Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Bad Barn Owl Day

It started off as a Good Barn Owl day when half- a-mile from home I spotted one of the local Barn Owls hunting the roadside fields in the half light of dawn. Heck I’d not travelled more than another 200 yards when there was a second Barn Owl, but this time one lying dead at the roadside. After jumping out of the car to retrieve the body of the poor bird I could see that it was the victim of a vehicle some hours previously, the lifeless body now cold and feathers with a layer of overnight frost. The bird’s left leg bore a BTO ring GC29419 - I will post the record online to the BTO today. 

What made the event even sadder was that the bird was so close to the first owl I’d watched just seconds before so I knew they must be a pair. The morning had quickly turned into a bad Barn Owl day. When back home I examined the corpse more closely, the lack of obvious barring on the tail and the primary feathers, coupled with the extensive white throat pointed to the dead bird being the male. Collisions with traffic (mostly road, but also trains) are the one of the main causes of death to Barn Owls, the other most frequent reason being starvation during weather which prevents them from hunting or when prey is scarce. 

Barn Owl

I was on the way to Rawcliffe and the feeding station, passing Town End when yet another Barn Owl appeared ahead of the car but luckily this one took evasive action by flying off pretty smartish. 

With the drama over I reached the farm and tried to concentrate on ringing and birding even though I hoped to see more of Barn Owls. I set the camera on ISO3200 and waited in the car for a while, warming hat, gloves and feet with the full-on heater before daring to venture off into the cold air to erect nets; instead I hoped for glimpses of the Barn Owl pair from the next farm. Sure enough one appeared not too far away but flying quickly away to avoid an encounter with the silver coloured car which lives on the track it wants to search. After several minutes of searching distant ground the owl turned and headed in my direction, turning the morning into a still sad but not completely bad owl day with a couple of grainy shots. Those are willow catkins in the background which might as well be snowflakes so cold is the weather now.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Both the ringing and birding were extremely quiet and after some clear nights I do now suspect that the vast majority of Bramblings and Chaffinches of recent weeks have headed north and even the reliable Reed Buntings thinned out. Just 8 birds for my troubles - 2 Brambling, 2 Chaffinch and 4 Goldfinch. A couple of interesting weight extremes came to hand with a worryingly light adult male Brambling of 18.4 grams and a heavy female Chaffinch of 24.5 grams and bulging biceps. 


Here on the moss Spring migration is hard to detect in a normal year, doubly difficult this year and on this occasion less than 10 Meadow Pipits and 2 Pied Wagtails were an improvement on the week before. A single Linnet is harder to place in context but 1 Peregrine, 2 Little Owl, 2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 25+ Corn Buntings and 11 Skylarks are definitely local birds. 

The Corn Buntings appear to spend most of their time hiding in the hedgerow from passing traffic but at this time of year the winter flocks have normally broken up and the birds returned to wherever they originate. 

Corn Bunting

It was about 10am when the wintering Hen Harrier gave a rapid fly through, a lone and distant flash of pale which looked for all the world like a Barn Owl until binoculars found it still hurrying east. Curlews and Golden Plovers remain on the fields towards Pilling, 130 and 40+ respectively. 

Well it wasn’t a bad day after all, life and death and all it entails is part of the joy of discovery. 

Join Another Bird Blog soon for more news and views plus encounters with birds and wildlife.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Goldcrest

A quick look at Fluke Hall this morning revealed not a lot happening on the migration scene again. A Chiffchaff in the same stretch of hedgerow as on Wednesday, a dozen or so Pied Wagtails and 5 Meadow Pipits at the midden, one of the resident Mistle Thrushes, and then close-by a Sparrowhawk dashing along the ditches.  So the rest of this post is devoted to Thursday morning's ringing and birding Out Rawcliffe way.
The early 6am start meant I got to watch the local Barn Owl pair hunting before the fields became busy with the noise and activity of Spring tractors; ringers are often up and about before farmers but don’t have the staying power to work the fields as quickly or effectively as two Barn Owls or a John Deere. 

The nagging and bitterly cold easterly wind finally relented for just a few hours, enough to have a crack at the feeding station. The owls had my attention for a good thirty minutes, saving me from the cold until a few birds appeared in the nets to keep icy hands busy, but then as early as 0930 the wind re-energised itself and forced an end to my heroics. 

Fifteen birds caught - 11 new and 4 recaptures. New birds; 3 Brambling, 3 Reed Bunting, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Chaffinch and in the only sign of Spring arrivals, a single Goldcrest. The recaptures were 3 Brambling from recent weeks and 1 Chaffinch. The female Chaffinch was first ringed here in 2007 as a juvenile, recaptured in 2009 but no other captures until today, with the bird now a respectable age for a Chaffinch. While Chaffinches can live to 10 or 12 years of age their average lifespan is much shorter with only a very few fledglings surviving their first winter. 


The migratory Goldcrest is the smallest British bird, almost always weighing in somewhere between 5 and 5.5 grams, with this morning’s example proving something of a heavyweight at 6.3 grams but still less than a ten-pence coin which tips the scales at 6.5. 


 Ten Pence coin

From recent visits to the moss I reckoned the regular Bramblings numbered 10 or 12, always around the seed drop zone, scattering far and wide into the trees as soon as look at them, so catching six today confirms the suspected number as a likely guess. 



Still the Reed Buntings surprise with a daily and continual turnover of new birds and three more second calendar year males today. 

Reed Bunting

Maybe the other sign of Spring was 14 Fieldfare heading noisily north, or perhaps the flock of Golden Plover, 90+ strong, black faces and black bellies, some in fluty song, even though they stayed put on the stubble field with more than 100 Curlew. A few of the Curlews bubbled up too, but just like the goldies didn’t go anywhere except for a fly around the field. 

“Others” noted. 3 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 2 Jay, 8 Corn Bunting, 2 Yellowhammer, 1 Pied Wagtail, 20+Tree Sparrow. 

Early last week the Tree Sparrows were busy in and out of the boxes carrying feathers and chirruping away, but their homebuilding seems to have come to a stop for now. Maybe things will warm up soon? 

Tree Sparrow

Look in to Another Bird Blog soon and find out if Spring ever springs. In the meantime check Anni who would rather be birding or  Madge's Weekly Top Shot.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

And The Winners Are..

Thanks to everyone who took part in Another Bird Blog’s recent draw for a copy of The Crossley Guide:Raptors. I put the correct answers in a hat and Sue pulled out the two winners, so congratulations to Mr E. Newman of  Somerset UK and Mr W Jones of Florida USA who both gave the answer to the question as American Kestrel Falco sparverius - if you are reading this Errol and Wally, please let me have your full postal address. Soon a copy of the Crossley book will be winging its way to them courtesy of Princeton University Press and I'm sorry that only two people could win a copy of this super new book.

Here’s a copy of part of the official British List of birds from the BOURC website, where American Kestrel is listed just below our UK/European Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus.

The British List from BOURC 

Yes, just two accepted records of American Kestrel in the UK, both in 1976, the first on the remote Fair Isle north of Scotland and a later one in the extreme south of England in the county of Cornwall. There are no further records of Amercan Kestrel in the UK since 1976, but there's lots of people hoping to get one on their own Britsh List, including me.

Although we are fairly used to seeing small passerines whisked across the Atlantic in autumn low pressure systems to then landfall in the UK or Ireland it is rare for raptors to be so involved. I guess the primary reason is that birds of prey are strong fliers and can normally outpace and outmanoeuvre an adverse weather system, whereas a tiny falcon like an Amercan Kestrel of just 10 inches and the size of  a Jay, is much more likely to be caught up in such extremes.

There was a false alarm here a couple of years ago when in November 2010 thousands of UK twitchers raced across country to Sussex, England in the hope of seeing an American Kestrel, only to discover it had escaped from a wildlife sanctuary. Perhaps they didn’t know that American Kestrels are commonly kept in captivity and used in falconry, especially by beginners? So don’t despair UK birders, there’s a likelihood of more escapes but also the possibility that eventually a “real” American Kestrel will turn up again in Britain or Ireland.

There are a couple of pages from the book below, plates which show American Kestrels in their natural habitat, in lifelike scenes and in a range of age and colour variants. The whole book is based upon this pioneering approach to bird identification, a method employed in the first Crossley Guide and continued here to even better effect. The new guide is an ideal way for beginner or novice birders to learn about raptors and an opportunity for the more experienced to sharpen up their skills on the "Mystery Image" pages.

American Kestrel - from The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors 

American Kestrel - from The Crossley ID Guide:Raptors

I found this on Wiki - The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), sometimes known as the “Sparrow Hawk” is actually a small falcon, and the only kestrel found in the Americas. Until the sixth edition of the AOU Checklist of North American Birds was published by the American Ornithologists' Union in 1983, the most commonly used name for the American Kestrel was the “Sparrow Hawk” or “Sparrowhawk”. This was due to a mistaken connection with the Eurasian Sparrowhawk, however the latter is an accipiter rather than a falcon. Though both are diurnal raptors, they are only distantly related. 

In fact, and I read this up on Wiki too, the American Kestrel is not a true kestrel at all. DNA analysis indicates a Late Miocene split between the ancestors of the American Kestrel, and those of the European Common Kestrel and its closest relatives. The colour pattern of the American Kestrel with large areas of brown is reminiscent of kestrels, but the colouration of the head - notably the black ear patch, which is not found in any of the true kestrels - and the male's extensively grey wings are suggestive of a closer relationship with the hobby family. 

American Kestrel by Greg Hume via Wikimedia CC.

Oh, why is this birding stuff so complicated? 

Call into Another Bird Blog soon for more news, pictures and points of view about our feathered friends.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Winter Birding

It was winter chores and winter birds today with time for a quick update to the blog in between grandparent duties. 

Although we’ve had no snow out here near the coast there remain roads blocked not too many miles away in the hills inland, so while there’s no problem getting about, spring is still a way off. Mid-April used to be “Swallow Day” and it looks like this year might well revert to that rule of thumb. 

If the wind would drop I would have an interesting little catch of birds at the feeding station out on the moss where the selection and number of birds remains much the same. This morning when I went to top up the food supply there were still 6+ Brambling, 8 Chaffinch, 15+ Reed Bunting and 8 Goldfinch, not forgetting 3 or 4 Blackbirds which also spend time searching through the seed on the ground. 


There are still Fieldfares about, a sure sign that winter is not quite over with 40+ today, feeding with c150 Starlings in a nearby stubble field. Beyond those and in the direction of Lancaster Lane I could see separate flocks of 140 Curlew and 60+ Golden Plover, some of the plovers in optimistic summer plumage. 


Last week I mentioned the beautiful bubbling trill of the Curlew, a call specially related to courtship but which is sometimes heard at other times of year. The Curlew actually gets its name from the more familiar loud curloo-oo, a sound which epitomises the atmosphere of the lonely marshes and tidal landscapes where the bird is found.

So for all readers but also for Wally in US who asked about “bubbling”, close your eyes, turn up the volume, picture the wilderness, listen to the magic of a Curlew and then dream of warmer weather.

This post is linking to Stewart's Photo Gallery.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Taking Stock

Indoors today surrounded by rain, snow and even blizzard conditions in the hills not far away, with more to come the experts promise. So here's the news from yesterday, before the weather went from not good to infinitely worse..

Despite the early sun Thursday morning began as yet another bitterly cold one with a biting easterly breeze. It was a combination which left few choices about the outing, the main priority being to bird somewhere moderately sheltered where there might be a touch of warmth in the air. 

So it was over the moss roads to the Rawcliffe feeding station to take stock of the birds there, a top up of the niger tubes and  a scattering of mixed seed on the deck. I stopped on the way along Lancaster Lane to look for birds on a still partially flooded field where I found a couple of shire horses to say hello to.

Pilling Moss


The flood held five or six Meadow Pipits and more than 15 alba wagtails, all Pied Wagtails I think, until my viewing was interrupted by their multiple alarm calls as a Peregrine flew overhead going in the direction of Pilling and the shore. The wagtails settled in another field further away where 6 Fieldfares probed through the mud for worms and a pair of Oystercatchers has taken up residence. I think the oyks should wait before laying eggs as most fields are being ploughed now after a cold but dry spell which has left the ground generally workable. 


Towards Out Rawcliffe I saw the first of four pair of Buzzards I would see, this couple joined in the air by the inevitable crows but also by a Sparrowhawk. Buzzards are extremely active now after many adopted a wintering low profile or moved south and west for a while. 

Buzzard - Buteo buteo

Last week a reader asked about our UK Stock Dove, the pigeon that is somewhat ignored by us birders seeking something more colourful or exciting. Near Out Rawcliffe I watched a pair of Stock Dove at a broken down old tree, a tree which has served Kestrels. Little Owls and Stock Doves in past years but which is now in serious decline - Rather like the Stock Dove itself, a species which has suffered sharp losses of habitat combined with pressure from hunting.

Stock Dove

And from Wiki - "The name Stock Dove has caused some confusion about the origins of this bird. The modern usage of the word "stock" might imply that the bird has been tamed and kept as stock for food and merchandise, leading to the belief that this bird is a hybrid breed with its origins in human aviaries; however this is not the case. The word "Stock" refers not to the stock of trade, but comes from the Old English "stocc" meaning "stump, post, stake, tree trunk, log." Therefore "Stock Dove" means "a dove which lives in hollow trees". Such hollow trees near human settlements would often be taken and used as wood stock for firewood, hence the name”. 

 Stock Dove

“Before deforestation, the Stock Dove was the most frequent pigeon, nesting mostly in oak or pine wood, but as it usually nests in cavities in trees it was normally only found in old forests. In plantations there are not as many holes to nest in, so the species is scarcer. In addition, because the Stock Dove is double brooded, a second hole is required for the second brood. They are known to nest in rabbit burrows, ruins with cavities large enough to host nesting and old poplar hedges which have numerous cavities for nesting and in cracks in crag or cliff faces, in ivy, or in the thick growth round the boles of common lime trees. Stock Doves will also use nest boxes”.

About the farm one or two Curlews were in bubbling display as they passed through and east towards the Bowland fells, and I counted more than 20 of them heading that way. The feeding station still holds the Bramblings, 4 today, plus 15 Reed Bunting, 10 Chaffinch and 6 Goldfinch. 

At a nearby garden were 30+ Tree Sparrows, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker and 1 Mistle Thrush. Four more Buzzards, 60+ Woodpigeon, 4 Yellowhammer and a pair of Kestrels completed my morning. 


If there’s anyone not entered Wednesday’s draw on Another Bird Blog to win a copy of the new Crossley ID Guide: Raptors, there’s still time to do so by clicking here.

Good luck and come back soon. Meanwhile see Who would rather be birding or take a look at Madge's Weekly Top Shot.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Blog Tour - Crossley Raptors UK - Free Book Draw

Yes this is it folks, and if you reached here today via Princeton University Press Blog or you will know what this is all about. For regular readers of Another Bird Blog today’s post is a little different in the form of a whistle-stop on a transatlantic blog circuit organised by Princeton University Press, a tour of Internet birding and featuring Richard Crossley’s new book The Crossley ID Guide:Raptors. 

Readers will remember Richard’s Crossley’s innovative and highly successful book The Crossley Guide:Eastern Birds, reviewed here on 27th January 2011. The post became the most visited page on Another Bird Blog with more than 1200 hits to date. The book became a huge success and Richard is now following it up by joining forces with Brian Sullivan and Jerry Liguori to co-author this new volume which takes a detailed look at North American raptors.

As part of Another Bird Blog’s contribution to this circuit and further down the page there is a draw whereby two lucky people will each receive a copy of The Crossley ID Guide:Raptors. All you have to do to be in with a chance is answer a simple question. So read on but don’t skip the middle bits which may give a clue as to the answer to my question. 

This new book may be produced in the US but let’s not forget the UK and the US share not only chunks of our history and culture but also a number of birds of prey and occasional transatlantic passerine and wader vagrants.  There’s a healthy interchange of bird watchers too, with US birders heading to Europe as well as many UK birders visiting US raptor watching stations and bird observatories or taking birding holidays.

I looked through the The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors to find the species common to both nations, the familiar birds which UK birders might see over in the US, and the regular species a US birder might well see in the UK. We share species, but we often like to name them slightly differently, a whimsy of our respective ornithological systems, so I will list the species and include both name versions where appropriate, US version first followed by the UK name and then finishing with the Latin name:
  • Merlin Falco columbarius
  • Northern Harrier/Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
  • Rough-legged Hawk/Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus
  • Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus                         
  • Gyr Falcon Falco rusticolus 
  • Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis 
  • Osprey Pandion haliaetus 
  • Golden Eagle Aquila chrysatos 
There may be several thousand miles of ocean separating the US and the UK, but there are subtle variations as well as the obvious similarities, with just a few of those detailed below.

In the tiny landmass of the UK our Merlin is the singular species of Falco columbarius. In the vast continent of the US with its huge variety of habitats the Merlin has evolved into three sub-species differentiated mainly by the darkness of their plumage. There is a dark form, the so called “black” Merlin of the Pacific Northwest, a pale “prairie” Merlin of the northern Great Plains, and the intermediate “taiga” Merlin of open forest. It’s the latter type which is equal to our familiar UK Merlin.

Following a number of variable plumages seen in the UK autumn time, there’s been discussion here about the possibility of Northern Harrier/Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus being two species, a North American one and a slighly different European/UK type. The jury, in this case the International Ornithological Committee, examined the evidence and decided not to split as the genetic differences between the two are very low in comparison to many other Eurasia/North America disjunctions. 

Northern Harrier/Hen Harrier - from The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

Happily both of our Peregrine populations are in a healthier state since the ban on DDT of the early 1970s which led to a recovery in numbers. This has been supported by large-scale protection of nesting places and a reintroduction programme in the many parts of the US. In both our countries the Peregrine has reoccupied former haunts and they now breed on human artefacts in our city centres. There are three subspecies of Peregrine Falcon in the US, tundrius of the north, anatum found mainly in the Rocky Mountains, and pealei which is found in the Pacific Northwest. Peregrines introduced into the eastern and other states are of mixed races. Here in the UK our Peregrine Falcons are from the nominate (first named) race Falco peregrinus peregrinus.  

Rough-legged Hawk/Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus is but a very irregular winter visitor to the British Isles, spreading here from continental Europe, generally during times of intense cold weather and/or shortage of their lemming/mammal prey. This situation rather simplifies separating out our everyday UK Common Buzzard Buteo buteo, unlike the US landmasses where 10 species of Buteo occur, all of which feature in The Crossley ID Guide:Raptors.

Rough-legged Hawk/Rough-legged Buzzard - from The Crossley ID Guide:Raptors

The Gyr Falcon is incredibly hard to see in the UK, and just like the Rough-legged Hawk the pale Arctic falcon is a very irregular visitor to the UK mainland. As Crossley has described its status in the US, “a loner with a huge territory”, an accurate portrayal for a bird which spends much of its time hunting across the northern oceans.

In the US the Northern Goshawk is a widespread but scarce breeder of forested areas. It's a status replicated over here in the UK, whereby spotting a Goshawk makes for something of a birding Red Letter Day.

Northern Goshawk - from The Crossley ID Guide:Raptors

Ospreys are a common sight in in many parts of the United States, whereas in the United Kingdom the species is confined mainly to Scotland with just a small number of pairs breeding in the more remote parts of Wales and northern England. In the English counties Ospreys are a regular sight on migration during both spring and autumn periods.  

Last but not least on my list is the magnificent Golden Eagle, a species which in both the UK and the United States breeds only in the more remote northern forests and mountains. Here in the UK our Golden Eagles are confined to the inaccessible parts of Scotland and rarely venture south across the border into England. 

And now without further ado the prize draw - at last you say. There is a small, colourful  raptor featured in The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors which has occurred in the UK on less than a handful of occasions, in fact just two accepted records, so few that while it belongs on the Britsh List of birds as maintained by The British Ornithologist's Union's Records Committee (BOURC), I didn't include it in my summary of shared species above. The last occasion this raptor appeared in the UK as a vagrant was during the late 1970s, over 35 years ago. What is the species? Please post your answer as a  comment to this post before 27th March 2013. Two winners will be chosen at random, and due to logisitcs, one from the US and one from the UK. The winners will announced on Another Bird Blog on 28th March and requested to send me (in confidence) their postal address. In due course each winner will receive a copy of The Crossley ID Guide:Raptors courtesy of Princeton University Press.

As part of this two-week blog tour raptor enthusiasts are invited to join in a live Shindig video chat event on Friday 22nd March - "Raptor ID Happy Hour" from 6pm to 7pm EST at  Shindig's Raptor Event. Two of the participants are the authors themselves, Richard Crossley and Brian Sullivan - sounds like a good place to be on a Friday evening with a glass of beer close to hand.

Next stop on today's blog circuit is a trip to Radd Icenoggle in Montana USA where Radd's Blog is looking back at the Montana State recovery programme which rescued the Peregrine Falcon from the verge of extinction in that region. Following on from Radd the Magnificent Frigate Bird web site will feature Barred Owl and Cooper's Hawk and there's another chance to win copies of The Crossley ID Guide:Raptors.

Finally and before you head off to Montana with Radd, don't forget to enter today's prize draw on Another Bird Blog and then come back soon to find out the winners of the fabulous prizes.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Worry?

I can’t be bothered chasing about trying to see the first Wheatear or the first Chiffchaff while the weather remains so cold. The birds will come when they are ready, as soon as they sniff warm air up ahead, but there’s no sign of that happening today with another early morning frost. 

In the meantime there are still a few wintering birds about too, as I found out when I topped the feeding station up on the moss. Just 12 birds caught, of which seven were new, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Brambling and 2 Reed Bunting. The other 5 were recaptures of 2 recently ringed Bramblings and 1 each of Goldfinch, Coal Tit and Chaffinch. So it looks like I need to make the effort for more ringing sessions until the finches depart north. 

A male Chaffinch this morning gave an enormous reading on the scales at 28.1 grams, a weight which later on may cause the database to “beep” as a potential input error. Upon checking the weight and examining the bird I found stored fat bulging from the chest cavity. It’s probably a bird going a fair old distance soon, just like the Bramblings heading off to Scandinavia or Russia. 

Below is the fat Chaffinch and then one of the morning’s Brambling, both birds second calendar years. 



Coal Tit


A few Meadow Pipits overhead this morning, less than five and no other signs of spring arrivals, just wintering and resident birds: 5 Buzzards in the early sun, 6 Yellowhammer, 15 Chaffinch, 8 Brambling, 15+ Reed Bunting, 2 Kestrel, 12 Corn Bunting 

Today's post is linking to Australia and  Stewart's photo gallery.

Don’t forget, tomorrow on Another Bird Blog there's the chance to win the new Crossley ID Guide: Raptors, so don’t miss it. 

Don’t worry if you miss out on the book, I’ll point you in the right direction to order a copy.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Believe It Or Not

The BBC forecast for Sunday morning wasn’t too good. By “not too good” I mean inaccurate, and despite the promise of rain I managed to squeeze a few hours ringing out of the dry, bright and calm morning before rain appeared about 10am. The temperature remained at close to 1⁰C for most of the morning in what’s shaping up to be the coldest March for a number of years. 

There was the usual stuff, just four species caught 12 new birds - 5 Goldfinch, 3 Reed Bunting, 2 Brambling and 2 Chaffinch. In addition there were 7 recaptures of 5 Goldfinch and 2 Reed Bunting. 

The winter ringing totals of new birds Nov to March for those four species at this feeding station now stands at 85 Chaffinch, 60 Brambling, 54 Reed Bunting and 45 Goldfinch. There has been exactly the same catching effort given to all species and the figures show how there is a constant turnover of birds at feeding stations, or indeed in any location where birds feed, whether gardens or farmland situations like this one. 

Perhaps most surprising of the above figures is the closeness of the Chaffinch and Brambling totals given their normal and relative abundance, even in years of immigration from Europe. Perhaps this is an indication of how many Bramblings remained undetected in the mixed flocks feeding on the stubble fields of recent months? There were large congregations of finches which upon only casual examination, and given the difficulty in observing them closely for more than a minute or two before the birds took flight, may have appeared to be Chaffinches only.

Of course even a brief view of a departing Brambling doesn’t always reveal the white rump. And a partly hidden finch shape in the top of a tall tree on a grey winter’s day doesn’t always expose the orange tones of a Brambling, more so if it’s an inconspicuous female. 




Many Goldfinches are now in immaculate breeding plumage, even as others retain the last of their buff, juvenile head colouration or display last year’s tail. 


Goldfinch - second calendar year

Goldfinch - last year's tail

There was another hint of returning Goldfinches today with a couple of older recaptures from previous breeding seasons: also nearby a flock of 40+ Linnets, a species which has been conspicuous by its absence this winter. 

Birding-wise the morning was unremarkable, perhaps the most noteworthy being a gang of approximately 90 Fieldfares heading strongly North East. Others: 1 Barn Owl at dawn, 1 Sparrowhawk, 5 Yellowhammer, 2 Corn Bunting, 2 Great-spotted Woodpeckers, 4 Buzzard, 35 Woodpigeon, 2 Stock Dove at a nest hole again. 

The Stock Dove picture is for Anni, a pal in the USA. 

Stock Dove

There’s no permanent ringing station here on the moss. There's just the parcel shelf of a hatchback with no Agas or steaming kettles, not a heater in sight, nowhere to warm your icy feet, and absolutely no creature comforts apart from a poorly made flask of rapidly cooling coffee. And it’s hell having to look at all those wonderful birds up close. Honest. 

The Ringing Hut

Make sure you log into Another Bird Blog next week when two lucky readers will each win a copy of the brand new, yet to be released Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. You’d better believe it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Normality Resumes

The day to day ringing must go on, and after Wednesday’s surprise catch of the Little Bunting today’s effort was bound to be a more mundane affair. So it proved, a very slow morning saw just 9 birds caught, 4 new and 5 recaptures. Four new comprised 3 Chaffinch and 1 Brambling, the five recaptures 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Brambling and 1 Chaffinch. 

With very few birds about the area I had the distinct impression that the finch flocks of recent months are now well and truly finished and flown to pastures new: the three new Chaffinches were all on the larger size ( 2 x females at 86mm and 1 x male at 93mm) suggesting they may be heading east and north rather than staying in these parts. If the ringing was sluggish the signs of spring were equally so with nothing resembling the March migration that can occur in warmer periods. Last March I was busy catching dozens of Lesser Redpolls as Meadow Pipits and wagtails headed north over my head, but with the current cold weather and northerly winds migration will be delayed. 

There are just token photographs from the ringing today, but maybe a Lesser Redpoll portrait soon? 



There were a few signs of Spring, mainly in the form of 3 loudly drumming Great-spotted Woodpeckers at dawn, this followed quickly by a Corn Bunting singing from the annual tree; I don’t know what the Corn Bunting will do if that tree disappears. 

Other sightings: 1 Barn Owl, 3 Buzzard, 4 Kestrel (2 pair), 2 Stock Dove (pair), 14 Fieldfare, 2 Jay, 1 Grey Heron, 4 Shelduck, 12 Tree Sparrow, 8 Corn Bunting. 

So there’s yet another Kestrel photo. 

Common Kestrel

The Robin waited patiently for breakfast again this morning, the light falling in a better direction for a portrait. What a Little Stunner our common or garden Robin is, much better looking than a Little Bunting! 


Click your way to Another Bird Blog very soon for more news and pictures of spectacular birds, rare or otherwise. Linking to Weekly Top Shot  and  I'd-rather-b-birdin.blogspot.with Mr Robin above.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Little Bunting Day

The intention was to just fill the feeders and drop more seed for the hungry Bramblings at Rawcliffe, and then do a little birding, leaving the ringing for the better forecast of tomorrow. With the wind speed nil and a number of birds around I decided to stay for a while, until that is the wind picked up about 1030 and forced me to close the nets. 

In the meantime more Bramblings appeared in the nets along with a national rarity, a Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla. Little Buntings breeds across the taiga of the far northeast of Europe and northern Asia. It is a migratory species wintering in the subtropics of northern India, southern China and the northern parts of Southeast Asia. It is a rare vagrant to Western Europe and the UK. 

Birds caught: 4 Brambling, 3 Reed Bunting, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Little Bunting. 

The Little Bunting was in a net alongside two Reed Buntings, the Little Bunting immediately recognisable because of its diminutive size, fine, straight bill, distinctive head pattern, obvious whitish eye ring and pink legs. The measurements were equally tiny, a wing length of 68mm and a weight of just 12.7 grams. 

Little Bunting

Little Bunting

For comparison with the smaller bunting, one of today’s male Reed Buntings. 

Reed Bunting - Emberiza schoeniclus

More Bramblings today takes the winter November to March total here to 55, so definitely something of a “Brambling Winter” with the second highest yearly total of this species for the ringing group. The Reed Bunting total for the same winter period stands now at 49 birds as the buntings continue to roam local farmland, eventually finding their way to my feeding station. 



Mentioning Reed Buntings reminds me  of a couple of recent records of their local autumn/ winter wanderings. The first involved a young bird Y763574 ringed in the summer of 2012 on July 30th at the Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, near Silverdale. I recaptured the bird at Rawcliffe Moss on 5th January 2013, a distance of just 34 kms - a fairly typical way that Reed Buntings seem to roam during autumn and winter. 

A second record involves Y279071, a first calendar year Reed Bunting caught at Out Rawcliffe on 25th September 2011 and later caught by another ringer at Knott End on 29th January 2012. This bird too shows another typical short distance movement of just 10kms. 

Reed Bunting movements

More bird news and pictures from Another Bird Blog soon. Stay tuned.

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