Monday 22 April 2024

Upland Waders and a Bit of Coastal Migration

It has been ten days since my last post, and that's because I've been out most days, and have been struggling to find time to do a blog post. So, better late than never as they say! I've been carrying out some upland wader work on my client's farm, combined with some coastal migration monitoring, and a few walks down the Wyre estuary. The usual stuff.

Rewinding back to the 12th April, Gail and I had one of our regular walks along the Quay and estuary, but under cold grey skies, with a blustery south-westerly wind, and it was quiet. Hardly worth mentioning in fact, but we did have a Tree Pipit over, so that is perhaps worth a mention. We recorded a few plants flowering, including Dove's-foot Cranesbill, Red Valarian, Ribwort Plantain, Rue-leaved Saxifrage and Sticky Mouse-ear, and I am going to leave it at that. We had another visit to the Quay a couple of days later, and saw even less!

Over the past week or so, we have been having 1 or 2 Hedgehogs coming to our garden 'hog' feeding station, which is nice, but not so nice is a poor female Chaffinch regularly visiting the garden suffering with Fringilla Papillomavirus. Her legs look nasty with it. 

Early last week, myself and a couple of RSPB colleagues, carried out the first of three breeding wader surveys at my client's farm in Bowland. It was a great morning for it, with 2 oktas cloud cover, and a light north-westerly wind. 

Over our three survey sections, covering only half of the farm, we estimated:

Redshank - 3 pairs
Lapwing - 10 pairs 
Curlew - 8 pairs
Oystercatcher - 7 pairs
Snipe - 1 pair
Common Sandpiper - 1 pair
Of course, there's a long way to go yet between where we are now, and successful fledging of chicks. We checked the two Lapwing nests with cameras on them, and both had been predated! The pair that I checked had started again in the field directly behind, so I'll keep my fingers crossed for them. 
In addition to the waders that I surveyed, I also had a few other bits and pieces, including two Buzzards, 12 Brown Hares, ten Willow Warblers (9 singing), a female Goosander, a Raven, a Kestrel and a male Redstart.
The following morning, I was at the coastal farm fields and school close to home. I was hoping that the south-easterly wind would produce some birds, but the favourable wind direction was negated by the cold and clear conditions. As a result, I didn't record a single grounded migrant.
There was some visible migration, but it was light, and consisted of 282 Pink-footed Geese (94 north out at sea), seven Linnets, three Meadow Pipits, three Siskins and two Swallows. The sea was equally as quiet, with just 11 Eiders, a Guillemot, 24 Common Scoters, four Red-throated Divers and two Sandwich Terns.
At the end of last week, Gav and I were back in Bowland at my client's farm, looking for Lapwing nests to monitor with cameras. We found three active nests; 2 with full clutches of 4 eggs being incubated, and another with 3 cold eggs, which would be 4 the following day, and then the female would start the incubation. We put cameras on all three nests. 
In the same field, we found another Lapwing nest with four cold eggs, with the remains of an adult next to the nest. All that was left was a leg and a few tail feathers. The bird didn't look to have been chewed, so this pointed to predation by a raptor, and also the eggs were still there, again pointing towards a raptor. I've included a few pictures below of the nests, and the predated Lapwing. That's how it goes sometimes. 
Lapwing nest, with 4 warm, incubated eggs
Remains of predated Lapwing
Whilst we were searching for Lapwing nests, we had Snipe drumming in the same field, and a pair of Curlews engaging in some pre-mating display. All good stuff. 
Close to the car, Gav heard the 'chack, chack' of a Ring Ouzel, and we then had a minute or two of pretty awful views of a male and female moving through the hedge. Nice though. 
Saturday morning saw Gail and I back along the Quay and estuary. Another quiet one, although we did have 66 Redshanks, three Knots and two White Wagtails. The sun was out, and it brought out three Small Tortoiseshells and two Small Whites
Small Tortoiseshell
Small White

I ran my newly treated (see picture below) moth trap for just the second time this spring over that night and the following morning, and caught three moths of three species; Hebrew Character, Early Grey and Herald. Below are some pictures of the Herald, one usual shot, and a couple from different angles. 

I love the black and white stripey legs
On Sunday morning, I had a bit of coastal migration action at the farm fields and school at Larkholme. When I arrived at first light, I had full cloud cover and it was calm. Shortly after I set up at my sea watching and vis location it started raining with a light drizzle, and it remained like that for the next three hours.  

Surprisingly, given the drizzly and murky conditions, there was some vis, mainly in the form of hirundines, and heading in a northerly direction I had 16 Swallows (eight out at sea), an Alba Wag, a Carrion Crow, 3 Goldfinches, two Linnets, a White Wagtail and two Siskins. 

The sea provided the greatest interest, not in numbers, but in a first for me for the site. The sea was absolutely flat calm, just like a mill pond, and because of this, it was easy to pick out birds on the water. I had seen a group of three Teal, and when scanning left, I picked up another couple of dabbling ducks. Even with my scope, I couldn't properly make them out, although I had my suspicions. I pulled out my Nikon P950 and cranked it up to x83, and took an awful picture of the two ducks. However, when I zoomed in on the image on the back of the camera, I could make out the white crescent of a male Garganey! So, I suspect a pair of Garganey heading north had taken advantage of the calm conditions and dropped in for a rest. 

In addition to the Garganey and Teal, the sea produced 25 Sandwich Terns, four Red-throated Divers, three Eiders, three Shelducks, 66 Common Scoters, six Cormorants and eleven Dunlin

Whimbrel were also a feature of the morning. It started off by me hearing several calling birds that I couldn't see, so they had to go down in my notebook as singles, and then I had groups of 10, 6, 2 and three that tried to land on the beach, but decided against it. In total I had 24. 
I had an odd selection of grounded migrants as well. I was busy looking down my scope when I thought I heard some Twite calling. At first, I dismissed it (I don't know why, as I have had them grounded in spring along here before), and then I looked round to see a group of six flying towards me on the inland side of the sea wall. They perched up on a wooden gate, and then dropped into the field to feed. After a short while they took off, and I lost them as they drifted east low over the field. 
I then had some hirundines grounded. I say grounded, it was more of a case of the drizzle dropping four House Martins, that were then held low by the weather conditions, and spent the rest of the time I was sea-watching hawking aerial insects. To the grounded list I added a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, two Lesser Redpolls and two Willow Warblers. It was now time to head home. 

It was pleasing, and probably more surprising, to read in April's British Birds, that both the British and Scottish Governments announced in January 2024, that industrial sandeel-fishing will no longer be permitted in English and Scottish waters. And about time too! 

Lots of seabirds rely on sandeels for food, including Kittiwakes, Puffins, Guillemots, as well as marine mammals, such as Minke Whales, Harbour Porpoises and harbour Seals. This announcement will help in safeguarding the future of these species.

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.  


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


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. 
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. 
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!
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. 
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.