Sunday, October 31, 2010

He Who Dares

With ringing in mind it was a marginal, less than perfect weather forecast last night, a chance of rain and 10mph easterlies. Will persuaded me that we should go to Rawcliffe Moss and not for the first time, ignore the BBC’s prediction with their tendency to over-egg the pudding.

As I opened my back door the morning was dark with obvious cloud overhead and signs of recent rain but it stayed dry until I parked up on the moss when a few spits of rain hit the windscreen. As Will arrived the rain quickened a little and we debated the pros and cons of continuing with the possibility of erecting nets only to take them down almost immediately if rain proper started. Even as we put the first few nets up the spots of rain eased off, the Tawny Owl flew off ahead of us calling loudly as above us in the still black sky, Redwings and Fieldfares were on the move.

The rain stayed away and we experienced a very successful morning in catching 48 birds of 11 species, 46 new and 2 recaptures, with northern thrushes and Reed Buntings dominating the catch.

New birds: 12 Fieldfare, 1 Redwing, 1 Blackbird, 19 Reed Bunting, 9 Chaffinch, 1 Brambling, 1 Starling, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker. Recaptures: 1 each of Wren and Robin.



Great-spotted Woodpecker



Reed Bunting

Once again we experienced a good catch of Reed Buntings with juvenile birds of the year outnumbering adults 17 to 2; We missed at least three Reed Buntings that escaped from the nets before we could reach them, and in total we think that up to 80 or 90 Reed Buntings must have moved through or over the site during the 5 hours we were there. In a similar manner 3 Blackbirds escaped whilst we took early morning Fieldfares from the nets, and there is no doubt that there were more Blackbirds about this morning than on recent visits. In total we counted approximately 275 Fieldfares overhead, but less than 50 Redwing, observations in line with sightings elsewhere that point to this being a Fieldfare rather than a Redwing autumn.

The finch movement was very pronounced this morning with many audible Bramblings amongst the Chaffinch, especially later in the morning. Our overhead/passing through counts came to 200 Chaffinch, 30 Brambling, 2 Greenfinch, 13 Siskin and 6 Goldfinch.

Other birds seen this morning included 8 Snipe, 1 Kestrel, 60 Skylark and several thousand Pink-footed Geese flying overhead from the Pilling direction and heading inland toward the St Michaels area.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The ‘X’ Factor

Let’s face it, most birds have it but some are that bit special, ones to see over and over again, always winners and never runners-up. The kingfisher family are one such example, wherever they might be in the world, Pied Kingfisher in Africa, Belted Kingfisher in the US or White-breasted Kingfisher in Asia, a few that spring to mind, but not forgetting our own UK Common Kingfisher.

There is an apocryphal story from years ago of a young twitcher who dashed about the Isles of Scilly one autumn ticking rare birds that arrived on the islands from all points of the globe north, south, east and west. At some time during the week he declared that despite all the new birds he had seen, he wanted to see a common or garden Kingfisher because he had never seen the everyday bird. His friends duly found him a Kingfisher and legend goes that he was so blown away by the bird that he devoted his time thereafter to a local patch back home and never went twitching again. If only this story were true.

I started with Kingfisher this morning at Conder Green when the hyperactive thing was on the outflow wall briefly; unfortunately the low sun was right opposite so I couldn’t capture get the full spectrum of colours on its back. Never mind I got a few pictures. The friendly Robin watched me this morning as I stood on the platform, looking and counting the few birds around; 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Goosander, 2 Cormorant, 2 Wigeon, 80 Teal and several Redshank. A Reed Bunting called from along the hedgerow and a single Fieldfare flew over, but otherwise I struggled to see much as I ducked behind the screen and waited for the Kingfisher to come back. It didn’t.



From Lane Ends I saw the Pink-footed Geese were way out, either on the marsh or the more distant Preesall Sands this morning, and although some flew inland there were lots still half way to Heysham. Not so the Greylags and the Whooper Swans close to Fluke Hall, whereby I counted 110 swans and 255 Greylags. In amongst the Greylags hid an assortment of wildfowl, pure delight to recent connoisseurs of plastic ducks and geese; 2 Canada Geese, a pure white Greylag just aching to be a Snow Goose, then a strange Canada hybrid thing - all good harmless fun.

At least the Whoopers are for real, genuine ‘X’ Factor contestants as they whooped it up on the wet fields or flew back and forth out to the marsh. What a fantastic noise, Number 1 in my book.

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

I did a walk from Lane Ends to Pilling Water where the car park produced a Pied Wagtail, the singing Chiffchaff, 2 Brambling and half a dozen Chaffinch. Along the way I spied a Merlin, 1 Sparrowhawk, 12 Skylark, 1 Meadow Pipit and 5 Little Egret. At the wildfowler’s pools I waited as the quad went in with sacks of wheat which caused 80 or so Teal to vacate the ditches and fly out to the marsh where they joined most of the distant Pink-feet.

Pink-footed Goose

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finding Finches

1300 hours and the rain has set in for the rest of the day, so I might as well blog for a while; it’s just as well that I got out this morning, paid a few visits, and got a picture or two.

Thursday morning is my trip to the shops, and the compulsory detour along the Esplanade where come autumn, even boring old Knott End may have a few tricks up its sleeve. There had been sightings of Twite back in town, so with a bag of Black Magic, nyjer seed, I checked out last year’s spots at the slipway and below the walkway where I emptied bags of the feed. Someone had beaten me to it, I think I know who, but what the heck it worked already with 4 Twite in attendance, plus a Rock Pipit and a Pied Wagtail. We’ll see what happens this year compared to last when 3 months of ice and cold kept the Twite coming back for more and almost certainly helped them survive the hard winter.


Rock Pipit

I decided to give Pilling a miss this morning, but instead pay a visit to Farmer John, and check on his finch flock at Cockersands. One of these days there may be a ringing session there if ever the wind drops to something equal to or less than 5mph because on anything more the mist nets would be exposed. Ringers, they are so demanding.

PW and JB saw a lone Brambling with the Greenfinch yesterday. I saw the Brambling today and even managed to take a picture of it amongst the 100+ Greenfinch, 8 Linnet, 10 Chaffinch and 2 Reed Bunting. The Greenfinch proved difficult to photograph as they work on the principle of “one flies, we all fly” and they also favour flying up to the overhead wires when cars pass by.







I dodged round to Conder Green where I hoped I might get a few more photographs; but things have gone very quiet and all I could muster were 6 Little Grebe, 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Wigeon, 1 Little Egret, 4 Snipe and several Redshank. I really shouldn’t forget the 80+ Teal which if disturbed by passers-by always put on a fabulous flying display. Remember the plaster flying ducks that grannie had over the mantelpiece; you know, the ones the family threw in the rubbish skip when the old dear passed away?


On the way back home I passed the entrance to Lane Ends, and I heard the Chiffchaff in full song; I resisted the temptation for a quick look but decided to save it for another Pilling day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More Whoopers

A quick scoot around the patch this morning rewarded me with with excellent counts of bigger stuff, but small birds harder to come by and very little in the way of visible migration.

It was inevitable that Wheel Lane would delay me again because whilst the main flock of pink-feet weren’t there, the swans and Greylag were. In fact the numbers of both rather surprised me with 235 Greylag and 210 Whooper Swan. I thought last week the Greylag numbers were high, but now separated from the wilder pink-feet, the more confiding Greylag were today near the gate with a single Canada Goose. The Whoopers ranged across the flooded stubble and in small groups gradually took off inland, leaving 30 or so birds on the pool, until the shooters arrived that is.

Whooper Swans - Pilling

Whooper Swans

Greylag and Canada Goose

Whooper Swans

I walked from Fluke Hall to Ridge Farm and back without seeing a lot, 170 Wood Pigeons, 2 Little Egret, 5 Skylark, 7 Meadow Pipit, 14 Tree Sparrow, 3 Dunnock, a single Reed Bunting and a Kestrel. The wood itself seemed particularly quiet apart from the titmice families and Woodpigeons crashing through the treetops. As others have remarked recently, where are all the Blackbirds? Certainly not here or at Lane Ends anyway.



Between Lane Ends and Pilling Water I managed 40 Teal, 2 Little Egret, another Kestrel, a male Sparrowhawk, 1 Jay, 2 Meadow Pipit and 8 more Skylark. At the car park a studied listen and watch produced single calls from on high of Brambling, Siskin and Twite, but more than a few Chaffinch. The pools here are now devoid of any wildfowl except the tame Mallard, with no Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, or even Little Grebe to brighten the scene.

It would seem a shame to have taken so many pictures of Meadow Pipits during October and then not to share a few of them here.I know they are a common species but they are always worth a look and a portrait.

Meadow Pipit

Monday, October 25, 2010

Avoiding Percy

School half term means Monday child minding duties for Nana and Granddad, but only after I snuck out into the frost to Pilling for an hour or two.

I always go down Wheel Lane; it’s the quickest Pilling point to reach and often the most fruitful destination that includes Ridge Farm, Fluke Hall and the Hi-fly stubble fields. I was wary this morning, keen to avoid being seen by strangers on the lookout for Plastic Percy the Red-breasted Goose, visitors to Pilling who might assume that I too was a fellow traveller out for a tick only; the people looking to latch onto someone who knew the whereabouts of Percy, and almost certainly unimpressed that a dude like me was visiting my second home of 30 odd years and that I was not busting a gut to see the object of their desires today.

Fortunately I arrived early and there was no one in the gateway so I parked up for a quick look at the wild geese and the swans. Many Pink-footed Geese were just flying in from the marsh, alighting on the stubble recently replenished with yet more wheat. I’m not sure when Hi-fly spread the largesse, maybe late in the evening when the geese have gone to the outer marsh? But from the way the geese know to hit different spots at first light suggests that the shooters are moving the wheat drops around different parts of the stubble fields. Good hygiene practice at least, if not very sporting of them. There were enormous numbers of birds, and I later revised my estimate of the combined geese here to a figure in the region of 22,500, plus or minus 10%.

Around the frosty flood were 28 Whooper Swans, some of them at that moment heading off to inland fields; maybe for peace and quiet, where they might not be surrounded by the constant comings and goings, the wall of sound made by 20,000 + geese?

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

It must be cold and early if there are no cars already parked, no doggie walkers, no horse boxes unloading Dobbin to chase the waders from the Fluke Hall beach; no birders either today. There were several Chaffinch dropping periodically into the trees, 2 Brambling on call, plus 8 or more Greenfinches. It wasn’t until I got closer to Ridge Farm that things bucked up with 18 Tree Sparrows, 8 Skylark and a gang of 10 Reed Buntings sticking together on the hedgerow. As there was no one about I walked back via the sea wall and the shore hoping for sight or sound of a Lap or Snow Bunting that might accord with the minus temperatures; instead I got a Wheatear, bobbing up and down to keep warm, both of us.

Reed Bunting


At Lane Ends too were Reed Buntings, with at least two calling from below the car park, an overhead Redpoll plus 3 separate Brambling calls, one from the trees then two overhead. I noticed 2 Redwing fly from the nearest trees and head east, and 2 Pied Wagtail down on the shore. A flock of 200+ Starlings packed tight on the marsh, suggested a raptor might be about, but it wasn’t the expected Merlin or Peregrine, rather a male Sparrowhawk that grabbed a Starling then headed for the sanctity of the Lane Ends trees for the meal.

At Pilling Water 80 Teal and 2 Pintail came off the wildfowler’s pools. It was here that when I looked west I revised my goose count as what appeared to be the entire Icelandic goose population erupted en masse from the stubble; they filled the horizon with a mass of blurred grey with a complementary distant din before panicking out to the green marsh. I can only think the cause of the commotion was an overzealous Percy hunter who stuck arms and legs through the hedge on the assumption that all geese are content with being viewed at close quarters, but preferably through a screen.

Pink-footed Goose

Behind the sea wall I found 2 Meadow Pipits, and 7 Skylarks, with alongside the wildfowler's boundary, a single Reed Bunting.

Meadow Pipit

My two hours were up; I’d had a very pleasant time just birding, seeing real birds, and neatly avoided bumping into Percy or his pursuers.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Cold Catch

Following yesterday’s rain and wind the skies cleared overnight and left a heavy frost that greeted Will and I at Rawcliffe Moss this morning for the 0645 start. As normal we wanted nets up in the dark to catch any roosting thrushes and the hoped for dawn arrivals. As we donned warm coats, thick socks and wellies, the first noises weren’t from the usual Tawny Owl but a dog fox barking loudly from a distance away. It was only as we walked through the plantation to the net rides that we heard the Tawny, hooting as it flew from its chosen tree at our incursion.

After putting up four nets we went back to the first one to find a Redwing, first bird of the day. We barely had time to process the Redwing and down a coffee before parties of Fieldfares arrived from the north; most of them were large groups numbering anything from 40 or more birds to flocks of 200+. Between 0730 and 0830 we counted 750+ Fieldfares, but with much smaller numbers of Redwings. After the initial movement both species slowed down a little then trickled through, but in total we think 1050+ Fieldfares and 100+ Redwings moved through the site between 0730 and midday when we left.



If only we had caught the thrushes in similar numbers to those seen, but the two species are difficult to trap. However we did have a very successful and interesting session in the ringing, migration monitoring and general birding. We caught 39 birds of 10 species, 38 new and 1 recaptured Great Tit. New birds: 13 Reed Bunting, 4 Fieldfare, 3 Redwing, 3 Goldcrest, 2 Goldfinch, 7 Chaffinch, 3 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Dunnock and 1 male Blackcap. The Reed Buntings split 10/3 in favour of juveniles.

Blackcap - juvenile male



In trying to monitor the visible migration we suffered from the eternal problem of “vis miggers” on clear mornings with good visibility – high flying birds that can be both audible and often detectable, but many others up there in the blue being less accommodating in calling at the right moment, or remaining invisible. Also it was inevitable we missed birds that we couldn’t see or hear as we toured through the planation concentrating on our net rounds. But we did count the following birds, generally north to south: 30+ Reed Bunting, 12 Meadow Pipit, 8 Siskin, 1 Redpoll sp, 50+ Chaffinch, 4 Brambling, 2 Yellowhammer, 30+ Goldfinch, 2 Greenfinch.

An unusual bird on site this morning was a Bullfinch, in this case a brightly coloured male that both showed and called briefly near our nets before doing a disappearing act. The Bullfinch is a scarce bird in the Fylde area. It's not my photograph I’m afraid, but certainly a good one taken at Pennington Flash.

Bullfinch - M. Jobling

Mixed “Others” this morning were: 50+ Skylark, 1 Whooper Swan flying west, 5+ Snipe, 2 Kestrel, 3 Buzzard and thousands of Pink-footed Goose landing on nearby Pilling Moss.

On the way off the farm I visited the Little Owl again, got a slightly better picture than yesterday, and then a hundred yards away I saw a second bird of a separate but known pairing.

Little Owl

There can’t be anyone that doesn’t know about a potentially plastic Red-breasted Goose amongst the thousands of proper Pink-footed Geese today at Pilling. Here’s a picture to whet the appetite or not depending upon your point of view.

Red-breasted Goose

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Out Of The Rain

The rain woke me up last night when it hammered on the bedroom window. It relented a while before starting up all over again just as I got out of bed and full of optimism that the day would brighten. It didn’t, so I walked up to Top Shop for a newspaper then back down the hill in the rain before I settled down in the conservatory to read for a few hours.

There were Fieldfares and Redwings again this morning, a mixed flock of 60/80 over the house early on, some Fieldfares settling in the top of next door's sycamore, others flying away but vocal all the time, as Fieldfares tend to be. I watched the garden where windfall apples lay in the mess of autumn leaves, but the thrushes aren’t ready for apples yet, not while there are so many berries about.

I found a stranger in the garden though in a Hedgehog - European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), an animal that often leaves evidence of its nocturnal feeding under the bird table, and occasionally shows itself. Hedgehogs are one of the first mammals, having changed little in 15 million years, and whilst they are found in Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand, there are none in Australia or North America.

European Hedgehog


By lunchtime I strained at the leash and although it still showered and remained grey overhead I took myself off to Rawcliffe Moss to check out our ringing site just in case of a session for Sunday.

Because the rain still spotted my windscreen I decided to check out the barn where the Little Owl sometimes resides, on the premise that the owl might use the structure as somewhere to keep dry. It was there on the metal beam, huddled against the wall of the barn, a bit far off but I gained a record shot with a somewhat tricky exposure for the distance, the grey day and a partly enclosed building. There were 3 Pied Wagtails around the barn, alternately feeding in the puddles or on the recently harvested field. Also here, 2 local Jays flew over heading for the nearby tree line.

Little Owl

From ahead of my car 5 Grey Partridge scurried off into a field then merged into the stubbly, stony earth, too far for a photo or for the naked eye.

Next were Fieldfares and Redwings again with a couple of large parties that at the merest hint of danger or disturbance flew back and forth between a berry-laden hedgerows and the safety of the tallest trees in the nearest wood - these huge flocks of migrant thrushes are so skittish at the moment. Nevertheless I counted approximately 300 Fieldfare and 40 Redwing following the pattern of this week of the larger thrush showing in better numbers.

Along the track were 45 Tree Sparrow, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Reed Bunting, 3 Blackbird and 6 Chaffinch, and beyond the hedge in the very wet field, 400 Starlings.

Tree Sparrow

Great-spotted Woodpecker

I walked the top field and the 97 hedge, quiet except for the Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings I had disturbed from the other track, but 8 Skylark, a patrolling Kestrel and a more distant Buzzard gave me a few lines in my slightly soggy notebook.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

One or Two

I knew something was afoot when I opened my back door this morning and heard a Fieldfare going over. I live in a bit of suburbia but less than 200 yards away I’m on a road that leads through old hedgerows, bits of woodland and eventually down to the River Wyre, so I suppose it’s not totally surprising that my garden list includes things like Buzzard, Cuckoo, Redwing, Fieldfare, Treecreeper, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. There had been some splendid even huge counts of Fieldfare up in the Pennines for a few days now, just a pity the continued wind strength frustrated efforts to catch and ring these handsome birds.

Anyway I paid my usual Thursday visit to Knott End then headed out to Pilling; a bit late I’m afraid at 0915. Out of my car at Fluke Hall and the calls of Fieldfares made me look up to see hundreds swirling about looking for a place where they might land and feed. In fact I estimated 250/300 birds that swept over the wood and out of sight. It was no good following them, at this time of year they might land or just keep going. So I walked up towards Ridge Farm where I found yet more Fieldfares, this time about 40 in a flock over towards New Ridge Farm that once again kept going in their autumn urgency. There were lots of Starlings too this morning, with over 300 birds here in the area of Ridge Farm, and more like 6/700 hundred on the stubble at Fluke Hall Lane. In fact the influx of continental Starlings has gone almost unnoticed on local commentary but they certainly arrived in good numbers in the last three weeks or so. The Skylarks joined in the movement when I counted more than 30 coming off the stubble in the morning rush, but as Skylarks tend to do to so as to frustrate birders keen on categorising them, they flew around rather aimlessly before they returned to the stubble where they hid very successfully.



If nothing else the Ridge Farm track guarantees Dunnocks galore, Tree Sparrows, Linnets, with in winter, Greenfinches and maybe a chance of a Lapland Bunting for twitchers but not for regulars like me. So no chance of a Longspur but I did get 15 Tree Sparrow, 8 Greenfinch, 7 Linnet and 4 Stock Dove crouching in the stubble with the regular and more numerous Wood Pigeons.

Tree Sparrow

Back up Fluke Hall Lane I found the Fieldfare where they had settled in enormous berry laden hawthorns, only to be disturbed by the postman opening a gate for access to the track the birds lined. Erupting again they flew inland to more distant hedgerows in the centre of several fields where the poor thrushes looked less likely to be disturbed again.


Instead of chasing the thrushes I walked through Fluke Hall wood, strictly no go of course to ordinary birders unless on the road, but perfectly good to see the numerous Chaffinch feeding high in the beech trees. The Chaffinch were with a couple or more of Brambling this morning, plus the fly through secretive Buzzard pursued by crows and Jackdaws again, but not so secretive that we don’t recognise the signs of regular breeding.

I took time out to check the tit flock; all the usual suspects but plenty of Long-tailed Tits ,endless Coal Tit, and the quiet calls of Robins.


Coal Tit

Lane Ends threw up nothing save for the singing Chiffchaff and the omnipresent Little Egrets whose roost now nears 60 birds. At this rate of increase they will outnumber Fieldfares.
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