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Another Bird Blog



Bird Watching, Bird Ringing, Photography



Updated: 2018-02-24T17:33:36.345+00:00

 



This And That

2018-02-24T17:33:36.456+00:00

Last summer, autumn and now the current winter will be memorable for all the wrong reasons. A series of storms and hurricane remnants battered the west coast of Britain. Our garden developed a sponge like consistency that became a no-go area; not that there were any birds to see or catch. Even the normally resilient band of Goldfinches seemed to depart, and birds which might otherwise winter with us were displaced elsewhere. Only now with the lengthening days and the first signs of are some birds beginning to return. I had net up for a few hours and caught 5 new Goldfinch, a Chaffinch and a Collared Dove to kick off the garden ringing for 2018. GoldfinchCollared DoveChaffinchToday I took a run out to some local spots and to drop seed at two ringing spots. Gulf Lane held about 90 Linnet, 6 Skylark, 5 Stock Dove, 1 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. There’d been an overnight frost and the heron was waiting for the ditch to clear of ice. Grey Heron The flood at Rawcliffe Moss had muddy if slightly frozen margins edges to accommodate 16 Pied Wagtails, 6 Meadow Pipits, 2 Shelduck and 15 Lapwing. Later I would see Lapwings in display; a sure sign that spring is here at last. Alongside the road a Chaffinch was in full song. I didn’t realise until I looked at the picture but the Chaffinch has diseased legs and feet, a condition known as Chaffinch Viral Papilloma (CVP). ChaffinchCVP is thought to affect around 1% of the Chaffinch population at any given time and can affect both sexes. Cases usually occur in clusters and quite high proportions of local populations may be affected in outbreaks. In my experience the disease is associated with Chaffinches that feed in farmyard, and smallholdings and where chickens roam freely. The disease causes wart-like growths on the foot or tarsometatarsus, the bare part of the leg. The growths vary from small nodules to large irregular shaped and deeply-fissured masses which almost engulf the entire lower leg and foot. Affected birds usually seem in otherwise good health but some may show signs of lameness and hop mainly on the unaffected foot and digits may be lost. The disease can spread to other ground feeding birds like Dunnock. At Conder Green I counted 80 Teal, 42 Wigeon, 24 Tufted Duck, 4 Shelduck, 28 Oystercatchers (inc 4 pairs), 26 Curlew, 18 Black-tailed Godwit and 14 Redshank. A visit to our second Linnet site found 90+ Linnets still around together with 3 Meadow Pipit and 2 Reed Bunting. A Raven croaked overhead heading down to the Lune marshes – the species is now a common sight and sound in this area. I saw a number of Brown Hares sitting out in the early sun and they don’t yet appear ready to start their boxing courtships. The hare is a beautiful and intriguing creature that against the odds of agricultural changes has managed to maintain a strong presence in this part of Lancashire. Unlike rabbits, hares do not make an underground warren but nest in a depression in the ground where their young are active as soon as they are born. I know a local farmer who swears that come summertime the local Buzzard population takes a heavy toll on the young hares (leverets). Brown HaresBrown HaresThe wintering Whooper Swans are now well spread across a couple of miles of fields, unlike early winter where for a few weeks after their arrival they stuck together like glue. There are probably still a couple of hundred Whooper Swans, up to 10 Bewick’s Swans and many Mute Swans but today I spotted an unusual interloper that seems to have escaped attention, a Black Swan. Black SwanWhooper SwanWe’ve had some pretty strange weather but I’m certain the Black Swan is not a wind blown vagrant from down-under Australia.Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileen's blog [...]



A Photo Or Two

2018-02-20T17:04:10.404+00:00

I didn’t get many photos this morning. As each week passes the adult birds and those born last year get older and wiser about birders and keep out of the way of cameras and bins. An early morning Barn Owl is pretty much guaranteed at the moment when food is scarce and the owls spend longer on the hunt. So it was this morning as the owl stayed alongside the moss road but hidden by distance and the straggly hedge at eye level. I made do with a Kestrel and then a Buzzard just sat in the opposite field but keeping a wary eye on passing cars. It looked like last year’s bird. BuzzardAlong Lancaster Road a farmer was out early taking the tops off and shaping the hedgerow. It rather stopped my looking for finches and much else but the flood at Rawcliffe/Pilling held 4 Fieldfare, 1 Kestrel, 180 Lapwing, 10 Pied Wagtail and 8 Meadow Pipit. At Gulf Lane the Linnet flock is down to about 40 birds, the lowest count of the winter but not surprising given the battering of rain, wind, snow and ice that both birds and vegetation have taken since August. Around the moss road produced a couple of calling Buzzards on territory as 5/6 Meadow Pipits scattered ahead of the car. Buzzard  I called at Conder Green out of habit more than optimism and the chance the Avocets may appear any day. They are already in Lancashire after their winter away. No up-turned bills just the usual 3 pairs of Oystercatcher, 15 Curlew, 12 Redshank and a gang of 10 noisy Shelduck. Spring is definitely in the air with Robins and Skylarks in song although next week we’re back to cold and frosty air. RobinA trip around Jeremy Lane and up to Cockersands produced a healthy if unspectacular mix of species. Best was a mixed flock of Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings numbering 200/200/6. Redwings are much scarcer than Fieldfares in early spring as if the Fieldfares make a leisurely journey north while the Redwings dash through mostly unseen. Near Cockersands was the usual Kestrel, a female Stonechat and some pretty huge flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers which numbered in the few thousands of each. Also, 30+ Skylarks, 30+ Redshank, 18 Twite, 13 Pied Wagtail, 8 Meadow Pipit and 6 Tree Sparrow. Kestrel  Golden Plovers I saw a three or four Brown Hares this morning. One stopped in a gateway to clean its feet after it ran through a muddy patch of ground. I’ve seen them do that before. Brown Hare  There’s ringing tomorrow, something of a novelty this winter. But the forecast is half-decent with just a 10mph wind at a partly sheltered site. I’m meeting Andy at 0700. Log in later to see how we did.  A Saturday link toWild Bird Wednesday,  Anni's Blog and Eileen's blog. [...]



Headstarting

2018-02-14T10:29:33.768+00:00

I guess I missed this when it first appeared during the summer of 2017.But now in early 2018 comes up-to-date news to add to the earlier picture of a small but significant conservation experiment. It’s an account of a technique known as “headstarting” of birds and the first time this method has been used in the UK.The species is Black-tailed Godwit, in this case the subspecies that occurs in the British Isles, Western & Eastern Europe, the ‘nominate’ race Limosa limosa limosa. This race of Black-tailed Godwit differs slightly in appearance from the Icelandic race Limosa limosa islandia which occurs as a migrant to the UK but does not breed here.The UK breeding population of Limosa limosa limosa is limited to a few small areas of Norfolk where successful outcomes are not always guaranteed and where the overall population is about 50 pairs only. Hence the project described here designed to increase the species’ success rate and population.Project Godwit is focused on two wetlands in the east of England – the Ouse and Nene Washes – where conservationists are growing the Black-tailed Godwit population by enhancing ideal habitat, trialling methods to increase productivity, improving understanding of local and migratory movements, and the rearing & release of godwit chicks. At the same time the project provides publicity with the aim of increasing support among local communities where the birds nest.During the early summer of 2017 Black-tailed Godwit eggs were removed from nests and then hatched in incubators by staff at WWT Welney Wetland Centre until such time as the hand-reared the young birds could fend for themselves. By mid-summer June 2017 some 25 young Black-tailed Godwits were released into their new home in the Cambridgeshire Fens.  allowfullscreen="true" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="240" scrolling="no" src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fprojectgodwit%2Fvideos%2F1930940403810468%2F&show_text=0&width=425" style="border: none; overflow: hidden;" width="424"> Fast forward to 08 February 2018 where a Norfolk newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press reported that two of the erstwhile hand-reared chicks had been spotted safe and sound in Portugal, 1200 miles away among other wild Black-tailed Godwits. Dutch ornithologists reported seeing the birds among a flock on the Tagus Estuary near Lisbon. The team from RSPB and WWT behind “Project Godwit” welcomed the news that their protégés have migrated safely.  Project Godwit manager Hannah Ward said: “Bird migration is an amazing feat and it’s fraught with dangers. These two godwits were last seen on opposite sides of the UK, one in Essex and the other in Somerset." “It’s a huge relief to hear they have both made it to the same spot in Portugal safe and sound.” She said as the birds were still less than a year old, they would probably not attempt return to the UK to breed this year. “But older godwits should be setting off right now,” she said. “We’re appealing to all birdwatchers to keep their eyes out for colour ringed birds.” “Every bit of news helps us create a brighter future for the UK Black-tailed Godwits.” Black-tailed GodwitHeadstarting was previously used successfully to help Spoon-billed Sandpipers in the Russian Far East, but Project Godwit is the first time headstarting has been used in the UK.Yet again, it's raining and blowing here today but hopefully an improvement by weekend and maybe even a little ringing. Stay tuned.   [...]



Little But Not Often

2018-02-13T17:53:08.432+00:00

Some news from Europe about the Little Owl, Athene noctua, sýček obecný, recently chosen by the Czech Society for Ornithology as their “Bird of the Year”. Though common in Europe, Northern Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia, population numbers of the owl fell significantly over the last half century in the Czech Republic, as birds disappeared from farmland areas; as a result the Little Owl is on their endangered list. The Czech Society for Ornithology wants to make the public aware of the bird’s plight and that population numbers of the once widespread species fell dramatically over recent decades. Little OwlThe society’s Martin Šálek: “We chose the Little Owl because this is an owl which not long ago was very common and widespread. We wanted to reveal the plight of the bird and other animals which live in the vicinity of arable land, where bird and other population levels have dropped. “At the beginning of the last century the Little Owl was widespread; today it is on the edge of extinction. We wanted people to know about the danger.” Little OwlAccording to Mr Šálek, there used to be tens of thousands of breeding pairs but by the 1970s the numbers had dropped around just 2,000. “At present the population is tiny: we have counted around 130 nesting pairs. They are limited to small areas of land around the country; whereas 30 years ago the owl was a common sight for our grandparents, now they are only located in isolated areas or “islands” of land primarily in the regions of Ústí, Central Bohemia and South Moravia.” One question is whether there are steps the public can take to help; the Czech Society for Ornithology’s Martin Šálek points out even simple steps can make a difference. “Our Little Owls have retreated from farmland into inhabited areas where they face numerous dangers. We studied where most of the Little Owls died and learned that some 40 percent died in so-called technical ‘traps’. These include barrels of water, or upright pipes that are not capped. “The owls are curious by nature and go inside to have a look and get stuck and can’t get out. For that reason, it would be good if all small cottage or garden colony owners who have rain barrels remember to but a float inside, so the bird can climb up and escape.Another thing each of us can do is to help the Little Owl is leave a patch of uncut grass on our property, so insects like butterflies which are part of the bird’s diet can remain and hide. A well-trimmed English lawn is not beneficial. If you leave 20 percent uncut, that can help.” Little OwlThis account from Czechoslovakia mirrors the story of the UK population of Little Owls. The BTO’s Common Bird Census/Breeding Bird Surveys trend for Little Owl in the UK shows very wide variation, but a downturn in recent decades suggests that a rapid decline lies behind the observed fluctuations. A figure of c. 7,000 pairs from the BTO/Hawk & Owl Trust's Project Barn Owl (Toms et al. 2000) was the first replicable population estimate for Little Owls in the UK. An independent BBS estimate is for c5,700 pairs in 2009, since when a substantial further decrease has occurred. Little OwlThe primary drivers for this rapid decline are thought to be decreased juvenile survival and the effects of agricultural intensification.  Little Owl - British Trust for OrnithologyMy own observations over the past 35 years in this part of Lancashire have seen the once very, very common Little Owl become something of a scarcity.  Once regular sites are now abandoned with few localities where the species may be found on a regular basis. The Little Owl is now so scarce, so infrequent that it is something of target bird for listers, twitchers and toggers at all times of the year. Where breeding localities are known by fieldworkers concerned for the species’ welfare, the locale has to be kept hush-hush so as not to subject the bi[...]



Wednesday 7th February

2018-02-07T19:07:24.279+00:00

Tuesday was cold and snowy, the first snowflakes of the winter. Thankfully by midday the snow stopped, the sun came out and by evening all the white stuff was gone. Wednesday began with quite a frost on the by now ice free roads.As noted on the blog before, a cold weather snap brings out the owls and the Kestrels. So on the drive over Stalmine Moss I wasn’t too surprised to spot a hunting Barn Owl. The owl stayed out along the frosty fence before taking off into the distance.Barn Owl  At Lancaster Road at Pilling Moss was the first of four five Kestrels I’d see during the morning. The Kestrel was on watch across a stubble field where a good number of small birds alternated between feeding on the deck and flying into the hedgerow. I counted 95+ Chaffinch together with, 10 or more Meadow Pipits, several Skylarks, and at least one Reed Bunting and one Yellowhammer. This is the largest Chaffinch flock I have seen this winter and probably last winter too. The days of 200/300 strong Chaffinch flocks seem to be a thing of the dim and distant past.Chaffinch I called at Gulf Lane to see very few Linnets in the now flattened field. Tuesday’s blanket of snow and this morning’s solid ground won’t have helped the Linnets to stay around. A Kestrel hovered directly over our net ride and where I guess, a rodent or two have helped themselves to the mountain of bird seed. A ride around the edge of the moss revealed huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese, 15,000 or more but too distant to grill in a satisfactory manner. Also, 2 Little Egret and 60 or more Fieldfare scraped a living from the frozen pastures.FieldfareWhen I arrived at Conder Green a flock of circa140 Black-tailed Godwit flew around the back of the pool and then landed out of sight in the field beyond the canal. These wet pastures often hold very large numbers of godwits, Lapwings and Curlews but both viewing and access are difficult with the risk that every single birds flies off at the sight of a human.The pool was pretty much frozen solid but in the few patches of open water, 2 Little Grebe, a Grey Heron, a drake Goosander, 2 Tufted Duck and the pair of now resident Oystercatchers. In the creeks, a dozen or two Redshank plus lots of Teal dabbling in the unfrozen brackish water. A trip around Jeremy Lane produced two more Kestrels on the lookout for food with one particularly hungry looking female reluctant to leave the gatepost even as cars sped by. KestrelThings were pretty quiet due to every field being frozen solid but there was activity along the tree-lined roadside ditch where I found another 45+ Fieldfares, 15 Redwing and 15 Blackbirds, and even a Song Thrush in full voice.It looks like we're back to rain tomorrow but there’s more news, views and birds soon from Another Bird Blog. [...]



Updated.

2018-02-06T16:46:08.230+00:00

Sorry I’m late. Windows decided to bring me up-to-date me with the latest enhancements that I can’t live without.Mr Gates, you need to know, my Sue has been trying to modernise me for years and failed miserably.  Yet it appears that Windows 10 does automatic updates whether the user wants them or not and by clicking constantly pressing “no”, all I did was delay the inevitable.  Like a fool and worn down by the constant messages on the screen I clicked “go”. Three hours later here we are trying to update the blog. February and every birder I know has been looking for signs of spring in the extra daylight hours despite the constant Arctic winds headed our way. There’s been a few pointers at home with Blue Tit and Great Tit popping into nest boxes, Blackbirds hanging around the ivy covered hawthorns, and the annual Nuthatch visit following a burst or two of song. I’m still hoping that one of these years the Nuthatches might go further than simply practice their nesting skills in that mostly neglected box. NuthatchI’ve watched a Treecreeper search the apple tree on a couple of occasions and noticed an increase in Goldfinches after a distinct lack during December and January, but I think those latter two are more related to food. This morning I set off in the usual direction and soon hit upon a Barn Owl in the half-light. As I watched the owl a handful of calling Fieldfares rattled over having just left their overnight roost. There was nothing doing until I got to Gulf Lane where I waited a while for Linnets to arrive for the seed I dropped. Just 100 or so today their numbers and persistence tested to the full in recent weeks by the constant battering of rain and wind. There was a Snipe, the inevitable Little Egret, a Kestrel from the nearby farm buildings, and just over the fence a gang of Lapwings with muddy bills. LapwingAround Moss Edge I found the male Stonechat that’s hung around for weeks along a line of fence bordering a few straggly reeds. There were Fieldfares here, about 80 or 90 but looking into the light and very flighty. Brown Hares were about this morning. I saw a couple on a circuit of Jeremy Lane tucked in close to the ground, motionless and with their ears pressed flat along their backs, trying for all the world to look like a large clod of earth. Brown Hare“Bits and pieces” between Jeremy Lane, Moss Lane, Slack Lane and Cockersands included 150+Starling, 90 Fieldfare, 2 Redwing, 20+ Meadow Pipit, 1 Merlin, 8+ Skylark, 7 Greenfinch, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Pied Wagtail and 1 Stonechat (female). The Stonechat appears to have parted company with the male Stonechat that was along the same stretch of foreshore for several weeks. The two of them could always be found with a few yards of each other until now, but now just the one. StonechatStarling At Glasson I noted just 11 Goldeneye and 1 Goosander although of note, a single drake Pochard was still in residence. Conder Green was relatively quiet but still approximately 200 Teal, 22 Redshank, 18 Lapwing, 10 Curlew, 5 Snipe and 1 Greenshank. Of note here was a pair of Oystercatchers on territory close to last year’s nesting site that failed at the busy roadside. CurlewDon’t forget. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog to see the new updates.Linking today with World Bird Wednesday,  Anni's Blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog. [...]



Some You Win

2018-01-28T09:55:36.611+00:00

At last on Friday there was a half-decent day on which to have a go at the Linnets. The day before I checked out Gulf Lane and Glasson and dropped seed at both, and then as the Linnets came back, made a count. At Glasson I counted 280+ and at Gulf Lane 130+ so the choice on Friday was to head for the least breezy place. The site at Glasson is marginally better if there’s any wind so I met up with Andy at 0715 and we set a couple of nets. Once again, the catch was poor, very poor, as the Linnets refused to play ball and we caught just 3 birds, 2 Reed Buntings and a single Linnet. This was despite a flock of 300+ Linnets that circled around all morning and 7 Reed Buntings in the hedgerow. Reed BuntingLinnet Down in Glasson village there was a good mix of wildfowl on the marina with 19 Goldeneye, 7 Cormorant, 1 Goosander, 1 Great Crested Grebe 1 Little Grebe, 22 Tufted Duck and 35 Coot. And not forgetting 2 drake Pochard. The Pochard is now something of a rarity in these parts in comparison to early and mid-1990s when counts at Glasson Dock regularly reached into the 30s and 40s and many hundreds congregated on inland waters just north of Lancaster. Pochard GoldeneyeGoldeneyeIt’s not just the UK where populations of the Pochard Aythya ferina are near critical level. Nature preservation group BirdLife Finland reports that populations of the endangered Common Pochard have decreased massively in the past two decades. The organisation chose the Common Pochard to be the Bird of the Year 2018. BirdLife's calculations show that Finnish populations of the Pochard fell a staggering 80 percent in the past 20 years. The organisation hopes to help revive the species by naming it the year's top bird. In the early 1970s the Kokemäki river delta in Satakunta bustled with some 250 pairs of Pochards. Local calculations from a few years ago put the figure at just 30. Technically all species of water fowl are threatened across Europe due to a number of factors, says specialist Antti J. Lind. "One of the biggest reasons is that their habitat is hugely compromised, with wetlands being dried up by industrial expansion and left to eutrophy," Lind says. "The Pochard needs a lot of open water to thrive." Lind also says that hunting threatened species should be prohibited.  Glasson Dock  Linking today with Anni's Blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog.[...]



One That Got Away?

2018-01-23T16:03:08.977+00:00

2018 continues in the same vein as 2017. Rain, more rain and then more rain with rarely a chance for serious birding or ringing. Fortunately the internet can be a good source of blog material, so for today here is an amusing tale of a controversial bird that may have escaped the twitchers but which certainly provoked a reaction. Such debates are made all the more interesting by the fact that rare birds can and often do turn up in the most unexpected locations, posing a number of questions for dedicated twitchers. In the case below the bird in question was spotted on a remote Scottish island following a particularly wild and wet autumn when a series of storms battered the west coast of Britain. Orkney is difficult to reach and for a mainland twitcher with no time to waste in bagging a First for Britain, an expensive and time consuming trek that involves road, boat and plane. Stronsay, OrkneyLet’s start at the beginning with the finder’s description of a bird on the Scottish island of Stronsay, Orkney on December 2nd 2017. Stronsay Report "The biggest surprise came on 2nd December! Whilst driving home we were startled by a large unfamiliar Jay sized bird flying up from the short-lawned area adjacent to the garage at Lower Millfield. We had excellent views for just 8 -10 seconds as it first sprung up from the short grass alongside us, over the hedge at Millburn Cottage. We were completely stumped but certain it was a species neither of us had seen before. A bird springing up in that fashion here in winter is almost always either a Snipe or a Woodcock but this bird was less bulky than Woodcock and too big for Snipe and although the pattern on the upperparts (including the innerwing) were a similar black barred dark brown its bill was far too short and its fanned, rounded tipped tail too long for Woodcock. The colour was clearly wrong for Jay but the size, wing shape and proportions similar. The main feature however was the startling white rump, a square sided rectangle longer than it was broad which positively gleamed at us and probably why our minds went immediately to Jay as it rose from the ground We searched the internet but were finally pointed in the right direction by an old friend who lived in the United States for 12 years or so. “Sounds like a Northern Flicker to me” he suggested. Within a few seconds we had discovered page after page of photos of the species on the computer and there was now no doubt in our minds it was a Northern Flicker! Northern Flicker "A day or so later we popped in to Helmsley to tell of our sighting. Eyes lit up “Ah... the Flicker bird”, she smiled. “I’ve seen those in our daughter's garden in North America”. Not only that she disappeared into a back room for a few seconds and when she emerged, presented me with a wing feather of the species she had picked up whilst there some years ago! There have been 3 or 4 records of the species in the UK all found dead on or near the shoreline (one in Caithness) and all idling in the category of ship assisted species. If our bird was ship assisted it did at least make landfall.” It appears there was delay or non-urgency in announcing the news to the birding world followed by an unusual lack of interest. Fast forward to an Internet bird watching forum of 22 January 2018 and a plea to contributors “please discuss” - “Best bird of the year - a Northern Flicker seen briefly at very close range in the Reserve Drive on 2nd December, and a sketch.” Northern Flicker?There follows a number of less than enthusiastic, even contemptuous comments about the reliability of the sighting, the expertise of the claimants and the history of bird recording on the Orkney island. In fact there followed a wholesale trashing of the record. “Don't think there's much to talk about...!”&[...]



Must Do Better

2018-01-20T19:59:57.367+00:00

At the end of December the BTO encourage bird ringers to renew their ringing permit by submitting returns and confirming they are fit to continue ringing for the coming year. Fit in mind and body for now, but it gets more difficult each year, especially those 4am summer starts or scrambling up and down a quarry face to catch Sand Martins. So now my permit for 2018 just arrived hot from the Canon Pixma. This rather exclusive piece of paper will reside in the glove box of the car for the inevitable, often puzzled but mostly interested, occasionally irate questions from onlookers. Bird Ringing Permit“Why are you trudging through that muddy field in the middle of a cold, grey January morning picking up wild birds from that funny looking net? Are you harming them? Are you catching them to eat ?” Then try explaining how the vital scientific work is also rewarding enjoyment,  see the look on their face as you show the rings, pliers, scales and other equipment, and then watch their reaction as the tiny Linnet they hadn’t spotted in your hand is released to fly away. Yes, each UK bird ringer must have a licence to capture and ring birds. They pay yearly for the privilege of being involved in the national ringing scheme, as well as buying their own equipment and the rings they use; unless of course they are fortunate in having sponsorship or a rich benefactor. A busy day of ringing 100 small birds costs about £25 for the “A” sized rings that passerines take. Donations readily accepted or just send a sort code. I’ll do the rest. A check of my personal ringing data on our Fylde Ringing Group database showed I processed 516 birds during 2017. An average of ten a week for a year is pretty pathetic by past performance of almost 25,000 birds since 1985 thanks to last year’s foul weather of summer, autumn, and early winter. But there’s a reasonable mix of species in that 516 and as it’s raining and snowing today, chance to recall a few of the highlights, guess where we went wrong and surmise how to be a ringing superstar in 2018. During 2017 Oakenclough near Garstang proved the most productive of sites and where ringing with pal Andy I processed 268 birds. Most encountered species was Goldfinch at 57 and Lesser Redpoll at 47 followed by 22 Redwings ringed during October and early November. RedwingRedpollGoldfinchIn amongst the dross of tits and wrens that ringers choose to forget were singles of Sparrowhawk and Redstart; and always welcome, a couple of Tree Pipits, all worthy of bold lettering as is the custom of bird blogs in identifying the more exciting species. Tree PipitRedstartSparrowhawkFor the moment we have given up on Oakenclough, a very finch orientated but also weather dependent site where autumn migration hardly took place when many northern finches chose to fly over Yorkshire, Humberside and SE England on their way to the Continent rather than chance the series of storms that hit the West Coast. With luck there will be a strong movement back north in a few weeks’ time when we can return for Redpolls and maybe even Siskins. The weather also limited our visits to the Cockerham Sand Martin colony at the aforesaid quarry. Two visits only during the summer months resulted in my poor number of 33 Sand Martins, just half the full total shared with Andy. Normally we would hope to get in four or maybe five visits to measure breeding success but it wasn’t to be. Sand MartinA few summer visits to Marton Mere realised 28 new birds including a small number of Reed Warblers and a couple of the recent colonist and now proved breeding Cetti’s Warblers. Cetti's WarblerRegular readers will be familiar with, probably even bored by the blog’s continual mention of Project Linnet. Suffice to say that it is a very worthwhile project, so much so that [...]



It's Never Easy

2018-01-13T18:44:21.423+00:00

There’s ringing news down the page but first some information not unconnected from the voluntary work that bird ringers undertake. According to a new study, if given funding and support from similar or future new schemes, British farmers have the potential to partially reverse the declines of Linnets and other farmland birds over the past 40 years - Birdguides. “New research funded by Natural England and DEFRA used six years of survey data to track changes in the abundance of birds on farms. The study involved over 60 farms under Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements in three English regions between 2008 and 2014, and revealed that 12 of the 17 priority farmland bird species showed a positive change in abundance, going against the 56 per cent decline in the number of farmland birds nationally since 1970. The Farmland Bird Index, one of our most important measures of biodiversity, increased by between 31 per cent and 97 per cent in different regions under HLS during 2008-2014. The average response of 17 priority bird species to HLS management was an increase in abundance of 163 per cent; bird numbers more than doubled. Results from farmers and land managers working on HLS agri-environment schemes were compared with farms in the UK’s wider farmed landscape. Results show farmers have the potential to deliver large and rapid population increases in a number of struggling farmland birds such as Skylark, Starling and Linnet if they are given the funding and support to manage their land in a wildlife-friendly way. This new information comes as the UK government is considering how to invest in a better agriculture system post-EU membership that works for nature, rewards farmers and benefits everyone around the country.” Skylark“UK Government Environment Minister Michael Gove said: “Our farmers are the original ‘friends of the earth’ and these results clearly demonstrate the vital role they play in protecting our wildlife and boosting biodiversity. These results show that with the right management and more targeted support for farmers, we can reverse the decline in numbers of our birds.” Dr Will Peach, RSPB head of research delivery section said: “The UK has experienced a massive loss of farmland wildlife since the 1970s and DEFRA’s Wild Bird Indicators published only last month shows this loss has continued during the last five years. Our latest study shows that when farmers are supported to adopt wildlife-friendly approaches, then bird life will rapidly bounce back. Many farmers are doing great things for wildlife, and without their efforts the countryside would undoubtedly be in a much worse position. We have the knowledge and the tools to reverse farmland bird declines. What we need now is the political will to implement them more widely.”StarlingMeanwhile, bird ringers have an important role to play in collecting data, even though our own catches of Linnets during the latter half of wet and windy 2017 have been poor at two ringing sites, both areas of farmland under Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements. There was a slight frost this morning for a meet up at Gulf Lane, our first visit of 2018 to Project Linnet. We started the morning with a respectable total of 213 new Linnets from August to December 2017 and 423 new Linnets for year 2017. The winter has been mild with the number of frosty nights counted on one hand but I am buoyed up by the number of Linnets at ringing sites at Cockerham and Glasson Dock, anywhere between 150 and 350 throughout many visits. Linnets  The problem at the moment is catching the Linnets, with today no exception. Despite a count of 160 birds this morning we managed to catch just two. There is still plenty of natural food around in the field of wild birdseed crop with the Linnets[...]



Sunday Best

2018-01-09T16:10:41.776+00:00

After one of the few overnight frosts of the winter Sunday began with a layer of ice. I set off with a couple of tail slides and the dash showing 0°C. The raised road over Stalmine Moss catches any overnight ice and frost and where one false move over the roller coaster road can see a vehicle plunge into one of the roadside ditches that lie either side. There must have been a layer of ice in the ditches because three Little Egrets stood around on the roadway wondering where their open water feeding had gone. The nearby flash flood had a film of ice with now a small patch of open water with just 20 Lapwings and a single Black-headed Gull. Little Egret - Stalmine MossAt the junction of Lancaster Road was another Kestrel, the third of my so far short journey and all of them sat atop roadside posts watching and waiting for movement on the whitened ground below. Later, and by midday the morning proved to be good for Kestrels with at least six observed throughout the four hours. KestrelI drove towards Cockerham and Wimarleigh where I checked out the latest ringing/birding site where the owners have given permission for both ringing group members and their vehicles to access their private land. Very soon we hope in return to give the owners lots by way of birding/ringing data together with an understanding of the bird species that use their land throughout the year. This should keep us busy, enhance the land owners’ existing environmental policies and help towards their future plans. There was a lively start when I heard Fieldfares close by and then through a handy gateway spotted what appeared to be a dozen or two amongst a flock of Starlings. In fact as I settled down to watch, the numbers feeding in the undulating field seemed closer to 250 Starlings, 250 Fieldfares and 15/20 Redwings. Once or twice the whole lot took to the air when both a Sparrowhawk and then a Buzzard came by. These birds may be new arrivals from the near Continent as both Redwings and Fieldfares have been rather hard to come by around here throughout December.  But with no berries left the hedgerows open fields and treetops are the best places to find the shysters with their bills now darkened by soil rather than berry juice. RedwingFieldfareAlong nearby woodland edge was a large mixed flock of titmice, 50 or more strong with a large contingent of both Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tit but not so many of Great Tit and Coal Tit. It has been a mild winter where survival of this bird family has been for me at least, undocumented until now. Long-tailed TitAlso along the woodland edge, 8/10 Blackbirds and a solitary but welcome Song Thrush. I checked out a marshy pond, a reedy ditch and a meagre looking but newly planted hedgerow. 30+ Mallards, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Kestrel, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Buzzard and countless Starlings were to be expected but perhaps not the single Stonechat which worked the fence line and the ditch where it seemed to find food-a-plenty. In the distance and closer to Winmarleigh I could see hundreds of Pink-footed Geese feeding in extensive pastures with not a road in sight. Those geese are expert at finding quiet fields in which to feed in between avoiding the morning and evening gun rush. I called at Gulf Lane where Linnets numbered 150+ and still feeding on the natural stuff close to the fence - unlike the 8 Stock Doves that lifted from the line of rape/millet seed I dropped two days ago. LinnetsLinnets  I waved goodbye to the ungrateful Linnets but warned them we’d be back soon - with nets.Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.[...]



First Of The Year

2018-01-06T18:40:32.984+00:00

What with that stubborn cough, Christmas, New Year and some pretty dire weather that included storm Eleanor, I struggled to get out birding or ringing. Finally this morning and with a bright start I set out for the usual spots via the road that heads north over Stalmine moss just half-a-mile from home. After the rain of recent weeks there are a number of flash floods in the stubble fields here with a couple of handy pull-offs/passing places on what is a single track road. There on patch that’s held unpredictable numbers of wild swans, Lapwings and Snipe in recent weeks. Today saw no swans, but 45 Lapwing, 2 Snipe and 2 Ruff. Ruff by J.M.Garg - WikiThe Ruff is an interesting record as mid-winter sightings in this part of Lancashire are both unpredictable and irregular and almost certainly involve birds moving westwards from continental Europe at the first signs of cold weather. Should cold weather take hold here these birds may well move south again to join the large numbers of Ruff that winter in West Africa south of the Sahara in the regions of Mali and Senegal. The Ruff is a common breeding species in Fennoscandia and Russia but breeds in much smaller numbers elsewhere in Europe. In England a few dozen pairs breed in eastern counties but Ruff are more commonly recorded as a spring and autumn migrant across the whole of the UK during March to May and then late July to October. In the late 1970s early 1980s there was a spring and early summer lek on the North River Ribble adjacent to the British Aerospace plant at Warton, Fylde, about 15 miles away where up to 20 or more Ruff, males and females could be seen resplendent in their summer finery. In some years breeding took place with handfuls of chicks noted on two or three occasions during the early 1980s. Over the years the numbers of Ruff seen there declined following expansion of the aircraft factory, development of nearby land and the subsequent disturbance and the species is no longer recorded there. There was Corn Bunting sub-song coming from a sparse hedgerow on the other side of the road and when I looked across a gang of five were sat on top taking the early morning sun. There were 15 or so Chaffinches too which flew into the stubble as the buntings stayed around. Both species were still there as I drove off towards Pilling. It’s a little strange that we don’t see Corn Buntings for months but as soon as the New Year arrives, so do the “corn bunts”, a yearly occurrence which suggests that they are birds from further afield and their arrival weather related. Corn BuntingI had two lots of seed to drop. The first stop was Gulf Lane where the Linnets numbered 160, plus a couple of Chaffinch and a Skylark. There was a Little Egret and as I sloshed through the pathway a Snipe flew off from my feet. There’s still natural food here for the Linnets with no real evidence of them taking our already two or three bags of seed, most of which has washed into the adjacent ditch where an egret or two is ever present. Little EgretHigh tides and Storm Eleanor have filled Conder Pool to the brim where there are plenty of ducks, but few waders. Best I could do today was 70 Mallard, 150+ Teal, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Goosander but barely handfuls of Redshank, Curlew and Snipe. At Glasson Dock I counted 250+ Linnets feeding in the field of bird seed mix. Just like the field at Cockerham, the farmer here is paid to plant and manage this small and otherwise out-on-a-limb field for the benefit of birds and insects. Our two Linnet projects currently hold a combined minimum of 400-500 birds which might otherwise struggle to find such a regular and consistent supply of food through the winter months.  If only the weather would allow us to [...]



Post-Christmas Post

2017-12-30T08:35:27.745+00:00

The blog’s been in sleep mode for a week or more to take in the holiday period. A good time was had by all but there’s only so much food and drink one person can consume before the urge to go birding takes over.  And it was time to find news for a new post. I set off over the moss roads towards Pilling where I watched an early morning Buzzard quarter a field in almost harrier fashion. A couple of times the Buzzard dropped into the long rough grass where it was totally out of sight and perhaps searching the ground for a meal. At Gulf Lane Linnets began to arrive as I deposited a bucket of seed into our net ride. After a while I’d counted about 90 Linnets, 11 Stock Doves and a hovering Kestrel. KestrelAt Conder Green - 205 Teal, 95 Mallard, 1 Goosander, 44 Wigeon, 2 Goldeneye, 2 Shelduck, 21 Tufted Duck, 4 Snipe, 8 Redshank , 3 Lapwing and 1 Oystercatcher. Also - 1 Little Grebe 1 Kingfisher, 2 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. KingfisherThe light was very interesting near the coast. Unfortunately a pair of Stonechats showed in poor light and a heavy shower. Then along came the doggy walkers and goodbye Stonechats. Cockersands Cockersands Stonechat StonechatAlso here - 1 Kestrel, 10 Goldfinch and 15 Greenfinch. That latter count is almost as good as it gets nowadays for the once abundant Greenfinch. At Glasson Dock the Linnets proved as flighty as ever and numbered about 300 birds in a couple or more flocks. They alternated between feeding in the wild bird seed mix and flying energetically around and occasionally landing on the roofs of nearby buildings. While the roofs are quite moss covered and might hold insect food it is more likely that the Linnets were taking grit from the roof tiles. Grit is eaten a lot by seed eating birds. But birds have no teeth so grit accumulates in the gizzard and helps to break down the tough seeds by abrasive action thereby making the seeds more easily digested. Linnets The forecast is better for Thursday with a wind of less than 10mph so there’s a ringing session planned for this somewhat exposed site.  I drove back over the moss roads where the sound of gunfire was all around as three or more congregations of shooters/farmers planned their route across endless fields. The after Christmas shoot is as much a tradition around here as the birders’ post-Christmas rush for their binoculars. BuzzardOn Stalmine Moss I found a party of a dozen Whooper Swans plus a few Mutes, together with 35 Lapwings, 2 Curlew and 2 Snipe. There was yet another Kestrel. As I watched the swans a party of 4 Roe Deer strode across the field but as they met the steep banks of the moss road, hesitated. A car went by, the driver seemingly oblivious to the animals, and up the deer leapt. They crossed the road, walked down the other bank and at a trot disappeared into the next wood. Magic Moments.  Whooper SwanWhooper Swan  Whooper Swans Roe Deer  Log in again on Thursday. There should be news of those Linnets.Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog. [...]



Rained off.

2017-12-23T06:50:56.850+00:00

That was a whole week of doing not a lot. Well I did have man flu and a chesty cough plus the weather was pretty grim for birding while at death’s door, so that’s the excuse and I’m sticking to it. But back home and sat at the computer with phone at the ready, birdy things bubbled away. The Ringing Group gained permission from a very supportive landowner to conduct a number of ringing projects on land at Cockerham - more of that in 2018. Meanwhile a phone call or two and follow-up emails to a friendly farmer and Natural England resulted in permission to catch Linnet and Twite in a field of bird seed mix at Glasson Dock. The flock there has built from 130+ birds in October to 350+ last weekend. During that period it had been almost impossible to guesstimate the number of each species other than to say that the majority were Linnet but that more than one Twite was present on more than one occasion. TwiteLinnet For Tuesday morning the forecast was “dry and cloudy” so Andy I met up at the field and proceeded to make a ride for a couple of nets. We caught a couple of Linnets as cloud and mizzle arrived from the south. Of the two Linnets we caught one proved to be a rather large male of wing length 86mm, and rather dark appearance suggestive of Scottish origin. Linnet By 10am we had to call it a day as the drizzly stuff turned to more solid rain. We had seen 250+ Linnets, a Sparrowhawk, several Blackbirds and a couple Song Thrush so hope to return and try again soon.Here's wishing all of my readers and followers a Happy Christmas and A Prosperous New Year.  Linking this post to Eileen's Blog and World Bird Wednesday.[...]



No Snow, More Linnets

2017-12-16T20:40:33.681+00:00

While the UK crashes to a halt after a few inches of snow, here in coastal and balmy Lancashire we escaped the white powdery stuff and made do with just a few frosty nights and days. It was the same this morning with a -3°C start but dry and wind-free for our ringing session in the wild bird seed mix at Cockerham. Andy and I were joined today by Seumus. After the ringing session all three of us were due to visit a farmland and woodland site in Cockerham where the owners had asked if we were interested in carrying out a bird ringing programme. The minus temperatures and frozen ground of this week may have already caused some Linnets to move off in search of ice-free feeding spots because our maximum spot count today was of less than a hundred Linnets. This compares with recent counts of 330 on 2 December and 140 on 10 December. Out of today’s comparatively poor numbers we still managed to catch 13 and so increased our 2017 autumn/winter total of Linnets captured here to 213. Today’s thirteen new Linnets comprised 3 adults (2 female and 1 male) and 10 first winters (8 male and 2 female). LinnetLinnetsOther birds seen while ringing included 40+ Whooper Swan, 18 Snipe, 2 Little Egret, 8 Black-tailed Godwit and an unlikely Song Thrush sat momentarily on the fence where the Linnets congregate. Later when surveying our potential new ringing site we saw lots of Snipe with an almost a constant stream of groups of Snipe numbering 2-10 flying off the frozen fields or the ice bound ditches. Also, Reed Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and a Kestrel. SnipeKestrelLooks like we are back to more normal weather tomorrow via 30mph westerlies, and no snow thank goodness.Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog ,  Eileen's Saturday Blog and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday. [...]



Snippets

2017-12-09T18:42:30.609+00:00

Sorry, there’s no local news today.  Instead a couple of snippets for those interested in protecting birds of prey followed by a cautionary tale about a twitch that never was. Raptor Persecution Positive news from Scotland on protection of birds of prey as the Scottish National Party (SNP) very recently adopted the policy of supporting the licensing of shooting estates. On Saturday 2nd December at the National Council in Perth, SNP activists voted in support of a resolution calling for the licensing of shooting estates to be introduced in Scotland. This made it party policy to support licensing for driven grouse estates and adds weight to the campaign for the licensing of all shooting estates in Scotland. The Scottish Government recently set up an expert group to consider issues around grouse moors, including licensing. This follows increasing evidence that self-regulation by the gamebird shooting industry has failed. There have been frequent incidents of illegal killing of protected birds of prey, culls of Mountain Hares and repeated damage to vulnerable peatland habitats through increasingly intensive management of some areas of moorland aimed at producing ever-larger grouse ‘bags’ for shooters. Red Grouse- Another Bird BlogMountain Hare - Lepus timidusSNP’s National Council member Jennifer Dunn said: “I’m delighted that fellow delegates voted in favour of shooting estate licensing. Raptor persecution is a huge issue that many people care deeply about. Although the conference floor cannot dictate policy to the Government, I’m hopeful that ministers will listen to party activists and introduce tough new policies to combat wildlife crime.” The full text of the motion reads: “Council notes with concern that wildlife crime, particularly raptor persecution, continues to damage Scotland’s reputation, natural heritage and tourism industry. Council further notes that a recent report by Scottish Natural Heritage found that a third of satellite-tagged Golden Eagles disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around grouse moors.” A Shot Golden Eagle - Courtesy of Raptor Persecution Scotland  Although there is still a long way to go conservationists in England and Wales will watch closely the developments to see if the Scottish Parliament adopts this recommendation into law. Such a move would hopefully pave the way for similar legislation south of the border where raptor persecution is endemic.GamekeeperFake Birds? “1st May 1968 - The bird was easily found, in the exact spot that Mr Tarry had described. It was quite approachable. This was the first record of this mainly sedentary African and Middle Eastern species for Britain and Ireland. This large 17–18 cm long wheatear breeds in stony deserts from the Sahara and Arabia across to Iraq where it is largely resident.” Little wonder then that there was a twitching frenzy on 1st December 2017 when the potential Second for Britain turned up in a Scunthorpe garden - a White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga.White-crowned Black Wheatear -By Nir Ofir - CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia CommonsFollowing online discussion and some thoughts that the exotic Scunthorpe wheatear might be an escape or even a hoax, parking areas for twitchers were organised, just in case.  Online chat came up with a few recommendations and advice for those interested in in the twitch, but one or two comments were less than enthusiastic.  “It's at a church - please be considerate. They're not used to crowds.” “Hi Folks. I am the person who posted the sighting of the bird. I took the photos [...]



An Egret Or Two

2017-12-09T07:07:34.943+00:00

Stumbling across rare birds, scarce birds or “good” birds is often just that, an accident; being in the right place at the right time. That’s what happened this morning when driving through Cockerham where a sideways glance made the car screech to a halt. There it was, a Cattle Egret feeding on the grass verge, almost under a hedgerow and not searching the ground under cattle hooves as it’s supposed to do. Mind you, and this is partially the secret of the Cattle Egrets’ success, its ability to survive and thrive in a whole set of different environments. I’ve seen Cattle Egrets in the Lanzarote desert, amongst Egyptian gardens, stalking the Plains of Africa, nesting in Menorcan conifer trees and now plodding through the wet fields of a Lancashire winter. At least the egret is just scarce nowadays rather than a “mega”. Not even a “tick” for many, so it might have a chance to feed and stay reasonably safe from the parade of weekend birders and their year lists. Cattle EgretCattle EgretCattle Egret  Cattle Egret I was around Moss Edge and counted eleven or more Little Egrets, and although a pleasant surprise I didn’t expect to see its close relative. Our Little Egrets have learned to exploit the puddled and ditched winter landscape to their advantage and they are often found on farmland as well as the shore. Little EgretThe fields here are very wet and further round the windy moss road were a couple of dozen Curlew, 22 Black-tailed Godwit, 18 Shelduck, 8 Redshank, 3 Whooper Swans and countless Starlings. It’s good to see numbers of Shelduck back along the coast after their summer absence. They bring a splash of real colour to the grey winter landscape. Further round the moss road were 15+ Tree Sparrow, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Kestrel, several Chaffinch and a somewhat unusual sighting of 2 Jays. Rather uncommon because the Jay is far from numerous in these parts and also because the two birds were in flight across the windswept moss. There is a good stretch of woodland not too far away and their likely destination. ShelduckA quick look at look at Conder Green found the drake Goosander again, 22 Tufted Duck, 40 Wigeon and 4 Shelduck. Hidden at the back of the pool a single Little Egret and 2 Little Grebe hidden in the tidal creeks. At Gulf Lane the Linnet flock is holding up well at 200+ birds with 6 Stock Dove in attendance until the car drew up and off they flew. The Linnets stayed around and seemed to head for our seed mix. Now all we need is a calm morning.  While our UK Woodpigeon is very common, it is actually very photogenic and no one should turn up a chance for a photo.Woodpigeon  It was pretty breezy this morning and the sky soon turned grey. We’re told Storm Caroline and 80mph winds are headed this way. Stay tuned, there’s birding to be had on Another Bird Blog in all but the most extreme weather.Linking today to  Eileen's Saturday Blog.[...]



Linnet Project 200 Up

2017-12-05T16:22:11.698+00:00

I almost turned around and went back to bed when the drizzle wet the windscreen. But then close to Pilling village the drizzle suddenly stopped and the sky looked lighter. I carried on to Cockerham and Gulf Lane where I hoped to add more Linnets to the year’s total. No Andy today. He’s with Sandra sunning himself in Mexico so I was alone. It’s rather a shame we have no trainees at the moment to help with the load and for them to learn more about birds through ringing. But to become a bird ringer involves a time commitment, self-discipline and a willingness to sometimes forego the attraction of twitching or having a lie-in. Ringing also demands a responsible, sometimes discreet approach towards the often private places where ringing takes place so as to safeguard the birds and to respect the wishes of the property owners who grant us permissions. All the young birders seem to want to do nowadays is twitch rarities or chase around the local area following Tweets or pager messages and then tick off the latest “good” bird. Some of the older birders are just as bad if not worse in seeming never to have moved on from their stamp-collecting days. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be much desire to learn about birds beyond the latest field guide or text message. Whinge over, back to the ringing. After the first hints of cold weather it was good to see over 300 Linnets today, maybe up to 350 at one point. But I didn’t catch too well with just 6 Linnets caught, 2 adults, one male and one female, plus 4 first winters - two of each sex. However those six Linnets did push our autumn total of birds ringed here to 200 Linnet, 9 Goldfinch, 1 Wren and 1 Stonechat. Of those 200 Linnets, just 25 have been adults, the remaining 175 first autumn/winter birds, a ratio of 1/5 in favour of first year birds. During the week and following recent heavy rain our catching area became both waterlogged and flattened so when Andy’s back we need to cut a new, drier ride. That will give a little more cover to our single panel nets and hopefully improve catches into the New Year. Linnet - winter maleLinnet - winter femaleLinnet - winter tail - Adult, December Immediately above is a good example of an adult tail, something not really visible in the field with flighty Linnets. Note the very black centres, still fresh almost rounded tips and the well demarcated fringes. At this time of year first winter tails are more pointed and also show more wear. A bit of a short post today but there's more soon from Lovely Lancashire.Linking today to  World Bird Wednesday and Anni's birding. [...]



Plovers Galore

2017-12-02T11:14:46.534+00:00

Ask any birder their least favourite time of the year and November is bound to feature highly. Autumnal contact calls and mornings of migrants on the move becomes a thing of the dim but not distant past, to be replaced by thoughts of where to spend the mostly grey, murky mornings that November brings. Damnation to those dark mornings where a sprint from the starting blocks rarely beats a doggie walker to an early stroll, or where midday sun quickly becomes 2:30 pm, faded light, and a trail of bouncy finches headed to a rapidly approaching roost. With sunrise timed at 8:06 am it was just 0750 plus two when I set off in the usual directions. “Plus two” was the time it took to clear the windscreen of frost.  Now there’s a novelty but with the bonus of clear skies and promised sunshine. A single shooters’ car stood at Gulf Lane. By all accounts the shooters have enjoyed a poor season as the “pinkies” refused to cooperate with well-practiced plans. Often the geese have gained height too quickly and were out of range of the guns, or they played it cool and flew west, east or north across the bay of Morecambe. This year the geese have roosted further out in the bay and stuck to the main tidal channel that has moved north with the result that by the time the geese fly over the marsh they can be too high for the shooters. When I looked across the bay from Lane Ends and towards Heysham Power Station the geese were uncountable through the sheer density and distance of the flock but certainly in many tens of thousands.  Pink-footed Geese and HeyshamSadly, I spoke to a person who was heading out with the sole objective of shooting a Golden Plover. Like me, he’d noticed that in recent days and probably as result of poor weather and snow north of here, our area had seen a large influx of these beautiful but still unprotected plovers. To the eternal shame of Great Britain in 2017, Woodcock, Snipe and Golden Plover are waders of “legitimate quarry”. Golden PloverJust like the geese the numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers today were almost uncountable in the many fields that line the coast road. From Pilling Lane Ends to River Cocker I estimated 4,000 Golden Plover and 7,000 Lapwing, many hundreds of Curlew and in the region of 7,000+ Starlings! Golden Plover and Lapwing Golden Plover and Lapwing Lapwing The Linnets at Gulf Lane numbered 170+ with still a male Sparrowhawk in attendance but an unsuccessful one at least on this occasion. Not far away was a Buzzard, one of four that I saw on my travels today. The photo distance is about on the limits of tolerance for a local Buzzard and even then it stares into the way off lens. BuzzardI tried my luck at Conder Green with the distant duck. A dartboard max of 180 Teal, 37 Wigeon, 35 Tufted Duck and 40 Mallards told me that water levels were up and waders were down to handfuls of Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew. Conder Green holds more “tufties” than the more traditional site of Glasson Dock at the moment with a quick look there showing just 12 Tufted Duck but 3 male Goosander. There wasn’t much luck towards Cockersands where the 500+ Whooper Swans have done a bunk. More likely is that the farmer decided the trampling of his field was getting too bad, hence the lines of tractor tracks throughout the field which betray an extravagant amount of back and forth action but nothing in the way of crops. Best here was a flock of 25+ Greenfinch, in recent years a number now almost unknown plus handfuls only of Tree Sparrows and Fieldfa[...]



Speciation in Forty Years

2017-11-29T14:33:48.631+00:00

There’s fascinating and exciting stuff for students of evolution and migration from Science Daily of 23rd November 2017.  “A study of Darwin's finches that live on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, has revealed direct genetic evidence that new species can arise in just two generations. The arrival 36 years ago of a strange bird to a remote island in the Galapagos archipelago has provided direct genetic evidence of a novel way in which new species arise. Researchers from Princeton University and Uppsala University in Sweden report that the newcomer belonging to one species mated with a member of another species resident on the island, giving rise to a new species that today consists of roughly 30 individuals. The study comes from work conducted on Darwin's finches, which live on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The remote location has enabled researchers to study the evolution of biodiversity due to natural selection. The direct observation of the origin of this new species occurred during field work carried out over the last four decades by B. Rosemary and Peter Grant, two scientists from Princeton, on the small island of Daphne Major. "The novelty of this study is that we can follow the emergence of new species in the wild," said B. Rosemary Grant, a senior research biologist, emeritus, and a senior biologist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "Through our work on Daphne Major, we were able to observe the pairing up of two birds from different species and then follow what happened to see how speciation occurred."In 1981, a graduate student working with the Grants on Daphne Major noticed the newcomer, a male that sang an unusual song and was much larger in body and beak size than the three resident species of birds on the island."We didn't see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived. He was so different from the other birds that we knew he did not hatch from an egg on Daphne Major," said Peter Grant, the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, emeritus.The researchers took a blood sample and released the bird, which later bred with a resident Medium Ground Finch of the species Geospiz fortis, initiating a new lineage. The Grants and their research team followed the new "Big Bird lineage" for six generations, taking blood samples for use in genetic analysis.In the current study, researchers from Uppsala University analysed DNA collected from the parent birds and their offspring over the years. The investigators discovered that the original male parent was a Large Cactus Finch Geospiza conirostris from Española island, which is more than 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) to the southeast in the archipelago.Large Cactus Finch Geospiza conirostris - Harvey Barrison from CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons  Medium Ground Finch Geospiz fortis - Charles J Sharp - CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia CommonsThe remarkable distance meant that the male finch was not able to return home to mate with a member of his own species and so chose a mate from among the three species already on Daphne Major. This reproductive isolation is considered a critical step in the development of a new species when two separate species interbreed. The offspring were also reproductively isolated because their song, which is used to attract mates, was unusual and failed to attract females from the resident species.The offspring also differed from the resident species in beak size and s[...]



Down And Down

2017-11-28T16:27:55.522+00:00

No apologies today for returning to a recurrent theme of Another Bird Blog. From a recent article in The Guardian newspaper.The latest official figures show that birds on the UK’s farmland have seen numbers decline by almost a tenth in five years. Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970, largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, a switch to autumn sowing of crops, a reduction in hay meadows and the stripping out of hedgerows. While the majority of the decline happened during the late 1970s and 1980s as farming practices changed rapidly, there was a 9% decline between 2010 and 2015, the statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show. The latest figures have prompted renewed calls for an overhaul of farming as the UK leaves the EU and its system of agricultural subsidies, to support wildlife and farming. The data showed some “specialist” species, those restricted to or highly dependent on farmland habitats, have seen precipitous falls - Corn Buntings, Grey Partridge, Turtle Doves and Tree Sparrows have all suffered declines of more than 90% since 1970, though others such as Stock Doves and Goldfinches saw populations double. For Turtle Doves in particular, dramatic falls continue, with numbers down 71% between 2010 and 2015. Corn BuntingGrey Partridge For those of us out in the countryside on a regular basis these figures are no surprise, just a confirmation of that we know to be true. Elsewhere in the countryside, woodland birds have seen numbers remain relatively stable over the last five years, although they are down almost a quarter (23%) since 1970. Across all species, including farmland, woodland, wetland, waterbirds and seabirds, numbers are down around 8% on 1970 the figures show. The RSPB’s head of land use policy, Jenna Hegarty, said: “Birdsong from some of our most iconic species once filled the air, but for many years the soundtrack of our countryside – from the song of the Skylark to the purr of the Turtle Dove – has become quieter and quieter. Turtle Dove   Skylark“Today’s figures show the number of farmland birds continues to drop. The farmland bird indicator has fallen by 9% in the last five years – the worst period of decline since the late 1980s. Many farmers are doing great things, and without their efforts, today’s figures would undoubtedly be worse. But the current agriculture system doesn’t work for our farmers or our natural environment, something needs to change."“Leaving the EU gives us a seminal opportunity to overhaul the system, and use public money to build a more sustainable future, reversing the dramatic declines in farmland wildlife and supporting resilient and thriving farm businesses into the future.” Hear, hear.Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.  [...]



After The Deluge

2017-11-25T19:25:28.389+00:00

We’ve had a lot of rain. On Thursday we had a month’s average rainfall in less than a day. Fifteen miles from here the River Conder burst its banks just south of Lancaster and flooded the village of Galgate. The story made the national TV news. When I set off birding this morning I ran into still partially flooded roads that criss-crossed acres of waterlogged fields. Three miles south of Lancaster and on the other side of the River Lune the fields surrounding Cockersands Abbey (circa 1184) were some of the worst. That’s the tiny ancient abbey in the centre of the picture with Mute Swans installed on the flood. Slack Lane, Cockersands B&W of Slack Lane Cockersands AbbeyAs might be expected the floods held lots of birds looking for food washed from the ditches, dykes and already saturated ground following historic summer rain. Too many to count and scattered far and wide were Starlings, Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Curlews, Redshanks, Mallards, and a couple of Grey Herons. A stop and look found 40 Meadow Pipit, 14 Goldfinch, 8 Tree Sparrow, 4 Greenfinch, 3 Chaffinch, 3 Pied Wagtail, 2 Reed Bunting and 2 Skylark. The Golden Plovers spooked at nothing and then wheeled around, twisting and turning in unison before they settled again among Lapwings, Redshanks and paddling Starlings. The morning sun lit up the plovers' pale bellies against the shower filled sky. CurlewMeadow PipitMeadow PipitGrey HeronGolden PloverThe herd of Whooper Swans picked a well-drained field in which to spend their days. They are more scattered across the field but still in excess of 400 individuals and ever wary to passing cars that slow or stop for photographs. The now well-trodden field grows muddier by the day but the swans’ method of feeding leaves them looking less than white. Whooper Swans  After the Deluge I called at our Linnet field, waded along the net ride and dropped seed into the nearby vegetation. With a little luck the 140+ Linnets will stay around and we’ll get a ringing session when it stops raining and our seed stops washing into the adjacent ditch. LinnetBack home I was greeted by a calling Nuthatch, one of the few birds in the garden just lately. NuthatchEven the Goldfinches have mostly deserted us after weeks and weeks of cascading water.Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog  and Eileen's Saturday Blog. [...]



Stone Me

2017-11-21T16:11:17.148+00:00

Next week’s weather looked dire. Sunday might be the only opportunity to get some ringing done. So with a promised 3mph I drove up to Gulf Lane and an early start. No Andy today. And he had the single panel nets in his car except for a brand new Ecotone that languished in my boot. I put up the one net but it was shiny and pristine, straight out of the packet from Poland and by now the rising sun lit up the mesh. Mist nets are better when the new shine has worn off and they take on a greyer tone that merges into backdrop of the customary British weather. Anyway that’s my excuse for catching just 4 Linnets in a couple of hours. And I think the number of Linnets around at 180-200 suggests that this consistent count of recent weeks holds regular birds and few newcomers. But that miserly four equates to 251 new Linnets for the year of which 194 are from this autumn/ winter. And still not a single recapture. The Linnet below is a rather smart adult female. LinnetAll was not lost as I caught a Stonechat, almost certainly the quite distinctive male resident here for the last couple of weeks. I racked my brains to think of the last time I ringed a Stonechat in Lancashire so looked it up on the database - 1993. That timescale is indicative of both the species’ scarcity around here and also its liking for open habitats where ringers are not terribly active. The Stonechat “took the Micky” for a while and at one point perched up on one of the 4ft high bamboos that held the net and from where it could certainly see the mesh stretching to the other end. Ten minutes later it was lying in the net alongside a Linnet. In this part of coastal Lancashire the Stonechat is a scarce, partially migrant breeding bird, mainly on the edge of the Bowland hills but occasionally along the coastal strip. In many a spring it is a slightly more numerous and early passage migrant during February to April. Likewise, a migrant in autumn when odd birds may linger into December and beyond or even spend the winter if the weather stays mild enough. After 25 years I needed to consult “Svensson” to if possible age this obvious male. Through a combination of factors, bill, alula, tail wear and shape, plus the amount of black on the head, mantle and throat, I considered it an adult. "Svensson"Stonechat in SvenssonStonechatStonechatLots of other birds around this morning, mainly in flight by way of many hundreds of field-grazing Lapwing, Golden Plover and Curlew. Others – Sparrowhawk, Whooper Swans and Little Egrets.Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday. [...]



Mix And Match

2017-11-18T18:26:24.873+00:00

Today’s forecast was a little over the top windy for ringing at our exposed sites so I indulged in a few hours birding, camera at the ready. It turned out to be a day of mixed fortunes with both sunny and cloudy periods, showers, and even a spot or two of sunshine. At the end, a few photos to share. The drive across Stalmine Moss found three Kestrels, a hunting pair and then at the junction of Lancaster road a third one in flight. I slowed to scan the fields where a Barn Owl might be seen but none emerged from the post dawn light, just three chattering Fieldfares. The thrushes carried on south but I would see a number of others soon. I stopped at Gulf Lane to count the Linnets and drop food. Still 130+ Linnets, plus a number of Tree Sparrows at the farm 50 yards away. We don’t include the sparrows in our counts as they do not visit our seed even though it is a very short flight for them. I guess there must be lots of natural around at the moment and no need for them to sign in to our free food bank. Further around Gulf Lane were another 40 or so Tree Sparrows. They fed in a roadside stubble field and when spooked by a passing vehicle flew up to a handy tree or hedgerow until the danger passed. Tree SparrowFollowing this very wet summer and autumn herds of Whooper Swans, small and large, are scattered across many areas of Pilling, Cockerham, Cockersands and Eagland at the moment. There are so many swans that if on a morning flight the lot were to try and feed in one field they might struggle to do so; even more when both Whoopers and the many dozens of Mute Swans seem not to mind sharing their largesse of abandoned crops. So it was that out on Moss Edge I watched a herd of 20 Mutes and 30 Whoopers as they fed untroubled in yet another morass of mud and corn stubble. I even managed to single out a family group for a picture. What fine animals they are and aren’t we so very honoured to welcome them to our local landscape each winter? Two Little Egrets fed in the adjacent grass and looked slightly out of place, somewhat exotic in comparison to the Icelandic swans.Whooper Swan Whooper SwanLittle EgretThe hawthorn berry crop was poor this year. Following the October/November invasion of Fieldfares, Blackbirds and other thrushes this already low food resource is now almost gone. On Moss Edge the hawthorns are pretty much depleted and it was noticeable that a flock of approximately 130 Fieldfares searched both the ground and the hedgerows for something to eat. In normal years the hedgerows provide bird food for a few more weeks. Fieldfare Fieldfare I stopped at Conder Pool more out of habit than expectation. Old Faithful really struggles to provide any birds at the moment so I was not surprised with the regular counts of 190 Teal, 14 Wigeon and about 30 each of Lapwing, Redshank and Curlew. The customary 3 Little Grebe, 1 Goosander and 2 Little Egret. I found nothing of note on the circuit of Moss Lane/Jeremy Lane with none of the thrushes of late except for a Mistle Thrush into the light. Mistle Thrush  It was time for a coffee near the Lune. As luck would have it a flock of Linnets flew by and some landed on the nearby fence. Even better there was a single and perhaps one or two more Twite plus a curious Wren. WrenLinnetTwite Linnet  Twite The Twite Linaria flavirostris and the Linnet Linaria cannabina are similar in looks but are two separate an[...]



More Linnets Please

2017-11-15T13:49:09.369+00:00

Just yesterday I entered some recent counts of Linnets at Gulf Lane into the BTO’s Bird Track. The system flagged up that the counts were of an “unusually high number”. Well BTO it’s good to hear that, especially as discovering more about winter Linnets is the objective of our project here. BirdTrack - BTOThroughout September and October spot counts here varied between 50 and 100 Linnets during a period of poor and mostly wet and windy weather. In the last week and into November and with more settled weather there have been nearer 200 birds at any one time. Wednesday 15th and at last a morning of less than 5 mph winds. I met Andy at 0715 and ten minutes later the single panel nets stood ready for the Linnets as they arrived from roosts ready for their first feed of the day. Parties arriving varied between 3 and 30 individuals until our best counts of the morning realised 135 Linnets at any one time, a reduction from the most recent count of 200 on 11th November. Past catches tend to equate to approximately 10% of the spot count, just as today with 13 caught. This brought our running total to 190 Linnets for this autumn period. Today’s catch comprised 1 adult male and 12 first winters, 4 female and 8 male. In addition we caught a single Wren. One of today’s Linnets came in at a healthy 85mm wing and 19 grams, another two at 84mm and 19.4 and 19 grams, leading us to again speculate that such individuals originate from Scotland. LinnetMore time, more captures and more recaptures of Linnets ringed elsewhere may help us to prove the theory. All we need is more ringers catching and ringing spring, summer, autumn and winter Linnets.  For the benefit of ourselves, the farmer and his Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme we record all bird species using the site on each and every visit. Today the list was restricted to Linnets, a Sparrowhawk and the aforementioned Wren. Fly overs today were Whooper Swan, Lapwing, Skylark, Kestrel, Buzzard, Meadow Pipit and Pink-footed Goose. Geese flew off the marsh and inland throughout our four hour stay. We were reliably informed that recent counts have been in the region of 40,000 Pink-footed Geese!Pink-footed GeeseSeems like we have enough pinkies for a while. But if anyone would like to send more Linnets our way, we'll do our best to accommodate them.[...]