Monday, May 31, 2010

Keep It Quiet

It was a week or two since I visited Conder Green, so this morning because I was up with the lark I decided to motor on up there before the Bank Holiday motorists turned off for Glasson where mooching about doing pretty much nothing is a favoured pastime.

It was so quiet early on that I heard a Mistle Thrush singing from across the main road along the river, near that other pub that I forgot the name of. Also in that direction I heard a Whitethroat in song and then a Meadow Pipit a little nearer, over the roadside marsh. Other passerines moving about were several each of Linnets and Goldfinch.

I expected both the pool and the creek to be quiet with birds, but the light was good for photographs if anything came along, so I hung around counting the comings and goings of the few resident wildfowl and waders.

I think 7 Tufted Duck is the normal count now but it wasn’t difficult to count them, along with 8 Oystercatcher, 2 sitting of them on eggs, together with 5 Shelduck and a single drake Wigeon. Down in the creek I counted 8 Redshank, 1 Curlew and 2 Grey Heron, pretty slow stuff but I was getting a few pictures in the good light and the peace and quiet without parked up HGVs with motors going or other passing traffic. I even spent a minute or so trying to photograph a Swift or two when 10 or 12 moved through early on, perhaps the biggest number I have seen in the Fylde this spring; It looks like another poor Swift year.


Grey Heron

Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck



I called at a farm near Thurnham where I watched male and female Pied Wagtails visiting a nest, their bills stuffed with large amounts of food, so I decided it best not to visit the nest in case the young “exploded”. Instead I looked for evidence of breeding Lapwing and Oystercatcher and found 3 Lapwing chicks a distance away, but closer, an Oystercatcher sat tight in a field of dairy cows. Over towards Thurnham village I heard more than one Buzzard call and looked across to see two of them moving between woods, harried as always by gangs of corvids. I was near Nateby yesterday where in a single field I saw more than 240 Carrion Crows, and this before the breeding season is over. Is it any wonder we lose so early lots of ground nesting birds when these gangsters are forever on the lookout?

Braides Farm next where our dry spring did nothing to help the land enhancements aimed at helping breeding waders. But I hear that a second phase of work will take place, so fingers crossed for next year.

One pair of Lapwings had young, distant over towards the gorse, too far to trek while I remained so visible to the parents, and 2 Oystercatchers sat watchful on distant posts. There were a few Linnets and Goldfinch here, plus 3 Skylark and at least 2 pairs of Meadow Pipit. I swear one bird was so intent on watching the parachutists it didn’t notice me approach quietly and take a portrait.

Meadow Pipit


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rained Off, Nearly

After a rather out of the ordinary but welcome dry spell of weather it’s not often in recent months that the rain stops me getting out as it almost did today. I watched the promised rain clouds hover above and listened to the persistent but just spitting rain drops on the conservatory roof, not nearly as bad as this morning’s BBC weather forecast graphics suggested. At 11am as I looked westwards the sky cleared briefly so I set out to check the Swallow nests at the Hambleton village smallholding I survey.


There was progress from a week ago with 7 nests now in various stages of construction, egg laying, incubation or feeding young. The first nest I checked had four or five tiny young of perhaps two days old showing the first signs of downy feather growth. Seeing newly emerged nestlings so reminds me of the close relationship between birds and reptiles.

Downy Swallow Chick

Two nests had four eggs which may or may not be complete clutches, as five is the norm in these parts. Two more nests had 2 eggs each, then another with 3 eggs. At the final nest only 6 feet off the ground I ducked to avoid fresh horse hair hanging from the nest, the give away to occupation, and found the nest lined and warm ready to accept the first egg.

A Pied Wagtail scurried about the driveway, but before I left to darkening clouds I checked on a few other friends, Danny the Shetland pony and the yet unnamed but promised to another Border Terrier pup.


No Name

Pied Wagtail

I’m note sure why but I associate gulls with rain so here are a couple of pictures of gulls. The first is Audouin’s Gull, one of the rarest gulls in the world, found only in the Mediterranean Sea and with a total population thought to number less than 10.000 birds. I really like the second photograph a Yellow-legged Gull, can’t explain why, but maybe it has something to do with the gull’s expression.

Audouin’s Gull

Yellow-legged Gull

The weather looks better for tomorrow, dry and sunny but a bit windy. Oh well, it will be an improvement on today.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Green And Red

I don’t have much of an update today despite my walk and wander down Pilling way, so a quick post is in order, plus soon we head off to the revamped Seven Stars for pub grub and a non-driving pint of the best, so time is of the essence.

Lane Ends has 4 singing Willow Warbler, but the Sedge Warbler of recent days would appear to have moved on, replaced now by the more usual Reed Warbler singing very loudly below the sea wall against the bluster of a north west wind. For just a second there, and back in the Med, I tried to convince myself it was a Great Reed Warbler, but no, it certainly wasn’t that loud.

That Redshank continues with surprises as it left the nest at the very last second of my walk a couple of yards away to reveal four eggs. If they continue sitting so tight for the next 25 days in the face of constant foot traffic nearby they could leave me with the egg on my face. I guess the moral is never to underestimate a bird’s determination to breed.

Redshank Nest

On the roadside fields I counted four Lapwing chicks, the two now very large ones of last week, and two more from another successful pair that hid from me in recent times.

At Pilling Water small parties of 20 Ringed Plover and 35 Dunlin moved about with the incoming tide, and a single Greenshank, almost outnumbered the marsh breeding Redshank. A pair of Meadow Pipit continue in their breeding attempt but despite not allowing me to find their nest, I did get a reasonable picture today.



Meadow Pipit

I did say it wasn’t much of a post, but as compensation here’s a picture of a Spotted Flycatcher, back in the Fylde in better numbers this year, and a totally unrelated picture of Cattle Egret that may come in useful if the wind turns southerly this week and the late May/early June unexpected turns up

Spotted Flycatcher

Cattle Egret

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Will and I had an appointment with a large garden near Garstang where we hoped young Little Owls would now be big enough for ringing. The largish box was meant for Tawny Owls, but Little Owls adopted it quite quickly a few years ago. The adult female was also at home today brooding the young, so we captured her as well as the four healthy good sized young that indulged in plenty of bill clacking and snapping as we dealt with them.

Little Owls

Little Owl

”Tawny Owl” Box

Little Owl

Little Owl

We put the young back in the box and posted the female back through the entrance hole to her young, giving her time to settle in.

Will thought he might know of a Tawny Owl nest in a likely looking tree near Calder Vale, so off we went. It was just as well we did because below the tree a Tawny Owl chick, far from fledging size, tried to hide in the roadside vegetation. The tree hole looked and proved quite shallow and the young but mobile owl had obviously climbed to the edge of the nest, as young Tawny Owls are prone to do, and promptly fallen out.

Tawny Owl

It clacked and clacked while Will retrieved the sibling from the tree, we ringed them both to a clacking duet, then reunited them back in the hole together, our good deed done.

Tawny Owl

I think most species of owls use bill clacking, where the bill is shut rapidly and repeatedly, with a sound like two sticks hit together rapidly, as part of a defensive strategy and posture when they are not yet ready to fly. When threatened the owl fluffs up its feathers making it look twice as big, and to further increase its size, the bird raises its wings over its back like a large fan and spreads its tail feathers. Add some hissing and bill clacking and a young owl might look pretty scary to a predator. Potential enemies can find this posture very convincing and quickly leave the young owl alone.

One of the biggest clackers I ever encountered was this Great Horned Owl in Canada, and as a potential predator to the young owl I can honestly say I was impressed with its defence mechanism and treated the bird with some caution.

Great Horned Owl

On the way home I called in to a farm at Out Rawcliffe to mop up a Tree Sparrow brood. It was very disappointing to find one young only with three eggs that didn’t hatch. These things happen but at least the whole of the nest information can go on a BTO Nest Record. In any case all was not lost as I found another Swallow nest to follow and record.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Seems Like Work

Today I revisited a few Tree Sparrow nest boxes on Rawcliffe Moss where I knew there was a bit of follow up required, 5 nestlings to ring, a single bird in one box and four in another. Nestlings are like most other babies, they look better when they get a bit older.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow

Carrying the ladder and not looking properly I cursed as I fell a couple of times through the tangled undergrowth of the wood before getting back to the car. My plans were to visit another farm once I had taken a look around the ringing area and other parts of the farm. Will scuppered my plans by turning up with the agricultural equipment, the strimmer and branch lopper, keen to improve our mist net rides. I am not one to discourage keen volunteers so I left Will to it while I looked through the plantation for nesting birds.

I counted 5 singing Willow Warblers, 2 Sedge Warblers, 5 Whitethroats, all similar to our recent counts, but this time only 1 Reed Bunting, with a couple each of singing Chaffinch and Goldfinch. The Willow Warblers and Whitethroats aren’t eager to give away their nests just yet, and certainly the Sedge Warblers, which I find very hard to locate. However I did find one female Whitethroat sat on 5 eggs, probably by now the complete clutch, while close by the male churred a warning and watched me.

Whitethroat Nest

Male Whitethroat

Will completed a cracking job and got a better result with the net ride clearing than I did with nest finding.



Even for me but certainly for Will it was very much like work a job of work rather than birding, but the top of the moss seemed fairly quiet with a new Corn Bunting singing, the patrolling Kestrel, two Mistle Thrush, one of which carried food towards the birch wood, and a lone Wheatear in the usual untidy spot that every good farm has.



Corn Bunting

Monday, May 24, 2010

Scops Owls, Help!

I finished sorting through the last of my photographs from holiday, perplexed over how best to remove the “red-eye” from my Scops Owl photographs. The red eye certainly made them look fierce but obviously it wasn’t entirely accurate in depicting them. Eventually after a bit of trial and error I found that IrfanView did the job best.

A pair of Scops Owls roosted opposite our Menorca hotel in trees in the grounds of some large villas and houses; not the best place to go wandering about with a large telephoto lens and binoculars on an island where bird watchers are largely an unknown species. So we just waited for the owls to come to us as they did every night. The hotel grounds were well lit at night by ambient brightness from the building itself but also from guest’s balconies, sources of light that allowed the owls to hunt for e.g. large beetles, moths and centipedes. After dinner and sat with a sun downer each on the room balcony we set our watches by the owls, calling at 9pm from the distant trees, then between 920pm and 945pm one or the other or both would fly calling into the nearest palm tree before landing at the top of the trunk just below the fronds, from where they surveyed the immediate ground. After a minute or two they would go off to hunt, either dropping to the ground, flying to other palms or watching the ground from the top of the daytime sun canopies, a convenient perch.

Getting the pictures was a bit hit and miss, as in the darkness the camera autofocus couldn’t work leaving me to try manual focus through the dark tube of the telephoto. So I set the ISO at 3200, and using the inbuilt flash, crossed my fingers at f5.6.

Scops Owl

Scops Owl

Scops Owl

”Red Eyed” Scops Owl

A dozen or so pairs of House Martins nest in the hotel’s rear entrance, and one night there was an almighty din when one of the owls may have gone into the roosting birds to try and take a sleeping bird. This caused all the martins to panic and fly around the grounds calling, until they either went elsewhere or settled back to rest. Scops Owls are known to take small birds, possibly up to Redwing size.

House Martin

One night we were watching the Scops when a Barn Owl flew into the hotel grounds and landed in a palm tree. It was a bit far away but in the ambient light also clearly visible as it went off briefly to hunt then return to the same spot to eat its prey. I think that Barn Owl is a pretty good species to see in Menorca and it certainly made that night memorable for two other hotel guests who joined us on our grandstand balcony to see the Scops Owls.

In the daytime the canopies the owls favoured were also utilized by the hotel’s resident Kestrel, a convenient stopping off place between its vantage points of the hotel roof and balconies and thence to the ground. If it couldn’t find morsels of its own the Kestrel was not averse to robbing the efficient Hoopoe of its large insect prey.





Who ever said that holiday hotels are dull?

Oh,I think I might use one of the Scops as a header picture but can't decide which one. Help!

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