Thursday 14 September 2023

Big Skies

Gail and I started a wintering bird survey off last week, on the mossland south of the Ribble marshes. We had six oktas cloud cover, with a light easterly wind. We did an hour's VP, followed by an hours transect (an opportunity to stretch our legs) and then another hour's VP. Our survey site is within an area of farmland used for growing vegetables, so it is flat with big skies, and the fields are bounded by ditches, rather than hedgerows.

The two most numerous species that we recorded were the 425 Canada Geese and 225 Woodpigeons. In addition to the Woodpigeons, we had eight Stock Doves and 21 Collared Doves. As our survey was from first light, most of these birds were heading from roost sites to foraging areas. There was some vis, but it was light, just nine Swallows, 14 Meadow Pipits, three Goldfinches and four Linnets

Next to where our VP is located, is a field that has been tilled and recently sown, and 78 Alba Wagtails were feeding in this field, before moving off east about an hour after first light. We had three species of raptor during the survey; a Buzzard that was feeding on a prey item on top of a fence post (Grey Squirrel or a Rabbit), a Kestrel and a gorgeous Hobby that belted low, northeast. 
Last weekend we had a ringing session at the Nature Park. Whilst putting the nets up under clear skies, with no wind, it felt like another clear-out morning, and our ringing totals supported this assertion. We ringed just eight birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Chiffchaff - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Lesser Whitethroat - 1
Great Tit - 2
Blackcap - 1
Blue Tit - 2 (1)
Cetti's Warbler - (1)

The numbers of Starlings roosting looks to have increased, and we made a very rough estimate of perhaps 4,000 birds. Cetti's Warblers gave their explosive song, at least three were singing, as was a migrant Chiffchaff. The vis was next to nothing, with just a handful of Meadow Pipits over, plus a single Grey Wagtail. We could hear some Pink-footed Geese calling, but they remained unseen. 

Four days ago, we made the first of two recent visits to the Quay, and as usual we were there mid-morning and we had four oktas cloud cover, with a light south-easterly wind. The tide was running in, but there was still plenty of mud exposed, and out on the mud were 115 Redshanks and 14 Oystercatchers. A few Grey Wagtails headed south, but that was it in terms of vis. 

We didn't think that there were any grounded migrants until we encountered a very confiding first-winter Wheatear on the wall of the quay. It wasn't bothered by our presence at all, and perhaps it hadn't come across many people, because Wheatears tend to breed in fairly remote places, whether it's in the uplands of the UK, or in Iceland etc. We really enjoyed the ten minutes that we spent in this bird's company, and I think this epitomises the pleasure of observing a local patch on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be some rare waif or stray to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, just a gorgeous, not so humble Wheatear perhaps. 
Wheatear (above & below)


We were back in the land of the big skies yesterday, and it was a typical season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun kind of September morning. It was nippy, clear, and calm at first light. 
Once again lots of Canada Geese were flying into various locations to feed, and we had a total of 485. In addition to the Canada's, we had 37 Greylags and 111 Pink-footed Gese headed west. We had 15 Lapwings out on the moss, and they were accompanied by 22 Golden Plovers, one of my favourite waders. 
There was some vis, but it was hard to untangle it from birds moving from roosts to foraging areas. Our best guess was that we had eight Skylarks, seven Alba Wags, 24 Meadow Pipits, a Reed Bunting, four Grey Wagtails, five House Martins, six Swallows and a Linnet moving anywhere between a south-westerly or south-easterly direction. 
Woodpigeons were the second most abundant bird species and we had 128, with a supporting cast of six Stock Doves, and eleven Collared Doves. No Hobby or Kestrel this week, just the same Buzzard in the same location, but without any prey this time. 
We made our second recent visit to the Quay this morning, and it was fairly cloudy with a light easterly wind. When we got there, the tide had nearly covered all of the mud in the Quay and in the estuary, and a few waders were sitting it out on whatever exposed substrate they could find. We had thirty Redshanks, and then when the tide had nearly covered everything, a flock of 247 dropped in on some mud on the side of the channel into the quay, but they were soon shifted by the quick running tide. Six Oystercatchers, three Common Sandpipers and seventeen Turnstones were associating with the Redshanks. 
The Wyre estuary
We had just got to the point where the Quay wall turns, and forms the western bank of the estuary, when we heard what sounded like a lot of Sandwich Terns calling. A large flock were wheeling in the air and heading upstream, and we estimated that about 120 birds were involved. The largest number of Sandwich Terns that I have seen at this location.
Sandwich Terns
We sat in our usual spot on the wall overlooking the estuary, and the Terns started to return. They were diving into the water to feed, and nearly every dive seemed to be a success, as they lifted off the water with a small fish secured in their bill. We chatted to a local fisherman, and he said that there were a lot of Whitebait about, and Whitebait are the immature fry of fish such as Herrings and Sprats, so this is probably what the Terns were catching. A few of the Terns landed on some exposed shore before the tide covered it, and after a few minutes of enjoying the antics of the 'Sarnies', they headed downstream towards the mouth of the estuary. 

It was time for us to continue our walk, and as we were passing a patch of Bramble, I noticed a darter fly in and land. And I was very surprised to see that it was a mature male Black Darter! According to Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland by Steve Brooks, and illustrated by Richard Lewington (an excellent book by the way), the larval habitat of Black Darter includes shallow, acidic, nutrient-poor pools with abundant emergent vegetation on heathland, moorland and bogs. However, the adult is a wanderer, and can undertake migratory journeys, and therefore is likely to appear far from water, or in locations that do not support breeding populations. Hence, our sighting this morning! Anyway, it was a cracking little beastie, and I have included some pictures of it below. 


Few butterflies were on the wing, other than seven Small Whites and a Small Copper. On our return leg we had a singing Chiffchaff, which was of course a migrant, and it made me think that perhaps the same weather had brought both it and the Black Darter to the site. 
Small Copper
There is some rain coming in after dark this evening, and it might well still be raining at first light tomorrow, so I might get up early and see if it has dropped any migrants in.

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