Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Steady If Unremarkable

Tuesday morning I met up with Andy and Craig for a ringing session at Oakenclough. Recent weather and other setbacks delayed the opportunity but at last everything came good in a way best summed up by today’s headline. 

Things were quieter than of late in both numbers and species however we managed to catch 54 birds, 24 new ones, 29 recaptures from recent weeks and a single “control”. 

Control is the terminology ringers use to describe a bird bearing a ring from elsewhere, in this case a first winter male Goldfinch with a standard British ring but inscribed with a letter/number combination we don’t own. In due course, and once the record is submitted to and analysed by the BTO database, the original ringing data of who, when and where will be sent to us. In return the original ringer will find out when and where “their” Goldfinch was recaptured and who captured it on 30th December 2014. 

Our new birds comprised 7 Goldfinch, 4 Chaffinch, 7 Blue Tit, 4 Great Tit and 2 Goldcrest. Recaptures materialised as 13 Coal Tit, 12 Blue Tit, 3 Goldfinch, 1 Dunnock. No new Coal Tits and 13 recaptures of the same species suggest that we may have caught a good proportion of those wintering in the immediate area. 

Coal Tit



In between our bursts of ringing activity a little bird watching in the immediate area found 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Pied Wagtail, 3 Jay, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk and 1 Raven.

Craig located a small flock of 12 Siskin and 6 Goldfinch feeding in the alder trees. We are hoping that the regular catches of Goldfinches will soon be augmented by their two near relatives once they decide to add niger seed to their diet.


Pied Wagtail

Further to the problems of last week when some miserable sod stole bird feeders from this site, a kind blogger friend in Kentucky sent me a link to read how others have tackled equally selfish thieves. 

Read about the remarkable things that some folk will steal and have a good laugh about the victims’ understandable outrage and subsequent responses at

More birds soon from Another Bird Blog. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Do Birds Smell?

It’s a question I asked myself a number of years ago when noting how long it took for birds to discover new sources of food, in particular the introduction of bird feeders where none had been used previously. 

Birds were always thought to have a very poor sense of smell. But most vultures and many scavenging seabirds locate their food by smell. Any birder who has been on a pelagic trip to see seabirds up close will be familiar with the practice of chucking overboard buckets of “chum” or “rubby dubby”, to lure shearwaters and petrels close to the boat. Scientists believe that other birds, e.g. homing pigeons, may use familiar odours in finding their way home or use their sense of smell during migratory journeys. Think about the various odours given off to overflying birds by different places, e.g. pine forest or ancient deciduous woodland, saline or fresh water, the urban jungle or the countryside. 

Egyptian Vulture

Manx Shearwater

A recent Dutch study determined that Great Tits found and located apple trees with winter moth infestations and big concentrations of caterpillars larvae by smell rather than sight. Tit species eat large numbers of insect larvae particularly during their breeding seasons when they feed them to their young, timing their breeding to do so. Trees benefit from the protection offered by birds removing larvae that would otherwise go on to eat the leaves and perhaps impact on tree growth and productivity. 

Great Tit

The Dutch experiments were designed to remove other possible ways in which the Great Tits might detect the winter moth larvae. The researchers removed the caterpillars, removed leaves with holes and even took away signs of ‘caterpillar poo’, ensuring no visual clues were left for the birds to locate the infested trees. Despite these measures the Great Tits repeatedly found the trees with larvae infestations. The results were clear, even when they couldn’t see the trees, the Great Tits homed in on trees with winter moth infestations when they could smell them. 

The researchers believe the trees gave off chemicals which birds can detect by smell to alert them to infestation. It has long been known that many plants attract insects using smells and benefit from the relationships as a result, but this is the first time they have been shown to attract birds in the same way. More research is needed to determine which chemicals are involved but infested trees were found to release more of a chemical responsible for the “green” smell of apples. 

Most bird feeders use metal/plastic tubes or wire mesh to make the food highly visible to birds and we naturally assume that birds start to use our bird feeders because they locate food via their keen eyesight. My new niger seed feeders arrived today, replacements for ones recently stolen from a ringing site. At first glance the design looks improbable and unlikely to work as the feeding holes are tiny. When the stainless steel cylinder is filled with niger, the seed is virtually invisible with just the tiniest point of an individual seed poking through odd holes. 

Niger feeders

Nevertheless I experimented with this design of feeder a number of years ago and found them to be highly successful in attracting Goldfinches very quickly and I attributed this to the birds’ ability to smell the niger. 

At lunchtime I took the new feeders to Oakenclough with fingers crossed that Scrooge doesn’t sniff them out before our ringing session which may well be tomorrow.


Here’s an experiment anyone can try at home. Buy a sealed bag of niger seed, Guizotia abyssinica, open the bag and stick your nose in it. Then inhale and enjoy the sweet, oily, nutty fragrance which brings in those Goldfinches. 

No, there’s is no doubt in my mind that birds and in particular Goldfinches have well developed olfactory senses, probably as good as our own. 

Now you must excuse me. I’m sure that from the kitchen I can detect the unmistakable aroma of a curry cooking in the oven and I'm ready for a bite to eat. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Scrooge In Birdland

Christmas doesn’t last too long at our house. We both like to get back into a normal routine. For me that’s birding and in fact I went out early yesterday to top up the feeding station near Oakenclough in readiness for a ringing session soon. 

Our ringing site is quite remote and theoretically private. Scrooge must live nearby as here almost in the middle of nowhere, on or just before Christmas Day, he stole three bird feeders. Four other feeders were left untouched so held the usual array of finches albeit in reduced numbers. I topped the remaining feeders up and then chucked seed on the ground so hopefully the birds will be able to find their usual ration. Back home and online I ordered a couple of new feeders which should arrive Monday and in time for the next top up day. Andy is getting a couple more feeders plus making laminated notices advising Scrooge to leave the feeders alone. 


Today I set off early for Pilling where as usual I found a Kestrel atop telegraph pole along Head Dyke Lane. Not far away was the usual Barn Owl which once again did its now customary trick of heading indoors. It looks like Barn Owls are finding food at the moment and so have no need to spend too many daylight hours hunting. 

At Damside was the resident Kestrel pair watching over the now very wet fields. We’ve had a lot of rain recently with the result that on these few fields were approximately 900 Pink-footed Geese, 290 Curlew, 200+ Lapwing, 160 Redshank, 45 Golden Plover and 120 Starlings. I spent some time grilling the geese but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary amongst the multitude of pink-feet. That’s my Christmas story and I’m sticking to it. 

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese

I checked out Fluke Hall to find a calling Nuthatch and a singing Song Thrush, both drowned out by the sound of gunfire from a shoot in progress across the fields behind. Along the marsh and on the inland fields: 1 Kestrel, 52 Whooper Swan, 35+ Shelduck, 2 Little Egret, 48 Redshank, 125+ Lapwing and 80+ Wood Pigeon. 

In the maize stubble were a couple of Reed Buntings and 11 Skylarks searching through the vehicle tracks where the shooters carry in sacks of food for their tame mallards. 

I guess I’d best join in the Season of Goodwill, so here’s a message from my Christmas Robin to  Scrooge. "Enjoy your bird feeders you miserable sod!"


Back soon with more bird news on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Anni's Blog. Anni would rather be birding too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Better Than Shopping

After a five-day Atlantic conveyor belt of rain, wind and grey skies hit our region I was ready to bin my bins and instead take up a pastime less weather dependent. This morning the sky turned a whiter shade of grey and as an alternative to Christmas shopping I plucked up the courage to go birding. The wind hadn’t dropped though and the morning was both cold and very blustery. 

I stopped at Pilling expecting to see a Barn Owl after the poor hunting weather of the last week. Although one appeared on cue I was slightly disappointed with mostly distant views of it quartering the fields and then briefly fence hopping. After just a minute or two the owl had departed over the fields and towards its daytime roost, this individual’s usual trick. 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl - off to roost

In a field close to Lane Ends I counted 14 Little Egrets. They had clearly just vacated the roost but chosen to feed in a wet field rather than head out to the extremely windy shore. There seemed to be lots of waders on the same fields and when I returned this way later as the tide rose and into better light I counted in excess of 2500 Lapwings, 650 Curlew and 240 Redshank, not to mention hundreds of Black-headed Gulls.


At Thurnham was a Kestrel, hovering at the roadside but an awkward spot to stop a car when others were speeding by on their way to work. As I arrived at Conder Green, another Kestrel, this one hovering over the marsh before trying its luck further away. I lost interest in the unhelpful Kestrel and looked on the choppy waters of the pool and in the more sheltered creeks.

While many species abandon the windswept pool and the vagaries of the tidal channels the tiny but hardy Little Grebes stick it out in most weathers. Ten Little Grebes today, along with 90+ Teal, 26 Wigeon,2 Tufted Duck, 2 Little Egrets, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Spotted Redshank and 1 Common Sandpiper, all equally determined to spend Christmas at Conder Green.

Little Grebe
At Glasson Dock the Tufted Duck numbers have inexplicably dropped from 70/80 to something like 25 today, less than double the count of 14 Goldeneye, and not forgetting singles of Little Grebe and Grey Heron.

I hung around watching the antics of the male Goldeneye trying to impress the females with their head bobbing and stretching displays. Go easy boys, you’ll end up Christmas shopping if you’re not careful.
I note there are a few things on the bird listers circuit this holiday week. There’s a long suffering Shore Lark at Rossall which now has more portraits on the Internet than Angelina Jolie. Alternatively there’s an equally tormented Snow Bunting at Fleetwood, the little bird currently experiencing flashbacks of humans carrying large instruments of torture.

And now suddenly everyone is bursting to see a couple of Canada Geese, a bird they don’t normally touch with a bargepole and certainly not a telescope. But in this case as a sub-species of Branta canadensis and therefore only half a tick maybe it is preferable to being dragged Christmas shopping with the other half?

Enjoy your Christmas everyone.

Linking today to Eileen's BlogTheresa's Christmas Ranch and Christmas Birds in Australia.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Golden Times

The weather doesn’t improve. After writing off Wednesday and Thursday’s plans for birding due to almost constant rain and solid grey skies, Friday’s strong winds were also not designed to help birders, ringers, or anyone else really. Luckily there was a vital job for me that would pass a couple of hours - a trip to Oakenclough where the ringing and feeding station would need a top-up. 

The journey would take the long way round. From home the coastal road through Pilling and Cockerham to Conder Green and Glasson. After that a drive inland over the raised mosses of Pilling, Cockerham and Winmarleigh, skirting alongside the ancient market town of Garstang before heading east and into the foothills of Bowland. Yes, this part of Lancashire is a superb part of the world in which to live and in which to enjoy birds, away from the noise, fumes, expense and stress of city and urban living. 

The week’s rain coupled with the incoming 9 o’clock tide meant that Conder Creek was almost full alongside the road - not the best way to see feeding waders with no shallow water to survey. I’d made an elementary mistake in not keeping abreast of tide times in recent days. Never mind, there was a fine flotilla of 90+ Teal, a dozen or more Wigeon and even a few Little Grebes in the brimming channels. On the pool, a Red-breasted Merganser, 5 more Little Grebe, a couple of Cormorants and a lone Curlew sharing the windswept island with a gang of Mallards. 


I drove to Glasson hoping that diving ducks might be feeding close to the more sheltered margins of the yacht basin as they often do on strong windy days. Bingo - 24 Goldeneye and 22 Tufted Duck at times coming reasonably close to the edge until the steady plod-plod of early but oblivious walkers sent the ducks steaming back to the choppy middle water. Some people just don’t notice the stunning looks of a male Goldeneye, even less do they mind disturbing the birds from their search for food. 


Glasson Dock

The feeding station was busy, the feeders now just a quarter full after Tuesday’s top-up. I watched from the car as 8 or 10 Goldfinch crowded each one, squabbling as they went and sending the bigger Greenfinches flying off. In the hawthorns and on the ground below I counted 20 or more Chaffinch, Dunnocks, Robins and a constant stream of raiding Coal Tits. When next the weather allows we will surely have another good catch of birds with Goldfinch to the fore. 


Some of our UK Goldfinches migrate to south-western Europe, e.g. France and Spain. Interestingly, many more of these birds are females than males, and birds that migrate one year will not necessarily migrate in others. The weather this winter has been wet and mild which means that many Goldfinches will stay around for the time being, especially since part of our feeding regime includes niger seed and sunflower hearts, both of which are high energy foods that Goldfinches love. 


Goldfinches have recovered well from a serious decline in the 1970s and 80s possibly caused by increased use of herbicides. The comeback has been so strong that the Goldfinch may well be our commonest garden bird, but changing agricultural practices in the future might still threaten the species. 

While birders most often use the term “flock” to describe a number of birds feeding or flying together, an old and now unused collective name for a gathering of Goldfinches is a “charm”. That seems an eminently fitting term to describe our beautiful UK Goldfinch.

There was a Kestrel, a Mistle Thrush in the wood and overhead 40+ Fieldfares heading north, but little else of note on such a windy morning.

No, problem, we'll try again soon. In the meantime linking to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday Blog .

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday’s Ringing

Tuesday morning promised a window of half decent weather so I met up with Andy and Craig for a ringing session near Oakenclough. Craig is back from University until January so is able to join us occasionally only. He takes well the banter he receives as the youngest member of the group, giving us ancient ones in return as good as he gets. Whilst our four hour ringing session was hard, concentrated and serious work it was also good fun when a lull in proceedings allowed time to talk. 

We caught a total of 79 birds, 44 new ones together with 35 recaptures from our previous four visits of November and December. Today’s high proportion of recaptures to new ones is quite high but left us at a loss to explain why, unless it is simply that more birds are adding this relatively new site to their established feeding circuit. 

After previous visits resulted in catches of more finches than members of the tit family, the situation was reversed today with the finch family finding themselves lower down the pecking order of 44 birds - 12 Blue Tit, 9 Goldfinch, 7 Coal Tit, 5 Great Tit, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Robin, 2 Greenfinch, 2 Dunnock, 2 Redwing. 

35 Recaptures - 14 Blue Tit, 9 Coal Tit, 6 Great Tit, 5 Goldfinch, 1 Greenfinch. Soon after dawn there was a movement of approximately 60 Redwing and 30+ Fieldfares, probably birds leaving a local roost. 

We caught two of the Redwing, both first winter birds - note the rather worn plumage and the tail fault bars on the bird below. 

Redwing - first winter


Goldfinch - male

Blue Tit - first winter

Chaffinch - first winter female

Otherwise the resident Bullfinches continue to evade us, as do the Lesser Redpolls which fly over and through the site with regularity. 

On the way home, a Stoat dashed from the roadside into hedgerow vegetation and then at Out Rawcliffe I had brief views of a Mistle Thrush plus 40+ Fieldfares.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday .

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Frosty Foray

Saturday morning. A heavy layer of frost and ice covered the car. The doors were frozen solid and there was black ice on the road so best not to venture far. 

Pilling shore is just a mile or two away and always worth a look for a Snow Bunting, Shore Lark or something equally sensational. More often or not, in fact 99.9% of the time, it’s the same old species which provide the buzz of birding, knowing and appreciating a regular patch. 

At Fluke Hall car park a calling Reed Bunting greeted me, one of several I would see and hear during the morning. Along the shore were the usual half a dozen Little Egrets so highly visible and often vocal that I sometimes wonder if I miss other birds by always looking at the once rare egret. On the accustomed pool where the shooters leave potatoes and swedes to attract wildfowl I counted 48 Whooper Swans along with 30+ Shelduck, but no geese today. 

Whooper Swan

Right alongside a drainage ditch I often walk was a dead Grey Heron, a “stiff” in more than one sense as it was covered in a layer of frost and the whole corpse solid from the overnight below zero. With their reliance on feeding in and around shallow watercourses, ditches and drains, Grey Herons are amongst the first birds to suffer during cold spells, inexperienced first year birds especially so. 

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

There’s a stretch of Phragmites reed from where a single Teal flew off followed seconds later by a Snipe. More calls and sightings of Reed Buntings came from here and the nearby relict maize crop as I jotted 6 more “reebu” into my notebook. 

Reed Bunting

A single Skylark flew over and then a flight of 80+ Linnets heading towards Fluke Hall, the birds landing out of sight somewhere in the distance. Linnets have been very hard to come by in recent months, all year in fact, in contrast to their close cousin the Goldfinch which continues to adapt and flourish in the modern world. A walk across the track to Fluke Hall Lane provided 40 or more Redshanks on the flood and a couple of Curlews but nothing out of the ordinary.

Along the lane and through the wood - a smart looking male Kestrel, a Nuthatch and the pair of resident Pied Wagtails. 


It’s Sunday and raining - again. Now there’s a novelty.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bombed Out Birding

Yes, I’ve been quiet of late, a victim of the ‘Weather Bomb’ which hit North West England this week. I thought this terminology was invented by the TV forecasters but ‘weather bomb’ was imported from the US and New Zealand. Whatever you like to call it we were certainly bombarded by lots of unpleasant weather for most of the week. 

Friday morning was a little better, the wind eased and there was even a little sun at times, with just the odd grenade of hail stones or blast of heavy rain showers. 

I stopped at Damside hoping to see geese but there were none, just half a dozen Redshanks, a number of Black-headed Gulls on the flood and he resident Kestrel pair in the area of their nest box. 

Kestrels are fairly monogamous so both a male and female may often be seen together throughout the year, not just in the breeding season. Over the years our UK Kestrel has collected a number of common names including Hoverhawk, Windhover, Windfanner, Vanner Hawk, Wind Cuffer, Mouse Falcon and Mouse Hawk, the names giving a clue to how the species hunts and what it likes to eat. 


The gales during the week sent many gulls scurrying from the shore to the comparative shelter of inland fields so it was no surprise to see upwards of 1500 mainly Black-headed Gulls on the fields at Gulf Lane, Cockerham. 

There were Curlews too but I decided not to spend a couple of hours grilling the gulls and instead continued north to Conder and Glasson. A brief stop at Braides Farm found a pair of Pied Wagtails, 2 Linnet, 4 Mute Swan, 2 Canada Goose, several Curlews and yet another Kestrel, this one hunting alone. The week’s weather will have stopped many birds from feeding with this comparatively better day a chance to catch up on their meals. 

The regular Spotted Redshank and Common Sandpiper seem set to winter at Conder Green where I found both feeding in the creeks along with 90+ Teal, 10 Wigeon, 5 Curlew, 1 Little Egret and 1 Little Grebe. 

 Spotted Redshank

Common Sandpiper

Another 10 Little Grebes were on the pool together with 2 Tufted Duck, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Grey Heron and a Kingfisher. The latter showing briefly at its usual lookout spot on the water outflow and I rather carelessly let the bird see me and sent it flying off. I'm out of birding practice this week.   

The godwit didn’t appear too healthy, lethargic and looking to rest rather than feed - perhaps a casualty of the high winds and constant rain of the week past. 

Black-tailed Godwit

At Glasson, 51 Tufted Duck and 8 Cormorants.

The forecast for Saturday isn't too bad and then it's back to same old rubbish. Fingers crossed for better days soon on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog  and Eileen's Saturday.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Sunday Job

There was rain and then the wind blew my garden feeding station to the ground so the prospects for a morning’s birding weren’t good. Nonetheless there was a job to do at Oakenclough where the ringing station needed checking for a top up of bird seed, so I set off inland. 

It has not been much of a Fieldfare autumn so at Out Rawcliffe I was pleased to find a flock of 80 or more Fieldfares feeding in a stretch of roadside hawthorns. It’s a traditional and so almost guaranteed location to find the species, even when they can’t be seen elsewhere. I do wonder whether it is simply that the species homes in on the wealth of red berries hereabouts or if there is an element of a few individuals returning year after year to a known food source and bringing new birds along? 

As one of the larger and more robust members of the thrush family of birds, but bearing in mind it is highly migratory with all those attendant risks, an individual Fieldfare can be fairly long lived. Through the ringing of Fieldfares the longevity record of 18 years is held by a Finnish bird, in stark contrast to an average life expectancy of 2 or 3 years.

"Click the pics" for a light-box show.



There was a roadside Jay which scuttled off as my car approached and then the flap-glide-flap of a Sparrowhawk across the nearby field. I rather hoped the hawk wasn’t targeting the Fieldfares but they often do. 

As I neared Oakenclough I found a wary flock of 60/80 roadside Chaffinches, the birds scattering into nearby trees as I slowed to look. I switched off the engine then looked and listened for a while hoping to see or hear a Brambling or two but none showed. So far this is not a "Brambling Winter".


Watercolour - Oakenclough, Lancashire

The feeding station had been well used with the niger and other seed depleted together with signs of trampling underfoot. Looks like we are fattening up the sportsmen’s pheasants in addition to feeding our own little brown jobs. Best to avoid a ringing session on a Tuesday when the hills echo to the sound of gunfire.


At or around the feeding station - 2 Bullfinch, 4 Blackbird, 15+ Chaffinch, 15+ Goldfinch, 2 Pied Wagtail and 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, plus the usual selection of Robins, Dunnocks and titmice, mainly Coal Tit. 



The weather forecast for the week ahead looks truly awful with strong westerly winds and lots of rain predicted to Friday which means that Andy and I may struggle to find a suitable day for ringing.

Oakenclough in Black & White 

Not to worry. If there’s a half a chance Another Bird Blog will be out there birding and blogging as ever.

Linking today to Stewart'sWorld Bird Wednesday.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Birding Friday Fun

Following a spot of bird ringing inland on Wednesday it was good to go birding along the familiar coast today. However the weather wasn’t too friendly with wind and intermittent showers so there’s not a lot to report. 

I started off at Knott End for the incoming tide where the stiff north westerly made for cold hands and shaky optics. A far from complete count gave minima of 18 Eider and a single great Crested Grebe on the incoming tide. On the shore and near the jetty a mix of 1700 Oystercatcher, 700 Dunlin, 290 Redshank, 180 Knot, 145 Bar-tailed Godwit and 42 Turnstone. The jetty hugging Turnstones can be relied upon to provide a few pictures, the other species out on the shore proving much harder to approach. 



There was a flock of approximately 45 very flighty Twite. The birds were disturbed by a walker and then settled back down in the grassy marsh and out of sight. Two Pied Wagtails, 10 Goldfinch and 1 Rock Pipit also. 

At Damside, Pilling approximately 1800 Pink-footed Geese occupied the same fields they recently adopted. I searched through the scattered flock for the oddities that occur, the best I could find today a rather obvious partly leucistic bird. Leucism which differs from albinism is caused by a reduction in pigment of a bird’s feathers. This particular pinkie seemed to be leucistic on one side of the body only and so much more obvious when facing one way rather than the other. 

Pink-footed Goose

In the same field were approximately 120 Curlew, a couple of Oystercatchers and a single Black-tailed Godwit. 

Black-tailed Godwit

I parked up at Fluke Hall and walked the wood and shore circuit. Through the wood a Nuthatch called and a Jay shrieked off as I interrupted its feeding time. Along the shore, 12+ Little Egrets, 6 Whooper Swan, more Curlews, 140+ Shelduck, a Rock Pipit and a Stoat, Mustela ermine.

The Stoat was in an area where lots of Red-legged Partridge hang around. There’s no doubt a wily Stoat will help itself to more than a few of the shooters’ partridges in the course of the winter months. 


The human race often interferes with the natural world without fully studying the possible or likely consequences. In the 19th century, Stoats were introduced into New Zealand to control rabbits but the Stoats had a devastating effect on native bird populations. New Zealand has a high proportion of ground-nesting and flightless birds, due to the long geographical isolation and the lack of natural mammal predators. The introduced Stoats took full advantage of the bounty. 

That’s all for today. Look in soon for more birds, birding and other tales from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Anni's Blog and Eileen's Saturday.

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