Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It’s No Secret

It’s just birding at the moment with constant blustery weather making a ringing session out of the question at our wind-sensitive winter sites. The November totals will be dire but Will tells me he added one Robin to the figures when one flew into the van through an open door.

I wanted to go to Out Rawcliffe for a look around this morning before I realised today is a shoot day. A local told me there’s yet another feasibility study taking place into the siting of a “farm” of 125 metre high wind-turbines on the moss. On several occasions in the last year or two Will and I had seen the bird surveyors, birders who do the leg work of the consultants by spot counting every month. If you ask, they claim they don’t know why they are counting and what the final counts will be used for! It’s all too political for me, but I hope the same individuals have declared possibly conflicting interests to in turn, their employee and local natural history groups they represent.

This grandiose scheme is the latest attempt after an earlier proposal was chucked out a couple of years ago on the grounds of harm to the area's huge wintering flocks of Pink-footed Geese, wildfowl and breeding birds in general. Rawcliffe Moss is also a Biological Heritage Site. Don’t these companies ever give up in wanting to cover the countryside in concrete and visual eyesores? In the last month up to 15,000 geese have flown in to the moss to feed in the half light of early mornings, some of which were murky, misty, even foggy, the type of morning when geese in particular are known to lose their bearings. Fresh minced Pinkie anyone?

Pink-footed Goose

Goose Mincing Machine

There was time for a look at Pilling this morning where I found my glove from last week without finding a lot different on the bird front. Pink-footed Geese were to the fore, the foreshore in fact with circa 1500 at Fluke Hall and c2500 at Lane Ends.

Passerines proved difficult to find again with 8 Tree Sparrow, 6 Greenfinch, 11 Linnet and 22 Twite at Fluke Hall, the latter two species in separate flock as ever, but also separated by their jizz and their habitat choices. Rarely if ever do I see these closely related species together. On this occasion the Linnet were along Ridge Farm hedgerow, the Twite on the salt marsh.



Just 18 Whooper Swans behind the sea wall with a Merlin giving a splendid fly past, but it was a Peregine that constantly spooked a couple of thousand Lapwing and 600 Teal at Broadfleet. Just 4 Little Egrets today, with 2 Goldeneye and 2 Tufted Duck on the pools.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do You Need A Euro?

Yesterday’s south westerly gales blew overnight, but this morning was at least bright if still windy. It wasn’t a morning for walking, more like trying to stay upright against the strong blasts of cold air. It was warm enough in the car so I checked Fluke Hall Lane first where 45 Whoopers were still on Swan Lake and then close by, about 50 Pink-footed Goose with 2 White fronted Geese of the European variety.

In the UK, two races of White fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) overwinter, generally Greenland birds in Scotland and Ireland, with Russian/European birds in England and Wales, with this winter seeing an as yet unexplained, and greater than normal influx of the euro birds. In North America where the Greenland race occurs, it is known as the Greater White-fronted Goose, so named for the patch of white feathers bordering the base of its bill. But even more distinctive are the barred markings on the breast of adult birds, which is why the goose is called the "Specklebelly" in North America.

The 2 whitefronts separated off and flew inland, but just up the road near Lane Ends I was to see 3 others. Jackdaws and Woodpigeons crowded in the stubble, panicking off occasionally to allow a rough count of 300 each. 4 Skylarks here too. There was nothing doing at Fluke hall itself except for the unusual sight of a drake Pintail on the wooded pool, perhaps a casualty of last week’s shoot.


The fields adjoining Backsands Lane were full of mainly Lapwings and Golden Plover with a small number of Redshank, probably 2000 Lapwings, 1200 Golden Plover and 50 Redshank. I guess the severe overnight winds had driven them all off the marshes to seek shelter behind the sea wall, but the accompanying rain also brought food near the surface of the now puddled fields.

Lapwing and Golden Plover


In the field opposite Lane Ends were 3 more White-fronted Goose, one limping quite badly, a feature which may serve to keep track of it in the next week or two. I chanced a walk to the pools where 2 Goldeneye and 2 Tufted Duck remain, but no wind-blown waifs and strays. In the trees near the car park were 1 Treecreeper, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 4 Chaffinch and 8 Long-tailed Tits.

White-fronted Goose

I drove up to Knott End to see what the tide had blown in. No unexpected seabirds or gulls, but the usual fare of Eider, but 29 a good count, 40 Turnstone, 22 Sanderling, 120 Oystercatcher, 19 Twite and 12 Red-breasted Merganser.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Haircut

It’s OK this not working lark but the problem is that there aren’t enough days in the week. What with family, birding, ringing, blogging and writing a monthly column for the Green Book, I never have time for a haircut; until today that is, so I made tracks for Roger’s at Norbreck, then for afters planned an hour or two with the camera at Fleetwood.

Before I left home I checked the garden for yesterday’s Sparrowhawk, and there it was again in the same damson tree, trying to look inconspicuous. The bird let me get really close, too close for my 400mm, until it hopped across to next door’s fence but hidden by a holly tree. It’s obviously a male, and probably a fairly old one judging by the eye colour which verges on red. Maybe it’s a little sick or like me just slowing down in old age, but there’s few garden birds about, and it may just be playing a crafty game waiting for dozy Long-tailed Tits to come by.


The birding was quiet along Rossall and then the Marine Lake, and with the high tide reaching the sea wall many waders may have flown elsewhere: 360 Turnstone, 60 Sanderling, 2 Oystercatcher, 1 Dunlin, 4 Pied Wagtail, 4 Meadow Pipit, 13 Red-breasted Merganser. As ever, double click the pic for a larger version.





Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser



What an enjoyable morning, and just as well I got those jobs done today; the forecast for the next few days is not good for birding, ringing, photography or getting a haircut.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It’s Persecution.

In Scotland the authorities recognise that those who persecute birds of prey frequently do so at the direction of their employers or others with vested interests, and so introduced an offence of vicarious liability, the purpose of which is to bring those parties to justice.

A petition (link below) calls on the UK Government to introduce an offence of vicarious liability to bring to justice those who direct or turn a blind eye to raptor persecution in England.

As an indication of how bad thing are, in the last year only four pairs of Hen Harriers successfully reared chicks in England, fourteen Peregrine Falcon territories failed on grouse moors in the Lancashire Forest of Bowland, and only one successful Goshawk nest was recorded in the Derwent Valley, Derbyshire. Current legislation is not enough to deter those who break the law and destroy our heritage; the introduction of vicarious liability would hit those directing the slaughter.

Sign the petition here

Hen Harrier

I didn’t get out today, but acquired this shot of a Sparrowhawk in the back garden. It didn’t appear too well, maybe it has been in the Forest of Bowland.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lost And Found

There’s not much from me or Pilling today, and with the tide well out, just the steady stuff again for a couple of hours graft and an invigorating walk along you know where.

There’s now 2 Goldeneye and 2 Tufted Duck on Lane Ends pool, no flashy drakes, just the dowdy brown things to pick out amongst the Mallards. Lane Ends to Pilling Water and Fluke Hall gave me 13 Little Egret, 27 Whooper Swan, 1 Black Swan, 1 Peregrine, 7 Meadow Pipit, 11 Linnet, 4 Skylark and 3 Barnacle Goose. I’m fairly sure someone lost the Barnacles, they don’t seem very wild.


Barnacle Goose

Whooper Swan

I lost a glove somewhere past Pilling Water, but found instead 2 Green Sandpipers, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 300+ Woodpigeon, 475 Jackdaw, 600+ Teal, 1500 Lapwing, 15 Shelduck and 11 Redshank.

I’ll just have to go back soon and look for that glove, maybe I’ll find some new birds soon?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Horizons, Old Friends

There was no Rawcliffe today for Will and me; instead we decided to try our luck at the winter feeding spot at Myerscough where in the last few weeks Will did the hard preparatory work by snipping overgrown hawthorn branches adjacent to net rides, regularly dropping a little bird seed, and on his visits making sure that birds had found the free grub. The targets of our efforts are set to be Chaffinches and thrushes, with perhaps a few wary Tree Sparrows, but the latter may not oblige after the first one or two visits literally catch them out.

The site was disgustingly muddy, the track churned up by the many tractor and farm vehicle visits of autumn, but we set just a couple of nets in the half-light then waited for birds to arrive.

The farm track is less than half a mile from a long established Chaffinch roost at nearby Myerscough College. The grounds of the college are so busy with people and vehicles on a daily basis that it is not feasible to ring there, so putting feed out nearby is more effective than attempting to catch Chaffinches in a large, widespread roost. There is scope here for a couple of keen young ornithologists to count how many Chaffinches arrive at the roost in the late afternoon, from which directions, and maybe even the birds' choice of tree or shrub in which to spend the night. If only young birders were as keen on finding out about birds as they are on seeing new or “exciting” ones.

Muddy Waters

Targeting the Chaffinch proved very successful in a four hour session, with a total of 49 birds, 46 new and 3 recaptures. New birds: 36 Chaffinch, 3 Tree Sparrow, 3 Robin, 2 Blackbird, 1 Blue Tit, and 1 Dunnock. Recaptures: 1 Chaffinch, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Tree Sparrow. The Chaffinch and Blue Tit were first ringed here on 12 December 2010, with the Tree Sparrow dating from January 2009.

Our observations suggest that 100+ Chaffinches came to the feed at the hedgerow, our count probably a severe underestimate given the number arriving but not necessarily caught. Also, it’s early days yet but compared to our autumn catches of predominantly juvenile Chaffinches at Out Rawcliffe, it was quickly evident today how many of the birds handled were adults, 18 of the 37, or virtually 50%.

Mainly Chaffinch


Chaffinch – broad tail of an adult

Blue Tit

The rather enclosed nature of the site limits the bird watching somewhat, but in addition to the birds ringed we noted 2 Bullfinch, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Snipe, 1 Kestrel, 1 Tawny Owl, 7 Redwing, 6 Fieldfare.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Persistence, Resolve, Doggedness or just plain Obstinate? Call it what you like in the face of not much happening in the bird world in recent days, but if there’s half a sunny morning and Sue goes off Christmas shopping, what’s a man to do but go birding?

Pilling Lane Ends to Fluke was even quieter today with an embarrassing lack of entries in my notebook and even less images in the camera.

From the car park both the Peregrine and Merlin were about but distant. The Peregrine remained on the edge of the marsh but as I walked to Fluke Hall the Merlin perched up a couple of times on the gates of the sea wall or sit atop fence posts which line the inland ditch. After a while the bird tired of me walking its beat and flew off to sit on the remains of the washed up tree on the marsh. There was a Buzzard along the sea wall too, one of the Fluke birds, harassed out to the marsh and up into the clouds by the persistence of Carrion Crows and Jackdaws.


On the wildfowler’s pools today, 15 Shelduck, 150 Teal and countless hundreds of not very wild “mallards”.

It’s the lack of passerines which is rather strange at the moment with counts today of 6 Skylark, 1 Meadow Pipit, 2 Reed Bunting and 8 Linnet. The exception to this current November rule is the number of Starlings about, with large, even huge flocks in many parts of the Fylde. Along the sea wall today I met another resolute birder heading east who stopped to theorise that the incursion of Starlings could be associated with the current influx of White-fronted Geese, as many of the UK’s wintering Starlings also originate from Eastern Europe and Russia. A good notion there, so nice to see a University education not wasted.

I achieved a whopping count of 14 Little Egrets today, with 1 Grey Heron amongst them, so the heron family almost eclipsed my count of small birds.

It’s just as well there’s a regular Little Owl spot nearby to practice a spot of now rusty photography.

Little Owl

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Solo Stint

A fine, bright morning beckoned, so with everyone else at work I tried a few hours solo ringing at Rawcliffe Moss from 0915 to 1115. I didn’t catch many birds but there was a nice mix of species with some immaculate looking individuals.

I caught 15 birds with a couple of nets but packed in when a gang of Long-tailed Tits gathered near the net, prepared for an assault when my back was turned. New birds: 4 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Goldfinch, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Reed Bunting and 2 Blackbird. The 4 recaptures were singles of Blackbird, Goldfinch, Dunnock amd Lesser Redpoll. It’s unusual to recapture a Lesser Redpoll here and today’s returnee had been first caught on 20th September, suggesting that it and other Lesser Redpolls belong to a regular little group that feed in the plentiful birch and alders.

Lesser Redpoll





Things were quite good on the birding front with 1 Tawny Owl, 1 Woodcock, 1 Kestrel, 3 Buzzard, 45 Skylark, 5 Corn Bunting, 80 Woodpigeon, 5000 Starlings, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker and 3 Yellowhammer.


While on the subject of Goldfinches it appears that one I ringed in my garden on 13th June 2010 took a trip to Manchester, Orrell Reservoir to be exact, where it was caught by another ringer on 4th September 2011. Interesting, I’ll bet that Goldfinch was headed further south for this winter, but I don’t have any recaptures during the 448 days from original ringing then recapture in Manchester.

Goldfinch-Stalmine to Manchester

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Still Balmy

Driving up to Pilling this morning I listened to a radio programme where the presenters discussed how this November is set to be the warmest on record. So until the UK sits receives cooler air from the east or north, birding will stay a little quiet with some species in low numbers and yet others apparently absent altogether.

That synopsis is my justification for a quiet couple of hours with amazingly similar notebook entries to recent days, together with an absence of new sightings or additional species. However it was an agreeable morning, and for the record here are the sightings.

Ridge Farm and Fluke Hall Lane: 45 Linnet, 8 Greenfinch, 9 Reed Bunting, 14 Blackbird, 2 Little Egret, 2 Snipe, 8 Skylark, 6 Meadow Pipit, 12 Tree Sparrow, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Treecreeper, 400+ Jackdaw, 300+ Woodpigeon and a herd of 32 Whooper Swan. On the drive from Lambs Lane, I’d already counted 15/20 Blackbirds, so although there are plenty of those around, there are no Redwings or Fieldfares to be found. Even if the coloured thrushes turn up now there is also a distinct lack of hawthorn berries for them to feed on, and with the benefit of hindsight 2011 has not been a very berry year.

Whooper Swan

Reed Bunting

Tree Sparrow

Lane Ends/Pilling Water: A Stoat ran across the road stayed hidden under the hawthorns when I stopped the car, but as I parked up for a few minutes waiting for the animal to show I spotted the regular Merlin crossing Backsands Lane then perching up on the inner embankment. Looking from the car park the Peregrine was 500 yards out, immobile on the same bit of marsh it has occupied all week, likewise 6 Little Egrets walking in and out of the familiar tidal channels. A walk to Pilling Water revealed just 2 Skylarks and the regular Kestrel.

At Pilling Water the Hi-fly bloke bemoaned the lack of wildfowl, with just 150 Teal and a handful of Pintail on their pools, plus his one and only Woodcock sighting of the autumn. As we chatted he related how there may have been up to 30,000 Pink-footed Geese in recent times, an extraordinary number if correct, but counting or possibly duplicating restless geese can be a more inexact science than counting birds that pass by just once. My count today of the many overhead skeins of geese heading in various directions, in and out of the marsh, and beyond the tide line was in comparison a miserable 3,500.

He told me how last winter during the snow, frost and days of 600 Teal he saw a Bittern, stood bolt upright trying to merge into the background of maize as the loaded quad chugged past. “Not much chance of a Bittern or more wildfowl just yet” we agreed, as we had a good old moan about the British weather.

The wind should drop overnight; let’s hope there are a few birds at the ringing sites.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Those Chaffinch

We ringed lots of Chaffinches at Out Rawcliffe this autumn, but most of the time Will and I were too busy on a daily basis to look in detail at the age/sex ratio of the birds we caught, other than mentally note how many were both females and first calendar year/juveniles.

The ringing site on Rawcliffe Moss is approximately 6 miles from Garstang, a town on the very western edge of the Pennines. In North West Lancashire during autumn mornings there is a marked but mainly inland movement south of Chaffinches, a phenomenon which is often very pronounced in the first few or occasionally several hours after dawn. The visible passage begins in August, peaks during September, declines somewhat during October to then virtually fizzle out in November. This dispersal of Chaffinches has been described by several observers recording the visible migration of many bird species in the Pennines area of Lancashire.

I looked at our captures made between the months of August to October in the two years 2010 and 2011. During 2010 we caught 332 individuals, and then 375 in 2011, a total of 707 captures in the two autumn periods.


The BTO Migration Atlas states that Chaffinches involved in autumnal movements are thought to be 90% first year birds, predominantly females. Our data from Out Rawcliffe supports the idea that the Chaffinches passing through there are largely juvenile/1st Calendar Year (1CY) females. The wing lengths of the birds involved also show that the same Chaffinches are probably entirely from the UK population.

Chaffinch wing lengths occur in the range of 81mm to 98mm for males and 73mm to 89mm for females, so although there are overlaps in biometrics, plumage differences make separating the sexes easy. Birds from northern and eastern populations can be slightly larger, often with a longer wing length, whereby males with a wing more than 93mm or females with a wing length greater than 86mm may originate from more migratory Scandinavian or Eastern European populations.


Of the 707 Chaffinches captured during the autumns of 2010 or 2011 none could be positively identified as of Scandinavian or continental origin. In the Autumn of 2010, there were 2 Chaffinches caught on 1st November each with a wing length of 93mm which might be considered none-UK birds, but not definitely so as both were large adult males. In the autumn of 2011 there were 2 Chaffinches both on 28th October 2011, with wing lengths of 92 and 93mm respectively which might be considered non-UK birds. The timing of these 4 captures fits well with the suggestion of continental birds reaching the north west of the UK in the later part of autumn via south east England when more migratory continental Chaffinches spread north and west.

Table: Age/Sex ratios of Chaffinches


Total Captures

Adults (% of Total Captures)

1CYs (% of Total Captures)

1CY male (% of 1CYs)

1CY female (% of 1CYs)

Aug 2010


9 (33%)

18 (67%)

5 (28%)

13 (72%)

Aug 2011


5 (11%)

39 (89%)

17 (43%)

22 (57%)

Sep 2010


48 (18%)

215 (82%)

71 (33%)

144 (67%)

Sep 2011


35 (15%)

193 (85%)

88 (45%)

105 (55%)

Oct 2010


16 (38%)

26 (62%)

8 (31%)

18 (69%)

Oct 2011


17 (17%)

86 (83%)

37 (43%)

49 (57%)

From the 700+ Chaffinches the number of recaptures was very low, supporting the idea of onward dispersal. If anything the low number of meaningful records of birds first ringed in 2010 and then recaptured in 2011 without recapture in-between, suggest that some experienced Chaffinches use exactly the same dispersal route and stop overs each year.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Double Pegging

A fine, warm but somewhat breezy Sunday morning meant a few hours birding and breathing space around local spots before the hordes hit the streets.

Conder Green lost its attraction to me in recent months, but I called in for a quick look this morning to see what I’d been missing. Not a lot it seems, the pool as deserted as ever it was with just a single Little Grebe on the whole expanse of water. There were 5 more Little Grebes in the creek, along with 95 of my favourite duck the diminutive Teal. Whatever a Teal may lack in size it certainly makes up it in character, flying ability, wildness and simple beauty. A quick look on the Lune revealed 22 Goldeneye.



I tried my luck down Hillam Lane, where an improvement on CG saw 375 Curlew, 1 Pied Wagtail, 2 Little Egret, 15 Chaffinch, 8 Tree Sparrow, 5 Blackbird, 1 Sparrowhawk and 1 Kestrel.

At the old faithful sites of Lane Ends, Pilling Water and Fluke Hall where there was a bit more activity. On the outer marsh at Lane Ends were 4 Barnacle Geese of dubious origin, well apart from several thousand Pink-footed Geese and 22 Whooper Swans of impeccable pedigree, with at least 9 Little Egrets and 2 Grey Heron. Also out on the marsh was a big, bright male Peregrine which sat unmoved for at least an hour, even as I walked to Pilling Water then back to Lane Ends. At one point an even larger Peregrine, this one a female flew close to and above the male before then flying over the sea wall and south west towards Preesall, but it’s not unusual to see two or even three Peregrines here given the abundance of food.

Peregrine courtesy of USFWS

Small stuff in the planation - 1 Jay, several Blackbirds and 1 Reed Bunting.

Pilling Water produced 1 Buzzard heading off towards Fluke Hall plus the now inevitable Green Sandpiper. Also, 1 Kestrel, 1 Meadow Pipit, 2 Skylark, 2 Snipe and 2 Linnet.

At Fluke Hall, a single Goldcrest and a silent Chiffchaff.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Final Curtain?

After the last couple of sessions Rawcliffe Moss is definitely running short of autumn birds, but after the overnight rain cleared and with a half decent forecast, Will and I decided to have another go this morning, mainly in the hope of connecting with the elusive thrushes of 2011.

There was a suggestion of a few or more at dawn, perhaps even locally roosting ones, but no true visible migration which could increase a pathetic count of 12 Fieldfare, 8 Redwing, 2 Song Thrush and 8 Blackbirds. Chaffinch numbers were similarly low with less than 50, coupled with 3 Lesser Redpoll and 40+ Goldfinch, the latter all local feeding birds.

We finished a short session with just 11 new birds, 3 Redwing, 3 Blackbird, 4 Chaffinch and a Wren. No recaptures today.



Other birds and animals today: 1 Tawny Owl, 2 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 6 Snipe, 50+ Skylark, 5 Meadow Pipit, 10 Reed Bunting, 4 Corn Bunting, 9 Roe Deer.

Looking west towards Pilling Moss this morning we saw the most enormous, dense flock of Starlings which when they took to the air, we estimated at up to 20,000 birds wheeling around, but there may have been many more.


Will has been putting feed out at a site near Myerscough in readiness for a switch to winter ringing. He reports over 50 Chaffinch and several Tree Sparrows already coming to the seed, so we may switch allegiance soon and return to the moss next spring.

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