Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where Did A Year Go?

It’s time for recalling the past year’s highlights of birding, ringing and photography. Now is the moment when we choose to forget the low points, the empty pages in a sodden notebook, netting a handful of birds on a seemingly perfect spring morning, or discovering that you set the aperture wrong after all. So here we go in rough chronological order with a selection of photos and personal highlights of 2011.

In the early part of the year we holidayed in Egypt at a time when the country was undergoing a revolution, but the confiding birds hadn’t joined in the turmoil and just behaved naturally for a visiting Brit. Egypt proved to be a wonderful place for bird photography and so difficult to select just a few pictures, apart from the Kingfisher which is just about my favourite photo of the year, taken with a decent choice of aperture for once.

Kingfisher - Egypt

Cattle Egret - Egypt

I’d left Will counting Siskins building up by the hundreds in his garden, together with a dozen or two Brambling and Lesser Redpoll. Within days of returning from Egypt I joined him for some memorable ringing sessions and notable breakfasts.

Brambling - Garstang

Lesser Redpoll - Garstang

Siskin - Garstang

Bacon Butty

Spring and autumn were great for catching and photographing Wheatears at Pilling. With the help of sacrificial meal worms I caught fourteen “Wheats” and clicked the shutter button a couple of hundred times on the beautiful chat, passing Meadow Pipits or the occasional Linnet.

Wheatear - Pilling

Meadow Pipit - Pilling

Linnet - Pilling

The annual ritual came along, May in Menorca, the island where birds are hard to find but fortunately more numerous than birders. This year a ringed Audouin’s Gull at the poolside gave me an excuse to find that extreme rarity, a Menorcan ringer.

Audouin’s Gull - Menorca

Audouin’s Gull - Menorca

Summer was warm and wonderful, ringing Swallow chicks, finding Skylark nests and stumbling upon young Lapwings or breeding Redshank.

Skylark - Pilling

Swallow - Pilling

Redshank - Pilling

Lapwing - Pilling

Then at the end of summer came a chance to take photographs of a species rapidly becoming a rarity, the unfortunately named “Common” Cuckoo.

Cuckoo - Nateby

Autumn and early winter was given over to ringing pipits, buntings, finches and thrushes “on the moss”, the satisfaction of working a regular patch with a job well done.

Reed Bunting – Out Rawcliffe

Tree Pipit - Out Rawcliffe

Yellowhammer - Out Rawcliffe

Many Thanks to Another Bird Blog followers and visitors for looking in throughout 2011 - here’s wishing you a Happy and Bird-Filled New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Soggy Session

At last, a long-awaited ringing session when the BBC promised a drop in wind speed with a tiny window of dry weather, the first time Will and I had managed to get to Lee Farm since 20 November, when we caught 49 birds. In the meantime Will kept up the food drops for the local Tree Sparrows and for the Chaffinches which roost half a mile away.

The morning wasn’t nearly as good as promised, with heavy cloud from the off and little bouts of drizzle which turned to rain and then aborted the session at 10am. We caught just 14 birds, 11 new and 3 recaptures from 20 November. New birds: 8 Chaffinch, 2 Tree Sparrow and 1 Great Tit. Recaptures: 2 Chaffinch and a Blue Tit.

Tree Sparrow


After the rain of recent weeks the track proved heavy going, even in wellies.

Wellies Recommended

On the way home I found 2 Buzzards sitting in the rain atop telegraph poles, so fired off a few shots - at ISO1600 again. One of the Buzzards had a comment about the less than ideal morning.



Sue tells me our friendly neighbourhood Sparrowhawk was back in the garden this morning, no wonder there are no small birds about.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Saved By A Sparrowhawk

No birding or ringing for me in the continuing bad weather but the local Sparrowhawk returned to the garden today. It must have caught prey in a neighbour’s garden and then still holding the meal, flown down onto our winter lawn to finish off the job. The prey wasn’t visible in the leaf strewn long grass but the hawk stood holding its lunch for a good five minutes, time enough for me to open the kitchen window and take a few pictures. Unfortunately the hawk was in the gloomiest corner of the garden, and the day so very dark that most shots are on ISO1600, the best available.

Sparrowhawk – adult male

Sparrowhawk – adult male

Sparrowhawk – adult male

I think the hawk was waiting for its prey to fully expire, and after a while it took off, carrying the victim, a by now lifeless Starling.

I last saw this carroty eyed adult male Sparrowhawk on 23rd and 24th November when it allowed me to walk down the garden towards it, most unlike a normally shy Sparrowhawk. At the time I assumed it wasn’t too well, especially with its plumage all fluffed up and the way it sat with one leg raised. I guess it must have been OK though and perhaps just having a bad day or a senior moment.

Sparrowhawk – adult male

The Sparrowhawk saved a potentially blog free day and if the wind ever drops I’ll get a net up and with luck catch the hawk as well as a few other birds.

Sparrowhawk – juvenile male

Sparrowhawk – juvenile male

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Famous Footsteps

I’m still busy with family things this week and birding naturally takes second place, but on a rough old morning Sue and I took some fresh air up at Knott End, with a walk along the Esplanade and up river.

There was no sign of the recent Black Redstart, however in its place at the slipway and near the Bourne Arms I found 6 Twite, 1 Rock Pipit and 1 Pied Wagtail. Shore birds: 220 Dunlin, 11 Turnstone, 20 Redshank and 1 Little Egret. Lots of Eider duck in the estuary, 41 in all, plus 3 Red-breasted Merganser braving the swell.


Pied Wagtail

Not everyone who reads the blog may know the following piece of trivia. The artist L S Lowry often visited Knott End and probably stayed in one of the boarding houses on the Esplanade, houses now turned into flats or private dwellings. There are paintings in existence which show that his favourite location for painting was a spot near the top of the ferry slipway, just where the Black Redstart hung about. It was from this spot Lowry produced typical scenes of crowds of matchstick people hurrying along the jetty to and from the ferry boat.

No more than a few of these paintings have ever been found but there must be more. If anyone has one of these canvases tucked away in the attic I am happy to swop it for a bird photograph of mine.

No crowds of matchstick people today, it was almost too windy to stand up.

Not “A Lowry”

Monday, December 26, 2011

Across The Moss

I set out for Rawcliffe Moss this morning, hoping it would be less windy than the Pilling coast, but as I arrived at the farm the wind whipped over the open fields, holding out little prospect of a productive birding walk. From the comparative shelter of the barn I surveyed west and then east where in the distance flooded fields held many Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls and a few Common Gull interlopers.

I think it was the passing Kestrel that disturbed both Skylarks and Corn Buntings from the nearby stubble, as parties of each of the similar sized birds flew over, 11 and 30 respectively; fortunately the species have different calls as well as different jizz, and Corn Buntings seem to make bigger flocks into the new year when food becomes tougher to find.

Corn Bunting

I turned into the farm track from where in the distance I could see Pheasants, 3 or 4 Blackbirds and 100 or more Tree Sparrows dropping in turn to their breakfast on the ground. Then almost within seconds it appeared that some wary sparrows chickened out of this apparently dangerous manoeuvre, and as if tied by a piece of elastic they sprung back to the safety of the dense hedgerow, there to await their next dash for a piece of the action. I must admit that a couple of times of late I have seen the Hen Harrier also take an interest in this corner of the farm, so the sparrows are wise to feed with caution. As I watched the sparrows I counted 3 Yellowhammer, 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Blue Tit, 3 Great Tit and a Great-spotted Woodpecker heading towards the feed.

The wind was pretty strong, so like the Sparrows I chickened out, turned the car round and headed off the farm for a run across Pilling Moss to Lane Ends, where although it would be equally windy, there would be guaranteed birds.

From the road near Lousanna Farm I could see Rawcliffe Moss, the fields where in recent days I’d watched the wintering Hen Harrier quarter the fields as it drifted or deliberately headed west in pursuit of a meal. Right on the cue today the harrier appeared here at Lousanna Farm just a harrier's flap-glide from its other favoured feeding spot. Continuing over the moss I noted 2 more roadside Kestrels before I hit Pilling.

Hen Harrier

A blog reader asked me “where is Pilling Moss?”, a question which stumped me a little because although I know exactly where the moss is, I’m not sure I could draw the vague-in-my-head boundaries on a map. Those frontier limits are very imprecise and bound up in the ancient history of other Fylde mosslands, some of which abut Pilling Moss – e.g. Stalmine Moss, Winmarleigh Moss and Rawcliffe Moss.

The “Moss” of Pilling refers to the area of peat land more or less south of the village of Pilling, an ancient settlement, founded at the hamlet of Eagland Hill on what was essentially an "island" with the sea on one side and marsh on the others. From artefact finds, there is evidence of spasmodic human activity here dating back to the Neolithic period.

“Pilling Moss - a strange dark tract of land with a history full of curiosity and interest, situated on the western side of Lancashire, between the Wyre and the estuary of Cockerham.

It was in the year 1813 or 1814 that James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles, who were natives of nearby Churchtown and Nateby, selected sites for cottages and farm buildings at Eagland Hill, a portion of the (Pilling) Moss. Eagland Hill was a natural mound of sand, slightly elevated, but surrounded on each side by bog and deep, broad tarns. There was at that time no approach to Eagland Hill by any road, save and except such as a vigorous sportsman in quest for game might risk with fear of occasionally sinking to his armpits in a swampy bog.

Many people have an idea that Pilling is a barren, swampy, dim and unfruitful part of the country, worth nothing, full of the hardest headed of clod hoppers, and given up to seagulls, curlews and uncivilised turf getters. But they are mistaken. In the centre, nay all round that monotonously level region, with its long lines of white smoke, burning from heaps of peat refuse, there are busy souls contending successfully against the rude natural obstacles of a long neglected locality, and turning the peat swamp and the wild bog into a fruitful garden. Enterprising landlords and industrious farmers have transmuted the incoherent waste, the almost chaotic imbroglio of old Pilling into a charming agricultural arena, sending its produce into the busiest markets and towns of Lancashire, and competing with goods of more favoured places.

To be sure, there are still in the district uncouth and unproductive tracts of ground - patches here and there of boggy, rush-grown and heather covered land; but viewed generally, industry, with its potent alchemy, has changed the scene into one of fertility and use. Meadow, pasture and arable land are visible in all directions; smiling farm houses and homesteads are dotted over its surface; a new railway will soon bring them into sharp communication with more distant localities; in the very centre of the moss the plough is busy doing its work, slowly, but well, and creating a new life in quarters which Fate seemed to have reserved for sterility and unending waste”.

After two hundred years of agricultural and drainage activity the moss is hugely changed, the railway been and gone, but the peaty black soil is much in evidence when driving over the moss along the modern Lancaster Road running from Little Eccleston to the hamlet of Scronkey then on to coastal Pilling. Essentially then, Pilling Moss lies east and west of Lancaster Road, it’s still a reasonable birding spot despite the change to winter crops, with often more than Curlews and gulls. History lesson over.

Pilling Moss

I didn’t see a lot at Lane Ends, instead got button-holed by an old shooting sort who complained in turn and with equal ferocity about the RSPB and younger shooters, but he certainly knew his stuff about geese. I nodded in agreement then headed up to Pilling Water where my sometimes distant counts arrived at 1000 Shelduck, 1200 Pink-footed Geese, 41 Whooper Swan, 800 Teal, 240 Wigeon 55 Pintail, 8 Skylark , 5 Little Egret, 1 Merlin and 600 Woodpigeon.


Readers may have noted how today's birding was a little quiet; I hope the blog post proved a little more entertaining and instructive.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Going South

Worry not blog followers, Another Bird Blog is alive and well but taking a winter migratory break in a warm, sunny location. Sue and I decided to grab a few weeks in Lanzarote, an island situated just 79 miles off the coast of Africa and the most easterly of the Canary Islands. The island is 37 miles (60km) long and 12 miles (20 km) wide, making it the fourth largest island in the Canaries.

Lanzarote to Home

The island enjoys a mild dry climate (hooray!) with average daytime temperatures ranging in January from about 21°C to 29°C - its 22°C today. With the coastline of Morocco only 100 kilometres to the east, Lanzarote is a regular port of call for many birds migrating to breeding grounds in the north, or returning to their southern winter locations in Africa. Waders and small passerines use the wetlands of the Al Janubio salt pans or the abandoned salt works beneath the high cliffs of Famara to rest and feed on their long journeys.

On Lanzarote the Houbara Bustard nests regularly in the sandy scrubland of the Monumento Natural de Los Ajaches– the oldest volcanic formation of the Canary Islands. An estimated three or four pairs of Barbary Falcons are resident in the Timanfaya National Park, breeding in the craters of the Montañas del Fuego and preying on rabbits, partridge and other small birds and animals which live in the harsh terrain of the volcanic lava flows.

Birds are not in abundance in Lanzarote and I am working hard to see a few, but it’s great to be out in the sun and hear of the rain and cold at home. There are a few Hoopoes about and hopefully I will have a few more bird pictures to post on return to the UK. Southern Grey Shrikes are common here, with 3 just near the hotel yesterday. I was on the sunbed Sunday and a Berthelot’s Pipit came trotting by, today's highlight proved to be a flock of 50 Lesser Short-toed Larks.

Maybe I’ll catch up with Houbara Bustard soon.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The C Word

Rain and then shopping for a turkey stopped birding play again this morning, but the sky brightened enough towards lunchtime to allow me a few hours at Pilling.

Just out of the village at Scronkey I came across a Kestrel perched on a telegraph pole, a regular enough spot, but the bird isn’t always so obliging as to stay while I mess with the camera. Pity about the grey light, plus the shot is overexposed 3 stops.


After the early showers Lane Ends was free from people and cars so I carefully made my way to the pool where the Kingfisher and I spotted each other at the same time. Just as a couple of days ago the bird flew to the other side of the pool, but this time sat partly hidden on the branch of a tree where I could just see it, but the next person circuiting the pool would not. I checked today’s single Goldeneye and left the Kingfisher to its fishing. The poor thing has picked one of the busiest dog walking spots for miles around, I can only think that the food rewards must be good for the bird as compensation for finding itself constantly chased back and forth across the pool by passers-by. Here’s that Egyptian Kingfisher again, doing what Kingfishers are meant to do, sit on the edge of a boat and watch the fishy world go by.


At Pilling Water I was too late for the tide but numbers of Shelduck still loafed on the tidal edge with upwards of 1200 entered in the notebook today and well scattered Pink-footed Goose coming in at roughly 1200, Little Egret at 5.

My walk almost clashed with the Hi-Fly quad team again, allowing about 15 minutes for two counts of the Whooper Swans before the quad turned onto the track, panicking the swans into flight to the salt marsh. I couldn’t repeat my count of 600 of the 21st December however both of today’s tallies came in at 450 birds. Within half an hour the swans began to head back in small parties to Swan Lake, and whether they feed all through the dark hours I don’t know.

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

Yes, I know it’s C word time, and here’s my unoriginal contribution towards it, a Robin. Roll on next week and some ringing.

Happy Christmas

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I’m Counting On It

It was still breezy this morning but bright with it, perhaps the nicest morning we’ve had for some weeks; let’s hope it’s an omen for the New Year. I decided a tramp across Rawcliffe Moss would be both beneficial to me and productive for finding birds, an idea which proved to be fairly accurate although I didn’t need the calculator of Wednesday’s swan day, just the fingers of one hand this morning. My thanks go to Grace in Maine for that last piece of advice; over in Maine the folks are whizz at counting the depth of the snow in metres, and often need to use all ten fingers.

The first bird/birds of the day can be a pointer to what’s to come later: migrants overhead, thrushes in a dawn hedgerow, a hunting Barn Owl or a dawn chorus. Today it was a Buzzard, or rather a Buzzard and several Blackbirds in my field of view at once, the Buzzard perched motionless in a tree but watching the antics of the thrushes fighting over the few remaining berries along the hedgerow below. It was too early for the Buzzard to fly, and often they just sit and wait, so inconspicuous are they, despite their size.


Next in my notebook came Hen Harrier again, the now regular “ringtail” floating across the road ahead of me as it hurried across to Pilling Moss, its main hang out of the past month or so. Later I was to see the harrier make the return journey, helped this time by a convoy of corvids that chased it mercilessly until it was off their feeding stubble.

By now I was at the Tree Sparrow track, where I headed east along the hedge to see how many flushed off the seed. 180 was the answer, eight or nine flights of twenty heading for the safety of the next hedgerow and away from bird ringers. A number of Chaffinch were amongst the sparrows, as well as a few Yellowhammers, but on a return viewing an hour or more later the Chaffinch count increased to 30+, Yellowhammers to 16, and Reed Buntings to 10.



Next came the big field and then a slog north over wet stubble where I came across a Merlin, a Kestrel, 8 Corn Bunting, another dozen or so Reed Buntings, 5 Linnet, 7 Grey Partridge, 15 Skylark and 7 Roe Deer. Although the birds scatter along the hedgerow, the deer never ever stay around, but just run and run to the safety of a distant wood.


As the light burst through the sky and the sun hit the abandoned maize, I took a black and white photo that turned out ok, and then a colour one that isn’t nearly so intense.

Rawcliffe Moss

Rawcliffe Moss

A walk through and around the winter plantation yielded 6 Reed Bunting, 3 Blackbird, a Robin, a Sparrowhawk, and in distant trees 500+ Wood Pigeon. Hey Grace, I almost needed an abacus for those last ones.
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