Friday, April 17, 2015

Coming To Rocks Near You

Local birders have been reporting good numbers of Wheatears all week. There have been singles and good sized little gangs of them all along the coast and just inland with as few as one or two or up to 20 together. With the help of the trusty mealworms I decided to spend the afternoon on the Pilling patch to try and locate more Wheatears and maybe catch, ring and measure a few.


Near the sea wall at Fluke Hall was a gang of 7 or 8 Wheatears, all of bright colouring, large in stature and also highly mobile in their search for food. The rocks and stones of the sea wall have lots of crevices, nook and crannies where insects abound and where the high boulders provide great vantage points from which to survey the scene. The barbed wire fence and posts provide additional places to keep a lookout. 



Within a minute I’d caught a large handful of a second-year female, one with a wing and weight of 100mm and 26gms respectively. The measurements immediately put her into the category of a “Greenland” type. I released her and she re-joined the other members of the gang by now some 50 yards west and heading towards Knott End. 


I walked towards Pilling Water and where as a contrast to the Wheatear of Spring were 700+ Pink-footed Geese feeding on the marsh, still reluctant to head north to Iceland. A Buzzard flew from the wood and like me headed towards Pilling Water. It was about 1300 hours when a handful of Swallows arrived from the south and headed directly north across Morecambe Bay - diurnal migration in action. 

Lapwings alerted me to something wrong. There was a Stoat carrying a tiny mammal, probably a vole, and running across the ploughed field which holds a couple of Lapwing nests. The Lapwings weren’t happy. The Stoat ran down into a wet ditch carrying the prey and disappeared from view.  

Memo to self for later Googling - do Stoats eat their prey immediately? In mid to late April would they have the customary 6-10 kittens waiting for food in a nearby den? 


There was a Kestrel and 2 Little Egrets at Pilling Water and not much else save for a few Linnets and a single Wheatear moving up and down the usual line of rocks. This Wheatear wasn’t so easy and gave me the run-a-round for a while until succumbing to temptation. Being quite grey on the mantle and crown and with wing and weight of 97mm and 22.4 respectively I suspect it was a second year male nominate Oenanthe oenanthe. But birds in the hand can be deceiving, even more so at large in the field. 

Best to let the experts out there decide next time they spot those Wheatears clambering over the rockery. 


Please join Another Bird blog soon. There’s sure to be more rocking and rolling with Wheatears.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday Birds

The Pilling morning air looked cold and grey. It was, and for a while I had to wear a pair of lightweight gloves reserved for such Springtime emergencies. With just a few hours to spare before domestic duties I gave the birding all I had without too much success. 

Feeding below the sea wall I found 2 Wheatears and a little further along discovered the Linnet flock of late comprising by now some 100+ individuals. We birders tend not to think of the Linnet as a migrant species but in the Autumn many disappear to the south of England, France and Spain for the winter months and then reappear rather late in the Spring, often into May and in the small flocks associated with Autumn. Once here they soon get on with the breeding season and one pair of birds is quite capable of rearing 3 broods of youngsters before summer is out. 


In the now slightly flooded field were 15 Meadow Pipits and a pair of Pied Wagtails. From a distance the single bird perched up on grass and bramble stems looked like a Reed Bunting, and as I walked closer and heard it call I realised it was a Corn Bunting, the bigger relative of the Reed Bunting. It has not been the best winter for seeing Corn Buntings and this was actually my first of the year. It flew off across the field in the direction of Pilling village and the mosslands beyond where a few pairs survive the unintentional cull of recent years. 

Corn Bunting

Around Fluke Hall the several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs of my last visit were silent except for 1 “chiffy”. The recent ones were clearly migrants which quickly move on elsewhere and to be honest I’m not sure how many of each nests here but maybe one pair of each at most. As I circumnavigated the woodland edge the Buzzard pair saw me arrive and both birds flew off calling. There is a pair of Great-spotted Woodpeckers nesting and their alarm calls said they had seen the intruder too. A Kestrel flew from the usual trees by the nestbox, and I mostly see the male now because the female will be sat tight. There was a single Stock Dove in the trees and at least 20 Woodpigeons still feeding as a loose flock in the nearby stubble field. 


The light was so grey I couldn’t get a picture of a Mistle Thrush at the top of a nearby tree, and then just along the road a minute or two later it or its mate was busily feeding amongst a recently ploughed field. 

Mistle Thrush

There was no time for a walk towards Pilling Water, my limited time was up, but in the distance and flying out to the marsh I could see and hear a goodish flock of about 400 wintering Pink-footed Geese. The weather’s a lot warmer this afternoon. Omens of a better tomorrow for Another Bird Blog?

Monday, April 13, 2015

No Wrynecks Today

I gave the Pilling patch a good three hours grilling today but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary or much different from recent days. 

Meanwhile over at Heysham, 8km from Pilling as the crow flies, mist nets turned up both a Firecrest and a Ring Ouzel, while at Cockersands, a flap and a glide away, a dogged birder I know discovered a Wryneck! It’s the old truisms that “mist nets find birds which might otherwise go missing” and the other one about “being in the right place at the right time”. 

It’s a good number of years since I’ve seen a Wryneck, and many a moon since ringing one. We don’t get too many of these strange looking beasts Up North. 

Wryneck - P Slade

Today I was clearly both in the wrong place and wide of the mark with my timing so had to make do with commoner fare. Swallows were much in evidence at Fluke Hall with a group of 18/20 feeding above the trees and one or two around farms on the way home. In a few days no one will bother reporting them as they become widespread. It will be the same with both Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, with today at least 4 Chiffchaffs and 3 Willow Warblers singing in the woodland and probably a good number more unseen. In the rain of Saturday morning there was even a Willow Warbler singing in my back garden. 

Willow Warbler

Back at Pilling a Nuthatch busily proclaimed territory as did 3 Song Thrush, a Mistle Thrush and plenty of Chaffinches and Goldfinches. The month of April makes birders look more closely at Blackbirds, hoping to see one with a crescentic breast patch and so become the elusive "Mountain Blackbird” or Ring Ouzel.

I must have studied twenty or more Blackbirds around Fluke Hall, and while none morphed into Ring Ouzels, I did note that most were males. Lots of females tucked away in the undergrowth on nests me thinks. 


Around the woodland, pairs of Buzzard and Kestrel, 5 Stock Dove mixed with in with 20 + Woodpigeon and 2 pairs of Pied Wagtail. I walked the sea wall but found no Wheatears, just a single Little Egret and 40+ Linnets in the damp stubble field. There are Lapwings sat tight on nests, Redshanks and Oystercatchers hanging about with intent but the farmer has done his first ploughing on the very adjacent field. The Lapwings are next for being turned over. Some things never change at Pilling. 


A blog reader asked about the tide in relation to the sea wall at Pilling. The picture below shows the tide in (on a calm, sunny day) on something like a 10.5 metre tide. The high tides are very variable, often much lower so that the water barely reaches the marsh and might be a hundred or more metres out from the sea wall. On very low tides the water might be way out in Morecambe Bay. In the left of the picture is Heysham Power Station.

Pilling Marsh

Pilling to Morecambe/Heysham

Join in Another Bird Blog tomorrow but there’s no guarantee of a Wryneck.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Back Again Birding

Another fine morning saw me hit the trail for Pilling in search of migrant birds again. 

Less than a quarter of a mile from home my first Swallow of the year was flying near farm buildings, a returnee claiming home territory. I saw another Swallow through Cockerham village and again this one was back on familiar ground near farm buildings. 

Barn Swallow

There didn’t appear to be visible Swallow migration during the morning, the two being the only hirundines noted. I’ve yet to see Sand Martin or House Martin this year but there’s no panic to do so. 

After some weeks without paying a visit I motored on up to Conder Green to see what I’d missed. The answer came back as “not a lot” and with a pretty high water level there wasn’t a great deal happening apart from a number of Meadow Pipits passing overhead, a theme to be repeated throughout the morning. The wintering Common Sandpiper was on the far bank where in a day or two it should be joined by others which spent the winter in warmer regions. 

Common Sandpiper

Otherwise - a single Grey Heron, 8 Tufted Duck, 2 Teal, 10 Oystercatcher and 12 Shelduck. 

It was at Fluke Hall where the apparent movement of Meadow Pipits became more obvious. Groups were grounded, perhaps by the hazy and less than perfect visibility, while others made their way overhead in mostly south east and easterly directions and using the slight breeze coming from the south-east to give lift. This was happening throughout a walk to Pilling Water and back with a total of 150+ “mipits” seen and heard. The pipits are on their way north to the inland hills of England, the whole of Scotland and the Scottish Isles, Iceland and maybe even Scandinavia. 

Meadow Pipit

The woodland was quite busy with the sound of birdsong. I found 4 Chiffchaff, 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Mistle Thrush, 3 Song Thrush, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Treecreeper, 2 Pied Wagtail and 2 Greenfinch, plus lots of Blackbirds, Robins and Tree Sparrows. 

Willow Warbler

The sea wall to Pilling Water and back found the movement of Meadow Pipits plus 2 Snipe on the wet fields, 1 Whimbrel flying off the marsh, 2 Reed Buntings in the phragmites bed and 3 separate Little Egrets. Small numbers of non-breeding egrets spend the summer along the marsh here. Two Kestrels were at Fluke Hall and a single one at Pilling Water. 


Fluke Hall - Pilling

Just 2 Wheatear today and they were separated by 800 yards. Thursday proved to be a big push day for the species with good numbers reported up and down our coastline north to south, numbers which included small parties of between a few and 15 individuals. 

Yes, there’s more birding to come soon from Another Bird Blog. Don’t miss it.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pilling Surprises

Pilling proved very interesting this morning with one or two migrant birds on show followed by a complete revelation. 

I kicked off at Fluke Hall where along the sea wall a mixed flock of about 60 finches greeted me. They were very flighty but I could hear the distinct calls of both Linnets and Twite. Eventually the flock split up with an approximate count of thirty of each of these closely related species. 



It was while trying to get to grips with the finches that at least 4 Wheatears came into view. The Wheatears were very mobile with some flying into the current “no-go” area where contractors are repairing the sea wall. There seemed to be equal numbers of female and male Wheatears today with the single bird I caught proving to be a second year female, obvious from the generally worn plumage. 

With a wing of 93 mm and a weight of just 22.9 grams it was also of the nominate race Oenanthe oenanthe. 

Wheatear - second year female


Along the hedgerow was a single Reed Bunting, a singing Greenfinch and of all things a single Fieldfare chattering away, and now somewhat late to be setting off to Northern Europe or Scandinavia. It wasn’t the thrush I was hoping to see this morning and although a Ring Ouzel might be a good find, a common Fieldfare is a pretty stunning bird which takes some beating. 


From the woodland a Chiffchaff sang amongst the chattering of Tree Sparrows and the loud songs of three Song Thrushes. The Nuthatches are still about and continuing with their secretive nesting. I’m not sure if the birds are using a nest box or in a natural site but all should become clear once they begin to feed the youngsters. 

I walked the stretch from Lane Ends to Pilling Water and back. The Environment Agency recently installed a shiny new gate so that the lazy ones have easy access to the shore and now don’t need to climb over the stile to let their dogs chase sheep or wreck the wader roost. Amazing! 

There was a Willow Warbler singing from the plantation and a few chatterings from Lesser Redpolls flying north towards Heysham. At Pilling Water the pool held 3 Black-tailed Godwits in their summer finery, 4 Teal and a Little Egret. Along Broadfleet a single Grey Heron and down on the shore 3 more Wheatears.

It was at Lane Ends I found a pair of Moorhens with 3 chicks which made me consult the books about this common but neglected species. There it was in black & white - Egg laying starts in spring, between mid-February and mid-May, incubation lasts about three weeks. 


Moorhen chick

So while we have all been waiting for Spring, complaining about the wind, rain, snow and goodness knows what, our plucky old Moorhens have been busy raising a family. There’s commitment and perseverance for you.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog and  run-a-roundranch.blogspot.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Win Some, Lose Some

The blog is back. Yes, while most of the UK enjoyed three or four days of warm sunshine here on the west coast the high pressure system just gave four days of stubborn and foggy non-birding, non-ringing and non-photography weather. Some folk have all the luck - like Andy on his way to sunny Gibraltar, birding and ringing for a week. 

Finally, and following a good forecast I decided to give Oakenclough a go. But good fortune didn’t come my way as I caught only 4 birds - Robin, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, and a single Chiffchaff. 

The Chiffchaff was the only migrant bird I saw all morning and there was no sight or sound of the anticipated Willow Warblers or Blackcaps, two species which breed here in good numbers and should be on site by now. I wasn’t able to add to the total of Lesser Redpolls caught so far as although I saw and heard four or more, none found the nets. 




Apart from the ringing other birds seen included: 4 Song Thrush, 4+ Lesser Redpoll, 3 Jay, 2 Mistle Thrush, 2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 4 Pied Wagtail, 8 Oystercatcher, 9 Lapwing and 4 Curlew. The three named wader species, as well as one or two others, Redshank and Snipe, all breed up here in the hills above Garstang Town on the edge of Bowland. This is a good time of year in which to hear their wonderful breeding calls and watch their fabulous displays.




“Bowland”, “Bowland Hills”, “Bowland Fells”, or “The Forest of Bowland” are alternative names for this area of barren gritstone fells, deep valleys and peat moorland of Lancashire. Take your pick as to which name you prefer. 

Contrary to the popular histories, the origins of the name "Bowland" have nothing to do with archery ("the land of the bow") or with mediaeval cattle farms or vaccaries (Old Norse, buu-, farmstead). The name derives from the Old Norse boga-/bogi-, meaning a "bend in a river". It is a 10th-century term used to describe the topography of a river basin, with its characteristic meandering river and brooks. 

The name "forest" is used in its traditional sense of "a royal hunting ground". Much of the land still belongs to the British Crown as part of the Duchy of Lancaster. In the past wild boar, deer, wolves, wild cats and game roamed the forest. 

Some might well say that at one time the Hen Harrier bred here in good numbers! But no more. 

To Bowland

Look in soon for more winning birds at Another Bird Blog.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Birding Saturday Morn

This morning’s three hours birding at Pilling found a few bits and pieces but after continued Northerly winds new-in migrants were hard to find. 

I stopped first near the sewage works where a Stoat appeared as if from nowhere, took a look around and then crossed the track and out towards the Broadfleet, or Pilling Water as the locals know this ditch that drains into Morecambe Bay. 


There was a single male Wheatear along the fence line and it too watched the Stoat sneak down the bank and out of sight. In the sewage works compound a pair of Pied Wagtail and the male Kestrel from the nearby pair.  Like many Spring migrants, the male Wheatears arrive before the females, a strategy which allows males to claim and set up territories for when the females arrive. 



Fluke Hall was quite sheltered, even warm but lacked the now overdue Spring song of Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler or Blackcap. Instead came the chattering of Tree Sparrows, Goldfinches and Greenfinches and the loud song of four Song Thrushes, the number a welcome improvement on recent years. I caught a glimpse of one of the Nuthatch pair, the birds having gone very secretive almost to the point that until this week when they collected nest material, I thought they had left the area. 

Another Kestrel sat high in the tree tops close to the nest box where by now the female has probably laid at least some of her clutch of 5 eggs. The resident Pied Wagtails were on their usual rooftop feeding spot along the lane, and about 40 or more Woodpigeons clattered their way through the wood. 

There was nothing at the car park so I followed 2 Little Egrets along the sea wall towards the seaward end of Pilling Water. Along here were a pair of Reed Bunting, 7 Meadow Pipit, 7 Skylark, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Snipe, 2 Teal, 18 Shelduck, 43 Redshank, 20+ Lapwing, 12 Oystercatcher, 2 more Little Egret and a single Whooper Swan. The swan flew up and out into Morecambe Bay where on a clear day it’s possible see Walney Island to the North West, the route the swan should soon take towards Iceland. 

Pilling sea wall

Whooper Swan

A pair of Greylags have set up territory about here and I found them lording it over their patch where there’s not much competition save for a pair of Mute Swan. Who’s going to argue with these two heavy weights? 

Greylag Goose

Greylag Goose

Back home there seems to be more Goldfinch about the feeders, perhaps a sign of new birds and warmer weather? I also saw a pair of Treecreepers searching up and down our largest apple tree. That’s quite a good but not unprecedented sighting for the garden so let’s hope it’s a good omen for Another Bird Blog. 

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