Thursday 11 April 2024

Pinkies Ahead Of The Rain

Yesterday morning I headed to the coastal farm fields, for a bit of all round migration monitoring, or staring at the sea and the sky, drinking coffee, and seeing b*gger all, as is often the case! It was cold at first light, and the wind started off from the south-east, 10 - 15 mph, and moved round to a south-westerly direction.
 
With the exception of the Pink-footed Geese, the visible migration was very light, with low numbers, and few species involved. A weather front was heading north, with rain forecast to arrive between 0900 and 1000, so I suspect this was having a blocking effect, and preventing any birds moving from the south. My meagre totals were 14 Meadow Pipits, six Siskins and five Linnets.
 
Meadow Pipit
 
The Pink-footed Geese movement was interesting, and it seemed that they were moving ahead of the forecast rain front. Birds were heading north out at sea, as well as directly over me on the coast. I counted 740 in total, with 249 of these birds at sea, and the other 491 directly over me. 
 
Pink-footed Geese
 
It's a pity that the movement at sea could not be considered interesting, as it was very quiet...again! I had eight Common Scoters, six Gannets, three Eiders and three Whimbrel.
 
In one of the tidal pools directly opposite my vantage point, I enjoyed watching a Little Egret feeding. It would slowly walk through the water, spot something and either run, or spin round, perhaps holding a wing out to shade the water, then stab at its prey item with lightning speed. I hope you agree that the images I captured below, give you a flavour of this. 
 



 

 
I decided to have a walk round the fields and hedgerows, before the rain came in, to look for any grounded migrants, but it was quiet. I had two male Wheatears on the sea wall, and then a male Stonechat and two Willow Warblers. My timing was perfect, as just a couple of minutes from my car, it started to rain heavily.  

Stonechat

Late morning today, Gail and I decided to pay a visit to the Nature Park to see if any Sedge Warblers had arrived, and they had, with just one singing from some Willow scrub and reeds at the edge of one of the pools. From this same location, I had four Willow Warblers and a male Blackcap. So, two new species of summer migrant for us, for the year. 
 
Singing Skylarks and Cetti's Warblers were the constant soundscape for the hour or so that we were there, and we had three and four respectively. Things have quietened down on the pools now with the Coots, Moorhens and Grebes on nests, but we did have 12 Coots, ten Tufted Ducks, three Moorhens and 11 Mallards
 
A male Sparrowhawk drifted north whilst we were looking over the main pool, but whether it was a migrant or not, I'm not sure. We had two male Stonechats, or was that two sightings of the same male? They were virtually at either end of the site, and one was singing, and one wasn't. So, who knows?
 
We spent some time looking at the invertebrates on the Alexanders along the edge of the saltmarsh, and again there were some interesting species on the flowers. If we identified them correctly, we had two species of Ichneumon wasps; three Ichneumon stramentor and a single Ophion scutellaris. Both magnificent beasties. There were numerous other species of small flies, including at least six Yellow Dung Flies, one with prey, and we had a Tawny Mining Bee. All very common, but great to see and record. 
 
Ichneumon stramentor (above & below). Click to enlarge.
 

Ophion scutellaris (above & below)


Yellow Dung Fly (above & below). With prey above.
 


Interestingly, there are 2,500 species of Ichneumon species in the UK, which is almost ten times our bee diversity. Many species visit flowers, particularly umbellifers, and they can therefore be quite significant pollinators of plant species in this group. 
 
I had my first garden butterfly species of the spring this afternoon, when a Red Admiral whizzed through the garden, heading in a general northerly direction. I was sat in the garden hoping for a raptor or two over, but it wasn't to be. 
 
I read with sadness that the deadly Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) that has been decimating sea-bird populations, has now been confirmed in mammals in the subantarctic. The disease was detected in January 2024 in Southern Elephant Seals and Antarctic Fur Seals in South Georgia. 
 
Scientists in this subantarctic region have been testing for bird flu in mammals since cases were first recorded there following the deaths of several Brown Skuas in October 2023. Analysis from infected birds demonstrates that the virus has most likely been introduced through migratory birds from South America. A very sad state of affairs. 

Sunday 7 April 2024

Southerlies

Over the past few days, we have been on the receiving end of some fairly strong southerlies, and the direction has been anywhere between south-east and south-west, and it as felt a good deal warmer as a result. More importantly, it has brought a few migrants in!
 
Last Thursday, Gail and I had a walk from the Quay and downstream along the Wyres estuary as usual. We had full cloud cover, and a light south-easterly wind, and I'm not sure why I am mentioning it really, because we didn't have a single migrant! There were only eleven Redshanks and 12 Oystercatchers on the mud in the Quay, and probably the best birds we had three pairs of Eider on the estuary. 
 
Redshank
 
The following day, we were at the Nature Park just after lunch, and the wind was now a stiff south-southeasterly, 15 - 20 mph, and it was raining. However, there were a few migrants. 
 
As soon as we set off on our walk, we could hear a Chiffchaff singing, and two Willow Warblers. We stopped to have a look over the saltmarsh, and hanging round an old wreck, were a pair of Wheatears, with two male Reed Buntings that kept on driving them off the wreck, only for the Wheatears to return when the male Reed Bunts chased each other across the marsh. A male Stonechat out on the saltmarsh was another migrant that we recorded. 
 
Just before the rain came in, three Skylarks were singing, and four Cetti's Warblers added their voices to the chorus. Out on the pools were four Little Grebes, ten Tufted Ducks, three Moorhens, 18 Coots, 46 Herring Gulls, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls and six Mallards
 
Yesterday, I was at the Point for first light, with 6 oktas cloud cover, and a 25 - 30 mph south-southeasterly wind. And it was obvious from the start that it would be quite an interesting morning.  
 
As Newton (2010) states, the proportion of birds flying within sight during migration, tend to be greatest in unfavourable conditions, and wind strength and direction are important factors. Wind speeds increase with altitude, and are slower closer to the ground, where friction slows the wind up. I've mentioned often on here, that at this time of the year you can hear Siskins or Linnets calling for example, but cannot see them, but this morning it was windy, and it would have been even windier at the altitude that the birds would have been flying at, and as a result, migrating finches were flying over, within visual range...just!   

As I was walking up to the Point, I could hear Linnets, Goldfinches and Siskins calling overhead, and I wanted to stand at a good vantage point if I could. On top of the dunes would be my favoured location, but it was far too windy, so I tried second best, and tried standing on the sea-wall in front of the dunes, but it was still too windy. So, I had to resort to standing in front of the tower to get some shelter. I could see from west to east okay, but I couldn't see behind to the south. 

Some of the finches that I heard calling would remain uncounted, because I just couldn't see them, but a few flocks were dropping out of the sky. Some tried to head east, but were then trying to fight a very strong cross-wind, and others just seemed to drift west, using the easterly component of the wind. 

My totals of the birds that I could see were 87 Linnets, 51 Siskins (predominately made up of a single flock of 47 birds!), 115 Goldfinches, six Meadow Pipits, two Lesser Redpolls, a Tree Pipit (my first for the year), a Sand Martin, three Swallows (both hirundine species first for the year for me) and a Skylark

Behind the tower are some stunted Elders, and I had a Chiffchaff drop into them, feed for a while, and then move on. 
 
Chiffchaff
 
The sea was quiet, but we did have 211 Common Scoters, two Red-throated Divers, four Eiders, six Sandwich Terns, two Gannets and two Whimbrels over the sea flying into the Bay. We also had a Harbour Porpoise surface a few times in front of us, before disappearing completely. 

A large group of runners, with a marshal shouting out words of encouragement to the participants, shattered the peace of the morning, so I decided to call it a day. On my way home, I decided to have a quick look in the cemetery, and other than a singing Chiffchaff, and a few Siskins and Meadow Pipits going over, it was quiet. I did have a male Blackbird carrying food, so that can go down as a successful breeding attempt. 

It is looking largely unsettled during the coming week, with some strong westerly winds, but there are some southerlies as well. I'll just have to try and make the most of it.

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Lowland to Bowland and Back Again

It was raining first thing on Tuesday morning, and by mid-morning it had warmed up a bit, and the wind was from the east. To Gail and I, the combination of a bit of warmth and easterly winds, could mean a few migrants, so we headed to some of our local coastal sites to have a look. 
 
First up was the cemetery, but there wasn't a grounded migrant to be had. We had two Sparrowhawks thermalling high, and heading south, and they were perhaps the only species that we could consider as being migrants. As usual, we did a complete list for BirdTrack, and we recorded 16 species, of varying numbers and activity, but I won't regale you with how many Blue Tits, Woodpigeons, Great Tits etc, that we saw. 
 
We noted that there was lots of Lesser Celandine flowering, along with Field Wood-rush, and I took a few snaps.
 
Field Wood-rush
 
Lesser Celandine
 

We headed to the Mount, and drew another migrant blank. Next up was the Nature Park, and we noted that there was a bit of northerly in that easterly, and perhaps that's why migrants were thin on the ground. Two singing Chiffchaffs were all we could slot into the grounded migrant category. Cetti's Warblers always lift your spirits with their song, and three were singing, alongside a couple of Skylarks.  

There seems to be a few more Gulls recently on the pools bathing, and it looks like there is some activity on the adjacent landfill site, so I wonder whether they are doing some work on there that is attracting them? Anyway, there was 48 Herring and eight Lesser Black-backed Gulls having a good wash and a preen. 
 
Lesser Black-backed Gull
 
Also on the pools were 19 Coots, ten Mallards, eight Tufted Ducks, seven Little Grebes and five Shovelers (3 males & 2 females). We were looking on one of the pools when all the Gulls got up, so it was obvious there was a raptor about, and we half expected a Marsh Harrier or Osprey, but a Buzzard dropped into the trees on the far side of the pool. In addition to the Gulls, there were seven Magpies mobbing it!
 
Incoming Buzzard
 
We noticed some Alexanders flowering, and this was one of the few pollen and nectar sources around, and the Tawny Mining Bee on the photograph was enjoying this pitstop. When I looked at my photo, I could see a small fly to the left of the bee. From what I can find out, it is a species of Sepsis fly in the family Sepsidae, and that's about as far as the identification can go. A bit of web-based research tells me that they are ant mimics, and there are 24 species in the genus. Apparently, it is almost impossible to identify them without microscopic examination!
 
Tawny Mining Bee and Sepsis fly (click to enlarge)
 
The following morning, I was on my client's farm in Bowland to meet some colleagues from the RSPB. The plan was to have a look round and see how things looked prior to us starting the breeding wader surveys. I got there a bit earlier than our arranged meeting time, so I had a quick scamper round in the car. 
 
As I was heading through the first gate, a Barn Owl came in from my right, hopped over the hedge, crossed the track, hopped over the next hedge, and carried on across the next field. Glorious! 
 
Waders were certainly in evidence, and I would estimate that there were about 6 or 7 pairs of Curlew in, 5 pairs of Lapwing and a pair of Redshank. It was hard to estimate the number of pairs of Oystercatchers, as most of the 52 I recorded were in one large flock!
 
Lapwing
 
We found two Lapwing nests. One pair incubating four eggs, and one pair that had just started laying with a single egg laid. We put cameras on each nest, so we can monitor how the nesting attempt progresses. 
 
Lapwing nest with one egg. Three more to come.
 
At lunchtime on Friday, from my office window, I could see all the local Gulls going mad. So, I ran downstairs, shot out the back with binoculars in hand, and found two Buzzards, very high heading south-east. That was what all the commotion was about!
 
The following morning, I headed to the coastal farm fields at the school for first light. The skies were virtually clear, and there was a 10 - 15 mph south-easterly wind. 
 
There was some vis, and I recorded 44 Meadow Pipits, 129 Woodpigeons, ten Linnets, four Carrion Crows, a Siskin, 62 Pink-footed Geese and an Alba Wag. Most of the vis was north, as you would expect, but the Woodpigeons were heading south into the wind. 
 
The sea was quiet, with a single Auk sp., three Cormorants, eight Eiders, 14 Common Scoters, 23 Whooper Swans (north), a Gannet, 30 Knot (south) and my first Sandwich Tern of the spring. 
 
Whooper Swans heading north at sea - honest!
 
Grounded migrant wise, I had two male Wheatears on the sea wall, and two Chiffchaffs singing from the copse. 
 
Wheatear (above & below)
 


That evening, I had some more Common Scoters over the garden, but just one flock at 2125. 
 
Late Sunday morning, Gail and I had a walk along the Quay and Wyre estuary. The wind was easterly, with 3 oktas of cloud cover. There was a steady passage of ones and twos of Meadow Pipit heading north, but no other obvious vis. 
 
On the mud in the Quay were 93 Redshanks, four Shelducks, 73 Herring Gulls and five Oystercatchers. We had two species of grounded migrants in the form of Lesser Redpoll and Siskin. I suspect they had dropped in to have a pause before heading across the estuary, because after a short while the Lesser Redpoll and four Siskins headed out across the water. A female Sparrowhawk put in appearance, but that was about it. 
 
Shelduck
 
We put some food out in the Hedgehog feeder, as we suspect our garden Hedgehog(s) would be out of hibernation by now. We also put one of our trail cams out. And sure enough on both yesterday, and this morning, the food was gone, and a Hedgehog was caught going in and out of the feeding station on the Trail cam. Excellent!
 
The plan was to do some migration monitoring this morning at the coastal farm fields, but as yesterday wore on, the forecast was getting more and more dreich. Certainly, not conducive to standing in the open on a banking behind the sea wall. However, I did think that there might be a chance of a few grounded migrants, and we did indeed have a small fall. 
 
When Gail and I set off to walk round the cemetery it was raining, and it was virtually flat calm. Knowing now, what we found out later, the reason that a few birds were dropping in, was because it was clear out in Liverpool Bay, and the outer westerly reaches of Morecambe Bay, but the inner bay was locked down in murk. As a result, birds were getting held up, and a few species were dropping in on the peninsula.

We were hoping for a few Willow Warblers this morning, and we weren't disappointed, but when we got out of the car it seemed quiet. Usually, if there has been a fall of Willow Warblers you can hear them singing straight away. The first bird we had was a grounded Brambling, but unfortunately, we couldn't see it. It's call was loud, and it was just above our heads, but it remained elusive. We then heard a Chaffinch call, and could hear it flying away, and no more Brambling, so we guessed that the Brambling had gone with it. 

Shortly after that, we heard our first Willow Warbler singing, and then we picked up a silent bird that was constantly feeding in front of us. Working away around the branches, and emerging leaves, and then flying into the air fly-catching. Superb. Just to think that this beautiful little warbler, weighing in at only about 9.0 grams (range; 6 - 12 g), was until a few weeks ago south of the Sahara! 

At the southern end of the cemetery, we were counting a group of six Goldfinches, and then eight Siskins dropped in. We walked further along, and another twelve dropped in. We took some shelter under some Hawthorn, as the Siskins were doing, and we could see that they were absolutely soaking, presumably as a result of meeting the weather front straddled across the bay. We watched them preen for a while, and then they were off. Superb, migration in action.

We also had four Goldcrests that were part of the fall as well. There was a trickle of vis overhead, mainly Meadow Pipits, Linnets and the odd Grey Wagtail, but because of the weather they wouldn't be going far.

We headed to the Mount next, and from this former large sand dune, that is now a park, you can see right across Morecambe Bay, and all the way round across to the Yorkshire Dales. The wind turbines out in Liverpool/Morecambe Bay, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, Piel Castle etc, looked as if they were only a few miles away, because it was absolutely clear and sharp, but further into the Bay the weather front lurked. 

We added two more Willow Warblers here, and moved on to the Quay. There isn't a huge amount of vegetation along the Quay to hold birds, but feeding in some Budleja running alongside the Quay we had another four Willow Warblers. We didn't have anything else grounded here, and again a handful of Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and Siskins moved overhead. 

It was low tide, so feeding on the mud were just 42 Redshanks, three Oystercatchers and two Shelducks, and we had a pair of Eider on the river. 
 
The Wyre estuary
 
Back home at lunchtime, the Gull alarm was sounding for a Buzzard that was drifting high north-east. One of these days it will be an Osprey or a Marsh Harrier. I've had Marsh Harrier over the garden, so an Osprey would be nice. 

It's looking a bit unsettled all week, but the winds are generally from between south and east, so if it is not raining to the extent that it is impossible to bird, I'll try and get out and enjoy a few migrants. 

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of March. Two new species for the year were ringed in March, and these were Blackbird and Song Thrush. I haven't done any tables for the month, as only one species reached double figures, and the top 6 have remained unchanged.

Friday 22 March 2024

Black Magic

On Tuesday of this week, Gail and I completed the last of our wintering bird surveys. The forecast was a bit hit and miss, and we had to do the first 20 minutes of the survey from the car because of rain, but later in the morning the clouds cleared and it was quite a glorious morning. 

Skylarks have been a constant backdrop to these surveys over recent weeks, and this morning we had two singing from on high, with a further four firmly on the deck. In the same field that the Skylarks were so beautifully singing over, were 98 Woodpigeons and four Stock Doves. Contrast the song of the Skylark to the harsh croak of the Raven that flew over us, but Ravens are magical in other ways. 

A few Pink-footed Geese were on the move, and I mean a few, with just 63 counted, heading north. A flock of 110 Golden Plovers were heading west as always (towards the estuary), and we had a singing Chiffchaff, our only summer migrant of the morning. Three Little Egrets, and the same number of Tree Sparrows, plus a single Buzzard, were the highlights. I suppose for us, completing our last wintering bird survey of the winter, formally brings winter to a close. 
 
Back home after dark, I was getting some logs from my log store, when the black magic happened. I heard a call that was at once unfamiliar, but yet vaguely familiar, of a group of birds flying over in the darkness. I heard a group at 1950, 1955 and again at 2004. The penny dropped, and I realised what they were, so I went back indoors to double check that I what I heard were groups of Common Scoters flying over in the dark. And indeed, that is exactly what they were. 

It's hard to describe the call. The Collins Bird Guide describes the nocturnal flight call, which is given by the male, as a soft piping 'pyu' regularly repeated about once per second. That'll do. I'm not 'techie' enough to post an audio file on my blog, so if you want to hear what a Common Scoter sounds like, search in Google, or click HERE, and this will take you to the Common Scoter page on Xeno-Canto, where you can listen to wildlife sounds from around the world. 
 
The Common Scoters will have been coming in off the Irish Sea, to start their over-land migration to the North Sea, and then on to breeding grounds in Scandinavia. The last time I heard Common Scoters over the garden was during lockdown, and in that year, they were reported by lots of birders across the UK. 

It was wet during the morning on the following day, but by lunchtime it had cleared up, and the sun was out. Even though the wind was north-westerly, I thought that it would be likely that a Wheatear or two would be about, so Gail and I headed to the coast at Rossall to have a look on the golf course, a good place for an early Wheatear. Sure enough, after a few minutes, a male Wheatear was flying from post to post in front of us. It looked resplendent in the sunshine, and I managed a few distant shots, as you will see below. 
 
Wheatear
 
That was the only migrant that we had though. A pair of Coots had a nest on the pool, and one of the adults was incubating. On the walk back we kept to the shore, and on the Honeycomb Worm reef, at least 40 Turnstones were feeding. Just off the reef, two pairs of Eiders were loafing on the ebbing tide. 

The forecast for this morning was for a 20 mph westerly wind, and there was a morning tide, so I decided to head again to Rossall and have a look on the sea. I was hoping for an early Sandwich Tern, but that wasn't to be. 

Surprisingly, given the wind strength, Meadow Pipits were heading north across the bay, heading towards Walney. The coast runs east to west here, where Liverpool and Morecambe Bays meet, and any visible migration of passerines is usually easterly in the spring and westerly in the autumn. However, sometimes, depending on the wind strength and direction, and the visibility, they will cross the bay at its widest point. I logged 53 doing just that, but there was quite a lot more, because sometimes when I was counting Kittiwakes or watching a Red-throated Diver for example, I could see Mipits whizzing past my scope view at sea. 
 
Meadow Pipit
 
The Kittiwakes were a little bit of a surprise this morning, and we (Howard had joined me) had 114 motoring east into the bay. They were a long way out, and they were shearing up and down, appearing above, and then disappearing below the horizon. If I managed to stay with a few as they headed east, they were slowly starting to climb, so just like the Common Scoters, they would have been heading across land to the North Sea. 

The Red-throated Divers were heading in the wrong direction, as out of the seven that we recorded, only one was heading into the bay. I suspect that because the wind was quite strong from the west, they were just heading into wind. I have seen this with a wide range of species, where they are seemingly heading in the wrong direction. 

We had three Auk sp., 13 Eiders, eight Common Scoters and two Gannets, and that was it. It's looking a bit unsettled tomorrow, but Sunday is looking better, with an opportunity to have a look on the sea again.

Monday 18 March 2024

Avoiding A Soaking

Saturday morning, I headed to the coastal farm fields at Rossall, hoping for a bit of migration action, and there was some, not a huge amount, but it was migration. I headed out from my car under five oktas cloud cover, with a 10 - 15 mph south-easterly wind, and it was a tad cold. 

From the off, Meadow Pipits were heading north, and I had 63 in total. Other visible migrants included a Chaffinch, four Alba Wags, six Magpies, 12 Woodpigeons, six Jackdaws, 22 Pink-footed Geese, four Linnets, a Dunnock, a Goldfinch, three Skylarks, two Collared Doves, 5+ Siskins (stratospheric calling birds), and four Starlings. Not a bad selection of species 'on vis', even if the numbers were somewhat low. 
 
Meadow Pipit
 
The sea was quiet with 11 Eiders, two Cormorants, two Shelducks and a single Red-throated Diver still in winter plumage. The only grounded migrants that I had, other than about ten Meadow Pipits, were two males and a female Stonechat
 
Stonechat
 
As I walked along the track to the south, with adjacent mature hedge and rather full ditch, I heard a splashing sound behind me. I turned round expecting to see a Mallard, or Moorhen, but was confronted with a pale, long-winged bird, using its wings to pull itself through the water. Even though it was only a split-second, time seemed to stand still, and at first, I couldn't compute what the bird was, because it was completely out of context. It was a soggy Barn Owl
 
My rucksack, tripod, bins, camera, and coat were off in a jiffy, and I was going to enter the ditch to pull the Barn Owl out. However, I think because I came along, it gave it the impetus to try and move along the ditch, and just as I was about to slide into the water, it managed to grab hold of some low hanging Hawthorn branches and pull itself out. It climbed along the tangle of Hawthorn branches, struggling to make much headway, but then did a short flight to the other side of the bank, and out into the sunshine. I walked back along the track, and round the end of the hedge, but the Barn Owl had gone, so it had obviously managed to fly away. A good deed done, and on the plus side, I managed to avoid a soaking!
 
Why the Barn Owl was in the water I'm not entirely sure. Barn Owls sometimes drown in cattle drinking troughs, and it is thought that they are attacking their own reflection, thinking it is another Barn Owl in their territory. The ditch was covered in Duckweed, so this bird would not have been able to see its reflection, and after a chat with Will, he wondered whether it had gone after an amphibian, and I think he is probably right. A Frog could well have been moving through the Duckweed, and the choked, green surface of the water will have looked solid to the poor Barn Owl.
 
On my way home I called in at the Nature Park, to see if there were any Sand Martins and Wheatears, and there wasn't. Skylarks and Cetti's Warblers were singing, and on the pools were 22 Coots, three Little Grebes (two singing), 18 Tufted Ducks, a pair of Great Crested Grebes and a male Shoveler.  
 
Tufted Duck(s) above & below
 


Yesterday afternoon Gail and I had a walk along the Wyre estuary from the Quay. We had 6 oktas cloud cover, with a light south-easterly wind. It was very warm on our outward leg, but cooler on our return leg.

The tide was starting to run in, and 185 Redshanks were roosting on some of the higher sections of mud. We had 35 Oystercatchers flying upstream to their roost, and at their roost site on Arm Hill, we counted at least 400 roosting. There was still plenty of mud at Great Knott, but only 81 Oystercatchers on there. 

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on the wing, and that was it. We've got our last wintering bird survey to do tomorrow, and the forecast isn't great. We are going to do it tomorrow anyway, because the forecast for the remainder of the week, and into next week isn't any better. Fingers crossed they get it wrong!

Thursday 14 March 2024

Boxes Again

I suppose this wouldn't be a natural history blog, if I didn't complain about the weather from time to time, and just as sites were starting to dry out, it's raining again! There we go, complaint over...for now! 

Mondays are a bit tied up for Gail and I, because we look after our grandson Alex, but on the Monday just gone, the weather actually dried up in the afternoon, and even the sun attempted to make an appearance. We bundled him into his car seat, threw the pram in the boot, and headed up to Larkholme. The plan was to have a wander along the sea-front with Alex in his pram, stretch our legs at the same time. My bins and notebook are always with me, and I did wonder whether an early Wheatear might make an appearance. It didn't.
 
The tide was just turning, and the sea was flat calm, perfect conditions for a cetacean or two perhaps, but that wasn't to be either. I only had my bins with me, so I was very limited as to what I could see and identify without my scope. At least 24 Eiders were drifting slowly on the mill pond, and then I picked up a small duck (small in comparison to the Eiders) heading north. Luckily for me, as it headed north it was coming closer to shore, and I could see that it was a male Scaup. Not what I was expecting when we decided to take Alex for a walk!
 
A Grey Wagtail and a few Meadow Pipits were feeding in the wet grassland, and eight Turnstones were on the stone armour along the shore. 
 
It had been five days since we called at the Nature Park to check the water levels, and as it was quite sunny again on Tuesday afternoon, Gail and I decided to have a look on the pools to see if there were any early Sand Martins about. There wasn't. The water level in our ringing area had dropped, from five days ago, but it was still too flooded to get into the Willow scrub. 
 
Again, the tide was on the turn, and there have been some big tides over the last few days, in the region of 10.6 metres, and these completely cover the saltmarsh. Gail spotted a Skylark on the edge of the saltmarsh feeding on seeds from some of the saltmarsh plants, and I managed to get a few photographs of it. We were enjoying watching it, until a dog walker asked us what we were looking at, and his dog flushed it. When we told him we were looking at birds, he said his dog chased birds!  

 Skylark (above & below)



Anyway, there were at least two Skylarks singing, and a further five birds feeding on some short-cropped grass. We had a look through the Gulls on the pools, and counted 80 Herring Gulls, 14 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, four Great Black-backed Gulls and five Black-headed Gulls. No spring white wingers. 
 
Other counts from the pools included 25 Coot, the continually photographed pair of Great Crested Grebes that the 'Toggers' can't leave alone (how many full-framed shots of a Great Crest do you need?), 12 Mallards, five Tufted Ducks and five Little Grebes
 
Great Crested Grebe
 
At least two Cetti's Warblers were singing, and also on the passerine front we had a fly-over Rock Pipit (pushed off the saltmarsh), three Reed Buntings and a pair of Stonechats. On the river were seven Wigeon, and a group of Black-tailed Godwits and Knots were heading back downstream as the tide fell. 
 
Yesterday, Gail and I headed to our friend's farm where we have 30 nest boxes up for Tree Sparrows. They are not all used by Tree Sparrows of course, with the boxes closer to the yard being favoured by them. We checked all the boxes, and they were in fine fettle, and we only had to replace two. 
 
We had a look on the wetland, and we had c.200 Teal and a Little Egret. A Chiffchaff was singing from the woodland where we have some of our boxes, and a pair of Buzzards were displaying. 
 
It's looking wet again tomorrow, but there's a chance that it will be fit to get out Saturday morning. That's the issue at the moment, it just seems to be an hour here, or a couple of hours there, when it's fit enough to get out.

Saturday 9 March 2024

Birds, Bikers and Boxes

On the last day of February, this year a date that only comes around every four years, I had a solo outing along the Quay and Wyre estuary. It was a cold morning, with full cloud cover, and a brisk south-westerly wind, and an in-coming tide. 
 
The Redshanks were being pushed to the drier areas of the Quay, and totalled 251, which is quite a good count for the site. Oystercatchers had already cleared out, and all that were left, were just five birds. The tide had nearly covered Great Knott, and as a consequence, only about 200 birds were on here. Oycs could be seen flying upstream, and were heading to a roost site on the other side of the river. 
 
Just two Teal were in the Quay, and 62 Wigeon were in the channel, and other than a bedraggled looking female Peregrine, that was it.
 
When I first got to the Quay, I had to wait in my car for a heavy shower to pass over, and this is when Gail phoned me with some sad news. 
 
I don't do celebrity. I respect talented musicians, or academics, and I have my conservation heroes, like Ian Newton, and the late, great Derek Ratcliffe, but that's about it, apart from two guys who ride motorbikes, and cook food that looks like you would eat it, rather than some of the so-called celebrity chef's offerings. Stuffed pea, with a berry jus anyone?
 
Gail phoned me to say that Hairy Biker, Dave Myers, had sadly passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. We have been watching their latest series, The Hairy Bikers Go West, and although Dave did look poorly at times, we honestly thought that he was on the mend, so it came as a real shock.
 
I had the pleasure of meeting the Hairy Bikers a number of years ago now, when Gail and I went to see them at a sold-out performance at Blackpool's Winter Gardens. Gail is a real fan of the Hairy's, and we had managed to secure seats on the second row, on the edge of the central isle in the stalls. During the interval, I noticed an 'official' photographer knelt on the stage taking pictures of the audience, and the camera was pointing at yours truly more often than not.
 
I have a resemblance to Dave, and if I had £5 for every time I have been asked "are you Dave Myers", I could retire. We have been in remote places, like castle Eilean Donan, in Highland for example, having coffee and cake, and a member of staff has come up to me and asked if I was Dave from the Hairy Bikers!
 
When the Bikers came back on stage after the interval, Si King came to the front of the stage and said "we need a volunteer to help with this next bit, and that will be you sir", pointing at me at the same time. I climbed up on stage with Si exclaiming to Dave that I must be his long, lost brother, and Dave ran across the stage shouting "brother", and gave me an enormous hug. I spent the next ten minutes on stage with them, helping with a daft Houdini act, where Dave was in padlock and chains, and it was my job to check everything was secure. Of course, they were setting me up, because every time I said that a padlock and chain was secure, it would come undone. Gail thought it was hilarious, and after getting over my initial surprise, I did enjoy it. 
 
Dave was a lovely bloke, and he is gone far too soon. Rest in peace fella.
 
A couple of mentions of some garden wildlife over this past week or so. We now have Frog spawn in our pond, and up to press, there are over six Frogs every night in the pond, so hopefully we might get a little more. 
 
Frog spawn
 
We also had an avian terminator in the garden one afternoon, in the form of a male Sparrowhawk. I looked out of the window and thought the garden looked quiet, and there perched up in the apple tree was this little fellow below!
 
Sparrowhawk
 
On the first day of the month, Gail and I visited our Pied Flycatcher nest box scheme in the Hodder Valley in Bowland. We have 43 boxes up, and we replaced two that were looking a bit tired, and put another two up, making 45 boxes in total now. 
 
Our 45th box on site
 
The sound-scape as we walked amongst the trees, was that of displaying Curlew from the fields at the top of the valley sides. In the bottom of the valley, a female Goosander flew upstream, and we also had two Jays, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Siskins, a singing Goldcrest and two Brown Hares
 
A few plants were starting to show, with flowers appearing on the Dog's Mercury and Lords-and-Ladies were more obvious on the still relatively bare woodland floor in places. Splashes of colour were provided by Scarlet Elfcup, and this colourful fungus was scattered throughout the woodland.  

Lords-and-Ladies
 
Scarlet Elfcup
 

A few days ago, I had a meeting at my client's farm near Slaidburn, again in Bowland. I got there early, and had a drive round in my car to see what I could see. There is a good network of tracks on the farm, and you can drive round using your car as a mobile hide. 
 
Curlews and Lapwings had started to arrive back on the farm, and I had four and six of each, a lot more to arrive yet. Oystercatchers were in greater numbers, 26 were alongside the main pool in the central wetland complex. As was a Little Egret, which is regular now, and I must admit it still looks odd in this upland landscape. Two species of raptor, and an honorary raptor; two Buzzards, a Kestrel and a Raven. A male Stonechat, also made it into my notebook. Always a good species to see. 
 
Part of the main pool at my client's farm
 
Oystercatcher
 

The following day I was at my wintering bird survey site, south of the Ribble, for the penultimate visit. It was quite a crisp, clear morning with a sharp easterly breeze. I added a new species for the site, for the survey period, in the form of a Great White Egret, and had seven of their 'Little' cousins. 
 
Woodpigeon  numbers were still relatively high, with a total of 103, and a group of 18 Fieldfares had tagged onto a feeding flock of Starlings. A number of Starling flocks, 1,900 birds in total, were arriving from the northwest and heading south at first light, and I'm guessing that they were coming from the large roost under one of the piers at Blackpool.  
 
Woodpigeon
 
Fourteen Skylarks, included four singing individuals, and Shelducks had increased to ten. Tree Sparrow numbers had also increased, and I had nine, very vocal birds as I walked my transect. Linnets numbered 77, and other bits and pieces included a Sparrowhawk, two Kestrels, a male Stonechat and a Buzzard.  
 
Gail and I were back at the Quay a few days ago, and it was a gloriously sunny, but cold morning. Wader numbers were down as it was low tide, and we just had 30 Redshanks and nine Oystercatchers. We noticed that Common Whitlowgrass was flowering, and it won't be long before lots of other plants start flowering as well. 
 
Towards the end of the week, we paid at visit to the Nature Park to oil the padlocks on the gates that give us access to the site, check the water levels in our ringing area, and carry out some management work if possible. We managed to complete two out of the three tasks that we set ourselves. 
 
The padlocks were all oiled, and the last padlock on the gate into our ringing area needed a bit of persuading to unlock, but it is now well and truly oiled, and ready for the spring. The water levels were very high, as expected, and we couldn't even get our car to where we normally park, let alone walk into our net rides. We will keep checking on a weekly basis, until the water levels have dropped enough for us to get in, but it could take a few weeks. We tried to coppice a few Willows in a less flooded area, but the bow waves of walking through the water was spilling over the top of our wellies, so we just coppiced one large Willow and called it a day. 
 
Close to where we coppiced the large Willow we flushed five Snipe, and around the pools over the rest of the site we recorded four singing Cetti's Warblers, 24 Coots, five Little Grebes (two singing), 14 Tufted Ducks, 130 Herring Gulls, two Great Black-backed Gulls, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, a pair of Mute Swans, 19 Mallards, nine Black-headed Gulls, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, six Canada Geese and ten Wigeon on the river.
 
Great Crested Grebe
 
Lesser Black-backed Gull
 
Little Grebe

A pair of Skylark were in suitable habitat, and a male Stonechat may or may not have been a migrant. A Raven over, and that was about it. 
 
It is looking a bit unsettled this coming week, but there are a couple of mornings that look okay, and the first Wheatears, Sand Martins and Sandwich Terns will be due this week. Something to look forward to. 

Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group up until the end of February. One new species for the year was ringed during the month, and this was a Redwing.

The top 4 ringed for the month, and the top 6 'movers and shakers' for the year can be found below.

Top 4 Ringed in February

1. Siskin - 33
2. Goldfinch - 18
3. Chaffinch - 13
    Blue Tit - 13

Top 6 Movers and Shakers

1. Siskin - 56 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 35 (up from 3rd)
3. Goldfinch - 29 (down from 2nd)
4. Chaffinch - 24 (down from 3rd)
5. Tree Sparrow - 21 (straight in)
6. Great Tit - 15 (straight in)

Wednesday 28 February 2024

What Happened To February?

What did indeed happen to February, it seems to have disappeared in a flash! I started my last blog post by stating that it had been twelve days since my last post, so I have surpassed myself, because it has been 26 days now since my last post. A record for me, but not one to boast about! I haven't been lying idle, just the opposite, it's just I haven't found the time to sit at my computer for an hour or two. I will make every effort to improve going forward. And as spring is just around the corner, I am desperately looking forward to the first migrants making an appearance. For that very reason, Spring may well be my favourite season, but come back at a later date, and I might be saying the same about Summer or Autumn!

Since my last post, Gail and I visited our winter bird survey site, south of the River Ribble in West Lancashire, and it was fairly quiet. The period December - January is often the quietest with these surveys, with things hopefully picking up for the last two surveys next month. 

Our first survey was on 7th February under 6 oktas cloud cover, with a light east-southeasterly breeze. And for the first time in a while, we had a few Woodpigeons, totalling 81 birds, with 24 of their Collared Dove cousins. 
 
Collared Dove
 
Golden Plovers have been a feature over the last few visits, with flocks of birds generally heading high and west, and this morning we had 238 of these cracking waders. A flock of just eight Lapwings was only the other wader species we had. 
 
Lapwings
 
Lots of birds are starting to sing now, and Robins were very noticeable this morning, with at least 5 in fine voice. Eight Tree Sparrows is our highest count for the site so far, and is probably as a result of them getting a little bit more territorial as we edge closer to Spring. Four Little Egrets on this area of relatively intensively managed farmed land was a good total, and it was nice to see eleven Shelducks in one of the bare fields of black sand. 
 
Robin
 
Two species of raptor, a male Kestrel, and the best bird of the morning being a female Merlin flying over carrying food. Two Song Thrushes in song at the same time, and six Whooper Swans west, brought a pleasant few hours to an end. 
 
Whooper Swans
 
A few days later, we had a ringing session at our feeding station at Nateby, near Garstang. It was quite a bright morning with, once again, a light east-southeasterly wind, as we put the net up at the feeding station. We ringed 25 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Redwing - 1 (first ringing record for the site)
Great Tit - 6
Blue Tit - 11 (4)
Chaffinch - 2
Tree Sparrow - 5 (1)
Dunnock - (1)

As we arrived, it was great to see a Barn Owl hunting over the camping field. Hopefully, the box will get used this year, as last year was the first year that they didn't breed at the farm for many a year. In fact, Robert has put a second box up in a different building in the yard. 

I have said before, that Tree Sparrows are the main reason for the feeding station, and in addition to the birds we ringed, there were at least 21 birds zipping backwards and forwards between the yard and the wood. 

Both Song and Mistle Thrush were singing, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was at the feeding station. After we had packed up, we had a look on the wetland and there were 52 Wigeon, 50 Teal, two Shovelers and 85 Common Gulls in an adjacent field. 

On the 13th February we were back at our wintering bird survey site, this time with full cloud cover, but the wind was now a moderate southerly. Golden Plovers numbered only 60 flying west, but Lapwings had increased to 52 heading north. 

Surprisingly, our Woodpigeon count was exactly the same as last time, with another 81 recorded. Seven Stock Doves were the first for a while, and Collared Doves were steady away at 29. The numbers of Skylarks weren't as high as earlier in the winter, but the 16 that we recorded did include three singing birds. 

Linnet numbers had increased again, and we had a flock of 57, but only one Tree Sparrow this time. Three species of raptor were a Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard drifting east. The two Song Thrushes were singing again, and 20 Fieldfares in a flock of Starlings was a nice surprise. A male Stonechat added some colour to the dried grasses that it was perched upon, and seven Long-tailed Tits are worth mentioning. 

A few days ago, Gail and I carried out our last ringing session for the winter at our feeding station. As we put the net up, it was obvious that there were fewer birds, and also the two large feeders hadn't gone down very much. The two large sunflower heart feeders were empty, and they probably empty in one day. 

Our catch reflected the numbers of birds at the feeders, and we just ringed four birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Goldfinch - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Great Tit - 2 (1)

After we had packed up, we took the ladder into the woodland to take down the two trail cams we had up on two owl-type boxes. One camera captured a Tawny Owl looking into a chimney-type box, and the other some Stock Doves looking at the box where they nested last year. The aim of setting up the cameras was to see if we had any Grey Squirrels looking at the boxes, and fingers crossed we haven't! 

Our garden pond has been busy with Frogs these past few weeks, with a peak of six males last night. Six might not sound like a lot, but our pond is only 85 x 65 x 28 cm, so it is small. No females as yet, but both Gail and I, and the male Frogs, are keeping our fingers crossed for their return!
 
We carried out another rescue of a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee a few days ago, but this time from our neighbour's drive. I was unloading some logs from the boot of my car, when I noticed her grounded on our neighbour's drive. I picked her up, and took her through to our garden. I made up a solution of one part sugar to five parts water, and fed her the sweet solution. After a few minutes of feeding, she started to buzz, and then she was up and away. Hopefully she will find somewhere to start a new colony soon.
 
Queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee. If you look closeley you 
can see her tongue lapping up the sugary solution
 
We received a phone call from the picture framers to say that our picture of a Ringed Plover, by brilliant Orkney wildlife artist, Tim Wootton, was ready to collect. When we went in, he said to me, "I think you'll like it, in fact I nearly kept it...lol". And the picture framer has done a fantastic job. I have posted a picture of it below, and I hope you agree.
 
 
These past few days has seen me building eight boxes for Pied Flycatchers for our nest box scheme in Bowland. I had two boxes in stock, so we have ten boxes available as replacements for any dilapidated boxes, when we carry out our maintenance check at weekend. I've posted some pictures of various stages of construction below. You will see that the first few shots were taken outside, as I like to build them outside if it is dry, so I can keep my eyes skywards for any birds going over. The final day when I was adding plates and fasteners, I had to work in my garage as it was raining. In case you were wondering, I didn't have anything of great interest flying over, other than a few Pink-footed Geese heading north.  






We received notification this week from the BTO about one of our Blackbirds. Ian ringed it in his Fleetwood garden on 14th September 2016, and it was found freshly dead in another garden in Fleetwood on 23rd February 2024, making her at least 7 years and 5 months old. When Ian ringed her, he aged her as a '3', which means that she hatched during the calendar year of ringing. So, she was probably at least a couple of months older perhaps, than the 7 years 5 months. 

The maximum age from ringing for a Blackbird is 15 years, 2 months and 5 days, set in 2000. The typical lifespan is 3 years, so 'our' Blackbird did well in reaching 7 and a half!