Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Times

The end of British Summer Time and reversing the clocks on Saturday night meant meeting Will at 6am Sunday on Rawcliffe Moss, and not “an extra hour in bed”. Birds don’t stick to human timetables and we still needed to get the nets up in the dark. Nets were set before 0630 by which time we had either seen or heard at least 4 Tawny Owls, but no Barn Owl today.

Our varied catch was similar to recent times, with several thrushes at first light followed by a selection of finches interspersed with Reed Buntings until we packed up at 11am. We totalled 38 birds, 32 new and 6 recaptures. New: 12 Chaffinch, 11 Goldfinch, 4 Reed Bunting, 2 Fieldfare, 2 Blackbird and 1 Song Thrush. Recaptures meant 3 Goldfinch from recent days, 1 Robin and 2 resident Dunnocks; both were in the net together today and were first ringed in 2009, recaptured in 2010 and also earlier in 2011.

The adult Robin L141888 was ringed here in the autumn of 2010, but interestingly and despite many visits through spring summer and autumn since then we have no record of it in between times.



Reed Bunting


Thrush migration was almost non-existent this morning with just 20 Fieldfares and 10 Redwings heading south before 9am and then none, although we did see 6 Song Thrush in ones and twos, then later a party of 4 Mistle Thrush.

Chaffinches appeared somewhat down in number, but taking into account the twelve caught, the 100+ which headed noticeably south east throughout our 5 hours may be an undercount. Our Lesser Redpoll and Siskin count came to 18 and 2 respectively, with 10+ Reed Buntings throughout the morning.

Other birds seen: 15 Whooper Swan, 2 Buzzard, 9 Snipe, 6 Corn Bunting, 2 Yellowhammer, 1 Peregrine.

There were huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese flighting inland today, Sunday being a traditional day for the Over Wyre sportsmen, out in force on the coastal marshes and fields. To the nearest thousand we estimated at least 5000 birds heading south and east looking for fields to drop on out of harm’s way.

Pink-footed Goose

Friday, October 28, 2011

Early Owl But No Lottis

Out Rawcliffe 0645 - as usual Will and I had set nets before first light to await the thrushes, but we soon found something other than early Redwings.

The Tawny Owls have been calling to each other for a week or two, usually further away from our nets, but one got a surprise this morning when in the almost total darkness the bird’s flight path was interrupted by a 60ft net. There is an overlap of Tawny Owl measurements, and although from its plumage characteristics we could tell it was an adult, the weight and wing length meant it could be a male or a female. Whichever sex the bird was it proved pretty feisty with the talons, so we took a leg out of the bird bag for ringing before looking more closely at the bird itself.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl

We had a quite productive morning of ringing with 29 birds caught, 28 new and one recapture, a recent Goldfinch. New birds: 10 Chaffinch, 5 Reed Bunting, 4 Redwing, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Goldfinch and one each of Tawny Owl, Dunnock and Great Tit.


The early thrush movement was probably the quietest of the autumn so far, with seemingly no more than 50 Redwing, 12 Fieldfare, 5 Song Thrush and a couple only of Blackbirds on the move soon after dawn, then virtually none during the remainder of the morning. The Chaffinch passage was similarly down with our estimate of c80 only during four hours. The trapped Chaffinches included a couple of larger males, perhaps a sign that more northerly individuals are beginning to spread from the south and east of the UK.

We noted an increase in both Siskins and Lesser Redpolls this morning, with small parties and numerous calls of both species, at times intermixed or accompanying Goldfinches. Our estimate came to 40 Siskin and 35 Lesser Redpoll, but the Lesser Redpolls are more easily caught than the Siskins. We added 5 more Reed Buntings to our autumn total and estimated the species throughput this morning at 10 or 12 in addition to the 5 caught.

Lesser Redpoll

Apart from the endless flights inland of approximately 2000 Pink-footed Geese, this morning’s birding was quiet: 1 Kestrel, 1 Buzzard, 11 Snipe, 1 Corn Bunting, 12 Whooper Swans and an uncounted number of Grey Partridge calling invisibly before dawn. Thankfully a roving flock of 26 Long-tailed Tits did not find one of our mist nets.

Long-tailed Tit

Thursday, October 27, 2011

KE, Recaptures And Fingers Crossed

An hour or two at Knott End (KE) this morning proved very rewarding for seeing a good selection of birds, but not for photography on the grey, overcast morning.

A walk up river and then near the jetty produced 9 Red-breasted Merganser, 15 Eider, 30+ Wigeon, 4 Grey Heron, 2 Little Egret, 6 Pied Wagtail, 1 Rock Pipit, 4 Cormorant and 1 Kestrel.

The incoming tide pushed waders and wildfowl to the shore, with 1900 Oystercatcher, 1400 Knot, 145 Redshank, 28 Turnstone, 140 Dunlin, 40+ Curlew and 35 Shelduck. A Peregrine dived once or twice at the assembled Knot before the tide ran in so quickly that I didn’t get to accurately count the many birds which flew either up river to the Wyre roost or along the sands to the Preesall/Pilling roost.


Rock Pipit


It rained later so I turned my attention to trying to answer a question from a blog reader from the US who asked about ringing recaptures.

I keyed WILWA into our Fylde Ringing Group IPMR database and came up with the example below to illustrate how full life histories are gleaned from multiple recaptures of the same individual, in this case a small migratory warbler, the Willow Warbler. British Willow Warblers spend the summer here before migrating to central Africa for the winter.

IN1795 was first captured as a juvenile (age code 3) in July 1990, almost certainly a bird whose parents bred within the ringing site. It spent its first and subsequent winter somewhere in Africa, returning to exactly the same UK location in years 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1997, when we recaptured and identified it as a breeding male (code 4M) in most years. The bird was almost certainly present during the summers of 1993 and 1996, the reason for the non-recapture being that it simply escaped us ringers that year. In 1997 it went off the radar and may have died from old age, an unknown cause, or possibly on migration south during the autumn of 1997, in its Africa winter, or even on the way back to the UK in the spring of 1998. Willow Warblers, indeed most small birds are not especially long lived, but in its 6+ years the recapture history of IN1795 provided lots of valuable data.

Age 3, First ringed - 14/07/1990 Inskip, Lancashire
Age 4, Recaptured - 20/04/1991 Inskip, Lancashire - 280 days
Age 4M, Recaptured - 18/05/1991 Inskip, Lancashire - 308 days
Age 4M, Recaptured - 14/05/1992 Inskip, Lancashire - 1 year 305 days
Age 4, Recaptured - 01/05/1994 Inskip, Lancashire - 3 years 291 days
Age 4, Recaptured - 14/04/1995 Inskip, Lancashire - 4 years 274 days
Age 4M, Recaptured - 06/05/1995 Inskip, Lancashire - 4 years 269 days
Age 4M, Recaptured - 03/05/1997 Inskip, Lancashire - 6 years 293 days

Willow Warbler

The forecast isn’t looking too bad for a ringing some new birds tomorrow, and maybe even a few more recaptures. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another Morning Mix

This morning Will and I made it to the moss again with nets up in the dark and then time to spare before any thrush arrivals. Although there was no large scale appearance, we picked up a few more of the target species.

The first mixed flock of Redwings and Fieldfares arrived soon after 8am but between then and 0930 we saw less than 175 of both species, split 140/35 in favour of Fieldfares, with 6+ Song Thrush, a single Mistle Thrush and 4 Blackbirds only. The Chaffinch movement that started in late August continued through this morning with a total of 170+ heading south east into the 10mph light wind, the good number of birds not reflected in our catch of six. Reed Buntings continue to be obvious migrants through the site with 10+ over this morning in addition to the six caught, which pushes our autumn total for the species to 38 individuals.

Today’s total reached 24 birds, 21 new and 3 recaptures. New birds: 6 Chaffinch, 6 Reed Bunting, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Redwing, 1 Blackbird, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Wren and 1 Blackcap, the latter a first calendar year/juvenile female. Recaptures were 1 each of Robin, Goldfinch and Coal Tit.



Reed Bunting

Song Thrush



Our birding was interesting, steady but unspectacular - in rough order of appearance dawn to 1130am: 1 Barn Owl, 2 Tawny Owl, 20+ Meadow Pipits and 2 Alba wagtails heading south, 5 Whooper Swan, 1 Raven, 19 Snipe, 1 Grey Heron and 1 Peregrine. During the morning there was a light overhead movement of small finches, mainly Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, less than 5 audible records of each call, but an additional and rare sighting here of 2 Bullfinch. Also uncommon here inland, 2 early morning overhead Greenfinch.

I hadn’t seen the Little Owls for weeks, but today one was back in the winter tree.

Little Owl

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

News And Twos

A quick run around the patch at Pilling this morning produced a few notables for a mini-posting of news.

Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus are back from Iceland in some numbers with the now regular congregation building up on the Fluke Hall stubble fields to 115+ today, so densely packed, mobile and quite distant that it is difficult to obtain a precise count. The picture below shows one part of this morning’s flock.

Whooper Swan

The swans can be heard whooping it up from hundreds of yards away, even down in Pilling village half a mile from Fluke Hall, but there’s nothing quite like their calls to set you up with anticipation for a morning’s birding.

The North American counterpart of Whooper Swan is Cygnus buccinator, which goes by the very descriptive name of Trumpeter Swan, with a call quite different from the Whooper. Trumpeter Swans also have an all-black bill.

Trumpeter Swan

I managed a walk from Lane Ends to Pilling Water and bumped into a couple of twos, 2 Wheatear, 2 Buzzard and 2 Green Sandpipers, the latter disappearing as noisily as ever into the wildfowler’s pools. Now well into October Wheatears are getting a little late now, although I have seen them in November some years.


Other small stuff around: 26 Skylark, 2 Reed Bunting, 13 Meadow Pipit, 15 Snipe.

Meadow Pipit

The forecast for tomorrow looks slightly better, with more spaced-out isobars and chance of a ringing session – amazing!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Different Circus

They say a change is as good as a rest so this afternoon I set off for Pilling Moss and a walk around a farm I wander over now and again. The spot has a few sheltered fields and woods and is a useful standby when everywhere else is a more than a bit breezy, as it was today.

This year I’ve seen plenty of Marsh Harriers, both spring and autumn, but one of the first birds I saw this afternoon was a Hen Harrier, Circus cyaneus, now probably the rarer of the two closely related harriers. Crows chased the harrier off towards Union Lane whereby it flew fast with the wind and I lost it against a background of trees.

Hen Harrier

The couple of hours turned into a raptor fest with 3 Kestrel, 1 Peregrine, 1 Merlin, 3 Buzzards and a Tawny Owl. I found the owl huddled up out of the wind in the densest part of an ivy covered tree, the greenery so impenetrable that I tried this way and that to get more than a half photo of the bird but couldn’t. So as they also say, “Here’s one I did earlier”.

Tawny Owl


There was lots of passerine food on offer for the raptors, 60+ Skylark, 70 Chaffinch, 130 Linnet, 5 Reed Bunting, 25 Goldfinch, 11 Pied Wagtail, 15 Snipe, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker and 20+ Tree Sparrow. I almost forgot, 1 Fieldfare and 2 Song Thrush, but a number of Blackbirds.

Peregrines count Columbidae into their food category and there were plenty of those today with 32 Stock Dove and 80+ Woodpigeon. Other “bits and bobs” seen, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Raven and 260 Pink-footed Geese trying to hide in a barley stubble field.


Stock Dove

Pink-footed Goose

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Still Waiting

The early morning text exchanges made the decision. Yes, it was a bit breezy but Will and I could go to the moss for a “vis mig” count, top up the feeders, and then if anywhere was sheltered, try and catch a few more thrushes. Any day now there should be a wave of northern thrushes heading over the mosslands, all we have to do is hit the right morning.

Saturday Sunrise

We set nets in the only two rides undisturbed by the south-easterly breeze, then listened and watched out for Redwings and Fieldfares, but also Song Thrushes and Blackbirds, both very much migrant species here in October. There was an initial flurry of mainly Redwings, about 130, with smaller number of less than 30 Fieldfares, both species heading slow, low and south into the headwind, but in the less than ideal conditions the burst of activity stopped quite quickly. So we still await a large push of birds, hopefully we will be there when it eventually takes place.

The sheltered “Niger” net caught most of the 12 birds, 2 Song Thrush, 1 Redwing, 8 Goldfinch and 1 Chaffinch.

Song Thrush



Despite the stiff breeze a number of Chaffinches in ones and twos toiled steadily into it, with less than 100 overall, but the Chaffinch numbers have been dropping recently, a sign their autumnal dispersal may be nearing the end. As Will and I both ring birds on their right leg let’s hope we can catch this left-footer before the Chaffinch dry up completely.


On last night’s BBC Autumn Watch there was a question from a viewer who recently saw lots of “black-billed Blackbirds”, but the query didn’t seem adequately answered by the programme. In October migrant Blackbirds, especially the first calendar year males have distinctly dull and dusky plumage which lacks the gloss of adult males. These young males also have dark brown to blackish bills, and often pale grey throats, so maybe the viewer had simply seen a number of immigrant Blackbirds? We saw a few “blackies” this morning, but didn’t catch any this time, just the brown thrushes above.


Birding wise we counted the following notables: 11 Grey Partridge, 4 Yellowhammer, 26 Corn Bunting, 75+ Linnet, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Barn Owl.

Corn Bunting

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Where Were You?

Yes, the blog is back after several more days’ forced inactivity thanks to the good old British weather.

Will and I had high hopes this morning that the many birds held up in the past few days would head south over Rawcliffe Moss with some urgency this morning. With the first autumn frost crunching underfoot we erected nets in the dark, grabbed a quick coffee, and then waited for birds to arrive at first light. The anticipated flood of birds appeared to be less than a trickle of thrushes, with just 25 Redwing and 12 Fieldfare arriving soon after dawn before drying up completely, leaving us wondering where they are.

At times the session was slow, but we persevered and the 4 hour stint ended up with a good selection of 25 birds of 8 species, 23 new and 2 recaptures. New: 11 Chaffinch, 5 Reed Bunting and 3 Goldfinch, with 1 each of the target thrush species, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare.

Reed Bunting - male

Reed Bunting- female

Song Thrush



Compared to recent weeks even the movement of finches was lighter this morning, with less than 150 Chaffinches throughout the morning, approximately 10 Siskin, not a single Redpoll, but 2 or more Brambling. Reed Buntings were again conspicuous with 12 or more birds overhead or lingering on site, but the Meadow Pipit passage may be over with less than 20 birds over and south today. Eleven new Chaffinches pushed our site total for new captures of this species to 350 this autumn.



The other birding was pretty quiet too: A Barn Owl and 3 Tawny Owls at dawn, 13 Alba wagtail, 15 Tree Sparrow, 8 Linnet, 8 Snipe and 9 Whooper Swans, the latter our first ones of the beckoning winter.

Whooper Swan

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Keen As Mustard

Last night’s weather forecast was highly marginal for ringing, but being full of enthusiasm for more migrant thrushes Will and I met up at 0645 on Rawcliffe Moss, taking a chance that any early rain would clear quickly. Our optimism was somewhat misplaced and we spent an hour or more waiting for the drizzle to clear, the clouds to lift and a chance to open nets.

The 360 degrees overcast sky kept the thrushes back, with just small parties of Redwings and Fieldfares finding their way through the murk as dawn broke. We quickly caught six thrushes but had to close nets as rain closed in. The initial thrush movement totalled only 50+ Redwing, 35 Fieldfare, 12+ Blackbird, 3 Song Thrush and 1 Mistle Thrush. We caught finches later as the cloud broke from the west or headed north, but the corresponding increase in wind speed probably put a block on more migration through our immediate location.

Today’s new birds: 7 Goldfinch, 7 Chaffinch, 3 Redwing, 2 Blackbird, 1 Song Thrush. We also recaptured 2 Goldfinches and a Robin.






Song Thrush

“Birding” birds noted this morning in addition to the above mentioned thrushes: 20+ Siskin, 9 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Brambling, 80+ Chaffinch, 50+ Goldfinch, 10 Reed Bunting, 12 Alba wagtail, 20 Meadow Pipit, 8 Golden Plover, 8 Snipe, 800 Pink-footed Goose, 4 Magpie, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker.

The weather for the next three or four days doesn't look too good for either birding or ringing, but if there's half a chance watch this space for news and views.
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