Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lookout Post

I’ve posted a few owl pictures recently which prompted a blog reader to ask about daylight owls. Not all our UK species are strictly nocturnal; in fact all of them hunt at mainly dawn or twilight, but also occasionally in full daylight, especially at this time of year when they all have young owlets to feed. As the UK is in the Northern hemisphere the summer daylight hours can be long e.g. at the moment it is light from 0330 to 2200 hours, which restricts owls' night time hunting, therefore it is not unusual to see owls in the early morning when they can hunt without disturbance before us humans are up and about.

Having said all of the above a Little Owl on the fence post at Hambleton today confounded my theories by being still up and about at 1130am when owls should be at a daytime roost and Homo sapiens are ready for a morning coffee. The owl wasn’t roosting at all and became very animated as it not only watched that I didn’t get too close, but searched for food on the ground below, eye-balled a passing pedestrian and took time out to look for overhead dangers from the local Buzzards, Kestrels or Sparrowhawks.

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

I also checked the Swallows at Hambleton today where I knew one nest to be ready for ringing the chicks; from that nest I added another five youngsters to the year’s total but proceedings have come to a virtual halt now as I wait for the second broods. When I looked in the “black shed”, the adult female was sat tight so I lifted her off, checked for the five eggs, and as she was without a ring, fitted her with one then took a portrait shot before placing her quickly but gently back. She stayed put as I closed the shed door.


Many species are tolerant of being lifted off a nest and it’s all a question of knowing when and how to do it and being aware of species that cannot be safely lifted from a nest. When I eventually ring the youngsters from the black shed there will be a record of the complete family apart from the male: when and where the young were born together with data about the female parent plus information on the stages and final outcome of the nest from egg laying to fledging.

Yet another brood of young Swallows now close to fledging sat unflinching in the shed door as I took their photographs because they are well used to people in and out on a daily basis. But my Swallows are now so far behind with their first and any second nests that a third brood is highly unlikely for any pair, so we really need some decent weather through July and August to consolidate the limited success so far.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It’s Better Than Watching Paint Dry.

A bright and breezy morning saw me off to Pilling looking for morning hunting Barn Owls, whereby it didn’t take long to find one just beyond Burned House Lane, but unfortunately the owl was flying away from me then inland towards a building that always looks owlish. Down Lambs Lane and Fluke Hall Lane I counted at least 10 roadside Whitethroats and several Greenfinches before I came upon the second Barn Owl hunting the rough pasture and ditches. It was a pretty wary one this Barn Owl and as it watched me the bird allowed one shot before floating off into the morning light.

Barn Owl



The owl stayed out on the fields so I drove up via Damside and the Kestrel pair and then on to Lane Ends, for the now standard trio of Reed Warbler, Blackcap and Jay with the gang of 15/20 resident Blackbirds.


I’d walked a few yards towards Pilling Water when I saw a Little Egret flying across the marsh, the egrets absent from here for a few months only with their autumn return now guaranteed in late June and early July. Also out on the distant marsh were 3 Grey Heron, but so common have the egrets become, in just a few short weeks they will easily outnumber the herons.

When I got to Pilling Water I could still see the distant Barn Owl towards Fluke, but I settled down on the stile to watch around me. Just one Swift this morning with less than 10 each of House Martin and Swallow, but the hirundines are still sufficiently numerous in the village. There was a flock of 30/40 noisy Starlings around the wildfowler’s pools but they all suddenly quietened then spooked off as a tiny male Sparrowhawk came from nowhere to take a hapless Starling. Carrying the Starling the hawk flew into the trees to dissect its meal but within five minutes it had finished the feed and then circled around again before flying off and up Pilling Water to an accompaniment of twittering hirundines.

I looked for Wheatears, returnees due any day along the wall but instead found 2 Meadow Pipit, 4 Pied Wagtail, 24 Linnet, 11 Goldfinch, 4 House Sparrow and 3 Greenfinch. Waders along the outflow and distant sand included 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, 18 Redshank, 10 Oystercatcher and 24 Curlew.


As I wandered along the Redshanks with the undetectable, ditch hugging youngsters gave me the customary guard of honour but noisy welcome; I returned the compliment and gave them the routine camera treatment for a few minutes then left them in peace.



Well it may be a quiet time of year for birding but if I’d stayed at home painting the gates I don’t think I would have had nearly as much fun; in any case there’s always tomorrow for a few chores.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Dearth of 3Js

Our morning at Out Rawcliffe started on a high when at the barn I spotted a juvenile Little Owl which looked as though it had very recently vacated a nest, a 1J as ringers label them – a newly fledged chick but capable of limited flight only. A minute later Ian and Will came down the lane, then after Ian ringed the owl it sat on the barn wall long enough for me to take one picture before a flight of sorts took it a few yards into nearby vegetation; the parent birds would be close to and soon find the youngster.

Little Owl – 1J

Little Owl - adult

Up at the plantation thing were fairly quiet with18 birds caught, 10 new and 8 recaptures. New birds: 4 Whitethroat, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Great Tit and 3 Willow Warbler. Recaptures: 2 Sedge Warbler, 3 Whitethroat, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Great Tit and 1 Blackcap.


Whitethoat- adult male

Whitethroat – juvenile, 3J

At the end of June we hope for but also expect catches with lots of new juveniles (3Js), especially in an area where we know many pairs of insectivorous Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Sedge Warbler were present throughout April and May. Normally by late June/July, juvenile birds should outnumber adults by at least 4 to 1. Therefore so it was a little disconcerting this morning when we found that of the ten new birds, only five of them were 3Js and the three new Willow Warblers were all adults in advanced stages of moult, their feather renewal a sign that for them at least the breeding season is over. As ever, only time and more visits will give us an idea of this year’s breeding success but we await with interest the onset of a quantity of true post-juvenile dispersal rather than the limited indications of our ringing site.

Birding wise things were also fairly quiet but the calm, nearly wind-free and partially sunny morning brought out a few Skylarks and caused a return of the Corn Bunting that hadn’t sung from the ditch side hawthorn for weeks.

Corn Bunting


"Otherwise" birds: 2 Buzzard, 3 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 15 Swift, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Yellowhammer, 4 Linnet, 15 Goldfinch, 2 Blackbird and one unidentified, escapee 3J owl that left downy feathers in our mist net.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On The Post

Yes, I’m on with the job and although it was windy this morning, the sun was out again and I was looking for blog material. And at 0745 the Barn Owl was still looking for a breakfast around the fields and fence hopping the ditches near Lane Ends. I then regretted not getting up earlier and getting new owl photos, but as the run rose a little more the bird disappeared out of sight towards the village and its daytime roost so I turned my attention to Lane Ends itself.

Blackcap and Reed Warbler sang out from the plantation with a cluster of 15+ Blackbirds young and old feeding on the tilled ground, with the now regular but flighty Jay putting in a brief appearance.


From Pilling Water I saw the distant Barn Owl again now flying over Damside and then on towards Fluke Hall Lane, but with the owl’s circuit of a couple of square miles where to park the car at 0600 for the chance of fleeting photography in the morning light remains the question. The inland stretch of Pilling Water had a circling, hovering Kestrel, 4 Swift, 15 Swallow, 6 House Martin, 1 Oystercatcher and 4 Lapwing, and on the outer, 1 Common Sandpiper, 12 Redshank and 14 Shelduck.


There are a few more finches about now that first broods have fledged with a nice little mixed flock building up on the sea wall seed heads with a count of 15 Linnet, 18 Goldfinch and 7 Greenfinch. As in recent days I found 4 Meadow Pipits and the usual number of 10/15 Skylark.

Up at Fluke Hall a pair of Oystercatcher sounded out to one well grown young, with 15 Redshank, 12 Shelduck, 18 Lapwing and another Common Sandpiper on the pool. I tracked down another pair of Redshanks with young chicks, but the adults had their young tucked away in an unapproachable spot of thick cover, warning the youngsters of me long before I got near. There’s a good reason a Redshank is known as “Sentinel of the Marsh”. The wary adults didn’t go too far away but stayed put along the fence posts or overhead from where they yelled at me, advising the chicks to stay hidden as they drew in Lapwings and Oystercatchers to scold me also.




If the rain holds off this evening there may be a spot of ringing with a fresh post tomorrow. Watch this space.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Are You Joking?

Another poor weather, windy, cloudy and showery morning meant no mist netting or actual birding, so I prioritised checking a few nests later in the day with hopes of a spot of casual birding. The result is that the blog is pretty sparse again today, but hopefully everyone will firstly enjoy a chuckle at an Over Wyre joke.

There are landowners with reason to dislike folk who take to the countryside with no understanding or respect for the Countryside Code. Consequently the same landowners tend to mistrust everyone who ventures into their domain, but when I came across this sign on my travels today I couldn’t quite decide if the message was serious or simply a left over from April Fool’s day. So after having a little laugh I went off in the opposite direction, to check out my Tree Sparrow boxes and Swallow nests, making sure that I closed each gate behind me.


At Out Rawcliffe two Tree Sparrows nests each had 4 young of an ideal size to ring with two other boxes having 5 warm eggs. The adults weren’t at home; they almost never are, vacating the box well in advance of any intruders then keeping a safe distance away. The Tree Sparrow chicks at this age look a little like the adults.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow

There was mixed success at Hambleton for the Swallows with 2 nests of chicks ready for ringing but one had four youngsters only, below expected par of five with the second one having only two youngsters with a dead one that had expired three or four days ago judging by the size of its healthy siblings. It is fairly unusual to find a dead Swallow chick in a nest, and as this nest had only three chicks to begin with, this underperforming nest might be explained by inexperienced adults, or probably more accurately as a “don’t know” reason. A third nest contained young still too small to ring despite my notebook’s pencilled in date, but a fourth one last noted as “nest fully lined” on 18th June now had five warm eggs whereby the adults had been busy. I checked the chicken shed for a second laying in a recently fledged nest and although there were no new eggs, a recently fledged youngster was too slow to find the exit door.



Down the puddled lane to the farm were several Whitethroats, 2 Yellowhammer, 10 Goldfinch and 8 Linnet.


What isn’t a joke is the continuous bad weather of the last six weeks, but the BBC have promised warm, even hot weather for next week. Goodness knows we are due a decent spell so I hope they are not pulling our collective legs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Surprise, Surprise

When Will and I found the Oystercatcher nest near our ringing location a while ago we obviously misjudged how long the adults had been at it, because their behaviour took me by surprise today when it quickly became obvious they had young in tow. I spent what seemed ages seeking out the chicks scattered across the furrowed, short, grassy field, but eventually there was no doubt, just one chick three or four days old at most. Like all wader chicks, those of Oystercatchers are nidifugous i.e. they are born with their eyes open and leave the nest shortly after hatching when they are also capable of walking and able to feed themselves. (The word nidifugous derives from Latin, nidus for "nest" and fugere meaning "to flee).

Many wader parents do not feed their chicks, but Oystercatchers do, and today I watched one of the adults do so. As both adults tended the young, one flew off and returned about fitfeen minutes later with a small item of food between the tips of its mandibles, calling as it landed near the youngster. With bill pointed down the adult waited for the chick’s approach before it dropped the morsel in front of the youngster for it to find, which it duly did. A little disappointing to ring just one Oystercatcher and it always leaves a question mark as to what happened to the other two or three eggs.

Oystercatcher chick


I’d gone to the plantation to have a mosey round and to put up the newly cleaned niger feeders in preparation for the arrival of hungry autumn finches. So whilst I watched the oyks, wandered about a bit, and found suitable branches for the feeders I found a sheltered spot for a net, but caught little save for a 3J Coal Tit, and a couple of Whitethroats and Willow Warblers.

Coal Tit

Another unexpected was a male Willow Warbler well into its main moult on so early a date, 21st June only. This was a new, un-ringed Willow Warbler for the site so had probably arrived from elsewhere to moult, possibly a failed or non-breeding bird.

Willow Warbler – main moult

Willow Warbler


My searching about didn’t reveal much else, Jay, Buzzard, Blackcap, several Goldfinches, a Skylark, and a sunny day but distant Little Owl

Little Owl

Monday, June 20, 2011

It's Just June

I don’t have much to report today, except perhaps the beginnings of autumn returns, but there are a few new photographs and by special request, the song of a Skylark.

I started well at Pilling with an early Barn Owl at that hunted the ditches and fields east of Lane Ends before it disappeared in the customary direction of Damside, but the owl seemed well aware of my presence and kept out of camera range. Like most owls it hunts a regular beat and if I’m early and patient enough I might try sitting in the car hide one morning.

Lane Ends held 2 singing Reed Warblers this morning, plus the now regular Blackcap and the single somewhat elusive Jay; on the pools, 4 Tufted Duck, 6 Little Grebe and 40+ Greylag.

There was a flight of Curlew this morning, more than 30 coming from the east and joining the 20 or so birds already out on the marsh, and just like the Lapwings the Curlews are starting to flock in readiness for autumn; so not only does spring come earlier nowadays, so does autumn. Lapwings numbered more than 90 this morning, mostly in a loose flock out on the marsh, but other late breeding birds clearly had young close by judging from their overhead warnings. I also saw my first Redshank chick of the year, with parents and a long way out on the marsh, but at that distance I would guess there were one or two more, especially as the one I saw was tiny. Otherwise Redshanks totalled 40+ birds, more than my recent counts.


I lingered at Pilling Water to count 4 Meadow Pipits, 22 Linnet, 5 Swift, 4 Goldfinch, 4 Greenfinch, 2 Pied Wagtail and 2 Grey Heron.

Meadow Pipit

The regular Shelduck numbered 45 but I saw my first Teal of the autumn with 4 birds flying together into the wildfowler’s pools. It was here I found my first returning Common Sandpiper, one of the first waders to reappear once breeding is done, closely followed by Spotted Redshank, Green Sandpiper and Greenshank, not nesessarily in that order, but almost always during the latter half of June.

Common Sandpiper

I think the Skylarks are used to me wandering through their territories lately. Like many species they don’t like being interrupted so will often allow a human to get a little closer, but only whilst singing, as soon as the song stops so does the co-operation and off they fly. Click on the "xeno-canto" button to enjoy the Skylark's song.



Maybe mist netting tomorrow if the wind doesn’t spring up, but failing that there are a few Swallows to ring.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Getting eggcited

Keeping tabs on breeding birds needs a tidy and accurate notebook, good planning skills, a fairly good idea of how long these eggy and birdy things take to come to fruition, together with an awareness of how the weather and similarly unpredictable events can impact breeding success.

So I set out early to first check the Swallows at Hambleton this morning where I found 2 nests with youngsters the ideal size to ring and then a third nest with tiny young. A fourth nest used last year but not so far this year had a new feather lining ready for the adult to lay; a final nest in Molly the Border Collie’s stable contained eggs in the process of hatching with the adult sat tight, squeezed in the gap between roof and nest. A nest full of youngsters I ringed last week was pretty much bursting at the seams with young Swallows on the verge of fledging.

I ringed nine young with two nests to go back for on separate days next week, followed by a look at already used but now empty nests, and then a check for the second wave of eggs.





A little drive and I was at Out Rawcliffe and checking Tree Sparrow boxes, perhaps the species with one of the untidiest nests of all birds. I put several new boxes up last week and already one of those boxes had an almost complete nest but no eggs yet, so I reckoned the pair of sparrows must have watched me load the ladders back on my car and then immediately set to with nest building. Unfortunately from the other boxes there was only one nest with any mini dinosaurs sizeable enough to ring, and then only one chick in a nest containing 4 un-hatched eggs; the large size of the single youngster told me that the remaining eggs could not hatch out now. It’s easy to speculate if the inclement weather of recent weeks is the cause of such failure but we simply don’t know for sure.

Tree Sparrow nest

Tree Sparrow chick

All the time I climbed and checked the boxes I heard the Curlews calling excitedly from the field beyond. It wasn’t so much calls of display, but rather cries of warning to youngsters hidden in the long grass close by. As I went to investigate, both adults went absolutely bananas at me, as only parent Curlews do, circling overhead and calling incessantly, all the while trying to lead me away from the chicks.



There wasn’t much point in looking to ring the youngsters as once the adults landed in the field I could barely see them, never mind pinpoint small chicks. Another visit next week should hopefully produce more young Tree Sparrows, and if the farmer has cut the field I may just catch up with more young Curlews like these from last year.

Curlew chicks
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