Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An August End

It was more ringing this morning when after another clear and windless night, Will, Ian and I met up at for Out Rawcliffe for the last session of August.

It was repetition again in the form of the first birds of the morning when Grey Partridge came off the set aside to fly into the potato field, and although we doubled our previous total by seeing 4 birds, I don’t think that miserable quantity strictly counts as a covey? As we walked up the centre track of the plantation a Tawny Owl flew ahead and back into roosting cover and we didn’t see it again.

Once again we had by our standards a quite productive morning and a mixed bag with 21 new birds of 9 species and unusually, zero recaptures: 2 Whitethroat, 11 Chaffinch, 1 Willow Warbler, 2 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blackbird, 1 Robin, 1 Meadow Pipit and 1 Swallow.


Meadow Pipit


Birds we didn’t catch this morning included a Tree Pipit sat unseen under a mist net until we approached, then later another bird that landed on the farm track and fed for a short time before it continued south. Near the top of the plantation a party of Long-tailed Tits numbering at least 15 individuals thankfully avoided our nets.

It was calm and clear all morning with nil cloud once the sun rose which didn’t help spotting any visible migration taking place, and apart from a soon-after-dawn burst of albas and Grey Wagtails heading south and the afore mentioned Tree Pipits, there was little happening. We think that our second double figure catch of Chaffinch in recent days is related to local movement, but also to the fact that a small number may be roosting in the plantation itself.

Other birds seen this morning; Jay, Kestrel, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk, 3 Buzzard, Grey Heron and the Little Owl at the “horsey barn” that is so reluctant to be photographed and flies into the roof space when my car slows down. One of these days I'll catch it unawares or when it's just having a doze.

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Little Owl

Bird watchers always like to see birds in immaculate spring plumage, but at this time of year the reality is that not only do lots of adults go through a full moult, but juvenile birds also undergo moult of their body feathers. Here’s a couple of shots of juvenile birds this week, the Blackbird we caught this morning, and a Robin in my garden this week. Give them a few days more and by early September they will look a little smarter.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Lucky Jim

A fellow blogger and worker of his own patch MP, remarked to me last week that some of the birds I see in my own local area and mention on my blog, almost in passing sometimes, are actually scarcer elsewhere. He’s dead right of course, but perhaps occasionally after a quiet day birding or ringing I either forget or choose to ignore the fact then complain mildly about seeing only a couple of Spotted Redshanks, a handful of Greenshanks or the odd Pintail. So I’m grateful for the regular reminder that I, or anyone else for that matter, shouldn’t get blasé about certain species seen regularly in a particular locality. Birders in this part of the world are very privileged, lucky to live in such a bird rich part of the North West coast. Daily we can see a fantastic selection of waders, pop out of the house to watch Peregrine and Merlin, tour the inland mosses to see thousands of wintering geese, witness the coastal migration of passerines in both spring and autumn, have seabirds galore when the weather is right, or if we get bored with those, head just inland to the Pennine fells to see Hen Harriers, Black Grouse and breeding waders or drive 40 minutes up the main road to Leighton to see Bitterns and Marsh Harriers.

I thought about this a couple of times this morning, firstly when I arrived at Conder Green. It was a beautiful sunny morning, zero wind and there were birds everywhere that led to the welcome problem of choosing between filling my notebook very quickly with a long list and so potentially miss something that might not hang around or dodge out of sight, or alternatively doing the looking first then worrying about my notes later. It wasn’t a real choice because I have a decent memory apart from the compulsory man thing of birthdays. So I set to and looked, not in any particular order but waders and wildfowl first; 5 Snipe, 5 Curlew, 40 Redshank, 5 Greenshank. 2 Spotted Redshank, 2 Common Sandpiper, 90 Lapwing, 4 Oystercatcher, 4 Little Grebe, 22 Teal, 10 Mallard and 6 Mute Swan.



The light was rather strange this morning with a very bright and strong sun, but good for seeing the eyes of the herons, 2 Grey Heron in the creek and 7 Little Egret shared between the pool and the creek.

Little Egret

Little Egret

Grey Heron

The Kingfisher put in a brief appearance on the parapet before it spotted me hiding behind the so called hide, at which point it sped off towards the far side of the pool. Passerines noted today were 2 Meadow Pipits playing at Tree Pipits atop the hawthorn, 2 Whitethroat, 3 Tree Sparrow, 2 Pied Wagtail, 8 Goldfinch and 3 Linnet. Also, 10 House Martin and 25+ Swallows headed due south over the pool.

Meadow Pipit

Tree Sparrow


At Lane Ends I bumped into a birder who lives in an inland city but was visiting his Nateby family for the weekend. To me, a biased old fart, that city is a hell on earth, a birdless conurbation of filth, crime and mostly sad people that don’t bird, but the lad gamely mentioned a few places where he escapes to when possible whilst admitting his desire to return to civilisation asap. As I watched a Peregrine dive through a flock of 70 or so Teal and return to sit on the deserted marsh I reflected on my good fortune, the simple pleasure of birding and the variety of birds I’d seen on this an average morning. Even more so when I finished off with a couple more Greenshank, a single Wheatear, 3 more egrets and a little Sparrowhawk soaring around the car park but surrounded by Swallows and House Martins. What a great morning!


Saturday, August 28, 2010


Not so much with a bit of local patch news but rather a dilemma to find new photographs after a torrid few hours fighting in the face of a strong westerly with a heavy shower or two thrown into the mix. So the camera stayed in the bag, my baseball hat blew off more once then headed towards Cockerham without me, whilst my notebook had wet, blotchy, blue entries instead of neat pencilled items because I am an adult and don’t use pencils.

A 2pm tide beckoned even though at just over 28ft it was almost certainly a bit of a short arse and wouldn’t reach the necessary height to concentrate any decent numbers of waders. Out from Lane Ends there wasn’t much point in ear birding, listening for birds in competition with the blustery head wind that drowned out all but the nearest sound, but I did note a couple of brave Meadow Pipits. I found a semi sheltered spot and waited, and waited, taking a break by wandering over to the pools when I heard the Green Sandpiper. It was a bit strange when I watched the Green Sandpiper chased off a pool margin by the much smaller Pied Wagtail that continued to dive bomb the wader as it sought refuge in the middle of the pool. As the wagtail continued, the sandpiper flew off further down the pool where it was left in peace. Maybe the almost black and white colouration of the sandpiper combined with its bobbing feeding action led the wagtail to think it had to chase off a very large wagtail?

Teal came in with the tide; I counted 400 flying in, rather than out from the wildfowler’s pools from where they probably spend the darker hours on the easy food menu. Also on the tide, flying about briefly were my first Pintail of the autumn, but only 10. Returning Shelduck plus birds of the year now number more than 60, still way off the eventual winter numbers of course.

I made a special effort to count the Little Egrets today but I don’t think the mediocre tide helped my mediocre count of 6 birds, with a single Grey Heron only. The incoming tide pushed in 2 Greenshank to add to the one I had already seen on the wildfowler’s water, where I won’t be welcome come 1st September unless I carry a gun rather than a telescope.

I’d sat for some time watching Swallows, every single one arriving from the east, north east or south east before they fed either over the outflow of Pilling Water or on the inland side before leaving to the west and Fluke Hall. I also counted House Martins arriving and leaving in a similar fashion with eventual migration totals of 350+ Swallows and 40 House Martins, which confirmed my on-going thought ratio of 10:1 in favour of Swallows.

Linnets abounded today with 22+ but smaller numbers of Goldfinch at 9 and a single windswept Wheatear scratching a living near the United Utilities bits and pieces, the training ground for budding earthmovers and timewasters. The Kingfisher put in an appearance when it flew from behind me, out along the channel, over the marsh and back again towards the pools, Teal City and Mallard Heaven. I think it wants to sit on the parapet at the channel but if it spots a human form, does a circuit then disappears out of sight and waits for another occasion.

So, as now becomes obvious there are too many words and not enough pictures, repetitive shite perhaps as a fellow blogger accused me of? The problem is that when someone works a local patch it can be monotonous, maybe even boring but at least I’m out there looking, not a slave to a pager or a phone call and when I do find the big one or even a teeny weeny little one on my local patch, it will give me the greatest satisfaction in the world. Maybe I’ll delete the link to his blog, deplete any readers he ever had and consign him to clicking his counter to inflate his visitor numbers, right hand man.


Swallow and House Martin



The weather forecast doesn’t look much better for tomorrow so perhaps I’ll watch the GP instead of birding, but then you never know.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Four Of A Kind

It’s getting to be a bit of a habit this ringing lark with our third session at Out Rawcliffe in a week when Will and I found yet another opportunity this morning with an overnight zero wind and a forecast for another fine morning.

I woke at 0430, too late for a short doze until the alarm but early enough for leisurely breakfast number one before a relaxed drive made me first on the moss. I logged the initial birds of the day with 2 Grey Partridge calling before both birds flew across my line of sight and landed deep in the potato field. This sighting was quickly followed by the loud calls of a nearby Tawny Owl in the plantation. Will arrived soon after to tell me of a Kestrel in the half-light hawking around the field next to the barn, but I think I won our “first birds of the day” competition this morning. We set up shop then set the nets.

The Ringing Shop and Cafe

Our very first net round caught a Blackcap and a Chaffinch but as we waited for the next circuit we saw and heard Tree Pipits overhead, with at least 6 birds involved, as four of them dropped into the trees. In fact not only did four birds descend into the trees but all four of them found the same net together. It’s not often a mist net holds four Tree Pipits in these parts. When released the pipits all flew off strongly south and resumed their migration. That little interlude proved a good omen as we enjoyed a successful morning with 30 birds of 8 species caught, 29 new and 1 recapture.

New birds: 4 Tree Pipit, 3 juveniles and 1 adult, 13 Chaffinch, 1 Blackcap, 2 Great Tit, 3 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Wren, 3 Whitethroat and 2 Willow Warbler. That takes our total of new Whitethroats for the site this year to only two short of the ton at 98 individuals; Willow Warblers to 76.

The single recapture was a Great Tit from this summer.

Tree Pipit


Long-tailed Tit

We almost caught 2 Sparrowhawks. As we checked along the net from the end of a ride a small male bounced off the net then flew away as almost immediately a second bird, this time a female, fell into the pocket from the other side. The larger bird freed itself as female Sparrowhawks often do because of their sheer size. Two that got away then, but we consoled ourselves with the thought that they were possibly the same birds we caught a few days ago. But in all truth they probably weren’t because of the number of small birds on or around the moss at the moment that will atract in raptors like Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and possibly Hobby.


As well as the visible migration of Tree Pipits heading south we logged a small number of Meadow Pipits, with 10 or more high flying individuals. Associated with the pipits were 5 or more autumn calling Reed Buntings, but we didn’t catch any today.

Reed Bunting

Other birds seen this morning included 2 distant but loudly croaking Ravens, 2 Skylark, 7 Linnet, 18 Goldfinch, 3 Buzzard 2 Kestrel, 11 Tree Sparrows and 24 House Sparrows. I must say that both House Sparrows and Tree Sparrows appear to have completed a very successful breeding season and it does beg the question whether the cold winter actually suited our sparrows better than the warm winters of most recent years.

House Sparrow

Tree Sparrow

We remarked this morning how we hadn’t seen the regular Marsh Harrier of six or seven sightings in recent weeks but as I drove off the moss I saw it over to the east near the big field, its favourite hunting spot.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sat With Swallows

I haven’t a lot to report today. My walk on the patch was quiet in the strong east wind, but to be positive, a wind with some east in it is always more productive for bringing migrants, but it often takes a day or two to provide the goods.

From Lane Ends heading west towards Pilling Water I noticed a number of Meadow Pipits arriving from across the bay, then as I walked further more jumped out of the grassy sea wall where they both fed and sheltered. By the time I reached Pilling Water I counted 22 Meadow Pipits and 5 Wheatear with a few of each fence hopping behind the sea wall.

I found parties of both Linnets and Goldfinches today, about 35 and 30 respectively, but only 1 Pied Wagtail. The wildfowlers have now released their Red-legged Partridge, as I found when, as the first person along the wall today, I caused a rush of panicked wings en masse as about 120 birds made for the safety of the pools; little do they know the fate that awaits them at their refuge.

After that I didn’t venture near the pools for fear of causing another fright of both partridge and duck so I watched about 40 Swallows and 10 House Martins feeding over the pools and the dyke as a Greenshank hurtled in from the marsh and a Little Egret floated out in the opposite direction. A circling Sparrowhawk distracted the hirundines from feeding for a while before they went back to the sheltered ditch and the abundant insects. So because it was a nice sunny morning and not a lot happening otherwise, I sat down near the Swallows and watched the recently fledged young ones resting but also watching and waiting for adults with food.

Swallow or Barn Swallow

Well let's face it, they won't be around much longer so let us enjoy them while we can.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Windless Wednesday

Since the weekend Will and I did our homework via the regular crowd, The Met Office, XC Weather, Wind Guru and the BBC. You name it, we’ve looked at it, so we pencilled in a hopeful Wednesday window for a ringing session. They were all correct as the wind dropped from a raging westerly at 9pm last night to a big fat zero at 6am this morning when we landed at Out Rawcliffe.

The morning was fairly slow as we expected now that many warblers have gone, but we hoped to pick up the stragglers plus anything else that came along. We certainly found some variety with 17 birds but of 14 species, 12 “new” birds and 5 recaptures. Of the first timers we caught one each of the following: Tree Pipit, Yellowhammer, Jay, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Robin and Wren, with 2 Chaffinch.

Recapture were made by 2 Willow Warblers and 1 each of Chiffchaff, Wren and Great Tit. The Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff were adults with almost completed moult so will very soon be on their way south.

The quiet ringing left time to survey the scene without the need to shelter from wind or rain but simply to sit in the sun, that strange yellow thing in the sky that we see occasionally.

Jay - juvenile

Tree Pipit - juvenile

Yellowhammer - juvenile

Reed Bunting – juvenile male, partial moult

Sedge Warbler - juvenile


Blue Tit

Following the overnight clear sky the morning’s visual migration was very thin, the highlight probably a single Swift heading south west in a light movement of Swallows and House Martins. We did notice a number of Chaffinches about this morning, “pinking” and contact calling as they flew over or dropped into the plantation. They are a sure sign of the real autumn to begin soon.


The inevitable Marsh Harrier put in a showing as it patrolled the set aside but at one point had to fend off the attentions of a Buzzard that spotted the harrier taking a rest in a recently cropped field. Two other Buzzards today plus a single Kestrel completed the raptor scene.


Monday, August 23, 2010

An Evening Surprise

Early morning wind put paid to ringing Sunday morning, but the promise of calm winds for later in the day led to an evening exercise at Out Rawcliffe in trying to catch a few Swallows as they fed over the newly harvested fields close to the plantation; also we hoped to pick up a few warblers. Will, Craig, Ian and I met up at 1730 as we put up a few nets and waited for Swallows whilst the wind dropped out completely.

We saw Goldfinches arriving in twos and threes, fives and tens but then as feeding Swallows appeared from the west and the north on their way to their maize roost somewhere in the direction of St Michaels village, we noticed that amongst the circling Swallows were large groups of Goldfinches. We had stumbled upon a Goldfinch roost of maybe 300-400 birds as from all directions birds made their way into the plantation to spend the night. We didn’t catch any Goldfinch because we hadn’t set nets for them in the deeper parts of the trees, but a bonus catch came in the form of 2 Sparrowhawks, a male and a female, which were clearly intent on having a Goldfinch or two as an evening meal, and as Sparrowhawks do, had found and probably exploited the roost.

Sparrowhawk - juvenile female

Sparrowhawk - juvenile female

Sparrowhawk - juvenile male

Sparrowhawk - juvenile male

Sparrowhawk - juvenile male

By now there were several thousand Swallows in the distance, as even those around us ignored our nets and headed off with some urgency towards the river and St Michaels where they joined the several thousand birds already in the air.

We did catch a single moulting adult Blackcap and 2 Swallows but the evening surprises left us with a couple of tasks: 1) plan a catch of Goldfinch for another evening, and 2) pinpoint the Swallow roost in the many acres of maize fields around St Michaels.



The evening hadn’t quite finished as from the direction of the massed Swallows a Marsh Harrier rose from the ground and gave us an evening fly past in the half light as it headed off north in the direction of Pilling Moss.

Marsh Harrier

That definitely beats staying in and watching telly.
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