Saturday, July 31, 2010

There Again

I thought I was in for a good one today when the sun shone brightly at first light and on the way up through Pilling I spotted a roadside Barn Owl. The bird didn’t hang about long; just enough for brief views and one or two photographs before it disappeared without trace, as did the sun, again.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Near Wrampool the fields some of them now cut seemed full of Lapwings and Curlew with at least 250 of the former and maybe 300+ Curlew, but who wants to count every last Curlew? Throughout the morning and as roadside traffic increases and farm workers take to the fields the shy Curlews fly out to the marsh where they can continue to feed undisturbed and safe from man.

Conder Green next and if I had a dollar instead of each day I have been in the last 30 years I would definitely be wealthy as I am wiser with all the pleasure given and the knowledge gained at this little spot. My count was normal as was the list of species, but I may have gripped one PW with my count of 5 Little Egrets; is it acceptable to still use the word “gripped” or does that reveal my age and past misdemeanours on certain isles in South West England? Anyway, 3 egrets rose from the back of the pool out of sight, flew over towards the Lune whilst two others continued feeding in the island shallows as I took a bad shot against the now grey sky.

Little Egrets

My Lapwing count was 130 + as birds came and went out to the estuary whilst some stayed around the pool and creeks, with 3 Common Sandpipers, 24 Redshank and several Curlews. The shy Curlew again, but I got some half decent pictures today of that wild, unwilling, photographic subject with the fantastically specialised bill; and when was the last time anyone actually looked at a Curlew?





Parked up near the hedgerow I watched Goldfinch coming and going to the thistle heads, feeding silently, but when they spooked up to the hedge I was surprised to count 25 of them, so quiet and discreetly were they buried in the thistles. From near the roadside waste bin a Stoat made as if to cross the road towards the creek, looking left and right, but when it saw my car thought better of it and retreated back into the vegetation.There aren't many wildfowl on the pool at the moment but I logged 3 Wigeon plus the ever present lonely Little Grebe.


There was no sign of the Ruff this morning, or the Spotted Redshank but I dare say I will be at CG again soon. And what is a trip north without at least a cursory glance at Lane Ends?

Below the car park the resident Reed Warblers vocalised and two of them showed briefly at the reed edge, with a bit further along the fence line a party of 7 or 8 Long-tailed Tits. With rain clouds threatening and increasing wind it just about kept fine enough for a foray to Pilling Water where I counted 3 Common Sandpipers again, 2 Little Egret and 2 Grey Herons, 2 Kestrel and 4 Pied Wagtails but by now it wasn’t the best ever morning so I promised myself another visit up this way soon and returned home for Brownie points.

With luck the wind should ease overnight and allow a ringing session for Sunday.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Little Lunch

Little Owl

I looked up “cannibal” on the Internet after Will sent me some photographs.

“A cannibal is an animal that feeds on others of its own species but it is not an unnatural characteristic: more than 140 different species have been found to show cannibalistic tendencies under various conditions.

Sexual cannibalism has been shown in for example the female Red-back Spider, Black Widow Spider, Praying Mantis, and in scorpion species where the female eats the male after mating. The more common form of cannibalism is size structured cannibalism, in which large individuals consume smaller ones. Such size structured cannibalism has been observed in the wild for a variety of taxa, including octopus, bats, toads, fish, monitor lizards, salamanders, crocodiles, spiders, crustaceans, mammals, and a vast number of insects, such as dragonflies, diving beetles, back swimmers, water striders, flour beetles, caddis flies, birds and many more.

Cannibalism is most common among lower vertebrates and invertebrates often due to a predatory animal mistaking one of its own kinds for prey. But it also occurs among mammals and birds, mainly raptors and owls, especially when food is scarce”.

In birds of prey that use a larder or provisioning system of feeding young whereby there should be no food shortage, cannibalism has still been observed. There are several ideas as to why young owls or raptors eat their smaller siblings, or even where a parent eats part or the whole of a brood, but the theories are several and the explanations very detailed, too detailed to trouble most of us.

Will emailed me these photos he took while exploring a Little Owl nest to ring the young owlets. Because the nest cavity was deep and dark he couldn’t see into the hole, but found the young by touch, and also put his camera into the cavity and took a few pictures as a means of finding out where the birds hid.

The first picture below shows the remains of a Little Owl chick that was in the process of being eaten by a second chick. The second picture shows a third chick crouching in the corner of the hollow away from the incoming camera whilst the remains of the meal of Little Owl have moved around somewhat and a dead mouse serves as a later meal. The third picture shows the rather messy Little Owl that was probably caught in the act of eating the unfortunate victim sibling. The fourth picture shows the smaller bird that crouched in the corner!

Little Owl – corpse right centre

Little Owl - top left

Little Owl

Little Owl

Photographs by Will Price.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More Warblers

Another 0530 start saw Will and me at Rawcliffe Moss squeezing a ringing session into the promised window of weather. But at 0900 we took the nets down when a heavy rain shower came in from the North West and the wind picked up to put paid to our successful few hours.

We caught 35 birds of 8 species only, most of the birds either Sylvia or Acrocephalus warblers.

New birds: 1 Blackcap, 3 Sedge Warbler, 1 Reed Warbler, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Dunnock, 1 Willow Warbler and a surprising 21 Whitethroat, twenty of which were juvenile birds of the year.

Recaptures: 1 Sedge Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 1 Dunnock, 1 Willow Warbler.



Willow Warbler

Blue Tit


So the apparently successful year for Whitethroats and Goldfinch continues, and even though we caught only one Goldfinch this morning, there were plenty zipping around. But we discussed the spring and summer birds we haven’t been catching, seeing or hearing and which we normally expect in or near the plantation and woods out on the moss. While Goldfinches go from strength to strength Linnet numbers are not comparable with its close relative and it is now unusual to see large flocks of Linnets but not of Goldfinch.

On our last two visits in July the Willow Warbler numbers dried up a little, but August will tell if this is a momentary blip. Wrens are conspicuous by their absence; we haven’t caught one for months. Dunnock numbers are also down with probably one pair only in the plantation. On the farm as a whole Grey Partridge seem non-existent, and all three latter species are almost certainly missing as a result of the severe winter. Sometimes it’s not so much what birds are seen but the species absent that gives insight into the overall picture.

Other birds seen this morning were 2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel and a single Sparrowhawk. 130 early morning Swallows may have exited a roost but the 10 Swift and 3 Sand Martins we saw later in the morning all headed determinedly south.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Bright Interval

It rained most of the morning, but as promised by Diane on BBC Look North West the situation brightened towards midday. So I grabbed an early lunch then set out towards my local patches of Pilling Lane Ends, Conder Green and Bank End because there was a tide due about 1pm even though it wouldn’t be high enough to bring a lot in close.

There wasn’t much doing at Lane Ends itself, apart from the resident two Reed Warblers, singing from suitable distances apart. I reached Pilling Water without opening my notebook, waiting until I reached the stile to jot down just a hovering Kestrel and the 3 Little Egrets I’d seen from some distance away, conspicuously white against the green marsh.

At Pilling Water I settled down on the still wet grass and surveyed the marsh. There had been an obvious influx of Little Egrets, and I counted 7 of them, one towards Fluke, three along the ditch and three out on the water’s edge where amongst the Black-headed Gulls was an adult Mediterranean Gull again. Wader wise I counted 600 Curlew, 14 Dunlin, 3 Ringed Plover, 2 Common Sandpipers and 1 Greenshank, plus 2 Grey Herons, waders of sorts.

Common Sandpiper


Also on the water’s edge I noted 5 Eider duck and 5 roosting Cormorant, plus Lapwings, but only about 40 today. I’ve been looking out for Wheatears again on the Wheatear rocks and today there was one, a single juvenile bird that went out on the marsh as I approached. Other passerines came in at 5 Linnets and 4 Skylark, and hirundines at 90 Swallow and 12 House Martin over the Fluke Hall Lane crop fields, plus 8 Swifts.

I spent a while at Conder Green, enough time to log the Ruff that has been around for a week or two now. Ruff are good that way, with individuals tending to have distinct features whereby it is often possible to say a bird is the same one as on a previous occasion. 4 Common Sandpipers, 30 Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 90 Lapwing, 1 Great-crested Grebe and 14 Oystercatchers were the highlights of my short stay.


Each time I have been to Bank End lately it resembled Piccadilly Circus with the comings and goings to the parachuting centre, but today it was quiet and I had the road to myself with alongside it 6 Pied Wagtail, 8 Tree Sparrow, 8 Linnet and 2 Meadow Pipit with low over the marsh 15 Swallow, 12 Swift and 10 House Martin. I watched a tatty looking Kestrel obviously in the stages of full moult as it struggled to hover above the road, periodically taking time out where it rested on the embankment. It looked better on the ground.



So once again I fitted one in between the showers and the grot, but how I wish we had summer back.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Spice Of Life

There were one or two tasks to complete on the Integrated Population Management and Reporting (IPMR) database at Will’s house near Garstang, so because last night’s forecast was so poor we arranged to sit down at the laptop this morning, always keeping one eye on the weather of course in case a net or two might be in order. As it turned out the morning was cloudy with rain threatening but the drops never arrived so we updated IPMR and fitted in a spot of ringing.

If there’s one thing guaranteed in Will’s garden it’s variety, which turned out very true this morning when we caught an assortment of 34 birds of 12 species:

There were 30 new birds as follows:
8 House Sparrow
1 Jackdaw
4 Greenfinch
9 Chaffinch
2 Great Tit
1 Woodpigeon
1 Nuthatch
1 Dunnock
1 Robin
1 Blue Tit
1 Jay

With 4 recaptures: 2 House Sparrow, 1 Swallow and 1 Chaffinch.

The young Jay proved as feisty as an adult – beware fingers.

Jay - Juvenile

Woodpigeons are a much underrated bird. How beautiful is this?


A young Robin yet to moult into a “Robin Redbreast”.

Robin - Juvenile

I must admit that a Jackdaw isn’t quite the prettiest bird.


The adult female Swallow was a recapture as it breeds in Will’s shed and regularly flies through the garden.


A juvenile Greenfinch still showing streaky underparts, but already a large male with a wing length of 90mm.

Greenfinch - Juvenile

A juvenile Nuthatch probably from the natural nest site in the garden where the young fledged in late May.

Nuthatch - Juvenile

We completed a very successful morning, a two in one as it were.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What’s For Breakfast?

I thought to have a change from ringing today even though Seumus and Ian were going to the Nature Park again. I didn’t relish another 5am start because these mornings invariably turn into much earlier wake ups when I can’t sleep for fear of missing an early alarm call. So I had a moderately early breakfast then set off towards Pilling and Conder Green for a little gentle birding, rather than the hard work of ringing. Driving through Stalmine and Pilling I noticed several groups of Swallows gathered on overhead wires, a sure sign of impending autumn with "hirundine mornings" or even whole days of migration.

I wasn’t the only one taking an early breakfast as near Lane Ends I spotted a Barn Owl surveying a field dyke the energy efficient way by fence hopping rather than flying along and over the ditch. It worked of course as clearly the Barn Owl knew this stretch, and within a couple of minutes of scrutinising the rank vegetation it pounced upon a Brown Rat or a vole. The owl flew off with the animal because in late July hungry young will be waiting for a meal. I was glad I’d eaten my breakfast; I certainly didn’t fancy what the owls had on offer.

Barn Owl

At Conder Green the customary list ensued with 7 Common Sandpipers, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Wigeon, 1 Tufted Duck, 45 Redshank, 3 Curlew and 1 Grey Heron, but seeing the single Ruff made a change from the usual fare. There were lots of Lapwing on the pool, spooked by something unseen more than once before settling down again on the far islands where I estimated about 95 birds, plus 15 Oystercatchers dotted around.



Lane Ends proved typically Julyish, there were birds about but hard to see in the thick growth. I managed to find 2 Reed Warblers, 2 Willow Warblers and a Reed Bunting with 4 Pied Wagtails on the shore. Here I counted another 70 Lapwings scattered across the marsh plus 30 or so Curlews, with other small groups dropping in from inland fields. The pools held growing numbers of Mallards with 3 Tufted Duck.

The walk up to Pilling Water was deathly quiet with just a couple of Skylarks a single Meadow Pipit and near Pilling Water, 2 more Pied Wagtails, 6 Linnets, and over near the wildfowler’s pools, a Reed Bunting.

In the distance towards Fluke Hall I could see Swallows feeding low over the crops, difficult to count as they whizzed haphazardly over and through the fields, but I think a minimum of 120 birds. Now and then small groups gathered on the field boundaries and as the wind blew from the south it came with a distinct touch of autumn cool in the air.


Goodness me the forecast looks OK for the week ahead, ringing tomorrow and mid week!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Weekend Starts Here

It had been 9 days since our last ringing session, far from ideal in July when we aim to catch good numbers of local birds both adults and juveniles during their post breeding dispersal before migration proper begins. But if the weather prevents us getting out there’s not a lot to do except watch and study endless weather forecasts on TV or the Internet. After all the safety and welfare of birds is the priority and we cannot mist net in rain and/or windy conditions.

But a spot on forecast last night saw Will and me at Rawcliffe Moss again at 5am. I must say that all the members of our ringing group religiously and regularly work our sites, as testified by the group’s total over the years of more than 105,000 birds handled locally. No one could ever accuse us of being “twitch ringers”.

As I drove up the track I took my obligatory sunrise shot of a very red sky, and whilst I had driven through a few areas of drizzle I wasn’t too concerned that the old saying “Red Sky in the Morning, Shepherd’s Warning” might come true. Over distant fields a Barn Owl hunted to the calls of an equally distant Quail, but close to the ringing site alongside the overgrown drainage ditch a Grasshopper Warbler reeled, as it did on and off for the next three hours. The light was enough to see two Roe Deer, above their shoulders buried in the wheat field, but it was time to set the usual 96 metres of net, taking care first not to sink vehicles into peat saturated by the previous week’s deluges.

After The Rains

Early Doors

In total we caught 40 birds of 13 species, 32 new birds and 8 recaptures. New birds:
6 Willow Warbler. 2 juvenile and 4 adults, the adults all in main moult.
1 Robin
1 Reed Bunting
1 Reed Warbler
6 Goldfinch, all juveniles.
4 Sedge Warbler
1 Song Thrush
1 Chaffinch
2 Great Tit
1 Chiffchaff
8 Whitethroat.
At this site in 2010, including the 8 birds above, we have 83 Whitethroat captures, 56 new birds and 27 retrap records.
Recaptures today:
2 Willow Warblers, 4 Whitethroat, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Blackbird.

Willow Warbler

Willow Warbler-Tail Moult

Willow Warbler-Wing Moult

Reed Warbler



Visible migration today was virtually nil on this inland site. We noted about 25 Swallows and several House Martins heading south as distinct from local feeding birds but “otherwise” birds included 4 Buzzards, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 10 Stock Dove and 12 Linnets.

All in all a very satisfying session and it’s still only Friday.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fleetwood Mac

I had an appointment in Fleetwood this morning so first nipped into a few of the well-worn birding spots. My first point of call was Rossall, most of which is actually part of Fleetwood, but I know from experience that some residents of the Rossall area consider they live in a more upmarket place than the very historic but perhaps not scenic port of Fleetwood. When asked, or in conversation they invariably say they live in Rossall. It’s comical really.

I set off towards Rossall Point just as a shower broke. Fortunately the coastguard tower was handy to hide in the lee of the burst, close against the wall so I didn’t get too wet.

Two Grey Seals popped out of the water, heading into the estuary or even the docks as they do occasionally. The sky brightened so heading west I scanned the shore. Wader numbers were thin with 1 Dunlin, 4 Turnstone and 3 Sanderling, their numbers swelled by 19 early returning Ringed Plover, and separate to them but between two other groynes, an adult performing a distraction display, but leading me in the direction I was already going. A fly past of 18 Dunlin and a single Whimbrel improved my counts. The Dunlin were all returning adults as we expect at this time of year. Carrion Crows hung about the beach and I couldn’t help but worry about the Ringed Plover chicks vulnerable to the corvid’s voracity and perseverance. But it’s not often a crow gets featured here,

Carrion Crow


Ringed Plover

The outgoing golfers disturbed four Sklarks from the fairway, whilst close to me Swallows were clearly on the move, not stopping and not many of them, but I counted 3 groups totalling 16 birds heading quickly south over the beach or above the dunes to then follow the River Wyre. Four Swifts low from the same direction as the Swallows also headed over the beach before disappearing in the same direction. Well it is almost August! 4 Pied Wagtails arrived on the beach but they too headed off towards the port. The tide was running in a little which probably helped the appearance of 6 Sandwich Terns, but the grey cloud didn’t help my photography today and the tide too low to concentrate the few waders.

I did my errand then made my way to Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park and parked up to watch a Song Thrush demolish a snail. It threatened rain again but on the pools were 42 Coot, 7 Tufted Duck and 9 Little Grebe including 3 fairly recent chicks, but all kept their distance as Little Grebes are wont to do. Waders on the “tyre pool” were 1 Lapwing, 2 Oystercatchers and a lone Black-tailed Godwit that stood around for a minute or two only before the large gulls came in from the docks to bathe and roost.

Song Thrush

Little Grebe

Little Grebe

Lesser Black-backed Gull

I counted 8 Swifts and 7 House Martins hawking over the “bridge pools” with 2 more Pied Wagtails and a Reed Warbler around the margins. I ventured towards the ringing area without exploring too deeply but on the passerine front I found 2 Sedge Warblers, 3 Reed Warblers, 2 Whitethroat, a Reed Bunting and 4 Skylarks.


I didn’t get wet after all. The rain stayed away with no need for a Barbour or a Fleetwood Mac.
Related Posts with Thumbnails