Monday 31 July 2023


As far as I am concerned there are no such thing as weeds, they are all wildflowers, but humans like to give things that they don't like, or perceive as a problem, a derogatory name, a name that sums up why something should not be tolerated, liked, or even accepted. But weeds are wildflowers, and they are some of the best wildflowers as far as pollinating insects are concerned. And I have used 'weeds' as my blog title just to be a bit provocative, because I absolutely love 'weeds'!
As Marillion said, on the song Beautiful, from their stonking album Afraid Of Sunlight:
Everybody knows we live in a world where they give bad names to beautiful things
Everybody knows we live in a world where we don't give beautiful things a second glance
Heaven only knows we live in a world where what we call beautiful is just something on sale 
People laughing behind their hands as the fragile and the sensitive are given no chance
We don't have to live in a world where we give bad names to beautiful things 
We should live in a beautiful world 
We should give beautiful a second chance
Now, Marillion weren't talking about 'weeds' in their song, but they could have been, as I think the lyrics fit what a lot of people think about these gorgeous wildflowers.  
If you haven't heard Beautiful, by Marillion, you can listen to it by clicking HERE 
One of my clients recently asked me to provide him with some information on the conservation value of some common 'weed' species, and these were Ragwort, Nettles, Thistles, Docks and Rushes. He was interested to know whether they needed controlling on his farm, and if so where, and by how much. However, to put this into context, on his farm the farming is secondary to, and is there to support the biodiversity on the farm, so in asking me the question he was erring on little or no control, depending on the situation. I carried out a bit of a literature review, and looked at as much information that I could find on the conservation value of these plant species, and learnt a little too.
Anyway, it was an interesting piece of work, and I have replicated some of it here in my blog, in relation to some of the insects that I have recorded of late, just to illustrate how important these common wildflower species are to pollinators, and to some see-eating bird species as well. 
Throughout this piece, I will intersperse it with pictures of a variety of species, all utilising these common wildflower species. 
There are 35 insect species that totally rely on Ragwort for food, including seven species of moth (particularly important for Cinnabar Moths) and seven beetle species. Another 83 species are recorded as using Ragwort, and often it forms a significant food source. There are then a further estimated 50 species of parasite, in turn, feeding on those insects.

On top of those 133 species, Ragwort is a significant source of nectar for other insects, including bee species that specialise in feeding on daisies, and many species of butterfly. Government research shows that of over 7,000 plant species in Britain, Ragwort is the 7th most important nectar-producing plant.

Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on Ragwort
A new study by researchers at the University of Sussex, has demonstrated that weeds are far more valuable in supporting biodiversity than we give them credit for. This study compared the biodiversity value of plants classified as ‘injurious weeds,' with those stipulated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for pollinator targeted agri-environmental options, such as Red Clover and Wild Marjoram.

Their findings show that the abundance and diversity of pollinators visiting weed species are far higher than DEFRA recommended plants. Ragwort has open flowers, that allow access to a wide variety of pollinator species, and they produce, on average, four times more nectar sugar than the DEFRA recommended plant species.

Common Drone Fly on Ragwort
Research shows that Ragwort is toxic to animals. However, what is clear from scientific research, is that actual poisoning is a rare event.

Ragwort contains compounds that are poisonous to most vertebrates. These are pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and these substances occur in other plants as well. In fact, they occur in 3% of the world's flora.

The question is how much needs to be consumed for an animal to be poisoned. It has been found that it lies between 5 % and 25% of body weight for horses and cattle.

Quite often, you will hear people saying that there are automatic legal obligations to treat and remove Ragwort from land, but in fact there are not. It is simply the case that there is nothing in the legislation that says that you automatically must eliminate ragwort from land.

Ragwort is mentioned in the Weeds Act 1959, and the Act says:
Where the minister of Agriculture fish and food (in this act referred to as ' the Minister') is satisfied that there are injurious weeds to which this act applies growing upon any land he may serve upon the occupier of the land a notice, to take such action as may be necessary to prevent the weeds from spreading.

This legislation does not force landowners to control Ragwort, nor does it place an obligation on them to do so.

The Weeds Act has been subsequently amended by the Ragwort Control Act, which only provides guidance for the creation of a code of practice.

Code of practice: Ragwort:
1.    The Minister may make a code of practice for the purpose of providing guidance on how to 
       prevent the spread of Ragwort.
2.    Before making the code, the Minister must consult such persons as he considers appropriate.
3.    The Minister must lay a copy of the code before Parliament.
4.    The Minister may revise the code; and subsections (2) and (3) apply to the revised code.
5.    The code is to be admissible in evidence.
6.    If the code appears to a court to be relevant to any question arising in proceedings it is to be taken 
       into account in determining that question.

Ragwort is not a notifiable weed that must be reported to someone in authority. The above is the only piece of legislation that can place an obligation on anyone, and it does not say that it is notifiable. There is no requirement in law to notify, inform, or tell anyone of the occurrence of Ragwort anywhere.

Painted Lady on Ragwort

Ragwort seeds are wind-blown, and many people therefore assume that the seeds readily colonise new sites. This is not the case. Research has shown that it is not a common event.

Several studies have been carried out into Ragwort seed dispersal. One study found that 60% of the total seeds produced were deposited at the base of the plant, and at 36 metres from the plant there were virtually no seeds deposited at all.

Another study showed that, when tested in a variety of conditions, 31% of the seeds travelled only 1 metre, 89% of them 5 metres or less, and none were collected more than 14 metres from the source.

It is important to remember when talking about seed dispersal, that the conditions for the seed when it lands is a consideration. It is also important to remember that a plant will on average only produce one offspring.

One of the problems is that if Ragwort is pulled up out of the ground, small pieces of roots remain, and these roots can then regrow into new plants.

The number of seeds produced by a Ragwort plant is often stated as being 150,000, and this is then built up to make out that this makes the plant a risk for spreading everywhere.
This figure is at the top end of the plant's production, and many plants produce far less than this. The range of seeds produced per plant from two studies gives 4,760 – 117,740 seeds per plant over eight sites, and 7,070 – 20,150 seeds per plant over six sites. An average of 15,897 – 33,095 seeds per plant.

There is sometimes a conflict between the need to manage Ragwort and its value to wildlife. It is important to take a balanced view as to whether there is a need to control Ragwort, and decide on any action case-by-case. Ragwort poses the greatest risk to livestock when cut and dried, either in hay, or as arisings from topping. The use of chemical sprays can also make it more palatable in its living form. Where Ragwort is considered to present a risk to livestock, e.g., within a grazing area or hay field, some management might be needed.
On this farm, Ragwort is mainly found alongside some tracks, and in the stoned areas surrounding the ponds, areas where they pose no risk. Ensuring livestock numbers are appropriate, and careful timing of grazing can help prevent Ragwort becoming problematic.

You won't be surprised to learn, that my recommendation was that no control of Ragwort should be carried out, due to their high conservation value, unless it is considered it presents a risk to livestock. 
Gatekeeper on Ragwort
As you know, Nettles are a very common plant, and its preference for damp, fertile and disturbed ground makes it a good coloniser of places enriched by human activities, such as agriculture.

However, Nettles are great for wildlife, and the caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral, and Peacock butterflies use them as foodplants. Young Nettles are the food plant of many moth larvae, such as the Snout, Dot, Burnished Brass and Mother of Pearl. Ladybirds feed on the aphids that are found on them, providing an important food source for the Ladybirds. Seed-eating birds feed on them when they set-seed in the autumn. They also support over 40 other insect species. 

Red Admiral on Nettles

As stated above, Nettles are important habitats for a great range of invertebrates but in large numbers, can threaten important aspects of a grassland habitat and require careful management.

Like the Dock, the spread of Nettles normally occurs on bare ground or gappy swards created through overgrazing or poaching, especially in shady areas, around feeding sites and in enriched sites such as dunging areas. Weed seeds can be brought in with supplementary feed and in dung from elsewhere.

At my client's farm, it is unlikely that Nettles are, or will become an issue. Less grazing, no applications of slurry, and the future use of composted material will ensure that favourable conditions for Nettles within the meadows and grazed pastures will diminish. So, my recommendation was that no control of Nettles should be carried out due to their high conservation value, and where they do occur, they should be retained because of this.
Thistles are very important plants for some seed-eating birds, and as a pollen and nectar source for a range of insects. The Goldfinch is the bird most associated with thistles, the seeds of which make up one third of its diet. Within the same family are Greenfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Twite, and Redpoll, which eat thistle seeds, and use thistledown in the nest.

Butterflies, including Painted Lady larvae feed on the leaves. Other butterflies such as the White Letter Hairstreak, Peacock, and Meadow Brown use thistles as a nectar source. 

Peacock on thistle

Other invertebrates including bees feed on nectar, and use the micro-habitats in and on thistles. The flower head provides the greatest diversity of insects, and the stem is particularly important as an over-wintering habitat.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee on thistle
However, in some grassland situations, Creeping Thistle, and Spear Thistle in particular, can become a problem. Other thistles may be rare, valuable to wildlife and unlikely to cause problems.

It is a case of knowing which species of thistle that you have, and then deciding whether it is a problem or not.

A Creeping Thistle problem should not develop in a dense, well-managed sward of perennial grasses, but when it does occur, it can be very invasive. It only rarely propagates itself by seed, as the fluffy fruit heads often have no fertile fruits. Instead, its root propagation is very efficient, and fragments of rhizome can remain dormant in the soil for years and then appear when there is a gap in the sward. A small cutting can spread into a 20 m patch in just two years.
For all these wildflower species, I am not calling them weeds anymore, I detailed the control options available to my client where necessary, but I'm not going to bore you with these practical management details here.

My advice to my client regarding Thistles, was to only consider controlling them in meadows where there are large numbers. 
Docks are an important plant for a range of insects, such as capsids (type of bug), weevils, beetles, spiders, and many others. But in large numbers, can threaten important aspects of a grassland habitat e.g., species rich meadows, and require careful management.

The spread of docks normally occurs on bare ground or gappy grassland swards created through over-grazing, or livestock poaching (where livestock leave hoofmarks creating extensive areas of bare ground), especially in shady areas and around feeding sites, and in enriched areas, such as dunging areas. Weeds can be brought in with supplementary feed and in dung from elsewhere.

My advice was to control Docks in both pastures and meadows, where there are large numbers. It is important to control them in species rich meadows, or any meadows where restoration is being considered.
Low levels of rush cover are beneficial to breeding birds, as the tussocks provide cover for nesting and for concealing chicks, but heavy infestations have an adverse impact on the value of grazing pasture.

Management should be considered when infestations cover more than one-third of a field's area, as its value to breeding waders is reduced.

Different wader species select fields with different sward heights. Lapwings select fields with a short sward and scattered tussocks, which will conceal their nests and chicks, but while leaving their all-round view uninhibited.

At the other extreme, Snipe prefers a higher level of concealment in taller vegetation. So, a wide variety of sward heights is beneficial. Rushes can provide tussocks which are useful for cover, but if they create dense cover then the field will lack the shorter areas that are useful for feeding.

If rushes take up more than one-third of a fields area, then grazing management, which is essential to maintaining the grassland for breeding waders, is made more difficult.

At my clients' farm we have a successful track record of managing rushes by topping and aftermath grazing with cattle and sheep. So, I recommended that in any pastures where rush cover is approaching one third of a field’s area, then the rushes should be managed by this method.
From the above, I hope you can see how important these common wildflower species are, and just to let you know my client decided to follow my advice with a few inputs from his own experience.
I can't believe that the month of July has nearly disappeared, with us only managing to complete one ringing session at the Nature Park. July is probably the joint best month of the year, particularly for warblers, so to only have completed one visit is a huge disappointment. Let's hope that August is better!
Before the rain came in on Friday, Gail and I had a walk along the Quay at mid-day. We left it until mid-day as it was quite a cool, blustery day, in the hope of a few insects, and the cooler weather (virtually full cloud cover) certainly negatively impacted our butterfly count. We counted six Small Whites, a Gatekeeper, a Common Blue, two Meadow Browns, a Holly Blue, a Red Admiral and two Peacocks. We also had a several Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on some weeds , sorry Ragwort, and there were numbers of bees and hoverflies on all the common wildflowers.
Common Blue
Out on the mud was a single Black-tailed Godwit, four Oystercatchers and 22 Redshanks. Roosting/loafing Gull numbers had dropped to ten Lesser Black-backed Gulls, three Black-headed Gulls and 45 Herring Gulls
Two Little Egrets fed along the edge of the river, and we had our first juvenile Shelducks roosting out on the mud at the edge of the saltmarsh; two adults and five juveniles. Two Swifts were worth entering in my notebook, and that was about it. 
And still, it rains!

Thursday 27 July 2023

After The Rain

It seemed to have been raining for what felt like days, so when the sun came out earlier in the week, Gail and I headed to the Wyre estuary for a 'wee dander', as my beloved Uncle Tommy would have said. The Wyre is close to home, not quite walking distance, but at most five minutes in the car. Of course, it depends which bit of the estuary we walk, but even the furthest reaches are only ten minutes away. 

We left our first couple of walks until the afternoon at the start of the week, to maximise our chances of encountering some butterflies. Nothing scarce, but a nice selection of some of our more common species. Our first walk was towards the mouth of the estuary along the quay, somewhere that as you know we visit often. It's an urban fringe, post-industrial, sometimes brown-field backdrop to the estuary, but this combination provides the ingredients for wildflowers, and of course invertebrates. 

The House Sparrows love it here because it is untidy, lots of insects to feed their chicks with, and some dereliction for nest sites. Not unlike our garden, at least it is certainly untidy, and we have plenty of House Sparrows too. Along the edge of the Quay, where it abuts the old ferry car park that is festooned with flowering Buddleia at the moment, eight - ten House Sparrows kept us company with their chirpy cheeping. They always seem so upbeat! 
House Sparrow (female above & male below)


The commonest butterfly by far was the Small White, and we had at least thirty during our walk. Our walk isn't very long, perhaps just over a kilometre each way, but it does take us at least an hour and a quarter, with plenty of stopping and staring. It can take a bit longer if we enjoy a Wallings ice cream before the return leg! Our totals for the other butterfly species that we enjoyed were, five Gatekeepers, eleven Common Blues, four Meadow Browns, one very worn Comma, two Red Admirals, a Peacock and a Speckled Wood
Common Blue (above & below)

Speckled Wood butterflies occur in woodland, gardens and hedgerows, and I always associate them with partially shaded woodland with dappled sunlight. Along the Quay, there isn't really any habitat like that. There is some scrub, dotted Hawthorn, Rowan, Willow, Wild Pear etc, but nothing that provides that dappled sunlight of a woodland glade, except for under the footbridge. The footbridge has a bit of scrub either side, some Bramble underneath, but more crucially, the structure of the bridge creates dappled sunlight, and that's where the Speckled Wood was. I like things like that. 
About half way along our walk, we like to sit on the edge of the Quay and spend a few minutes just sitting quietly and observing. Our quiet contemplation was shattered by a winged beauty that whizzed past at about an insect equivalent of Mach two! I didn't get on it straight away, but thankfully it threw out the anchors when it passed some Buddleia on the edge of the Quay, and I could see by its characteristic hovering, it was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Marvellous! The Buddleia only seemed to hold its attention for what just seemed like a nano-second, and it was off. A first for the site.  
We've noticed that the number of Gulls roosting on the end of the saltmarsh is increasing by the day as more and more Gull chicks fledge, and today we had 117 Herring Gulls, seven Black-headed Gulls, nine Lesser Black-backed Gulls and four Great Black-backed Gulls. We just had a single Little Egret feeding along the tide line, but numbers will increase as we move further in to autumn.

There's a section of the Quay close to where the ferries used to dock, and I have always thought that it looks good for a Common Sandpiper. It's a concrete slope, covered in sea-weed, and full of invertebrates, so perfect habitat for Common Sandpipers. For some reason they do like to feed on slopes, perhaps it reminds them of their upland riparian breeding haunts, who knows? Common Sandpipers aren't unusual on the Wyre by any means, and at this time of year further upstream, double figure counts are easily obtainable, but I have never seen them here, until today. As Gail and I walked along this section, I could hear a Common Sandpiper calling, and there it was, flying from the slope in a wide arc with those characteristic flaps, and short glides on bowed stiff wings. Superb!

We then heard a second bird calling that sounded very close, and it too was on the concrete slope, but as soon as it clocked us it was off. The Common Sandpipers made our day. They're not rare, indeed they are fairly common, but we hadn't seen them on this patch before, and that's what observing a local patch is all about. 
There's still plenty of Swallows about, and we had thirteen feeding along the wall of the Quay, and I suspect that some of them will be on with second broods now. It's a shame that we couldn't say the same about Swifts, as all we had was a single bird. 
It was the Swallows that alerted us to the presence of a female Sparrowhawk as it flap-glided across the mud with it's hirundine escort! A Buzzard on the far side of the river quartering some farmland, was the only other raptor that we had. 

On our return leg the tide was starting to run in, and three Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the Quay just beyond the fishing boats. A nice way to end a pleasant afternoon. 

Yesterday, we headed further upstream towards the country park and headed out in the late morning sunshine, again hoping for a few insects. The saltmarsh looked absolutely stunning with all the Sea Lavender in full bloom, providing that contrast of the purple flowers and the green of the saltmarsh. 
Wyre Estuary
It wasn't long before we were recording a few butterflies, but they weren't as numerous as yesterday, and we had two Large Whites, just two Small Whites, four Speckled Woods, five Gatekeepers, a Peacock, a Meadow Brown and a Red Admiral. 

Along the edges of the path there were lots of flowers in full bloom, including Ribbed Melilot, Wild Parsnip, Perennial Sow-thistle, Hogweed, Hawkweed Oxtongue, Wild Mignonette, Upright Hedge Parsley and Common Fleabane to name but a few. 
Common Fleabane
Upright Hedge Parsley
Wild Parsnip

A few dragons made an appearance, but it was a few, two Brown Hawkers and a magnificent Southern Hawker that I managed to photograph as it hung from a branch sunning itself.
Southern Hawker
The path along here is set back from the estuary, and as I didn't have my scope with me, we didn't count any of the waders feeding out on the mud. Maybe next time. On our return we just added a calling Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Still, it was a pleasant morning. 

I was just about to press 'publish' on blogger to post this blog, when I noticed that the sun was starting to appear after what had been a dreich morning, and I decided to head up to the Quay again to stretch my legs. It was a solo trip, as Gail was out having lunch with friends.

Redshank numbers on the mud in the Quay had increased to 22, and they had been joined by a Dunlin, my first returning Dunlin of the autumn. As I headed along the quayside, I noticed 7 or 8 Goldfinches perched up in some Elder, with about six House Sparrows, and it was obvious that the Goldfinches had been bathing in a puddle on the old ferry car park, as they were busy preening their wet plumage. 
Goldfinch preening (above & below)

I counted the butterflies as usual, and I had sixteen Small Whites, ten Common Blues, four Gatekeepers, three Holly Blues, a Meadow Brown, a Red Admiral and a single Silver Y moth. 
I don't think you can have enough pictures of Common Blues!
Silver Y (look hard, it's in the middle)
Holly Blue (above & below)


I was heading towards the point where I turn round and walk back, when a large black insect shot past me, and I thought "that looks interesting". Luckily for me it had landed on a leaf of a Sycamore, and I was able to take a few pictures of it, even though the leaf was moving around in the wind. I must admit I had no idea what it was other than I thought it was one of the ichneumon wasps. Back home I looked it up and identified it as a Black Slip Wasp Pimpla rufipes.

As you can see below, it is a striking looking beastie, and its bright orange legs contrast with its black body. I found out that it predates butterfly and moth larvae, laying an egg in each one. And it can sometimes be seen visiting flowers. With a lot of these insects, it is quite common, but like many ichneumon wasps it is under recorded. It was a new insect species for me, and it certainly made my day.
Black Slip Wasp (above & below)

Saturday 22 July 2023

Moss, Marsh, Moths and Barn Owls

I apologise for the Blog title as it's a bit of a mouthful, but it sums up what Gail and I have been up to in the great outdoors over the past few days. 

The forecast for Wednesday morning looked good to get out, but there was a niggling strength to the north-westerly wind that meant it would be too breezy for ringing, so we headed to Foulshaw Moss instead, Foulshaw Moss being one of our favourite reserves. The plan was to head to the National Trust property of Sizergh Castle afterwards, so Gail could indulge her passion for history.

As soon as you get out of the car at Foulshaw Moss, Lesser Redpolls seem to be constantly 'buzzing' overhead, and this morning was no exception, as we had a conservative seven as we walked towards the second feeding station. This feeding station is viewed from the comfort of an open hide, and the feeders were busy with mainly Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Great Tits, as well as eight Goldfinches

A couple of Swifts screamed overhead, and a Jay called from some Birch scrub. Two other 'callers' that remained heard and not seen, were two singing Reed Buntings
Of course, one of the reasons that we love Foulshaw Moss so much is for the insects, but under the relatively cool and cloudy conditions they were fairly thin on the ground, but we did have a Common Hawker, a Black Darter, an Emperor Dragonfly, a Speckled Wood, eleven Small Whites, seven Common Darters and a Green-veined White
Black Darter
Common Darter
We came across this Speckled Wood with a portion of its wing missing

One of the attractions of Foulshaw Moss for a lot of visitors is its pair of breeding Ospreys, and the reserve acts as a 'local honey pot' for people to see the species. The young Ospreys have now fledged, and we had views of three birds, but all were distant. 

A run of birds all numbering two individuals included Raven, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Warbler, Siskin and Long-tailed Tit.

I photographed some Wild Angelica on the peat bog towards the edge of some woodland, and when I was looking at the photographs, I noticed that there were six quite striking looking hoverflies on it. At the time I noticed that the Wild Angelica had lots of hoverflies coming and going, but I hadn't looked at them in any great detail. Anyway, I have identified them as Leucozona laternaria, unless anybody knows any different. The literature that I consulted tells me that they are common, but what striking beasties they are. You will need to click on the picture below, and then zoom in to see them.
Wild Angelica with Leucozona laternaria hoverflies (click to enlarge and then
zoom in)
A single Common Lizard and Roe Deer completed a couple of very pleasant hours.

I didn't think I would be mentioning our visit to Sizergh Castle on these pages, but as we were walking from the visitor reception to the house a 'flycatching' Spotted Flycatcher entertained us for a few minutes as it sallied forth for insects, unseen to us, from the branches of a tree and a stone wall. At times it was flying across a grassed area, stooping and diving, almost stopping in mid-air, changing direction, flicking left, flicking right, stalling, almost looping, all in the pursuit of flying insects. What a great bird! Later in the afternoon walking from the house to the gardens we had it, or another, doing more of the same. 
A, not the, Spotted Flycatcher(s)
We ran our moth trap over the night of Wednesday/Thursday for the first time in a while, and it was a fairly light catch of just seventeen moths of eight species. These were a Poplar Grey, five Dark Arches, two Large Yellow Underwings, five Common Rustics, a Cabbage Moth, a Turnip Moth, a Yellow Shell and a Codling Moth. Also in the light trap was a species of Common Green Lacewing.
A Common Green Lacewing
Late Thursday morning, we took a walk along the quay overlooking some of the marshes on the Wyre estuary. We noticed a couple of virtually full-grown Herring Gull chicks on top of a modern building, and we checked on 'our' chick on the old ferry terminal, and it is looking a lot less fluffy now, and more like a young Herring Gull. 
Herring Gull
Swallow numbers were easily in double figures, and we were chatting to one of the fishermen about the Swallows that nest in the wrecks. I was commenting on what a safe place they were to nest, and he agreed, saying that the only predators that they were vulnerable to were rats. We did see a rat disappear into some stonework on the quay as we were admiring some Sea Lavender.  

A few, and I mean a few, waders are starting to appear on the mud in the quay, and we had a couple of Curlews and Oystercatchers, as well as nine Redshanks
We didn't expect many butterflies or day-flying moths to be on the wing as it was quite windy during our walk, but we did have eleven Small Whites, a Silver Y, three Common Blues, five Gatekeepers, four Meadow Browns, two Red Admirals and two Commas

Yesterday saw us ringing some Barn Owl chicks with or good friend Robert, on a farm near Garstang. The Barn Owls were in a box that Robert had built and supplied to one of his farming neighbours, and it was very high in the apex of a modern barn. The box was accessible from the top of some straw bales, but getting on top of the bales would have been a bit of a challenge if it wasn't for the farm's Manitou telehandler. Safely stood in the man basket, Robert and I were lifted to the full extent of the Manitou's 10 metre reach, and it was just a case of stepping out of the man basket and strolling along on top of the straw bales, some 30 plus feet above the ground, surreal really, but completely safe! 
One of the two Barn Owl chicks
Two chicks, about three weeks old, were in the box, and were duly ringed. It will be about another 4 - 5 weeks before they fledge. Barn Owls seem to be having mixed fortunes in the UK this year, with birds in England seemingly nesting late, or struggling with small broods, while in Scotland they have had a bumper year with large broods, and early fledging. It will all be linked to prey availability, which tends to be cyclical, and weather. Fingers crossed for a better year next year. 
That was the end of a few very enjoyable days out in the field this week, and looking at the forecast for the week ahead, it might be a few days yet before it is fit to get out again.

Monday 10 July 2023

A Mini Warbler Fest

The rain was forecast to clear overnight into Sunday morning, and just as important, it was forecast to fall calm. Gail and I decided to make the most of the window of opportunity to carry out a ringing session, and by 5:15 a.m. we were putting a couple of nets up in the reedbed and scrub at the Nature Park. It had been forecast to be sunny, but even better was the fact that Sunday morning dawned overcast, so no wind and nearly full cloud cover, was perfect for operating mist nets. 

As alluded to in my blog title, we had a mini warbler fest, and we managed to ring 35 birds, 27 of which were warblers of seven species. Our totals were as follows:

Wren - 1
Chiffchaff - 5
Dunnock - 1
Reed Warbler - 6
Blackcap - 8
Blue Tit - 3
Great Tit - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 4
Robin - 2
Sedge Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Whitethroat - 2
Reed Warbler
Sedge Warbler

As you would expect at this time of year, 32 of the birds we ringed were all juveniles, 25 of which were in full juvenile plumage and had yet to start to moult, perhaps an indication that they hadn't travelled far. Amongst the 27 warblers that we ringed, only three were adults, two male Reed Warblers and a male Cetti's Warbler.
It was interesting that we didn't catch any Willow Warblers, when the habitat is suitable for them, but it's difficult and impossible to draw any conclusions from a single ringing session. The only other warbler species missing was Garden Warbler, but it is later in the autumn before we generally ring any Garden Warblers at this site. 
From a birding perspective, the morning was quiet, meagre pickings from the pages of my notebook include a couple of calling Whimbrels from the river and a single Raven.  
That was the good news, but the bad news at the moment is that the weather forecast isn't great for the next couple of weeks, with low pressure forecast to dominate, with showery and blustery conditions. However, as an eternal optimist, there's time for it to change.

Sunday 9 July 2023

Ticking Over

We have been waiting for the weather to improve over the past couple of weeks, so that Gail and I could get into the reedbed and scrub to see what sort of breeding season it has been, but unfortunately the weather hasn't played ball, so we've been ticking over.
The moth trap has been out in the garden, and we've added a few new species for the garden, including Barred Yellow, Clay, Small Dusty Wave, Single-dotted Wave, Obscure Wainscot, Agiphila straminella, Eudonia mercurella and Mottled Rustic. On one morning we had a Water Boatman in the trap, along with a species of harvestmen, Odiellus spinosus and the caddis fly Mottled Sedge.
We had a walk along the Wyre estuary, but headed upstream instead for a change, but we couldn't believe how busy it was around the country park. However, once we got a few hundred metres from the car park it quietened down. Three Whitethroats, two Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap were singing from the riparian scrub, and four Reed Buntings were singing from the reeds bordering the saltmarsh. 
The Sea Lavender looked resplendent out on the marsh, and was a sea of vivid purple, and Parsley Water-dropwort and Thrift were also flowering, although the Thrift was starting to go over. 
Sea Lavender
Three Little Egrets fed along the water's edge and a flock of 65 Lapwings reminded us that it was indeed autumn. On a small pool next to the footpath a male Broad-bodied Chaser was strutting his stuff, but it wasn't quite in the right place in relation to the sun to get a good shot. 
Broad-bodied Chaser
A few days later we were back on the estuary, but this time down by the quay, and we added Mugwort and Wild Parsnip to our plant list for the site for the year. 
We found this Sea Lavender growing out of the quay wall, which we thought
was an unusual location
It was a morning for chick sightings, and we enjoyed watching some juvenile Swallows being fed by their parents by the old ferry terminal. The Swallows had successfully reared a few broods from their nest sites within some of the old wrecks out in the quay. Several of the wrecks don't flood, even on a big tide, so they provide a very safe place to nest in terms of protection from predators. 
Juvenile Swallow (above & below)

Swallow nest sites
A Herring Gull had a single chick on one of the pontoons of the old ferry terminal, and we had a pair of Oystercatchers with two chicks on a roof nest site, and a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls with two chicks, on a different roof nest site. 
Herring Gull chick
We also had our first passerine migrant of the autumn in the form of a juvenile Whitethroat. It won't have come far, but it was a migrant nevertheless. A few butterflies were on the wing including six Small Whites, two Small Tortoiseshells, two Gatekeepers, two Small Skippers and a Meadow Brown. We also had two day flying moths in the form of a Yellow Shell and Silver Y
Small Skipper
Some ringing soon, hopefully!
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of June. Five new species for the year were ringed during June, and these were Avocet, Kestrel, Stock Dove, Goldcrest and Oystercatcher. 
Below you will find the top 8 'movers and shakers' for the year. I haven't done a top 5 ringed for the month, as only one species made it into double figures, and this was Sand Martin, with 22 ringed. 
Top 8 Movers and Shakers for the Year
1. Blue Tit - 77 (same position)
2. Goldfinch - 66 (same position)
3. Sand Martin - 51 (up from 4th)
4. Great Tit - 48 (down from 3rd)
5. Chaffinch - 25 (same position)
6. Pied Flycatcher - 23 (same position)
7. Lesser Redpoll - 17 (same position)
8. Reed Bunting - 10 (same position)