Friday, February 16, 2018

A Photo Or Two

I didn’t get many photos this morning. As each week passes the adult birds and those born last year get older and wiser about birders and keep out of the way of cameras and bins. 

An early morning Barn Owl is pretty much guaranteed at the moment when food is scarce and the owls spend longer on the hunt. So it was this morning as the owl stayed alongside the moss road but hidden by distance and the straggly hedge at eye level. I made do with a Kestrel and then a Buzzard just sat in the opposite field but keeping a wary eye on passing cars. It looked like last year’s bird. 

Buzzard

Along Lancaster Road a farmer was out early taking the tops off and shaping the hedgerow. It rather stopped my looking for finches and much else but the flood at Rawcliffe/Pilling held 4 Fieldfare, 1 Kestrel, 180 Lapwing, 10 Pied Wagtail and 8 Meadow Pipit. At Gulf Lane the Linnet flock is down to about 40 birds, the lowest count of the winter but not surprising given the battering of rain, wind, snow and ice that both birds and vegetation have taken since August. 

Around the moss road produced a couple of calling Buzzards on territory as 5/6 Meadow Pipits scattered ahead of the car. 

Buzzard
 
I called at Conder Green out of habit more than optimism and the chance the Avocets may appear any day. They are already in Lancashire after their winter away. No up-turned bills just the usual 3 pairs of Oystercatcher, 15 Curlew, 12 Redshank and a gang of 10 noisy Shelduck. Spring is definitely in the air with Robins and Skylarks in song although next week we’re back to cold and frosty air. 

Robin

A trip around Jeremy Lane and up to Cockersands produced a healthy if unspectacular mix of species. Best was a mixed flock of Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings numbering 200/200/6. Redwings are much scarcer than Fieldfares in early spring as if the Fieldfares make a leisurely journey north while the Redwings dash through mostly unseen. 

Near Cockersands was the usual Kestrel, a female Stonechat and some pretty huge flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers which numbered in the few thousands of each. Also, 30+ Skylarks, 30+ Redshank, 18 Twite, 13 Pied Wagtail, 8 Meadow Pipit and 6 Tree Sparrow. 

Kestrel
 
Golden Plovers

I saw a three or four Brown Hares this morning. One stopped in a gateway to clean its feet after it ran through a muddy patch of ground. I’ve seen them do that before. 

Brown Hare
 
There’s ringing tomorrow, something of a novelty this winter. But the forecast is half-decent with just a 10mph wind at a partly sheltered site. I’m meeting Andy at 0700. Log in later to see how we did.  

A Saturday link to Anni's Blog and Eileen's blog.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Headstarting

I guess I missed this when it first appeared during the summer of 2017.

But now in early 2018 comes up-to-date news to add to the earlier picture of a small but significant conservation experiment. It’s an account of a technique known as “headstarting” of birds and the first time this method has been used in the UK.

The species is Black-tailed Godwit, in this case the subspecies that occurs in the British Isles, Western & Eastern Europe, the ‘nominate’ race Limosa limosa limosa. This race of Black-tailed Godwit differs slightly in appearance from the Icelandic race Limosa limosa islandia which occurs as a migrant to the UK but does not breed here.

The UK breeding population of Limosa limosa limosa is limited to a few small areas of Norfolk where successful outcomes are not always guaranteed and where the overall population is about 50 pairs only. Hence the project described here designed to increase the species’ success rate and population.

Project Godwit is focused on two wetlands in the east of England – the Ouse and Nene Washes – where conservationists are growing the Black-tailed Godwit population by enhancing ideal habitat, trialling methods to increase productivity, improving understanding of local and migratory movements, and the rearing & release of godwit chicks. At the same time the project provides publicity with the aim of increasing support among local communities where the birds nest.

During the early summer of 2017 Black-tailed Godwit eggs were removed from nests and then hatched in incubators by staff at WWT Welney Wetland Centre until such time as the hand-reared the young birds could fend for themselves. By mid-summer June 2017 some 25 young Black-tailed Godwits were released into their new home in the Cambridgeshire Fens.
 
Fast forward to 08 February 2018 where a Norfolk newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press reported that two of the erstwhile hand-reared chicks had been spotted safe and sound in Portugal, 1200 miles away among other wild Black-tailed Godwits. Dutch ornithologists reported seeing the birds among a flock on the Tagus Estuary near Lisbon. 

The team from RSPB and WWT behind “Project Godwit” welcomed the news that their protégés have migrated safely.  Project Godwit manager Hannah Ward said: “Bird migration is an amazing feat and it’s fraught with dangers. These two godwits were last seen on opposite sides of the UK, one in Essex and the other in Somerset."

“It’s a huge relief to hear they have both made it to the same spot in Portugal safe and sound.” She said as the birds were still less than a year old, they would probably not attempt return to the UK to breed this year. 

“But older godwits should be setting off right now,” she said. “We’re appealing to all birdwatchers to keep their eyes out for colour ringed birds.” “Every bit of news helps us create a brighter future for the UK Black-tailed Godwits.” 

Black-tailed Godwit

Headstarting was previously used successfully to help Spoon-billed Sandpipers in the Russian Far East, but Project Godwit is the first time headstarting has been used in the UK.

Yet again, it's raining and blowing here today but hopefully an improvement by weekend and maybe even a little ringing. Stay tuned.

  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Little But Not Often

Some news from Europe about the Little Owl, Athene noctua, sýček obecný, recently chosen by the Czech Society for Ornithology as their “Bird of the Year”. 

Though common in Europe, Northern Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia, population numbers of the owl fell significantly over the last half century in the Czech Republic, as birds disappeared from farmland areas; as a result the Little Owl is on their endangered list. 

The Czech Society for Ornithology wants to make the public aware of the bird’s plight and that population numbers of the once widespread species fell dramatically over recent decades. 

Little Owl

The society’s Martin Šálek: “We chose the Little Owl because this is an owl which not long ago was very common and widespread. We wanted to reveal the plight of the bird and other animals which live in the vicinity of arable land, where bird and other population levels have dropped. 

“At the beginning of the last century the Little Owl was widespread; today it is on the edge of extinction. We wanted people to know about the danger.” 

Little Owl

According to Mr Šálek, there used to be tens of thousands of breeding pairs but by the 1970s the numbers had dropped around just 2,000. 

“At present the population is tiny: we have counted around 130 nesting pairs. They are limited to small areas of land around the country; whereas 30 years ago the owl was a common sight for our grandparents, now they are only located in isolated areas or “islands” of land primarily in the regions of Ústí, Central Bohemia and South Moravia.” 

One question is whether there are steps the public can take to help; the Czech Society for Ornithology’s Martin Šálek points out even simple steps can make a difference. “Our Little Owls have retreated from farmland into inhabited areas where they face numerous dangers. We studied where most of the Little Owls died and learned that some 40 percent died in so-called technical ‘traps’. These include barrels of water, or upright pipes that are not capped. 

“The owls are curious by nature and go inside to have a look and get stuck and can’t get out. For that reason, it would be good if all small cottage or garden colony owners who have rain barrels remember to but a float inside, so the bird can climb up and escape.Another thing each of us can do is to help the Little Owl is leave a patch of uncut grass on our property, so insects like butterflies which are part of the bird’s diet can remain and hide. A well-trimmed English lawn is not beneficial. If you leave 20 percent uncut, that can help.” 

Little Owl

This account from Czechoslovakia mirrors the story of the UK population of Little Owls. The BTO’s Common Bird Census/Breeding Bird Surveys trend for Little Owl in the UK shows very wide variation, but a downturn in recent decades suggests that a rapid decline lies behind the observed fluctuations. 

A figure of c. 7,000 pairs from the BTO/Hawk & Owl Trust's Project Barn Owl (Toms et al. 2000) was the first replicable population estimate for Little Owls in the UK. An independent BBS estimate is for c5,700 pairs in 2009, since when a substantial further decrease has occurred. 

Little Owl

The primary drivers for this rapid decline are thought to be decreased juvenile survival and the effects of agricultural intensification. 
Little Owl - British Trust for Ornithology

My own observations over the past 35 years in this part of Lancashire have seen the once very, very common Little Owl become something of a scarcity.  Once regular sites are now abandoned with few localities where the species may be found on a regular basis. 

The Little Owl is now so scarce, so infrequent that it is something of target bird for listers, twitchers and toggers at all times of the year. Where breeding localities are known by fieldworkers concerned for the species’ welfare, the locale has to be kept hush-hush so as not to subject the birds to constant and often unsympathetic attention. 

Little Owls

I understand that the BTO are looking to undertake a new national survey of the Little Owl quite soon. The way things look at the moment this could lead to the Little Owl being identified as at least Red-listed, if not endangered. Let’s hope not. 


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wednesday 7th February

Tuesday was cold and snowy, the first snowflakes of the winter. Thankfully by midday the snow stopped, the sun came out and by evening all the white stuff was gone. Wednesday began with quite a frost on the by now ice free roads.

As noted on the blog before, a cold weather snap brings out the owls and the Kestrels. So on the drive over Stalmine Moss I wasn’t too surprised to spot a hunting Barn Owl. The owl stayed out along the frosty fence before taking off into the distance.

Barn Owl
 
At Lancaster Road at Pilling Moss was the first of four five Kestrels I’d see during the morning. The Kestrel was on watch across a stubble field where a good number of small birds alternated between feeding on the deck and flying into the hedgerow. I counted 95+ Chaffinch together with, 10 or more Meadow Pipits, several Skylarks, and at least one Reed Bunting and one Yellowhammer. This is the largest Chaffinch flock I have seen this winter and probably last winter too. The days of 200/300 strong Chaffinch flocks seem to be a thing of the dim and distant past.

Chaffinch

I called at Gulf Lane to see very few Linnets in the now flattened field. Tuesday’s blanket of snow and this morning’s solid ground won’t have helped the Linnets to stay around. A Kestrel hovered directly over our net ride and where I guess, a rodent or two have helped themselves to the mountain of bird seed. A ride around the edge of the moss revealed huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese, 15,000 or more but too distant to grill in a satisfactory manner. Also, 2 Little Egret and 60 or more Fieldfare scraped a living from the frozen pastures.

Fieldfare

When I arrived at Conder Green a flock of circa140 Black-tailed Godwit flew around the back of the pool and then landed out of sight in the field beyond the canal. These wet pastures often hold very large numbers of godwits, Lapwings and Curlews but both viewing and access are difficult with the risk that every single birds flies off at the sight of a human.

The pool was pretty much frozen solid but in the few patches of open water, 2 Little Grebe, a Grey Heron, a drake Goosander, 2 Tufted Duck and the pair of now resident Oystercatchers. In the creeks, a dozen or two Redshank plus lots of Teal dabbling in the unfrozen brackish water. A trip around Jeremy Lane produced two more Kestrels on the lookout for food with one particularly hungry looking female reluctant to leave the gatepost even as cars sped by.

 Kestrel

Things were pretty quiet due to every field being frozen solid but there was activity along the tree-lined roadside ditch where I found another 45+ Fieldfares, 15 Redwing and 15 Blackbirds, and even a Song Thrush in full voice.

It looks like we're back to rain tomorrow but there’s more news, views and birds soon from Another Bird Blog.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Updated.

Sorry I’m late. Windows decided to bring me up-to-date me with the latest enhancements that I can’t live without.

Mr Gates, you need to know, my Sue has been trying to modernise me for years and failed miserably.  Yet it appears that Windows 10 does automatic updates whether the user wants them or not and by clicking constantly pressing “no”, all I did was delay the inevitable.  Like a fool and worn down by the constant messages on the screen I clicked “go”. Three hours later here we are trying to update the blog. 

February and every birder I know has been looking for signs of spring in the extra daylight hours despite the constant Arctic winds headed our way. There’s been a few pointers at home with Blue Tit and Great Tit popping into nest boxes, Blackbirds hanging around the ivy covered hawthorns, and the annual Nuthatch visit following a burst or two of song. I’m still hoping that one of these years the Nuthatches might go further than simply practice their nesting skills in that mostly neglected box. 

Nuthatch

I’ve watched a Treecreeper search the apple tree on a couple of occasions and noticed an increase in Goldfinches after a distinct lack during December and January, but I think those latter two are more related to food. 

This morning I set off in the usual direction and soon hit upon a Barn Owl in the half-light. As I watched the owl a handful of calling Fieldfares rattled over having just left their overnight roost. 

There was nothing doing until I got to Gulf Lane where I waited a while for Linnets to arrive for the seed I dropped. Just 100 or so today their numbers and persistence tested to the full in recent weeks by the constant battering of rain and wind. There was a Snipe, the inevitable Little Egret, a Kestrel from the nearby farm buildings, and just over the fence a gang of Lapwings with muddy bills. 

Lapwing

Around Moss Edge I found the male Stonechat that’s hung around for weeks along a line of fence bordering a few straggly reeds. There were Fieldfares here, about 80 or 90 but looking into the light and very flighty. Brown Hares were about this morning. I saw a couple on a circuit of Jeremy Lane tucked in close to the ground, motionless and with their ears pressed flat along their backs, trying for all the world to look like a large clod of earth. 

Brown Hare

“Bits and pieces” between Jeremy Lane, Moss Lane, Slack Lane and Cockersands included 150+Starling, 90 Fieldfare, 2 Redwing, 20+ Meadow Pipit, 1 Merlin, 8+ Skylark, 7 Greenfinch, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Pied Wagtail and 1 Stonechat (female). The Stonechat appears to have parted company with the male Stonechat that was along the same stretch of foreshore for several weeks. The two of them could always be found with a few yards of each other until now, but now just the one. 

Stonechat

Starling

 At Glasson I noted just 11 Goldeneye and 1 Goosander although of note, a single drake Pochard was still in residence. 

Conder Green was relatively quiet but still approximately 200 Teal, 22 Redshank, 18 Lapwing, 10 Curlew, 5 Snipe and 1 Greenshank. Of note here was a pair of Oystercatchers on territory close to last year’s nesting site that failed at the busy roadside. 

Curlew

Don’t forget. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog to see the new updates.

Linking today with World Bird WednesdayAnni's Blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog.



Saturday, January 27, 2018

Some You Win

At last on Friday there was a half-decent day on which to have a go at the Linnets. The day before I checked out Gulf Lane and Glasson and dropped seed at both, and then as the Linnets came back, made a count. At Glasson I counted 280+ and at Gulf Lane 130+ so the choice on Friday was to head for the least breezy place. 

The site at Glasson is marginally better if there’s any wind so I met up with Andy at 0715 and we set a couple of nets. Once again, the catch was poor, very poor, as the Linnets refused to play ball and we caught just 3 birds, 2 Reed Buntings and a single Linnet. This was despite a flock of 300+ Linnets that circled around all morning and 7 Reed Buntings in the hedgerow. 

Reed Bunting

Linnet

Down in Glasson village there was a good mix of wildfowl on the marina with 19 Goldeneye, 7 Cormorant, 1 Goosander, 1 Great Crested Grebe 1 Little Grebe, 22 Tufted Duck and 35 Coot. And not forgetting 2 drake Pochard. The Pochard is now something of a rarity in these parts in comparison to early and mid-1990s when counts at Glasson Dock regularly reached into the 30s and 40s and many hundreds congregated on inland waters just north of Lancaster. 

Pochard 

Goldeneye

Goldeneye

It’s not just the UK where populations of the Pochard Aythya ferina are near critical level. Nature preservation group BirdLife Finland reports that populations of the endangered Common Pochard have decreased massively in the past two decades. The organisation chose the Common Pochard to be the Bird of the Year 2018. BirdLife's calculations show that Finnish populations of the Pochard fell a staggering 80 percent in the past 20 years. The organisation hopes to help revive the species by naming it the year's top bird. In the early 1970s the Kokemäki river delta in Satakunta bustled with some 250 pairs of Pochards. 

Local calculations from a few years ago put the figure at just 30. Technically all species of water fowl are threatened across Europe due to a number of factors, says specialist Antti J. Lind. "One of the biggest reasons is that their habitat is hugely compromised, with wetlands being dried up by industrial expansion and left to eutrophy," 

Lind says. "The Pochard needs a lot of open water to thrive." Lind also says that hunting threatened species should be prohibited. 

 Glasson Dock
  
Linking today with Anni's Blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

One That Got Away?

2018 continues in the same vein as 2017. Rain, more rain and then more rain with rarely a chance for serious birding or ringing. 

Fortunately the internet can be a good source of blog material, so for today here is an amusing tale of a controversial bird that may have escaped the twitchers but which certainly provoked a reaction. 

Such debates are made all the more interesting by the fact that rare birds can and often do turn up in the most unexpected locations, posing a number of questions for dedicated twitchers. In the case below the bird in question was spotted on a remote Scottish island following a particularly wild and wet autumn when a series of storms battered the west coast of Britain. 

Orkney is difficult to reach and for a mainland twitcher with no time to waste in bagging a First for Britain, an expensive and time consuming trek that involves road, boat and plane. 

Stronsay, Orkney

Let’s start at the beginning with the finder’s description of a bird on the Scottish island of Stronsay, Orkney on December 2nd 2017. 

Stronsay Report

"The biggest surprise came on 2nd December! Whilst driving home we were startled by a large unfamiliar Jay sized bird flying up from the short-lawned area adjacent to the garage at Lower Millfield. We had excellent views for just 8 -10 seconds as it first sprung up from the short grass alongside us, over the hedge at Millburn Cottage. 

We were completely stumped but certain it was a species neither of us had seen before. A bird springing up in that fashion here in winter is almost always either a Snipe or a Woodcock but this bird was less bulky than Woodcock and too big for Snipe and although the pattern on the upperparts (including the innerwing) were a similar black barred dark brown its bill was far too short and its fanned, rounded tipped tail too long for Woodcock. The colour was clearly wrong for Jay but the size, wing shape and proportions similar. The main feature however was the startling white rump, a square sided rectangle longer than it was broad which positively gleamed at us and probably why our minds went immediately to Jay as it rose from the ground 

We searched the internet but were finally pointed in the right direction by an old friend who lived in the United States for 12 years or so. “Sounds like a Northern Flicker to me” he suggested. Within a few seconds we had discovered page after page of photos of the species on the computer and there was now no doubt in our minds it was a Northern Flicker! 

Northern Flicker

 "A day or so later we popped in to Helmsley to tell of our sighting. Eyes lit up “Ah... the Flicker bird”, she smiled. “I’ve seen those in our daughter's garden in North America”. Not only that she disappeared into a back room for a few seconds and when she emerged, presented me with a wing feather of the species she had picked up whilst there some years ago! 

There have been 3 or 4 records of the species in the UK all found dead on or near the shoreline (one in Caithness) and all idling in the category of ship assisted species. If our bird was ship assisted it did at least make landfall.” 

It appears there was delay or non-urgency in announcing the news to the birding world followed by an unusual lack of interest. 

Fast forward to an Internet bird watching forum of 22 January 2018 and a plea to contributors “please discuss” - “Best bird of the year - a Northern Flicker seen briefly at very close range in the Reserve Drive on 2nd December, and a sketch.” 

Northern Flicker?

There follows a number of less than enthusiastic, even contemptuous comments about the reliability of the sighting, the expertise of the claimants and the history of bird recording on the Orkney island. In fact there followed a wholesale trashing of the record. 

“Don't think there's much to talk about...!” 

“Quite. Maybe if somebody wants to make a case for it, otherwise it feels like going over very old ground.” 

“And of course, the tail shape in the drawing conclusively excludes any woodpecker other than perhaps Wryneck” 

“Are they just bad birdwatchers, bullshitters or 100% true?”. (Reply) “A bit of the first, a lot of the second and none of the third.” 

“Given the poor Autumn would undoubtedly have been Bird of the year...shame news wasn't released earlier...or is transport/access (even via Charter) very difficult?” 

“Are you familiar with the history of Stronsay bird recording?” (Reply) “I'm not. Gets can opener and somewhere to pour the worms”. 

“Nobody would have travelled”. 

“What is the bird in the sketch? Badly seen Fieldfare/Starling/Brambling? Who knows but a tad unlikely that it was a Northern Flicker. It would have been his 12th first for Britain then?” 

“How many have been recorded in UK and Ireland?” 

“Just as an example, there were no accepted BB rarities for Stronsay in 2002 yet their annual report includes breeding Icterine Warbler, not one but two Rufous Turtle Doves, Spanish Sparrow, White-billed Diver, Collared Flycatcher, a couple of Gyrfalcons and lots of other great rarities.” 

“Still it’s things like this that keeps us entertained and looking forward to the next instalment of nonsense.” 

“It is tempting to go out there, and get a true feel for the place. But then, you would be on a hiding to nothing. If you found something good, it would kind of validate all the previous or you would be lumped in with all the previous”. 

“Indeed - good birds still do turn up on Stronsay. From memory, the website had good pics of Pallid Harrier, Red-breasted Goose, and Greenish Warbler, enough to put a smile on your face if you found one. And of course, plenty of good 'scarce' among the less convincing photos of other claimed rarities.” 

North America Occurence 

The Northern Flicker is widespread across North American and is one of the few woodpeckers that is strongly migratory. Flickers in the northern parts of their range move south for the winter, although a few individuals often stay rather far north. 

Northern Flicker range

British Occurence 

A decomposed corpse believed to have been brought ashore in Caithness in July 1981 is regarded as a human-assisted transportee. (BOURC 38th Report). This same report has a photo of a Northern Flicker taken in 1962 on board a ship crossing the Atlantic. At the start of the crossing there were at least ten Northern Flickers and more than 120 other Nearctic landbirds on board. The Flicker was the last to survive despite sustenance being provided by the crew and it departed the ship once it had docked in Ireland. 

Well, I’m glad I’m not a twitcher. So many decisions, so much potential heartache and never quite knowing if you did the right thing. 

Stay tuned, Friday may not be raining and I'll return with local news.

Linking this post to World Bird Wednesday.

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