Monday, February 6, 2023

It’s All Going To Pot

Yes, It’s been over a week since a post from me with nothing of note to share since the last outing produced over fifty birds ringed but very little since. It seems that just lately our ringing has "gone to pot”. 

Visits to the ringing site/supplementary feeding spot between bouts of rain and wind produced small numbers and tiny catches of the usual suspects of Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and Blackbirds. 
 
Blackbird

Reed Bunting

Chaffinch

Regular sightings of both Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and once or twice a ring-tail Hen Harrier suggested that they at least were having some luck in catching birds. Nonetheless I stuck to the feeding regime and hoped as ever that bird numbers would improve. 

Sue and I motored up Glasson Way on a couple of occasions where after the secret bacon butty shop brunch (2 barms and 2 teas for £9.50), I took a peek at Conder Green. 

Bacon Barm
 
For a week or two and depending upon the state of the tide in or out of the creeks, there’s been a wintering Ruff, one or two wintering Greenshank, the ever present but always numerous Redshank and tidal Little Grebes. 

Greenshank

Ruff

Distant across the far side of the pool were two Stonechats a species that is not common here but one that will now appear with more regularity as an early spring migrant. 

Again ,and depending upon the tides were anything from 50 to 200 Teal plus the expected build up of noisy assertive Greylags looking to start their breeding season. Last Wednesday morning I counted upwards of 100 Greylags but where only three or four pairs are likely to eventually breed here. 

Teal

Greylags

It’s at this time of year that numbers of Canada Geese appear and I was not pleased to see more than 50 of this species, a bird more problematical than Greylag. 

Canada Goose

The main issue that many people experience with Canada Geese is the sheer amount of noise that a group of them will make  This problem has grown increasingly serious as time goes on since there are few natural predators of the Canada Goose in the UK. This has allowed their population to grow unchecked, and develop from as little as 2200 in 1953 to more than 100,000 by the millennium. Not only are the geese noisy, but they can also be highly territorial, especially when guarding their goslings. It is far from rare for members of the public to be attacked by Canada Geese in parks and along riverbanks. 

Just today I was chatting to a wildfowler who told me that while a Greylag for the pot makes a pretty good meal, a within range Canada Goose is not worth wasting a pot-shot as the meat is not nearly so good as a Greylag. We had an interesting conversation about his gun, an old 1878 model that he likes to use  sometimes together with his hand made powder and bismuth cartridges.

Lets finish with music from Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. Two old dudes laying down a track better than any modern day 20 something’s can via a song title that sums up the world of today. This folks, is what talent looks like.  They don't make them like this anymore. RIP Merle.

 

Enjoy the song. Back soon with Another Bird Blog.


Friday, January 27, 2023

Fifty Up

All week we had Friday pencilled in for a trip to Oakenclough where the hillside location a mile or two above Garstang requires a still and preferably sunny day. The Autumn/Winter weather of 2022/23 had kept us away for months. 

Fortunately for us and any birds still around the area, Will had kept the feeding regime going with good numbers of finches in attendance. He confidently predicted a catch of 20 plus birds. 

We met up at 0730 to a cold but fairly bright start. The morning improved, cloud broke and the sun arrived following a spot of drizzle and a rainbow to the north that lit up distant Morecambe Bay.

Will’s prediction was off the mark when we finished at 1130 with 54 birds in the bag. Goldfinches formed the majority of the catch - 37 Goldfinch, 9 Chaffinch, 4 Blue Tit, 3 Coal Tit and a single Lesser Redpoll. 

Chaffinch

Goldfinch

Lesser Redpoll

It wasn’t too obvious that so many Goldfinch were around, they just arrived in fours and fives all morning. We counted about 15/20 Siskins flying over while the Lesser Redpoll seemed to be the only one of their kind. 

Otherwise a quiet morning with a single Grey Wagtail at the water’s edge and a distant Raven. 

Grey Wagtail

Morning Rainbow 

There's more birding, ringing and photos soon here on Another Bird Blog.

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Friday, January 20, 2023

At Last

At last, a cause for celebration via a ringing session at Pilling planned for Friday morning. The one prior to recent foul weather was more than 6 weeks ago, back in early December 7 of 2022. That six weeks of zero ringing is something of an unwanted record breaker. 

Whilst the lack of ringing meant we caught no birds it was essential to continue the supplementary feeding regime set up in November, a system designed to help wild birds negotiate the winter. However the weeks of wet, windy and occasionally cold weather also caused birds to leave and seemingly not return. 

During December hungry sheep had stripped the seed plot of remaining growth whereby the few Linnets that remained had departed wholesale along with the few Reed Buntings, Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits that began to use our open buffet. 

Last week we took the opportunity of a frosty morning of minus 4° to conduct maintenance work – cutting stray branches, widening net rides and constructing skulk piles in readiness for the coming spring. A few hours on site gave optimism with sightings of Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Blackbird and even thirty or so Fieldfares that stopped by briefly to chuckle at our endeavours. 
 
Fieldfare

Blackbird

On Friday I met up with Andy and Will for the 0745 start and a slight improvement in the temperature to -1°. 

As expected the ringing was quite slow, the birding interesting, but not thrilling apart from a lightning fast Merlin. We caught just 13 birds – 4 Robin, 3 Reed Bunting, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Blackbird and 1 Blue Tit. 

Three of the Robins were seen to be recaptures, individuals that have survived the winter so far and probably now in the business of sorting out territories for the coming weeks. 

Robin
 
All three Reed Buntings were new to us birds in what is prime wintering habitat of farmland with reed and woodland edge. 
 
Reed Bunting

Chaffinch

A female Merlin appeared as if by magic when a handful of Meadow Pipits lingered around the remnants of the game cover crop, the pipits split up and scattered by the speed of the Merlin’s approach and their own panic attack. The Merlin singled out a pipit to chase but didn’t catch, flew off out of sight and then came back, as if to see if the pipits were still around. When the pipits were not to be seen the Merlin flew off into the distance before settling in a bare branched tree some 200 yards away. The raptor stayed in the tree for twenty minutes and more before departing at some speed. 

Merlin

Other birding gave us a single Grey Heron, 2 Little Egret, 1 Mistle Thrush, 13 Linnet, 8 Reed Bunting, 12 Meadow Pipit, 65 Whooper Swan. 
 
Whooper Swans

Grey Heron
 
A good if cold morning was had by all. And it was simply so good to get outdoors again. 

Join me soon at Another Bird Blog for more birding, bird ringing and bird photos.  



Linking this weekend to Anni in Texas and Eileen's Saturday.


Saturday, January 14, 2023

Wet, Wet, Wet

I promise not to mention the weather again except to say that it has not improved and doesn't look any better for the next week either. 

In the absence of recent local news or birding from me, I devote today to a rehash of a book review. this is from December 2012 with a book I described at the time as "a most unusual, probably unique book about birds" - The Unfeathered Bird. 

When my friends at Princeton University Press promised to forward a copy of the book, and from the modest title, not quite knowing what to expect, I Googled “The Unfeathered Bird” for an initial flavour of the contents: 

A unique book that bridges art, science, and history 
  • Over 385 beautiful drawings, artistically arranged in a sumptuous large-format book 
  • Accessible, jargon-free text - the only book on bird anatomy aimed at the general reader 
  • Drawings and text all based on actual bird specimens Includes most anatomically distinct bird groups Many species never illustrated before” 
A succinct but descriptive summary and one which gives a clearer idea of the book’s innards while leaving room for discovery. It would be a book unlikely to fit into the category of a “Bird Book” as owned by probably the majority who go out in the field in search of birds; bird watchers or birders who as a matter of course do not normally invest in books which are overly scientific, too arty, or lacking in the immediacy of news and information their pursuit demands. 

Maybe then it would appeal to a lesser number of birders with a scientific and/or artistic bent, ornithologists or bird artists alone, bird photographers, biologists, natural historians, and/or artists who use a variety of mediums? 


From Google I found information about the book’s author Katrina van Grouw. In 1992 she gained an MA in Natural History Illustration for her illustrated thesis on bird anatomy for artists. It was by following and researching this topic further that Katrina's aim to write The Unfeathered Bird became a burning desire, an ambition finally realised in the publication of the book in 2012. 

From other perspectives Katrina’s ornithological knowledge, including skills in preparing bird specimens and in taxidermy won her a curator’s position in the bird skin collections at London’s Natural History Museum, where she remained in the post for seven years before leaving in 2010 to concentrate on completing The Unfeathered Bird.  

Katrina is also a qualified bird ringer, having travelled widely on international bird ringing expeditions in Africa and South America. We met briefly during a BTO ringer's conference a number of years ago, towards the end of a typically long and enthusiastic evening of ringers sampling the local brew while putting both the world and the BTO to rights. I don't recall much of the discussions but I am fairly certain I spent the next day of the conference with a banging head ache.

Back to the job in hand and what of the book itself? It consists of the customary introductory pages, followed by two other sections. Part One is a generic section based upon the basic bird structure of trunk, head and neck, hind limbs, and wings & tail.  Part Two is entitled Specific and deals with the bird groups of Acciptres, Picae, Anseres, Grallae, Gallinae and Passeres, each with subdivisions containing the more familiar names e.g. owls, herons, swifts etc. If by modern day standards the order of appearance appears unorthodox it is because the author ordered the chapters in a system concerned only with outward structural appearances, and to “avoid the swampy territory of taxonomic debate” the first truly scientific classification of the natural world, the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus. 

The Unfeathered Bird covers more than 200 species of the world in more than 385 illustrations, many of the detailed drawings simply superb, others just truly amazing. Many of the sketches depict what goes on just under or on the surface of a bird without its feathers, often birds in typical postures or engaged in bird-like behaviour such as the act of flying itself, diving underwater, feeding, or displaying etc. Each plate has a corresponding page or more of text which describes the relationship between that particular bird or bird family’s anatomy to their evolution and the daily lifestyle and behaviour. Other less animated plates show particular features such as skulls, bills, feet or whole skeletons; in places this can be a whole double spread page - for instance the skulls and bills of Darwin’s finches, or the exquisite and perhaps life-size illustration which depicts the skull and bill of both Marabou and White Stork. 

Notwithstanding the book’s both highly artistic and technical approach it’s good to see Katrina dropping a splash of humour into many drawings; witness the skeletal Robin on the spade handle, or the skeleton of a Wilson’s Petrel splashing daintily through the waves. And Katrina, only a bird ringer forever scarred by the feet of a Coot could have depicted those huge, cruel instruments with such love, detail and accuracy. 

As one whose attempts at drawing birds is simply laughable I can only marvel at the skill, precision and sheer artistry involved in such an obvious labour of love displayed in almost 400 drawings. Katrina seems especially good at drawing feet, a part of the bird’s anatomy which many budding bird artists avoid by depicting their subject in vegetation or water. Here’s their chance - study The Unfeathered Bird and see how it’s done.

I’d be doing an injustice to Katrina were I to reproduce her drawings from my own photographs, especially when many are available online via Katrina’s own website, the publishers or the likes of Amazon. 

As a taster below are a couple of my simple favourites - the foot, toe and claws of a Grey Heron and then the head and neck of the same species. 

Grey Heron - Princeton Press 

 
Grey Heron - Princeton Press 

I should mention that the majority of the drawings are reproduced in sepia tones, muted colours which work extremely well when set against the off-white background of the superior quality paper used. In fact the whole volume is beautifully produced with a look, feel and aroma of excellence. 

The many plates will be the first port on an initial introduction to the book, a natural enough occurrence but one that should not detract from the text of descriptions, explanations and discussions which accompany the illustrations. Each and every section of the text material contains highly readable facts about our feathered friends. 

That’s pretty much a précis of The Unfeathered Bird - art, history, geography, biology, evolution and birds, all rolled into one. And as the author is at pains to point out in the Introduction - “This book is not an anatomy of birds. That is to say, you won’t find any difficult Latin words or scientific jargon. You won’t learn much about the deep plantar tendons of the foot or the comparative morphology of the inner ear. Nothing beneath the skeleton is included—no organs or tissues; no guts or gizzards. There’s no biochemistry and very little physiology. This is really a book about the outside of birds. About how their appearance, posture, and behaviour influence, and are influenced by, their internal structure.” 

Bird Skulls - Princeton Press 

To go back to my original question then. Yes, here is a book with a wide appeal, a book which deserves to be studied by birders with a scientific and/or artistic bent, ornithologists, bird artists, bird photographers, biologists, natural historians, and artists of all persuasions. The author states that the original intention was a book aimed at artists and it was only during the early stages that she realised it could have wider appeal. In my opinion it was a realisation which has come to fruition in a beautifully crafted, scholarly and ultimately fine book. 

The Unfeathered Bird is still available from Princeton Press.

An update. In 2021 Katrina gained a scholarship to study bird evolution as a PhD at Cambridge University. As far as I know she is well on with writing Volume Two of the Unfeathered Bird. And given her immense skills as artist and author she is probably busy with lots of other projects.

Take a look at my review of Katrina's second book  published in 2020 - Unnatural Selection.

Katrina's drawing of geese from Unnatural Selection hangs in our hallway where visitors see it upon arrival and where I pass each day to my "office".

Geese - Katrina van Grouw

This week Another Bird Blog is linking to I'd Rather Be Birdin and  Eileen's Saturday.  Be be sure to check them out. 



Friday, January 6, 2023

My Bird Book of 2022.

Yet again there's no birding due to never ending bad weather. Everyone is heartily sick of the now 4 months of incessant rain, perpetual wind and everlasting grey skies in days that are no good for bird, man nor beast. 

Today and to keep the blog up and running, I am posting a reprise of a book review of 2022, a book based upon real science, one I labelled my "Bird Book of 2022".  Here it is below with a few alterations and additions to bring the review bang up to date.

How Birds Evolve is a book released in the US in October 2021 and now at large in the UK from 4 January 2022. I suspect it’s late for publication caused by disruptions to business operations and normal life of recent months. Only recently did Princeton send a copy for review via Another Bird Blog and I do not understand why it only now appears in the UK, some 4 months later than the North American release.   


Let me say right from the outset that How Birds Evolve is an outstanding book, one that had I seen a week or two before would have elicited a “buy” recommendation as a Christmas gift 2022 for the birder in your life. Read on to discover why this is a book every birder should read and own. 

“How Birds Evolve - What Science Reveals About Their Origin, Lives, and Diversity” is the title of the 320 page volume by Douglas Futuyma. The author is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, State University of New York. His books include Evolution and Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. These are immaculate credentials from someone who describes himself as an “enthusiastic birder” and whose observations, experiences and ornithological studies in over 50 countries can be found throughout the book. 

A simple explanation to the science of birds’ origins is that birds grew from a group of meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods about 150 million years. Here were animals that survived in many different habitats, beings that evolved into the present day 11,000 bird species across the world. With such a close relationship to the extinct dinosaurs, how and why did birds survive? The answer is a combination of things: their small size, the fact they can eat a lot of different foods and have an ability to fly. These ancient birds looked quite a lot like small, feathered dinosaurs and they had much in common - their mouths still contained sharp teeth that over time evolved into beaks. After more than 140 million years in charge, the dinosaurs' reign came to an abrupt end when a huge asteroid strike and massive volcanic eruptions caused disastrous changes to the environment. Most dinosaurs went extinct while birds with winged feathers and the ability to fly remained until today, more than a little changed, but birds now near an extinction of their own. 

Each of the chapters of How Birds Evolve has a sub title that more fully suggests to the reader the overall flavour, focus and the detailed content within. This sub-titling is useful to someone like me who on first acquaintance with a book likes to browse the parts, maybe even begin to read a book in the “wrong” order so as to match with a special interest while beginning to familiarise with an author’s style. 

With twelve Chapters and over 300 pages, How Birds Evolve has so many highlights, so many fascinating, illuminating and enlightening segments that it’s almost impossible and perhaps unfair to pick my own particular favourite when other readers would choose differently. But, here goes. 


The first chapters, 1) In the Light of Evolution: Birds and 2) Evolutionary Science and Parrots, Falcons, and Songbirds: The Bird Tree of Life are unavoidably technical in their use of scientific descriptions and terminology for which the author both explains and apologises in advance. There sections include partly challenging diagrams, illustrations or charts where prior experience, knowledge and/or reading are desirable but certainly not mandatory e.g. terms like DNA, Messenger RNA, phylogeny, genomes. 

North American Warblers - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

A determined and persevering read of the text while studying the diagrams/charts will ultimately reward the reader by enabling a thorough enjoyment and understanding of later chapters and the whole book. Every one of the 12 Chapters is jam-packed with insightful narrative into the lives of birds together with accounts of how, where, when and why the rich diversity of birds is an important aspect of evolutionary biology. 

The three chapters ‘Highlights of Bird History’, ‘Finches and Blackcaps’ and ‘The Ruff and The Cuckoo’ I found especially entertaining and instructive because a number of the pages focused on familiar and recent topics. 


The author described how in real time of 2017 Galapagos scientists observed the development of a new lineage of Darwin's finches, and showed how under the right conditions, evolution can occur over as little as two generations. 

Futuyma relates how ornithologists at the University of Freiburg studying Blackcaps in two areas of Germany, 500 miles apart found that birds which spent winter in Spain had more in common genetically with their Spanish sun-loving counterparts than they did with their UK-wintering neighbours who bred in the same area. This led to the real possibility that the Spanish and UK-wintering groups of Blackcaps could be on their way to becoming two different species. 

The author introduced me to the theory of ‘cultural evolution’, a change us oldies witnessed in the UK during the years of foil topped milk bottles standing on our wintery doorsteps and when Blue Tits were forced to change their daily behaviour by pecking holes through the foil to reach the sustenance below. We also discover that passerines learn many aspects of their songs from parents or neighbours whereby regional populations often diverge to form local dialects, something I have observed in the case of Yellowhammer, Chaffinch and Linnet. 

Remaining chapters continue in the same vein, pages crammed with good reading and packed with knowledge about the causes of variation within bird populations and several species that each tells a special, unexpected and therefore fascinating story. UK readers will enjoy the sections that feature Ruff, Collared & Pied Flycatcher and Snow Goose. There’s absorbing discussion about polymorphism in respect of a number of types of birds such as skuas, hawks and owls; for instance, 69 of the world’s 206 owls are classified as polymorphic for colour, usually grey or rufous, differences that arose out of the variation of evolution. 


The ancient Hoatzins of South America are avian cows. They eat leaves. They harbour bacteria in their crop that break down plant cellulose into sugars that the bird can use, just as cows and other ruminants do - convergent evolution at the biochemical level. Hoatzins climb trees with the help of claws on the point of their wings, a stage in the evolution of feathers. I decided that Chapter 6 How Adaptations Evolve which contains chart illustrations of bills, feathers, and ‘adaptations for climbing trees’ is a masterpiece of its own in what became a simply brilliant, entertaining and instructive chapter. 


Hoatzin and Bar-headed Goose - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

But there’s more, from tales and experiences and journeys around the globe where the author takes us from east to west to learn the genetic differences of Rock Partridge and Red-legged Partridge, or to the Crossbills of North America and ‘ecological speciation’. 

Red-legged Partridge & Rock Partridge - How Birds Evolve - Princeton Press

As every birder knows, Crossbills’ bills are highly specialised for extracting seeds from conifer cones. In North America Crossbills with differing call types specialise on different conifers and have bill differences adapted for the particular cones.  The Crossbills' calls create flock cohesion whereby birds with the same calls forage together and choose mates from within the flock. Ornithologists studying the Crossbills believe that changes taking place plus interplay with squirrels mean that ecological speciation is taking place and that there are now six species of North American Crossbills, the latest one Cassia Crossbill.  

Like all science, the science of evolution is never settled but taking place as we speak. “Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on Evidence.” 

Such a book would not be complete without the author reminding readers of the perils facing birds in Chapter 12 Evolution and Extinction. Since 1970 bird populations in North America have declined by 29%, a loss of 3 billion birds. At least 40% of the world’s species of birds are in decline with 1 in every 8 species threatened by complete extinction. Birds alone are not in peril. In the 541 million years since animals first diversified, there have been five mass extinctions. Many biologists are convinced we are near a sixth mass extinction uniquely caused by the actions of a single species, man. 

If there’s a reproach to be made of the modern day birding it is that birders focus overmuch on the rarity aspect without displaying that element of curiosity, the “what, why and when” of birds. It is a fact of the current birding scene that many do not trouble themselves too much about birds’ life histories, their day to day existence, or how birds came to be. 

How Birds Evolve is a moderately technical book to test the desire to learn more, to fill that gap, a book that with just a little perseverance will encourage even the most unimaginative twitcher to cast their bins beyond immediate vistas and inspire them to evolve into a more rounded birder. 

How Birds Evolve is accessible, exhilarating science for everyone – amateur birder, professional naturalist or just the average man. It’s a great book and one to read over and over and I thoroughly recommend it to all.

This is already my Bird Book of 2022 and I can't see it being bettered. 

Price: $29.95/£25.00 
ISBN:9780691182629 
Published (US):Oct 19, 2021 
Published (UK):Jan 4, 2022 
Pages:320 
Size:6.12 x 9.25 in. 
Illustrations: 48 colour + 67 b/w illus. 4 tables. 


Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog for news, reviews, birding, bird ringing, bird photos and much more. 

And remember folks ....................


Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni In Texas.




Monday, January 2, 2023

Good Start 2023

Insightful readers will see that Another Bird Blog has been out of action again. 

This enforced sabbatical came about through the twin perils of Christmas & New Year coupled with the predicted back end of North America storms that landed on Britain’s doorstep. The result was birding and ringing on the back burner and two morning’s ringing throughout December. It’s a sorry picture but one that I hope to remedy and not repeat in 2023. 

New Year’s Day 2023 saw the thirteen strong family at home for the sometimes traditional Meat and Potato Pie with Mushy Peas, a dish that even picky kids might eat if bribed with a promise of cheesecake to follow. Washing the pots took more time than eating the food. 

New Year's Day

After the week’s marathon binge a morning in the January sunshine was called for so I struck out north out Rawcliffe/Pilling way on Monday January 2. The sun shone warm at 0900, so balmy that the BBC are already claiming that 2023 is the hottest year on record due to man-made climate change. 

Eyes peeled and cap pulled low I drove with care to avoid the prowling year listers with crazed looks in their eyes, out in force for Chase The Bird 2023. However their whereabouts are both easy to predict and to then avoid via a perusal of WhatsApp and the use of tried and tested alternative locations. Originality of thought or deed is not their collective strength. 

On the route to Rawcliffe came a super start to the year when I spotted a “shortie”, a Short-eared Owl, approaching from the left and heading my way. Electric windows are a great invention, and as ever the switched on camera lay on the passenger seat for a rapid fire. It’s been ages since I saw a shortie, a largely nocturnal and crepuscular (dusk and dawn) hunter, but still one of the most active British owls during daylight. 

Short-eared Owl
 
Exhilarated by this sighting I stopped at another farm I know well but didn’t anticipate the double whammy of another owl, this time a Little Owl, a species increasingly difficult to locate. Data shows that Little Owl numbers have shrunk by 65% over a 25-year period through a combination of the usual suspects; over development of their sought after farming landscape combined with shrinking populations of certain prey items like beetles, crickets and the humble earthworm.

Little Owl

My own thoughts are that part of the problem for Little Owls is that they mostly share habitat with introduced game birds like Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges, non-native birds released in vast numbers throughout the autumn and winter by the shooting industry. Historically this is especially true for this part of Lancashire where the loss of Little Owls began around the same time as the large increase in the numbers and locations of shoots, time-on-their-hands shooters and the release of many thousands of game birds into new locations.

Pheasants especially are known to hoover up huge areas of land of the same prey upon which Little Owls and other birds depend. 

Here’s some recommended further reading about a serious ecological problem, some might say "disaster" being allowed to take place in the British countryside. 


It was tempting to stick around and enjoy the owl, even though it did little but sit around watching and waiting for the next meal, a bit like the Christmas we just enjoyed.

I drove towards Pilling along the Lancaster Road where a large flood gave indication of recent rains. Distant across the field/lake were circa 250 Lapwings, 130 Black-headed Gulls and many thousands of Starlings. There was a shoot nearby with loud bangs that sent the flocks wheeling into the air a couple of times although they mostly all came back, if to a slightly different spot on the expanse of water. 
 
Lapwings

New Year Floods

Further along the main road I saw two Kestrels that may have been paired where neither of them were up for a photo and in any case the picture would have been into the light. Better luck next time from a mental note, a different time of the day, and a more accommodating moment. 

By now I was headed towards Cockerham and Braides Farm where Whooper Swans have hung around off and on since arriving from Iceland in September. Counts have been up to 400 when maxed out, more like 250 today. Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Curlews were dotted across the more distant fields with a rough count of 300, 250 and 250 respectively. 

Whooper Swans

Our ringing site is yet to receive a visit in earnest and there's no the prospect in sight by looking at the latest forecasts. When I visited to top up the supplementary food all was quiet with single figures of the regulars but a distinct lack of Linnets, the main focus of our project. 

All we can do is hope that the forecasters get it wrong! Keep looking in folks.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

The End

Well that’s it, the end of the ringing year. The weather forecast is so bad that it’s highly unlikely we can manage a ringing session until 2023. 

At least here in the UK we are not suffering from the violent and extreme weather occurring across North America, conditions causing severe disruption and deaths at a time of year that is for celebration. 

It mostly happens that we in North West England receive the tail end of North American weather via Atlantic weather systems and already our own forecasters are predicting New Year snow and ice for us. 

This morning I made my usual trip out Pilling Way to drop supplementary Christmas Fayre for our feathered friends. This will pay dividends soon by way of preventing the premature deaths of birds unable to find their customary food in snow and ice. 

Just two days after the Winter Solstice a Cetti’s Warbler sang out from the edge of the reedy scrub, the exact same spot of November after which all appeared to go quiet. I rather hoped the Cetti’s had looked in his diary and thought this was the time to strike up the band. 

Perhaps not as the extra daylight is not too noticeable just yet but the sound of the Cetti’s and then another sighting of the now confirmed wintering Marsh Harrier gave me positive vibes for the weeks ahead. There's little doubt that both species could breed in this area with sympathetic ownership and management of certain tracts of land.

Cetti's Warbler

Marsh Harrier

I saw no birds on or around the plot prepped for whoosh netting but where many tiny footprints told a different story. Our time will come as the weather turns colder when perhaps even the Linnets may return. The normally dependable Linnets are not around at the moment and it could be that many have gone even further south during the freeze of early and mid-December. 

In the absence of other news here’s a few paragraphs about the very same feeding station from 13 January earlier this year, a clue as to what may be around two weeks into a new year when winter  subsides and spring is around the corner.  And how time flies! 

January 13th 2022. 

In most UK winters the Brambling is a difficult one to find but a bird to prize. These cousins of the ubiquitous Chaffinch live north and east of here on the borders of Finland & Russia, venturing this far west in irregular numbers and unpredictable years. 

At the feeding station I‘ve listened for the nasal wheeze, watched the feeders and the ground beneath for weeks while studying the hedgerow for a flash of white rump amongst the Chaffinches. And then on Wednesday, joy of joys, at last a Brambling, crouching amongst half a dozen Chaffinches, an orange-tinged one, reward for the seed drops and the interminable car washing after the tortuous muddy farm track.

Brambling

The finches scattered for no reason when I saw that the Brambling, now in a nearby tree, was male, perhaps even an adult but not for definite until and if we catch the star. (We did).   

A couple of Reed Buntings, 3 Greenfinch, three or more Blackbirds and 20 or so Linnets completed the count as I scattered more seed in the base of the hedgerow where even the Sparrowhawk’s long legs won’t reach.  

Greenfinch

Chaffinch

Blackbird

I saw Brown Hares on the move too, three together in the first of their Mad March ways. 

I left the Pilling farm and drove to Cockerham where at weekend Andy and I had prepared the seed plot for our now annual whoosh netting of Linnets and the sometime bonus of Skylarks and Stonechats. 

Happy Christmas and a Bird-Filled New Year everyone. Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.

 

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