Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Slowly Does It

Tuesday proved to be another non-event with just 5 birds caught and zero records for the migration stats. 

I'd met Andy at 0700 for another ringing session, hopefully one where the weather on the day matched the forecast of Monday evening; at last, a south-easterly, no rain, patchy cloud and 5mph. the prediction. A change of wind direction that would surely produce new migrants? The potential problem was that the south-easterly airflow actually originated off northerly winds in the North Sea on the east coast. 

That was the problem because a catch of five birds is pretty terrible. Two Lesser Redpoll, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Robin was all we had for our five hours work. At least two Willow Warblers in song but we didn't catch one. 

Lesser Redpoll
While we wait for migrants to arrive from south of here the local Greylags have been getting on with life.  A pair appeared with five very newly fledged youngsters, not bad going for 13 April. Look closely at the photo - the youngsters' egg teeth are clearly visible. 


The incubation period for Greylags is about 30 days, give or take a few. Incubation begins with the last egg laid of between 5 and 7. This means that our pair of Greylags had completed their nest and laid their first egg during the first few days of March. 

Such a short post. Not to worry. We don't give up so easily and are due for another go later in the week. 


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Silent Spring

Six in the morning. I was wide awake as warm feet hit the cold floor. It was time to fill the Thermos, *pack baggin in the bait box and try again. 

Arctic northerlies for ten days and more put the kibosh on birding and ringing. Glacial winds and single digit temperatures held a Stop Sign to migrant birds heading our way. Whole days went by with nothing on the migration score sheet but big fat zeros. The highlight of my spring so far was an unexpected Redstart and a Wheatear on April 1. Since then nowt. 

Now was time to make amends and catch up - we hoped. We arranged to meet at 0730 to allow for the plantation to defrost. 

On the way over the moss I again met up with a flying Barn Owl which dived into the base of a hawthorn hedge. It lifted with nothing and went on its way over the field to try again. 

Barn Owl 
At 0715 and despite the “late” start the dash showed -2.5° degrees as we arrived.  We feared the worst. A slight north-easterly motioned the trees, stirred the nets but left the water without a ripple. After recent days things could only get better? 

10th April 2021 
near Oakenclough - 10th April 2021

How wrong can we be? Just five birds caught - 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Wren, 1 Robin, 1 Meadow Pipit. 

Meadow Pipit
Maybe the highlight of the morning was not the few birds ringed but the “others”? An early morning Cuckoo called incessantly for five minutes or more and then went silent.  April 10 is a fairly early date for a Cuckoo in these parts where the species now breeds sparingly. 

After the initial burst of calls the Cuckoo probably carried on flying north, as did the three Swallows and four Siskins that we saw overhead. 

Otherwise, migration was non existent. A single Willow Warbler sang for an hour or more but that too fell silent. 

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and Anni in Texas.

*put food in the lunch box 

More soon. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Early Start.

A shot of Ouzo makes a fine nightcap - for a while. I slept a deep sleep but woke up early perhaps knowing that the forecast was OK, too breezy for ringing but fine for a spot of birding. 

I set off north to a couple of places to check out for the coming weeks. 

Chris had told me how in the winter he worked with the digger at the face of the Sand Martin colony to try and make access somewhat easier for the ringers and if possible to improve the catch rate. He'd done a pretty good job and constructed a ledge where we can set nets some eight foot higher than the quarry floor of last year where we had no luck with the martins. 

I counted 130+ excitable Sand Martins crowding around the holes they used last year. In the photo below you can see how nest holes are excavated in a layer of softer sand and gravel, immediately below the larger and harder pebbles of the quarry face. The martins know the best places in which to nest but nature doesn't always cooperate with them when the holes may be weakened or even destroyed by the elements. 

Sand Martins

The water levels of the pools are extremely high after an autumn and winter dominated by rainfall. Even with a dry spell it is unlikely that water levels will drop sufficiently or quickly enough to allow the return of the Avocets to breed this year. 

Even the Oystercatchers seemed reluctant to pair up this morning, their one or two likely spots still covered in winter rain puddles as they face into the stiff breeze. 

The picture below shows three ages of Oystercatcher. The all black one with bright pink legs and bright red eyes is an adult, the one on the right with partial collar, paler bill and greyish legs is last year's bird. The Oystercatcher at the back still has the grey legs of last year and a less bright eye and is probably a month or two older than the right hand one, but not a full adult.  


The Sand Martins will be left to breed now.  Only when we know for sure that their breeding season is well underway will we return to ring some if the new setup works in our favour. 

I drove further back towards Pilling to look at another of our ringing sites. A real surprise came in the shape of a fine male Redstart, a scarce enough species in these parts where it is a spring and autumn migrant only. To see a Redstart is nice enough but to see one on the exceptionally early date of 1 April was quite unexpected. 

Buoyed by this unforeseen event, and carrying a bag containing trap, meal worms and A rings I took a walk along the sea wall in the hope of seeing a Wheatear or two but there were none. 

By now the stiff breeze had turned to a cold easterly with mostly waders and herons seen - 6 pairs of Oystercatcher, 7 Redshank, 4 Lapwing, 6 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. 

Lapwing - male 

Grey Heron 

Smaller birds found were 12 Skylark, 8 Linnet, 2 Pied Wagtail and 1 Meadow Pipit. 

Things are looking better for Skylarks this year along a stretch of breeding habitat that was subject to disturbance last summer from The "Environment" Agency. Very slowly, over many days, they cleared tidal debris from the sea wall with huge, lumbering noisy machinery. Unbelievable! 

Stay tuned.  There could be more news and another early start soon on Another Bird Blog.

Linking on Saturday to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Too Few Birds

Last week saw a combination of rain, northerly winds and cold temperatures that conspired to prevent early migrants moving our way.  Internet bird news confirmed the paucity of birds - a flurry of Chiffchaffs, the occasional Wheatear, and a smattering only of pipits and wagtails. Excitement arrived in the form of a few high flying Ospreys headed for Scotland. 

Tuesday's forecast looked likely to break the deadlock with southerly winds and temperatures forecast to be in the teens. If only.  I arranged to meet with Andy at Oakenclough at 0630 but stopped briefly for the obligatory Barn Owl. 

Barn Owl

The morning was 100% cloud with gradual clearance into a sunny but still chilly morning. Birds were few and far between and a miserly catch of just 6 birds, about as bad as it gets with neither rhyme nor reason to explain our disappointment. 

Visible migration seemed nil apart from a handful of Meadow Pipits and a high-fly flock of either Redpolls or Siskins that numbered about 25. Our catch comprised 2 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Robin, 1 Wren, 1 Dunnock and 1 Blue Tit. 

By 1100 hours we'd called time on the morning. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

Other birds seen - 2 Sparrowhawk, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Pied Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Buzzard, 15 Oystercatcher, 4 Lapwing. 

On the drive home back home via Rawcliffe Moss I stopped to watch a Kestrel and then spotted the pair of Highland Cattle, many miles from Scotland. 

Highland Cattle


Back home we have a regular Grey Squirrel looking for food and nest building Collared Doves, Woodpigeons and Greenfinches.

Grey Squirrel

Collared Dove

More news soon I hope. "Things can only get better" for Another Bird Blog.

On reading the latest news back home it appears that migration was much more obvious in coastal locations with Sand Martins, Wheatears, Siskins and Willow Warblers in evidence.  

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Coal To Wales?

Last November I posted here on the blog a record of Coal Tit ALJ4344. 

“The Coal Tit is known as one of the most sedentary species of Britain and Ireland whereby ringing has shown that very few Coal Tits travel distances from their natal area. Strangely enough it is Coal Tits from the North West of England that travel furthest from the average of just 20km between seasons. This is thought to relate to the distribution of suitable habitats between the north west and other regions. (BTO Migration Atlas).  

The recovery of Coal Tit ALJ 4344 ringed at Oakenclough on 21 July 2020 was one of the very few that Fylde Ringing Group has received in many years and 1120 captures of Coal Tits.  When we caught ALJ4344 on 21 July 2020 we confidently aged it as a juvenile born just several weeks before. The yellow cheeks alone were a dead giveaway.  

Coal Tit - autumn juvenile

We did not see ALJ4344 again during the summer and autumn of 2020 during many visits to Oakenclough. It was later in the autumn when notification arrived that ALJ4344 had been recaptured other ringers at Hoylake Shore, Wirral, Merseyside on 16 October 2020.  At 67km from Oakenclough this represents quite a southerly migration for a Coal Tit, and an example of autumnal movements more likely to be undertaken by first year birds than by adults."  

Coal Tit - Oakenclough to Hoylake
"The south-south- west direction of travel might suggest that this Coal Tit was on its way to the extensive conifer forests of North Wales (see map) where it would join up with others of its kind and prove able to survive the winter.”  


Quite remarkably, and now in March 2021 comes another Coal Tit that made an almost identical journey - ALK0174. 

So noteworthy is this latest record that it prompted a query from a BTO staff member as to whether we had made a mistake with reading the ring number on 20 March! We always double check unfamiliar ring numbers by reading out aloud and then verify the number on the field sheet we use.

Coal Tit ALK0174 was first ringed at Bidston, Wirral, Merseyside on 1 February 2021. Just 47 days later on 20 March 2021 we recaptured ALK0174 at Oakenclough. 

This was the morning when Andy and I caught nine Coal Tits, including ALK0174, found in a mist net alongside five other Coal Tits, a small party of newly arrived birds, amongst a catch of other migrants. 

Coal Tit - Bidston to Oakenclough
Experienced birders and ringers know that on migration Coal Tits use their highly distinctive call to maintain contact with other migrating Coal Tits.  Some ringers use play back calls of Coal Tits so as to encourage the species into mist nets. Almost certainly our six Coal Tits had called each other into catching themselves in our net without any help from us. 

On suitable occasions of migration and weather conditions it is possible to catch dozens of Coal Tits. We do not use calls to catch more Coal Tits, the danger being that the Coal Tits bring large numbers of other titmice (great, blue, long-tailed and treecreepers) with them into our mist nets, a time consuming process that prevents the catching of species that generate  superior data. 

Coal Tit
However, we may have to rethink our policy of not catching of too many titmice if we could limit such catches to Coal Tits only. The two records above appear to show that Coal Tits from some parts of NW England undertake autumnal journeys in a south westerly direction into Wales where the shelter and food abundance of conifer forests may afford them a better chance of winter survival. 

More records from us and other ringers could add to information while supporting these two findings. 


Earlier in the week I was at Knott End to see the first Chiffchaff and see the first Sandwich Tern of the year - on it's way to Scotland I guess.

Sandwich Tern

Knott End to Fleetwood Ferry

Just the photos to link to Rain's Thursday Art Date and the theme of "Motion and Movement" don't you think?

Knott End, Lancashire

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

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A March Morning

Saturday morning and Union Lane was closed yet again for repairs to the road that crosses Stalmine and Pilling Moss. Through years of neglect too many of our local roads are in constant danger of sinking into the quaggy mires of Lancashire, turn of the century circa 1900. I turned the car around and took a detour through Pilling village and hoped to be on time. 

Turn Around
On the journey to Oakenclough I caught up with Andy's car at a road junction. It was 0600 and we both arrived bang on the agreed time for another ringing session. There was zero wind with overcast but brightening skies and a sense of Spring optimism in the air. 

Our ringing was slow and steady, as it was on On Wednesday Last.  

At first it was extremely slow but picked up slightly as a colder front bearing rain approached from the west. Perhaps the few extra birds that arrived, including Meadow Pipits, had travelled ahead of the boundary of relative warm and hit the westerly chill? Suddenly, we stopped catching anything and called it a day. 

We finished with a mix of 8 species and an average March catch of 22 birds - 9 Coal Tit, 5 Meadow Pipit, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Chaffinch, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Siskin and 1 Lesser Redpoll. 

We caught the first Lesser Redpoll and Siskin of  Spring 2021, both bright males. 

Lesser Redpoll
It's unusual that Coal Tit is the most captured bird in a single session. Our 9 Coal Tits contained a couple of our own recaptures and also a “subsequent” from elsewhere that carried another ringer's ring. We suspect that Coal Tit ALK0174 had not travelled too far but had certainly joined up with other Coal Tits when six were in a net together. 

Coal Tit

All five Meadow Pipits were on the large side with wing lengths of 81mm or above that put them in the “male” bracket. 

Meadow Pipit


The Treecreeper found an unusual companion when it was in a net alongside a Lesser Redpoll.

Stay tuned folks, more birds and news soon.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Back In The Hills

2020 was a frustrating year of stop-start ringing at our site Oakenclough, situated at the western edge of the backbone of England, the Pennine Hills.  The year was one of consistently poor weather – cold, wet and windy with a distinct lack of sunshine. The poor weather coupled with the many non-visits caused by lockdowns resulted in ringing totals below our pre-Covid projections at the beginning of the New Year. 

Despite these setbacks we managed a creditable total of 679 captures, 619 new and 60 recaptures (subsequent) birds. The most ringed species Meadow Pipit, followed by Willow Warbler and Redwing a close third. Prior to today the last visit to Oakenclough was on 26 November 2020. Below is a table of the birds caught and one that shows the range of species in a typical year, early spring to December.


Above - 2020 at Oakenclough

This morning and for our first time in 2021 we hoped to catch early migrant species such as Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Meadow Pipit. (“Mipits” as they are named by students of visible migration.). Mipits have been migrating north this week - see Arnside and Silverdale Blogspot.

With luck today we might expect to also capture both Lesser Redpolls and Siskins, two species strangely absent during 2020.

I met Andy at the unearthly hour of 0600 in the half light of a dull cloudy morning. We left at 1130 after a rather slow session and 18 birds caught: 9 Goldfinch, 4 Meadow Pipit, 2 Robin, 1 Dunnock, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Long-tailed Tit.

Although we caught four Meadow Pipits their northward movement was far from obvious, best described as a “dribble” of some 15/20 individuals all morning. Meadow Pipits' diurnal migration in spring takes place from mid March through to mid April and often takes place high in the sky, out of range of human vision; almost certainly, our 15/20 was an underestimate of true numbers, even at this, the early days of their migration.

Meadow Pipit

It was good to see Goldfinches again, a species difficult to find of late. Unlike most years, Goldfinches have been absent from my own garden for months, returning only in the last week or so. So too Greenfinches, already prospecting our conifers where they nested last year.


Today's Dunnock, a first winter female, still carried last year's tail. The tail bore evidence of a period of poor nutrition during the nesting period of 2020.

Dunnock's tail - March 2021


Even in the hand a Robin will display their red breast to best effect in case the ringer is a rival.


If Lesser Redpolls and Siskins were around today, we didn't see or hear any. Nor Chiffchaffs or Goldcrests.  All the more reason to try again soon.  

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.

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