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. 
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. 
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". 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!

Friday 2 February 2024

A Good Deed

It has been twelve days since I last posted, and for that I apologise, but I have been busy getting all my natural history records up to date, for various individuals and organisations, via various forms of online submission. There are records for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) via BirdTrack, and records of mammals, butterflies, dragonflies and orchids can also be entered via this programme, records of moths and plants for the local record centres through iRecord, and then personal ornithological highlights for the County Bird Recorder. I have been out in the great outdoors, but I haven't had time to post on here. January every year is like this. 
Just under ten days ago, Gail and I had a walk from the Quay and along the Wyre estuary. It was one of those cold, grey days, and the tide had virtually covered all the mud in the Quay. A flock of 180 Redshanks were hanging on, with water up to their knees, and they would soon be pushed off. In fact, that was the ornithological highlight of our walk, other than a female Peregrine
On our way back to our car, I spotted something just off the path, from the corner of my eye, and I could see it was a Bumblebee. From her jizz, I could see that she was alive, but she certainly looked moribund. I picked her up, and carried her back to the car. She was a beautiful queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee, and it wasn't the right time to be out and about. On decent days during the winter, queens can emerge from their hibernation, but this wasn't one of those days, or it didn't look like it to me. 
Back at the car, Gail placed her in a small plastic container, and we headed home. We had to call in at Asda for a few bits of shopping, so we left her in the plastic container on one of the heated seats in the front. The plan when we got her home was to try and revive her with some sugar-water, and a warm, but this wasn't necessary. As soon as we reversed into the drive, she was very active within the container. She was buzzing beautifully, with that deep sounding, throb of a buzz that only Bumblebees make. As soon as I lifted the lid off the container, she was away. Our good deed for the day. 
A couple of days later I was at my wintering bird survey site, with fellow Ecologist Rachel. It was a bitterly cold morning, with a stiff WSW wind, but at least it was sunny. These wintering bird surveys in January are usually quiet, unless you are in a good coastal or wetland location, and this morning was no exception. I am just going to list the highlights from our three-hour survey, which were, ten Shelducks, 24 Whooper Swans, eleven Skylarks, 359 Pink-footed Geese, 29 Woodpigeons, 30 Linnets, 35 Golden Plovers, a Mistle Thrush, a Grey Wagtail, eleven Pied Wagtails, a Buzzard and a Kestrel
Last weekend, I headed to the Point for a sea watch, and to see what was roosting on the incoming tide. I had nearly full cloud cover, with a 15 mph south-westerly wind, and the visibility out in the bay was fairly poor. It's been a while since I had been here, and I had almost forgotten how awful the disturbance to the birds from people walking their dogs on the beach was. There were several people during the two hours that I was there, on the beach, with their dogs running around flushing everything. One dog in particular was out of control, and it would home in on a single wader and chase it for as long as it could, and then move on to another one. The owners were trying to control it, but it was completely ignoring any attempt they made to get it back on its lead!
All it would take, would be to cordon off a couple of sections of the beach at high tide where the waders roost, where no access is allowed over the high tide period, and the waders could then roost safely without any disturbance. Funnily enough, as I was walking off site, I bumped into fellow Pied Flycatcher enthusiast, Mark, who was recording any disturbance to the waders as part of some work for Natural England, looking at wider recreational disturbance in Morecambe Bay, so fingers crossed something positive might come out of Mark's surveys. 

Talking of waders, it always surprises me that some still manage to roost, and over the high tide period I had 87 Oystercatchers, 339 Sanderlings, 62 Dunlins, 55 Ringed Plovers, 74 Turnstones and two cracking Purple Sandpipers roosting with the RPs and Turnstones. Nice! 
Purple Sandpipers and Ringed Plovers
Mainly Sanderlings
The sea was very quiet, and all I had was 15 Cormorants, five Eiders, a Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver, a Shelduck and 112 Pink-footed Geese heading north. 

Over the past few nights, we've had a froggy chorus coming from the garden, and on one particular wet night, a couple of evenings ago, the frogs were very vocal. So, we are hoping for some frog spawn and wee tadpoles in our little pond this year.

I was at my client's farm in Bowland a couple of days ago with a colleague from the RSPB. As Hilary and I were having a walk round some of the breeding wader fields, and looking at how the habitat was shaping up for the forthcoming breeding season, we had two Barn Owls constantly hunting, and this was at about 10:30 a.m. Of course, Barn Owls will hunt during the day, and there is usually a reason to force them out during these times, and I suspect that all the wet weather of late has been preventing them from hunting, so on this rare dry day of late, they will have been forced, by hunger, to hunt during full daylight. We chatted to John and Russell who are on the farm most days completing habitat works, and they have seen them quite a bit recently in the day, so I suspect they are indeed a pair of hungry owls. 

Gail and I had a walk along the Wyre yesterday morning, and it was another grey day, with a stiff westerly wind, but it did brighten up towards the end of our walk. A number of Teal and Wigeon were along the edge of the river, with 42 Wigeon close to us, but in the distance I could see a lot more. I was travelling light without my scope, so counts further away eluded us. 

The highlight of the morning was the interaction between a pair of Peregrines and a pair of Ravens. The Peregrines, particularly the larger female, were not happy with the close proximity of the Ravens, and every time one of the Ravens was more out in the open, the female Peregrine would stoop at, dive bomb, chase, and just generally harass the two Ravens. The Ravens were engaging in some courtship and pair bonding, and were stood side by side preening each other, or touching each other's beaks, and at the same time were making a kind of low warbling sound. I say 'warbling', because it was nearer a warble, rather than their usual harsh croaking call. Gail and I just stood spell-bound, soaking up this magical moment. It was the contrast between the drama of the battle between the two species, and the intimate moments between the two Ravens that made it so special. Eventually, the Ravens could only take so much of the sorties from the female Peregrine, and decided that it wasn't the place to try and get all romantic with each other, and flew off.  
Courting Ravens
Watchful Peregrine (above & below)
The forecast isn't looking great for the next ten days or so, and I seem to be saying that all the time just recently, but I'm sure there will be a window or two to get out and about.
Over on the right you will see that I have updated the ringing totals for Fylde Ringing Group for January. 108 birds of 13 species were ringed during the month, and the top 4 ringed in January can be found below.
Top 4 Ringed in January
1. Siskin - 23
2. Blue Tit - 22
3. Tree Sparrow - 16
4. Chaffinch - 11
    Goldfinch - 11