Sunday, September 8, 2019

Linnets Minus One

As a light sleeper I’m often awake early.  A look at the breaking dawn of Sunday revealed clear skies and no wind - a morning to revisit those darned Linnets that are up to their old tricks of playing hard to get. 

If anything the Linnets are proving more difficult to catch than last season. There is such an abundance of food in the plot that the birds are free to land and to feed anywhere and it is not often they feed very close to the double net ride we established. The count was between 150 and 200 very flighty Linnets and a catch of just four, all males but including the first adult male of this winter’s project. To date we have 24 captures - 18 first year males, 5 first year females and 1 adult male. And to date, and as we might expect, no larger “Scottish” Linnets yet with all 24 birds recorded as wing lengths of 83 mm or less. 

Linnet- adult male 

At one point a male Sparrowhawk appeared and panicked the feeding Linnets into flight. The hawk seemed to have no trouble in identifying a Linnet to chase. After a brief flight the hawk caught the Linnet on the wing, dropped to the roadside, subdued the Linnet and then flew off carrying its meal. We lost a Linnet to a hawk and it’s for sure that this and similar flocks of birds will always attract predators.  Such is the balance of nature. 

Soon after the Sparrowhawk had flown the flock of Linnets panicked again when a Marsh Harrier appeared, flying slowly from the sea wall in the east and then over the busy A588 next to Gulf Lane. It followed the ditch, circled the seed plot once, flew lazily across the road, out towards the sea wall and on a direct path towards the plantation at Pilling Lane Ends.  The harrier was all dark with no hint of grey in the wings and little or no cream crown - a youngster of the year.  

Marsh Harrier

Less than two minutes later came another raptor following the same flight path alongside the still wet ditch that lines the seed plot. This bird was much paler than the previous and at first glance I assumed it would be a local Buzzard. But no, as the bird slowed, twisted, and held its wings in that diagnostic shallow “V”, it became another Marsh Harrier, this one a tri-coloured type with a cream crown, paler underneath and a well-marked area of grey in each wing. 

This additional harrier was probably a second year male, perhaps even a family traveller in the company of the first bird a minute earlier.  Within a few seconds it had drifted over the farm buildings and off in the general direction of Pilling village.  

The Marsh Harrier is best described as “scarce” in this part of Lancashire so a sighting is always welcome, two even more so.   

Marsh Harrier

The Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus is typically illustrated in field guides as a sexually dimorphic species, with several age classes identifiable by differences in plumage pattern and colour. In some populations, however, such as one studied in west-central France, (British Birds March 2013), the species can show extreme plumage variability in adult males and, to a lesser extent, in adult females. 

The study population was markedly polymorphic, with highly distinct patterns of coloration and almost continuous individual variation between those different morphs. Barely a single adult male looked like a typical ‘field-guide male’. Since this plumage variability was independent of age and sex, the authors considered it almost impossible to age birds solely from their plumage, which contradicts the established view. The authors advocated the recognition of this species as polymorphic, at least in some parts of its range.

Back soon with more news and views on Another Bird Blog.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Spotted Saturday

If August is predictable as warblers and Swallows journey south to Africa, September is less so. 

Just this week saw the first returning Pink-footed Geese when a gaggle of around 200 flew over Pilling and then to the salt marsh beyond; the geese seem to arrive earlier each year. And then the weather turned more autumnal with strong winds and high tides that blew petrels, skuas, manxies, fulmars and gulls closer to shore. 

Manx Shearwater 

Pink-footed Goose

On Saturday came a break in the squalls when a ridge of high pressure built from the North West. With it came a chance of ringing at Oakenclough but with less certainty about what we might catch given the arrival of September. Would it be a morning of finches, warblers, pipits and wagtails, or perhaps a mix with a few of each? 

It was 0600 when Andy and I met at the ringing station to a cold easterly and 9 degrees C. The cold start gave a slow opening to the catch but as the morning warmed more birds arrived, especially the diurnal migrant, Meadow Pipit. Missing from our catch today were Willow Warblers, a regular feature here during June, July and August, but replaced now by Goldcrests, a September species for sure. 

The really noticeable migrant today was Meadow Pipit with a count of 100+ in steady and small arrivals from the north, a number reflected in our catch of 36 birds and 8 species - 14 Meadow Pipit, 6 Goldcrest, 5 Blackcap, 3 Chiffchaff, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Robin, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Chaffinch. 

The surprise bird today was Spotted Flycatcher, not one but two individuals, both first years, but caught three hours apart. It’s a species that we catch quite rarely although we suspect that some bred quite close to here this year. 

Spotted Flycatcher 

The Chiffchaff wing shows a shape and formula that is quite different to its close relative the Willow Warbler i.e. the short 2nd primary feather, “rounded” wing shape (3, 4 and 5 of very similar length), and emargination to the 6th primary feather. 



Below is the wing of an adult Meadow Pipit that displays uniform olive tones, the squared olive/buff tips to the median coverts without “teeth”, well-defined margins of the greater coverts, plus tertials all of the same age. 

Ageing Meadow Pipits can be more difficult when birds born early in the season display many characteristics of adults, with sometimes just a few pale buff juvenile feathers left. The fourteen Meadow Pipits today split 11/3 in favour of first years but similarly sized catches might easily contain no adults, especially so as autumn progresses. 

Meadow Pipit 

Meadow Pipit 

All of our Blackcaps were first year birds, four female, one male, and one likely male with hints of a black cap. 


Other birds today - 2 Jay, 15+ Swallow, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Nuthatch.

Linking this post to Anni's Saturday Birding.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Wheat’s It All About?

Monday was the last of our child minding for the summer holidays, so I couldn’t make it up to Oakenclough where the long drive there and back makes for half a day’s commitment. 

Instead I made a 15 minute drive to Gulf Lane and grabbed an hour or two ringing at the Linnets with the aim of being home for breakfast. On 24th August there was a count of 160/185 Linnets, but today more like 70/80, an unexpected drop in numbers for this time of year perhaps explained by the current availability of food in the wider countryside. 

At 0900 the sky blackened from the North-West as a downpour arrived and forced an early end to my meagre catch of 6 Linnets, all first years, three of each sex, plus a single first year Reed Bunting. 

Reed Bunting 


A text from Andy advised that the downpour had reached Oakenclough, soaked him to the skin and he was packing in. Did I laugh? - just a little.  But he'd caught a few goodies by way of 1 Tree Pipit, 3 Willow Warblers, a Chiffchaff, a Meadow Pipit and two smart looking Bullfinch. 


Meanwhile just half a mile from Gulf Lane the appearance of a rare bird at Fluke Hall this weekend provoked a flood of twitchers to this otherwise quiet, mostly unmolested part of Wyre. 

A wheatear species first spotted along the sea wall on 1st September and identified as an adult female Eastern Black-eared Wheatear continues to create discussion and not a little controversy, even down to birders collecting a faeces sample from the bird’s rocky shore hangout for later DNA analysis. 

Poo sample 

The controversy centres around the fact that the autumnal Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka and the autumnal Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca look remarkably similar, so much so that such occurrences sometimes remain unassigned. 

For what it’s worth, having studied the individual involved, plus a read of the Ringer’s Bible Svensson.  My own thoughts were firstly that the bird was clearly a first summer/juvenile, and not an adult ,and that the mantle colour and fringes, the darkish breast with little hint of colour, the long primary projection coupled with the slight scaling on the back point to a Pied Wheatear. 

Pied Wheatear? 

There is of course a remote possibility that the bird could prove to a hybrid/cross of wheatear sp; but that is another controversy in the waiting should the poo sample not prove a point in someone’s favour. 

This all begs an obvious question. If in error anyone ticked the "wrong" species on the list, once confirmation of the correct species is later agreed by “experts”, must those who ticked the wrong species return to the sea wall, search anew for the new bird, find and ID it, and then eat humble pie? 

All this high-stakes twitching and controversy is too complicated for me. Think I will stick to being a low-key, unsophisticated ringer with nothing to say. 

Linking today with Eileen's Saturday Blog

Friday, August 30, 2019

Goldfinch Compensation

A red sky broke over the hills to the east of Oakenclough on Thursday. It was a warning we should have heeded. But after making the effort for a 6 o'clock start and all that entails, Andy and I saw little reason not to carry on. After all, just two days earlier here at Oakenclough we’d caught 45 birds including our record breaking catch of eleven Tree Pipits.

Red Sky In The Morning 

A couple of hours later we asked how two seemingly similar days could be so different in terms of both the birds around and those we caught. The differences were that Wednesday was warm and sunny with a gentle waft from the north while Thursday saw a stronger breeze, this time from the south west with cooler temperatures that demanded an extra layer of top coat for the ringers.

Nine birds was a very poor result, so pathetic that the only “A” rings required were for four Blue Tits. Otherwise a couple of juvenile “willys “and a single adult “chiff” proved the highlights of 4 Blue Tit, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Wren and 1 Dunnock.

Willow Warbler 



On Friday morning I hoped for recompense by way of catching Goldfinches, a few of those suddenly returned to the garden after a major absence of several weeks. The killer cat of next door has left for pastures new, allowing me to once again use a mist net on my own property.

The morning was quite breezy but where the relatively sheltered garden meant a reasonable catch was possible. Indeed it was with 21 Goldfinch and a single Robin caught until rain returned soon after lunch.

This ratio of species is very representative of gardens in our neighbourhood where larger, shyer or perhaps cleverer birds like Jackdaw, Woodpigeon and House Sparrow stay away when a net is set. Our own Woodpigeons are still pre-occupied with "woody nookie".

The fact that I caught entirely Goldfinches of the year, some still in very juvenile plumage, displays this species’ ability to reproduce throughout the breeding season with up to three broods recorded. 



The Goldfinch has enjoyed a wide population boom during recent years.

BTO - “Goldfinch abundance fell sharply from the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s, but the decline was both preceded and followed by significant population increases. The current upturn lifted the species from the amber list of conservation concern into the green category, accompanied by an increase in its use of gardens for winter feeding.

The Breeding Bird Survey map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that increases have occurred almost everywhere, with the exception of the far southeast. These population changes can be explained almost entirely by changes in annual survival rates, which may have resulted from a reduction in the availability of weed seeds, due to agricultural intensification, and subsequent increased use of other food sources such as garden bird tables and niger feeders; for migrants, the effects of environmental change or increased hunting pressure in France and Iberia, where the majority then wintered, may have temporarily reduced survival rates (Siriwardena et al. 1999).

There have been no clear changes in productivity as measured by Nest Records Scheme and Constant Effort Sites (ringing). The recent severe losses of Greenfinches from gardens are likely to have afforded Goldfinches far better access to provided food. A strong trend towards earlier laying may be partly explained by recent climate change (Crick & Sparks 1999).

There has been widespread moderate increase across Europe since 1980. A strong increase has been recorded in the Republic of Ireland since 1998 (Crowe 2012).” 

Goldfinch - BTO/JNCC BirdTrends Report 

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog. There's more news, views and pictures soon.

Linking today with Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Pipits are Top, Burger Is Bad

Expectations were high this morning. Monday afternoon, evening and overnight had been clear and warm, perfect conditions for migrant birds setting out on a long journey. Or so we hoped. I met up with Andy before 0600 to a clear sky and zero wind. We were joined today by Bryan. 

After a slow start birds began to appear with a decent amount of visible migration heading south in the shape and sounds of 45+ Swallow, 8 Sand Martin, 30+ Meadow Pipit, 20 Tree Pipit, 12 Pied Wagtail, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Spotted Flycatcher and uncounted but small numbers of Chaffinch.  

In the main we targeted pipits, wagtails and warblers and  finished at midday with a catch of 45 birds and a mix of 13 species. 

It was pipits that topped the charts today, not the common Meadow Pipit, instead the less abundant Tree Pipit at the peak of the species’ autumn migration timetable and following an apparently successful breeding season. In contrast to Tree Pipits whose migration will be over by September, the migration of Meadow Pipits is just beginning and will last into October. 

Totals - 11 Tree Pipit, 2 Meadow Pipit, 8 Willow Warbler, 4 Chaffinch, 3 Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrest, 3 Wren, 3 Robin, 3 Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 1 Blackcap, 1 Bullfinch, 1 Lesser Redpoll. 

Tree Pipit 

Meadow Pipit 






And now for news and a precautionary tale about crows that live in the city. 

Apparently, and according to a new study, researchers recently found that American Crows living in urban settings have higher blood cholesterol levels than their rural peers. The crows’ higher cholesterol levels came about after they picked up the eating habits of their human neighbours by eating discarded pizza slices and tossed-out cheeseburgers. 

American Crow

For the study, published just last week in the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications, scientists measured the blood cholesterol levels of 140 crow nestlings living along an urban-to-rural beat in California. Researchers also supplied rural nestlings in New York with McDonald's cheeseburgers. The burgers were a huge success with the birds, and some gobbled as many as three a day. Other adult crows would bring home burgers to their nestlings or store them for later.

Like the city-bred crows tested in California, the New York nestlings developed higher cholesterol levels than their fast food-free peers. 

Though urban birds didn't live as long as their rural peers, on average, cholesterol wasn't to blame. 

"Despite all the bad press that it gets, cholesterol has benefits and serves a lot of essential functions," study author Andrea Townsend, a researcher at Hamilton College in New York, said in a news release. "It's an important part of our cell membranes and a component of some crucial hormones. We know that excessive cholesterol causes disease in humans, but we don't know what level would be excessive in a wild bird." 

Still, researchers don't recommend providing birds with fast food. "Wild birds haven't evolved to eat processed food, and it might have negative consequences that we didn't measure, or that will only show up over longer periods of time," Townsend said. "Feeding wild birds can be a great way to connect with nature, and it can be a refreshing change to think that we're doing something that helps animals out. At the same time, though, I do worry that some of the foods that humans give to wild animals, and living in an urban environment in general, might not be good for their health." 


Friends, you have been warned. Stick to peanuts and bird seed and ditch the junk food. You know it makes sense. 

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Saturday Sandpiper

At last, the dogged Jet Stream that brought three weeks of wind and rain has finally moved north and left things looking more settled. 

Saturday morning was indeed a “cracker” for birding or ringing with a clear sky, little wind, and no rain in the forecast.  I was up and about early so after a piece of toast and a mug of Tetley Tea I drove to Gulf Lane, Cockerham for a crack at the Linnets as part of Project Linnet 2019/2020. 

Cockerham Dawn

In the week there had been 60/80 Linnets and several Tree Sparrows feeding in the field of seed crop but it had been far too wet and windy for other than a count. 

Soon after first light and 0630 heading through the crop I noted how 50/60 Linnets were already in there. Either they had roosted in the thick cover so as to get an early breakfast or they had roosted very close-by, perhaps in the thick bramble that lines the adjacent ditch. 

By 0830 the flock had grown to between 160/185 birds, 99% of them Linnets with one or two Goldfinch and Tree Sparrows. This is a good number for so early in the autumn. 

It was a reasonable catch of 11 birds, 10 Linnets and a single Goldfinch. Of the Linnets, eight were male and two female. The Goldfinch could not be sexed as it was clearly a youngster from a second brood of July or August rather than a spring chicken. 

All eleven birds proved to be juveniles/birds of the year - Aged “3” in ringers’ data code. 

Field Sheet 

Linnet - first year male 

Goldfinch - juvenile/first year 

Linnet - first year/juvenile male

Linnet - first year/juvenile female 

It was about 0830 when without warning, a Green Sandpiper flew calling from the adjacent ditch that lines the western edge of the plot. The sandpiper flew off over the farm and I didn’t see it again. This was an unexpected interlude and a “first” for the site. Every record is helpful in proving the worth of this plot and its value as a feeding place for what may prove to be a surprising number and range of species. 

Green Sandpiper 

Other species noted this morning – 6 Tree Sparrow, 4 Stock Dove, 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Reed Bunting. 

A reminder from the BTO as to why we are continuing with the Linnet project, now in its fourth winter. 

“A Red-listed bird of mainly farmland, the Linnets’ abundance fell rapidly in the UK in the late 1960s, and again between the mid 1970s and mid 1980s, but this decrease has been followed by a long period of relative stability. Numbers have fallen further since the start of Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in 1994. The BBS map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that in both Britain and Northern Ireland there has been decrease in eastern regions and increase in the west. There has been widespread moderate decline across Europe since 1980.” 

Linnet 1966 - 2017 Courtesy BTO

And while we are on the subject of farmland, there's an interesting and revealing article here about the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy of which Britain is a part. Hopefully for not much longer - The CAP doesn't fit.

Back soon with more news, views and pictures if the weather holds.

Linking this post to Anni, who's birding in Texas.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Better Day With No Buzzards.

After almost two weeks of unseasonable wind and rain there was just a chance the weather might ease slightly and allow a spot of ringing.  The dark of Tuesday night and into early Wednesday saw more pouring rain and then en route to Oakenclough the car splashed through fresh pools of water to confirm that August 2019 is the wettest ever recorded; and another week to go! 

I met up with Andy to 100% murk and to cool, threatening cloud but we reassured ourselves that the pourcast for the morning was 5/10 mph wind plus the chance of a fleeting shower only. 

And so it was but the overnight downpours had done us no favours with a poor catch of just 14 birds and minimal obvious migration: 5 Willow Warbler, 3 Blue Tit, 2 Goldcrest and one each of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Great Tit and Chaffinch. 

Today’s five new Willow Warblers, all first year/juveniles, increased our total here to 74 for the year, a much higher figure than normal and almost certainly due to a good productivity during the settled weather of June and July. 


Willow Warbler 


There was little in the way of other birds, the cool, damp start had done for that. We saw a small movement of Swallows heading south in parties of 5-10, in total about 60 individuals. Otherwise, a flock of 20/30 Goldfinch, 2 or more great-spotted Woodpeckers and a single Nuthatch. 

On the way home via Pilling and Rawcliffe Moss there was a flock of 80/90 Swallows on overhead wires, the most I have seen all year. This is a sure sign that Swallows are preparing to migrate. They flew about restlessly, and gathered on telegraph wires. 

Most Swallows leave the UK during September, with early broods of youngsters being the first to go. A few stragglers may hang around into October.  


The return journey to Africa takes about six weeks. Swallows from different parts of Europe fly to different destinations. Our UK Swallows end up in the very south. They travel down through western France and eastern Spain into Morocco, before crossing the Sahara Desert and the Congo rain forest – finally reaching South Africa and Namibia. 

Swallows migrate during daylight, flying quite low and covering about 320 km (200 miles) each day. At night they roost in huge flocks in reed-beds at traditional stopover spots. Since Swallows feed entirely on flying insects, they don’t need to fatten up before leaving, but can snap up their food along the way. Nonetheless, many die of starvation. If they survive, they can live for up to eleven or twelve years but such an age is very exceptional with most surviving less than four years. 

It is very sad that this much-loved species, and like so many others, is in such a downward population spiral. 


As a further aside, I’m not seeing many Buzzards this year. Normally by late summer and on the regular 15 mile journey from Oakenclough to home at Stalmine via Garstang, Nateby, Skitham, Rawcliffe and Pilling, stopping now and again, there would be 10-15 in the air. This morning - none. 

This lack of Common Buzzards has troubled me all year. 


Unfortunately, in this part of quiet countryside where the rearing of non-native game birds followed by the winter shooting of the same in the name of “sport” is very widespread, the Common Buzzard, both innocent and occasionally guilty, is now very much an Avian non grata. 

I’m not accusing anyone, just to note that all of a sudden, Buzzards have become very scarce. Bird watchers - be on the alert, and if necessary report to the authorities any suspicions you have.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot.

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