Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Flap And A Glide

A dawn downpour hit the bedroom window and a strengthening wind put paid to any elaborate ringing plans, but determined to get out somewhere, I did the local patch Out Rawcliffe then flew across the fast moss road to check out Pilling.

It was when I got to the moss and waded through saturated long grass that I realised the early downpour had actually been a hail storm. In sheltered, cold spots I negotiated patches of still frozen, crunching hail stones underfoot but I found that more than a couple of Whitethroat nests had now hatched. I watched adults carrying bright green caterpillars near likely looking nesting spots close to abundant Willowherb, where the nests I know of had tiny young, one with eggs not hatched and chicks just a day or two old. The Whitethroats couldn’t rely on me to find the caterpillars hidden in the vegetation, but the adult birds feed the young every few minutes with a seemingly endless supply of the bugs, and have to do the same for 7 days a week and 10-12 days.

Whitethroat nest


On my circuit of part of the farm I counted lots of singing birds, 17 Whitethroat, 1 Blackcap, 2 Yellowhammer, 4 Sedge Warbler, 6 Skylark, 1 Corn Bunting and 6 Willow Warblers, but the recent Garden Warblers may have departed. Some Willow Warblers have already finished nesting, and I saw my first family party today keeping together with the “hooeet” calls, but it won’t be long at all before the young birds have to make their own way in life. A displaying Curlew represented the waders, with a single Lapwing calling worriedly and acting as if it had chicks in the rough grass field. May 31st and I saw the first signs of Lapwing flocks today, a couple of small parties of less than 10 birds, both here and later at Pilling. These summer groups can hold the now flying young of the season, but more often they are gangs of failed breeding adults.


Overhead today were the resident Buzzards effortlessly gliding around the warming sky, plus 2 Ravens croaking loudly as they headed inland towards the hills and Garstang.


Lane Ends to Fluke was quiet, with Reed Bunting still hanging on in the plantation and a surprise bird here for 31st May, a Lesser Redpoll that flew off calling towards Fluke until lost out of sight. Waders have been scarce along here this dry spring, with today a couple of Lapwings telling their by now enormous chicks to crouch at my passing. I reckon just three pairs of Oystercatcher here, but there is a shortage of Redshank this year, both inland and on the seaward side of the wall – two cold winters? In fact I could find only one pair of Redshanks, when normally there might be five or six pairs along this stretch of coast.


The wildfowler’s pools held little but Mallards and Shelduck with a highlight of my walk a large female Peregrine that tore through the sky above Fluke Hall in pursuit of a feral pigeon. The pigeon evaded capture and the falcon took off towards the shore down Preesall way. It was probably the female from the pair breeding at Fleetwood, a mile or two away as the Peregrine flies; just a flap and a glide back home for it and for me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It’s Weird

Now I’m really stumped, trapped indoors with the rain and/or wind for the umpteenth day and unable to see a number of blog comments after readers tell me they can't post remarks to the blog.

So apologies, but Blogger says “Tuesday, May 24, 2011. We're investigating an issue which is preventing login and comment posting for some users, and hope to have a fix released shortly. Thanks for your patience in the meantime”. Well Blogger, it’s now Saturday May 28, I hope you are sure because GG is just bursting to have a pop at me for taking the hummingbird off the header, while many a reader is aching to complain about yet more pictures of cute little owls.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Ken Thomas

Little Owl by Phil Slade

It gets worse. I browsed through the blog stats to see just who and where the latest readers come from and for any clues as to why comments are going missing and I found a series of hits on the blog from the “Bing” search engine by people entering the phrase “El Nido bird’s nest soup”. OK the phrase includes the word “bird” but I’m fairly certain I would remember writing about a soup made from the nest of the Edible-Nest Swiflet, (Aerodramus fuciphagus) a bird found in the Philippines. So the mystery of why and how almost 20 new visitors found my blog yesterday and today must remain. And, just in case you were wondering, the recipe I found assumes a less than satisfactory understanding of basic hygiene – “Before cooking, the bird's nest must be soaked overnight in cold water. The softened nest should then be cleaned and devoid of any foreign matter, such as feathers and twigs”. Oh Really?

Edible-Nest Swiflet by Lip Kee Yap

At least someone found partly what they were looking for when they searched Google to buy a Hermann’s Tortoise in Alberta Canada but ended up looking at a picture of one in Menorca hiding from the glare of publicity on Another Bird Blog.

Hermann’s Tortoise

It’s time to get the kettle on now so to finish here’s a couple of unweird pictures of good old common British Birds on sunnier days, a Stonechat for PW and a Corn Bunting for me.


Corn Bunting

And if I don’t get out tomorrow, come hell or high water, I will go bonkers.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Like Rip Van Winkle

I changed the header picture to reflect the season of the year and remind me that I need to check the Swallow nests regularly now.

Yet another blowy morning today was not the best for simply birding so it restricted my activities to the said nest visits. The cool, insect free weather doesn’t help feeding Swallows much but the recent rain left a few puddles where the Swallows collect mud for nest building, usually by adding a new level of detritus to last year’s nest.


Swallow nest

I’m not a believer in removing the old nests of Swallows. The old nests are often used in the following or subsequent years, and by leaving an old nest it probably gives the birds a head start when they come to start building, especially if there is a dry spring like this year; also the presence of old nests may play a part in courtship and pairing up. So all in all I leave well alone and let the Swallows decide how best to go about their nest choices. The number of nests is down this year with just four active at the moment, three with full clutches of five eggs and the final nest with 4 eggs, but there are plenty of Swallows around and a much needed hike in temperatures will surely get them more active.


As I drove off site the reliable Little Owl was taking a nap. I think that’s what I’ll do, go for forty winks and then like Rip Van Winkle wake up in a few days’ time to discover the last ten days have been a meteorological nightmare and that the weather has now changed for the better.

Little Owl

But as it’s not much of a post today here are a couple of recent pictures to stop readers from falling asleep, two wide awake Bee Eaters doing what Bee Eaters do, and a Whinchat, ever alert to my attempts at photography.

Bee Eater


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Opportunity Knocks

It was an opportunity too good to miss when the wind dropped a little overnight, so I planned a visit to Out Rawcliffe to ring the nest of Willow Warbler chicks and if the wind allowed, put a few nets up. I looked in my notebook to recall my last mist netting session before the holiday in Menorca and the later spell of atrocious weather back home and found it was exactly a month ago on 25th April. So with a couple of nets up and a little luck I might catch a few birds missed in the intervening period, new and late arrivals both.

Newly in since our early May visits were Garden Warblers, with 2 singing loudly from the ideal for them, more wooded part of the planation, and I caught one of the two. Other new birds caught were 2 Whitethroat and 2 Sedge Warbler plus a fine male Blackbird.

Recaptures were 3 Willow Warbler, 1 Sedge Warbler and 1 Whitethroat, all the Willow Warblers with previous histories from 2008, 2009, 2010 and early season 2011.

The Garden Warbler is probably a bit of a birder’s bird and a favourite of mine, so subtle in its shades of green, grey and yellow, so always immaculate, untroubled and calm in the hand. It is a difficult species to see well in its woodland habitat, and in bird books and guides it is often cruelly described as best recognised by its lack of field characteristics! Also because of what are to some people its unremarkable looks, the unfortunate Latin name Sylvia borin can become a source of jokes. However, to those in the know the Garden Warbler is anything but boring.

Garden Warbler

Garden Warbler

Sedge Warbler

Willow Warbler



The Willow Warbler nest had 6 chicks of an ideal size to ring. Ringing nestlings gives so much more information than ringing full grown birds. With nestlings, and particularly when a nest record is completed, we know their precise age, exactly when and where they were born, the number of siblings, and sometimes the identity of their parents.

Willow Warbler chick

Earlier in the morning when I arrived on the farm I disturbed 2 Little Owls hunting around the farm machinery and buildings. Both used high perches and watched for prey items on the ground below, occasionally dropping down when they saw something of interest. Unfortunately I didn’t have more time to spend, so took a couple of hurried shots before heading up to the ringing spot, then I left them to their hunting.

Little Owl

Little Owl

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Ringed Audouin’s Gull

In Menorca recently I took several photographs of the beautiful Audouin’s Gull. The gull was named after the French naturalist Jean Victoire Audouin, who was a bit of an all-round clever clogs, an entomologist, ornithologist and a malacologist (molluscs).

Audouin’s in flight

Audouin's Gull Ichthyaetus audouinii is restricted to the Mediterranean and the western coast of Saharan Africa where it breeds on small islands colonially or alone, laying 2-3 eggs on a ground nest. In the late 1960s, this was one of the world's rarest gulls, with a population of only 1,000 pairs. It established new colonies, but remains rare with a population of about 10,000 pairs. This species, unlike many large gulls, rarely scavenges, but is a specialist fish eater, and is therefore strictly coastal and pelagic. This bird will feed at night, often well out to sea, but also slowly patrols close into beaches.

The adult resembles a small Herring Gull, the most noticeable differences being the striking red bill that invariably looks black in poor light or at a distance and the "string of pearls" white wing primary tips, rather than the large "mirrors" of some other species. The legs are grey-green. It takes four years for a bird to reach adult plumage.

Audouin’s Gull

That Bill

This species shows little tendency to wander from its breeding areas, but there were single records in the Netherlands and England in May 2003.

The Audouin’s patrol the Menorcan beaches all day long and like most gull species have adapted to taking any food left around by humans so tend to linger around beach front cafes and bars. I was lazing by the hotel pool one day when an Audouin’s dropped in for a drink of pool water, a habit shared by the local Yellow-legged Gulls. I was so intent on trying to capture the magnificent shades of red,orange and pink bill that I entirely didn’t notice the bird was both darvic and metal ringed. Only later when I looked at my pictures did I realise how close I came to getting the full metal ring number, two or three digits short at “1558”. Almost certainly the bird was ringed in the Balearics, on one of the offshore islands close to Majorca, Ibiza or Menorca itself but as I have sent the record into the appropriate Spanish authority, time will tell.

Audouin’s Gull

Darvic and metal rings

Yellow-legged Gull

Apologies for no local news today but very unseasonal, blustery weather kept me at home most of the day but I will get out tomorrow.

PS. I got an email from Jordi Muntaner who lives on Majorca. It seems the Audouin’s Gull was ringed as a chick in 2005 on Isla de L’Aire, Menorca. It spent at least some time in Barcelona, mainland Spain in the summer of 2007 but was back in Menorca in 2008 and in May of this year. Thanks Jordi.

23/06/2005-Isla de l'Aire, Sant Luis, Menorca, Balearics

07/05/2007-Platja de l'Arana, Barcelona, Spain - 41º20' N 2º05' E - Ferran López

14/05/2007-Platja de l'Arana, Barcelona, Spain - 41º20' N 2º05' E - Ferran López

15/05/2008-Isla de l'Aire Sant Luis, Menorca, Balearics- 39º48'54"N 4º17'28"E - Jordi Muntaner

06/05/2011-Playa de Sant Tomas, Sant Tomas, Menorca, Balearics- 39º54'47"N 4º2'28"E - P Slade

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Day Of Reckoning

It’s all very well clearing off on two weeks holiday in May, but that fortnight also appears to be the time of maximum growth in the garden at home, when the grass grows an inch an hour, the trees sprout in wild abandon and the hedges reach heights previously undreamt of. So when the BBC’s forecast of an “unseasonal gale” materialised this morning I realised a day of reckoning had arrived and instead of going birding, I should trim our now monstrous hedgerow in the relative shelter of the back garden.

However, so as not to deprive blog readers of a fix of photos I’m posting more pictures from Menorca while I settle down to watch the Barcelona GP and dream of Spain.

Spotted Flycatchers were much scarcer this year, the reason probably as simple as them moving north a little earlier than we arrived. The one below I snapped in the hotel garden. I’d very much like to see a few nearer to home this year but this is another species as scarce as hen’s teeth around here nowadays.

Spotted Flycatcher

The ever present Hoopoe had a nest just up the road and whilst feeding itself in the hotel grounds would occasionally fly off with the largest items of prey, presumably to present to the female sat tight on eggs. Otherwise Hoopoes aren’t particularly easy to get close to in Menorca and are generally very shy with just the calls giving away their presence, followed by sight of a colourful, floppy winged bird flying off into the distance.


The other shy bird is the Woodchat Shrike, the picture below representing as close as they will allow a person to get.

Woodchat Shrike

Not so the smart looking Tawny Pipits, so pale and immaculate, much more approachable in the variety of farm and coastal habitats they exploit where their sandy shades merge into the often dry tones of the Menorcan landscape.

Tawny Pipit

Here’s a few raptors; Red Kite, not at all numerous in Menorca but fairly common, Booted Eagle which vies with Kestrel for the title of commonest raptor, and then Red-footed Falcon, a regular visitor to the island.

Red Kite

Booted Eagle


Red-footed Falcon

Red-footed Falcon

Yes, the hedge got a haircut but just in case anyone thinks I was just stretching the truth a little, or looking for sympathy, here’s the proof. Me, I’d rather be birding.

I’d Rather Be Birding

Saturday, May 21, 2011

No Time Wasters Please

They don’t lose any time these birds. It is just a few weeks since counting them in as newly arrived from Africa and already I’m counting up the nest records. Another couple today at Out Rawcliffe with a nest of Willow Warblers being fed by parents, the young too small to ring and too small to safely take a closer look at, but I’ll leave it a few days for them to fatten up from their protein rich insect diet, then ring them. The Willow Warblers are behind the Chiffchaffs at Thurnham yesterday, with 2 pairs of adults feeding young, the young themselves from one nest almost too big to ring from the danger of the youngsters exploding from the nest.


A walk around the ringing site today revealed 7 or 8 pairs of Whitethroat, 4 pairs of Sedge Warbler and 7 or 8 pairs of Willow Warblers, the latter birds already much quieter now they all have parental duties in the form of eggs to mind or any day now, mouths to feed. The Swallows too are busy with a pair having 2 eggs in their annual unused shed location. I checked out the Sparrowhawk nest I found early in the week to find more sticks added but well short of a complete nest and no activity when I was there; rather strange, but it is getting a little late in May for the hawks to start out and maybe they were just playing at mums and dads for a while?

There seems to be just the single pair of Corn Buntings, as there has been since March the male still singing from the ditch side tree, but no sign of the female today. They must be at it, but Corn Bunting nests can be very difficult to find and I really didn’t have a few hours to spare.

Corn Bunting

Near the Swallow shed were 2 Yellowhammers singing out their “little bit of bread and cheese”. I stopped to check so scarce are they nowadays and there were actually two birds singing against each other. There are people who live in the countryside oblivious to the various birds all around them, and wouldn’t recognise the distinctive tune of a Yellowhammer at all. They are fortunate to have the Yellowhammer as a neighbour, and perhaps wouldn’t miss its melodies; let’s just hope yellowhammers and their song stay around. Click on xeno-canto to hear the Yellowhammer's song.


I watched one of the pairs of Buzzards, careering round the sky, calling for all they were worth but checking me out when I came near the wood. Oh for a nice sunny morning and a bit more know-how with the camera to get decent pictures instead of wasting my time on such crappy shots.




Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Stint Of Birding

Four days on from Menorca and I finally managed to get to Pilling for a look at the regular patch and a stint of local birding which began at Lane Ends.

Each year I complain about the lack of Lapwing success so it was great today to see two broods of chicks in the field closest to Lane Ends, one of 3 healthy sized young and a second family of 2 marginally smaller chicks. If only all the attempted nests could produce 3 flyers, the Lapwings might be able to maintain a foothold in the area.

Further up the sea wall I found another pair of Lapwings but with only a single chick, which while delightful to see, is simply not productive enough to sustain a population. The adult birds were as protective as can be but I caught up with the youngster crouching in the grass to ring my first chick of the year. Luckily I had taken my “goodies” bag containing spring traps and “A” rings in the event of tardy Wheatears and “D” rings for any Lapwings I encountered; and of course a camera, pliers, an apple, spare lens, notebook and sundry essentials. That old bag of mine just gets heavier and heavier.


Lapwing chick

My morning had started well and improved with that rarity a Cuckoo calling from the trees at Lane Ends, a single bird that equalled my count of Cuckoos in two weeks of Menorca watching where in May many migrant Cuckoos should pass through the island. The Cuckoo’s decline is not just UK centered, but seems universal and related to problems in its wintering areas in Africa.

Also singing well were Blackcap, Reed Warbler and Willow Warbler. On the pools were hidden but trilling Little Grebes and a single silent Tufted Duck, no doubt waiting for the emergence of its mate with ducklings. Weeks ago a couple of Greylags sat tight on island nests but today revealed the extent of their subterfuge when I counted a crèche of 26 young of various sizes that on closer inspection obviously came from 3 separate broods such were the differences in their proportions.



Out on the marsh a single Whimbrel looked out of place with Shelduck and Lapwings for company but no Curlew for comparison. I plodded on up to Pilling Water with marsh dwelling Oystercatchers, Lapwings and Redshanks for company, the oyks and shanks yet to produce young as normally they are a week or two later than the Lapwings.

I flushed a couple of Pied Wagtails from near Pilling Water, and a Grey Heron that exploded from the margins of the ditch, hidden from my view but obviously more alert than I could be.

There were more Lapwings and Oystercatchers on Hi-fly fields, some clearly sat on nests but with green shoots emerging and no further ploughing on the cards I think and hope there may be a little more wader success soon.


I found a couple of Black-tailed Godwit on the pool, and a Redshank, and then running around their gigantic feet a tiny excuse for a proper wader, a Little Stint. Trying not to disturb the birds but get at least a record shot I manoeuvred into a spot where I might get a picture. Against the light and into the pool reflections the pics aren’t perhaps too bad considering the amount of cropping. The adult bird was naturally much more wary than any juveniles encountered in August and September.

Little Stint

A very enjoyable couple of hours and spring is wonderful, but I wish the wind would drop and let us get ringing soon.
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