Friday, October 24, 2014

Almost Weekend Birding

It’s been a truly awful week of weather and a struggle to get meaningful birding in. This morning promised a window of half decent weather before more rain arrived so I set off for Pilling. 

There was a Buzzard flying alongside Head Dyke Lane and near to two small copses again, a regular location for a pair. And then the usual Buzzard at Fluke Hall disturbed by someone or something unseen, the hawk calling in protest as it flew inland a couple of hundred yards or more to its alternative daytime roost. I watched a Sparrowhawk flap glide high across the stubble and off towards Lane Ends to try its luck. 

After the week of rain the stubble field now has a number of good looking flashes of water, puddles that held a hundred or so Black-headed Gulls, a dozen or more Skylarks but no waders as yet. The woodland seemed very quiet with the usual mixed tit flock, a calling Nuthatch and several Chaffinches. The Chaffinches were nowhere near the number of a week ago and there was no sight or sound of Bramblings today. Seven or eight Tree Sparrows hid in the hedgerow. Tree Sparrows are good at playing inconspicuous and it’s often their chippy call alone which betrays their presence. 

Tree Sparrow

Beyond the car park and a couple of fields back from the road many hundreds of Pink-footed Geese fed on the remains of the spud harvest, groups of the geese coming and going from the nearby marsh and shore. The farmer won’t mid too much as he gets his soil turned over and knows where he can bag a goose or two for Sunday lunch by way of an early morning shotgun. 

Pink-footed Geese

I walked towards Lane Ends to find 41 Whooper Swans on the marsh in their usual spot, joined today by a Ruff, a few Redshanks, two dozen Pink-footed Geese and 30+ Shelduck. Any geese, Shelduck and waders always fly off whereas the swans are more tolerant of a human being walking very slowly and not looking directly at them. Once past the group of swans a peep over the sea wall and a backward glance might get a photograph. 

Whooper Swans

There was little doing along the sea wall except for a single Snipe, an array of 7 Little Egrets on the marsh and a distant Peregrine in wait for high tide. 

At Conder Green the incoming tide was just beginning to fill the creek, leaving enough time to find a single Ruff, 2 Goosander, 60+ Teal, 40+ Redshank and 7+ Curlew. Yes, it’s a poor record shot of the Ruff but a handy one for displaying the long-legged jizz of a Ruff to blog readers who rarely see this handsome wader. The two Goosanders sailed serenely upstream and a Curlew played ball with the camera.




Not a bad morning's birding and with luck there will be more news and views via Another Bird Blog at the weekend.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Blowing In The Wind - Tuesday/Wednesday

The weather folk were spot on with their forecast for Tuesday. The tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo raged on with the result that there was no birding in the gale force north westerly’s. 

Instead I met with Andy near Garstang where we looked over an old ringing site of the 1980s and 1990s. The area became unsuitable for ringing when invasive rhododendrons won the day, but following recent extensive clearance by the site owners we may be able to utilise the place again. So clutching our newly printed shiny permits we explored the now almost rhododendron-free ground looking to identify net rides. 

Before the rhododendrons overran the landscape the open structure of the woodland was especially good for breeding Willow Warblers, where over a number of years around 400 nestling Willow Warblers were ringed and many nest records completed. 

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler nest

It is a site with breeding Willow Warblers, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Bullfinch, and where Yellowhammers, Tree Pipit and Wood Warbler once nested. I found what may have been the last nests of Yellowhammers here in 1996 and 1998 but none since. Nesting Tree Pipits disappeared from here about 1997 but still occur as migrants, while Yellowhammers are now as scarce as hen’s teeth. After the recent extensive ground works both species might just make a comeback but I’m not betting on it. 


Andy and I identified a number of net rides, put up a few feeders to attract Siskins and Redpolls, scattered seed for ground feeding finches such as Chaffinch. We will return when the weather improves. 



On Wednesday a 9 metre high tide at Knott End rather appealed even though the wind was still too north-westerly to produce much in the way of seabirds; well at least if the showers returned I could bird from the car. 

A couple of hours were all I managed as by 11am the rain had started again. In between times I counted the nearest waders as 230 Oystercatcher, 180 Redshank, 45 Lapwing, 35 Sanderling, 40 Bar-tailed Godwit, 300 Knot and 22 Turnstone. 

On the shore, the incoming tide and the river - 11 Eider, 5 Red-breasted Merganser and 1 Grey Heron. 


After three days of abysmal weather passerines were hard to come by with just 30+ Goldfinches, 5 Linnet and 3 Pied Wagtails along the marsh the best. 

Let’s hope Gonzalo relents soon to leave us with sunshine instead of so much wind and rain. 

Linking the Chaffinch on the barbed wire fence to Run A Round Ranch.   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Short Saturday

There was rain until 8am and even though the sky brightened a little I kept one eye on the threatening grey clouds, the other on the birds. Out on Pilling Sea wall there’s nowhere to shelter should the heavens open. 

There was a Peregrine way out on the sands but on a closer tidal flood, a gang of Whooper Swans which take up residence here each winter. Forty-five Whoopers plus two Mute Swans, 30+ Shelduck, 7 Little Egret and 3 Grey Heron. 

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

On the wildfowler’s pools just 40 Teal, 2 Pintail and 150+ ex-release Hi-Fly Mallard. There have been at least 3 or 4 Wednesday shoots already this autumn so the numbers of Mallards is way down. There are still many Red-legged Partridge across the stubble and maize, probably 300+ left over from the release of 2,000 of them for the shooting season. Interestingly, I was told that the wildfowler’s peak (and quite staggering) count of 6/7000 wild Teal occurred in September, probably when I was away in Skiathos. 

 Red-legged Partridge

On and near the stubble field - 15 Skylark, 1 Meadow Pipit, 1 Snipe, 100+ Jackdaw and 140+ Woodpigeon. 

By now the promised wind was brewing up. It’s the legacy of Gonzalo, so I headed for the relative shelter of the trees at Fluke Hall. A good number of Chaffinches were around today, with a higher number of contact calls than of late and also more small parties of birds moving through the tree tops. There was at least one Brambling so a count of 40+ Chaffinch and 1+ Brambling. 


Also in the trees and along the roadside, 1 Pied Wagtail, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Jay, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Buzzard and 15+ Long-tailed Tits. I think the splendid looking male Pied Wagtail has recently completed its summer moult. 

 Pied Wagtail

Here's a sepia-style Fluke Hall for old times sake.

 Fluke Hall - Pilling

There’s meant to be even more wind tomorrow which if true rather limits any birding opportunities. But as ever for Another Bird Blog, if it’s half decent there will be more news and pictures soon.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

No Such Luck

This morning saw my first autumn Redwings and Bramblings along the coast but no luck with a hoped for Yellow-browed Warbler, the autumn speciality which instead turned up in mist nets at both Heysham Observatory and Walney Island. When out birding I can see both sites from Pilling or Cockerham, this morning a very breezy and probably bouncy flap and glide for a tiny warbler crossing Morecambe Bay north to south. 

I stopped at Braides Farm to scan across the farmland where more often than not there is little to see until winter rains create a flood which becomes attractive to waders. Just where the field will soon flood I counted 55 Curlew, 5 Golden Plover and 300/400 Starlings, many birds partly hidden, so the area must be soft for probing and still concave enough to hold water. 

There was a distant Buzzard on a fence post waiting for the rising sun and warmer flying conditions. A circling and hovering Kestrel scattered the Starlings more than once before heading off over the sea wall towards the marsh. 


Doh! I’d forgotten the resurfacing along the road at Conder Green where wagons and workmen now filled the lay-by, the yellow jackets, noise and activity emptying the creek and pool of many birds. So a less than perfect look and minus a few regulars but 100 Teal, 80 Redshank, 3 Snipe, 7 Curlew, 6 Lapwing, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Wagtail and 1 Pied Wagtail. 


The water at Glasson was both choppy and windswept although the Tufted Duck count of 52 proved the best of the autumn. 

Tufted Duck

I set about looking in a couple of sheltered spots for warblers and thrushes. A number of hawthorn bushes are rather loaded with berries this year, the one below in a very open and windy position next to the estuary, so no birds there for now. 


Along the canal in the churchyard and a well-wooded spot I found 30+ fidgety Redwings which flew off almost immediately; still on the move from their overnight excursion. Also 10+ Blackbirds, 2 Song Thrush plus a mixed flock of Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits, no Yellow-browed Warbler but a Robin in dispute with a brown headed Blackcap. 



The shelter of Fluke Hall wood seemed a good bet so I headed there and at 1030 into the easterly wind flew a dozen Chaffinches and then 5 Greenfinch - worth a closer look. Two Bramblings were in the treetops with Chaffinches, the nasal calls of the Bramblings singling them out for extra attention. Glimpses only as the finches moved through the trees and then lost to sight and the calls of resident Buzzards. 


The noise of Land Rovers and time to go - It’s Wednesday and Hi-Fly shoot day when the Red-legged Partridge earn their keep and the Buzzards make themselves scarce. 

Me too, but I’ll be back.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

More Goldfinch, More Whoopers

Early Sunday and perhaps too premature for Conder Green where an autumn mist lay across the pool so nothing to look at except the farmer’s two cattle. So I motored slowly up to Glasson where there might be a Kingfisher and a Grey Heron or two. 

It wasn’t misty here on the larger expanse of water. And then right on cue a Kingfisher appeared but didn’t stay. There was nothing doing on the water with just the regular 25 Tufted Duck and similar numbers of Coot. 

Tufted Duck

At Conder Green things had warmed up a little, the mist cleared and so I was able to tot up the waders and the Teal. 3 Spotted Redshank, 70 Redshank, 7 Snipe, 6 Curlew, 4 Lapwing, 3 Goosander and 90 Teal was OK but neither sight nor sound of the regular Greenshank or Common Sandpiper rather took the edge off the count.

One of the Spotted Redshanks has a droopy wing, I noticed it earlier in the week. Two of them were a bit far apart to fit in the frame. 

Spotted Redshanks

On the pool a Kingfisher, 2 Pied Wagtail, 5 Little Grebe, 1 Cormorant, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Little Egret. 

Pilling next stop. On the wildfowler’s pools I found 34 Whooper Swan, 2 Mute Swan, 38 Shelduck and 8 Wigeon while out on the marsh were “many thousands” of Pink-footed Geese, and I’m thinking 10,000 plus. The whoopers peeled off in small groups to fly south and over Pilling village - on their way to Martin Mere Wildfowl Trust at a guess. The folk at Martin Mere feed them even better than the Pilling shooters.

Whooper Swans

I gave the woodland a go with little to report save for a Nuthatch, a single Kestrel and 3 Jays but still no sign of Brambling or Yellow-browed Warbler despite my persistence. The weather charts suggest that things might happen on Monday/Tuesday in the way of Redwings and Fieldfares and possibly more.

Later and back at home I noted many Goldfinches in the neighbourhood treetops again plus a good number on the niger feeders. So after a leisurely lunch I set about catching more to add to the 19 ringed since Monday. The Goldfinches piled in and I ended up catching another 22 with no recaptures from Monday, Friday or today, thereby confirming once again that the day-to-day birds we see aren’t necessarily the same individuals, especially in the spring and autumn.

Other bits and bobs came in the form of 2 Coal Tits, a single Blue Tit and a Long-tailed Tit with attitude. A young male Sparrowhawk escaped from the net before I could get there and flew to next door's sycamore tree.

Coal Tit

Blue Tit

Long-tailed Tit

Goldfinch - juvenile

Goldfinch - female

Goldfinch - male

More news and pictures soon from Another Bird Blog.

In the meabtime I'm linking to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday

Friday, October 10, 2014

Tales Of The Unexpected

There were no great surprises at Fluke Hall this morning; unless you count a couple of strange birders - it must be October and Yellow-browed Warbler time. The major surprise was to arrive later in the day while catching a few more Goldfinches in the garden. 

I was hoping for some Whooper Swans along Pilling shore but instead found 2 Ruff feeding on the wildfowler’s pool amongst 40 or so Shelduck. Ten minutes later Whooper Swans appeared, nine of them flying in from the outer marsh and continuing south, the first of the autumn and fresh-in from Iceland. About thirty minutes later another four Whoopers appeared from the North East and then circled about before landing somewhere just inland. 

Whooper Swan

There was a jellyfish along last night’s tideline, such a good example that I took a picture. 


The farmers were busy sheep shearing where I next wanted to look so after a single Grey Heron and a couple of Little Egrets I abandoned that idea and instead spent time near the wildflowers’ stubble field and pools. The stubble is pretty good with 70+ Skylark, 25 Linnet, 6 Meadow Pipit, 1 Snipe, a couple of Redshank and 1500 roving Starlings. 

The pool proved not so good with Shelduck flying in in but not staying, 4 Reed Buntings around the perimeter and small numbers of Meadow Pipits in-off the marsh. 

In the woodland - Two Buzzards, 2 Great-spotted Woodpeckers and 3 Jays, plus an overflying Sparrowhawk. There’s a huge crop of beech mast this year and it lines the road and crunches underfoot when walking through the lane. A few Chaffinch and Great Tits took advantage of the harvest but otherwise I couldn’t even find a Brambling and certainly not a Yellow-browed Warbler. 

Back home, and to add to eleven of a day or two ago, I caught another 8 Goldfinches from the flock of 50+ that’s in the neighbourhood, 2 more Greenfinch and a Robin. One of the Goldfinches was so young it wasn’t possible to ascertain the sex, but from the wing length and bill size a likely male. This plumage in October suggests it is one of a very late brood of September. 

Goldfinch - adult male

Goldfinch - juvenile

First winter Robin


Next was a bird I’ve never seen in the garden in almost fifteen years of living here, a Nuthatch, not just one but a male and a female in a net which had interrupted their flight line from the niger feeders. A very nice but also unexpected surprise as the species breeds uncommonly in this area. 



I thought back to earlier in the week when there was a Nuthatch at Fluke Hall, not a breeding site for the species but where Nuthatches occur infrequently in the spring, autumn or winter. It made me wonder if Nuthatches may be undergoing one of their periodic irruptions. 

An irruption is a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found, possibly at a great distance from their normal ranges. Depending on the species, irruptions may occur in cycles from 2-10 years, or they may be much more unpredictable. 

Several factors can lead to irruptive years for different birds. The most common cause is a lack of food in the birds’ normal wintering grounds; famine can force large numbers of birds to seek more plentiful habitats until seeds, flowers and insects return in the spring. Birds that feed on the seeds and catkins of birch, maple, pine, spruce and hemlock trees often irrupt when those types of trees have poor seed crops. 

Other causes for bird irruptions include unduly harsh cold or severe weather that may force birds to find more temperate wintering grounds, or overbreeding that may further deplete even plentiful food supplies. No matter what the cause of the irruption, however, it is difficult to predict where or when irrupting species may appear. 

Log in to Another Bird Blog soon where there will be more tales of the expected and maybe even the unexpected.

Linking today to Anni's Blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

More Buzzard Bashing

Buzzards continue to be in the news for the right reasons as bird watchers celebrate the species success. Meanwhile Buzzards also make the headlines but for the wrong reasons. Yes, certain sections of the shooting fraternity continue to break the law by killing Buzzards.

Here’s the latest tale of a wretched mentality courtesy of Birdguides, Alan Tilmouth, Raptor Politics, and with not a little help from the splendid folk at The British Trust for Ornithology. 


Allen Lambert worked as a gamekeeper on the Stody estate in north Norfolk. On 1 October 2014, he appeared at Norwich Magistrates' Court and was found guilty of two charges relating to the killing of 10 Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk on the estate, and possession of pesticides and other items capable of being used to prepare poison baits. 

A key part of the case for the defence was the idea that the number of dead Buzzards found was too high to have been achieved through illegal poisoning in one area and that the carcasses must therefore have been 'planted' on Mr Lambert. When the experts were consulted, however, BTO quickly provided the robust evidence to refute the claim. 

Counts of Buzzards in north Norfolk from the same time period as the crimes took place (March–April) were extracted from BirdTrack and mapped. These counts were logged by ordinary birdwatchers during their day-to-day birding. Who could have foreseen that the simple action of recording sightings in BirdTrack would realise the immense value of such 'normal' observations in this way? 

As well as proving beyond doubt that double-figure counts of Buzzards are a regular occurrence in Norfolk these days, the data collected by BTO volunteers was used in court to highlight the recent population increase and range expansion of Buzzard. Data from Bird Atlas 2007–11 and the Norfolk Bird Atlas were used to show the eastward spread and increasing population density since the previous breeding atlas in 1988–91, while CBC/BBS data spanning 5 decades helped emphasise the recent, dramatic population increase.” 

Allen Lambert was employed by estate owner and former president of the Country Landowners Association and former trustee of The Game Conservancy (now known as the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust) Ian Macnicol, a man at the centre of the game and shooting industry. Since Macnicol’s death his son Charlie is said to manage the estate. 

Farm Subsidy Payments of £1,408,502.30 have been paid to the Stody estate from the European Union Farm Subsidies fund since 2004. So dear readers, you and I have paid the wages of this criminal and over the years employed him to kill probably countless Buzzards and other raptors. 

Mr Lambert receives his “sentence” in November and if all goes to according to the normal way of such things in the UK he will probably face a slap on the wrist and a derisory fine rather than a well-deserved spell in Her Majesty’s Prisons where he could mix with criminals of the same ilk. 

Mr Lambert is almost certainly not on his own in killing Buzzards. 

I remarked on this blog recently how Buzzards have vanished from some regular and quite precise haunts of recent years in this part of NW Lancashire, The Fylde. Buzzards are very faithful to an area they adopt and have good longevity so why they would inexplicably disappear from previously successful and suitable sites is an apparent mystery. 


This part of Lancashire has a long tradition of game shooting and although I have no proof, I urge every bird watcher to keep as close an eye as possible on local shoots and the “management” methods on the land they shoot over, as I suspect Buzzards are here too being killed unlawfully.

This advice also applies to any other part of the UK where Buzzards have made a natural comeback but where certain people would wish to deny our Buzzards this sucess.     


The photographs of Buzzards are my own from recent days. I hope I will see and photograph many more of these wonderful birds in the future. 

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