Sunday, January 31, 2010

Finch Fest

Will had maintained the bird feeding in his Garstang garden and promised us a good catch when the weather allowed the three of us, Will, Ian and I to finally make it there. The forecast was accurate but we were well prepared, paying due respect to the zero temperatures by donnning extra layers, woolly hats and thermals.

66 birds kept us fairly busy and stopped our fingers seizing up from the cold which hovered around freezing point all morning. Sue kindly provided us with copious coffee in hand warming mugs, not to mention the bacon butties that came with the compulsory brown sauce, all of which also kept the cold at bay; Garden ringing can be so civilized compared to some of the grotty situations that we ringers often find ourselves in.



Although the Chaffinch were a bit slow arriving, the Siskin were there from the off, calling excitedly from the tops of the alders in the half light and we caught three of them on the first net round then another later on when the tardy Chaffinch arrived for a feed.

The four hour session saw us catch the following birds, of which pretty much 50% comprised finch species:
Siskin 4
Goldfinch 6
Chaffinch 21
Greenfinch 1
Blue Tit 17
Coal Tit 3
Blackbird 3
Great Tit 7
Dunnock 1
Robin 2
Nuthatch 1

We caught an interesting adult male Goldfinch that had flecks of yellow/gold in the red of the plumage around its head. I wouldn’t say we catch many Goldfinch in the course of a year but perhaps enough to say we may have seen this before, but none of us had. Picture below.

In between the ringing we noted both a male and a female Sparrowhawk that passed by separately for a brief look at what was on offer, a couple of Redwing and two Collared Dove. There are a couple of Treecreepers in Will’s garden that not only visit the bird table but also feed on the ground below the table and it was most interesting to watch them creeping across the hard standing picking up morsels of food, naturally we christened them “Groundcreepers”. The garden also has a healthy population of very clever House Sparrow who totally avoid going anywhere near our nets.







Saturday, January 30, 2010

Round Again

It was a much brighter start to today; with dare I say even atypical bright morning sunshine that lessened the impact of a touch of frost and the cold northerly wind.

Along the Pilling lanes towards Lane Ends there were plenty of Lapwings again, some now sporting impressive wispy crests in preparation for the breeding season, and although I couldn’t be sure, I thought I saw a distant couple tumbling around in a brief practice. But against a blue sky background the black and white of Lapwings in everyday flight is exciting enough without the added thrill of watching them display. I counted 160 Lapwings close to Fluke Hall, along with 80 Redshank whilst hundreds of Pinkfeet flew across to land within earshot but out of sight behind the inner sea wall and almost in some lucky person’s backyard in Pilling village.



Pink-footed Goose

I stopped at Lane Ends where I was early enough to see five Little Egrets flying off, scattering east and west along the marsh to their desired feeding spots. I walked to the east pool where just as I spotted it from the corner of my eye, the Kingfisher saw me and flew down from the bushes at the edge of the water and now low over the water, headed quickly along the ditch towards Cockerham. Kingfishers are such a frustrating beast, so inconspicuous for such a tiny bird, always first to see you and for ever keen to fly off where they can’t be seen. There was the normal Mallard throng on the pool waiting for handouts but the Goldeneye pair were well worth a second look, even though the male made sure they kept a more sensible distance from me than the Hovis hungry Mallard. A partial walk towards Pilling Water revealed several Snipe amongst last night’s tidal debris that like the earlier Kingfisher, saw me early then flew off without stopping to suss me out. I also counted 15 Skylark along here before reaching Pilling Water now partially frozen again but hosting a single Black-headed Gull, and out in the near distance 8 Whooper Swans and several hundred more pinkies.


Driving up towards Cockerham and just past Sand Villa I could see ahead a Magpie harassing a slow flying roadside Barn Owl, but as I approached nearer the owl flipped over the hedge and out of sight where I couldn’t see it, especially as I had the usual moronic bumper hugger for company. I stopped at Braides hoping to see more of the owl but it must have gone in another direction so I counted the Lapwing, 300+ and the Golden Plover, 75.

Having done the circuit earlier in the week I wasn’t keen to do the Cockersands, Jeremy Lane, Glasson route again, particularly at the thought of bumping into weekend pagerites on the rampage for the American Wigeon, so I opted to spend an hour or two at Conder Green and watch the tide roll slowly in. Not very exciting I know, no ticks, no banter, no ringing in the ears, no tripping over half abandoned tripods, and how would I find out about the next bird on today’s must-see-list?

But I had a great time, sitting in the sun, taking a few pictures, watching some beautiful common birds just going about their business as the human world speeds by, mostly oblivious to the joys of the natural world: Shelduck 11, Tufted Duck 5, Little Grebe 2, Meadow Pipit 2, Reed Bunting 2, Snipe 8, Teal 90, Goldeneye 2, Spotted Redshank 2. Greenshank 1, Grey Plover 2, Grey Heron 1, Wigeon 4, Lapwing 32, Redshank 14, Cormorant 4

Now there’s a proper list and I found them all myself.




Thursday, January 28, 2010

New On The List

The morning started with a surprise when at Knott End jetty a male Tufted Duck drifted quite close in on the incoming tide, then just as quickly floated out again towards the middle of the tidal channel. An unusual event indeed for my imaginary Knott End list, but 4 Eider, 3 drakes and a female that the tufted headed over to were more typical.

Tufted Duck

The Twite flew over a couple of times, two separate groups of 20 plus as I watched them head towards the village where they eventually joined up to form a tight flock of 45 birds. On the shore just below the jetty a couple of wary, totally grey Knot fed amongst 23 Turnstone and a half a dozen Redshank. I didn’t give the Knot its full title, which of course is actually Red Knot, the description of a plumage we hardly see them in, and then only partially; they are of course one of the circumpolar long distant migrants of the wader world.

"Red" Knot

Knot Migration


It was a week ago that I saw tremendous numbers of waders in a feeding frenzy on the inland fields just recovered from the weeks of frost, but this week all change again as numbers reverted to more normal levels. Only Fluke Hall Lane field held good numbers of about 120 Lapwing and 40 Redshank, even though the grass remained flooded and the few Curlew around were up to their ears in the dark stuff.


There was little to report from Lane Ends but far off Pink-footed Geese and white swans, so distant I couldn’t be certain but I thought the usual Whooper Swan, about 25 partly hidden in the ditches and low parts of the green marsh. There were 2 Little Egret here, and later 2 at Braides then 2 near Cockersands.

I checked out Conder Green to find 2 Spotted Redshank, 1 Grey Heron, 7 Tufted Duck, 3 Wigeon, a solitary Grey Plover, 10 Shelduck and 80 very mobile Teal, with 4 Snipe playing at statues on the edge of the island.




As I drove up to Cockersands with the car window open I heard croaking Raven again in what has been my Raven Week, and then saw a pair overhead flying closely together heading inland. A quick check at the Crook Farm end saw the usual wader culprits scattered too far and near to count with any certainty but between here and the caravan park I noted huge Wigeon numbers of 1500+ and more than 300 Pintail.

Close to the caravan park about 15 Tree Sparrows sat in the hawthorns at the awkward to park spot but of course weren’t there on the way back when my camera lay primed on the seat next to me. A Stonechat searched the shoreline but insisted on keeping some distance from me, so my photograph is poor, suffering from the usual defect of too much ISO on a grey end to a sunny start, but at least it’s current.


“Others” seen up here included up to 1000 Lapwings, 600 Dunlin, 15 Ringed Plover, 80 Golden Plover and a fine Merlin flashing by to finish an uneventful but interesting morning.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Winning Streak?

A second ringing event in four days is something of an achievement this winter but that’s what we did this morning when a little window of opportunity beckoned us to our destination, a farmland site near Myerscough close to the A6 between Preston and Garstang.

Chaffinch dominated the catch which we expect as the farm is close to a concentration of Chaffinch that feed and roost within the Myerscough College of Agriculture. Birds caught comprised:

Chaffinch 29
Blackbird 11
Reed Bunting 1
Dunnock 2
Robin 1
Blue Tit 3
Great Tit 4
Greenfinch 1

female Chaffinch

male Chaffinch

We found most of the Blackbirds still carrying visible fat with individual weights varying between 96 grams and 122 grams.

In recent months it is almost a triumph to catch a Greenfinch, and although there were a few around this morning, we caught only one, a typically dull first winter female as shown in the photograph with a second photo of a male for comparison.

female Greenfinch

male Greenfinch

Reed Bunting

It's very unusual to catch only one Robin at this location, and that a retrap from last winter; it could be that the cold and ice of recent months has already taken a toll.


Our ringing station is somewhat enclosed which restricts the amount of birding available in between net rounds but in addition to the birds caught we noted several Collared Dove, just a couple of Tree Sparrow and some distance away a croaking Raven, a species now increasingly common in the Fylde. A couple of days ago as I went out of the back door at home one flew over heading north. That just about puts it on my house list but unfortunatley the photo wasn't taken near my house but in Arizona.


Is it too much to hope that the weather stays kind and that we might manage another ringing session and reach three in a week? That would be a winning streak, but watch this space.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Yellow Pages

It was a ringing session that almost didn’t take place when a thick mist, some might say fog, descended overnight on the moss. However after the paucity of our ringing in recent months plus the determination to gain some reward for the weeks of ground feeding the site, the nets went up. The visibility of less than 100 metres limited the normal incidental bird watching to close encounters only but gave the opportunity to sharpen up aural birding skills as Pink-footed Geese, Whooper Swans, Chaffinch, Reed Buntings, Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers called overhead or nearby without necessarily being seen through the grey, dank, misty air. Experience has always said that we catch less well during mist or fog as birds stay put from overnight roosts, waiting as humans might for horizons to brighten before venturing out.

Maybe hunger got the better of them as we caught 37 birds, the highlight being 9 Yellowhammers, always a good examination of ageing and sexing skills, not to mention testing one's memory of the pages of good old “Svensonn”.

Male Yellowhammer

Female Yellowhammer

Here’s a couple of other pictures of Yellowhammers courtesy of

Male Yellowhammer

Female Yellowhammer

There are a few interesting things about Yellowhammer that I didn’t know until I Googled the word.

Yellowhammers have at least 20 other names including gladdy, little-bread-and-no-cheese, yellow bunting, yellow amber, yellow ring, scribble lark and scribbler, the last two, because of the squiggly marks on their eggs.

The “hammer” part of the name may come from the German term for bunting “ammer”.

The Yellowhammer was introduced to New Zealand in 1862 and is now common and widespread there. It is probably more abundant in New Zealand now than in Europe where it is in serious decline, (in the UK the species fell by 54% between 1970 and 2008).

Soon they will be singing, so here's a reminder of something to look forward to.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wader Count

Today turned out to be a bit of a wader counting session because almost every spot I passed or looked at seemed to hold large numbers of them.

It was a bitterly cold easterly wind this morning at Fluke Hall but a quick look from the sea wall revealed a number of corvids, about 250, comprising 50/50 Carrion Crows and Jackdaws.

On the immediate marsh were 325 Lapwings, later to be a huge feature of the morning, and 1200 Pink-footed Goose that quite quickly left their roost to fly just inland to the fields next to Fluke. 5 Whooper Swans also flew onto the same area as the geese.

I combined the count from the wet fields at Fluke Hall Lane, Damside, Backsands Lane and roadside fields up to Gulf Lane to come up with impressive figures of 600 Redshank, 2200 Lapwing, 40 Dunlin, 3 Snipe, 310 Curlew and 22 Oystercatchers. Non-waders seen were 7 Meadow Pipits, 3 Little Egrets and a single Kestrel.

A further 330 Lapwings seen at Braides Farm together with small numbers of Golden Plover, probably 75 only, although they were distant behind the sea wall. Whilst Lapwing numbers are now high following the month or more of snow, ice and frost, it does appear that many Golden Plover left the area. Two more Little Egrets at Braides.

I spent an hour or more in the Conder Green area with nothing unexpected to report: 16 Shelduck, 2 Coot, 2 Spotted Redshank, 95 Teal, 3 Snipe, 7 Wigeon and 1 Little Egret. Only 4 Redshank in the creek, a low count but it looks like Redshank as a whole have taken to the now wet very fields of the surrounding area. Along the hedgerows and car park I found 10 Long-tailed Tit, 13 Goldfinch, 4 Chaffinch, 2 Linnets and several Blackbird.

The Jeremy Lane area held many more common waders; 430 Curlew, 105 Redshank, 10 Black-tailed Godwit and a further 385 Lapwing. Two Little Egrets in the roadside ditches and a Kestrel. I admit I didn’t stop to count the Mute Swan but a couple of hundred of them scattered over the fields amongst the waders certainly added to the impression of a feeding feast on abundant prey.

Next, down the lane to my usual finishing spot at Bank End where the wet fields on either side held more of the common three, 180 Curlew, 85 Redshank and 140 Lapwing.




Alongside the marsh a Pied Wagtail and a Grey Wagtail walked ahead of me as I prepared my camera for yet another Grey Wagtail photograph. No chance, a Merlin flashed low in front of me to closely miss both wagtails then vanished out of sight over the embankment into the fields. I didn’t see the wagtails after that brief encounter but the Merlin returned from the fields and perched on a distant post out on the marsh before it was seen off by Carrion Crows.

Grey Wagtail


Apologies for the poor shot, I did say it was distant and it was.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Beware The Balls

My first admission is that I haven’t got any new photographs from today apart from the first one because most birds I saw simply weren’t playing ball for posing, but I also had the usual problem of too much grey sky and no sunshine. I like to use my own photographs to illustrate the blog but sometimes it’s just not possible to get new or relevant ones. What an excuse!

But at least I have some birds to report and if I stick in a few old pictures from sunnier times, maybe I can be excused this time or other readers simply wont notice.

After a morning swim and sauna but in need of fresh air I thought I might head off walking in a slightly different direction this afternoon but I first checked out the Knott End stuff along the foreshore and the jetty.

Go to the top of the jetty, just hang about there and for sure the Twite appear from wherever they were just spooked by a passing stranger. At least in the air I can get a reasonably accurate count as I did when the flock of 40/45 flew over twice before landing in the fenced off abandoned building site where the encroaching weeds must offer a bit of food. Three Eider, 2 males sharing a female, waited for the ferry on the concrete slope but as the boat got a little nearer and they saw the other passengers, the Eider changed their minds and slipped into the water. A sentinel Cormorant was long gone towards the Wyre Light when the ferry was only half way from Fleetwood.

On the pebbles and tidal debris below the jetty I counted 14 Turnstone, 12 Redshank, 2 Pied Wagtail 2 Sanderling and 1 Rock Pipit. And there are three of my older photographs taken at Knott End on previous occasions. I’m biased but I think the Pied Wagtail pic really captures the forever active spirit of the species.



Pied Wagtail


I didn’t count the Oystercatchers, Redshank and Shelduck further out on the beach to the north because I decided to head up river and south across Knott End Golf Course reckoning that few golfers might be out on such a cold, dismal, windswept day and thus make my walk across the fairways a little safer. As it happened I needn’t have worried too much from head height golf balls as most of the objects travelled fairly slowly at ankle height. Luckily I was now kitted out with walking boots, double skin trousers and thermal socks to protect my lower body, but from wayward golf balls as well as the cold wind.

I reached Hackensall Hall without major incident or little round indents to my boots; I stopped for a while to look around the old buildings and wonderful old trees, perfect for owls I thought, but not today, only Robins, noisy Blackbirds, and chattering Wrens, with a single Song Thrush and a Mistle Thrush.

I did find other woodland birds, like 4 Great-spotted Woodpeckers scrapping over the best trees even though I thought there were dozens suitable. Obviously the peckers know which ones are best for their purpose. Below is a “nearly” picture on a sunny day. There were surprisingly few Chaffinch about but a small flock of titmice included four Long-tailed Tits and 2 Treecreepers, just after I said a day or two ago that they are scarce.

Great-spotted Woodpecker


The recently thawed pool with now the thinnest skin of either ice or much colder water was almost deserted save for a Moorhen and a Coot. Here’s a photo I took a week ago when I recall the weather being a little icy. What enormous feet, but useful for mauling bird ringers.


Out of the woodland I followed the track towards Barnaby’s Sands where on the other side of the hedgerow I counted 7 Redwings and 5 Blackbirds feeding on a damp grassy field with 15 Oystercatchers and 3 Redshank for company. I was rapidly running out of time after lingering in the woodland and watching the antics of a few less than accomplished “golfers”, but I was in time to watch both a Merlin and a Short-eared Owl over the marshes of the Wyre backdropped by hundreds of distant Teal and Wigeon. I retraced my steps to Knott End along the riverside path where behind the stone parapet I found an abandoned golf ball nestling bright yellow in the rough grass. I threw it back into the fairway to get my own back and hopefully confuse a wayward golfer.

To sum up, a pleasant, quiet walk with a good tally of birds and I'm still in one piece.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Will and I were due some ringing after the recent weeks of frustrated intent and weather related cancellations. So with a good forecast we met at 0730 at our woodland site south of Lancaster town centre whilst other team members went off to Stanley Park in pursuit of wildfowl.

The wood and parkland on the site of an old hospital is very much a thrush site as confirmed by the first couple of net rounds when we quickly caught 19 Blackbird in the four mist nets erected. Of the 19 caught only three had no visible fat, the rest with scores between 1 and 5 but the heaviest a first winter male that tipped the scale at 130 grams and three birds in the high 120’s.


The woodland was noticeably quiet in respect of Chaffinch and we caught only two, very unusual. But inevitably we added those woodland favourites, Wren, Robin and single Blue and Great Tit.

Despite being quite close to the city centre the habitat is obviously attractive to roosting Woodcock and this being a Woodcock “year” we had a walk through the woodland to weigh up the numbers here. We flushed at least eight that headed off in various directions but one ended up in a net. This is the first one the ringing group has ringed since 1998, the last of a run in the 1990’s when we caught several at woodland roosts; so this one today was well overdue. With reference to “Ageing of Holarctic Waders” we think this bird a first winter male but stand to be corrected by anyone with more recent experience than the 1990’s!



We don’t catch many Treecreepers either. In fact they are now pretty scarce in the Fylde. So finding two in a net together was also past the due date.


Other birds seen but not caught included 4 Nuthatch, 2 Jay, 1 Mistle Thrush plus 1 Goldcrest, a couple of Goldfinch plus sundry titmice.

The session was over fairly quickly as the birds dried up but allowing a little time to call in at Conder Green before heading home. The pool itself has almost thawed but held little, with most of the interest being on the creek and surrounds with 3 Little Grebe, 1 Grey Plover, 1 Spotted Redshank and the wintering Common Sandpiper, a good January tick, 90 Teal and a couple of Wigeon. There were several hundred Pink-footed Geese overflying from the Pilling direction and heading towards the Lune marshes.
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