Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Worth The Wait

Three days of grotty weather finally gave way to a decent wind and rain free morning so Will and I met up on the moss at 6am for yet another bash at catching some migrant birds. In the dawn light Will spotted a Roe Deer not too far away from our net rides so we deliberately made a bit of noise as we put the nets up, not wanting a repeat of the last visit when a deer ran through a net.

We caught steadily from the off, five or six birds on each round until we finished at 11am with a final tally of 41 birds of 11 species, 36 new and 5 recaptures. New birds: 11 Chaffinch, 11 Linnet, 3 Blackcap, 3 Whitethroat, 2 Goldfinch, and then one each of Blackbird, Blue Tit, Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, Tree Pipit and Grasshopper Warbler. Recaptures: 3 Whitethroat, 1 Blackbird and 1 Blackcap, all five of them ringed quite recently.

Although we have seen and heard the occasional Grasshopper Warbler here, today’s juvenile was the first “gropper” ringed at the site since we began work here in 2003.

Grasshopper Warbler

Grasshopper Warbler

We didn’t catch a single Blackcap here in April or May but since mid-June we have ringed 32 individuals, with one of today’s birds a fine, recently moulted, glossy headed, adult male.


Today's Chiffchaff made just 8 for the year, but we didn’t catch a Willow Warbler to add to the current total of 118 for that species here in 2011.


Today’s Tree Pipit was in the “finch net”, with the Grasshopper Warbler in the “pipit net”. We had at least two other Tree Pipits close to the nets without catching them, and in all a minimum of 6 birds “over” and heading south.

Tree Pipit

We targeted Chaffinch and Linnet today, Linnet because of the 200+ birds feeding in nearby fields, and Chaffinch because of their now growing numbers taking part in visible migration. In our five hour session we counted a minimum of 100 Chaffinch overhead and headed south, together with just a few Greenfinch. Today also proved to be the first signs of Meadow Pipit migration here, with just tiny groups and single birds on the move but those numbers added up to c35 birds arriving from the north or north east before they continued south. Now that "mipits" are on the move they will be added to target species for the next and subsequent visits.


Other birds seen today: 3 Raven, 1 Peregrine, 1 Kestrel, 3 Buzzard, c150 Swallows, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Grey Wagtail and 1 Alba wagtail.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Waiting Game

We’ve pencilled in Thursday morning for a spot of ringing when the low pressure should be long gone taking the wind with it. Not so this morning when another blowy morning saw me hit the Pilling patch and birding via Fluke Hall first.

The always shy Tree Sparrows are spending lots of time waiting around in the hedgerows at the moment because both the adults and young of the year undergo a complete moult, a time when they become more vulnerable to predators. I watched a gang of about 30 of them near Fluke Hall, and then as I tried counting the sparrows I spied a young Blackcap and 3 Whitethroat flitting through the same hawthorns, with several Goldfinch and Chaffinch about too.



Tree Sparrow

At Lane Ends I ducked down behind the wall and headed up to Pilling Water where hugging the tideline I counted 2 Skylark, 4 Linnet and 30 Goldfinch, and then on the marsh 3 Little Egret and 2 Grey Heron. Ravens have become fairly frequent around here in recent years, today being no exception when a single one came from the south east, and then flew to the incoming tideline where it squabbled with a Carrion Crow for a while before the big one croaked off towards Fluke Hall.

Against the stiff wind I made a few counts along the way: 28 Shelduck, 55 Curlew, 2 Wigeon, 115 Lapwing, 22 Ringed Plover and 18 Dunlin. At the wildfowler’s pools I watched about 240 Teal take flying practice when without warning whole gangs of them suddenly and with no apparent reason erupted from the water. They would head off west or south, circle around for a minute or two and then just as quickly as they left, return in tight formation with a headlong rush for the safety of the quiet, food-filled pools.


There was single male Wheatear this morning, the bird on the usual spot but almost certainly a different bird to recent days. There had been a a number of Swallows al morning, a dozen or two near Fluke, a couple at Lane Ends, but also a steady movement west along the shore that included House Martins. My morning count came to 150+ Swallow and 12 House Martin.

It was near the sea wall I settled down, hidden in the damp grass to watch the antics of a gang of local Swallows, recently fledged youngsters still relying on food from parents. Although there was no sun to enhance the Swallow’s plumage, the birds were close enough to get a few pictures. It’s almost September and these could be my last Swallow images until they return next year.







Sunday, August 28, 2011

Making The Best Of It.

With blustery winds and heavy showers blowing in from the west a ringing session was out of the question this morning.

So I took myself off to a farm near St Michael’s village where there’s a good selection of habitat and more than a few trees that offer shelter to birders and birds. There’s also lots of large, open fields of barley, silage and maize, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to see an autumn Marsh Harrier, but very distant. They always are far off when I’m around, my camera so jinxed that it never gets a good shot of a Marsh Harrier, hence the poor excuse for a photograph again, not helped by the first of many heavy showers that chose the same moment to drench me in half a minute.

Marsh Harrier

I found a good flock of about 90 Woodpigeon feeding on a recently cut grass meadow, and in the same field 4 Stock Dove, but feeding apart from the pigeons. What is it about pigeons and doves that make them unexciting to birders? The Stock Dove is actually a very subtly marked yet attractive bird, with that glossy green neck patch, its shades of grey and blue so splashed with black. Even the lacklustre old Woodpigeon has a certain charm when it fixes you with that yellow glare.

Stock Dove


Down the farm track the showers cleared enough for me to count the hirundines, 140 scattered Swallows, just 2 House Martin, but 3 Sand Martin dropped low by the rain storm I think. Just then the Swallows twittered in alarm, regrouped, and then saw off a Sparrowhawk which soon lost interest before disappearing over nearby trees.

On a recently tilled field I found a flock of 110+ purely Linnet but 5 Mistle Thrush searching through the same soil. Another thrush appeared on the trail ahead of me, this time a Song Thrush, which whacked the life out of a snail shell until the goodies inside fell to the floor. Everywhere I go I see lots of snails, slugs and bugs, all good sustenance for thrushes, but I see very few of the now scarce Song Thrush. The light was poor, the thrush was fast, but you get the general idea.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush

Looking west the sky was clearer, with patches of blue and to the north a bright rainbow against a dark grey sky, as up in the blue 3 Buzzards wheeled around, making the most of the respite. Buzzards have been largely quiet of late, but I get the feeling their autumn dispersal is taking place.

The farm has a couple of stands of trees, places for stopping, listening and looking. It was here I found a couple of Willow Warblers and a Chiffchaff, the chiffy in brief but full song. A Kestrel skirted the trees then a Great-spotted Woodpecker moved along the line of trees to the one furthest away, and when there were no more trees it flew to a telegraph pole where the road began.

Great-spotted Woodpecker

The ‘pecker was my cue to hit the road too, but what a splendid morning of birding despite the dreary old British weather, the sort we like to moan about. But at least we don’t have to lookout for Irene like our friends across the pond.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Autumn Assortment

It’s almost September so at Out Rawcliffe today our recent strategy changed from that of catching summer warblers to more of an autumn targeted one, aiming firstly for a catch of finches, then secondly the notion that any warblers that come along are a bonus.

We started the morning on a double disaster when firstly Will discovered that he forgot to put coffee in his flask of hot water and milk! Worse was to come when putting nets up in the dawn light we disturbed a Roe Deer that promptly panicked in the direction of where we had just set Will’s almost new 60 foot net. When we checked the net the deer had indeed crashed right through, snapped the bottom strand and left netting all over the vegetation. Such a net costs almost £100 – an expensive morning out. We put the net incident behind us as Will persevered with his warm, milky water refreshment for the rest of the morning, I sipped my flawless coffee whilst steady catching kept us both occupied.

We totted up a good selection of 12 species with 36 new birds and a single recapture. Of the 36 new birds 18 were finches, 14 warblers and 4 miscellaneous. New birds: 9 Chaffinch, 8 Linnet, 1 Goldfinch, 5 Blackcap, 4 Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Robin, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Great Tit and 1 Tree Pipit, the latter one our fourth of the autumn here. The single recapture was a still moulting adult Whitethroat.


Willow Warbler

Tree Pipit


Garden Warbler

One of the Chiffchaffs captured was a very smart, bright juvenile, very smart in fact because as I held the bird for a photograph it snapped at and caught a passing fly.



The bird watching was subdued this morning and the overall catch better than our simply birding observations might suggest, with 1 Grey Wagtail, 2 Tree Pipit and c40 Chaffinch overhead. Although welcome autumn additions, today’s Linnet and Goldfinch captures represent a small proportion of the two species on site with a sometimes mixed flock of 300+ birds. Otherwise we saw 80/100 Swallow, 2 House Martin, 2 Raven heading inland again, 1 Great=spotted Woodpecker, 1 Skylark, 1 Kestrel and 30+ Lapwing keeping company with a single Golden Plover.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

News Or Three

There’s not much bird news this morning. It was too breezy for ringing on the moss so I went over to Pilling where I found 4 Wheatears and a single Whinchat along the sea wall. I didn’t have any luck with the spring traps but did with the camera, and then only with a Wheatear. The Whinchat image is a relic from a Menorca trip.



Other birds this morning: 80+ Swallows, 2 Kestrel, a Sparrowhawk and a Buzzard. A good number of duck on the wildfowler’s pools with 140 Teal, then 80 Goldfinch and 45 Linnet feeding on the nearby thistle heads along Broadfleet and the sea wall.

By special request there are a couple of pictures of the unremarkable sea “wall” that stretches from Cockerham in the north to Knott End in the south. Strictly speaking the construction is a “bund” – an Asian word for an embankment or dyke that surrounds rice fields or a reservoir and acts as a breakwater to prevent flooding. The first photograph is a view from Pilling to Cockerham with the Pennine hills east of Lancaster in the far distance. The second is a view in the opposite direction. It is not so much the wall that produces the birds, more the variety of habitats like tidal shore, farmland and wooded land that lie on each side of the wall along its several miles.

Pilling view

Below is a view from Lane Ends, Pilling looking south to the distant trees of Fluke Hall. Fluke is a regional name for flatfish, more accurately a flounder, found in the shallow tidal sands of Pilling shore and elsewhere.

Pilling view

With the lack of bird news today I’m posting details of three recent recoveries of our ringed birds, all on them recaptured by other ringers in the UK. The first one comes from the ringing of Siskin in Will’s garden near Garstang during early 2011 when we recorded almost 300 Siskin captures. A second relates to a single Goldfinch from those ringed at Out Rawcliffe in the autumn of 2010 and a third to a Reed Bunting also ringed in the autumn of 2010.

A summary of the Siskin ringing in Will’s garden can be read here , but we now have further evidence of where those early spring migrant Siskins were headed and not surprisingly the destinations included Scotland. Ring number L300924, a Siskin ringed on 16 February 2011 was recaptured a month later on 18 March and then soon after took up its spring migration. Later in the year it was caught by a ringer at Tarbot, Loch Lomond, Scotland on 22 June 2011, 288 kms away from Will’s garden. Of course in June it would be in the throes of the breeding season.

Catterall, nr Garstang to Loch Lomond


During the autumn of 2010 during September to November we captured 49 Goldfinch at Rawcliffe Moss where we presumed many of those birds to be from further north. In the case of Goldfinch L300722 it proved of no great distance but typifies the often short movements across Morecambe Bay of this and other species (see the Reed Bunting below).Goldfinch L300722 was first ringed at Out Rawcliffe on 10 November 2010 and then recaptured at Walney Island Bird Observatory on 4 occasions between 7th March and 16th April 2011; after these captures it may have settled down to breed nearby or even moved further away during the later spring and summer. The distance between Rawcliffe Moss and Walney is just 29 kms.

Out Rawcliffe to Walney Island


A young male Reed Bunting L300408 ringed at Rawcliffe Moss on 7th November 2010 was recaptured in the breeding season of 2011 as an adult male at the RSPB Leighton Moss Reserve on 20th June 2011. This movement is fairly typical of juvenile Reed Buntings in travelling fairly short distances during their first winters, in this case just 34 kms.

Out Rawcliffe to Leighton Moss RSPB

Reed Bunting

Fingers are crossed. The weather looks promising for a ringing session tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We’ll Wheat Again

OK I know it's a corny old post title and rather gives the game away that I am older than I look, but you try thinking of new post headers several times a week.

It’s been a week or two since more than ones and twos of Wheatears hung about in the usual Pilling location but this afternoon there were eight of them. Torn between photography or ringing I decided to have a shot at both, results below of catching an adult male and photographs of a bird I took to be an adult female. The immaculate, just moulted male had a wing length of 102mm, top of the range for the nominate race.



In total I spent an hour or two with the Wheatears in between sunny-day grockles chasing the birds back and forth along the sea wall, until eventually the birds came back to where I waited at their favoured spot. It was late afternoon and the sun was strong from the wrong direction making “noise” in the background of the images.


Birding wise I totted up 70 Teal, 1 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 1 Little Egret, 2 Grey Heron and 1 Peregrine. The warm day had brought in numbers of Swallows and I estimated 300+ over the fields and the shore. After a quiet couple of weeks for the finches their numbers had built up today with at least 70 Goldfinch and 45 Linnet.



Let's hope for more news, a longer post and a better title from tomorrow's Another Bird Blog

Monday, August 22, 2011

Poles Apart

No two days are ever the same in ringing, a fact reinforced for Will and I this morning when we returned to Rawcliffe Moss secretly hoping for a repeat of Saturdays’ 50+ bird morning. However an overnight clear sky followed by a bright sunny morning didn’t bode well and at 6am as we fed out nets between our bamboo poles the plantation seemed lifeless.

Our fears proved justified when we packed up at 1015 with a catch of just 19 birds, 18 new and 1 recapture. Fortunately we continued with a catch of the same warbler species of past weeks but the individual totals dropped to single digits. New birds: 6 Chaffinch, 4 Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Linnet, 1 Tree Pipit, 1 Blackcap and 2 Wren. The single recapture was a Blackcap first ringed on Saturday, and seemingly the only leftover from our previous busy morning.

The Tree Pipit was the third caught here so far this autumn, today’s another handsome juvenile.

Tree Pipit




There was a small Chaffinch north to south movement - maybe 30+ birds, the first 2 Snipe of the autumn, 2 Grey Wagtail and 2 Sand Martin. We numbered the local Linnet and Goldfinch flocks at about 50 each. “Otherwise birds” seen: 2 Raven heading inland, one harried by a Peregrine, 4 Buzzard, 1 Skylark, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker and 1 Little Owl in the habitual spot.

Little Owl

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Completely Cuckoo

As recently promised, today’s post is wholly devoted to images of and information about that fascinating species Cuckoo – Cuculus canorus. The photographs are those of a juvenile bird near Nateby on 17th August.

Cuckoo - juvenile

Below is a current summary of the status of the Cuckoo in the UK, reproduced from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) website.

“The Common Bird Census (CBC)/Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) trend shows Cuckoo abundance to have been in decline since the early 1980s. The species was moved in 2002 from the green to the amber list, and in the latest review met red-list criteria. The sensitivity of CBC to change in this species may have been relatively low, mainly because Cuckoo territories were typically larger than census plots. The BBS shows a continuing strong decline in England and Wales, but not in Scotland. Cuckoo numbers may have fallen because the populations of some key host species, such as Dunnock and Meadow Pipit have declined. Decreases among certain British moths may have reduced food supplies for returning adults, and the species may also be suffering difficulties on migration or in winter. Strong variation in Cuckoo population trends between habitats may reflect regional differences in the main hosts and differing trends in Cuckoo breeding success among those host species: Cuckoos increased significantly during 1994–2006 in lowland semi-natural grass, heath and bog but decreased in almost all other habitat types. Due to climate-induced earlier breeding in recent decades, Dunnock nests have become less available to Cuckoos and those of Reed Warblers more so: this may explain a concurrent increase in the rate of parasitism of Reed Warbler nests.

Cuckoo - juvenile

Cuckoo - juvenile

The Cuckoo’s habits and parasitic way of rearing its young, so unlike that of any other British bird, is well known and documented so I will not recount it again, but in an old book of mine there is a fascinating account of how the Cuckoo was a puzzle to earlier naturalists. From the days of Aristotle to those of Pliny (AD25 – AD75) the Cuckoo was supposed to undergo a metamorphosis twice a year, appearing during the summer months as a Cuckoo. In “Naturalis Historia” Pliny wrote “a bird of the hawk kind, though destitute of curved talons and hooked beak, and having the bill of a Pigeon; should it chance to appear simultaneously with a Hawk it is devoured, being the sole example of a bird being killed by one of its own kind. In winter it changes into a Merlin, but reappears in spring in its own form, but with an altered voice, lays a single egg in the nest of some other bird, generally a Pigeon, declining to rear its own young because it knows itself to be a common object of hostility among all birds, and that its brood is in consequence unsafe unless it practices a deception. The young Cuckoo being naturally greedy monopolises the food brought to the nest by the foster parents and thus grows fat and sleek, and so excites its dam with admiration of her lovely offspring, that she first neglects her own chicks, then suffers them to be devoured before her eyes, and finally falls victim herself to his voracious appetite”.

Cuckoo - juvenile

So those part time philosopher and naturalist guys without binoculars and field guides were slightly off the mark with their theories about the remarkable Cuckoo, but as we now realise there is a glimmer of truth. We have to remember that in those days no one could comprehend migration or the fact that thousands of miles away in a southerly direction lay hot countries where a Cuckoo could while away the winter months and then return to Europe the following spring.

But it sounds like the birders of that period had certainly weighed up the Cuckoo’s eating habits, its preference for large caterpillars, often the hairy ones rejected by other birds. They locate the caterpillars by perching motionless and often upright on a vantage point from where they scan the surroundings, alert to any movement within yards.

Cuckoo - juvenile

Cuckoo -juvenile

Cuckoo - juvenile

Cuckoo - juvenile

With its peculiar life style a Cuckoo may not be not the most endearing of birds but it is certainly one of the most attractive, and I hope I see one next year, and the year after, and……

Cuckoo - juvenile

Read more about the Cuckoo at the BTO's website here.

Related Posts with Thumbnails