Saturday, October 22, 2016

This And That

There’s a bit of everything today – birding, a few pictures and news of a ringed Goldfinch. 

First stop this morning was the egret roost at Pilling where the egrets were pretty much on the move as soon as I arrived in the half-light. I may have missed some leaving but came up with a count of 44 Littles and zero Great White Egrets today. Many thousands of pink-feet were way out on the marsh, too distant to count in the half light. Whooper Swans proved much easier to see with 23 leaving the marsh and flying west towards Pilling village and the shore. 

Whooper Swans

I stopped at Gulf Lane where Linnets and others continue to use the set-aside plot and where three or four very mobile Linnet flocks numbered 160+ birds. Also here - 4 Tree Sparrow and 2 Reed Bunting. In just a week and after a couple of downpours the crop height has dropped substantially until it is now between 18 inches and 2 feet high meaning that our efforts to catch more Linnets may be compromised. If the weather holds I guess Andy and me will have a go as soon as possible. 

I spent an hour or two at Conder Green where a dashing Merlin provided the highlight as it flew low across the top of the marsh and down into a creek before dipping under the railway bridge to the outer marsh. Otherwise I had a reasonable count of the usual birds on the pool and in the creeks: 140 Teal, 22 Redshank, 17 Snipe, 9 Little Grebe, 4 Goosander, 3 Little Egret, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Spotted Redshank. 


There seemed to be very little on the move this morning except for high flying Skylarks, a small number of Chaffinches and a handful of Meadow Pipits, all seen from the railway bridge where a gang of House Sparrows played hide and seek in the hedgerow. 

House Sparrow

Back home I did a little garden ringing with 3 Goldfinch, 1 Robin and 1 Coal Tit until even the meagre breeze began to fill the nets with falling autumn leaves. 



That reminds me.

Details arrived of a ringed Goldinch Z690427 caught at Oakenclough, Garstang on 6th September 2016. What a coincidence. The Goldfinch was ringed in Lower Basildon, West Berkshire on 11th October 2015 by one Simon Lane. Simon is a former member of Fylde Ringing Group. He ringed with us from 1988 until 1998 during which time he played a full and active part in the group and also became a great pal. He left Garstang, Lancashire in order to further his career in the south of England but fortunately he maintained his enthusiasm for ringing and still keeps in touch with us Northern folk.

This is a fairly typical north to south autumn September/October movement for a Goldfinch. Goldfinches are partial migrants with a proportion of the UK breeding population migrating each autumn to more favourable wintering grounds, typically in France or Spain and where both Oakenclough and Basildon can be staging posts in such journeys. 

Lower Basildon, Berkshire - Oakenclough, Garstang, Lancashire

Guess I won’t be out birding tomorrow morning as it’s Andy’s birthday bash this evening. Sue and I are definitely going as Andy is threatening to do a David Brent dance for the assembled crowd. Now where did I leave my video camera?

Linking today to

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Another Goldcrest Day

The last ringing session at Oakenclough 8th October 2016 gave us 63 Goldcrests out of a total of 121 birds caught. I met Andy at 0715 this morning and while we were far from sure quite what to expect, we didn’t imagine Goldcrests would dominate the field sheet again. 

The ringing was steady if unspectacular whereby at midday when we left the total of birds caught stood at 53 with Goldcrests providing more than 50% again. 

Totals today: 27 Goldcrest, 10 Greenfinch, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Blackbird, 2 Treecreeper, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Redwing, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Dunnock. 

Lesser Redpoll

There was quite a movement of Greenfinch this morning with small groups of 10-15 birds arriving and approximately 60+ throughput the morning. At one point a flock of 20+ left to the north with a flock of Fieldfares. We caught zero Fieldfares today out of approximately 100+ which arrived unseen from the south and fed on berries for a short while before leaving to the north. Redwings were in short supply with less than twenty seen throughout our stay and just the one caught. 



One of the two Blackbirds was of the “continental” type with a very dark bill and scalloped breast feathers.

"Continental" Blackbird


The Goldcrest has a large range, estimated at 13.2 million square kms with a total population of 80–200 million individuals. (Wiki) There has been some northward range expansion in Scotland, Belgium, Norway, Finland and even Iceland during the 20th century, assisted by the spread of conifer plantations. A female lays 10-12 eggs and second broods are common. After a successful summer the population can increase many times over and a huge number of those birds looking to migrate south to escape the winters of much of their breeding range. The population is currently thought to be stable although there may be temporary marked declines in harsh winters of normally temperate Western Europe where the Goldcrest winters. 

As in our previous Goldcrest catch of 8th October we noticed today that most had good weights of slightly above the expected norm of 5 to 5.5gms with many approaching 6gms. Looking more closely today a number of our birds also showed a larger amount of grey around the head than a typical UK bird. These greyish headed Goldcrests are thought to be possibly from one or two of the eastern forms of the Goldcrest (see below). Alternatively, given such a widespread, numerous and highly migratory species there are likely to be intergrades of types. 

In continental Eurasia there are nine generally accepted and very similar subspecies of Goldcrest Regulus regulus which differ only in details such as plumage shade: 
  • R. r. regulus. Breeds in most of Europe; this is the nominate subspecies and the one resident in the UK. 
  • R. r. japonensis. Breeds in Eastern Asia, including Japan, Korea, China and Siberia; it is greener and has darker upper-parts than the nominate form, and has broad white wingbars. 
  • R. r. coatsi. Breeds in Russia and Central Asia, and is paler above than the nominate subspecies. 
  • R. r. tristis . Breeds in China and Central Asia, wintering in northeastern Afghanistan. It is distinctive, with the black edges to the crest largely absent. The crown of the male is yellower than in other forms, and the underparts are much duller and greyer. 
  • R. r. himalayensis. Breeds in the Himalayas; it is similar to the nominate subspecies, but slightly paler above and with whiter underparts. 
  • R. r. yunnanensis . Breeds in the Eastern Himalayas, Burma and China; it is like R. r. sikkimensis, but darker overall with dark green upper-parts and darker buff underparts. 
  • R. r. hyrcanus. Breeds only in Iran; it is like R. r. buturlini, but slightly darker. 
  • R. r. buturlini. Breeds in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is paler above than the nominate subspecies, and greyish-green rather than olive. 
  • R. r. sikkimensis. Breeds in India and China. It is darker than R. r. himalayensis, and greener than the nominate subspecies. 
It all makes for much thought and closer investigation of birds in the hand when time and available hands allow.  The priority always is to ring, process and release a bird as quickly as possible, especially where small and vulnerable birds like Goldcrests are concerned.

Other birds seen/heard this morning: 2+ Brambling, 3 Grey Wagtail, 2 Pied Wagtail, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 + Bullfinch. 

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Food For Thought

It’s that time of year again. I set off for the pet-shop and bought a bag of wild bird seed and a sack of Niger and then merrily filled the bird feeders. By coincidence a day or so ago a regular blog reader had asked, “What is your feeling about feeders?

There are definite pros and cons about feeding wild birds, so I decided to put my thoughts to the pen and paper of the keyboard and share the result in this post. 


Feeding birds in the garden gives great pleasure but also a few things I worry about. The positives come later, but for now the not insurmountable worries in the order of 1) the potential for spreading disease via bird feeders, 2) the Sparrowhawk, and 3) marauding cats. 

The suspicion that feeding wild birds heightens the spread of disease among them is one of the strongest anti-feeding arguments. 

Although it’s true that making birds to feed together at common places can lead to increased disease transfer, it is also well known that birds often feed in groups, including mixed-species flocks like finches, thrushes and doves/pigeons. Good feeder hygiene by way of cleaning feeders regularly, offering fresh seed, minimizing faeces build-up, and generally striving for quality versus quantity of desired visitors can lessen this problem. 

I don’t feed peanuts, mostly because in my experience they go soggy and then mouldy very quickly - not a good thing to feed to birds. Not offering peanuts means that I don’t see too many Great-spotted Woodpeckers or Greenfinches, but in my defence there are claims that peanut feeding is responsible for the increase in the populations of the Grey Squirrel. This introduced pest species is known to be a predator of birds’ eggs and nestlings as well as out-competing our native Red Squirrel, not to mention its habit of destroying bird feeders. 

Grey Squirrel

The number of bird feeders is surely in the millions across the UK. In some urban and suburban roads it seems as if most people have a feeder or two. However, a closer look often reveals feeders in a state of disrepair and not recently replenished. Bird feeding has its devotees, but not all of them are passionate or knowledgeable about the rules. It is important to remember that if birds become accustomed to feeding at a particular site, the feed should be maintained and if there is a desire or need to stop feeding, it should be done gradually over days or weeks to allow birds to find an alternative. 

Lesser Redpoll

In the UK the Sparrowhawk is a frequent visitor to gardens with bird feeders. It is said that raptors usually capture the weaker or less fit birds, but whether they kill birds at a feeder or at some other location out of our sight we should remind ourselves that it is all part of nature, “red in tooth and claw”, as the saying goes. 

At times I see a Sparrowhawk hiding among shrubs and trees or sitting motionless on a partly hidden fence so as to suddenly dash into a group of birds around a feeder: it’s one of their most and successful natural hunting techniques. Many is the time I glimpse a Sparrowhawk dashing though the garden as it scatters the feeding birds but fails to catch anything. The moment of drama is one to enjoy, nothing is harmed, and while all goes quiet and the feeding birds disappear for a while, it is amazing how quickly they return. After all, birds live with the threat of being eaten by a predator every day of their lives and are finely tuned to spot them. And even a Sparrowhawk lives in fear of its larger cousin the Goshawk.


It’s estimated that roaming pet cats kill billions birds and animals annually in the world. A recent book, Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer Cat Wars:The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer examines the severe ecological damage caused by feral cats and outdoor pet cats. 

Fortunately I don’t have a problem with too many neighbourhood cats but in any case my feeders are out of reach and away from vegetation where cats can hide to ambush birds. Below a couple of my feeders are seed trays to prevent seed from falling to the ground and to minimise the numbers of vulnerable ground-feeding birds. If I see a cat in the garden I always shoo it away, just in case it is an experienced bird killer.

Domestic Cat

Do birds actually need the food on offer in my feeders or am I diverting them away from feeding in a more natural way? I do know that the numbers in my garden go up and down with the seasons and even the time of day. There are definitely more birds in the winter and early spring when they appear to use the garden as a snack bar in times of food shortages, especially during cold spells and the worst times of natural food shortages. A garden is just one of many feeding sites that birds use in the course of a single day, week or even months. For example, the garden has been bereft of Goldfinches for weeks but now as natural autumnal seed heads begin to disappear I am seeing Goldfinches returning to the Niger feeders. A number of them are returnees as I discover if I catch a sample for ringing. 



The “Hunger Gap” for UK and Northern Hemisphere birds is reckoned to be between January and March/April when winter is at its most severe and when both insect and seed items are in short supply. I have windfall apples stored in the freezer in readiness for the snow and ice which might appear in late December and into the New Year and more often than not the apples attract in members of the thrush family, mostly extra Blackbirds, but also Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and even small numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare. 

Song Thrush


Scientific studies have shown nutritional and reproductive benefits to species like Blackbirds, Robins and the tit family that breed in localities with plenty of garden feeders. Whether to feed birds all the year round is a subject open to some debate but I think the consensus is that it is OK so long as the correct food is on offer whereby the birds are clever enough to supplement their natural diet with other “goodies” without relying on too much unnatural food. 

One of the major positives from bird feeding is that it is useful to the conservation of birds. In the past twenty years or so, and through organisation like the BTO and the RSPB, and participation in surveys like Big Garden Birdwatch, Garden Birdwatch and the Nest Record Scheme, UK Citizen Science has become a major tool used by conservationists to help bird populations.


The results from such work allow scientists to acquire snapshots of how bird populations fare from year to year, as well as detecting long-term trends. This information becomes particularly critical in the face of climatic and habitat changes. 

There it is then - lots of positives about feeding birds in the garden and very few reasons to think that doing so might cause harm.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

West Is Best

I was back home at 10am after rained off after just a couple of hours of birding. Despite the curtailed session I managed to clock up a couple of “goodies” but nothing to compete with the Siberian Accentor that turned up on the east coast and where several hundred, possibly thousands of birders and others are expected to flock this weekend ("2000 viewers filed past on 13thOctober"). 

A week or so ago when we when catching Linnets a shooter mentioned that he’d seen a Great White Egret out on the marsh. A day or so later I’d seen almost 30 Little Egrets on the marsh just out from the plantation where many egrets spend the night hours. I guess it was those two bits of information in my head this morning that made me turn off the road in the half-light of dawn to check out just how many egrets are currently using the site. 

The egrets were beginning to wake up. Their barking calls rang out from the trees and I’d counted 70+ scattered across the treetops when a whole gang of them erupted into flight. There was a big one amongst the Little Egrets, a Great White Egret which circled a little before heading along the sea wall towards Cockerham. A great-white is half as big again as a Little Egret with a bill shape that resembles a dagger rather than the stiletto of a Little Egret. For such a large and apparently conspicuous bird a great-white has the ability to “disappear” from prying eyes: I suspect that this particular one spends its days in the deep, tide-washed creeks of Pilling and Cockerham marsh. 

Great White Egret by cuatrok77 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I stopped off at the set-aside plot where I added a little ground feed of millet and Niger to the natural seeds on offer in the expectation that a few Twite and more Tree Sparrows will join Linnets in the daily feast. A flock of 50+ Linnets were around the area together with a number of Tree Sparrows in the bushes near the farm. 



The grey morning and 100% cloud cover didn’t bode well for visible migration so I wasn’t surprised to see little in the way of recent arrivals at Conder Green. A rather noisy Chiffchaff, several “pinking” Chaffinches and a dozen or so Blackbirds proved the best from both here and following a look in Glasson churchyard. 

On the pool and in the creeks – 110 Lapwings, 55 Teal, 15 Redshank, 11 Little Grebe, 6 Snipe, 4 Wigeon, 2 Shelduck, 2 Little Egret and 1 Green Sandpiper. The Green Sandpiper spent all of its time searching for food through the rocks, pebbles and vegetation an island some 70/90 yards away. Best I could do below. It's there - honest!

Green Sandpiper

Apologies for the somewhat short post today but I’ll try harder next time on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Anni's blog.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Looking For Linnets

Linnets require seeds throughout the year, and they frequent areas where they can find lots of such food. Typical areas for Linnets include rotational set-aside, winter stubbles, root crops and break crops. Break crops are secondary crops grown to interrupt the repeated sowing of cereals as part of crop rotation. Oil-seed rape and associated broad-leaved weeds provide ideal food for Linnet chicks in the spring with Linnets one of the few species to feed their nestlings entirely on seed. Linnets need thick hedgerows and scrub for nesting but will also use bramble areas on grassland, marginal land and waste ground. 

Where can Linnets find all of these things on modern farmland? The answer is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Linnets to find those things in order to maintain their population. The graph shows the decline in the population of Linnets between 1996 and 2014. Combined figures from the BTO Common Bird Census and BTO Breeding Bird Survey. This is a pretty disastrous fall in numbers for yet another farmland bird. 

England - Linnets 1996-2014 - BTO

With the above in mind I met up with Andy for another ringing session at a set-aside plot at Cockerham where we hoped we might catch and ring more Linnets and so collect more data for the BTO. The morning was fine, perhaps too fine with sun on the nets but at least very little wind. 

We caught steadily but slowly with a four hour session producing 18 Linnets and 1 Reed Bunting. This increased out Linnet catch to over fifty in just two visits with no recaptures. Once again juveniles/first autumn birds dominated with just 3 adults and 15 juvenile/first years. 

 Linnets - 12th October 2016

Male Linnets are marginally bigger than females as can be seen from the figures above. The wing length of the UK race of Linnet Linaria cannabina varies between 76-85mm (Birds of The Western Palearctic) which serves as a check on our sexing technique of studying the 7-9th primary feathers to separate male and female. We are finding that anything greater than 81mm confirms a male, whereas a measurement below 80mm confirms a female. 


Studying the tail is a very reliable way to age Linnets at the moment. The tail feathers of a juvenile/first autumn have a mostly pointed shape, particularly the outermost unmoulted ones. By October an adult Linnet has completely moulted and replaced its tail feathers whereby the resultant shape is both more rounded and less worn than those of a juvenile/first year Linnet. This holds true for many finches and other species at this time of year where adults and juveniles have differing moult sequences. This is not entirely fool proof as a bird might lose all or some of its tail feathers at any time, and ringers must be mindful of that possibility. 

Adult Linnet

Juvenile/first autumn Linnet

Today’s Reed Bunting proved to be a first autumn female. 

Reed Bunting

Our ringing was carried out to a three hour overhead procession of Pink-footed Geese leaving Pilling Marsh for their daytime feeding areas. Several thousand flew south between 0700 and 1000, with many flocks of several hundred birds among the hordes that passed over. 

Pink-footed Geese

Otherwise – a few tree Sparrows and Skylarks plus the now regular Sparrowhawk. On the way back I stopped at Pilling Marsh to see 28 Little Egret and 2 Buzzard.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Goldcrests Galore

What a morning! Busy, busy, busy. 

I met Andy up at Oakenclough at 0700 hours where we set up shop and waited to catch the first Redwings of the autumn. All seemed quiet in the half light of dawn but by nine o’clock we’d ringed 50 birds without stopping for coffee or breakfast but one Redwing only to show for our hard work. 

Ringing Station

We caught steadily and finally called a halt at midday with 123 birds caught and both ringers cream-crackered after fully processing 30+ birds every hour. Whoever said that ringing birds was easy work?

It wasn’t Redwings that topped our leader board but that other autumn migrant the Goldcrest which made up 50% of our catch, plus a selection of other species bringing up the rear. 

Totals today: 61 Goldcrest, 15 Goldfinch, 14 Chaffinch, 14 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Chiffchaff, 3 Redwing, 2 Siskin, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Great Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Brambling and 1 Dunnock. Just two of these birds were recaptures from previous occasions, a Goldfinch and a Blue Tit. 

Late September/early October are peak times for Goldcrest migration so while we expect to see more than normal it is highly unusual to catch so many. This might suggest a very good breeding season in the conifers of the northern UK from where the Goldcrests originate. Of the 61 caught today just four were adult birds, the remainder juveniles of this year. 

The overall breeding population of Goldcrests in Europe is estimated at 20,000,000-37,000,000 pairs, which equates to 40,100,000-74,100,000 mature individuals. (Birdlife Internationl 2015). Those figures do not include post-breeding juvenile birds that swell the population many times over during the summer months. Despite their tiny size Goldcrests are highly migratory, with a large influx of birds from Scandinavia and the near-Continent arriving on the east coast of Britain every autumn. Immigrants arrive in Britain from late August through to early November, departing the following March and April. 

Early ornithologists didn’t believe a bird as tiny as a Goldcrest could fly across the North Sea unaided, and it was thought that they rode on the backs of migratory Woodcock or Short-eared Owls.


It was good to catch a Brambling today, one of the eight or more seen and heard overhead with at one point four feeding together on autumn berries above our heads. 



It was after 11 o’clock when Chiffchaffs appeared and then three on the same net round. 


We were so busy ringing today that accounting for visible migration became difficult, especially since most birds seemed to arrive out of sight from the south and west, behind the ringing station that faces north and east. Lesser Redpoll, Chaffinch and Siskin all found their way into the nets without us seeing many of them. 

Lesser Redpoll


Redwings proved more visible with at least two flocks of 40+ seen and landing briefly in the plantation before heading off in a north-westerly direction. 


Otherwise sightings – 30+ Swallows flying south. As we packed the ringing gear a calling Raven made us look high to the east and see a “kettle” of 12 circling Buzzards that caused the Raven's protest. They all drifted higher and west before disappearing into the cloud base hundreds of feet above. 

On the way home I counted 5 more Buzzards – 2 at Nateby, 2 on Pilling Moss and then 2 on Stalmine Moss. 

This is a productive time of year for birding, that’s for sure.

More news soon. In the meantime I'm linking to Wild Bird Wednesday and Anni's birding.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

It's All About Linnets

At this time of year the start times for a ringing session aren’t too early so I arranged to meet Andy at 0700 at Cockerham. That would give us plenty of time to erect a couple of single panel nets in the plot of set-aside crops and wait for Linnets to arrive from their overnight roosts. The weather forecast gave us a couple of hours at 10mph or less easterlies in which to catch before we might get blown off course. 

Arrive the Linnets did by flying in from all directions north, south, east and west, in ones, twos and threes at first until the small groups built into larger clusters and small flocks of up to seventy birds. We estimated that in all we saw 150-200 Linnets throughout the morning, but the number of birds caught might suggest more than two hundred in the area.  

About 1030 the wind began to increase as promised and we called it a day, more than satisfied with the catch. We caught 36 birds - 33 Linnet, 2 Tree Sparrow and 1 Reed Bunting. 

Tree Sparrow


Reed Bunting


Although it is early days in working this site we both remarked on the number of juvenile/first year males around. The Linnet catch comprised of 19 first year males, 12 juvenile/first year females and just 2 adults, both of them males. Hopefully a bigger sample over the coming weeks will allow us to look more closely at the age/sex ratios of birds using this feeding site. 

Early ornithologists thought there to be two species of Linnet, one of which they called Linota, probably from its habit of feeding on flax-seed (Linum) from which linen is made. The other Linnet they named Cannabina from the bird having been seen to feed on hemp-seed - cannabis. There is now one species of Linnet recognised by science, the Common Linnet which has the Latin/scientific name of Linaria cannabina where Linaria refers to various plants belonging to the genus Linaria the figwort family and of which Linum is one.

We park at a roadside that is also a parking spot for wildfowlers heading out onto Pilling Marsh. The wildfowlers walk out to their spots in the dark long before we set up shop, but on the shooters return about 10am return we learnt about some of their sightings. They had recorded huge numbers of Pink-footed Goose, very good numbers of Wigeon and Pintail but had also seen a Marsh Harrier and a Great White Egret. 

The Great White Egret is something of a rarity in this area but just yesterday there was a confirmed sighting of seven Great White Egrets roosting with the long-established Little Egret roost at Leighton Moss, some 25 or so miles directly across Morecambe Bay. Two days ago nine were seen near Southport to the south and across the River Ribble. There seems little doubt that these mulitple sighting refer to some and all of the birds .

Great White Egret

In addition to our catch our own sightings while ringing included 7 Snipe, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Little Egret, and as per the wildfowlers, many thousands of Pink-footed Geese. 

Little Egret

There’s more bird news and more pictures in the next day or two. Don’t miss out and log in to Another Bird Blog very soon.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

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