Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Piedy Fly

I’m rapidly running out of time now with all the loose ends to tidy before the holiday, so finding a time slot to bird gets more difficult. With just a couple of hours spare I looked in at Fluke Hall followed by a jaunt from Lane Ends to Pilling Water.

Fluke Hall started well with a Tree Pipit at the end of Wheel Lane that called twice as it flew up to the overhead telephone wires but briefly only before it continued further east down Fluke Hall Lane. The trees and hedge in the sheltered garden here at the junction often turn up one or two birds, nothing spectacular of course, but I added 2 Whitethroats and a singing Willow Warbler to my first notebook page. Remiss of me perhaps but I don’t count the many Tree Sparrows “chip-chipping” away from the hedgerow and nest boxes along here in the little copse and the start of Fluke Hall wood as I know BD has the figures at his fingertips. I saw a Great-spotted Woodpecker going about its business on some of the rotten looking trees and watched a Kestrel skirt the woodland edge towards the sea wall before it perched up on the obligatory fence post.

Great-spotted Woodpecker


I hoped to walk the Ridge Farm track so parked up at my spot near the field entrance west of Fluke. Looking towards Ridge Farm I could see I had been beaten there several times over by non birders with rampaging four legged friends so cut my losses early by watching both another Willow Warbler and a Whitethroat close to the car and listening to a Blackcap somewhere in the nearby gardens.

The wildfowler’s pools were quiet without the big gang of Redshank that favoured them lately, with four only today, a Grey Heron, a Little Egret and a single Common Sandpiper. Singing Reed Bunting and Willow Warbler represented the smaller birds within the confines of the willows but a single Mistle Thrush is not common there and is almost certainly one of the resident Broadfleet birds. Along the tide line I found a little party of 4 Wheatears and a larger gang of 18 Meadow Pipits, plus 3 of the now regular Skylark.

I spent some worthwhile time at Lane Ends. Warbler wise I counted 3 Sedge Warbler, 3 Willow Warbler, a Blackcap and not before time, a returned Reed Warbler singing from the reeds nearest the road. There’s nothing quite like a Reed Warbler song – unless it’s a Great Reed Warbler of course, which sounds and looks like a Reed Warbler on steroids.

Reed Warbler

I was on the sea wall near the gate when I heard the Pied Flycatcher singing; It took me a second or two to realise what the song was because it’s one of those birds that comes around every nine months; go around the nest boxes, listen to the Piedy Fly's song and calls, ring the young, then forget about the species until next May comes around with no guarantee of seeing one on the coast beforehand. Anyway it flit through a warming spot in the canopy a couple of times before disappearing over towards the pool again. There were no other birders to tell for their lists, so I left the bird alone.

Pied Flycatcher

For a few weeks I had suspicions of 2 pairs of Little Grebe, confirmed today, as was breeding Reed Bunting when I watched the male return to a nest. I watched a pair of Long-tailed Tit quietly to and fro along the tree line but apart from their relative silence they didn’t give much away.

Reed Bunting

Surprise of the morning was probably the pair of Grey Partridge I disturbed in the edge of the wood behind the mound, as they then flew to hide down near the roadway, croaking as they fled. Overhead I saw my first Swifts of the year, 2 of them higher than the few perhaps migrant Swallows that seemed to be flying south into the wind this morning.


The incoming tide produced a little interest in the shape of small numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, 2 Red-breasted Merganser and 8 Whimbrel that lingered on the shore for a while to give excellent views.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where’s My Better Half?

The usual early start today, but what a beautiful sunrise. It was a fine morning to be up and about.

Misty Sunrise

Will and I asked the leading question not of ourselves but of the 3 Whitethroats and 4 Willow Warblers we caught this morning when they all turned out to be males. This year we have yet to catch a female Willow Warbler or Whitethroat in our ringing plot on Rawcliffe Moss. Whitethroats do arrive later than Willow Warblers, so we are not too concerned there, but it looks as though female Willow Warblers haven’t arrived yet to claim a summer partner. A four hour ringing session should have shown up any females present.

There was an awful lot of song from the plantation, mainly Common Whitethroats who also indulged in some chasing around of potential territories. We counted at least 10 singing males near us with others further down the moss. It was a similar tale with the Willow Warblers, when the four we caught were retraps from not only previous years but had also previous ringing sessions this year. Other birds netted today were 2 Lesser Redpoll and a Blackbird, so the redpoll migration continued but our overall count of this species was of 8 or 10 only chattering high overhead and flying north.

Willow Warbler


Lesser Redpoll

The earlier morning started on a bird high when I drove up the moss track to see a Barn Owl sitting in a glassless window frame of a half completed house extension. What a photo opportunity, just begging for a suitable caption, but as I slowed to look closer and pick up the ever ready camera, the owl turned its back on me and dropped down back into the half completed shell of the room. But the one below may be the same bird from weeks ago in the same vicinity.

Barn Owl

Just as we completed putting up mist nets, we had both picked up on a Common Cuckoo calling from up near the conifers. It called a couple of times before going quiet and we guessed it headed quickly north. Now there is a misnomer, “Common Cuckoo”, maybe we should now rename the species “Seriously Threatened Cuckoo”?

The Conifers


Just to the left of the conifers a party of Greenland Wheatears again stood out as dots of colour on the black peat canvas of the recently drilled field, with a Kestrel just sat there for a while after we supposed a failed attempt at a ground morsel; as we walked around the edge of the field it took off back to higher elevations but the Wheatears continued patrolling the soil way out of our reach today.

Other birds seen today included the resident Buzzard in the same old tree, Corn Buntings, Linnets, Reed Buntings and Goldfinches, but we both remarked separately on the apparent lack of Skylark song. Is it the effect of the cold winter and another species to worry over in the coming weeks?

I caught a Dunnock in the garden today. Male and female Dunnocks are difficult to tell apart, except in the breeding season. So I looked carefully at this bird in the parts that matter and I could tell it had clearly found a better half (or maybe more than one, as Dunnocks do), unlike the lonesome warblers on the moss singing for sight of a mate.

Adult Male Dunnock

Monday, April 26, 2010


The weather is so good at the moment it’s almost difficult to not go birding as often as possible, so I snatched a couple of hours again this morning for the usual sortie even though I was “helping” with the babysitting.

First was Lane Ends where 2 Willow Warblers, a Sedge Warbler and a Blackcap again serenaded anyone that cared to listen. Out on the marsh Mr PP, the pale Peregrine sat waiting, I supposed for the tide due at a few minutes after 10am, but something made it move, perhaps the sight of the other Peregrine, hundreds of yards west which obviously posed a threat to the bigger bird which wasted no time in seeing off the intruder. Two Peregrines! It isn’t that many years ago when seeing a Peregrine made for a brilliant day out, now they are rather common place, even on our summer coasts.


I also wasted no time in walking west as recently I have found that the wildfowler’s pools and Pilling Water hold more than or an equal number of migrants than my older ex-ringing site and birding haunt at Lane Ends. Undoubtedly it has to do with The Environment Agency “management” policy, ably assisted by the employees of Wyre Borough Council who pick up litter, over tidy the woodland and otherwise do little to help migrant or resident birds. If anyone doubts either of these publicly funded organisation’s commitment to nature conservation, then take a look at the giant flowerpots in the lower car park, the appalling mess left by brush cutters, the Tesco plastic bags full of rubbish next to the car park or the litter strewn all over the vicinity after each weekend of mayhem.

There were more Wheatear this morning, not to be confused with birds that stay overnight, as this simply isn’t happening; it is spring with all birds keen to reach all parts others can't reach and so join in the action quickly. So I watched 4 Wheatears to and fro along the wall before the doggy walkers pushed them too far away for further investigation. On the seaward side 8 White Wagtails were joined on the marsh by a single Yellow Wagtail with half a dozen Meadow Pipits adding variety to the wagtail mix. Over the immediate part of the creek 5 House Martins stopped to inspect the muddy margins and a Common Sandpiper just hurried along it.

Further out, the tide ran in and filled the creek with small groups of Dunlin, maybe 40 and smaller numbers of Ringed Plover circling at the outer reaches.
A little while before I watched 3 Eider head east, but pretty soon the same three birds flew back west out towards the more open waters of the bay. Most of the Oystercatcher and Curlew have now left the outer marsh, which makes it easier to find the spring waders such as Whimbrel, with 2 this morning.

The Pink-footed Geese have definitely gone north, only 50 or so today, likewise the Icelandic Redshank with less than 20 on the landside pools. On the pools I could see the pair of Teal, a single Little Egret once again and a Grey Heron, with a single Kestrel circling and hovering over the pools and the inland creek.

White Wagtail

”Greenland” Wheatear


It was a quick visit but with luck I should be out tomorrow too and get a few decent pictures.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

No Sweat, No Tears

It wasn’t a difficult decision for me this morning. At the height of spring migration time with a bit of overnight rain that cleared early combined with breaking skies and southerly winds, exactly as the BBC forecast for once, it doesn’t take much imagination to know what to do and where to do it. I headed for some coastal cover that just happened to be Lane Ends and Pilling Water where I hoped to locate a few bits and pieces. For luck I threw in Ridge Farm hedgerows and the line of east to west gorse and hoped for a result.

There were yet more new Greenland Wheatears near Pilling Water where I counted 6, all of which quickly flew east in the direction I had just walked. Or at least I thought that’s what happened whilst I laid the traps and hoped the "white arses" would return, but one female lingered long enough to locate the meal worms and I caught my sixth Wheatear of the spring. They are just amazing how they locate a single wriggling meal worm amongst the tide line debris, grass and rocks: the needle in a haystack syndrome I think. But they must have incredible eyesight not to mention inconceivable powers of navigation to undertake the journeys they make.

Greenland Wheatears make one of the longest transoceanic crossings of any passerine. In spring most migrate along a route (commonly used by waders and waterfowl) from Africa via continental Europe, the British Isles, and Iceland to Greenland. However, autumn sightings from ships suggest that some birds cross the North Atlantic directly from Canada and Greenland to southwest Europe. Birds breeding in eastern Canada are thought to fly from Newfoundland to the Azores before flying onwards to Africa. The Greenland Wheatear may be the only regularly breeding passerine bird of North America that migrates to wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa, crossing either the Atlantic Ocean or the continent of Eurasia.

”Greenland” Wheatear

”Greenland” Wheatear

”Greenland” Wheatear Migration Routes and Wintering Area

I found this quote on the Internet - “The Greenland Wheatear arrives in the later part of April. It is in a hurry to reach its breeding sites on the other side of the Atlantic, so doesn’t stay for long.” That is a slight understatement of my experience of the species this week when the rapid ongoing migration was very noticeable. Maybe it has a little to do with the fact that they were later arriving here than in most years.

Other than the Wheatears, things were quieter this morning on the wildfowler’s pool and out on the marsh. Perhaps with the change in wind direction of the last day or two both the flock of Redshank and the many hundreds of Pink-footed Geese had left for Iceland with suddenly low counts of 25 and 150 respectively today. Naturally I saw a Little Egret, but one only.

At Lane Ends the warblers treated me to a selection of song. Sedge Warbler was new in, singing in the reeds below the cark park with trilling Little Grebe nearby, and at least 2 Willow Warblers, a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff joining in the chorus. I saw 2 Jays this morning and feel sure that the villains have a nest of their own somewhere close by.

As I walked to look on the west pool I saw a Lapwing mobbing a larger fast flying bird which when I binned it turned out to be the large pale Peregrine of recent weeks, now heading quickly inland. I have no doubt the direction took it to one of a number of distant pylons, far-away to my eyes, but a flap and a glide to a Peregrine. Below is the same Peregrine, different Lapwing and a different day about a month ago, but some scenarios don’t change.

Lapwing versus Peregrine

Over Wyre I don’t expect to get the number or variety of fresh migrant birds that the peninsula of Fleetwood attracts, or even the numbers of pairs of eyes that might look for the birds, unless that is the birders choose to stare out to sea instead of searching for little brown jobs. So very often I can be the only person doing the rounds of LE, Ridge and Fluke as my notebook shorthand denotes their names, but not to worry I quite like it that way.

Vey obvious this morning was the influx of Whitethroats, with snatches of song and visible birds along the tree line of Fluke Hall Lane and the hedges of Ridge Farm, with twos and threes here and there. In fact I counted a minimum of 15 birds and imagined that if I had found that number, then Fleetwood and Heysham would at least treble my meagre total. I watched a steady stream of Swallows and House Martins follow the sea wall east, as did a couple of calling Redpoll. The local Linnets are now in some cases paired up, with territories along the gorse, but others still flock, like the party of 16 close to the sea wall. I did see an extra couple of Willow Warblers along the hedge at Ridge Farm, and another Blackcap singing along the inward track. But it looks like all the excitement was across the water at Fleetwood this morning with nice sounding birds like Cuckoo, Ring Ouzel, Redstart and even Hen Harrier added to growing lists.


Willow Warbler

Oh the joys of lonesome birding Over Wyre with all the fun and excitement we expect but without the tears and heartbreak of missing a few year ticks. After all, it's only a bit of fun isn't it? Oh well I’ll just have to make do with a picture this time.

Hen Harrier

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Less Work, More Play

After Friday’s ringing, I decided this morning would be less like a job of work so decided to go birding with the aim of getting a few photographs, of anything.

First stop was deserted Conder Green, where the absence of large wagons overlooking the pool allowed me to be probably the first person there. I looked in vain for the Spotted Redshank now almost completely black that is always there but I drew a blank on the species for the first time in many, many months. I settled for a Greenshank, 2 Common Sandpiper, 7 Redshank, a Curlew and an overhead Whimbrel that flew out over the railway bridge to the marsh. The owning Oystercatcher chivvied a single Black-tailed Godwit to the furthest side of the island before I could get a decent look at it in what seemed to be almost full summer plumage. The Oystercatchers and Redshank still spend a lot of time displaying and squabbling, but not so the Lapwing as there seems to be one pair only. Likewise the Little Ringed Plover with a displaying bird over the back of the pool today.


Little Ringed Plover

The morning duck count was 3 Goldeneye, 2 Tufted Duck and 4 Shelduck.

It was fairly early in the morning and with a tide due I thought that Cockersands Abbey might be worth a visit. The first obvious birds were 8 “Greenland” Wheatears flitting around the shore, and as in the last week elsewhere they proved immediately mobile, reluctant to pose for photographs, and I judged, too urgently dynamic a group to try and catch any of them. In fact it took a while to take pictures just from my car without even trying to approach them they were so energetic. In addition to the Wheatears, a party of 12 Meadow Pipits looked new in, a theme to be repeated later at Pilling. Two Sandwich Terns flew up and down the river calling constantly.

”Greenland” Wheatear

”Greenland” Wheatear

Waders were thin on the ground with the normal suspects Oystercatcher, Redshank, Ringed Plover and Dunlin but I took time out to photograph 2 Grey Plover that stood obligingly on a rock.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover

Grey Plover

At Lane Ends a Sparrowhawk left towards the village as I arrived but a Blackbird carrying food dived into the plantation despite the Jays that have been seen again doing their evil best. Singing birds included a loud Blackcap, 2 Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting.

As ever I walked up to Pilling Water where I found yet more Wheatears. Another 8 here that like all the others this week continued with rapid migration, this time east towards Lane Ends, but not before a female tripped my spring trap closed without getting caught but I watched it go back for a look at the meal worm inside. Along the tide line was another party of Meadow Pipits that this time numbered about twenty.

Meadow Pipit

”Greenland” Wheatear

”Greenland” Wheatear

The wildfowlers pools held less Redshank today with perhaps only 40, but the ever present Little Egret was in the ditch out towards the shore, and over the ex-stubble at Fluke Hall where the Lapwings recently laid their eggs, a Buzzard circled over the newly ploughed earth.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Little Is A Lot

It was an early start, but nothing new there. I met Will on the moss at 6am where we put up our standard mist net quota for the site of 320ft of net. Pretty hard work for a reward which isn’t necessarily of huge quantity in a normal Fylde spring when birds head straight for previous breeding haunts without stops in the middle of nowhere. This is how an unkind, unknowing soul might well describe Rawcliffe Moss, but any coastal situation is usually more productive in terms of both variety and numbers of migrants in both spring and autumn than the moss, some 7 or 8 miles inland.

But we enjoy the peace and quiet of the moss land, and the often lack of numbers allows us in between net visits to indulge in plenty of sky and land watching for local birds and at the right times of year, visible migrants. The ability to enjoy both is the joy of being both a ringer and a birder, and it is so sad that a few people think that a person must be exclusively one or the other to qualify as legitimate. Those are our reasons for actually enjoying this morning, despite the fact that for our herculean efforts we caught, some might say, a paltry 8 birds of 2 new and 6 retraps.

The two new birds were a Tree Pipit and a Blackbird, as diverse a pair as anyone might expect out on the moss. I took the pipit from the net and pondered, “When was the last Tree Pipit I handled?” suggesting to Will it was probably 15 years ago. I got back home and checked on IPMR - May 1996 at Lane Ends, Pilling. That is how scarce Tree Pipits are locally, and apart from overflying, calling birds in Spring and Autumn, it is not a species seen on the deck very often.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

Our retrapped Whitethroat we first ringed here in 2007 as an adult and it has
returned in 2008, 2009 and now in 2010.

Adult Male Whitethroat

Similarly, a retrapped Willow Warbler was first ringed as a fresh juvenile and probably born on site in 2009.

Willow Warbler

The other retraps were 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Reed Bunting and a Goldfinch from 2008.

Local birds evident today were still small groups of Goldfinch and Linnet with singing Skylark and Corn Bunting plus resident Tree Sparrows ensconced in boxes.

Tree Sparrow

Corn Bunting

Visible migration was extremely interesting this morning in the form of a steady but slight passage of about 20 Swallows and a similarly thin movement of approximately 30 Meadow Pipits. The mid week migration of Wheatears noticed at many locations continued on the moss this morning with at least 16 bright “Greenland” types noticeable on the black, peaty fields. Two distant but obvious White Wagtails also stood out against the intense dark soil. There was a little movement of Redpoll again with a minimum count of 12 birds passing north throughput the morning. Waders on the move were mainly Whimbrel with at least 7 heading west and other unseen ones calling more distantly.

Raptor sightings were of the Kestrel and Buzzard variety, especially the Buzzard that has a favoured perch with a panoramic view of the moss and which overlooks the legions of tiny bunnies now evident in the fields. Raptor surprise this morning was a Merlin that put in a brief appearance over the plantation before heading out west, but the almost unseen bird of the morning was a Ring Ouzel in the plantation, loudly “tac-taccing” at our approach to the nets before flying off north and giving brief views to Will.


I can't hope to ever get a photograph of a Ring Ouzel so here is an absolute corker of a portrait by Andreas Trepte .

Ring Ouzel

What a cracking morning, more please.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We’ll Wheat Again

OK I know the pun is excruciating but it’s not easy to keep dreaming up blog titles, not to mention coming up with a page full of nonsense and half decent photographs.

After a couple of blank weeks plus other days when the few Wheatears I saw gave me the run around, Wheatears finally appeared in the UK in some numbers this week. At last I managed to get to grips with anothere one today when I found a party of 7 “Greenland” type Wheatears in my (and their) favoured spot near Pilling Water.

Just like two days ago the birds were extremely mobile and active and within 30 minutes of finding them they had disappeared across the bay towards Heysham but not before I caught the single female shown here. The wing length of 103mm confirmed it as Oenanthe oenanthe leucorrhoa the subspecies of Wheatear which breeds in Greenland and which appears as a passage migrant in the British Isles and especially the west coast. It wasn’t especially heavy at 26.6 grams.

”Greenland” Wheatear

In amongst the wildfowler’s pools the Redshank numbered 130 again with 2 Teal and 2 Little Egret. I spent a little time waiting for a Wheatear to find the bait but during that time I counted other passerines as 8 Meadow Pipits, 4 Skylark, 11 Linnets and 1 Willow Warbler.

Before Lane Ends I had walked the Ridge Farm area where I counted 21 Linnets, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Wheatear, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Little Egret and visible migration of 2 House Martins and 7 Swallows that flew north over the sea wall. I looked hard for Ring Ouzel having had a message of 2 at Lytham and 1 a further one at Fleetwood in the morning, and even though Ridge Farm is ideal habitat, I've yet to see a "Mountain Blackbird" there.

Earlier still I took a look at Knott End and walked a small way up river alongside the golf course. A little way up I heard the unmistakeable rasp of Sandwich Terns and found 2 flying up and down river and perching intermittently on the mid stream boat moorings. A bit further upstream and under the old fishermen’s jetty were 3 Turnstone, several Redshank and single Common Sandpiper and Dunlin.

Sandwich Tern


The golfers emerging from the clubhouse flushed 3 “alba” wagtails that flew north from the fairway and out towards the jetty. There on the flat calm water I found 12 Eider, 11 drakes and 1 female with 2 Whimbrel on the mussel beds. The little genuine visible migration I witnessed came via a few Swallows that crossed the river from Fleetwood and headed east along the sea wall towards Pilling.

More tomorrow............

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Other Moss

Today I had to go up to Kendal for my car service so popped into Leighton Moss RSPB nature reserve near Silverdale. I’m not a great fan of nature reserves, I prefer to go out and find birds myself, but maybe once or twice a year I will go to Leighton Moss which has breeding Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tit and Bittern, to name a few of the specialities. Anyway it was a chance to do a bit of photography where the birds aren’t too shy of approaching the hides and I persuaded that emblematic Lancashire bird the Lapwing to provide me with a new blog header for a while.

During my short visit I noticed that lots of the summer migrants were in: singing Blackcaps and Willow Warblers seemed everywhere I walked, with one or two of both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler striking up their chatter in the reeds. At least three Marsh Harriers and two Buzzards put in brief appearances but kept a long way from the two hides I visited.

I grabbed a few pictures to post for today but I hope I can get back to the real mosses of Pilling and Rawcliffe soon.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron


Marsh Harrier



Back to normal tomorrow I hope.

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