Sunday, April 22, 2018

Change Of Scene

With a forecast of a good sunny morning I decided to have a drive up to the hills to see how things were going in this belated spring. With luck I’d have three hours of birding before the parades of wannabe Bradley Wiggins’ showed up in their day-glow clothing and very loud voices that scare the birds away.

It’s a forty minute drive and a bridge over the northbound M6 before I hit the beginnings of the Trough of Bowland.

"Click the Pics" for a closer look. 

Bowland, Lancashire 


The quiet of early morning was broken mostly by the sounds of displaying Curlew and Lapwing. To lesser extent were the calls of Oystercatcher, Redshank and Snipe, all in the throes of establishing their breeding territories but the last three tend to be later breeders. 




I lost count of the Mistle Thrush seen and/or heard. From every bit of suitable woodland or copse came their loud, fluty song. 

Mistle Thrush 

If Meadow Pipits have been rather thin on the coast they were around in large numbers this morning flitting around on every stretch of fence or dry stone wall for miles. Again, I lost count, or rather made no attempt at a total as they were just everywhere.

Pied Wagtails were numerous but not nearly so many as pipits. I found a couple of pairs of Grey Wagtail along Marshaw and Tower Lodge streams. It was at Tower Lodge that I both saw and heard Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and a single male Redstart. 

Meadow Pipit 

Meadow Pipit 

Pied Wagtail 

I saw at least 4 Wheatears on the journey. They seemed very mobile and were probably migrants. 


Not so the Red-legged Partridge, in loud song from a dry stone wall. Our Red-legged Partridge is not native to Britain but instead are feral or left overs from autumn shoots of released birds. Altogether it is an attractive bird that is able to hack it in the English countryside, unlike our native Grey Partridge which has become a rare sight in modern Lancashire. 

Red-legged Partridge 

Bowland, Lancashire

And while we are on the subject of Bowland, here’s an udate on the case against Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper James Hartley. Previous post here.  Mr Hartley faced 9 charges as follows:
  1. Disturbing the nesting site of a Schedule 1 wild bird (13/04/2016) 
  2. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird (13/04/2016) 
  3. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird (14/04/2016) 
  4. Setting trap / gin / snare etc. to cause injury to a wild bird (between 13-14/04/2016) 
  5. Taking a Schedule 1 wild bird (14/04/2016) 
  6. Possessing a live / dead Schedule 1 wild bird or its parts (14/04/2016) 
  7. Possessing an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15 to 17 (13/04/2016) 
  8. Possessing an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15 to 17 (between 12/04/2016 – 27/04/2016) 
  9. Causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal – Animal Welfare Act 2006 (between 14/04/2016 – 15/04/2016) 
The case collapsed last week after District Judge Goodwin ruled the RSPB video evidence inadmissible at a hearing at Preston Magistrates Court on 28 March 2018. 

The only bird of prey I saw while driving through Bowland on Saturday was a single Kestrel. The killing goes on.

Log in soon to see more birds on Another Bird Blog. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Missing In Action

A rather grey morning left me waiting for the promised lunchtime sun before I hit the trail. Although the light was still not good, sun was on the way with our bit of the “heatwave”. 

Those midday Barn Owls showed again, this time an obvious pair since they hunted the same fields. They weren't quite in tandem with one of them much more active than the other which sat in the adjacent hedgerow for a good hour. I was still on ISO1200. 

Barn Owl 

Barn Owls 

Barn Owl 

I checked out the recent Buzzard location to find both birds on show but partly hidden in the nest, seemingly doing a little housekeeping. Nearby was a Kestrel and also a male Sparrowhawk sat in the depths of the cover with its bright orange breast a dead give-away. 

Some migrant species are rather slow in arriving this year. The long journey from Africa takes its toll when birds hit rough weather. I was out all afternoon and saw just 6 Swallows, four of them in one location at Cockerham; otherwise just two singles near farms. Other species that should be around seem to be either lacking or here in very small numbers; Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats are conspicuous by their absence and we might expect a few Reed Warblers by now, but I've yet to hear that not unpleasant rasping and repetitive “song”. 


At Gulf Lane the farmer has rough ploughed our erstwhile Linnet catching field in readiness for the new crop of bird seed mix in late April/early May. The turned soil has pulled in a few birds looking for an easy meal. Two Wheatears, a Skylark and a Pied Wagtail searched over the ground and a Kestrel hovered briefly overhead. 


I looked at Fluke Hall where Whitethroats can always be found but none today just 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler and 3 Blackcap. Two Buzzards noted and also an odd number of Jays for April as three of them chased through the tree tops. “Two’s company, three’s a crowd” goes the saying. 

On the seaward side a single Wheatear with a few Lapwings on territory in the fields. Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrows along the hedgerows.


The cattle at Braides Farm have puddled a patch of ground that’s proved attractive to a procession of wagtails this week. Today I noted at least 8 Pied Wagtail, 4 White Wagtail and 2 Yellow Wagtail although all were very mobile, flying as far as the sea wall 200 yards away. There was also a Wheatear, a handful of Linnets and several Skylarks in song. 

Yellow Wagtails are the Cattle Egrets of the wagtail world.  More often than not the Yellow Wagtail can be found sharing fields with sheep or cattle where the animals' hooves and the constant grazing disturb plenty of insects.   

Yellow Wagtail 

It looks like we may get our summer in Lancashire tomorrow. If so stand by for more news soon from Another Bird Blog.

Linking to Anni's blog and  Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Early Pipit Late Owl

A 6 am start beckoned and I met Andy at Oakenclough in near perfect conditions - a light southerly, and compared to recent weeks, a temperature that felt quite agreeable. 

Once again newly in birds were rather limited so we struggled to reach double figures with just 10 birds ringed but the emphasis on quality rather than quantity: 5 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Goldfinch and 1 Tree Pipit. 

In most years April 1st is around the normal date for the arrival of the first Willow Warblers so the two males caught today are approximately ten days “late”. Maybe they picked a good time to arrive with predicted temperatures of up to 64°F and fine days for next week. In so many recent years Willow Warblers have arrived into cool and wet weather that continued throughout May and had a detrimental effect upon their breeding success. 

Willow Warbler 

Lesser Redpoll 

Today’s Tree Pipit, our first of the year, was aged as a second year bird (born in 2017). April 14th is bang on the expected date of the first Tree Pipits arriving from Africa. 

Tree Pipit 

A Tree Pipit resembles the slightly smaller Meadow Pipit. Both are at first glance unexceptional looking LBJs, streaked brown above and with black markings on a white belly and buff breast below. 

The Tree Pipit is distinguished from the slightly smaller Meadow Pipit by its heavier bill, stronger more yellowish, heavier streaking and greater contrast with the white belly. The former also has pink legs rather than the flesh-coloured legs of Meadow Pipit. As the name suggests, Tree Pipits spend more time in trees than ground dwelling Meadow Pipits.  Tree Pipits breed across most of Europe and temperate western and central Asia. It is a long-distance migrant and spends our winter in Africa and southern Asia. 

The song flight is unmistakable. The bird rises a short distance up from a tree, and then parachutes down on stiff wings, the loud song becoming more drawn out towards the end.  It is many years since I heard the song here at Oakenclough where it used to breed in the open woodland and scrub of the late 70’s and early 80’s.  The habitat is still suitable now but unless the Tree Pipit regains its former population level it is unlikely to return. 

The Tree Pipit's flight and contact call is a buzzing "dzzz" sound, heard mostly during migration. It’s a high-frequency call that becomes harder to hear for us older generation birders. Luckily we can catch them, take a closer look and confirm that the label of “Little Brown Job” is far from the truth. 

The morning proved quiet in the way of birding except for the usual five or six Buzzards in the air as the morning warmed. Two Red-breasted Mergansers “over” and a smattering of redpolls proved to be as good as it got with little sign of visible migration. "Otherwise" local birds included a handful of Chaffinches, 1 Jay and 2 Mistle Thrush. 

The journey home was quite interesting by way of a Barn Owl hunting across farmland at 11.20am. Many Barn Owls are sat on eggs by now, a scenario that requires the non-sitting bird to spend extra hours in search of food. 

Barn Owl

Nearby I noted a single Kestrel and also a pair of Buzzards at a nest. The female was clearly visible in the huge pile of sticks close to the top of a tall, uncropped hawthorn hedgerow. Let's hope the conspicuous nest will not become a target for vandals and/or those who would harm the mostly harmless Buzzard.


Log in soon for more birds from Another Bird Blog. In the meantime, linking to World Bird Wednesday and Anni's Birding.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Out At Last

What with half-term, car service & MOT and pretty poor weather, I’d been out of birding action for a week. 

Thursday morning and as is often the case I wasn’t sure where to go on my local patch while allowing sufficient time to spend at each. There’s nothing more annoying than birding at one place and seeing not very much to then hear later of birds seen in the same spot soon after. It’s a form of Sod’s Law that applies to birders and probably other obsessives. 

Through Pilling village was the first Chiffchaff singing from an annual location but as I drove past I spotted a hunting Barn Owl ahead. The owl was on a fast, large circuit that took it over fields, behind tall hedgerows and through farmyards so I quickly lost sight. 

Barn Owl 

I drove up to Conder Pool, the first time for a couple of weeks. Very evident here was that the water level here is tremendously high after the autumn and winter rains with very little in way of margins for waders. I counted 8 Shelduck, 6 Tufted Duck, 22 Teal, 2 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron and a good number of Mute Swans. There was a single Kestrel knocking around. Waders consisted of 2 Avocet and 8 Oystercatchers. 

Two Avocets have taken up territory on one of the far islands in exactly the same spot as last year. 


Having bred successfully both adults and offspring Avocets are faithful to a site in subsequent years. And with an average life span of 10-15 years there’s a more than a reasonable chance that either or even both of these birds were here last year. But more’s the pity as Avocets are not the friendliest towards other species. 

It’s not like me to be controversial but I'm far from certain we should be encouraging too many Avocets on Conder Pool, a piece of real estate that for many years was home to more common species. I would much rather see several pairs of species that co-exist rather than pairs of aggressive Avocets that allow no other birds on “their” patch. 

Surely several pairs of declining Redshank, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and maybe one or two Little Ringed Plover would be preferable? There now, naughty me, I've gone and upset the whole of the RSPB and the band of birders who judge a species by rarity value rather than taking a holistic view. 

A tour of the Jeremy Lane and Cockersands found a good selection of species but little in the way of migrants. Even the many hares I saw appeared lethargic, mainly sitting around and uninterested in the fact that it was April 12th and their mating season. 

Brown Hare 

There was a huge Peregrine hunting the marsh where it made several passes but caught nothing. Lapwings are mostly all paired up now with much dashing display, frantic calling and chasing off the crows so I suspect some are on eggs. Not so the Golden Plover, wintering birds only with a loose flock of 180+ birds, but many resplendent in their black& gold summer plumage. It is mostly impossible to get close to this species and as I've mentioned here before, to the UK’s eternal shame that this species is allowed to be shot by hunters. 

Golden Plover 

On the fields here – 40+ off passage Meadow Pipits searching the soggy fields, 8-10 Skylark and 20+ Linnet still flocking. 30+ Sand Martins at our ringing quarry looks promising and where with luck we’ll begin ringing after the first fledglings are on the wing. 

Meadow Pipit 

I was out birding all morning but still didn't see or hear many migrants. A handful of Swallows and two singing Chiffchaffs was the sum total of my summer birds. 

We’re promised warmer weather soon. Not soon enough where migration so far has consisted of a small flurry of early birds while everyone waits for the big fall that hardly ever takes place. 

Saturday looks promising for ringing with a light southerly of 5 mph and no rain. Believe it when we see it!

Linking today to Eileen's Blog.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Boring? Never.

I’d met up with Andy for another ringing session at Oakenclough and where surely we would find a few fresh migrants on this the Fifth of April? The wind was in the North-West and at 0630 and 0.5° it wasn't especially warm. 

A glance at the weather map portrayed a stream of warm air partly headed our way from Iberia with maybe an outside chance of a few new birds although few migrants had yet reached the North West. 

Thursday 5th April 

Our catch was on-par for recent weeks. In other words not so good with just 12 birds caught and still zero warblers - 3 Siskin, 3 Goldfinch, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Dunnock. 


Lesser Redpoll 

We don’t catch many Dunnocks at Oakenclough but today’s bird proved to be a female in early breeding condition.


The name Dunnock comes from the old English words dunnakos/dunoke or donek, meaning ‘little brown one'. Dun = dingy brown, dark-coloured. Ock = diminutive. Its scientific name Prunella modularis translates as ‘little brown singer'.

It has other English and Irish names such as the wren's brother, mother-in-law, field sparrow, black wren, grey robin and hedge warbler. In Scotland one of its common names is blue-dykie - more of that later.

The Dunnock is the persona non grata of the bird world - mostly uninteresting to birders, ignored, unloved and unwanted; especially so when out it pops from the hedgerow where a rare LBJ is rumoured to be. The Dunnock deserves few mentions on bird blogs, barely a frame on You Tube and never a photo on Bird Guides’ Best. And wait in vain for a pager message or urgent tweet about the dismal, drab and dowdy Dunnock.

A Dunnock spends its days lurking mostly unseen in dark corners of suburban gardens or feeding surreptitiously under bird feeders when the glamorous birds have left the feast.  Its song is unhurried and unremarkable; a warble which to the inexperienced or hard-of-hearing can be confused with the Wren, Robin or Common Whitethroat but one which lacks the Wren's intensity, the Robin's sweetness or the scratchy tones of the Whitethroat.

But fear not dear reader. The lacklustre Dunnock does have a trick or two up its feathered trouser legs, as many a ringer will relate. The identical male and female Dunnock are to all intents and purposes monomorphic - identical when even simple biometrics prove unhelpful in separating one sex from the other. Until that is the breeding season when the male displays its most obvious attributes that go toward the legendary sex life of the dreary old Dunnock. Multiple mating systems including monogamy, polyandry and polygyny - you name it, they do it.

You see, there’s more to a boring Dunnock than meets the unwelcoming eye. I do think that Mr Dunnock would agree.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday,  Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday.

Thursday, March 29, 2018


I missed two ringing sessions. Tuesday was half-term duties and then on Wednesday I had to wait in for the heating engineer. 

Andy was out on both days when he caught the first Chiffchaff of spring, several Meadow Pipits, half a dozen each of both Siskin and Lesser Redpoll and the usual bits & bobs of Dunnocks, Robins and Blue Tits. 

Wednesday was a chance to catch up with spring and the example set by Andy. We met up at 0630 to a gentle south-easterly and hopeful vibes, but 2° with an ice warning on the dashboard said otherwise. And so it was, with just 7 birds caught in more than three hours - 3 Goldfinch, 1 Siskin, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Meadow Pipit and 1 Goldcrest. The latter was our first of the spring and now some two weeks later than normal.

Meadow Pipit 



The tiny and quite stunning Siskin is a species that ringers like to catch. 

It is also one of the bird success stories of recent years. Since the 1950s the maturation of new conifer plantations has aided the spread of breeding Siskins throughout the UK from their previous stronghold in the Scottish Highlands. 

The Siskins' habit of using garden feeders, especially in late winter, has developed since the 1960s and despite many winter birds in gardens migrating to the Baltic region to breed, may also have helped boost the UK breeding population. 

 The 1988-91 Breeding Atlas identified a major expansion of the breeding range into southern Britain and subsequently there have been further considerable range gains, especially in the south and west. The 1970s and 1980s saw more Common Bird Census plots occupied but samples were insufficient for annual monitoring until Breeding Bird Survey began in 1994. 

Results since then show parallel fluctuations of populations both in England and Scotland. To some extent this probably reflects the occasional large continental influxes affecting spring numbers on a broad UK scale. 

As might be expected from the figures above, this morning’s visible migration was nil. But all was not lost. On the way home and at 11 am I spotted a day hunting Barn Owl across distant fields. I spent twenty minutes or more watching as the owl ranged far and wide, high and low in search of a meal before it seemed to head back home. 

Barn Owl 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl 

It wasn’t the most successful morning but nice to finish on a Barn Owl high. More soon – stay tuned. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Mars And Venus

Saturday morning and at 5am the alarm buzzed in my ear. Fifteen minutes later I was washed, dressed and had made a flask of coffee for the 40 minute journey to meet Andy at Oakenclough. 

By six there was zero wind and a few spots of rain. The rain was nothing to worry about as it quickly petered out and left perfect conditions for ringing. Once gain the ringing was very subdued with nothing in the way of migrants as the weather south of here continues to block migration. 

We ringed just 14 birds of 4 species - 8 Goldfinch, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Robin. For this time of year it is quite unusual that we caught zero Lesser Redpoll or Siskin today. Even the two Siskins we saw were probably fairly local wintering birds. 

The male symbol ♂ is the astrological symbol for Mars and the female symbol ♀ is the astrological symbol for Venus. Of the three small finches it’s the Goldfinch that is the harder to sex. While male and female Redpolls and male and female Siskins are quite different in their respective looks, the distinction between boy and girl Goldfinches is less obvious. 

To decide ♂ or ♀ Goldfinch we use the amount and shape of the patch of red feathering above and behind the eye combined with the colour of the nasal hairs. Wing length is an additional aid to sexing with a boy wing mostly longer than the girl equivalent, despite some mid-range overlap. The often slightly larger overall dimensions of a male can carry over to the bill whereby the bill of a larger male can be strikingly long. 

None of the above methods are of much use in the field and certainly not in the autumn with moulting adults or brown juveniles that lack any head colouration. 




A local person we saw this morning today told of two regular Siskins on his own garden feeders. He knows of a nearby bird enthusiast and a garden well stocked with feeders that holds many more Siskins, Chaffinches and even a handful of Bramblings. The latter species has been very scarce during this Lancashire winter. 



Apart from the ubiquitous Goldfinch The best I can do in my own garden at the moment is a couple of wary Tree Sparrows that come to snatch a few grains of millet and an equally shy Stock Dove.   

Tree Sparrow


“Otherwise Birding” today consisted of watching a pair of Sparrowhawks in display, 2 Pied Wagtail, 2 Mistle Thrush 1 Raven and 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker.

Linking today to Stewart's World Birds and Anni's Birding.

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