Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Short

When I got up and looked outside I could see a slight frost together with a little breeze shaking the bare branches of the weather-vane damson tree. 

I decided on a spot of local birding instead of a ringing session in the bare set-aside field within yards of the coast. And in any case Andy had told me he was going for an MOT - his car, I think. Whether the old banger will last for another year or two is up for debate. 

A thin layer of frost soon cleared from the windscreen and luckily the roads were dry and ice-free so I drove over the bumpy moss road towards Pilling. There was a Barn Owl hunting in the half-light, a couple of Song Thrush in good voice, and then about 40 Fieldfares leaving a roost. The Fieldfares flew up to tree tops for a brief look around before they set off for their day of searching the fields. I stopped to look across the moss at a Little Owl location to see not an owl but a Kestrel atop the nest box. Desirable houses are at a premium around here, but I doubt a Kestrel would even get through the small front door, never mind raise a family of five in such an enclosed space. It’s a dwelling perfect for a small owl, a Stock Dove, or maybe a Jackdaw, not a Kestrel. 


I was due to feed our Linnets. There are now a couple of Pheasants to feed, not to mention the several Stock Doves that arrived without an invitation. Birds are very skilled at finding food. Perhaps they do it from a mix of luck, experience, and through a process of watching and following their own or other species? But almost exclusively we feed Linnets, and no other passerines. Today they flew around until I counted two tight flocks of 100 and 80 that joined together and then dropped into the field and away from the seed I had left and where there is still natural food. 

The regular Little Egret is not interested in our seed and prefers to spend the day hunting the adjacent ditch. 

Little Egret

Several thousand Pink-footed Geese had dropped into the fields at Sand Villa where birders later found White-fronts, Barnacles and Beans and the likely escape/feral Red-breasted Goose. I got close to an overflow of several hundred geese close to Lane Ends and enjoyed their company until noisy cyclists came by and sent the geese off into the air again. The flock was exclusively Pink-footed Geese and I could not find any of the aforementioned species. For birders hoping to see oddities amongst the mainstream pinkies, according to shooters plus some of my own observations today and in the week, there are 10-20,000 geese scattered in many different flocks in a good number of localities. 

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese

Sparrowhawks can be very elusive but I saw three today, all in different places, so there was no chance of duplication. One was a large adult female which sat briefly at the top of a row of conifers. The other two sightings were of smaller males which gave momentary views as they did their customary flap-glide and rapid disappearing act across the path of my approaching car. A female Sparrowhawk is half as big again as a male with corresponding weights and measurements in the hand. When caught for ringing purposes there are two different ring sizes for a Sparrowhawk, “E” for female and “D” for the smaller male. 



At home I did a spot of garden ringing with mainly Goldfinch, a Blackbird or two but not the single Fieldfare which rather likes sitting and chuckling aloud from the top of our neighbour’s sycamore. 


There’s more soon from Another Bird Blog. Now go back and “click those pics” for a close up. 

Linking todaay to Anni's Birding Blog.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

If At First You Don’t Suceed

The week has been grey, overcast and quite wet; hardly the best weather for photography, birding or ringing. Tuesday’s forecast looked passable and just about OK to continue with the Linnet project, but when Andy and I met up at Pilling where the overcast sky turned first to drizzle and then rain so within the hour we aborted the mission. 

Wednesday was another no-go with rain more or less all day and we began to feel we’d never get there. Thursday dawned slightly better, in fact perfect for a ringing session by way of 100% cloud cover and zero wind. Bryan joined us today from his normal habitat of south west Lancashire where the red-listed Linnet has suffered a similar decline to the Linnet in our own area of north west Lancashire. 

After a number of weeks of leaving the Linnets a supplementary food of millet, nyger and rape to add to the natural of the set-aside it appeared today that the birds have finally begun to take some. That probably accounted for our improved catch of 30 new birds from the approximate count of 200/250 in the immediate area. Again, not a single recapture from previous weeks, and still just the one to show from 180+ ringed during visits October to 19th January. 

Ringing Linnets
Field Sheet

We were on the lookout again for any males that showed a greater degree of grey towards the rear of the head and so possible contenders for the forgotten Scottish race of Linnet. There’s one below, a first winter male with a very grey head which also displayed the blotchy beginnings of the red breast of spring and summer. 



Shooters were out in force this morning with 8/10 blokes from the six cars parked along the lane. As an aside, and on a point of interest, from many years birding around here, I’ve yet to see a female wildfowler in the midst of the males. Rather like birding, it seems that shooting is a mostly male sanctuary? 

We heard lots of gunfire but the sportsmen returned from the marsh with mostly glum faces and just two pinkies amongst them. The lowly return of just two Pink-footed Geese from the shooters’ combined 40 plus hours of lying in wait in the dark, cold and wet early morning marsh is not so good. Given that several thousand pink-feet flew from the marsh and mostly over the shooters’ heads, the geese and birds in general are much smarter than we think. 

Anyway, thank goodness, the shooting season ends soon. 

Shooting Season

Birders were also out in force this morning on the hunt for the elusive Red-breasted Goose of late and recently spotted White-fronts. We noted more than a couple of cars cruising by, pagers at the ready for news of the target bird. We heard that later in the morning the harlequin escape was spotted near Glasson Dock, on the move but possibly heading back our way. 

Never mind lads and lasses. If at first…………… Alternatively you could try to do some serious birdwatching or a few BTO surveys instead of careering around the countryside on a wild goose chase and adding to all that carbon emission.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday Sun

The morning didn’t look too with heavy cloud, spots of rain and a northerly breeze. Luckily I’d spoken to Andy on Friday night to cancel plans to catch Linnets. 

Then suddenly about 0915 the sky cleared to leave a bright blue sky. Later than normal I set off birding, new camera at the ready. 

At Gulf Lane I counted 150+ Linnets in the set-aside as well as 11 Stock Dove. Looks like the doves have found the seed mix but when I took a closer look there seemed to be lots on the ground so I’m still not sure if the Linnets are taking much. Holes and pathways through the crop suggest that voles, moles and rats may be having a beano during the hours of darkness. There was a Kestrel hanging around and at one point it dived into the grass as if to grab a bite to eat but came away with nothing. 


At Gulf Lane/Braides/Sand Villa birds pushed from the rising tide and into the inland fields were very distant with best estimates of 1000 Lapwing, 600 Pink-footed Goose, 500+ Golden Plover,250 Curlew, 150 Redshank, 60 Wigeon, 25 Teal, 8 Whooper Swan, 4 Shoveler and 2 Shelduck. 

I decided to take drive down towards Cockersands but stopped first on Moss Lane where a small herd of mixed swans fed, 10 Mute, 12 Whooper and 8 Bewick’s. There have been 400/500 Whooper Swans in the extensive fields around here, almost a full day’s work to locate and count them all. Even then the counts come with a health warning because of the swans’ constant mobility. 

Whooper Swan

At Cockersands I stopped to watch a flock of about 80 Twite feeding quietly in and out of the marsh grass and tide wrack. It proved to be a good move as an hour or more later I was still there after a series of birds appeared. 

First came a Barn Owl which suddenly appeared from over the caravan site and where at the back are tumbledown farm buildings ideal for a winter roost. Like the Kestrel before, the owl dropped into the grass, did a quick about turn and disappeared from whence it came. There was just time for a few snatched shots. 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

It wasn’t just Twite feeding in the marsh, also 10+ Greenfinch, 3 Reed Bunting, 6 Linnet, a couple of Blackbirds, several House Sparrows, 2 Collared Dove and dozens of Starlings. In the paddock: 3 Fieldfare, 1 Redwing, 1 Song Thrush, 4 Goldfinch, 6 Tree Sparrows and more Blackbirds.






Collared Dove 

What of the new camera? Well a little sun makes all the difference for sure. I have to work on the intial exposure setting as well as getting used to a different set of buttons and changed menu, but so far so good. With 24 megapixels the crop factor is pretty good, ideal for those long range pictures that birds often demand.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday and Anni's Birding.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dodgy Days

I was desperate to go birding and experiment with my new 80D, preferably at a sensible ISO. All I needed was a decent spell of sunshine but that wasn’t to be. On Wednesday the sun appeared in spasms as 30mph westerlies and 50mph gusts pushed grey clouds across the sky. I ventured forth more in hope than expectation, but with yellow weather warnings I was due for a day or two of dodging the showers. 

Across the windswept moss I’d clocked up a pair of Kestrels, one of four territories noted in recent days. 

There’d been reports of several White-fronted Geese and even a Red-breasted Goose with the pinkies at Cockerham. Chances were the geese had already departed; seen off by the farmer or deterred by the day long procession of people keen to see the colourful goose, star of pager buzz but of dubious origin. 

Red-breasted Goose

I stopped off at Gulf Lane to feed the Linnets and where a shooter advised that the farmer had indeed moved the geese from his fields. A drive down his track in a Land Rover would send the geese into the air and seek out new grazing on a neighbouring farm. Farmers around here stick together - even to the extent of letting each other see the wild geese. Birders see a wild goose chase as fun sport, but for a farmer his livelihood goes down the drain when several thousand geese poop on his pasture. 

The shooter also advised that a birdwatcher had told him the flock of birds flying around the set-aside were Twite; that’s a major problem with these twitches - they bring out dodgy, part-time birders as well as suspect birds. I checked – yes, definitely Linnets, all 200+ of them; and a Little Egret sheltering from the wind in the dyke. 

Along Lancaster Lane is a major flood. Lapwings fed in their thousands with dozens of Redshanks, 30 Black-tailed Godwits, and then good numbers of Curlew and Golden Plover in the far distance. Skylarks appeared from the black stuff when flighty Lapwings caused temporary panic and mass flight of the assembled crowd. About 80 Fieldfares fed close to the hedgerow, partly sheltered from the wind but close enough to dash back should danger threaten, as they did more than once. Along the lane, and for the second time lately, I found another Kestrel hanging about a likely looking barn 

Mostly Lapwings


The wind raged across Braides Farm where many Lapwings hunkered down against the gusts that made their feeding hard work. 

I drove on up to Conder and Glasson where the high tide coupled with strength and direction of the wind would surely make Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks appear as if by magic? It did, with tightly packed counts of 45+ Goldeneye and 60+ Tufted Duck bouncing across the usually calm marina that now resembled a wave packed sea and made photography difficult. 

Tufted Duck and Goldeneye

At Conder Green the high tide had almost reached the road. From there and on the pool I managed to count about 200 Teal, 30+ Redshank, 4 Little Grebe, 15 Wigeon and 1 Sparrowhawk fighting against the wind to find something to eat.


Little Grebe

The weather isn’t much better today although there’s no sign yet of the predicted snow, but I ain’t going nowhere just yet.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pigeon Post

I’m rained off again today, so here’s a post about three members of the pigeon family of birds. 

Pigeons and doves constitute the bird family Columbidae, which includes about 310 species in the world as a whole. The terms "dove" and "pigeon" are used somewhat interchangeably. In ornithological practice, "dove" tends to be used for smaller species and "pigeon" for larger ones, but this is not consistently applied, and historically, the common names for these birds involve a great deal of variation between the terms. 

We know all about Collared Doves Streptopelia decaocto here in the UK. The spread of Collared Doves across the United Kingdom from mainland Asia and Europe was very rapid. From the first breeding report in Norfolk in 1955 the species was subsequently reported breeding in Kent and Lincolnshire in 1957, with birds seen as far north as Scotland. Two years later Ireland was colonised and by 1970 there may have been as many as 15,000 - 25,000 pairs in Britain and Ireland. The BTO Common Birds Census revealed a five-fold increase in their population between 1972 and 1996 until some levelling off in the 1990s. By the Millennium and into the summer of 2014 the population stabilised at about 980,000 pairs. 

Collared Dove - Europe and Asia

Collared Dove

Now there’s news that the Collared Dove continues its spread into North America and Canada, with reports this winter of Eurasian Collared Doves in Calgary, Alberta, North West Canada. "We counted 38 on this year's Christmas bird count, and really in two spots. One of them here in Forest Lawn and the other over in Dover," said Phil Cram, with the Calgary Christmas Bird Count. They have been expanding throughout southern Alberta for the last 13 years, since they first turned up." 

"This kind of habitat exists throughout the city, but once a pair establish here and have young and so on and so forth, that's how a little population will grow, and then from here they will undoubtedly radiate out," he said. So I would expect in 10 years’ time, we will see hundreds of these on our Christmas bird count." 

Eurasian Collared Doves made their way to North America via the Bahamas, where several birds escaped from a pet shop during a mid-1970s burglary; the shop owner then released the rest of the flock of approximately 50 doves. Others were set free on the island of Guadeloupe when a volcano threatened eruption. From these two sites the birds spread north through Florida, and now occur over most of North America. In a matter of approximately 30 years this dove has been sighted in southern Ontario, west, across the southern portions of the prairies, to a few sighting in Alaska, to southern California, east, across all the states to the tip of southern Florida, north to the US and Canadian Atlantic border. Collared Doves are now seen through all of Mexico, and into Central America. 

Collared Dove - North America

Just as in the UK, North American people helped make the Collared Dove at home. Bird feeders and trees planted in urban and suburban areas are cited as two of the main factors in the species’ colonization of the continent. Of a global breeding population of circa 8 million, 5% are estimated to live in the United States. 

Studies in North America on interactions between Collared Doves and other species have not yet shown a negative impact on populations of native birds, including the Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura, a related species that could be seen as a competitor in the food stakes. 

Mourning Dove - 

The number of individual Mourning Doves in North America is estimated at approximately 475 million. That large population and its vast range explain why the Mourning Dove is considered to be of least concern, meaning that the species is not at immediate risk and a legitimate target for hunters. As a North American gamebird it is estimated that 20 million (and up to 40–70 million) Mourning Doves are shot by hunters each year. 

As an introduced species, Eurasian Collared Doves are not protected from hunting and like the endemic Mourning Dove, the newcomer has become a popular game birds in rural areas of the Southeast and Texas. I trawled the Internet but couldn’t find any information on the number of Collared Doves taken by hunters in North America. 

The Mourning Dove and the Collared Dove are two distinct species related species to the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius, another member of the dove/pigeon bird family. The Passenger Pigeon was hunted to extinction in America in the early 1900s, from a population numbering in the billions. The last confirmed wild bird is thought to have been shot in 1901. 

Passenger Pigeon - extinct circa 1900

Via Wiki - Today, more than 1,532 Passenger Pigeon skins (along with 16 skeletons) are in existence, spread across many institutions all over the world. It has been suggested that the Passenger Pigeon should be revived when available technology allows it (a concept which has been termed "de-extinction"), using genetic material from such specimens. In 2003, the Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica, a subspecies of the Spanish ibex) was the first extinct animal to be cloned back to life; the clone lived for only seven minutes before dying of lung defects. 

A hindrance to cloning the Passenger Pigeon is the fact that the DNA of museum specimens has been contaminated and fragmented, due to exposure to heat and oxygen. American geneticist George M. Church has proposed that the passenger pigeon genome can be reconstructed by piecing together DNA fragments from different specimens. The next step would be to splice these genes into the stem cells of Rock Pigeons which would then be transformed into egg and sperm cells, and placed into the eggs of Rock Pigeons, resulting in Rock Pigeons bearing Passenger Pigeon sperm and eggs. The offspring of these would have Passenger Pigeon traits, and then would be further bred to favour unique features of the extinct species. 

The general idea of re-creating extinct species has been criticised, since the large funds needed could be spent on conserving currently threatened species and habitats, and because conservation efforts might be viewed as less urgent. In the case of the Passenger Pigeon, since it was very social, it is unlikely that enough birds could be created for revival to be successful, and it is unclear whether there is enough appropriate habitat left for its reintroduction. Furthermore, the parent pigeons that would raise the cloned Passenger Pigeons would belong to a different species, with a different way of rearing young. 

I'm hoping to get out birding soon and to try out my new camera. 

Log in soon and see how I do. 

In the meantime, linking to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ringing In The New

The extra daylight of post-solstice is already noticeable by way of an 8 o’clock rendezvous with Andy at the set-aside. Maybe I should change that dashboard clock or perhaps just leave it until mid-March and the spring equinox when it will right itself? It was a cold but clear start which meant that the rising sun quickly appeared over the open field.

Early Start
We’d cut an extra ride in the vegetation and added rape seed to the nyger/millet mix, so hoped to add to recent catches. Improve we did with 15 new Linnets, and once again, no new recaptures from previous visits where a count of 200/300 birds was the norm and 160 Linnets the total catch. This morning the flock appeared larger whereby we both agreed that the number of Linnets today was close to 400 individuals; it was quite a sight when once or twice the whole flock took flight and then landed in the tops of nearby trees. 

We were on the lookout today for greyer headed individuals which might indicate birds of Scottish origin. This is a very personal and subjective assessment due to changing light and the angle of view, but the majority of those we caught seemed to be inseparable other than by sex. An exception is shown below with the uppermost male having a noticeably greyer hind neck and more streaked crown than the lower example. This difference is very marginal which may become more apparent if we can continue to catch and examine more “winter” rather than summer Linnets. 



Otherwise birding – many thousands of Pink-footed Geese, easily 10,000 +. Two Snipe, 1 Whooper Swan, 1 Buzzard. 


Linking this post to Anni's Birding. There's more soon from Another Bird Blog

Monday, January 2, 2017

First Post

There was a touch of frost this morning for my first birding of 2017. I waited until the sun began to rise and then set off through Hambleton towards Out Rawcliffe, watchful for both patchy ice and any roadside birds. First off, and just on the edge of the village was a Kestrel in a now familiar spot. Later there would be a second Kestrel and then a third, the latter taking great interest in a flock of Linnets. 

But for now I stopped near a farm where I hoped that the morning frost might bring a Little Owl out to play. There’s no doubt that snow, ice and frost cause Little Owls to be more visible. My theory is that frozen ground makes the owl’s prey, typically worms, beetles, moths and small mammals, easier to spot with the prey less likely to escape into frozen earth and vegetation. 

Little Owls catch prey by stooping on it from a perch or running after it on the ground. The owl’s natural instinct probably makes it spend more time hunting in cold weather as a safeguard against the unforeseen. Also, and like other species of owl the Little Owl is in the habit of keeping a “larder” of food for the unexpected events of life. It’s rather like us humans stocking our cupboards with tinned food or filling the freezer with Hovis. Unfortunately, fresh voles don’t come with a “use by date”, nor is an owl very house-proud in cleaning behind the fridge; as any ringer will testify, the content of an owl nest is often extremely messy and very smelly. 

Little Owl
The owl was both watchful and at the at times disinterested enough to close its eyes and face into the morning sun. Shame it was a little distant, but at least one for my non-existent year list. 

I found myself along Crook Lane where Fieldfares lived up to their name by feeding in roadside fields. During the morning I noted that almost without exception our local hedgerows are now devoid of hawthorn berries, the favoured autumn food of the Fieldfare as they now switch seamlessly to searching for earthworms and field dwelling insects. I saw a dozen or so Redwings along the lane but they were gone as soon as look at them. If anything an always nervous Redwing is shyer than the watchful Fieldfare. 


The roadside flood at Rawcliffe Moss is no longer a budding lake but just a very damp and obviously still soggy pasture with dozens of Lapwings probing the ground and gulls waiting to test their piracy skills. Across the far side there was a fence-sitting Buzzard and closer, a Kestrel that flew periodically into the building and then out again to sit along the fence. Two Pied Wagtails here. 

At Union Lane were 40 or more Fieldfares and 8 Stock Dove, both in exactly the same field as last week. And at Gulf Lane came the third Kestrel of the morning keeping watch on our set-aside where 200+ Linnets flew around, flew around, and then flew around again. The Kestrel was definitely making the finches nervous and although a Kestrel feeds mostly on mammals, should an opportunity arise, the Kestrel would take a Linnet. 

Cockerham Moss Edge held a distant flock of several hundred Pink-footed Geese. The geese were adjacent to a private farm track a good half mile away and with new groups arriving as I watched. I could have driven down the track but decided to leave the geese feeding rather than risk sending them back into the air and towards the sound of gunfire. 

Pink-footed Geese

Around the moss road to Crimbles; 40 Curlew, 35+ Lapwings, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Pied Wagtail, 1 Skylark, 2 Reed Bunting, 7 Tree Sparrow, 15 Chaffinch, 18 Fieldfare, 12 Blackbird, 2 Song Thrush and 1 Mistle Thrush. 

The Mistle Thrush is the largest of our UK thrush family but equally as shy as all of the others. One rattled off from our back garden the other day when I came by the side of the garage and surprised the thrush feeding on what’s left of the crab apple tree. Any day now male Mistle Thrushes will begin their loud singing from a high point in the landscape, usually the tallest tree, and often on a stormy day. “Stormcock” is an old English name for the Mistle Thrush because unlike most birds it sings in the heaviest of weather. “Singing in the Rain” - no problem to a Mistle Thrush. 

Mistle Thrush

Turn left at Crimbles and I’m soon back at Braides Farm where the frost put paid to much other than 200+ Golden Plover, similar numbers of Lapwings and 50 or so Redshanks. 


Apologies that my pictures are a little distant today. Sometimes these birds just don’t want to play ball with us birders. 

Anyway I have decided to spend my generous £100 Christmas Bonus towards upgrading my current camera to a later version in the hope my photography will improve.

In any case Mrs Theresa Maybe, and with your own and other leading Minister’s veiled threats to target the oldies. A miserly £100 is hardly enough to buy something really trendy and useful like an iPhone 7, an Apple Watch or a Microsoft Band is it? 

Happy New Year folks.

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

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