Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Finches At Last

This morning was perfect for a spot of ringing, no wind, no sun and no rain. Still hoping for an increase in Goldfinches I went to the moss to top up the feeders and try a few nets.

For February the catch proved quite good, with 21 birds, 13 new and 8 recaptures. New birds: 5 Linnet, 4 Goldfinch, 2 Lesser Redpoll and 1 each of Reed Bunting and Blue Tit. Recaptures: 5 Goldfinch and 1 each of Dunnock, Chaffinch and Lesser Redpoll.

I thought a Redpoll spring movement might be underway when early on I heard several flying over and the first look at the net yielded 3 Lesser Redpoll and a Goldfinch. One of the Lesser Redpoll turned out to be a recapture from late November so I think that it’s likely that all of this morning’s birds had wintered close by and had simply called in for a Niger seed breakfast. I didn’t see or hear any more Redpolls this morning and despite 30 or so coastal Meadow Pipits yesterday I’m still waiting for a more obvious larger scale migration to begin.

Lesser Redpoll


The Linnets caught this morning were part of a wintering flock of 50+ feeding in a nearby field, the flock having shrunk from 140 just a week ago. I dedicate the Linnet pictures below to my pal Errol who lives in a part of the UK where I believe Linnets are even harder to come by than they are in these parts. Keep looking Errol.

Four of this morning’s Linnets were males, just showing first signs of their brick red breast feathers. In the winter the method of separating males and females is to compare the amount of white in the primary feathers, the white in males extending closer to the feather shaft.

Linnet - female

Linnet - female

Linnet - male

Linnet - male

Linnet - male

With 9 Goldfinches caught this morning maybe the spring Niger feeders are beginning to finally work. Other birds seen this morning: 2 Kestrel, 2 Grey Partridge, 7 Yellowhammer, 2 Raven and 1 Hen Harrier.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Late

On Sunday I got hindered by other tasks in posting on the blog so saved it until today. Nothing much to report except that the morning was grey and miserable, so rather than birding or trying to take photographs with a 400mm in poor light I spent a couple of hours ringing in the garden. It was pretty unexciting but a couple of surprise birds turned up in the catch of 8 birds.

After two cold winters in 2010 and 2011 the population of our smallest UK bird the Goldcrest must be fairly low, but luckily when two flitted about the damson trees it was only a matter of a few minutes before one found the net, 5 grams of feathers and not much else.


Also fairly scarce around here at the moment are Greenfinches, their population still suffering due to the effects of the Trichomonosis virus, so it is heartening to say that not only I have heard a few “gringos” singing recently, but they have also joined in with the Goldfinches in visiting garden feeders. Just one caught, a colourful first winter male.


Other birds caught: 2 Great Tit and 1 each of Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Wren.



Great Tit

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Birding 10, Ringing 5.

My likely birding score proved more substantial than the ringing total this morning, but maybe it is best to start at the beginning with the Little Owls.

I hadn’t seen the owl/owls for some weeks on the farm, where they share their nesting spot with a horse-filled barn busy with riders back and forth during the day. I feared for the worse that the continual disturbance might scare the owls away from this traditional site, but I needn’t have worried. Birds are persistent creatures and in any case the owls nest out of reach in the roof space, and the horsey folk probably don’t even know that in the dark crevices above their heads live the owls who venture out only when all is quiet. As I drove onto the farm at 0730 the Little Owls sat in the half-light almost together, but as the car stopped they both lifted off and flew back into the roof space. A positive sighting then because the pair are still about and should nest again this year, fingers crossed.

Little Owl

Further down the farm Seumus and Craig were setting up, trying their luck with Tree Sparrows, so wishing them well I sped past towards the summer plantation to fill the Niger feeders and put up a net or two while doing a spot of birding. The Goldfinch still haven’t arrived in any numbers and although I caught two, there were no more than 8 or 10 around. A threatening breeze quickly sprung up, putting paid to any extended ringing and I packed up with just 5 birds caught, 2 Goldfinch and 1 each of Chaffinch, Great Tit and Blackbird.

Birding gave me distant sightings yet again of the wintering Hen Harrier and a single Buzzard, with 2 Kestrels much closer and then 2 overflying Ravens heading towards St Michael’s village.

Hen Harrier


Other sightings this morning, 90+ Lapwings, including the first signs of display, 2 Grey Partridge, 45 Linnet, 7 Yellowhammer, 40 Chaffinch, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 4 Curlew and 3 Skylark.

I saw 5 Roe Deer this morning, with Brown Hares were pretty active too, and generally more noticeable than of late running about the fields where some indulged in a little shadow boxing.

Brown Hare

Coming off the farm I noted a pair of Stock Doves at a holey tree and 21 handsome Fieldfares living up to their name, and while keeping a watchful eye on my distant camera, they probed for food in the muddy soil.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Going Green

After initial drizzle and greyness this morning the skies brightened allowing me a couple of hours birding at Pilling, where the colour green featured in the form of two wintering waders plus the appearance of more Siskins.

Waders were plentiful along Backsands Lane and Fluke Hall Lane with combined totals of 450 Lapwing, 110 Dunlin, 70 Oystercatcher, 22 Golden Plover, 45 Redshank and 250 Curlew.

At Lane Ends I surveyed the pools and the car park with the resulting 3 Goldeneye, 3 Tufted Duck, 2 Little Grebe, 18 Chaffinch and 2 Siskin. The Siskin were feeding in the alders, a sighting which continues the run of Siskins making an appearance in many places in the past week or so, and must relate to the early spring movement of the species, so very noticeable this time last year.


There’s not much to report from my walk west to Pilling Water - 5 Little Egret, 4 Skylark, 1 Merlin and 40 Teal, but the pools turned up another 25 Redshank, a Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper. It’s some weeks since I walked this stretch but the Green Sandpiper was about then and I think today’s bird is one of the two birds present in late 2011.



Walking the tideline I found evidence of a raptor meal, a neatly stripped breastbone plus the wings of a Redshank, probably the work of the aforesaid Merlin or a Peregrine, while a little further along were the remains of a long dead Whooper Swan. Otherwise nothing to report from a quietish walk.


Whooper Swan

No proper birding tomorrow, just counting Buzzards when I take the Suzuki up the M6 for its annual service to Kendal in the South Lakes, a route that is a hot spot for Buzzards. The Lake District is the probable origin of the healthy Buzzard population that now inhabit the Fylde.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Turned Over

The Infamous Five met up at Fleetwood this morning hoping to catch more Turnstones, but despite there being the usual couple of hundred about, we waited in vain for any to come in the catching area as most of them stayed roosting on the island of the Marine Lake. The few that came near the net proved reluctant to enter the catching area.

If there is one thing that ringing birds has taught me it is that birds are lot cleverer than we humans perhaps like to admit, and there's many a time when birds outwit our supposed superior intellect. So for the next Turnstone Time we may have to invoke Plan B when we have worked one out.

The Turnstone, as its name suggests, feeds mainly on rocky shorelines, searching for food by probing into cracks and crevices with its short, stubby bill. But here at Fleetwood they learnt many years ago to find food in a very different way. Here they wait for the locals to throw out food onto the grass for gulls and ducks then follow in the larger bird’s footsteps picking up whatever is on offer, often stale bread, fish and chips or the remains of a half-eaten burger.


Seumus adjusting his tension

Craig looking busy

On the lake were a few Red-breasted Mergansers, with a couple of Pied Wagtails and several Linnets whizzing about. After being turned over by the Turnstones the thought of calling in at Poo Corner to see a Ring-necked Duck didn’t inspire me much so with the sky brightening I journeyed to Out Rawcliffe for a while.

Red=breasted Merganser

An entertaining couple of hours on the moss realised a few good counts but nothing out of the ordinary, except maybe the 120+ Fieldfare feeding in a wet field with a couple of hundred Starlings. In most years Fieldfares do turn up in early spring, even when they have been absent earlier in the winter as they were this time. Also feeding on the soggy, partly flooded fields were 85 Woodpigeon, 6 Stock Dove, 3 Curlew, 9 Shelduck, 3 Snipe and 180 Lapwing.

Passerines and others: 2 Kestrel, 70+ Chaffinch, 140 Linnet, 14 Yellowhammer and 3 Goldfinch.


As I drove off the moss at 4pm a Sparrowhawk was following the droves of Starlings towards a distant roost. I hope the hawk caught better than we did today.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Green And Yellow

In the garden this week have been Greenfinches and a single Treecreeper, the latter species becoming something of a local rarity in recent years, and then close by this morning 2 Great-spotted Woodpeckers, each drumming out their territories. This fine Sunday morning and the final day of school half-term I decided against going birding when all the world and his many dogs would almost certainly be where I wished to explore; instead I decided to try a spot of netting for more Goldfinches and anything else that came along – not much did.

In contrast to last winter, for months now there’s been an obvious lack of some finches in this part of the North West, with just average numbers of Chaffinch and virtually no Siskins or Bramblings. Last year Will and I caught 150+ Siskin and 22 Bramblings in January/February in his garden and at another site near Lancaster. Before today the ringing group’s score sheet read just 2 Brambling and 0 Siskin; until today that is when the Goldfinches brought a few Siskins “pinging” towards the garden Niger feeders, and so fifty days into the New Year I caught the ringing group’s first Siskin of 2012. The Goldfinch total was topped up by 3 more males and a single female.



The morning was warm and sunny and from the tops of the sycamore came the fluty calls of Starlings, noises reminiscent of the Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus, one of the Old World oriole family, whose kinfolk include the Starling. The Golden Oriole is a rare bird in the UK but a species I became familiar with during 5 visits to India, where many European Golden Orioles spend the winter. It’s also a species I look forward to meeting each year in Menorca, where a walk along quiet paths will unearth a few pairs. Unlike our everyday Starling, the Golden Orioles I see are usually very secretive, hiding out in the tree canopy where the males stay out of sight and the females use their yellow and green colouring to blend in, all in all making the bird almost impossible to photograph. The photograph below is from Bangalore, by Nanda Ramesh.

Golden Oriole courtesy of Nanda Ramesh

Golden Oriole

All was complete this morning when Starlings came down to feed on last night’s left overs of curry and naan bread, allowing me to catch 5 birds; pity they weren’t the yellow variety of oriole, but our own much maligned Starling is actually a very smart looking creature if a tad bit common for most folk’s liking.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Yellow And Red

Following a couple of enforced bird-free days I got to Out Rawcliffe where I topped up the Niger feeders and took a wander around. With the wind finally relenting I put up a couple of nets for a while in hoping for a catch of Goldfinches. I caught just 10 birds and it wasn’t the yellow and red of Goldfinches in the net, but the red of Robins and the yellow of Yellowhammers, with 3 Robins, 4 Yellowhammers, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Blackbird and 1 Chaffinch.

Goldfinches were strangely absent this morning with just 4 knocking about the feeders with a number of Chaffinch for company. The Yellowhammers I caught were some of the 15 or so arriving to mop up the wheat falling from the shooter’s game feeders.

Yellowhammer – adult male

Yellowhammer – adult female


Reed Bunting

The single Blackbird caught, a large first winter male, looked very much like a “continental” type, especially with a wing length of 141mm and a weight of 113 grams.


A good wander round the immediate area revealed not much about: 70 Lapwing, 50 Chaffinch, 2 Kestrel, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 3 Skylark, 2 Corn Bunting, 4 Linnet and 4 Reed Bunting. The mild sort of morning induced a few species into brief song, with new ones for my year of Chaffinch, Skylark and Corn Bunting.

I had a glimpse of a Tawny Owl this morning and found four fresh and still damp pellets from where it took off. An owl pellet is the portion of an owl’s prey that has not been digested. Owls swallow their prey whole (they don’t have teeth to chew) and the feathers, fur, bones and other indigestible parts are regurgitated by the owl some hours after a meal in the form of a compressed pellet of matter.

In my picture (double click to enlarge) it is possible to see the remains of a small bird the owl had eaten - bits of feather and the feather sheaths themselves.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl Pellet

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday Tour

Cockerham is always good for the resident Little Owls and when I turned up there today one of the pair was searching the peaty soil for a meal. When the bird spotted me with the car window wound down it flew back up to the nest box and just glared at me for interrupting the planned meal. Except for a number of Lapwing and 50+ Curlew there wasn’t much else on Moss Edge, there never is nowadays since the change in agricultural practice to silage and spring sowing. In the old days Moss Edge was THE place to see the early year wild geese, sometimes from the hay loft of a birder-friendly farmer’s barn as the geese picked over the remains of the previous year’s potato crop.

Little Owl

Little Owl

Having toured Moss Edge the main road back to Pilling alongside the wet fields was more bird friendly, but being biker mile/death row, a little too dangerous to stop apart from being able to pull into the junction of Gulf Lane. Along here I picked up 1 Merlin, 1 Kestrel, 30 Golden Plover, 900 Curlew, 14 Oystercatcher, 40 Dunlin, 300 Lapwing and 25 Redshank.

At Lane Ends the pools are now thawed with the result that 2 Tufted Duck have reappeared but not much else unless you count the Mallards of dubious origin. At least 20 Chaffinch here, 6+ Blackbirds, 2 Little Egret and 1 Cormorant.


Both Backsands Lane and Fluke Hall Lane proved bird productive, with a second Merlin, 2 more Kestrel, 300+ Lapwing, 18 Golden Plover, 95 Dunlin, 45 Redshank, 2 Snipe, 25 Oystercatcher, 10 Eurasian White-fronted Goose, 3 Skylark, 1 Pied Wagtail and 190 Shelduck. With 50+ additional Curlew it took todays count to over 1000 for the species. The light was poor again today, hence the ISO400 and resulting noise on the Curlew picture.



With more grey skies and breezes promised for tomorrow, I may take a day off, but you never know – stay tuned.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Meander

It was a top up day at Rawcliffe today, filling the Niger feeders which swayed about in the stiff breeze, the level of seed down a little and with just a couple of Goldfinch and a single Redpoll again, probably not worth netting just yet. There's a large flock of approximately 140 Chaffinch and 10/15 Yellowhammers knocking about the farm, some of which visit the shooter’s feed bins and my feeders in an irregular manner when they are disturbed by passing vehicles from the maize stubble.

A walk across the moss showed a good selection of species to be around. The noise from several hundred jackdaws and other corvids made me look over towards Pilling Moss where I spotted the Hen Harrier heading north towards Skitham Lane. This harrier hasn’t ventured far during the 4 or so months it has been around since I first noted it on 26th October 2011, it just seems to carry out circuits of the moss bounded by roads north, south, east and west. After seeing the bird dozens of times throughout the winter I still haven’t got a decent photo, and it’s no coincidence, the bird is just good at avoiding the human race.

Hen Harrier

Over towards the west along a field boundary I could see a 90 strong flock of Corn Buntings, 75 or so Linnets and 145 Lapwings. These Corn Buntings plus many others seem to have arrived recently in the mild Fylde as a result of snow and ice elsewhere, but it would be wrong to assume they are all local birds, so scarce are Corn Buntings at most times, with one or two pairs only breeding on this particular farm. Within a week or two we should hear the "jangling keys" of the Corn Bunting. Click the "xeno-canto" button to hear the song.

Corn Bunting

I spent some time looking across the fields waiting for the harrier to reappear, but it didn’t and in its place I saw 2 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk, 4 Grey Partridge, 3 Buzzard, 8 Stock Dove and 2 Skylark.


I stopped again further south to count birds on the winter feed track and beyond: 140 Tree Sparrow, 9 Reed Bunting, 3 Yellowhammer, 10 Skylark, 15 Chaffinch and 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker on the peanut feeder.

Great-spotted Woodpecker
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