Friday, April 29, 2011

Alternative Agenda

It was just as well we didn’t arrange a ringing session on the strength of last night’s weather forecast because there was a stiff easterly breeze. I heard say that a television programme might keep people indoors today, and hoping that both the roads and the shore at Rossall Point might be quiet I set off over the normally grid-locked Amounderness Way (or The Poulton to Thornton Car Park as it’s known about here) towards Fleetwood and the 10am tide and a few hours watching the real world.

As soon as I got to the shore I noted more than 15 Gannets going east into the wind, with upwards of 12 Eiders and 8 Red-breasted Mergansers making their way out of the estuary.


There are a lot of Dunlin moving north at the moment, with smaller numbers of Ringed Plover and Sanderlings. A count along the shore came to 900 Dunlin, 60 Sanderling and 210 Ringed Plover, and as usual the flocks were almost constantly moved around the shore and stopped from either roosting or feeding by walkers on the beach.

Ringed Plover and Dunlin

mainly Dunlin


Sanderling and Dunlin


Ringed Plover

In between taking photographs I noted a number of Swallows heading low over the shore then east and north, mostly single birds but 30+ in total. Small groups of Linnets were also noticeable, with upwards of 20 flying off in the same direction as the Swallows. By concentrating on photographs I think I had probably missed many Arctic Terns flying far out, but close in to the shore at least 55 birds went north and east in just a few minutes of watching, then distantly an Arctic Skua and a couple more Gannets.




The forecast shows more easterly winds tomorrow that prevent any ringing, so it’s a spot of birding in the morning. Later it’s packing for Menorca and The Med on Sunday where I might just find a few birds waiting to come here – Swifts, Whinchats and Spotted Flycatchers to name a few of this week’s non-arrivals.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Familiar Territory

It was another strange sort of day today; cool this morning with the same persistent north easterly wind so I decided to wait until lunch time to go out birding. The sun came out as promised and the temperature climbed to 22⁰ but now with a breeze from the east.

I checked out Lane Ends, Pilling with a sea wall walk to Pilling Water, followed by the Ridge Farm and the Fluke Hall circuit.

Lane Ends started quite well with three singing Willow Warblers, a Reed Bunting, a Reed Warbler in the patch of reeds next to the road and the frantic song of a Garden Warbler below the car park, but I wondered about all of their chances when I spotted one of the two now resident Jays searching about the undergrowth. Make no mistake about it, Jays may be attractive beasts but just like other crows they are fully paid up members of the bad guy’s brigade, and will take eggs, nestlings and even the adults of other bird species. A study in the south of England in 2005-2006 (Bird Study 2008/55, 179–187) found that woodland Jays were major predators of the nests of the red-listed Spotted Flycatcher.

Willow Warbler


I set off to walk to Pilling Water just as 12 Whimbrel flew over, fast and silent without their normal seven whistles but heading north across Morecambe Bay. My walk to Pilling Water produced almost zilch apart from a couple of Linnets, with no Meadow Pipits, no Skylarks, no Wheatears and no Wagtails, all birds that should be around in profusion by late April. The meagre highlight was a procession of Swallows heading across the bay, Heysham bound. As I sat on the stile the silence was remarkable, more like a mid-summer day with just the occasional local Redshank, Oystercatcher or Lapwing announcing their territorial presence from the maize stubble of the wildfowler’s pools, or the resident Shelduck pair taking to the skies. A Greenshank put in a brief appearance, calling and circling before dropping back into the deep dykes; my third siting here this spring but all different birds I think.



The Hi-fly tractor was busy ploughing in the few early Lapwing nests next to Fluke Hall, and added to the lack of rain on the already baked ground, it seems odds-on for zero young Lapwings in Pilling again this year.

On the other hand, I suppose Hi-fly would claim credit for all the Linnets, Tree Sparrows and Whitethroats that inhabit the hundreds of now healthy hawthorns planted along Fluke Hall Lane some years ago. A few days ago I counted 18 Whitethroats between Pilling village and Ridge Farm; today was similar with the difference being there are now females to double the score, with the emphasis less on the male’s incessant song flights but more on the churring calls that accompany nest building. To advertise their presence male Whitethroats often build up to 3 or 4 so called “cock nests” in readiness for the later arriving females, allowing one to choose a nest that suits her. After choosing one she strips it of his unsuitable, mediocre, DIY decorations and finishes the nest herself to a better specification before taking up residence and laying eggs. It all sounds a bit familiar chaps!


Fluke Hall held lots of Blackcaps, several Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, resident Tree Sparrows and softly calling Sparrowhawks at a nest.

It’s still only April but for most of this week’s unsuitable migration weather it has felt like spring is over, as we desperately await warm southerly winds to bring in the remaining migrants.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Funny Old Morning

It started off with a fine, clear sky and the promise of a scorcher as I met Will at Out Rawcliffe, following my lie in until 0530. Mist nets were up in good time but then at 8am the cloud increased from the south west and brought with it a blanket of mist of such intensity it was almost fog. At 0905 the mist cleared as quickly as it had set in, but by then it was too late, the murk had put paid to the possibility of much happening bird wise. We caught just 9 birds, 5 new and 4 recaptures. The new birds were 2 Whitethroat and 1 each of Chaffinch, Goldfinch and a Tree Pipit to add variety to our 2011 totals.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

Today’s recaptures were 2 Willow Warblers, a Chaffinch and a Whitethroat.


The strange old weather also put a stop to visible migration, with just a single Lesser Redpoll and a dozen or so Swallows heading north.

Other birds lingering in the mist this morning were 1 Jay, 1 Kestrel and a single Wheatear that defied our efforts to catch it with the usually trustworthy spring traps. Yes, a funny old morning.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

As Good As A Rest

The forecast was for overnight clear skies and light northerly winds so I decided to give ringing a miss this morning, just partly influenced by the thought of another 0430 alarm. Instead I spent a leisurely few hours at Pilling, something of a rest from the toils of post-dawn mist netting.

Fluke Hall wood seemed full of loud Blackcap song, at least 4 of them at decent intervals along the through road, with a couple of Willow Warblers and a single Chiffchaff in song also.

Both Fluke Hall Lane and Ridge Farm were just packed with Whitethroats, song flighting from the tops of hedgerows and clumps of bramble: I counted 18 of them along here, their eagerness to establish prominent song posts helped me to take a few shots of the usually skulking Sylvia. Not much else to report from here apart from several Linnets, making a bit of a comeback this year, plenty of local Tree Sparrows and 3 or 4 singing Skylark. On the move north were 15/20 Swallows as they appeared from the south, low across the fields than dashed north, over the sea wall and out towards Heysham. Meanwhile the local birds back on territory for weeks now were in no hurry as they perched on overhead wires.





At Lane Ends I found a female Reed Bunting, with a male somewhere I am sure, 3 Willow Warblers, Reed Warbler and another loud Blackcap. A sunny Bank Holiday sure brings out the grockles, so to escape their noise I ventured up to quiet Pilling Water where an overflying Siskin headed north, quickly followed by a loud calling Greenshank. Along the channel but somewhat distant were 2 Common Sandpipers, 3 Redshank and a single Curlew. The wildfowler’s pools held the normal quota of Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Teal but with today a single male Shoveler - unusual here. More Linnets here, another 7, plus a male Pied Wagtail from the presumed local pair, but the female I have yet to suss out.

Wheatears have been scarce for me during this spell of settled weather, frustrating wishes to catch a few more. I found a single bird today, continually moved out onto the marsh from her feeding spot amongst the stones by unseeing, passing grockles, joggers and sundry dog walkers. I left the baited trap near the favoured rock and sure enough she was straight in – the irresistible meal worm, it never fails. It was another big “Greenland” leucorhoa female today with a wing length of 100mm.

”Greenland” Wheatear

”Greenland” Wheatear

A fruitful and restful couple of hours then, but let's see what birds another week of fine weather brings and how many times that early alarm must ring out.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Is This Your Goldfinch?

Will and I have caught a number of Goldfinch at Out Rawcliffe so far this year, almost 120 in fact, but from the start of our effort with Goldfinches as spring migrants at this site we hoped that one or two might prove to be arrivals from further away. We got one today, ring number X707467, an adult female, but not our ring.

Goldfinch X707467

Goldfinch X707467

For non-ringers out there the system works something like this: Each registered ringer uses sequences of rings allocated to them and then enters details of each ring used onto an Integrated Population Monitoring and Recording (IPMR) database. Periodically the ringer sends electronically to the BTO a file of their records for the BTO to enter onto its master database. The BTO runs regular programs to match records of individual birds ringed but subsequently found in different locations, and then notifies both the original ringer of the bird and the ringer/finder of the bird of the separate details. Obviously it can take some weeks for the two sets of information to emerge so as to match both together; with ringers ever impatient to receive such information, there is always a desire to retrieve such information earlier than the BTO systems can possibly do it, and thus the reason why ringer’s blogs regularly feature incomprehensible ring numbers.

Our catch this morning was 25 birds, 10 new and 14 retraps, with the one Goldfinch X707467 classed as a control.

New birds: 4 Goldfinch, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Sedge Warbler our first of the year, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Whitethroat. Retraps: 6 Willow Warbler, 3 Goldfinch, 2 Whitethroat, 1 Great Tit, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Chaffinch.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Our Willow Warbler captures here this spring now number 23 birds, 13 completely new for this year plus 10 individuals from previous years. With the plantation being such a discrete, detached area of vegetation and whilst allowing for the fact that some of the Willow Warblers have moved on, it looks like we may have established the extent of the very local population as slightly more than we imagined; but possibly not, judging from the amount of Willow Warbler song and general activity here today with birds moving around constantly in establishing their tight territories. The Reed Buntings caught today were in the net next to each other and so released together, the male was also caught last week.

Reed Bunting - female

Other than the ringing, there is nothing to report. Overnight rain and murk from a westerly left cloud about from first light, which didn’t bode too well for any visible migration, and none was seen apart from several Swallows and a handful of Meadow Pipits.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Long Time No See

A spot of just birding at Pilling this morning where I didn’t see many species and not in any numbers, but the ones I saw were pretty interesting.

I’d gone armed with spring traps looking for Wheatears but saw only two, neither of them interested enough in a meal-worm, although the male spent quite a while watching a trap intently before wandering off up the fence line. So I sat on the sea wall where I could see the traps but also look out to the distant tide line, some four hours to high-tide. There was an Osprey out there in the sunny haze, on top of the tallest post that sticks out of the sand, halfway to Heysham, where it just sat and sat waiting for the tide to come in I supposed, just occasionally changing its perspective or stretching its wings. The bird was just too far out for a picture, but below is an archive shot from Egypt as today’s Osprey reminded me of “the big white hawk that lives in the sand”.


I walked along towards Fluke Hall where I found several Linnets and 2 White Wagtail, and at the wildfowler’s pools, 2 Grey Heron, 4 Teal, several Shelduck, plus plenty of territorial Lapwings and Redshanks. There have been Golden Plovers on the partly ploughed field for a week or two, up to 170, camouflaged in summer plumage against the brown, dry earth, but today a distant 40 or so that flew around a couple of times when the Lapwings spooked off for nothing.

Golden Plover


More territorial Lapwings at Fluke Hall with pairs of piping, displaying Oystercatchers and protesting Redshanks, but nothing on Worm Pool save for more Shelduck and Oystercatchers.


I got back to Lane Ends where upon setting off earlier I had noted the now resident pair of Jays, 2 singing Willow Warblers, singing Reed Warbler, 2 overhead tree Pipits and a single Redpoll. The pools held the now resident pairs of Tufted Duck and Little Grebe.


I sat at the picnic table, making notes when from towards the western end of the plantation I heard the unmistakable bursts of a Wood Warbler in song, but try as I might I couldn’t get any pictures of the said bird.

This species is now so scarce in our area that it has become twitchable, a “target” bird. I looked on IPMR and found that I last saw them here at Pilling about 15 years ago, on 2nd May 1995 when one turned up in a mist net, with one again in a net on 19th August 1997. Apart from finding a few nests and ringing nestlings in the Pennine lowlands since then, my sightings of Wood Warbler remain few and far between, and I certainly don’t have any digital images of them. With luck we’ll catch one in the next few days of spring, but don’t hold your breath.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Par For The Course

There was only me this morning at Out Rawcliffe because everyone else had work or family commitments; so at 6am I put up just three nets where normally there would be more. Just lately 18/20 birds is the average catch for a ringing session on the moss, so to get close to that typical number would be ok I reckoned.

I caught 18 birds again, 11 new and 7 recaptures, before packing up as the wind increased about 1030. New birds: 5 Goldfinch, 4 Willow Warblers, 1 Lesser Redpoll and 1 Whitethroat. Recaptures: 4 recently ringed Goldfinch returning to the niger feeders, 2 Whitethroat and 1 Willow Warbler. It’s good catching new birds, but equally it's important to recapture previously ringed ones so as to collect information about them, especially those species that migrate south during the northern winter and return for our summer.

Whitethroat V576414 was first ringed here in the summer of 2008 as an adult male then recaptured in 2009 and 2010, and now in 2011. Our UK Whitethroat population winters in Africa from Senegal in the west and to Ethiopia in the east, a straight line distance of approximately 2900 miles from Out Rawcliffe. So wise old V576414 has completed this journey at least 8 times, and whilst my whizzy 21st century calculator tells me the sum total is 23,200 miles, it didn’t tell me how such persistent feats of navigation and endurance can be possible.

A mere beginner by comparison, Whitethroat V971612 was first ringed here in 2009, then strangely not captured in 2010 whereby it may evaded us by staying about the extremes of the area, but he returned here today. Even without the ring information both birds were obviously mature males by the rather dark grey head and strong eye colour.

Whitethroat V576414


Willow Warbler AVC164 also had “previous”, from 2009 and 2010.

Willow Warbler

It looks like the Lesser Redpoll surge of recent weeks has slowed with the single capture today another laggardly female, males seemingly the earlier birds of recent weeks.

The clear overnight and morning conditions had a bearing on visible migration which once again was nil apart from a succession of Whimbrel heading north but to the east of my position. Otherwise it was the usual stuff, Buzzards, Sparrowhawk, Great-spotted Woodpeckers and Corn Buntings.

It was a lovely sunny morning with bird song everywhere from the now many Willow Warblers and Whitethroats, why I even managed a picture of that ever scarce bird the Song Thrush.

Song Thrush

Monday, April 18, 2011

Siskin Summmary

Details arrived from the BTO of 2 Siskins caught in Will’s Garstang garden during our good Siskin catching sessions in early 2011, so I looked at other data from birds we caught during the period.

T879956 an adult male we caught on both the 18th and 22nd January 2011 was originally ringed at Gosforth Cumbria on 3 July 2008 as a recently fledged juvenile i.e bred locally. This is a distance of 76 kms only, with an elapsed time of 930/933 days.

X343298 an adult we caught on the same date as the previous bird on 22 January 2011, was first ringed at West Lexham, Norfolk on 14th February 2009, a distance of 265 kms and an elapsed time of 707 days.

T879956–Gosforth to Garstang

X343298–West Lexham, Norfolk to Garstang

Many of our winter Siskin are known to originate from the UK itself, but Siskins from Continental Europe winter here and also pass through much of the UK in varying numbers each year. The overall numbers may vary, relative to the Siskin’s unpredictable main food supply of cones and the seeds of birch and alder, which if low may cause an irruption of sorts as the birds seek out other food sources, at which times they may travel good distances.

The latter part of 2010/11 proved to be a "Siskin Winter", at least in the Garstang, Lancashire garden where they appeared in good numbers throughout January, February and most of March until both the actual numbers and daily throughput tailed off when the species headed north and east.

Throughout the three months Siskins arrived in the garden trees soon after dawn, probably from a roost in nearby woods, so from January onwards we decided to make a special effort to catch the species when the weather allowed mist netting. It was noticeable that the highest numbers of Siskins occurred not only in the few hours post dawn, but more so on wet or overcast days. This relates to the fact that Siskin are unable to feed on the damp or wet unopened cones during such weather conditions.



Siskins were first recorded using garden peanut feeders in the early 1960s, a habit that spread until the species is now a familiar sight in suburban gardens especially during the early part of the year and into March and April. Despite the Siskin’s reputation for liking peanuts, especially those in red mesh bags, our experience of recent years is that Siskins actually prefer using Niger seed feeders to peanut feeders. In his garden Will maintained an area of peanut and sunflower feeders, quite separate from a larger discrete patch of garden containing up to 14 feeders filled entirely with Niger seed,the objective being to attract Siskins only to this area so as to catch and ring as many as possible. The ploy worked by filtering out untargeted species from the netting area and allow Siskins full use of the feeders, where there would be less competition from the likes of Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Nuthatch, Coal Tit, and prior to the new year, Brambling. These less acrobatic, mainly larger species with bigger, less pointed bills cannot extract the tiny black Niger seeds from the pin holes of the feeder tubes, with the result being that they largely stuck to “their” section of the garden.


Subsequent to our ringing sessions and daily observations, the degree of how much the Siskin’s preference for Niger feeders was dictated by less competition around the feeders and how much by actual food preferences we cannot be sure, but they certainly homed in on the black stuff every morning.

In early 2011 we caught 258 new Siskins - 53 in January, 71 in February and 134 in March. (2 Siskins were caught at other sites, one bird at Rossall, Fleetwood and one at Out Rawcliffe, data for those two is not included here).

There were 36 recaptures - 4 in January, 21 in February and 11 in March. We also controlled 2 birds on 22 January, T879956 and X343298 both adult males, as detailed above. March 13th gave the biggest single catch of 85 birds with just 2 retraps on that particular day.

I broke down the 258 new captures and 36 retraps into sex and age specifics. Siskins are easy to sex and relatively easy to age at any time of year and the confidence level to the figures below is of 99% accuracy:

• Of the 258 new birds, 108 adults and 150 juvenile/first winter
• Of 258 new birds 134 female and 124 male
• Of the 108 adults, 54 males and 54 females
• Of the 150 juveniles, 70 males and 80 females
• Of the 36 retraps, 17 adult birds and 19 juvenile/first winter
• Of the 17 adult retraps, 8 males and 9 females
• Of the 19 juvenile retraps, 4 males and 15 females

As might be expected, the age ratios favour juvenile/first winter birds but the figures show no major bias towards a majority of either sex in adults or juveniles, this ratio being virtually 1:1. Interestingly, but unlike the above data, most trapping studies of Siskins appear to show an imbalance of males to females, with more males to females in both adult and juvenile classes. The BTO’s recovery data also shows the imbalance and there is a suggestion of a differential migration of adults and juveniles that deserves further study.


In March it was noticeable that the Siskins were heavier than in previous months and that many carried visible fat, no doubt in preparation for migration. Average monthly weights:

• January 12.4 grams
• February 12.5 grams
• March 12.9 grams

The ranges in weights were:
• January 10.9 - 15 grams
• February10.9 - 14.9 grams
• March 10.6 - 15.7 grams.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Drip, Drip

A perfect blue sky and a white ground frost greeted Will and I this morning at Rawcliffe as we returned for another ringing session. We fought against icy fingers and frozen ropes to erect the nets then watched the overhead vapour trails leading in every direction, hoping that birds had taken to the clear overnight conditions and were even now headed our way.

Vapour Trails

But yesterday’s drip of birds didn’t turn into today’s flood of migrants with just 15 birds caught, 9 new and 6 recaptures. New: 5 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Goldfinch and 1 Robin. Recaptures: 3 Goldfinch, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Blue Tit. The new Robin was the first caught here this year, likewise the Reed Bunting L141507, first ringed here as a recently fledged juvenile, a 3J, in July 2010 but now returned as a probable breeding male.

Visible migration this morning was virtually nil, with just 15 Lesser Redpolls heading north and a few dropping into the alders where our nets were set. Highlights otherwise: 2 Pied Wagtails on territory, 3 singing Whitethroat, 3 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Mistle Thrush, 4 Buzzard, 4 Grey Partridge, 1 Kestrel and 20+ Linnet.

Reed Bunting


Lesser Redpoll - adult male

Lesser Redpoll – juvenile female

Maybe someone will turn the migration tap to "full on" soon? Hope so.
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