Saturday 22 April 2023

Breeding Waders

It was a glorious morning on Thursday in Bowland when myself and two colleagues and Friends from the RSPB set off to do a breeding wader survey on my client's farm. We weren't surveying the whole of the farm, mainly the better areas for breeding waders, and the areas where we have carried out considerable habitat management. Nevertheless, we had about ten fields each to survey, so it was going to take a few hours.
I recorded five species of wader in the fields that I was surveying; Oystercatcher, Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe. Some of the Oystercatchers had paired up in suitable habitat, and others were still flocking, including a flock of at least fifteen birds in the wetland complex. It was hard to work out what these birds were doing. Were they migrants, or were they non-breeding first year birds/ Anyway, I got a shot or two of some of these birds in the sunshine (see below), and I enjoyed watching the antics of some of them, particularly when they were preening. 



I had at least four Curlews displaying, and others were flying around in pairs. It's amazing how many fields they cover when they are displaying, so it is hard to pin them down to a particular field until they are on a nest. I didn't think any of the birds I recorded had laid any eggs as yet. Below is a shot of a Curlew that was foraging in a field away from one of the usual fields that they nest in.

On my patch I had about six pairs of Lapwings, and several individuals were displaying and behaving territorially, alarm calling and chasing off any Gulls that dared to fly to low enough. Gavin also found two nests, each with four warm eggs in, so that was good news. 

We don't have any livestock on the farm during the nesting period of April - June, and we have also stopped supplementary feeding them outside. And this has reduced the number of predation events from Gulls substantially. We also mow any meadows late, after the end of July and after they have been checked for Curlews by me, and John, who does our mowing for us, mows very slowly and not with a huge triple mower. The slow speed of mowing doesn't attract any Gulls, and also John is very switched on, and manages to avoid anything he sees. This has made a huge difference to the Curlew population. 

I only had s single Redshank in a field that we have created lots of scrapes in, see picture below. So, it was hard to know what it/they were up to. Our next survey in May will be more informative. 
This picture of the scrapes was taken with my phone, looking into the sun, 
and I didn't get all the scapes in the shot, but I think you get the picture. 
I just had one Snipe, and this was a bird drumming over some very suitable habitat where they breed most years, so that bodes well. 

Raptors were thin on the ground, with just a single Buzzard and male Kestrel. I did have stonking views of a Barn Owl hunting around the rank grassland surrounding a pond, a good two hours after sunrise!

Willow Warblers were very vocal, and I had at least nine singing males from the hedgerows. The only other warbler I had was a singing Blackcap. I had a few Lesser Redpolls and Siskins over, and ones and twos of Swallows moved east. 

It was a pleasant way to spend the morning, and I look forward to the next survey in May. 

Talking of waders, I was fascinated to read about another record-breaking Bar-tailed Godwit. This Bar-tailed Godwit has set the world record for the longest non-stop migration, after flying for 13,560 km (8,426 miles in old money) continuously from Alaska to southern Australia! The five-month old bird undertook the voyage without stopping for 11 days and one hour to reach Tasmania. This means that it must have been averaging 51 kmh, or 31 mph, throughout the journey. Staggering!

According to the data from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology's bird tracking project, the bird set off from Alaska on 13th October 2022, and took a route to the west of Hawaii, continuing over open ocean, and flying over the Pacific island nation of Kiribati on 19th October 2022. Two days later it flew over Vanautu, and continued south taking a route 620 km east of Sydney over the Tasman Sea, between Australia's east coast and New Zealand. On 23rd October, this amazing bird took a sharp turn and headed west to arrive in Tasmania on 25th October. How about that?! 

Monday 17 April 2023

Quality Not Quantity

Gail and I were almost forced to go ringing on Saturday morning, by a combination of the weather forecast and circumstances. As Gail is retired, and I am flexible in terms of my work, mid-week ringing sessions are always a possibility, but this past the week the weather didn't play ball until Saturday. The forecast for Sunday was for some light rain, and the winds would be towards the top end for operating mist nets, Monday looked better, but I had other commitments and the dreaded 'black cloud' was forecast, which invariably leads to rain. So, Saturday it had to be, even though we knew pretty well that we probably wouldn't catch much. It was forecast for clear skies, clear-out weather and high-flying vis, although it would virtually be flat calm. When we got up at 4:45 a.m. there was ice on the car, and a low mist had formed, neither conducive to migration. 
The drive from our house to the reedbed at the Nature Park takes under ten minutes, and that was enough time for ice to form on our poles that were wet from overnight rain. So, putting the nets up with icy poles, and wet ropes, as we were in a reedbed, caused a little discomfort! However, once the mist lifted and the sun made an appearance, it was a glorious morning, and it soon warmed up.
Some views from the within the reedbed (above & below)

Our prediction of not catching much proved correct and we ringed just two birds, a female Reed Bunting and a male Willow Warbler, and we recaptured a male Blackcap. When I checked the ring number on the Blackcap it had been ringed by Phil in our group at a site on the edge of Bowland, near Oakenclough (19.4 km due east), in June 2020. I suspect that it had fledged at, or very close to the Oakenclough site, as the habitat is suitable for breeding Blackcaps. I didn't know whether Blackcaps showed high site fidelity during the breeding season or not, and a trawl on the internet and a look in Cramp, S (ed.) (1992) The Birds of the Western Palearctic VI left me none the wiser. I could find papers stating that they showed high site fidelity in wintering areas, but nothing on breeding areas. So, this Blackcap was either on its way back to Oakenclough when I caught it, or it was breeding somewhere close to the Nature Park. And it was nearly three years old. Interesting stuff.
The Blackcap. Note the pollen horns on the forehead above the bill (click on 
pick to enlarge), which are sticky encrustrations on the feathers from foraging 
on the insects and nectars of flowers. 
Definitely a morning of quality, not quantity.
As per usual Cetti's Warblers were very vocal, and there was at least four singing. The Blackcap that we recaptured was also singing away on site, as were two Willow Warblers. The only other grounded migrant we had was a female Wheatear, and a female Sparrowhawk put in an appearance. Once the mist cleared there was a steady trickle of one's and twos of Meadow Pipits and Swallows heading north. 
And that's about it. I've got a breeding wader survey to do in the week, so hopefully more of that later.

Saturday 8 April 2023

Eyes Skywards

I was out in the garden at about 9:50 this morning checking my moth trap (more of that later) when I noticed a large Accipiter overhead heading south. It raised alarm bells for a second, but it was just a female Sparrowhawk, but still lovely nonetheless. 
I then looked towards the north and saw another raptor approaching very slowly, and this did look interesting. I ran into the house for my bins (note to self; have bins with me at all times when I am in the garden), raised them onto the bird, and it was a cracking Red Kite slowly heading southeast. In fact, it was moving slow enough for me to pass my bins to Gail, so she could get onto the Kite as well. Rather surprisingly, the local Gull population hadn't clocked it, so it managed to pass overhead unmolested!
This is a picture of a Red Kite that I took in Dumfries & Galloway. Another 
note to self; have camera with me at all times when in the garden!
This was the 74th species for my 'observed from the garden/house list', and the sixth species of raptor, the others being Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel and Merlin. 

Back to my moth trap, and I had trapped five individuals of just two species, being four Hebrew Characters and an Early Grey.
Hebrew Character
Early Grey

I was back in the garden looking skywards again in the afternoon, and I picked up a Raven thermalling very high and drifting south, and with it was a falcon, that I am pretty sure was a Kestrel. It was very high and I only got a nano-second of a view. I had another Sparrowhawk head north, this time a male, and my first Swallow of the year heading north, looking resplendent in the afternoon sunshine. 

I think I need to spend more time in the garden with my eyes skywards!

Friday 7 April 2023

At Least We Didn't Blank

It was 6:15 a.m. when Gail and I arrived on site this morning at the Nature Park, and it was flat calm with clear skies. The weather was great from a being outside in the great outdoors perspective, but we knew that it wouldn't produce any birds. As I often say on here, it was a clear-out type of morning, and I knew it would be a short ringing session, and it will be a short blog post!
Out in the reedbed and scrub there seemed to be a little more water than when we checked the site a couple of weeks ago, but it was still possible to get the nets up, and we just put up nets 1 and 2. The only bird we ringed was a male Chiffchaff, but at least we didn't blank.
Cetti's Warblers were in fine voice this morning, with their explosive song coming from all over the site. It sounded to me that there were five singing males this morning, though they can be difficult to survey as they can be very mobile. The only other warbler species we had was a couple of singing Chiffchaffs. 
Visible migration was virtually non-existent with just a handful of high-flying Meadow Pipits heading north. At one point all the Gulls got up to the west of us and they were alarm calling frantically, and I thought they had likely found a Marsh Harrier or Osprey on migration, but I couldn't see anything. 
And that really is it! The forecast is still the same, with an Atlantic weather front set to come in on Monday, and depending on the timing of this weather front, it might drop some birds in.   
This Cuckooflower was flowering just on the edge of the
reedbed, and it was my first for the spring

Thursday 6 April 2023

Full Circle

Exactly a week ago I was at my client's farm near Slaidburn, in Bowland, showing some RSPB staff around, and we were looking at all the habitat creation and conservation grazing that we are doing for breeding waders. It was a dreich day to say the least, and it was difficult to say how many waders were on territory, but there were good numbers of both Curlew and Lapwing, and we had a displaying Snipe which was great!
A few days ago, I decided to have a look at a few migrant spots on the coast, as I thought that there might be a few migrants in, based on the south-easterly wind, with rain overnight. However, the south-easterly was coming off a northerly arctic airstream, and with hindsight, was unlikely to drop any birds.

I started off at the cemetery under full cloud cover with light rain, and it was very quiet. In fact, it was just a trickle of Alba Wags and Meadow Pipits overhead quiet! I then had a look in the coastal park, and it was more of the same. Time to cut my losses and head home! 
Over the past few days, a female Blackbird has been collecting nest material in the garden and taking it into the ivy between us and our neighbours. So, fingers crossed they can nest successfully. I trimmed my beard recently and put the trimmings out on the lawn, and I spotted a Great Tit the other morning picking them up and flying off with them. Obviously, they were going to be used to line a nest somewhere. 
At weekend Gail and I had a walk along the quay down by the Wyre estuary, and it was on a gloriously sunny afternoon. Out on the mud were 97 Redshanks and a couple of Shelducks. Further round on the estuary were three male and three female Eiders, and the males were displaying enthusiastically to the females. 
There's one or two Willows dotted along the quayside, and they were flowering and attracting lots of pollinators. Nothing unusual, but good numbers of Connon Drone Fly and Buff-tailed Bumblebees. Small Tortoiseshells and Peacock butterflies were on the wing as well. Interestingly, the couple of Peacock butterflies that I saw were both worn adults that had obviously not long emerged from hibernation. 
Common Drone Fly
Small Tortoiseshell (above & below)


Even though it was mid-afternoon, and a Walling's ice-cream beckoned, Meadow Pipits were still heading north in ones and twos. Ice-cream procured, it was time to walk back along the quay to our car.
I ran my garden moth trap for the first time this year during the week, and all I managed to catch was a single Common Quaker. At least I didn't blank I suppose.  

Earlier this week I was back at my client's farm in Bowland, making it full circle in terms of my observations, and Gav and I were looking at the breeding wader fields, and dividing them up in terms of who was going to survey which fields this spring, as part of the RSPB's Bowland Wader Surveys. There's a good network of tracks around the farm, and it is possible to drive round overlooking all the pools and scrapes, and we added a new species for the farm in the form of a pair of Gadwalls. Nothing unusual, but exciting to record them at the site. 

Breeding waders were in good numbers, and we estimated twelve Curlews, 70 Oystercatchers, 20 Lapwings, eight Snipe and two Redshanks. It's hard to work out what some of the Oystercatchers were doing. Several birds were paired off and were in suitable nesting habitat, but we came across a flock of about fifty birds adjacent to one of the pools. We guessed that these birds were either migrants, or perhaps first year birds that had returned to suitable habitat. 
We found a Lapwing nest close to the new scrape, on a dry piece between two flooded wheel ruts. She had obviously just started laying as the nest contained one cold egg, so one to keep an eye on. The Snipe that we put up would very probably be migrants, but the farm does support nesting Snipe. The two Redshanks will almost certainly have been a breeding pair, as a couple of years ago they returned to breed at the farm, testament to all the habitat creation that has gone on. 

Lapwing nest & egg

It was a glorious morning and it most certainly had a raptor feel to it, but the only raptors we had were three Buzzards and a single male Kestrel. Just three Skylarks, eight Teal, a pair of Tufted Ducks, four Stock Doves, three Skylarks, a Song Thrush, 15 Meadow Pipits, two Siskins, a pair of Stonechats and a Raven were the best of the rest. 

The forecast over the easter weekend isn't to bad, with high pressure building from Friday - Sunday, and that then decays on Monday with an Atlantic weather front. The best day for ringing in terms of the wind strength is tomorrow, so it could be a 5:30 a.m. alarm call for me! 
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of March. There were no new species ringed for the year during the month, and no individual species made it into double figures.
Below you will find the top 4 'movers and shakers' for the year.
Top 4 Movers & Shakers
1. Goldfinch - 62 (same position)
2. Chaffinch - 23 (same position)
3. Blue Tit - 12 (same position)
4. Great Tit - 11 (straight in)