Sand Martin - 101 (down from 2nd)
4. Chaffinch - 90 (up from 6th)
5. Great Tit - 86 (down from 4th)
6. Greenfinch - 52 (straight in)
7. Meadow Pipit - 45 (down from 5th)
8. Linnet - 40 (straight in)
9. Lesser Redpoll - 39 (down from 7th)
10. Reed Bunting - 31 (same position)

Friday 27 October 2023

Too Clear?

It wasn't too clear on Sunday morning when Gail and I were having our usual walk along the estuary, in fact we had five oktas cloud cover, with a 10 mph westerly wind. 

I think I have said before, that the Quay isn't the best location for observing vis, and it was mid-morning, but we did have five Grey Wagtails, three Meadow Pipits, 225 Pink-footed Geese, five Skylarks and two Chaffinches over.
On the mud in the Quay were 101 Redshanks, a Common Sandpiper, a Curlew, two Black-tailed Godwits, five Oystercatchers, four Grey Herons and two Little Egrets, plus in the creeks 19 Mallards, two Teal and two Wigeon

Raptors were represented by Kestrel and Peregrine, and both making use of artificial structures. And that was it bird-wise. We did have a new species of plant for us for the site for the year, in the form of Bilbao Fleabane, we think! This takes our total of vascular plant species recorded, excluding grasses, to 75. 

On Monday, Gail and I were south of the Ribble carrying out our second October visit to our wintering bird survey site. It was fairly clear here, with three oktas cloud cover, and a 10 mph easterly wind. As we start our vantage point (VP) survey from first light, the first birds are often birds just flying over that are exiting a nearby roost. Birds falling into this category, were the 112 Black-headed Gulls and 111 Collared Doves we recorded. We had a further 25 Collared Doves during the morning, taking our grand total to 136. This is the most Collared Doves that I have recorded for some time. 

Part of our survey square includes a fairly large field with cabbages in that are past their best now, and with the spacing of the cabbages it is a fairly open, weedy crop, attracting Skylarks and Linnets. We had 58 Skylarks and 166 Linnets in this field. Another field that held a number of finches, was a small field of sunflowers, and in here were roughly 50 each of Chaffinch and Greenfinch

Just two species of raptor this morning, a Kestrel, and a Merlin early on that shot east. It was difficult to discern which birds were truly moving on vis, or moving between feeding areas, but in the vis category, we recorded eight Skylarks, four Chaffinches, two Siskins, 45 Pink-footed Geese (very high) and eight Whooper Swans. A flock of 46 Fieldfares, our first of the autumn, that headed north-east, I think were perhaps heading to feeding areas. 
We had 87 Lapwings, and with them were two Golden Plovers, and a single Goldcrest and four Tree Sparrows were the best of the rest. 
Two mornings later, Gail and I were at the Nature Park under clear skies, with a light north-easterly breeze. In fact, I would have recorded it as calm, if it wasn't for the nearby wind-turbine facing north-east and turning slowly! We got there an hour before sunrise, again in the hope that we might catch a few Redwings, but as last time, as we drove round opening the gates on to the site, we couldn't hear any calling. 
Even after we had put the first net up, and switched on the MP3 players, we still hadn't heard a Redwing. Shortly after putting the second net up, we started to hear some Redwing calls. As we were putting the nets up, about 2,000 Starlings exited the roost, and these were the first that we had recorded for a few weeks. It might be that later in the autumn and into winter they exit the roost earlier, to ensure that they maximise feeding opportunities during the less daylight hours that are available. 

In the end, we didn't have many Redwings at all, perhaps 35 - 40, with four Fieldfares, and I wondered whether it was too clear? Our vis totals would support this theory, with just fourteen Whooper Swans, a Siskin, 136 Jackdaws, 31 Greenfinches (dropped in) and two Meadow Pipits. If I remember correctly, Ian Newton in his excellent book Bird Migration states that about 70% of day-flying migrants are flying beyond the range of our sight and hearing, so on clear days like this, it probably is too clear to record anything, as everything will be very high. 

Pink-footed Geese were calling from before sunrise, as they start getting noisy on their estuarine roost, before noisily heading off to foraging areas. It wasn't until later in the morning, that we started seeing any, 287 to be precise, and these were high-flying migrant birds. A flock of 47 Golden Plovers south was noteworthy, and probably the only noticeable grounded bird we had was a Goldcrest.
We ringed 24 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Redwing - 2
Blackbird - 1 (continental bird)
Reed Bunting - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 2 (2)
Blackcap - 2
Chaffinch - 2
Greenfinch - 14 
Continental male Blackbird

And that was that. The forecast is looking okay for some birding tomorrow morning, but after that it is looking a bit unsettled. We have probably got about another 2 - 3 weeks of autumn migration left, so I'll be keeping everything crossed for some decent weather.

Thursday 19 October 2023

A Few More Visitors From The North

At weekend Gail and I were back on the Wyre estuary adjacent to the Quay, and it was another glorious, if not cold morning, with clear skies and a cool 10 mph north-westerly wind. 
The Wyre estuary
The tide was running in again, and the usual wader suspects gathered on diminishing areas of exposed mud to frantically feed before the tide covered everything. There are two areas where they linger to feed before the tide eventually pushes them off these areas; within the Quay itself, in some of the muddy creeks, and on an area of exposed higher sediment on the edge of the river where the channel runs into the Quay. We recorded 30 Oystercatchers, with a further 50 flying upstream, 149 Redshanks and 30 Turnstones. The most interesting wader species that we had in terms of the late date, was a Common Sandpiper that we flushed from underneath the old ferry pier. 
We had our first couple of Wigeons for the autumn/winter, and Mallard numbers had increased to 23. There was very little vis, but then again, we were there later in the morning, just 28 Jackdaws, six Meadow Pipits, two Skylarks, three Whooper Swans and a Chaffinch all heading south-ish. 
A couple of butterflies were on the wing in the form of very worn individuals of Peacock and Comma. And that was that, a pleasant hour or two in the sunshine. 
Apologies for the unusual angle of this photo of the worn Comma that we had.
It was sunning itself on vegetation well above the height of my head!  

The following morning, I was at the Nature Park, and the conditions were completely different, the wind had swung round to the south-east and I had complete cloud cover. I got there at about 6:30 a.m., so I could ensure that I could get a couple of mist nets up in the dark in the hope of a few Redwings, but I didn't hear any calling. I had been listening periodically the night before from home, but nothing was going over. So that didn't bode well!
From pre-dawn, and throughout the morning, I could hear Pink-footed Geese calling. The pre-dawn birds will have been roosting on the river and then calling as they flew off towards feeding areas. I did see a few high-flying birds heading south, but these just numbered 150. 
In addition to the Pinkies, there was a little bit of visible migration, and this included a few more visitors from the north, including three Bramblings that I had heading southeast. My vis totals, excluding the Pinkies and Bramblings, were five Woodpigeons, eight Goldfinches, 163 Jackdaws, three Carrion Crows, nine Redwings (there were a few around), three Chaffinches, three Greenfinches, two Alba Wags, five Skylarks, a Grey Wagtail and five Meadow Pipits.
Jackdaws on visible migration...honest!
As always, a couple of Cetti's Warblers were singing as I put my nets up, and I ringed 21 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Goldfinch - 11
Blackcap - 2
Reed Bunting - 7
Chaffinch - 1
Blue Tit - (1)
The best bird that I didn't ring, was a Woodcock that escaped from one of my nets before I could get to it. 

The forecast is not looking great for the next few days and I've got a wintering bird survey to do and six trail cams to set up on one of my clients' farms. I will have to keep checking and hope for a weather window!

Friday 13 October 2023

Visitors From The North

This past week or so has seen the arrival of visitors from the north, both at night and during the day. Just over a week ago, Gail and I were at our wintering bird survey site south of the Ribble, and we had full cloud cover with a 15 mph south-westerly wind.
The feature of the morning was very much geese, some native and some non-native! Throughout the morning Canada Geese were constantly arriving from all directions to forage in fields surrounding our vantage point, and in total we had 1,163. 
All the activity from the Canada's interested a few Pink-footed Geese, and eleven dropped in to join them, but the rest of the Pink-footed Geese that we recorded, were flying over, heading south, and we had a further 688. 
Pink-footed Geese
On the subject of fly-overs, we did have some vis in the form of 13 Skylarks, four Tree Sparrows, five Greenfinches, 16 Meadow Pipits, a Chaffinch, a Goldfinch, and two Swallows, all moving south-ish. 

I always like to mention Ravens when I see them, because they are one of my favourite birds, and this morning we had a single fly past giving its evocative croaking call. Superb! Waders were thin on the ground with just ten Lapwings, and raptors similarly so, with just two Kestrels. Collared Doves are always in good numbers here, and we recorded 32 this morning. Anecdotally, I don't seem to see anywhere near as many Collared Doves as I used to, say 20 years ago, so I must do a bit of research and see if they are indeed declining.

Over the past five days, Gail and I have had two walks along the Wyre estuary, via the Quay, and the first was exactly five days ago. It was a cool overcast morning, with a 10 - 15 mph south-easterly wind. Out on the mud within the Quay were 122 Redshanks, eleven Oystercatchers and a single Turnstone. The Turnstone was splodging around in the mud, not where I would normally expect to see a Turnstone. 
The vis was light, but it was mid-morning when we were there, and we had three Skylarks, nine Meadow Pipits, a Jackdaw and 200 Pink-footed Geese, all south. Grounded migrants were limited to two Goldcrests, and fifteen Long-tailed Tits flying high to cross the Quay looked a little odd. Oh, we had a Raven as well. 
We then went to have a look at an area of scrub that is northwest of the Nature Park, that Fisherman's Friends, you know the manufacturers of those disgusting lozenges, plan to extend their factory on to. Wyre Borough Council (WBC) seem recently to have been passing planning applications where ecology will very much be damaged, I suspect in a bid to work around Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG). BNG should have been introduced in November this year, and the basic premise of it is, is that any development should have at least a 10% net gain in biodiversity after the development has been completed. The shower of sh*te that we have in government in the UK at the moment, in a desperate bid to try and gain votes in next year's general election, have put back BNG until at least February next year. So, I suspect those councillors and planners at WBC that lack a moral compass, or have a conscience, are rushing all these applications through before BNG bites. Shocking, but unsurprising for a bunch of ecological hooligans like Wyre Borough Council.
The habitat that Fisherman's Friends plan to destroy in the name of greed, is a cracking area of scrub. Now, as far as BNG is concerned, this area of scrub would be classed as 'habitat mosaic', which is one of the most biodiverse habitats, on a parr with ancient semi-natural woodland for example, and as you can imagine, trying to achieve a gain of at least 10% in biodiversity after you have cleared this rich habitat mosaic, and plonked a factory on top of it would be impossible, and the development wouldn't go ahead. But low and behold, those bandits at WBC have passed it. No surprise there! I prefer to refer to Wyre Borough Council as..., well..., think of the worst swear words that you can think of beginning with W, B and C, and you'll be on the same lines as me. 
From the pictures below, you can see how rich, and diverse the scrub looks, and Gail and I had planned to have a good mooch around on it. Impossible, as those manufacturers of nausea inducing lozenges, have fenced the site off with a security fence that a military installation would be proud of, and posted some goon in a high vis jacket to keep a watchful eye over the site. We did have a Cetti's Warbler (protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act) singing from the site, and a number of Migrant Hawker dragonflies were utilising the site to hunt over. I will write to WBC and express my objections, and concerns, and point out the errors of their ways, but when the bureaucrats at Wyre Borough Council are in leagues with the devil, there probably isn't much point, bit I will. 
Habitat mosaic, soon to be destroyed in the name of greed
Remember, for every foul tastng lozenge purchased, it is a contribution
towards biodiversity destruction

And it isn't just biodiversity that WBC are happy to destroy for a fast buck, it is archaeology as well. Just 2 km south of the proposed Fisherman's Friends funded, and Wyre Borough Council enabled, biodiversity trashing, WBC have just passed a planning application for 158 houses on a nationally important historical site. You couldn't make it up. The site is called Bourne Hill, and recent archaeological work by Oxford Archaeology North have found evidence of occupation from the Iron Age, through to the Roman era and on to medieval times. It is classed as a Romano-British settlement. 
Besides authorising the whole-scale destruction of the archaeology, those numpties at WBC are also driving rough-shod over the ecological concerns. The land adjacent to the site, and I'm talking directly north of the planned 158 houses, in fact abutting the proposed development, is an important feeding area for wintering Pink-footed Geese. In fact, it is so important, that the numbers of Pinkies using this land makes this block of land functionally linked to the Wyre Estuary SSSI, Morecambe Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA) and RAMSAR site. In fact, Natural England (NE) have classed it as high potential functionally linked land. 
What is functionally linked land I hear you ask? This is an area of land occurring outside a designated site which is considered critical to, or necessary for, the ecological or behavioural functions in a relevant season of a qualifying feature (species), for which a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA) or RAMSAR (internationally important wetland) site has been designated. 
What do Wyre Borough Council think of this? Well, nothing actually. There is no doubt, and I say this from 47 years' experience of bird recording, both as a birder and as a professional Ornithologist, that this development will disturb the wintering Pink-footed Geese, therefore having a negative impact on the ecological and behavioural functions of these highly designated, protected and hugely important sites for nature. And yes, you heard it right, Wyre Borough Council think absolutely nothing about that. Nationally important historical site, internationally important numbers of wintering Pink-footed Geese, just means that this land is ripe for development according to the eco-hooligans at WBC. 
A local pressure group has been formed that is trying to prevent the development from happening, and their Facebook page has already generated a great deal of interest and outrage, with over two thousand followers. They are called Save Bourne Hill, and if you are a user of Facebook, I implore you to take a look and if you can, get involved and object to this horrendous proposal.
I am going to hand over to the Save Bourne Hill group for a few paragraphs, and let you hear some of their words about Bourne Hill. 
Bourne Hill is unique. It was left by the Ice Age glaciers and has survived ever since; it is the only existing 'drumlin' hill on the otherwise flat Wyre peninsula, and the only one that still exists as a natural, open space …but now developers intend to destroy it forever.

Bourne Hill was home to our earliest local ancestors, thousands of years ago, when it was surrounded by water, reeds and woodland carr; an area of unsurpassed biodiversity, home to millions of birds, fish and wild animals. It was, and still is, the only natural vantage point from which we can still see all the surrounding hills and moorland, where the first people lived.

Bourne Hill has featured throughout history, from the very first account of life in Roman Britain, when Ptolemy wrote of the enigmatic port of the Setantii, the Iron age tribe who lived here. The Romans came and went, the Vikings came and stayed, the Normans took over, battles were fought, and eventually Bourne Hall stood upon the Hill, mentioned in the Domesday book and many local tales.

Archaeologists have found evidence of all this and more, including Iron Age roundhouses, early metal working, and of every period since, from the Middle Ages to WW2. Rt hon Mr Paul Maynard, MP, has applied for the site to be listed as a National Monument, due to its unique cultural significance.

Ecologists have identified the habitat of protected species on Bourne Hill and its' environs, which have been separated and sold for construction projects. Bats and birds rely on the trees, shrubs and grassland, including wintering geese and swans of international importance, as well as local nesting birds, and the land has waterways where Great Crested Newt and Water Voles are both endangered. Some of their precious habitat has already been lost, and all of it will be disturbed or totally destroyed by construction.

As thousands of local people raise their voices in opposition to the destruction, developers have rushed into construction on Bourne Hill and many other local green field sites, in a bid to beat the deadline for the law on Biodiversity Net Gain, which was due to come into force in November 2023, but has been delayed until 2024. This should force developers to pay for measures to guarantee that every construction scheme creates more biodiversity than it destroys, making such vandalism of nature virtually impossible, but already the construction companies are finding ways to evade responsibility for their actions, while greenwashing their marketing pitch with false promises of sustainable housing.

We the people who care about this land, invite everyone, everywhere, to join together with us, to save our disappearing natural world, starting right now, at home, wherever we live.
We share this country and this world. Together, we can save it. 
Right, back to those visitors from the north. At the beginning of the week, I had two back-to-back ringing sessions at the Nature Park, on my own on Monday, and with Gail on Tuesday. I ringed just three birds on the Monday, but a more respectable 31 birds on the Tuesday. Below I have lumped the totals together for the 34 birds ringed:

Redwing -10
Cetti's Warbler - 1
Blue Tit - 5
Blackcap - 1
Greenfinch - 7
Long-tailed Tits - 9
Robin - 1
Going back to that Monday ringing session, I had full cloud cover, with a 10 - 15 mph westerly wind, not the best conditions for the arrival of visitors from the north. There were Redwings calling in the darkness as I put the nets up, and I recorded 22 at most during the morning. There was virtually no vis at all, and I suspect it was probably a bit murky out in both Liverpool and Morecambe Bay, so all I will mention is the two singing Cetti's Warblers singing as always. 

When Gail and I arrived on site on Tuesday morning, it was misty, and I didn't hold out much hope, but as I unlocked the first gate in the darkness, to access the site, I could hear Redwings calling. We had nearly full cloud cover, and it was calm at first, but as the morning moved towards noon, a south-easterly breeze picked up. And as you know, we did ring a few Redwings, eight on this morning to be precise, and my notebook reminds me that we had 81 in total. 

There was a bit more vis compared to the day before, and Jackdaws were the main feature of our vis totals. We had 110 Jackdaws, 25 Meadow Pipits, a Goldfinch, 20 Skylarks, two Swallows, a Siskin, eight Pink-footed Geese, and an Alba Wag, heading anywhere between east and west, via south.
A Sparrowhawk caused some excitement early on as it shot through the willow scrub, ducking and diving, veering left and right, in his (it was a young male) bid to flush out something for breakfast. A Golden Plover that was heard and not seen caused some excitement as well, as we don't often record them over the Nature Park. 
A few Migrant Hawker dragonflies were on the wing as the day warmed, and we caught one in one our mist nets. Thankfully, they are easy to extract, and within a few seconds it was on its way. Thinking about it, that might have been the first Migrant Hawker that I have extracted, as it's usually Brown Hawkers that we catch at this site. 
Yesterday, Gail and I had our second walk of the week along the Wyre Estuary and Quay, and we had more visitors from the north. Just as we were setting off on our walk, we had a flock of twelve Whooper Swans heading south, and they were calling away, with that fantastic bugling call, that very much evokes wild places. A sight and sound that our ancestors at Bourne Hill thousands of years ago would have been familiar with. And a sight and sound that WBC want to ensure that you can no longer hear on this peninsula of the Wyre.  
Whooper Swans
We had a further four Whooper Swans head south, plus six Skylarks, three Magpies (high flying birds), six Meadow Pipits, a Grey Wagtail and a Red Admiral butterfly. The Red Admiral was very much migrating, it was at altitude and belting south. 
The view from our usual spot

The tide was running in as we sat down on our usual spot to watch the ebb and flow of the river, and the birds that it pushed ever closer. There were 191 Redshanks, 23 Turnstones, six Oystercatchers and four Little Egrets. Two of the Little Egrets walked towards each other, with the light reflecting off the water as the back drop, they paused to look at each other, when their paths crossed, and continued walking in opposite directions. I wish I had photographed the whole moment, but I hope the couple of pictures below give you an idea of the spectacle.
Silhoutted Little Egrets (above & below)

Gail missed the Kingfisher that sped low over the water of the Quay. The views weren't great as I was looking into the sun, so it was just the call, and the jizz that told me that it was a Kingfisher. Great to record nevertheless. The only grounded migrant that we had was a Chiffchaff, and as always, I must mention that we had a Raven. 

The forecast is looking okay from Sunday onwards, so I have plans to go birding, ringing, surveying and setting up some trail cams on my clients' farm in Bowland. As always, I will let you know how I get on. 

And if you can, have a look at what's going on with Bourne Hill, and write a letter of objection to your MP, or whoever you like, if you think it can help.