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.