Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Birder’s Work Is Never Done

A bright and breezy morning with an early tide dictated a quick look at a few local spots then a journey over Pilling Moss to our ringing site at Out Rawcliffe for essential maintenance work on net rides. 

The medium tide at Knott End was enough to push about 260 Oystercatchers together, joined on the tideline by 15 Sandwich Terns, the terns all adults. Plenty of gulls on the beach, most of them on the still distant tideline but with no time or inclination to sift through them, I headed on up to Lane Ends for a stomp up the sea wall. 

Small birds are hard to come by up here at the moment, with just small numbers of finches, larks and pipits e.g. 3 Linnet, 4 Goldfinch, 2 Meadow Pipit, 1 Pied Wagtail and 2 Skylark. At Pilling Water I saw a single Common Sandpiper, a handful of Redshank and 80+ Curlew, and waders too will be hard to find until the higher mid-week tides. 


Corvids brightened up the proceeding with firstly 2 Ravens flying over and then out to the bay, followed by a gang of Carrion Crows noisily dive bombing the trees. Upon investigation the fascination proved to be a Buzzard, sat on a fence post close up to the trees but watching the recently silaged field. Was the Buzzard on the lookout for game birds of which there are none at the moment, or studiously inspecting the bared grass for rodents, rabbits or earthworms as Buzzards habitually do? The Buzzard flew off at my appearance but on the return walk I saw it at Lane Ends where the same or different crows still harried it. Who’d be a Buzzard when seemingly the entire world is out to get you? 

At Rawcliffe and after a summer of perpetual rain followed by a spot of sun the mist net rides sprout growth like never before, and it’s almost a full time job keeping the spaces open; a thankless task but someone has to do it, mainly Will but now me. Luckily there was a sheltered spot for a net away from the noise of the clipping and cutting where I caught a Sedge Warbler, a Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler, allowing a welcome break from the gardening graft. 

Sedge Warbler

Keep It Open


 Willow Warbler

After a request from a blog reader, here are a couple of pictures which show how the wings of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff differ. At this time of year adults of both species may be replacing a number of primary feathers, a process which can make the distinction less obvious if the vital 6th primary is missing. 


Willow Warbler

Unfortunately the rain was on the way again, enough to abandon thoughts of ringing but not a good reason to stop work. In between bouts of work and the ringing a few other birds put in appearances: 2 Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 4 Whitethroat, 3 Willow Warbler, 3 Corn Bunting, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 40+ Swallow and 4 Swifts, a hint of southerly movement with the latter two species. 

Looking West

I drove home across Union Lane hoping to see yesterday’s Marsh Harrier but found mainly Woodpigeons and Swallows.

Barn Swallow

No pictures of a Marsh Harrier then but on Another Bird blog there’s always another day, another picture and more birding chores to do.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Little On The Side

As I drove to Out Rawcliffe in the half-light this morning mist hung around the low lying fields. When I passed the roadside barn the Little Owl stayed in-situ for once instead of disappearing into the roof space, so I slowly dropped the rear window and snapped a picture, just in case nothing else came our way. 
Morning Mist 

Little Owl

The track through the farm had a roadside Kestrel, and as I donned willies for the wet, long grass, a male Sparrowhawk left the plantation and dashed low and fast the way I’d come. A good start, if only it could last. The ringing was quiet again, a lack of warblers, in fact a lack of birds, just 11 birds caught in 3+ hours before a strengthening wind forced net closure: 4 Blackcap, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Blackbird, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Robin and 1 Dunnock. 
Ringing Station



Next time, which could well be August, we agreed to shift our efforts to finches rather than non-existent warblers. 

Birding was equally quiet, with visible migration represented by 2 Siskin and 2 Pied Wagtail overhead. Other birds, 3 Yellowhammer in song, 4 Corn Bunting, 1 Reed Bunting, 2 Willow Warbler, 4 Swift, 40 Swallow and 12 House Martin. 

The sun rose, warming the thermals, the Buzzards became more active and switched from their invisible calling to soaring into the clouds. A minimum of 4 Buzzards today, some of the aforesaid calling from hungry youngsters in the tree tops. 

 Buzzard - Buteo buteo

On the way home I called into another Little Owl spot, a place where the bird comes out into the warming sun, takes in the view, and then watches the world and me go by.

Little Owl

Little Owl

Most blog readers in the UK will be familiar with the Little Owl Athene noctua which became truly resident in Britain in the early 1900s after several earlier unsuccessful attempts to introduce it from Europe during the 19th century. The Little Owl is much smaller than other larger UK owls like Tawny Owl, Long-eared Owl and Short-eared Owl, and they feed mainly on insects (beetles, moths and spiders) and earthworms, but also small birds, amphibians and mammals. Little Owls are often active during the daytime and can often be seen perched on branches close to the trunk, fence posts, or walls out in the open, often at the roadside. But not all are as obliging as my little bit on the side. 

Little Owl 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Blog Is Back

The blog is back after 4 days with nothing to post. While most of the country has enjoyed 30 degree temperatures here in the North West corner we endured 4 days of 100% cloud as the rain and drizzle refused to go away. It was similar today, but I braved the grey into the hint of midday sunshine. 

I drove up to Cockerham, and resisting the temptation to twitch the Conder Green Spoonbill, I went instead to check on the Sparrowhawks ringed on 9th July; by now there should be young on the edge of the nest just raring to go. I’ve seen lots of Spoobills, mainly in Spain but a few in the UK, and as many people would perhaps agree they can be the most immobile, unexciting birds one is ever likely to see. Here’s a superb shot of a Spoonbill actually moving, what a wonderful photograph from Andreas Trepte.  

Eurasian Spoonbill by Andreas Trepte -

Back to the matter in hand, and without climbing up the tree, which could have made any occupants “explode” from the nest, from several yards away I saw just one large Sparrowhawk youngster waiting for the next meal. On 9th July there were three young of much the same size and development, so unless two were now hunkered down in the nest, only one had survived. I made my way quietly out of the wood and left the family in peace and quiet. 

Sparrowhawk chick

The fields at Braides proved much quieter than my previous visit but I noted a recent trim had removed much of the cover and seed bearing rough grasses: Just 8 Linnet, 5 Goldfinch, 6 Meadow Pipit, 2 Skylark and 2 Reed Bunting today. Along and from the sea wall, 2 Pied Wagtail, 2 Grey Heron, 48 Curlew, 1 Kestrel, 1 Wheatear, with hirundines and swifts numbering 15 Swallow, 8 House Martin and 4 Swift. 

Barn Swallow

Hopefully no rain tomorrow, a ringing session, followed by more news on Another Bird Blog.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Flocking Finches

With a flock of Goldfinch knocking about, overflying Siskins and Redpolls, and then an overhead Crossbill, this morning’s birding had a definite autumnal feel. Read on. 

After a two week gap caused by the persistent poor weather Will and I agreed to be on the moss for a 6am ringing session not knowing quite what to expect. By all the accounts on bird blogs, forums and websites the breeding season has been disastrous for open, near ground nesting insectivorous birds like Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler, perhaps less so for birds with nests in thick cover or tree situations, like Goldfinch, Linnet and Greenfinch; in the last week I have caught 16 Goldfinch in the garden, almost 50% of them juveniles. 

Today we caught 15 new birds, 3 Whitethroat, 2 Blackcap, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Wren, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Great Tit. The catch was rather limited to be able to deduce much from the adult/juvenile ratio except that the three Whitethroats were all juveniles, but three only is not much of a catch on this site; sadly they were the first juvenile “whites” caught this year. On a more  postive note we watched a pair of Whitethroats still feeding young close to our ringing station, and if the better weather holds, the young should fledge. Today’s Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff numbers split 50/50 adults and juveniles. 

Although instructive to study, late July is not the ideal time to see birds in the hand, a time of year when most adults are in heavy moult, and even recently fledged youngsters start a partial moult of feathers. Today’s adult Garden Warbler had heavy wear to many feathers, especially noticeable in the primary coverts and tertials. 

Garden Warbler

The juvenile Chiffchaff is moulting head feathers. If in doubt, the emarginated 6th primary feather and shorter, more rounded wing shape distinguishes a Chiffchaff from a Willow Warbler. 



Juvenile Whitethroats tend to look good a little longer than other juvenile warblers. 


An adult female Blackcap showing considerable wear just about all over. 


The morning’s birding highlights proved to be: Siskins overhead from 6am, a noticeable southerly movement involving singles and small groups totalling 20+ birds, plus a minimum of 4 Lesser Redpoll heading south soon after 6 am. A single Crossbill called loudly as it flew north about 0900. 

Later we noted a flock of 75+ Goldfinch on thistles, an indication that for these birds at least, the breeding season is over. Small numbers of Linnets today with probably just local birds numbering 20+, and a token appearance for a couple of Greenfinches. 

Hirundines and Swifts: 100+ Swallow, 30+ House Martin, 6 Swift. My own thought is that many Swifts left last week, with a number of large concentrations seen, e.g. 300+ high over Cockerham Marsh on 20th July. 

Raptors today: 2 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk, 5 Buzzard.


The weathermen predict 30 degrees next week. If so there should be plenty of Buzzards in the air and lots of bunnies to go around, fat and healthy after eating all the lush greenery we have at the moment.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shorty Post

I was hoping for a harrier at Pilling today after the wind dropped and the overnight and then early rain made for a warm, muggy morning fit for a raptor or two – maybe the Montagu’s down from the rainy Pennine fells? 

No harriers appeared but patrolling the sea wall briefly was an early season Short-eared Owl, down from the fells. It looked like a juvenile, very bright and orangey in the wings, even for a “shorty”. The owl was in the air for a minute or two before it dropped into a distant ditch and I didn’t see it again. Two other raptors today were an obligatory Kestrel, and then a Peregrine which came from the Knott End direction before heading inland as then in the distance, it turned right and south again. 

Short-eared Owl

Otherwise there’s little news to report: 2 Blackcap, 2 Reed Warbler, 18 Linnet, 8 Greenfinch, 2 Pied Wagtail, 6 Meadow Pipit, 2 Corn Bunting, 6 Skylark, 1 Common Sandpiper, 2 Little Grebe, 3 Grey Heron. 


A large count of Curlew for 19th July –over 700 birds Lane Ends/Pilling Water. Still low numbers of Swallows this morning with less than 15 birds around and then a sudden but definite west and south movement of 30+ individuals about 11am. 

Back home I turned my attention to the garden where Goldfinches come and go, and at last a few juveniles. Out of 7 Goldfinch caught in a few hours, six were “3J” type and one an earlier season but juvenile female losing its mottled 3J markings. A couple more juvenile Greenfinch caught too, and fingers crossed, no sign of the dreaded thrichomonosis in the garden this year. 

Goldfinch - "3J"

Sunday, July 15, 2012

More Swifts Than Swallows

A bright and very breezy morning found me at Knott End but very little to report except for my first of the autumn adult Sandwich Terns, three of them sharing the beach with dozens of Black-headed Gulls. No real wader count either as I think they had all been pushed off the beach by morning walkers out for the sunshine. Instead I hit the road north to Cockerham. 

Sandwich Tern 

Following DNA studies the Sandwich Tern’s scientific name recently changed from Sterna sandvicensis to Thalasseus sandvicensis. The “Sandwich” in the name refers not to any food offered to it by bird watchers or photographers as per other more exotic gulls or terns, but to the place Sandwich in Kent, England. It was here that the bird was originally found and described in in 1787 by ornithologist John Latham. 

A look at Conder Green found the 2 Spotted Redshank, a better description now being “unspotted” as the adults go through the moult process of changing from their summery black appearance to a more uniform grey. Other waders here, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Curlew, 33 Redshank. There were lots of Swifts about this morning, with a count of 40+ above Conder and Cockerham village. Two roadside Kestrels highlighted the journey back south. 


A farm visit in Cockerham found lots of passerines including another juvenile Wheatear, about a mile from yesterday’s bird but this one unringed but so highly mobile it was uncatchable. These birds made me rethink whether Wheatears do breed very locally as suspected many years ago, a mission I never followed up because of so many competing birding tasks in June and July. For pictures of yesterday’s Wheatear in the hand, see here


Others at Braides: 18 Linnet, 12 Goldfinch, 6 Meadow Pipit, 8 Skylark, 2 Reed Bunting, 5 Pied Wagtail and 10/12 Swallows – more Swifts than Swallows today. What a strange year it’s been. 

Meadow Pipit

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wheatears Return And Skylark Sussed.

The morning started at Knott End with the early tide and decent numbers of waders: 210 Oystercatcher, 95 Curlew, 70 Redshank and 12 Dunlin. At the jetty were just a single Eider and a Cormorant with 2 Pied Wagtail, and then it was up to Pilling before Gala festivities trapped me in the village. 


For a week or more I’ve carried a couple of spring traps at Pilling way because the first autumn Wheatears always arrive back in early July. There was a smart, spotty looking juvenile at Pilling Water this morning and within a couple of minutes I’d ringed, measured and released it. With a wing length of 97 mm it was almost certainly a male, possibly from the Pennine uplands not too far away or even from across the bay where odd pairs still breed on Carnforth Marsh. 

Wheatear juvenile

Wheatear juvenile

A day or two ago I noticed Skylarks carrying food to a nest which from the adults flight lines seemed not to be in a silage field this time. Birding was fairly quiet this morning which allowed more time to track the adults, and when found the nest was buried deep in a tuft of grass alongside a drainage ditch. The very downy young were just too small for a ring, despite the legs being almost fully developed. Better to ring the youngsters in a day or two provided the nest can be located again. 

Skylark nest

Other birds Lane Ends to Pilling Water: 2 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk,1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret, 60 Curlew, 140 Lapwing, 22 Oystercatcher, 1 Common Sandpiper. Both hirundines and passerines proved hard to come by today, with just 15 Swallow, 8 House Martin and 5 Swift to report. Otherwise, 3 Meadow Pipit, 2 Pied Wagtail, 15 Goldfinch, 8 Linnet, 6 Greenfinch, 3 Corn Bunting, 1 Reed Bunting and the single Wheatear. Still 2 Blackcap in loud song at Lane Ends, joined today by a Chiffchaff. On the water there, 2 Little Grebe and 9 Tufted Duck, the tufties including a female with 5 youngsters. 

Tufted  Duck

There’s more news and pictures from Another Bird Blog very soon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How To Keep A Sense Of Humour

We approached this morning’s ringing session with some apprehension as it was our first for a month, the four weeks interval devoted to bemoaning our luck with the continuous bad weather of a so called “summer”. 

We were right to be cautious in our expectations with a four hour session yielding just 9 birds of which three only were juveniles. Last year we ringed over 130 Whitethroats in this prime warbler location at Out Rawcliffe, today nil Whitethroats. The seven new birds comprised 4 Blackcap (3 adults) and 1 each of Wren, Robin and Willow Warbler. The Wren and Robin were juveniles, the Willow Warbler an adult in heavy moult, the moult indicating a bird which has completed its (probably unsuccessful) breeding season. Two recaptures were a Blackbird and a Dunnock. 


Willow Warbler


Birding wise was equally quiet, a noticeable feature being an early morning movement of Siskins heading south with a minimum of six individuals. Others: 1 Kestrel, 1 Little Owl, 3 Corn Bunting, 4 Yellowhammer, 2 Reed Bunting, 15 Goldfinch, 8 Linnet, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker. 

Readers of a squeamish disposition should maybe skip the next gruesome paragraph and picture because there’s a reasonable shot of a Grey Heron at the end of the post. In between bouts of netting boredom Will and I mooched about, looking at butterfly larvae, reminiscing about the summer ringing of 2011or then searching the sky for Swallows, when we came across the fresh entrails of an animal. Not far away we found the corpse, a headless, partly eaten Brown Hare. Countryman Will explained how a Fox had killed the animal, and unable to carry the heavy carcass off, had eaten a meal but would be back later for another helping of now slightly less fresh meat. OK it’s a grisly tale but at least it’s filled another paragraph about an otherwise dismal session. 

Brown Hare

Brown Hare 

This was another grey, wet and miserable morning when I looked out of the window hoping for a spot of sunshine but spotted the Grey Heron on a neighbour’s roof. They do say that herons often land on wet roofs as from a distance they mistake the shiny surface for an expanse of water. Well there have been plenty of those around lately. 

 Grey Heron

Now excuse me as I really must get back to my evening meal, but more from Another Bird Blog soon. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sparring Session

A visit to a Sparrowhawk nest found a couple of weeks ago revealed 3 healthy sized chicks. Five is a more normal brood in these parts, but 2012 is far from a normal breeding season. 

On checking the tarsus width of each bird (males and females take different size rings) it was found that all three were females needing a size “E” ring. The old baseball cap came in handy again while rings were located and the young back in the nest in a minute or two. 

Sparrowhawk chicks

Sparrowhawk chick - female

Other ringing sessions have been dire of late with cancelled or aborted visits due to wind, rain or both the normal outcome. A couple of sheltered garden sessions produced a few Goldfinch and Greenfinch with a single juvenile of the former and a couple of Greenfinch juveniles.

Juvenile Greenfinch

More from Another Bird Blog tomorrow I hope. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

No News Good Views

There was little chance of getting north this morning. Head Dyke Lane was still closed after Friday morning when a tanker carrying 20,000 litres of LPG turned over on the A588, destroying the carriageway in the process. I didn’t fancy the long detour over single track Union Lane where non-locals coming from the opposite direction seem not to understand the principle of “passing places”. 

I went local instead and spent a happy hour with a Little Owl at Staynall, so apologies for the lack of news, the blog is mainly pictures today. 

Little Owl

Little Owl - Watching you watching me

The owl spent a considerable amount of time watching the sky, perhaps for predators or a meal, with Kestrel and Buzzard about, but also nesting House Martins. Liitle Owls are known to raid the nests of both Swallows and House Martins.

Little Owl - Things are looking up

Little Owl - Way up

Little Owl - House Martins that way

Little Owl - House Martins that way

Little Owl - Preening

At one point a Tawny Owl called from a nearby wood, which made the Little Owl call for a minute or so. In the second picture below it's possible to see that the throat feathers are not dense, suggesting this bird is a juvenile of the year. Click on "xeno-canto" to hear the Little Owl.

Little Owl- calling

Liitle Owl - calling

Littlle Owl - "Had enough yet"? 

Tune in tomorrow for more Ringing, Birding or Photography on Another Bird Blog.
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