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.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Typical Mid Autumn Fare

I can't believe that it has been over a week since my last post, particularly as we are in Autumn! However, it reflects on the weather over this past week, which has been marginal at best, and atrocious at worst. 

Between my last post and now, I was only out in the field once, and that was a few days ago when Gail and I were at Lytham Hall for one of their excellent local history talks. And the person giving the talk was a birder himself. Before the talk, we managed to have a forty-minute walk around the grounds, but it was quiet. Two Grey Wagtails, a late Migrant Hawker and Common Darter, two Nuthatches, and singles of Song Thrush and Great Spotted Woodpecker, and that was it. 

Yesterday morning, was my first morning's ringing since I was out with my old friend Graeme on 23rd September. I was at the Nature Park for 0630, and was greeted with full cloud cover and a 10 mph westerly wind. However, the fly in the ointment was the murky conditions out in the bay, and I suspected that there would be very little going over, and I was right. It is autumn after all, so I soldiered on. 

The constant soundscape to the Nature Park is the almost continuous explosive song of Cetti's Warblers. I have mentioned this before, but it is hard to get a handle on how many are singing, because they move around the reeds and scrub so much. I put three in my notebook, which is probably inaccurate, as I ringed two!

As stated above, there was no, well next to no, visible migration. The only vis I had were three high-flying Magpies heading south-east, some Pink-footed Geese that I could hear but couldn't see, and a handful of Meadow Pipits and a single Chaffinch. A few Greenfinches must have been going over as I caught some via an MP3 playback of their song. They aren't on site, but as soon as I put the player on, they appear! 
Greenfinch; this bird is in moult, and you can see the feather debris (like dandruff)
on its plumage
A single Song Thrush and Raven, six Long-tailed Tits and a flock of 30 - 40 Goldfinches are virtually all that made it into my notebook. 

I ringed 23 birds as follows:

Wren - 3
Goldcrest - 4 (there must have been some grounded migrants)
Greenfinch - 7
Great Tit - 3
Cetti's Warbler - 2
Robin - 2
Reed Bunting - 1
Goldfinch - 1
Gail and I are south of the Ribble tomorrow for our first October visit of the wintering bird survey we are completing, so we are looking forward to that, even though it is work for me. And the rest of the week, until Saturday, is looking unsettled. However, at the moment the forecast over the weekend is looking like I'll be able to get out, perhaps both days. I hope I haven't just jinxed that! 
In September's British Birds under the 'News and Comment' section, there was an interesting piece about Cuckoos being unable to shift their annual migration. It said that new research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has revealed why Common Cuckoos are unable to shift the timings of their annual migration response to a changing climate. The research showed that Cuckoos must wait for the arrival of spring rains in West Africa, the timing of which has remained constant, before they can cross the Sahara. 
This constant timing of rains in Africa, juxtaposed with the shift towards an earlier spring in Europe, has resulted in the Cuckoos' arrival on their breeding grounds being out of sync with peak availability of prey and the breeding cycle of many of their host species. This lack of response has been linked to severe population declines in some migratory species. For Cuckoos, the results suggest that they may be exposed to a greater risk of death as they are forced to travel in unfavourable conditions to make it to their breeding grounds on time. This increased mortality could be one mechanism through which populations are impacted. 
Providing better-quality habitat at strategic locations along Cuckoo migration routes is one way in which the species could be helped to complete its migration in a more timely and less energetically costly way.
Over on the right, you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of September. Five new species for the year were ringed during the month, and these were, Wheatear, Jay, Bullfinch, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail.
Below you will find the 'Top 5 Ringed in September' and the 'Top 10 Movers and Shakers' for the year.
Top 5 Ringed in September
1. Goldfinch - 44
2. Meadow Pipit - 28
3. Linnet - 18
4. Great Tit - 17
5. Blue Tit - 14
Top 10 Movers and Shakers for the Year
1. Goldfinch - 110 (up from 3rd)
2. Blue Tit - 99 (same position)
3. Great Tit - 74 (up from 4th)
4. Meadow Pipit - 39 (straight in)
5. Chaffinch - 34 (same position)
6. Lesser Redpoll - 28 (up from 8th)
7. Reed warbler - 27 (down from 5th)
8. Pied Flycatcher - 23 (down from 7th)
9. Reed Bunting - 21 (same position)
    Chiffchaff - 21 (up from 10th)