Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tools Of The Trade

Don’t let anyone say blogging is easy, especially when you haven’t been out birding because of summer chores like painting the gates, power washing the patio then repointing the weed filled joints of the said stones. All this only after a trip to B&Q for the necessary materials at the Wednesday 10% discount for OAPs, followed by lunch at the “Kingfisher” pub, which was the nearest I got to a bird this morning.

Later I sneaked off on the pretence of a sit down with a cup of tea and there were lots of birds in the garden, if but common stuff. So an hour or two later after my brief respite I opened the bag of sharp sand and set to with a stiff brush and a heavy heart, but not before I got a few pictures.

Young Starlings don’t look a lot like the adults do they? I think Will said to me last week that he hadn’t seen the large gangs of young around in the same numbers this year, such a feature of early June. I think he was correct but there were a few in the garden today.


The Chaffinch is obviously one of the regular garden visitors. Note the ring, right leg. Wow the picture is nearly good enough to read the number!



My garden is absolutely crammed with Goldfinch at the moment. This bird has to be one of the most successful British birds of recent years, most of it due to its sheer adaptability and the fact that it has become a very common garden bird.


I swear the branch of the silver birch sagged when this fat young Woodpigeon landed on it. The thing isn’t long out of the nest but wasted no time in joining the others in searching out local gardens.



This Jackdaw is clearly up to some villainy, like nicking all the peanuts.


Even the young Great-spotted Woodpeckers waste no time in searching out my nuts!

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Now I must get back to the chores, where did I put that paintbrush?

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's King Harrys Again

Readers of the blog may remember I caught a Goldfinch in my Lancashire garden in October 2009 that had been ringed in Chilworth, Surrey in January 2009, with the distance between the two points being 341 kms. Just as interesting was the reasonable assumption that the bird returned north during 2009 after wintering in the south of England. Details here:

The BTO have just informed the ringing group of a very similar recovery. Will and I caught a ringed Goldfinch at Rawcliffe Moss on 17th April 2010, the bird bearing a ring number we hadn’t used X818575; we are informed this bird was originally ringed in Kintbury, Berkshire on 31st January 2010, distance in this case 292kms, so it looks like this bird also wintered in the south of England. Interestingly it was during February, March and April of 2010 when there was a notable influx of Goldfinch to this part of Lancashire when we caught 15 new Goldfinch in February, 32 in March and 44 in April.

Two Goldfinch Recoveries


Interesting results like these two which both add to and confirm existing facts make all the early morning effort seem worthwhile.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Autumn Clues

I decided to give ringing a miss on the principle that a little lie in wouldn’t come amiss, plus as autumn draws near I fancied a bit of just birding because “you just never know”. I did one of my usual mixes which consisted of Conder Green followed by a walk along the shore at Pilling. Not much new then with my choice of locations, but the combination gives me a nice selection of birds, and on a bright morning I might even get a few photographs.

At Conder Green a Spotted Redshank in the creek, still almost totally blackish in summer plumage, immediately stood out from the 120 or so Redshank and a couple of Curlew, whereby there was no need to search for the dusky one amongst the crowd of commoners. I just wish I could get a picture of the bird in this plumage but it seems just as unapproachable as its cousins are. Less obvious to the eye were 4 Dunlin, a species that is one of the early autumn returns, black-bellied adults that almost disappeared in the middle of the crowd of taller redshanks that picked through the stones and low water of the channel. A single Common Sandpiper kept as they usually do to the edge of the channel unmolested by the crowd of other birds.

On the islands an Oystercatcher still sat on eggs whilst another adult flew back and forth from another island where a chick of the year is not yet ready to fly. The Little Ringed Plovers have been far from obvious this year but a single bird did show on the far margins of the pool today. But I must say I haven’t seen any evidence of breeding yet, and the birds need to get on with it soon or it will be too late.

The regular 2 Grey Herons put in an appearance, as did a hunting Kestrel plus still singing Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting. There were several Swifts and House Martins whizzing about but as yet I hadn’t lifted my camera in anger, the pictures below from a previous sortie.

Little Ringed Plover


Meadow Pipit

I took a slow drive to Lane Ends via Moss Lane then Thurham where I noted three roadside Sedge Warblers, then in the fields approaching Lane Ends 80 Lapwings in a loose flock and several Curlew interspersed with them. At Lane Ends three warblers sang loudly, Blackcap, Reed Warbler and Chiffchaff with several Swallows and House Martins hawking insects over the mound. It was a good morning for insects, sunny with a warm breeze, which probably accounted for the 20 or more Swifts I saw here and another 8 up at Pilling Water.

It may seem strange to talk of autumn birds in June but the earliest spring migrants are always the first to reappear in summer, so it was no surprise to see a Wheatear on the marsh near Pilling Water as late June is a classic date for the start of their return passage. Also on the marsh here alongside the Damside ditch were 11 Pied Wagtails, mostly juveniles birds, and 3 Common Sandpipers, with on the pool a pair of Teal plus loafing Lapwings and Oystercatchers.


Pied Wagtail

I took a little time out to photograph a group of Swallows, adults and young birds that settled on the metal fencing here in between hunting for insects over the reedy dyke. Exactly the spot I got some similar shots almost twelve months ago.




Saturday, June 26, 2010

Humble Pie

They do say that a change is as good as a rest so Will and I experimented in catching House Sparrows this morning. Will was asked by an agricultural supply company at Brock, near Garstang, if anything could be done about the numbers of House Sparrows that invade the warehouse and target spilt animal feed, despite all sorts of safeguards to keep them out of the building. The problem is twofold, one of droppings contaminating the sacks that are later handled by staff and/or customers, but also that birds within the building often set off overnight burglar alarms necessitating a call out by the police to a member of staff or the manager.

So knowing how House Sparrows are quick to learn, notoriously difficult to fool and clever at avoiding efforts to catch them, we thought that mist netting a number of them in the act of leaving or entering the building might be:
a). A good PR exercise for ringing
b). An opportunity to ring some Red Listed birds and obtain a ring rebate from the BTO for doing so
c). A chance to pit our wits against those of a gang of House Sparrows.

So we set a single 20ft net against the sparrows’ favourite roller-shuttered entrance, went in through a separate entrance, lifted the door just enough to mist net height and waited for the sparrows to emerge into daylight.

The Way In, The Way Out

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

The end result was we caught 25 House Sparrows, 12 males, 9 females and 4 young of the year, plus 1 Blackbird.

A regular visitor into the warehouse is a male Sparrowhawk that chases the sparrows through the roof beams, often consuming its’ prey in warehouse or outside in the works compound where we set up base station. We didn’t see or catch the Sparrowhawk, but mid-morning an overhead Merlin heading west pursued by Swallows was compensation; and despite the urban nature of our ringing today we didn’t entirely lose out on birding with 2 Grey Wagtails, 1 Pied Wagtail, 4 Collared Dove and several Jackdaws, probably all waiting to drop into a favoured feeding spot.

We probably all take the humble House Sparrow for granted, and although declining in the UK it is common through most of its world range. It is tolerant of climatic changes and high mortality, provided that adequate food supply is always available. The populations have fluctuated greatly over the centuries, with a gradual decline over the last 100 years. Change from horse-drawn vehicles to motorised ones caused the House Sparrow population in many cities to drop by two thirds, with the removal of an important food supply - the cereal fed to horses. Recent declines have been caused by a combination of reduced plant food in winter, reduced insect availability for chicks, and reduction in available nest sites. On farmland, these are attributed to changes in agricultural practices. Housing of livestock in inaccessible buildings, mechanisation of grain harvest and more effective storage of grain and animal feeds all reduced the sparrows’ access to food. Recent cereal hygiene regulations mean that farm buildings are sealed, and therefore offer fewer nesting sites. In towns lack of food and nest sites are contributing to the decline, but there is not a full understanding of the House Sparrow's decline.

In the 1950s, the UK House Sparrow population was estimated at 9.5 million. They increased to 12 million by the early 1970s, then declined. The population crashed during the 1990s and over 25 years the population has declined by 62%. Because of this decline in numbers, the House Sparrow is now red listed as a species of high conservation concern.

An enjoyable morning to which we will return at some later autumn and winter dates, but tomorrow I need some warblers.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Short Arms, Long Lens

Will sent me a picture of a Little Owl he ringed last night, one of two in the entrance of a nest hole he found while watching the adults come back with a mouse. He couldn’t get the second youngster because it scurried to the back of the tree out of reach of an outstretched arm. It’s getting to be a habit for both of us, but Will assures me he’s not a Yorkshireman by birth, and I just paid out for a new PC. Thanks Will.

Little Owl

Meanwhile today I took a walk over Pilling way towards Pilling Water where I didn’t expect to see a lot so took my camera along in the hope of getting a few pictures.

Both the Redshanks and the Lapwings had young close by, and called to them incessantly to hide and crouch from the intruder. An Oystercatcher on a post also watched me, calling to the young I knew not where. Sod’s Law came into effect when a small unringed Lapwing chick appeared about 30 yards away on open ground, but I had no rings with me other than “B” size for Skylark. Unless Redshank chicks are initially visible I find that just searching for them willy-nilly hardly ever works, particularly on the marsh at Pilling where they disappear into the muddy ditches long before I arrive, then hide away as all the while the adults call them down. So I didn’t look for the chicks, but watched and listened to the adults complaining at me while trying to follow their erratic flight with my camera.






Signs of Autumn out on the marsh were 170 Curlews and 125 Shelduck, whilst a single Common Sandpiper flew low along the ditch, then closer by a family party of 5 Meadow Pipits and two juvenile Pied Wagtails stuck to the high tide line mark. As I walked slowly along the sea wall I had my highest count of Swift this year when more than twenty took advantage of the insects thrown up from the grass to surround me, skimming close overhead. I couldn’t find any Skylarks feeding young but there were at least 3 singing, for perhaps their second broods or another attempt following the ploughing in of first nests.


Pied Wagtail


Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I must thank all my online friends for the helpful tips, advice and encouragement after my PC fizzed, struggled to load, and then expired, not exactly in a puff of smoke, but it might as well have done. In retaliation I consigned it to a dark corner of the garage in disgrace where it will stay until I have more time to think about it. Both PW and RK were right of course about my bereavement and the ensuing withdrawal symptoms, or in my case the sheer panic as to how I could live my life without a PC, the Internet or Mr Google’s life support system of blogs and blogging.

Dawn On The Moss

So I took Errol’s advice and pulled up a few loosely nailed floorboards as he does periodically, and then I went out to Tesco to buy a new PC, a bog standard HP. And Stu, not an expensive Mac, I’m an OAP not a teacher you know.

Thankfully I don't need a PC to go ringing so off we trotted again to Out Rawcliffe for 5am in the hope of catching the first 3J Whitethroats of the year plus some of the Sedge Warblers and Goldfinches that hid nests from us so well, not to mention the three reluctant Kestrel chicks hiding in the blackness of that tree.

Birds caught totalled 35 of 8 species as follows: New birds:
Goldfinch 3
Sedge Warbler 2
Blue Tit 1
Whitethroat 5
Chaffinch 2
Willow Warbler 8
Blackbird 1
Kestrel 2 (nestlings)

Recaptured birds:
Sedge Warbler 4
Whitethroat 1
Willow Warbler 4
Blackbird 2

We caught 5 juvenile (3J) Willow Warblers and 3 adults, each of which was beginning their post breeding moult which they start soon after or even whilst breeding and complete before heading back to Africa. We caught only one 3J Whitethroat when all around us the adult Whitethroats were busy feeding young. We surmised that the young although fledged weren’t quite ready to explore further than their immediate nest area where we didn’t have nets.

Sedge Warbler

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler Moult

After the netting we revisited the Kestrel nest of a few days ago, approaching very quietly, which allowed us to retrieve four out of the five young birds, two of which we ringed previously, therefore two more received their free gift of a BTO ring.


Other birds seen this morning were 2 Buzzard, Kestrel, 5 Mistle Thrush, 10 Swift and that other rarity nowadays, a Cuckoo.

I haven’t yet delved into the cardboard boxes that contain a new PC and enough polystyrene to float the Titanic, so this post is done on Sue’s laptop which will explain why it is so late appearing. So I had better let her get back to doing the important tasks like her research on Trip Advisor and Holiday Truths, while I get busy unpacking.

I just hope I'm back to normal soon.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Some You Win

I’m afraid this will be my only post for a while since my PC expired and I struggle to do this on a tiny unfamiliar mouseless laptop to which I have just loaded Word, Photoshop, my EOS software and a few photos from today.

We checked out some nests today at Rawcliffe, namely Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Kestrel. The Kestrel were fine, too fine in fact as when Will climbed up to the nest three of the five young promptly disappeared to the back of the tree hole and out of arms reach. From the outside the hole looked quite small but once inside the cavity was enormous allowing the young to back off into the dark corners and out of harm’s way. I think we got the two extremes of sizes with a runt bird which was still big and healthy enough to ring, but also a quite large youngster which although still downy, at least resembled a Kestrel.

The Tree Minus One


I think we will go back soon and climb the tree as quietly as possible in an attempt to ring the other chicks before they retreat into the tree recesses again.

The Whitethroat nest from last week was still active just 18” from our path through the plantation, and we ringed 5 tightly packed young which were at an ideal age.

Whitethroat Nest


Just yards away also next to our path, the Willow Warblers weren’t so lucky with only two young and two unhatched eggs in the nest. I’d seen a pair of Sedge Warblers moving about near a small hawthorn so we went to check it out, and after a minute or two found the tightly woven empty nest. The young had fledged quite recently and both adults still fed the young close to the nest.

Things didn’t improve much when by watching their comings and goings we found a Goldfinch nest in a hawthorn just yards from our car parking spot along a path well trodden by ourselves in recent weeks. All the activity was due again to the adults feeding recently fledged nestlings. As birders we really must try to be more observant!


I must get my PC sorted asap. Wish me luck, I’ll need it, as this post took me at least two hours and I'm ready to throw the laptop through the window.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Success and Failure

I went to check some outstanding Swallow nests at Hambleton and a single unfinished one at Out Rawcliffe. The weather has been so good that I am hoping for a bumper breeding season of Swallows.


Swallow chicks

At Hambleton the earliest nest of the season was well on with a few of the biggest of the brood exercising their wings on the edge of the muddy construction as the parents busied themselves with bringing in food. A second pair had tiny young whereby I will go back in a day or two. A further nest I had doubts about has definitely been deserted at the egg stage and others are still at a similar phase, including one that was only lined with feathers last week. So in the overall total that latter nest will counts as a gain, at least at this stage.

Swallow chicks

Swallow chicks




I checked a nest in an open fronted old garage and found it predated where a week ago there were five warm eggs indicating incubation. I suspect it was our old pal the Magpie as they do hang around the buildings to grab a meal from the chickens, the horses or the dogs. Of course I have no proof but I am afraid the Magpie’s reputation as a nest thief precedes it. When I checked the chicken shed where the door is left open all day, I was most upset to find another nest devoid of the young I was expecting to ring; there was no point in looking for the nest contents on the wooden floor already covered in chicken feathers from the shed dwellers. As one might expect it appears that the Swallows which nest in buildings where they gain access through a door or window ajar, or a hole in the building’s fabric or construction fare better than those that choose a more open location potentially open to predators.

I motored on to Out Rawcliffe where I checked in a secure building, one nest from 10 days ago to see the young large and ready to go, an obvious success again. At a second nest from where once again I expected to ring chicks from the 4 eggs of 10 days ago, the evidence of more predation lay on the floor, scattered feathers, nest contents and a single dead chick some three or four days old. A mammalian predator could not reach this nest, in the centre of a beam close up to a corrugated roof, but an avian one could as the tumbledown building has no doors or windows to keep them out. In this case I suspect a Little Owl, resident locally and a species known to take Swallow nestlings.

Naturally I will continue checking and monitoring these nests, the information gained for the BTO Nest Record Scheme is invaluable to the overall picture of what happens to our Swallows, the successful or the not so lucky. I wish more people would do nest records, not just for Swallows, but for any nesting species they come across during the course of their birding. And anyway my nest recording also helps me to get a few photographs.

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