Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Sandpiper

This morning’s jaunt out Pilling way provided similar fare to recent days, the exceptions being a build of the Linnet flock and the reappearance of a Curlew Sandpiper. 

I stopped at the lane and took in the waders on the stubble, 100+ Black-tailed Godwit, 120+ Lapwings, 4 Curlew, 20 or so Redshanks and a single Snipe. I gave up on the tiny and distant peep which kept disappearing into the troughs of the flooded stubble, and while I thought it was the Curlew Sandpiper I’d last seen on 15th November, I couldn’t be certain. 
Black-tailed Godwit

It didn’t take long to find the Peregrine at Fluke Hall as it rocketed along the shore sending everything ahead of it into a panicked frenzy. One of these days I might be sat there with a ready primed camera and get a world beating picture of a Peregrine in full flight- more likely not, so I’ll have to make do with just seeing on an almost daily basis this awe inspiring raptor. 

The combination of my approach and the Peregrine put all the crows in the air again, 300+ Jackdaws, 40+ Carrion Crows, 2 Stock Doves and 6 Woodpigeons. I’ve been missing Wood Pigeons this autumn, counting tiny numbers in comparison to the avalanche of last winter when counts of 10,000 and 20,000 could be easily had on the mossland stubbles, the skies darkened by huge flocks.  Last winter the wide scale failure of acorns in Europe brought quite incredible numbers to the UK, now this year seemingly just the opposite. It will be interesting to see what happens when the usual January and February cold weather grips Europe. 


At the sea wall I was able to count the Linnets moving between the marsh and the stubble, eventually coming to an estimate of 140+. While the Linnets increase, my Skylark numbers now rarely reach double figures, and just 12 today. Two Reed Buntings about the spent maize, together with 4 Meadow Pipit and the usual 40 or so Shelduck coming and going via the wildfowlers pools, plus 30 Whooper Swans feeding on the stubble. 


There wasn’t much doing in Fluke Hall, a number of Chaffinch and Goldfinch obvious in the sunny tree tops and a noisy Jay hiding somewhere in the greenery. By 1130 the warm morning sun had sent Tree Sparrows into flurries of noise and activity around nest boxes while near the car a Dunnock was in full song. 

On the way back I stopped the car for another look on the flood and clinched the now closer and unimpeded Curlew Sandpiper. A reasonable end to a good morning’s birding. 

Curlew Sandpiper - Photo credit: jvverde / / CC BY-NC 

More soon from Another Bird Blog - keep looking.

Linking today to Anni's Blog and Camera Critters .

Friday, November 29, 2013

More Snobs, Belated Phalarope

I’d been stuck indoors on Thursday morning waiting for the heating engineer and then when he came, discussing our non-functioning radiators with him. When I eventually reached Pilling to indulge in a spot of birding the afternoon proved a frustrating one with a flyover of 2 Snow Buntings, belated news of a Grey Phalarope and then a finish soon after 3pm when the almost-December light failed me. 

I set off from Fluke heading east along the usual path where a number of Redshanks and Curlews flushed from the marsh and the several hundred Jackdaws, Carrion Crows and a single Raven took to the air at my coming. 

Suddenly a Peregrine appeared from “nowhere” and briefly chased a Redshank towards the wood before doing the usual disappearing act over Ridge Farm. There were 15 Whooper Swans on the marsh, the birds now less tolerant than when they first arrived from Iceland in October and more inclined to flee from would-be observers. By 3pm I’d counted 165 Whooper Swans as they came and went between the marsh, the stubble field and an inland spot not far away. I hear tell some were killed as they hit overhead power lines near Eagland Hill - what a terrible end for such a majestic creature of the air. 

Whooper Swans

Waders on the wet stubble amounted to 44 Black-tailed Godwit, 14 Redshank, 75+ Lapwings and 1 Snipe. Passerines just 2 Skylark and 2 Linnets until I glimpsed two brown jobs lift off from Hi-Fly’s spilled wheat track, the birds showing flashes of white. As they called and flew they instantly became 2 Snow Buntings and I followed them as they continued flying over the wood, heading south and into the near distance. 

After a number of consecutive years when Snow Buntings have been rather scarce 2013 has seen a turnaround with the arctic buntings seemingly at a number of local spots. The picture is of a Snow Bunting here at Pilling on November 10th a few weeks ago. 

Snow Bunting

I watched as good numbers of Pintail and Shelduck arrived at the wildfowlers pools for their free meal, roughly 40 Pintail and 60 Shelduck, but no wary Teal just now. 

Along the sea wall came a non-birding acquaintance of mine who can put an accurate name to many birds but perhaps not to less well known ones. He told of a day some weeks ago and a small grey and white wader feeding at the surface of a pool, not a Snipe or a Jack Snipe, but smaller. The bird was so close and untroubled by his being there that my pal walked within 6 feet of it then took a picture with his mobile phone; I knew he had seen a Grey Phalarope. His pal who had also seen the bird later found something similar on the Internet and reckoned the creature might be a Grey Phalarope. 

Grey Phalarope

As my acquaintance has previously seen a winter Bittern in almost the same spot I ensured that this time he has my mobile number for future reference. 

Just a few short hours but for finding and seeing birds there’s no substitute for getting out there and actually doing it is there?

Back home the garden has been quiet for weeks on end, enlivened by a visit from a Treecreeper, a couple of sightings of a male Sparrowhawk, and the reason for the hawk, several feeding Goldfinch.

There’s more news soon, belated or not from Another Bird Blog.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

These Sporting Times

I like to think of myself as a “proper” birder. Like most dedicated bird watchers I made a contribution to the just published British Trust for Ornithology BTO Bird Atlas 2007-2011, the very latest in a long line of awe inspiring BTO publications. This is the culmination of four years of fieldwork whereby over 225 million birds of 578 species were recorded online. 

 The Bird Atlas 2007-11 -  BTO Bird Atlas

There are seriously worrying statistics in this book, many related to declining farmland species which I mention frequently on this blog in an attempt to draw attention to their plight in the part of Lancashire I live. I make no apology for returning today to a couple of those species and a topic which concerns me greatly. 

On Wednesday I discussed with a fellow birder whether he should enter into his notebook the 7 Grey Partridge he’d seen that morning. Knowing of both the serious local decline in Grey Partridge plus the fact that numerous partridges are now released for sport by the shooting fraternity, most if not all of the releases undocumented, I suggested he err on the side of caution. As recently as 2011 in the final year of the Atlas surveys, I was recording Grey Partridge, but I no longer do so locally as I believe that our native species is to all intents and purposes locally extinct. 

Grey Partridge - Photo credit: Langham Birder / / CC BY-NC-ND

The BTO Atlas tells me there has been a 91% population decline of Grey Partridge in the UK between 1967-2010, during the Breeding Atlas of 1968-72 and the Breeding Atlas of 1988-91. “Local extinctions may be masked in some areas by the release of captive-bred birds onto shooting estates: about 100,000 captive-reared Grey Partridges are released in Britain each year”. The Atlas gives no figures on the number of captive-bred birds subsequently shot for sport; neither does it give any indication of how any surviving birds impact upon any truly wild Grey Partridge population. Given that the species is in any case a secretive and difficult species to study, any such investigation would by now be almost impossible to conduct. 

The problem is further complicated by the release into the same environment of Red-legged Partridge, a picture I know only too well from local farms.  

"As more farms diversify into shooting, the number of Red-legged Partridges released has increased and this is illustrated by the National Gamebag Census, where numbers shot quadrupled between 1990 and 2005 (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust 2013). It is estimated that 6.5 million partridges (Grey and Red-legged) were released across the UK in 2004, and 2.6 million were shot. There has been little research on the impacts of released birds on native species, but there is some evidence that shooting operations based on large-scale releases of Red-legged Partridges could be implicated in local extinctions of Grey Partridges.” To my unscientific but daily birding eyes that last sentence would seem to be a gross understatement. 

Red-legged Partridge

Turning to the non-native Pheasant, the Atlas tells me that the numbers of captive-bred Pheasants released into the wild has increased fivefold since the early 1960s to around 35 million birds annually. Some 15 million Pheasant are shot annually. “High densities of Pheasants potentially have negative effects on native species, but these have been poorly studied. Indirect effects possibly include modification of the structure of the field layer, the spread of disease and parasites and competition for food. Recent research indicates that infection with caecal nematodes from farm-reared Pheasants may be contributing to the decline of Grey Partridge.” When I watch hordes of young Pheasants thundering through late summer fields and woodland edge there is no doubt in my mind that their effect on the environment is wholly negative. 


The entire picture is a sad and sorry one worthy of proper debate but the BTO cannot be seen to take sides in this matter. 

“The BTO is an independent charitable research institute combining professional and citizen science aimed at using evidence of change in wildlife populations, particularly birds, to inform the public, opinion-formers and environmental policy and decision-makers. Our impartiality enables our data and information to be used both by Government and NGO campaigners. Our long-term monitoring data on the status of UK birds sets the standard worldwide for understanding the effects of environmental change on wildlife. Over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers, in partnership with professional research scientists, collect high quality monitoring data on birds and other wildlife. The combination of professional ecologists, long-term datasets some in excess of 50 years, and volunteers participating all over the country gives the BTO a unique, impartial and knowledgeable voice in nature conservation.” 

I’m left trying to think of an organisation that might be willing to take on the vested interests of landowners and the sporting fraternity in ending what is a national disgrace? 

Browse sample pages and then buy a copy of the BTO Bird Atlas 2007-11 here. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saturday Afternoon, Sunday Morning.

On Saturday afternoon the sea was flat calm at Knott End, the sun so bright the water so tranquil that out there hundreds of yards away I could see a Great Crested Grebe, 18+ Shelduck, 14 Eider and 3 Scaup, the latter being 2 males and a female; the female took a brief flight and even at that distance the blaze above her bill showed clear and bright. Looking on other websites I see that at a similar time the Scaup were noted off Rossall Point, Fleetwood. 

The sea was incredibly smooth as can be seen in the picture below which shows passengers disembarking from the Fleetwood to Knott End ferry. It is no surprise then that on flat tides the same birds can often be seen from both sides of the estuary as they drift on incoming and outgoing tides. 

Greater Scaup - Photo credit: milesizz / / CC BY-NC-ND 

Knott End to Fleetwood Ferry

The Scaup, (Aythya marila) is better known in North America as Greater Scaup, that continent also blessed with the similar Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis). Because in the UK there is only the one scaup species, most birders drop the “Greater” and simply call the bird Scaup. 

Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Knot and Redshank are dependable at Knott End and I had counts of 1900 Oystercatcher, 80 Knot, 22 Turnstone, 65 Sanderling and 75 Redshank. Also 1 Meadow Pipit and 2 Pied Wagtail. 

I rose early on Sunday. I was up and running so quick that I decided to detour over the moss and perhaps see a morning Barn Owl. No luck there, just a Kestrel in the half light and a scarce Mistle Thrush along Union Lane. At Cockerham I found my Barn Owl sat on a roadside post, but the car’s oncoming headlights spooked the bird away and over towards its barn. Not to worry, the owl made for a good start to a bird filled morning. 

I wasn’t having much luck with the camera at Conder Green when the Kingfisher didn’t want to know and the 16 Wigeon, 6 Little Grebe, 5 Goldeneye, 6 Tufted Duck and 2 Little Egret all stayed on the far side of the pool. Still 2 Spotted Redshank and 150+ Teal in the creeks. A Robin popped up on the screen to sympathise with my pathetic photography efforts but still I couldn’t get a decent portrait. 

Black-headed Gull


Maybe I’d have better luck at Pilling? At Backsands Lane were tremendous numbers of geese spread across the pasture, probably in excess of 5000 birds.

The geese seemed remarkably tolerant this morning and although they did their usual “walkaway” when a vehicle, cyclist or passer-by showed signs of stopping, mostly the birds remained in the field for a good few hours. At one point a dog walker passed within 75 yards of the nearest geese, most with heads raised from feeding but the whole lot staying put. The telephoto lens foreshortens the picture but the geese behaviour was most unusual in this the depths of the shooting season.

 Pink-footed Geese

The only interloper I could find in the pinkies was a single Barnacle Goose, and while I can’t claim to have seen every single one of 5000+ geese, I did spend a good hour looking through them.

Barnacle Goose and Pink-footed Geese

A quick dodge around the stubble fields and the inland ditch revealed 145 Lapwing, 45 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Snipe, 32 Redshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 32 Whooper Swan, 4 Reed Bunting and 3 Meadow Pipit. In the wood, 1 Sparrowhawk and a single Jay.

Whooper Swan

Then it was time for home. What a cracking morning of birding.

Linking today to  Stewart's Bird Gallery .

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Flight

I was on my way north but decided to stop off at Lane Ends when I saw lots of Pink-footed Geese coming off the marsh from their night time roost and dropping for breakfast in the nearest field. It was the closest field but also a large one, the wary geese sticking close to the furthest fence from the road where noone would trouble them. The geese didn’t so much as drop in but glide down, treating me to a superb display of synchronised landing into the wind, wings bowed at the appropriate angle with tail and feet applying the brakes for a perfect landing. 

 Pink-footed Geese

 Pink-footed Goose

Pink-footed Goose

Geese were constantly arriving and leaving in small groups, staying to feed or heading off inland for pastures new. In all I estimated 1800 birds on the field before the first person on foot along the lane sent the geese off in noisy flight. Click on xeno-canto to hear the geese panicking off.
At Conder Green two Spotted Redshank still explored the channel, while on the pool Little Grebe numbers have fallen to just 3, Wigeon increased to 12 and Tufted Duck to 3. I struggled to find much else and even the dependable Teal numbers have declined to 120+.

It was an icy cold morning but at Glasson I found an angler, head in his chest and fast asleep in a chair at the side of the dock. Maybe he’d been there all night as anglers often do, but there didn’t seem to be a layer of frost so I left him in his slumber and counted the wildfowl, many of them sleeping head down too - 80+ Tufted Duck, 42 Coot, 1 Scaup and 1 Pochard.

I hope a blog reader was a winner of the recent Princeton University Press competition for a signed copy of The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland. See who won here at Another Bird Blog .

I decided to head back to Lane Ends to check out the stubble field - still consistent with 90+ Black-tailed Godwit, 220 Lapwing, 200 Jackdaws, 40 Carrion Crow, 25 Redshank, 3 Snipe, 8 Curlew, 2 Golden Plover, 70+ Skylark and then 2 Reed Buntings in the spent maize.

Carrion Crows chased a Buzzard out of the plantation at Pilling Water and as I walked back to Fluke the crows had found a Peregrine to chase as well; they don’t miss much those crows.


At Fluke itself, a Jay in the trees and several Tree Sparrows along the hedgerow.

There's more soon from Another Bird Blog, stay tuned. In the meantime I'm linking to Camera Critters and I'd Rather Be Birding.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Away From The Coast

Here’s a quickie report of two hours at Rawcliffe Moss, an inland haven from this morning’s strong and snow-threatening winds and the Pilling shoot on my coastal patch. 

A good mixture of species fed along the main hedgerow, in excess of 140 Tree Sparrows, 15+ Chaffinch, 4 Yellowhammer, 4 Reed Bunting, 4 Blackbirds, 2 Fieldfare and a single Mistle Thrush. And boy that last species is hard to come by nowadays. 


As I headed north for a walk the Tree Sparrows scattered ahead of me and more Fieldfares erupted from the Buzzard wood. There were 15/20 Redwings mixed in with approximately 100 Fieldfares, the whole flock heading off south with much calling. A couple of Fieldfares had found a circling Sparrowhawk, perhaps the reason they’d all left the trees rather than my presence. The sprawk quickly drifted off high and west and lost interest in the proceedings. 


A single Skylark was to be found on the big fields. ther's been a recent change of farming regime from stubble to yet more winter grass with supplementary sheep, the whole change looking like a bad omen for a birder looking to find more than one bird. 

I walked to last year’s feeding station where Bramblings, Reed Buntings and an unexpected Little Bunting turned up. Another rarity today in the form of a Song Thrush, more Blackbirds and Chaffinches then an exploding Woodcock giving no clue until it burst from the deck and crashed through the trees. Two Roe Deer sauntered across the wintry grass, pausing to look at me emerging from the trees, then they were gone and running for all they were worth. 

Watching You Watching Me - Roe Deer

There is a stubble field on the way off the farm, a spot I found a huge flock of approximately 300 Linnets, more than I saw all summer. There were 5 Corn Buntings too, the whole flock sitting on overhead wires. They will be there another day for sure, so will I. 


At Town End I slowed the car to see 4 Goosander sat on the riverbank and a hovering Kestrel nearby. 

The old notebook wasn’t exactly full but when you’re a birder there’s always something to see from an hour of two in the fresh air. 

Log in tomorrow to see what transpired on Another Bird Blog. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pilling And A Pipit

Domestics meant that a couple of hours after lunch were the best I could do today. No point in being too ambitious either when most birds start thinking about bedtime, and head for their beds long before I do. But there was time for a walk out Pilling way where birds would be guaranteed for a couple of hours. 

The shooters were out on the marsh leaving food in readiness for the next big shoot on Wednesday. There will be guaranteed birds for the paying guests as long as they don’t mind getting their boots dirty when kicking overfed and tame Mallards from beneath their feet. There’s little else on the pools apart from Mallards now, just 8 Pintail and a couple of Teal, the autumn passage of wildfowl over. 

Although 10 Whooper Swans and 45 Shelducks went at the arrival of Hi-Fly it was just minutes after the food appeared that 200 Jackdaws and several Carrion Crows homed in and join a bemused Mute Swan. Not without reason is the Jackdaw known as “the clever crow”, and there are no tame Jackdaws out Pilling way. 


There was a gang of 35/40 Black-tailed Godwits circling around looking for a safe spot, the birds eventually deciding on their usual flooded patch of stubble where a couple of Redshank and Curlew fed. Also on the stubble - 70+ Skylarks, 2 Snipe, 24 Linnet and a single Pied Wagtail. It was while watching the stubble that I noted a Buzzard drifting somewhere over Pilling village, and then along the sea wall brief views of a Merlin heading towards Lane Ends and the obligatory 10 little Egrets. 

I followed the Merlin’s example and took a trip to Lane Ends where in the field opposite were c450 Pink-footed Geese and 4 Greylag. 

Pink-footed Geese

And now for news of a pipit. Fylde Ringing Group has ringed almost 2500 Meadow Pipits over many years but to get news of a Meadow Pipit recovery is quite unusual as the species both lives and breeds in rather remote places. 

Y279058, an autumn juvenile I ringed at Out Rawcliffe on 20 September 2011 was recaptured by another ringer at Hasfield Ham, Gloucestershire almost 2 years to the day on 5 October 2013. By this date it could be safely aged as an adult and with a wing length of 86mm it was a definite male. Where the bird had bred in 2011, 2012 and 2013 is anyone’s guess, probably well north of Lancashire, maybe even Scotland or Iceland. 

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit recovery - 2011 to 2013 

Meadow Pipit

Log in to Another Bird Blog soon for trips to Pilling and elsewhere.

Linking today to Stewart's Wild Bird Wednesday. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Diversion Day

A grey old start to Friday saw me out birding at Pilling for a good three hours. While I saw a decent number of birds I didn’t get many pictures. Never mind there are sunny pictures towards the end of the page.

I set off from Fluke heading east and along the edge of the marsh, where if the Hi Fly blokes see anyone walking they will tell them it’s private. But it’s just a ten minute walk to join up with the public footpath and then two digits to Hi Fly. 

On the flooded stubble still lots of Black-tailed Godwits at 85+, Lapwings at more than 240, 18 Redshank, 6 Snipe, 22 Linnet, 60 Skylark and a single Curlew Sandpiper. It’s getting a little late in the year for Curlew Sandpipers, a species which is a spring and autumn migrant. 

On and around the Hi Fly pools were 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Green Sandpiper, 35 Shelduck and 5 Teal. On the marsh, 35 Whooper Swans and 11 Little Egret.

Reed Bunting

Back home Sue and I started to research a winter break in the sun in 2014, including looking at previous years’ adventures. There are pros and cons for each place whether that is cost, journey time, time of year to visit, previous experiences, Trip Advisor reviews, shopping, sight-seeing, and of course quality and quantity of birds or the lack of. 

So I’m sharing some pictures from recent years with blog readers for their consideration and/or advice as to where the next foray should be. What is perhaps surprising is the birds shown in these pictures also occur in the UK, the single exception being Southern Grey Shrike, however the closely related Great Grey Shrike is an autumn and winter visitor to the UK. 

I actually rather enjoy seeing familiar birds in unfamiliar places as it gives a perspective on the universal commonality or scarcity of a species, so while it can be stimulating to see new birds it isn’t the be all and end all of a sunshine holiday. Here we go in no particular order. I hope everyone enjoys looking at these touristy pictures. There might be a few reruns but there are also new ones. 

Don’t forget to “click the pics” for close-up views.


Little Egret - Fuerteventura

Bamboo - Fuertventura


Black Redstart - Cyprus

Lizard - Cyprus

House Sparrow - Cyprus

Egrets - Egypt

Cattle Egret - Egypt


Southern Grey Shrike - Lanzarote

Woodchat Shrike - Greece

Skopelos - Greece

Skiathos - Greece

Red-backed Shrike - Skiathos, Greece


Hoopoe - Menorca

Heerman's Tortoise - Menorca

 Tawny Pipit - Menorca

I just realised - the sun seems to be shining in each of those pictures. Fingers crossed for better weather soon on Another Bird Blog. 

Linking today to Camera Critters and Anni's Blog.

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