Saturday, July 30, 2011

More Willies and Whites

At 6am the air on Rawcliffe Moss felt cool and autumnal but thankfully it was windless. Will and I quickly set to and erected our nets in double quick time then grabbed a coffee each before the real work/fun began.

Continuing the theme of last weekend and my solo mid-week session, the highlights of today were an influx of yet more Whitethroats and Willow Warblers together with a suggestion of the beginnings of Chaffinch and perhaps other migration amongst the 12 species handled.

In total we processed 45 birds, 39 new and 6 recaptures. New: 14 Whitethroat, 12 Willow Warbler, 3 Sedge Warbler, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Swallow and 1 each of Blackcap, Lesser Redpoll, Song Thrush, Robin and Wren. Recaptures: 2 Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Goldfinch and 1 Great Tit.

Both Whitethroats and Willow Warblers were in noticeably good numbers this morning, not only in the plantation where the nets are, but also along the feeding corridor of the well vegetated track margins, a route which runs exactly in a north/south direction. Our 12 new Willow Warblers split 7/5 in favour of adults to juveniles this morning which continues the suggestion of poor breeding success proposed on this blog in recent weeks: the ratio of our new Whitethroats today was the more respectable and expected 3 adults to 11 juveniles.

Sedge Warbler

Wren or Wriggle Arse – Troglodyes troglodytes


The 2 Swallows caught were feeding on a low path through the plantation when intercepted by our nets.


Lacking today were any number of Goldfinches feeding on the Niger seed, with one recapture only. When we topped up the feeding devices we noted that they were still more than half full after a previous mid-week fill. However, today’s single Lesser Redpoll capture, a non-resident species, was caught alongside a Niger feeder. We are always amazed by how quickly birds home-in on feed of any sort but in particular the aromatic, shiny, oily black Niger.

Lesser Redpoll

Goldfinch on Niger

Chaffinches have been noticeable by their absence here in June and July, but although we caught only 3 today we detected a slight movement, in fact less than 15 birds overhead, but all contact calling and heading from north to south.


Birding today was uneventful, but with counts of 2 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk, 70 Swallow, 25 House Martin, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 5 Skylark and 5 Linnet.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ringing The Ringed

The birding was so quiet at Lane Ends and Pilling Water this morning that I barely opened my notebook, and it took a text message from SP to liven up the morning somewhat. I’d done the sea wall walk from the car park and then back but recorded not much, the recent finch flocks reduced to single digit counts; 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Reed Warbler, 7 Linnet, 4 Skylark, 6 Goldfinch, 10 Pied Wagtail, 1 Greenfinch, a handful of hirundines and 7 Grey Heron. Unlike the grey variety, the Little Egrets of recent days are now absent, but if they are post-breeding dispersals from the Bangor, North Wales colony as seems likely, the mystery remains of their more local movements.

Willow Warbler

Whilst heading back from Pilling Water I remembered to switch on the Nokia; lucky I did as a message told of a brood of Ringed Plover chicks at Plover Scar, Cockersands - well if there aren’t plovers at the aptly named Plover Scar there must be something wrong. But two heads and certainly two pairs of eyes and binoculars are better than one when searching for Ringed Plover chicks against the adult’s distraction techniques and the fast running youngsters. After one false start SP and I found the three chicks, just a couple of days old but well capable of leaving us behind in a sprint across the rough shingle. This is a good breeding record for the Cockersands area and whilst the shore is more than suitable for breeding Ringed Plovers, the overall daily disturbance probably limits the species success here in too many years.

Ringed Plover chick

Ringed Plover

Also out on the scar were 5 other Ringed Plover, c40 Golden Plover, 8 Whimbrel, 15 Oystercatcher and 2 Wheatear.


I was back home in time to hear the pitter-patter of tiny raindrops on the conservatory roof. Time to grab Brownie Points, then catch up on IPMR and a few ringing records.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Solo Session

With everyone else otherwise engaged I set off for Rawcliffe Moss this morning for a solo ringing session, so promised myself not too many nets; it’s not the putting up, it’s the taking down that’s the chore, especially after tramping around several times until mid-morning, then taking in nets just as morning warms up and the horse flies begin to remove lumps of flesh. The Suzuki must have been the first vehicle along the moss track this morning, early enough to see a Fox disappear into the roadside hawthorns and then dozens of Swallows doing a dawn fly around before all going their separate ways.

I had an interesting little session with more Sylvias and Phylosscs amongst the 27 birds caught, 22 new and 5 recaptures. New: 6 Whitethroat, 3 Blackcap, 3 Goldfinch, 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Chaffinch and 1 Chiffchaff; 4 nestling Blackbirds made up the 22 new. The 5 recaptures were 3 Goldfinch, 1 Blackcap and 1 Great Tit.

Willow Warbler



Blackbird nest

Blackbird nestling

Apart from the ringing, I saw the usual array of birds: 2 Buzzard, 4 Skylark, 60+ Swallow, 2 Corn Bunting, 18 Whitethroat, 15 Linnet and 22 Goldfinch. The Goldfinches were about the farm today, but feeding on thistle heads, not using our niger seed much, hence the lower numbers caught compared to recent efforts.




Monday, July 25, 2011

Whites and Wags

Fluke Hall Lane was quite busy with small birds this morning, mostly Whitethroats and Tree Sparrows, but it was easier to see and count the 15+ Whitethroats than it was to get to grips with the 30 or more Tree Sparrows. There are lots of Tree Sparrow boxes at Fluke Hall, and by now onto on their third broods so I imagine the count was a serious underestimate, but Tree Sparrows are good at hiding from view for both counts and photographs.




Tree Sparrows seem to have had a good year locally and our own Fylde Ringing Group has ringed over 300 Tree Sparrow nestlings this year, mostly due to Paul’s 260+ ringed at Singleton, Warton and Stalmine.

Tree Sparrow

A quick look from the sea wall at Fluke Hall revealed a distant tide and a couple of Alba wagtails, a species definitely on the move this morning. On the way to Lane Ends and near Pilling school I also counted 30+ of the House Sparrow variety together with 6 Linnet.


My Lane Ends to Pilling walk revealed another Whitethroat, 2 Reed Warbler, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Kestrel, 23 Linnet, 6 Goldfinch, 2 Greenfinch, 2 Meadow Pipit, 8 Skylark, 40 Swallow, 8 House Martin and 210 Lapwings. I watched as several of the Lapwings kept dive-bombing something out of my sight but hidden by a depression in the marsh. They had found a Sparrowhawk, plucking some recent prey item, and when the hawk lifted off and headed towards Pilling village, I saw it was a female and still carrying the remains of its victim.

There was a slight easterly breeze this morning and a very noticeable movement of Alba wagtails arriving from the south east then heading out onto the marsh where they stayed in a loose flock of 22+ birds, mostly if not all Pied Wagtails. Along the outer creek and on the wildfowler’s pools were 2 Grey Heron, 4 Little Egret, 4 Common Sandpiper and 8 Redshank.

Pied Wagtail

Little Egret

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mixed Fortunes

Will and I met up at 6am start for our Rawcliffe Moss ringing session today. We set our usual quota of nets, some that might catch warblers, and yet other nets in finch feeding spots. We didn’t get too many species but found several of this year’s targets with more Goldfinches and Whitethroats to add to those already caught this year.

In all we processed 42 birds, 31 new and 11 recaptures. New birds: 12 Goldfinch (11 juveniles, 1 adult), 10 Whitethroat (9 juveniles, 1 adult), 4 Willow Warbler (3 adults, 1 juvenile), 3 Blackcap and 2 Dunnock. Recaptures: 7 Goldfinch, 2 Sedge Warbler and 2 Whitethroat.

A quick check of our Goldfinch total for June/July reveals 59 individuals, 53 juvenile birds of the year and 6 adults; this is a healthy proportion of youngsters which points to the continuing success of this species and a good breeding season, as yet only part way through. In comparison, the 43 Whitethroats caught in June/July comprise 9 adults and 34 juveniles, healthy enough proportions after a slow start.

Goldfinch - juvenile


In absolute contrast to the latter two species, the age ratios of 23 Willow Warblers captured here in June/July are reversed with 18 adults but only 5 juveniles. This is a fairly small sample on which to base any conclusions but does seem to bear out field observations and a general impression of a poor breeding year for Willow Warblers.

Willow Warbler



We continue to catch good numbers of Goldfinch because in July we already employ niger feeders in the plantation, where the Goldfinches took a week or so to find new feeders but are now literally all over them. As seed forms on their natural foods it will be interesting to see how our feeders perform.

Goldfinch - juvenile

Goldfinch - juvenile

Our birding morning proved fairly uneventful with the usual fare and as yet no sign of visible migration but possibly the beginnings of a Swallow roost somewhere in the area: Sightings: 2 Kestrel, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 18 Tree Sparrow, 70+ Swallow, 3 Buzzard, 1 Reed Bunting, 5 Skylark, 2 Yellowhammer and a Little Owl on a Big Post.

Little Owl

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pause For Thought

Things were very quiet at Pilling this morning, both in the trees and on the pools, the Tufted Duck with 5 young to the east with 4 Little Grebe and a Little Egret on the west pool. The Kestrels were around again, but only 2 of three local youngsters this morning and playing at Hobbies, or at least the Swallows and House Martins thought so. As the two Kestrels hunted up and down the sea wall they did so to an entourage of twittering hirundines.



In the absence of any tidal movement my bird counts up at Pilling Water and beyond were low again; 2 Common Sandpiper, 1 Grey Heron, 90+Lapwing, 40 Curlew, 6 Greenfinch, 7 Linnet, 8 Goldfinch, 2 Pied/Alba Wagtail, 2 Stock Dove, 12 Skylark, another Kestrel, 8 Swift and 2 Meadow Pipit. There was absolutely nothing on the wildfowler’s now dried up again pools, and the planned for half day trek became a flying visit.

Things were so quiet at Pilling that I spent a few hours doing essential maintenance at Our Rawcliffe moss ringing site in preparation for weekend ringing. It was mainly beating back rampant bramble and willowherb from mist net rides and our pathways, together with a little judicial tree pruning. Naturally I had a look around and found the expected array of birds in the plantation and along the hedgerows with 2 Blackcap, 5 Willow Warbler, 7 Whitethroat, 5 Skylark, 12 Tree Sparrow, 30 Goldfinch, 2 Linnet and 1 Corn Bunting. The latter appears still to be the only singing male on the extensive farm this year, with one brood of youngsters so far.

Corn Bunting

In this area of West Lancashire, known as the Fylde, the breeding population of Corn Bunting in 2011 appears to be at critically low levels, the lowest I have seen in thirty years of local birding and ringing. In some years a small wintering or even spring gathering of Corn Buntings appears on local mosses. However these may not be individuals from the very scarce Fylde breeding population and in the absence of any meaningful studies of these transient birds no one can be sure if any of them originate from Lancashire or even the North West of the UK.

I also saw 3 Yellowhammer, another Fylde species clinging on to existence in a similar way to the Corn Bunting; both species could now be classified as “very scarce and localised breeders” – how sad. The Yellowhammers were in the process of feeding young, probably a second brood by now, but with the size of the food items the female brought in, I decided not to look for a nest.

Yellowhammer - male

Yellowhammer - female

Other birds: 40 Lapwing, 3 Buzzard, 100+ Swallow over the silage and barley fields, 4 Swift, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Tawny Owl, 1 Little Owl and 1 Kestrel.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

That’s A Big Swallow

At last, a morning without rain. First priority this morning was checking the Hambleton Swallows where the second broods are later in the season than is normal. I knew from previous notes at least one nest would have chicks for ringing, or that is if they had managed to survive the last 3 days of rain and the resulting reduced food intake. I needn’t have worried, as although the five youngsters have proved to be slow developers, they were large enough for a ring each. Three other second nests were at full egg stage but a week or two behind their normal progress at this time of year.

Graham the land owner who follows the success and failures of his Swallows with huge interest asked me “Have you seen the nest in the old garage?” the old building that Swallows use in some years only. Off I went anticipating a new Swallow nest I had overlooked but found instead a Woodpigeon guarding a nest with a sizeable chick. That’s the first Woodpigeon chick I ever ringed in a building.



The day brightened further, enough to chance a walk down Pilling Way. The sea wall was rather quiet, even the finches down to single digit counts of Linnet, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Meadow Pipit. I came across another 3J Wheatear, an unringed bird but a similar looking individual to the one I caught on 12th July. This latest bird was also attracted to a meal worm lunch.

Wheatear - juvenile

Wheatear - juvenile

Wheatear - juvenile

Between Pilling Water and Fluke Hall my counts were of 700 Curlew, 115 Lapwing, 18 Oystercatcher, 2 Stock Dove, 2 Pied Wagtail and 3 Grey Heron. I finished my agreeable morning on a nice little high with 3 Little-ringed Plovers on the wildfowler’s pools, filling up nicely after the recent rain – It’s an ill wind etc.

Little-ringed Plover

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Looking For The Sunday Sun?

The forecast was correct. Two days of rain, Saturday and now Sunday, with the weather extracting revenge for last week’s fine days.

But this morning, bursting with optimism despite the cloud filled sky I had set off for Pilling and on the way clocked 2 Barn Owls again, one at Burned House Lane and a second one flying across the road at Lambs Lane. After yesterday’s rain the fields alongside Biker Mile were crowded with Curlew and Lapwing, several hundred of each as I stopped at Gulf Lane in the hope of seeing a third Barn Owl; I didn’t, so turned the car around and headed back to Lane Ends where in the morning quiet I picked out singing Chiffchaff and Reed Warbler then watched a nearby Willow Warbler moving through the greenery.

Barn Owl with a Rat




The plan was a walk to Fluke and then back to the car park, but looking west and south all was grey. Within ten minutes the rains arrived again so I abandoned play for the time being.

Over lunch I switched on our Sky-free TV for yet more news and views on the shameful, murky world of Murdoch with its shady, back-slapping politicians, policemen, journalists and hangers-on who live therein. In disgust I zapped the remote control to “standby” and hoped the sun might shine a light into dark corners of UK life or that I might get a few hours for afternoon birding or ringing a few Swallows.

It wasn’t to be, and at 2.30pm rain still piled in from the west. It became time to sort the hundreds of photographs that clutter up the PC, abandoned for months on end as new, superior, more current ones arrive from another birding day for urgent cropping and Photoshopping for the blog.

I found a few old but respectable pictures to make the page up for today; Greater Sand Plover, Bluethroat and Cattle Egret from sunnier days in Egypt. It’s strange to look back and think that when we were there in January and February of 2011 it was ordinary Egyptians who took to the streets to sort out the corruption in the Egyptian establishment.

Greater Sand Plover


Cattle Egret

No sign of the Sunday Sun then? Thank goodness.
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