Monday, June 30, 2014

Guess Where, Guess What?

It’s a short post today because there isn’t too much to say from a visit to, yes you’ve sussed it, the usual spots. 

Yet another Barn Owl kicked off the morning as I had brief views of one flying across the road at Cockerham before it did the usual disappearing act over a hedgerow. Barn Owls are just as wary as most birds and aren’t going to stop their early morning hunting to pose on a fence post for camera wielding birders. They are surprisingly fast flyers too when trying to focus for an in-flight picture. 

Barn Owl

The returning wader theme continued at Conder Green with a good count of 10 Common Sandpiper and 140 Redshank but no sign of the Spotted Redshank of weekend. Another birder reported 15 Common Sandpipers here on Sunday and there’s every chance that each day sees new arrivals; there is after all a valid reason the species has the qualifying “common” in their name. 

Also new in were 2 Grey Wagtails feeding in the low-tide creek amongst the Redshanks, Common Sandpipers, 8 Oystercatcher, 2 Curlew, 1 Grey Heron and 7 Little Egrets. 

Little Egret

Otherwise, and with the risk of boring regular readers, there was little change to be had around Conder Pool in the way of 15 Tufted Duck, 2 Wigeon, 14 Lapwing, 1 Pied Wagtail, 3 Reed Bunting, 2 Sedge Warbler, 1 Stock Dove and 75+ Swift. 

On a lovely sunny morning I hoped for a repeat of the Glasson Dock Otters of Saturday but now in good light, even though there’s some truth in the maxim “lightning never strikes twice”. No bolts from the blue and no Otters today. 

Compensation arrived in the form of a pleasant walk around the yacht basin and along the canal towpath with 2 Grey Heron, 8 Tufted Duck, 2 Whitethroat, 1 Reed Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Song Thrush and 15+ Blackbirds, together with a Grey Wagtail to add to those of Conder. 

A Grey Heron was fishing from the remains of the boat sunk during last winter’s storms - that’s the old washing line in the background. When the heron had flown off towards the canal a Coot brought Junior Coot to the wreck for a wash and brush up. 

Grey Heron


I’ve been watching the Swallows here and waiting for the young to emerge from under the road bridge but there’s no sign of any juveniles yet, just adults, so I think the nests have failed. 


On the way home I called to see Chris who has a Sand Martin colony in his recently quarried fields. It looks like a good season so far with a total of 120+ Sand Martins on the fences and in the air, plus 10 or more Swallows. 

 Sand Martin

There are more guessing games on Another Bird Blog soon. Try to be here.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Mixed Bag

Heading for Conder Green via Cockerham and 100 yards ahead of the car I spotted yet another Barn Owl, this one flying pretty close to the roadside. I slowed the car, switched off the still-on auto headlights and slowed right down to where I’d seen the owl. No luck, it had disappeared without trace, and even though I waited in a gateway for 15 minutes or so the owl didn’t reappear; the start of a slightly frustrating morning. 

Predictably at Conder Green and late June there was a return journey still summer plumaged Spotted Redshank, newly back from the tundra of the Arctic Circle - Norway eastwards through Finland to the forest zone of Siberia. Female Spotted Redshanks can leave the breeding grounds up to a week before their eggs hatch. Others desert their partners at an early stage to form post breeding flocks, leaving the males to look after the youngsters. The light was poor, the redshank too far away for a picture, so I borrowed one. 

Spotted Redshank -  Photo credit: Lorenzo L M. / Foter (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) 

Waders and heron species today: 145 Common Redshank, 3 Common Sandpiper, 2 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Snipe, 12 Oystercatcher, 9 Little Egret, 2 Grey Heron. There’s very bad picture of the single distant Snipe taken in poor light at ISO800.


Decent numbers of Swifts this morning with 60+ feeding both high and low. Three Sand Martin also. Passerines pretty much unchanged and singing-2 Whitethroat, 2 Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting, Blackcap, Sedge Warbler.

The two drake Wigeon are still around, with an increase in the Tufted Duck to 19 individuals but no sign of ducklings despite the summering pairs. Spots of rain appeared so I drove the half mile to Glasson by which time it might stop.

There were a few Tufted Duck and a Great Crested Grebe circuiting the yacht basin, diving and feeding and then reappearing yards away.

Great Crested Grebe

 Great Crested Grebe

The grebe found me singing Chiffchaff and Reed Warbler around the margins of the water and led me towards a family of Otters. European Otter (Lutra lutra) is also known as the Eurasian Otter, Eurasian River Otter and Common Otter.

From UK Safari “Adult Otters have no natural predators, although in the past they were heavily persecuted by gamekeepers. Loss of habitat, polluted rivers, hunting and other human activities all contributed to the decline of native otters. During the late 1950's, following the introduction of new and stronger pesticides, the UK Otter population went into rapid decline. It's only in recent years that the otter population in the UK has started to recover through protective legislation and conservation programmes” 

By now the light was really poor with noisy folk beginning to appear from moored house boats. A couple of rushed shots were all I managed before the Otters melted into the water.



The light improved slightly, enough for a look at Fluke Hall. Kestrels have fledged from a nest box there, the young still being fed by the adults along the edge of the wood. I watched as the adults saw off a really tatty looking Buzzard obviously in heavy summer moult.


There were a couple of Skylarks carrying food to what at first I thought to be two separate nests. After a short time I realised, and upon noting that the food items being carried were of similar size, that the adults were in fact feeding birds out of the nest, the youngsters spaced apart by as much as 30 yards.

I tracked one chick down in newly growing wheat where it lay motionless on the ground trying to blend in with the vegetation. Young Skylarks leave the nest when they are between 8-11 days old, sometimes before that if they are prematurely disturbed.


I put the young Skylark back where I found it and waited out of sight for the adult to return with food.


A very mixed bag of stuff today, but what a thrill to see Otters so close to home. Yes, it’s hard to beat a local patch.

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Sparrowhawk’s Lament - Book Review

Today there’s a review of A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring, a newly published book by David Cobham with Bruce Pearson. 

There is a fascination with birds of prey which can propel them into headline news, not just rare bird bulletins, but very often the TV news and the popular press. Sometimes it is good news but very often there is controversy, disagreement or debate around birds of prey where the quarrels reach into politics and beyond, even the Royal Family. 

Enquire of a bird watcher their favourite bird and more often than not the answer will be a bird of prey, even though in the course of everyday bird watching many British birds of prey are difficult to engage with as we glimpse them but briefly. Such is the passion for raptors that on occasions, perhaps yearly, bird watchers travel long distances, making costly and time consuming special journeys to see birds of prey like Goshawk, Honey Buzzard, Golden Eagle or White-tailed Eagle. 

When Princeton University Press sent a copy of A Sparrowhawk’s Lament for review on Another Bird Blog I admit to niggling thoughts about the need for yet another book about birds of prey, what might be added to current knowledge on the subject, and who might stump up £25 for a new one. With so many books devoted to raptors already out there it was hard to imagine where a new volume might begin and end. 

A Sparrowhawk’s Lament - Princeton University Press

So I got stuck into A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring, a book containing 15 chapters, one for each British Breeding Bird of Prey together with the obligatory Introduction and Conclusion. That translates to roughly 20 pages to each species, good sized chunks with which to digest the contents and consider a verdict.

From the beginning I was struck with the detail and sheer readability of the text and finished the first 40 pages of the Introduction, The Sparrowhawk and The Osprey without a break. 

 Sparrowhawk - A Sparrowhawk’s Lament - Princeton University Press

As I live in the North West of England, just a flap and a glide from the infamous Bowland Hills, and where after 200 years of persecution the Hen Harrier has been wiped from the landscape, I took a particular interest in the chapter devoted to Circus cyaneus, the original Silver Ghost. These 20 pages make for illuminating, disturbing and often emotional reading, from the crucified Hen Harrier on a barn door, the introduction of the double-barrelled breech-loading shotgun, Famous Grouse whisky, on through quad-biked keepers kitted out with night-vision goggles, and ending with a moving poem and the predictable fate of Bowland Beth. Read it all, I think you may never buy Famous Grouse again and will in all probability have a tear in your eye. 

Fortunately not all of the chapters make for reading as depressing as the saga of the Hen Harrier, the magnificent Golden Eagle or the elusive Goshawk, with chapters charting success stories like Buzzard, Hobby, Montagu’s Harrier, Red Kite and Honey Buzzard to redress the balance somewhat. 

 Red Kite - A Sparrowhawk’s Lament - Princeton University Press

By the time I reached The Conclusion at page 269 my own thought was that the book’s sub-title rather undersells it. A Sparrowhawk’s Lament is much more than a summary of how British birds of prey are faring in 2014, more like an entertaining read about the historical, cultural and even literary background to British raptors, the chapters peppered with anecdotes, experiences and observations from the author and conservationists engaged in the study, safeguard or reintroductions of such species. This detail gives the whole book an instructive, authentic, expert, and above all a caring feel for our often maligned UK raptors. 

David Cobham has spent a lifetime studying birds and is a vice president of the Hawk and Owl Trust. In addition he is a film and television producer and director, notable for such films as The Goshawk, The Vanishing Hedgerows, and Tarka the Otter. The author’s Acknowledgements for his interviewees reads as a who’s who of raptor expertise, including luminaries such as as Ian Newton, Roy Dennis, Robin Prytherch, Wilf Norman and the late Derek Ratcliffe. 

The book is generously sprinkled with more than 90 black & white illustrations by Bruce Pearson. These vignettes add greatly to the accompanying text in providing a perfect fit to the overall feel of the book. 

All in all A Sparrowhawk’s Lament is a desirable little volume which I thoroughly enjoyed, and one I can recommend to blog readers for the next rainy, non-birding day. 

A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring: David Cobham with Bruce Pearson. Princeton University Press - $35.00 / £24.95 

Back to birding soon on Another Bird Blog.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The King Is Back

A Kingfisher at Conder Green was the highlight of a very quiet morning, the blue and green flash narrowly beating yet another Barn Owl into second place. 

Looking for early morning owls dictates a slow drive along the customary routes, one eye on the road the other eye looking left and right for a ghostly apparition gliding across summery fields and ditches. Luckily at 5am there’s not much rush hour traffic to delay and annoy. No luck though, with nary a Barn Owl glimpsed between home and Conder Green, just a single Kestrel at Head Dyke and then a Tawny Owl in the trees at Crimbles. 

At Conder Green there was a good count of Redshank with 165+ birds in the creek, a number which in addition to migrants from elsewhere included a quartet of one day old chicks brooded by the female and watched over by a very vocal male. Two Common Sandpipers perhaps signifies the impending return of more. 

Common Sandpiper


A lazy and somewhat incomplete count produced the anticipated result of 5 Little Egret and 2 Grey Heron, 15 Oystercatcher, the 2 drake Wigeon, 12 Tufted Duck. 

Kingfishers usually turn up here at the coast in July and August, probably from their breeding haunts just inland on the River Conder and Lancaster Canal, the Kingfishers then wintering hereabouts. So although one might be expected here soon, sighting one at the pool this June morning was a both pleasant and welcome surprise. The royal fisherman didn’t stay long but whizzed across the pool towards the unseen canal, the waterway which finishes half a mile away at Glasson Dock. 


A walk along the old railway towards Glasson manufactured another handful each of Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing and yet more Little Egrets, another four; what an amazing success story the Little Egret is in reconstructing its population in the UK. 

Whitethroats were conspicuous this morning, at least 8 of them along the path, juveniles and adults, family parties keeping in visible and audible contact. There was also a Blackcap in song at the car park. 



Two Sedge Warblers along the same path, and at the tiny roadside reedbed adjacent the mini-roundabout, a still loudly singing Reed Warbler. Heading back home via Jeremy Lane at 0930 a commotion from field-feeding Starlings made me look right, just in time to see a Barn Owl carrying prey fly across the road ahead of me but the owl heading out of sight towards buildings I do not know. 

Back home while viewing the entrants for this year’s village scarecrow competition with our two granddaughters, we found a crow taking a drink plus the other “king”, King Elvis. 


 Scary Elvis

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog. It looks as though we may get one more day from this fine spell of weather before the heavens open.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday  and Theresa's Thursday Fences

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Owls Are Ace

By all accounts Barn Owls appear to be having a better year. 

2013 was a very poor breeding season for the Barn Owl caused by the poor spring weather and dearth of voles. Preliminary reports for 2014 from the British Trust for Ornithology quote high site occupancy rates, some egg laying 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule, large clutch sizes and large broods. The most important element this year is the extremely high numbers of voles, confirmed by large food caches being reported in nest boxes by bird ringers and nest recorders. 

 From the BBC Cambridgeshire....
 “Conservationists are celebrating after Barn Owls nesting at a Cambridgeshire farm hatched twice as many chicks as this time last spring. Three pairs of birds at Lark Rise farm have produced 17 chicks in total and may have a second brood this summer. The UK Barn Owl population was hit badly last year after a late spring. Vince Lea, from The Countryside Restoration Trust which runs the farm, said the brood was “the biggest ever” in the 12 years since the owls arrived. 

“These record-breaking numbers of Barn Owl chicks are a direct result of the trust’s wildlife-friendly farming methods.” The increase was “astonishing evidence of a comeback”, he added. 

Meadows, grass margins and hedgerows had “helped create an ideal barn owl habitat”, Mr Lea said, as well as encouraging other wildlife including water voles – “their favourite snack” to the area. 

Dead voles had been found stored in one of the three nesting boxes on the 450-acre (182 hectares) arable farm near Cambridge, which Mr Lea said was proof of an abundance of that species on the farm. 

“We had no owls in this area for a long time, then eventually they started to nest and generally we’d have about three chicks per pair each year,” he said. Colin Shawyer, from the Barn Owl Conservation Network, which monitors the species, said 2013 had been “an exceptionally poor breeding year”. 

“Lark Rise’s brood is most definitely a sign that 2014 is going to be a good one for Barn Owls. Two of the females have not gone into moult yet, which is a good sign they will attempt a second brood,” he said.” 

The British Trust for Ornithology estimates there are about 4,000 breeding pairs of Barn Owls in the UK, and lists their conservation status as “amber” indicating the species is, or has recently been, in decline. 

At the moment here in coastal Lancashire our local Barn Owls seem very active, as regular readers of Another Bird Blog will know. I saw two more Barn Owls this morning, a pair of birds little more than a hundred yards apart, goings-on which suggest they have young in the nest. 

One flew across the road in front of me and then headed over the fields and out of sight before I spotted the second one on a roadside “For Sale” sign. I wondered if the owl was looking for a new place to live so intent was it on studying the sign and the ground below. 

Barn Owl

There wasn’t a lot doing at Conder Green on yet another sunny, warm morning, but it was great to be out in the free and fresh air. 

Very noticeable was the number of Reed Buntings about with one in song at the bridge plus several juveniles along the hedgerow which abuts the pool. Three Pied Wagtail on the edges of the pool and in the hawthorn hedgerow, a single Greenfinch and 2 Tree Sparrows, while more than 60 Swifts hawked the midges stemming from the hedgerow. 

Reed Bunting

Pied Wagtail

A Blackcap and Sedge Warbler sang near The Stork car park. Another Sedge Warbler was in song near the pool viewpoint from where I counted the wildfowl and waders as 50+ Redshank, 24 Lapwing, 15 Oystercatcher, 2 Wigeon, 1 Little Grebe, 2 Grey Heron, 2 Little Egret. 


Yes, owls are definitely ace but all birds are just wonderful aren’t they? 

Call in to Another Bird Blog soon and see more first-rate birds. Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Good Morning Owls

After Joanne’s Little Owl pictures of Thursday, today it’s my turn. Stay tuned for Little Owl and Barn Owl. 

The run of bright and dry weather and almost at the longest day makes for early starts, driving on quiet roads with the chance to slow down at a few locations where owls live. At 6am there was a Barn Owl flying alongside the road at Cockerham and lots of light for a photograph; but the owl flipped over the hedgerow and out of sight. I drove up and down the road a couple times, turning at convenient spots and then waiting in gateways for the owl to reappear. 

No luck, so I checked out a Little Owl farm of old. The RSPB website tells me that the Little Owl Athene noctua “can be seen in the daylight, usually perching on a tree branch, telegraph pole or rock. It will bob its head up and down when alarmed.” 

And there one was, and on a telegraph pole. The owl stole a look at my approaching car and chose not to bob its head up and down but instead continued to watch the ground below for “small mammals and birds, beetles and worms”. 

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

Little Owl

After a while the owl got bored with looking at the same bit of the ground and flew off towards the farmhouse and farm buildings. Now there’s a “good” bird to have sat on your house; makes a change from House Martins and House Sparrows. 

Little Owl

There was a Red Fox in the middle of the road but even as the car approached from 100yards the fox took fright and loped off. The camera was still set to overexpose the owl against the morning sky - "D’oh".  Red Foxes in this part of the world still mostly inhabit the true countryside and as far as I know do not frequent the Saturday night kebab shops when the drunks go home.   

Red Fox

There was another Barn Owl at Conder Green, this one hunting the embankment alongside the old railway where moored boats dot the green marsh. It was 0730, the owl was up late and heading swiftly for a daytime sleep, but not before an Oystercatcher gave it a telling off.  Two or three pairs of Oystercatchers have chicks nearby and while a Barn Owl may be "cute" it is a predator which needs to eat and to feed chicks of its own.

Barn Owl

Oystercatcher and Barn Owl

Barn Owl


Also out hunting was a Sparrowhawk, carrying prey back to a nest somewhere while at the same time lifting the prey towards its bill to take crafty nibbles. Before today I’d never ever seen this behaviour by a Sparrowhawk, just from members of the falcon family. 

After the excitement of raptors it was back to June’s unchanging birds of hedgerow, pool and creek; 2 Grey Heron, 4 Little Egret, 65 Redshank, 15 Oystercatcher, 12 Lapwing and 1 Common Sandpiper. 

Common Sandpiper

Other bits ‘n pieces totalled up to 45 Swift, 2 Stock Dove, 5 Sedge Warbler, 3 Pied Wagtail. 

Another Bird Blog is back soon, maybe with more owls but certainly with more birds.

Linking today to  Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

That Elusive Owl

Regular blog readers may remember the Little Owl on the garden fence at daughter Joanne’s home. 

The owl still makes regular but unpredictable appearances except on the two or three occasions a week Sue and I go round to let Holly the black labrador outside for her essential requirements.  I’ve still to get my 400mm properly trained onto the elusive owl, with the best garden bird I could manage a Mallard. 

So Joanne borrowed my old Canon and bog standard 300mm lens then took some photographs. The owl seems to be a juvenile of the year judging by the eye colour and hint of downy feathers still visible on its breast. Looks like Joanne doesn’t need any photography lessons from Dad? 

Little Owl

Little Owl


I was out Conder Green way this morning where the most obvious change was the increase in numbers of Little Egrets to nine birds now that their breeding season is over. Two were feeding in the roadside creek when a loose party of seven arrived from the north to drop into the area of the pool. The birds fed for a while before scattering off in various directions and over towards the Lancaster canal which is located just over the back of the pool. 

Little Egret

Two Grey Herons were about the creeks and the pool, one lording it over the marsh, stopping to preen and have a good old scratch. 

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

No variation with the waders and wildfowl - 1 Little Grebe, 2 Wigeon, 10 Tufted Duck, 12 Shelduck, 55 Redshank, 15 Oystercatcher, 1 Curlew. 

The numbers of passerines varies little at the moment with 2 Reed Warbler, 1 Sedge Warbler, 2 Whitethroat and 1 Meadow Pipit still in song from the marsh and hedgerow, together with brief snatches of Chiffchaff from the car park. Otherwise, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 6 Linnet, 2 Tree Sparrow, 1 Greenfinch and more than 1 Robin. I’m pretty sure the juvenile Robin had two legs, but the photo looks like there was just one. 


At Glasson a Great Crested Grebe was new on the water to join with a handful of Coot, Mallard and Tufted Duck. I watched a Lesser Black-Backed Gull have breakfast, a dead fish left behind by the weekend anglers. Some birds just have no table manners do they?

Great Crested Grebe

 Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Join Another Bird Blog very soon for more birds, elusive or not. 

Linking today with Theresa's Run A Round Ranch .

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