Sunday 21 January 2024


On Friday, Gail and I took part in the Winter Gull Survey (WinGS), as organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). WinGS is a long running monitoring programme which has taken place approximately every ten years since 1953, however there has been a gap of nearly twenty years since the last survey, so this latest survey is much-needed. The project's overarching aim is to provide robust information on the numbers and distributions of wintering gulls, many of which are of conservation concern, and appear on either the Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC) Red or Amber list. 
Herring Gulls, but obviously not from Friday's Gull survey
The key count date for the survey is today, 21st January, but counts can be completed a week either side of this date. Gail and I opted to do our survey overlooking the Wyre estuary on Friday, 19th January, as the forecast for the weekend, particularly today was awful. And as I type, we have heavy rain with gale force south-westerly winds. I'm glad we completed the survey on Friday! 
The view from our vantage point
I'll jump straight to the results, and tell you that we recorded 51 Black-headed Gulls, 2 Common Gulls, 10 Great Black-backed Gulls, 1,029 Herring Gulls and 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull. During the survey we had 6 oktas cloud cover, with a 20 - 25 mph WSW wind. 
Luckily, we could shelter from the wind at the base of Fleetwood's Lower Lighthouse, affording us great views over the Wyre estuary. We surveyed from 1430 until 1640, and it was the last three quarters of an hour or so, where we had the most Gull action. Gulls, mainly Herring Gulls as you can see from our results above, were arriving on flight-lines and roosting on the sea out in the mouth of the estuary. 

However, there were far more Gulls roosting at three different locations that we could see from our vantage point, but these were well beyond the boundaries of our survey area. Thousands of Gulls were roosting at these three locations; King Scar Island, Cocker's Dyke and off Fluke Hall. 

King Scar Island, is a shingle island that has formed to the northwest of the Wyre Estuary, 3.8 km NW of our VP, probably since the date of the last WinGS. Looking west from our VP we could see streams of Gulls flying out to King Scar Island to roost, and the shingle ridge was covered in thousands of roosting Gulls. 

The two other large roosts were to the east of us, out on the expanse of mud and saltmarsh, at a distance of 3.4 km (Cocker's Dyke) and 5.3 km (off Fluke Hall), and again, well beyond our survey area. Just like King Scar, thousands of Gulls were involved, and I understand that somebody will be counting at Cocker's Dyke tomorrow. 

We had an enjoyable couple of hours, and besides the Gulls we had a few bits and pieces. As we were busy counting Gulls, we did not count the huge number of Oystercatchers on Great Knott on the other side of the estuary from us, but there were a lot! Other wader species included Redshank, Turnstone, Curlew, Dunlin, Sanderling and Grey Plover

In the mouth of the estuary, were four Red-breasted Mergansers, six Eiders and a Guillemot. The Guillemot was closely attended by two 2nd winter Great Black-backed Gulls, and was acting particularly menacing towards the Guillie. One individual Great Black-backed Gull made several attempts to attack the Guillemot, but the Guillie was a feisty little bird, and managed to fend off the attacks. As the Great Black-backed would hover over the Guillemot, the Guillie would rise out of the water, almost jumping in to the air, and strike at the Great Black-backed Gull. Eventually, the Gulls gave up, and flew-off, leaving the Guillie in peace. A female Teal flew out of the estuary and along the shore to our west, and as the tide was rising, 32 Wigeons headed upstream. 

The forecast is looking a bit mixed for the coming week, and if possible, we have a wintering bird survey to get in, but it's looking likely that it will be towards the end of the week, and we have to top-up at our feeding station as well. 

On this day in 2007, I had a rare trip north, with my friend Graham J, to see a rare bird near Callander in Perthshire. The rare bird in question, was a male Barrow's Goldeneye, and we had good views of it, eventually, as it displayed to a group of five female Common Goldeneyes. In addition to the Barrow's Goldeneye, we also had a few other good birds as well, including two Dippers, five Siskins, three Bewick's Swans, a female Goshawk, two Common Redpolls, a Red Kite and two Common Crossbills. Not bad for a few hours winter birding.

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Before The Snow

Down here on the Fylde we had some snow this morning. There is nothing significant about that, but it is useful as a demarcation as far as the blog is concerned in terms of the period covered by this post. As is usual for this part of Lancashire, the snow had virtually disappeared nearly as soon as it had settled! We are back to the windy, wet stuff now. 
Just about a week ago today, Gail and I were on the south side of the Ribble carrying out the first January visit at our wintering bird survey site. We had clear skies, with a light to moderate east-northeasterly wind, a ground frost, and it was quiet. With high pressure settled over the UK for a few days now, it has been pleasant to be out under the cold, wintery sun, but birds have been thin on the ground. 
At this time of year, the post-dawn movement of birds leaving their overnight roosts is very much kept to a minimum. We didn't have any Whooper Swans flying over this morning, but we did have a group of 46 feeding in a field to the north of our survey site. Along the edge of the dyke that forms the northern boundary of our site, we had a pair of Stonechats, and they were new in for the winter. 
Stonechat (male above & female below)


We follow our VP watch, by walking a transect, and on our return leg we came across a Starling singing his heart out from on top of a telegraph pole, and he was throwing a few other species into his repertoire. His song included elements of Blackbird, House Sparrow and Oystercatcher, and it was a pleasure to listen to him for a few minutes.
The cabbage field, that forms the main part of our survey area, had a few passerines feeding between the rows of rotting veg, and included 60 Skylarks, nine Meadow Pipits, 46 Pied Wagtails, 14 Linnets and a Grey Wagtail. A walk around the perimeter of this field added five Brown Hares and we also put up three Snipe
Interestingly, we didn't observe any geese this morning, but we did have eight Fieldfares, 40 Lapwings and two Little Egrets over.
At weekend we had a ringing session at the feeding station on our good friend's farm near Nateby, and we ringed 38 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):  
Great Tit - 4 (6)
Tree Sparrow - 7
Siskin - 2
Goldfinch - 2
Robin - 2
Blue Tit - 11 (7)
Chaffinch - 1
Chiffchaff - 1
Greenfinch - 7
Nuthatch - 1 
Dunnock - (1)
Treecreeper - (1)

Both Chiffchaff and Siskin were new ringing records for the site, and I think that the Chiffie was the first that I have ever ringed in January. 

A couple of days ago, we were back down by the Quay and on the Wyre estuary. It wasn't forecast to rain, but we had to shelter in the car for five minutes until the rain stopped! The tide was running in as we set off, and when we were back at the Quay just over an hour later, most of the mud was covered. The tide pushed any wildfowl out of the creeks, and pushed the waders on to ever diminishing areas where they could feed, and we had 105 Redshanks, ten Mallards, 23 Teal, three Black-tailed Godwits, a Curlew, 21 Wigeon (plus 77 'high' downstream) and 4 Knot

A male Peregrine was good to see, and we had a Siskin over, so perhaps the cold weather is moving a few of them around. 

We have got our Winter Gull Survey (WinGS) to do this weekend, and at the moment it is forecast to be wet and windy. Fingers crossed that it will improve before then, but there is some shelter to keep us out of the rain where we propose to count from. I'll let you know how we get on. 

Monday 8 January 2024

Kicking The Year Off

I don't celebrate new year, and in fact most years Gail and I are in the land of nod well before midnight. There are two dates, or times in the year, that are important to me, and these are the two solstices. For me, the winter solstice is the new year, and our ancestors thought the same. They are a fundamental part of the natural rhythm of the seasons, and not some date constructed and imposed upon us. Being connected to nature, and being in tune with the changing of the seasons is all that matters, as far as I am concerned, and we try to live by the seasonal changes in the natural world. 
Having said all that, I am writing a blog post with a title Kicking The Year Off, which hints that I might be looking at our forays into the natural world at the start of the year, and I suppose that is true. It is very hard not to get carried along by modern life, and it isn't easy to stop the world and get off. We do try!
I know I don't really need to tell you this, but the weather through December has been awful, with prolonged periods of wind and heavy rain, and thwarting any meaningful attempts to get out in the field. So, as far as December is concerned, I don't have anything else to add since my last post.
If I kept a year list, and I don't, nor am I criticising anybody that does, it is each to their own, but I would have started the year with a species that I don't normally see on the 1st January, and that is a Barn Owl. On New Year's day, we were taking our Grandson, Alex, home. It was just coming dark, and as we headed along a lane close to home with a wide grass verge, backed by a mature Hawthorn hedge, a Barn Owl came drifting along in the gloom. I love the buoyant flight of a Barn Owl, constantly lifting and dropping, and almost looking like it could get blown away on the merest whisper of a breeze. They are 'all head', or that's how they look to me, with those large eyes and facial discs, as if the rest of the body has been designed to carry that head, because that's where all the prey detecting kit is found. Superb!
We've had three walks from the Quay and down the Wyre Estuary since the start of the year, making the most of the cold, calm, frosty weather we have at the moment. In fact, we have signed up for the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Winter Gull Survey (WinGS), as the Wyre Estuary site forms part of this local patch of ours. So, on 21st January, for a couple of hours leading up to dusk, we will be counting all the Gull species flying downstream to the estuary to roost. We are really looking forward to it. Gail is going to design a recording sheet to take into the field, so I can shout out the numbers and species of Gulls as they fly past, and she can quickly enter them onto the sheet. Team work. 
The Wyre estuary
Our first walk along the Quay was on 4th January, and we encountered the over-wintering Common Sandpiper close to the boats in the Quay itself. In fact, a Chiffchaff further along gave it more of an early spring-like feel. I'm feeling a sense of Deja vu as I write this, because I know I have said that before. We are just carrying on it would seem, where early December left off. 
A few wildfowl were in the channels, namely 22 Mallards, six Teal and 58 Wigeon. That's the birds taken care of, the only other thing I will mention is that we found some Ragwort and Smooth Sow-thistle in flower. It was our intention to take part in the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland's (BSBI) New Year Plant Hunt, but the weather was absolutely appalling on the survey dates, so it was impossible for us to take part. Maybe next year.
We were back at the Quay the following day and both the Common Sand and the Chiffie were still in residence. Wildfowl numbers were similar with 20 Mallards, two Teal and 46 Wigeon, but there were a few more waders with 52 Redshanks and eight Oystercatchers. Out in the mouth of the estuary on the muscle beds of Great Knott, Oystercatchers here numbered at least 900. 
On 6th January, under clear skies with no wind, we were at our friend's farm near Nateby for a ringing session at the feeding station. We were fairly busy, so birds recorded whilst we were walking back and forth to the net, extracting birds, ringing them etc were limited, but we did have twelve Redwings, 20 Tree Sparrows, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Fieldfares and a Raven. All this was to the soundscape from the wetland of calling Teal and Wigeon. A few days earlier, when we had called to top the feeders up, there were at least 40 - 50 Wigeon and about 300 Teal on the wetland.
We ringed 25 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):
Chaffinch - 4
Tree Sparrow - 9
Great Tit - 3 (5)
Blue Tit - 9 (8)
Coal Tit - (1)
Nuthatch - (1)
Dunnock - (1)
Tree Sparrow
We have got a busy week coming up, but hopefully we'll be back at the feeding station next weekend for another ringing session. 
Our final recent walk along from the Quay was yesterday, and we had a few more waders. High tide was at about 0730, and we got there at about 1000. The tides at the moment are very low, just over 7 metres, so all of the mud in the Quay doesn't get covered. There were 55 Black-tailed Godwits, 332 Redshanks (Quay & estuary), seven Oystercatchers, 40 Golden Plovers (flying downstream), six Dunlin and six Knot, which are always good to see feeding in the Quay. Out on Great Knott, we estimated that there were somewhere in the region of 1,300 Oystercatchers. 
Nothing out of the ordinary, but it was grand to be out stretching our legs in the sunshine. We've got a wintering bird survey on the other side of the Ribble tomorrow, so we are looking forward to that, but it will be a cold one!
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group for the final time in 2023. One new species for the year was ringed for the year in December, and this was a Sparrowhawk. I haven't produced a 'top 5 ringed for the month', as we only ringed 29 birds during December, and no species made it into double figures. I have, however, listed the 'Top 10 Movers and Shakers' below.

Top 10 Movers and Shakers 

1. Goldfinch - 201 (same position)
2. Blue Tit - 146 (same position)
3. Chaffinch - 130 9same position)
4. Great Tit - 107 9same position)
5. Sand Martin - 101 (same position)
6. Greenfinch - 83 (same position)
7. Meadow Pipit - 45 (same position)
8. Lesser Redpoll - 43 (same position)
9. Linnet - 40 (same position)
    Redwing - 40 (up from 10th)