Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Siskin Control

After almost three weeks of rubbish weather I feared there would be no ringing ever again. The perpetual winds eased on Monday when Andy managed to get up to Oakenclough for the first time since 1st March. I couldn't make it but was hopeful for later in the week. 

Andy caught the first migratory Meadow Pipits of the spring plus 3 Goldcrest, 2 Lesser Repoll and 2 Siskin, all probable migrants. 

The vast majority of Meadow Pipits returning north at this time of the year have wintered in France, the Northern Spanish coast Portugal, inland Southern Spain and Morocco. They often pile through in huge numbers, especially so if they have been held up as they have this year. The early bird catches the best breeding territory as well as the early worm. 

Meadow Pipit 

After a day of mizzle and drizzle on Tuesday the forecast of zero wind for Wednesday gave us more hope so we arranged to meet up at Oakenclough at 0630, despite the chance of early mist and light rain. 

A Misty Day 

The forecast was correct with mist/fog plus visibility down to 70 metres holding until 1130. Although we caught 20 birds, the poor conditions prevented any obvious visible diurnal movement of Meadow Pipits. 

Our 20 birds comprised 7 Siskin, 4 Chaffinch, 3 Goldcrest, 2 Goldfinch and one each of Lesser Redpoll, Brambling, Wren and Blue Tit. In the poor light all today’s photos are at ISO3200. 

One of the seven Siskins, had a ring on the left leg, immediately telling us as right-leg ringers, that we had a “control” – a bird ringed elsewhere. S896866, an adult male had probably been ringed in 2018 or early 2019. We will find out in a day or two. 

Siskin - adult male 

Siskin - adult female 

Siskin - adult female  

The single Lesser Redpoll caught was a rather dull second calendar year female. 

Lesser Redpoll- second calendar year female 

Towards the end of the session came a pleasant surprise by way of second calendar year male Brambling. Bramblings have been especially scarce during the winter, but this can be a good time of year to pick up on species as they head north from places unknown. 

Brambling - second calendar year male 

Brambling - second calendar year male 


The Ringing Station 

Stay tuned. There's more birding, ringing and pictures soon if the weather holds good.

Linking today to Anni's Texas Birds and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Sunday, March 10, 2019


Up here on the Lancashire coast March lived up to that old adage of “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. At the moment the Atlantic Jet Stream sits over us like a heavy wet blanket bringing just this morning a hoolie of wind, rain, sleet and hail, plus a dollop of sunshine. The few brief days that promised spring are but a distant memory as we settle in for another week of foul weather. 

With little chance of ringing or birding for a day or two, here’s a note or two about a very common but mostly forgotten species. 

In those few hints of spring I’d heard the familiar loud and rapid chatter of the diminutive Wren, one in song then quickly followed by a reply from the second. I knew it was territory time. Wrens are famously good singers, and a male will duet so as to sing down and hopefully silence a nearby rival. 

On one of my dashes to the garage freezer this week I disturbed a Wren taking dried up material from the base of last year’s hanging basket. I watched as the Wren scuttled off along the fence like a clockwork mouse and promptly disappeared into the ivy covered hedge that separates us from next door.  Nest-building already, but maybe not for real as the Wren is one of those species known to build “cock nests”, a nest built by a male bird as part of the courtship ritual. Several such nests may be built by one male, one of which will be selected by the female. 


The Wren’s scientific name of Troglodytes troglodytes is Greek "troglodytes" ("trogle" a hole, and "dyein" to creep), meaning "cave-dweller", and refers to its habit of disappearing into cavities or crevices whilst hunting insects or to roost. Many a Wren nest looks much like a cave, dark and forbidding with a just tiny entrance hole where none but the brave dare enter. 

Wren - Photo: Armin Kübelbeck, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons 

I often feel rather sorry for the common Wren, neglected by birders and barely mentioned because it has no rarity value. Depending upon which book or Internet page read, the Wren is one of the commonest and most widely distributed British birds with breeding pairs estimated at 7–8.5 million. 

The Wren population is generally sedentary but perhaps surprisingly, there are a number of recoveries to and from the near Continent and Scandinavia. Our own ringing group has a database of almost 3000 Wren captures that show few if any migratory tendencies but some evidence of the species longevity of up to 6 years. 

When winter weather hits hard Wrens can become penguin-like by huddling together for warmth. In the winter of 1969 a Norfolk nest box was found to contain 61 Wrens. Such severe but fortunately rare winters can finish off anything from a quarter to three-quarters of the Wren population. Hence the reason that a Wren lays between 5 and 7 eggs at a time and a pair can rear two broods of chicks in a single year. 

The Wren is unloved by most bird ringers as an annoyance in a mist net as it twists and turns through the mesh in its eagerness to go nowhere. Should the ringer fail to take charge of the initial encounter, the open cuffs of a shirt or jumper provide another handy crevice or cavity into which the Wren will quickly escape. When using a car as a ringing base and processing a wriggling Wren, a ringer is well advised to close all doors including the rear hatch. An open car door is a large, open and welcoming cave to a Wren; even more so are the nooks and crannies of a vehicle dashboard. 


In 2015 the Wren never made it to be the most loved British Bird when in a national poll involving over 200,000 people the Wren languished fourth behind the Blackbird in third place, the runner up Barn Owl and the jubilant Robin. 

 Robin -1st

Barn Owl - 2nd 

Blackbird - 3rd 

Wren - 4th 

The English surname of Wren is said to derive from being applied to people who were small, busy, quick and energetic just like our little bird. Sir Christopher Wren is perhaps the most famous, so active and endlessly occupied as to design St Paul’s Cathedral as well as fifty two other churches after the Great Fire of London. And he lived to be ninety-one. 

I am old enough to remember the British farthing (1⁄4d) coin, (from "fourthing"), a unit of currency of one quarter of a penny, now long redundant, but where the Wren found short-lived fame. Recognition came again in 2017 when out little friend appeared on the first-class stamp in a Royal Mail ‘Songbirds’ series. 

A Farthing Wren

Wren stamp

That's all for now. Wish me and the little Wren luck with that weather.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Bits And Bobs

The Wednesday trip to Oakenclough wasn't very productive despite our enthusiasm for an early start. I’d met Andy at 0700 to a cold but bright morning of 5°C. 

Although there was an early movement of small finches overhead, and from their quiet “jizz”, Siskins and not Redpolls, we succeeded in catching just two. The first two Siskins of spring 2019 proved to be a first winter/second calendar year male and a fine adult female, both caught at the same time. It’s notable that where two Siskins are caught together they are often of the opposite sex, as if pairs are established and maintained before they reach us 

The Eurasian Siskin, Carduelis spinus, is a member of Fringillidae, the true finches. Although what is a fringillid and how these birds are related to each other has been the source of debate, most true finches are seed-eating passerines that are found in the Northern hemisphere. The Eurasian Siskin is small – smaller, and in the male at least, brighter and more delicate than the similarly green but more bulky European Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris



Siskins breed in coniferous woodlands and winter in riverside birches and alders as well as gardens. They are seed-eating birds, especially consuming seeds from conifers, alders and birch, as well as some insects. Siskins will also eat berries and other fruits, especially in winter. It is fairly recent years that Siskins found a liking for peanuts and the seed of Niger. The latter is the seed that we use to attract Siskins to our feeding station here at Oakenclough. 

Otherwise our meagre catch revolved around discussing how to set the world to rights and watching out for signs of spring. A local couple stopped and related their recent sighting of a pair of Osprey over the nearby reservoir and their surprise that an orange-eyed owl with “sticky-up ears” never flinched when they walked within yards of its hawthorn hideaway. 

As the clock ticked slowly by our ringing failed to reach such levels of excitement with just a few Goldcrests and Coal Tits to add to the two Siskins. 


We discovered that as predicted, Blue Tit AKC5385 caught here on 14th February here had been ringed not far away at Middleton, Morecambe Bay on October 18th 2018. It’s but a hop, skip and jump of 10 miles up here to the edge of the Pennines, but interesting that the Blue Tit was ringed during what is a busy migration period for many species. 

Back to the day where a flap-glide Sparrowhaw, 2 mid-morning Buzzards and a procession of Oystercatchers, Curlews and Lapwings heading for the hills gave a degree of satisfaction that spring had indeed sprung. 

Back home we recently learned that our near neighbours with their loathsome bird-hunting cat are soon to leave for killing fields anew. Good riddance. With a watchful eye I set an afternoon net in our garden where Goldfinches rule when left alone. 


During 2018 the BTO Garden Birdwatch reported twice as many Goldfinches in gardens as normal, with some gardens having had flocks of up to 20 birds at any one time. During September 2018, Goldfinches were reported in 61 per cent of the weekly submissions sent in by 15,000 Garden Birdwatch volunteers who monitor their gardens, compared with a 20-year average of 30 per cent. 

Our own garden has daily numbers of between 2 and 20 Goldfinches and where the number of Goldfinches is often in direct proportion to the number of Niger feeders scattered around suitable cat-proof points from which to hang feeders. 


Wintering Goldfinches move around in search of food. Goldfinches are a partial migrant and while many stay in the UK some migrate to France and Spain, hence the chance of one of “my” Goldfinches being found many miles south of here or vice-versa and the reason to continue this legitimate pursuit. 


A reader enquired about the header photo of the bunting with no name.  It's a Little Bunting caught at Rawcliffe Moss almost 6 years ago on 13th March 2013. It stayed around until at least 30th April when it was recaptured for the fourth time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tuesday Time

Mondays are a no go for me. In my enforced absence Andy made it up to Oakenclough where he caught the first Lesser Redpolls of the year. 

The BTO Migration Atlas tells us that “return movements in spring from southern to northern England have begun by mid-April”, however in recent years we have noted that a few of our returning migrant Lesser Redpolls are around in late February and definitely more so by early March. 

Lesser Redpoll 

Lesser Redpoll from The BTO Migration Atlas

At 885 pages The Migration Atlas may seem a daunting read but is a must-have-book for any serious ornithologist. “This landmark publication presents the most up-to-date information on bird migration, using the vast wealth of data that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has collected from ringing recoveries”. The Migration Atlas  

With the weather set fair, we hope to return to Oakenclough on Wednesday for more Lesser Redpolls.

In the meantime, gluttons for punishment that we are, the decision was made to have another shot at the Linnet flock at Pilling/Cockerham as they too will be soon on their way north. A good number of the Linnets will head for Scotland, just like their cousins the Siskins and Redpolls. 

With lighter and longer days the Linnets have not been assembling until after 9am so I arranged to meet Andy at 0800. That left time for brief stop on Head Dyke Lane where I spotted a morning Barn Owl glowing in the early sunlight. 

Barn Owl 

There were about 45 Whooper Swans not far away. I picked out a part of four for a family photo. 

Whooper Swans

From a mid-winter peak of 300 the Linnet flock is now down to a steady 120 birds at each visit. Weather permitting Farmer Richard told us he plans to spray off the residue crop in mid-March, and then plough and disc the land before re-seeding for another autumn and winter crop. His agreement with Natural England runs until 2020 which should give us 2 more winters to continue with Project Linnet. 

We caught just three Linnets today, a single female and two males, the males now much easier to sex as they gain their summery breast colours. This brings our winter Linnet total to 123 captures, 120 new and 1 previously ringed elsewhere (Orkney). 



More birds tomorrow - from Oakenclough this time. And what a nice change to have settled weather that allows us to plan ahead!

Linking this post to Eileen's Saturday and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Consolation Prize

The Linnets gave Andy and me the run around again this morning; they just weren't having our attempts at a catch. After three hours of watch and wait we came to the conclusion that the 150 or so Linnets of recent weeks are now wise to our antics. This idea was reinforced somewhat on our last visit of 12th February when two of those caught had been ringed in late 2008. 


Although the Linnets stayed clear we caught a single Skylark and a close encounter with another, two of the several around this morning, four or more of which were singing males. 


A quick search of our data showed that before today our Ringing Group had ringed just 5 full grown Skylarks scattered through the years from 1986 - in 1986, 1987, 1991, 2007 and 2010. We have had more success with the ringing of nestlings with 56 youngsters from about 16 nests over the same number of years. 

Skylark Nest

A local project to find, map and ring nesting Skylarks would seem to be an ideal venture for a keen and dedicated young birder wishing to enhance their ornithological credentials.  

The infrequency of catching a Skylark called for a check of the literature. Svensson reminded us that wing length can be a decider in separation of the sexes. In our case 111mm meant that we almost certainly had a male rather than the slightly smaller female. 


Ageing was much more difficult since both adults and juveniles have a complete moult including wings and tail during July to September, with the result that by the following spring, adults and juveniles look much the same.  We found that our bird had very raggedy tertial feathers together with well-worn primary tips, all of which suggested a summer rather than an autumn moult; hence a likely adult of unknown age. A Skylark can live up to ten years. 

So, no Linnets but a welcome consolation prize in the shape of rarely encountered Skylark. 

Other birds this morning - Kestrel, Buzzard, 8 Chaffinch

If the weather folk are right, which they sometimes are, warm air emanating from the coast of West Africa could bring settled days plus birding and ringing opportunities very soon. Stay tuned. 

Linking today toAnni's Birding Blog and  Eileen's Blogspot.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Now’s The Time

A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees in the next door neighbour’s garden: it was very dark with little time to look, but the owl was very close. The owls breed in a nearby copse, our garden on the edge of their territory. 

This morning was my first ringing trip to Oakenclough for 2019; ahead lay a forty minute drive. Near Out Rawcliffe there was a roadside Little Owl and then 500 yards further on, a Tawny Owl on overhead wires, but there was no point in stopping in the half-light of 0700. 

I met Andy at 0725 and noted how the mornings are getting lighter but not necessarily any warmer at a finger tingling 3°C. Some folk might consider mid-Feb to be still winter but birds don’t have a calendar taped  to the kitchen cupboard, only instinct to tell them when the time is right, just as those early morning owls announced. 

Little Owl 

Visits here at Oakenclough in 2018 provided 870 captures, 767 new birds and 103 recaptures. Once autumn migration was over we packed up in early November when the weather took a turn towards winter. The site at some 550ft/168 metres above sea level doesn't hold many midwinter birds. The decent catches are in spring and autumn as our results show e.g. 151 Goldfinch, 98 Chaffinch , 88 Redwing, 58 Meadow Pipit, 14 Tree Pipit, 52 Lesser Redpoll, 19 Blackcap and 39 Goldcrest. 

We try to filter out the tit family, mainly because in general they provide little information or data over and above that already known; but as a bi-catch we still managed 60 Blue Tit, 48 Great Tit and 18 Coal Tit. 

Andy’s dozen or so birds on Monday spurred our decision to have another go this morning but the catching proved slow and unproductive apart from ever-dependable Goldfinches. We caught just 10 birds - 6 Goldfinch, 3 Blue Tit and 1 Chaffinch. Many of the Goldfinches are in fine fettle, the silvery bills of the older males elongated enough to sex the bird without additional features. 


The most unusual occurrence came with the realisation that a Blue Tit AKC5385 had not been ringed by ourselves but by another ringer – “probably just down the road in Garstang” we remarked ungraciously, knowing that Blue Tits are not renowned itinerants. 

Blue Tit 

As the morning warmed signs of spring came by way of singing Mistle Thrush (2), Song Thrush, Great Tit and Coal Tit with a drumming Great-spotted Woodpecker providing the backing track. 

Mistle Thrush  

We saw fly-overs of Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Raven. It was a Sparrowhawk over the nearby reservoir that sent 150+ Lapwings into the air, a number of which carried on into the nearby hills where some, but sadly not enough, will stay to breed. Likewise, flights of piping Oystercatcher flew across the water to nearby fields for their own early spring rehearsals.

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

An Improving Picture

Monday is something of a no-no for me with Grandparent duties the priority so I declined Andy’s offer of the first ringing session of 2019 at Oakenclough. He caught the first Siskin of the year plus several Goldfinch and Chaffinch, but otherwise he was not troubled by too many birds during a very frosty morning. 

There are now bird feeders in place and if the weather warms up as predicted the next few weeks should see an increase in the numbers of Siskins, Redpolls, Goldfinches and Chaffinches. 


For Tuesday we arranged to meet at Gulf Lane, Cockerham at 0730 for yet another crack at the Linnets despite their preference for playing “hard to get” during the whole winter. The morning was cold and overcast with occasional bouts of unwelcome drizzle. During the spasms of drizzle the Linnets disappeared but returned when the sky brightened. 

On Sunday when I topped the Linnets’ supplementary food with fresh millet and rapeseed, I’d counted circa 150 Linnets, 4 Skylark and a marauding Merlin. There was a similar count of Linnets today but with the vegetation now at ground level we changed tactics by employing a whoosh net in cleared ground in place of the usual single panel nets. 

The plan proved successful, albeit with one catch but with 23 at once Linnets under the single net - 11 first winter males, 7 first winter females, 4 adult females and 1 adult male. At 1015 this had been a two and a half hour wait before the Linnets finally dropped into the catching area after several dummy runs on their part. Linnets are "cute" in many ways. 

Included in the catch were two recaptures, AJD6523 and AJD6370 from late November and December 2018 respectively. These two were only the third and fourth recaptures of our own Linnets from 570+ captures over three winters. 


Today is very near the end of the shooting season with just another week left for shooting below the high water mark. At first light the number of sportsmen parked nose to tail along the roadside was a little worrying - exactly from where we needed to release the net. Luckily, and thanks to their cooperation, all the cars had gone by 10am. 

Most times when we are at Gulf Lane one or more of the locals stop to chat: Jim The Keeper, John B or his missus, Philip the nearby farmer, Richard who owns the land, the Ten O’Clock Bus Man (every two hours), or in midwinter, a steady stream of shooters on their way back to their vehicles from a morning on the salt-marsh. Many times they share snippets of local knowledge, information or experience that proves valuable to our enquiring minds. Every so often we hear of breeding birds that they know of, occasionally a pair of raptors, or even owls. 

All are keen to learn about our Linnet catches and often simply amazed at the fact that their tiny Linnets migrate so far. The chance to show them a Linnet in the hand and discuss the biometrics, plumage and sexual dimorphism of Linnets is something they appreciate and enjoy. 



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Linking this post to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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