Friday, March 27, 2015

More Subdued Birding

Although the morning was bright and sunny the cold north westerly’s continue to hold back migration. 

When I arrived at Fluke Hall there were Meadow Pipits lifting off from the nearest field and a count of 30+, the birds heading due north across the shore and then towards Heysham. There was a single Wheatear along the sea wall, and those two species proved to be the only genuine migrants I saw in three hours of searching the area. 

At least the sun gave resident birds plenty to sing about with even the normally shy and retiring Tree Sparrows making lots of noise in and around several nest boxes. It is actually hard to detect the song of Tree Sparrow, a short twitter mixed with the occasional chirrup. A Tree Sparrow’s calling repertoire consists of varied chirps and cheeps generally similar to the House Sparrow but shorter and higher pitched. All in all, and due to its generally wary behaviour, the humble Tree Sparrow is a bird that is easily overlooked. 

Tree Sparrows are birds of lowland farmland but will also inhabit large gardens, especially where nest boxes are provided. They prefer mature trees in open country, on the edge of woods or in hedges. Tree Sparrows usually nest in holes (including nest boxes) but may build a nest in thick, large hawthorn hedges if no holes are available. 

Tree Sparrow

A walk through the woodland and along hedgerows revealed 4 Twite, 4 Greenfinch in song, 3 Song Thrush, 5 Linnet, Stock Doves in display mode, 2 Greylags on the pond and 25+ Woodpigeon. The pair of resident Kestrels can generally be seen. Today the male was atop a roadside telegraph post while the female hunted the nearby fields. 


The “wet fields” aren’t especially wet at the moment after a somewhat dry spell, but with a little effort I found a gang of 9 Snipe, 4 Teal, 2 Little Egret, 12 Redshank, 4 pairs of Lapwing, 2 pairs of Oystercatcher and 18+ Shelduck. The Shelduck are mostly paired up and on the lookout for somewhere to nest. 

An old name for the Shelduck is “burrow duck” a title earned from the birds’ habit of making its nest in a burrow of a rabbit or in a hole hollowed out by itself. In the Orkneys the Shelduck was once known as the “Sly Goose” from their instinctive cunning and ability to divert people from robbing their nests of young. Like many a wader species an adult Shelduck will fly along the ground as if wounded until the young can reach a place of safety whereupon the adult bird will return to the young to collect them together. 

The "sheld" part of the Shelduck's name refers to the pied and brightly coloured variegated parts of the species plumage.


The forecast is pretty dire for several days ahead so I’m hoping the experts are wrong and I can get out birding or ringing. If so, read all about it here on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to I'd-rather-b-birdin.blogspot and Eileen's Saturday Blog .

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

More Redpolls, Not Much Else

Here in coastal Lancashire the continuing cold northerly winds of the last few days seem to have put a temporary halt to migration. 

A feature of last weekend was the many sightings of Buzzards on the move, either in small groups or singly, helped in no small way by the sunny days. It’s also a reflection of the fact that many Buzzards leave some marginal upland sites then head back there in March. There have been small numbers of Chiffchaffs, Wheatears and Pied Wagtails to herald Spring but certainly no mass arrivals. Otherwise the passage of Meadow Pipits has been rather thin and it’s a day or three early to welcome Willow Warblers or Blackcaps.

On Tuesday evening the forecast gave more overnight frost, no wind and a promise of a sunny Wednesday so there was a decision to be made, ringing for more redpolls or coastal birding. After recent successes it’s hard to resist the lure of a ringing session at Oakenclough so off I went again to meet up with Andy at the ringing station for 0600. 

Lesser Redpolls dominated another quiet session with 13 new birds but only 3 recaptures from recent days and weeks: 7 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Long-tailed Tit the new birds, with 2 Dunnock and 1 Blue Tit the recaptures. 


Long-tailed Tit

Lesser Redpoll

In the birding line we noted at least a dozen Lesser Redpoll overhead, some of which found the nets. A single Meadow Pipit was seen/heard but otherwise a nil count for obvious migration. Two Bullfinch which visit the feeding area continue to evade us while a Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk or two pay flying visits. 

Today’s effort leaves us with more than 25 Lesser Redpolls caught in the last ten days but a figure which might stay the same as a poor weather forecast for the next four or five days may put paid to more visits. 

Looks like I will be birding in the rain and wind for a day or two- what’s new?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Polling Day But No Politics

The Spring Equinox arrived on 20th March bringing with it days and nights of almost exactly the same length. For ringers it entails timely starts if they are to catch the birds which find the early worms. After a 0500 alarm followed by a hurried breakfast I scraped a thin layer of frost from the windscreen before setting off for Oakenclough. I was meeting up with Andy and Brian for a ringing session in the plantation. 

From recent Internet postings it seems that a number of birders at coastal sites have seen and heard migrating Lesser Redpolls during the past seven days, sightings which correspond to the 16 caught here at Oakenclough since 15th March. 

This morning proved very quiet and only 13 birds caught. But once again Lesser Redpolls were the most abundant species: 6 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Blue Tit plus one each of Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Dunnock. 

Lesser Redpoll - adult male

The above is one of this morning’s adult male Lesser Redpolls showing crimson-reddish streaking on the breast, a feature which females lack. Most males have such colouration but in some individuals it can be indistinct, especially in early Spring. 

Lesser Redpoll - second year female

Lesser Redpolls can be more difficult to age than other finches. British birds rarely show a moult limit in the greater coverts, and tail shape is often the key to ageing as shown in "Svensson" the ringer's aide memoir. 

Ageing Lesser Redpolls - Svensson

The wings are also useful for determining the age. After the breeding season and in their second year of life Lesser Redpolls fully moult their wings and tail, and these relatively new flight feathers are still identifiable in March and into the beginning of the breeding season. In Spring second-year birds still have the flight feathers with which they left the nest almost a year ago, and these feathers are usually more obviously worn. 

Until January 2001 UK redpolls were assigned to the cabaret race of the Redpoll Carduelis flammea cabaret. At that time the British Ornithologists' Union decided that it should be 'split' from Mealy Redpoll Carduelis flammea flammea, thus making Lesser Redpoll Carduelis cabaret a separate species from Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea

There are three different species of redpoll seen in the UK – Lesser Redpoll, Common Redpoll and Arctic Redpoll. Lesser Redpolls are by far the most frequently seen. Despite their name, Common Redpolls are much scarcer in the UK, with numbers arriving in autumn and winter varying considerably between years. 

Most Common Redpolls are encountered in the north and east of the UK although I remember on one November day at Pilling in 1990, together with PJB and BB, catching 4 such examples together. As this was before the “split”, ringers then simply referred to such large, distinct individuals as “northern Redpolls”, and they were entered into the ringing database as simply ”Redpoll” - REDPO.  Nowadays each species has a separate code for data input - LESRE, COMRE and ARCRE. 

Naturally enough the rare Arctic Redpoll is much sought after by UK bird listers with even the Common Redpoll the subject of many an anxious pursuit. Meanwhile the Lesser Redpoll lives up to its name by becoming of lesser interest.  

Our birding this morning: 1 Goldcrest, one pair of Bullfinch, one pair of Pied Wagtails, 3 pairs of Mistle Thrush, 4 Cormorants, 2 Buzzards, 2 Grey Heron, 1 Kestrel and 1 Jay. 


Mistle Thrush

Please log in to Another Bird Blog very soon for more polls but definitely no politics.

In the meantime this post links to World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

More On Migration

Thursday morning brought early frost and mist but nothing like the freezing fog of the day before. So I set off for the hills and Oakenclough to catch up with the ringing I’d missed on Wednesday when Andy clocked up another 27 birds. 

There’s a good throughput of birds at the moment and it’s pretty apparent that we are witnessing the beginnings of Spring migration for a number of species, especially of Lesser Redpoll and Chaffinch. Bird migration takes place on a broad front, including inland sites like ours, whereby the previous year’s breeding haunts often receive the earliest migrants keen to grab the best nesting sites. Although migration at coastal sites can be obvious, sometimes dramatic or even spectacular, at inland sites it is generally much less evident. 

Today we caught 24 new birds and 5 recaptures. New: 8 Chaffinch, 7 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Dunnock, 2 Great Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit and 1 Goldcrest. 

Recaptures: 3 Great Tit, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Dunnock. 

Missing today were Goldfinches around the feeders which resulted in their first blank on the winter field sheets. Blue Tit, Coal Tit and Great Tit numbers are much reduced as most have moved off site to nest. The resident Dunnocks are sorting out their domestic arrangements with much chasing around hence our catch of 4 individuals today - 2 males and 2 females. I posted portraits from the morning, birds only - click the pics to see the close-ups. 


Lesser Redpoll


After each ringing session there’s the data input so the work is far from over. 

Ringer's Field Sheet

Birding wise proved pretty quiet with pairs of Mistle Thrush, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Pied Wagtails and Song Thrush much in evidence plus a Jay raiding the bird seed. 

Log in soon for more birding, ringing and photography.

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Plan B Birding

Today’s plan was to meet Andy for another ringing session at Oakenclough but on looking out of the window at 0530 there was dense and freezing fog, so not the best conditions for a 40 minute drive into the distant hills. I sent a text to Andy saying I was chickening out and then slunk back to bed for a while vowing to go birding at Pilling when the sun cleared the fog. 

When I reached Fluke Hall the resident pair of Dunnocks was busy seeing off an intruder on their territory, a male Yellowhammer. Although Yellowhammers breed a mile or two inland they are somewhat unusual just here right on the coast so this was almost certainly a migrant bird looking for a home territory. 


The Stonechats weren’t far away, a male and a female along the sea wall having their own ding-dong with the resident Robin. Our UK Robins are members of the chat tribe as well as being very territorial so don’t take kindly to a pair of Stonechats feeding on their patch. They will however tolerate a Wren using their singing rostrum. 




Below the sea wall was a fine male Wheatear, the only one seen in my half mile walk to Pilling Water and back. If the warm weather continues there should be many more Wheatears very soon. 

That walk along the sea wall produced an eclectic mix of birds with 4 Little Egret, 7 Pintail, 2 Teal, 8 Meadow Pipit, 6 Linnet, 5 Pied Wagtail, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel and at least 6 Skylark in song. The fields along here are still wet but not flooded and so retain a sprinkling of common waders plus a fair number of Shelduck. A number of the birds are on territory and in display mode with a total count of 26 Shelduck, 14 Redshank, 40 Lapwing and 6 Oystercatcher. 


I returned via Fluke Hall Lane where in the meadow, trees and hedgerows were 6 Pied Wagtail, 2 Greenfinch, 3 Song Thrush, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Jay and 1 Chiffchaff. 

The Chiffchaff was busily feeding, finding good sized insects in the willows. Somehow it remained strangely silent for a new-in migrant and I doubt I would have seen it but for its fly catching acrobatics and constant searching through the trees. Although the monotonous and almost robotic call of  "chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff"  might seem rather unexciting it's a sure sign that March is well under way.


Tree Sparrows are very active now and I counted at least 10 individuals, including one in the throes of nest building. 

Tree Sparrow

Andy had a decent catch without me, including more Lesser Redpolls and Chaffinches. I missed a ringing session but Plan B didn’t turn out too badly after all and the weather looks decent enough for even more ringing quite soon.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring Is Here

Thanks to the grim weather of late any opportunities for birding or ringing have been few and far and hence the lack of blog posts. With a forecast of a dry and less windy Saturday morning I arranged to meet Andy and Dave at Oakenclough where we hoped for a ringing session which might discover the changes since our last visit of 5th March. 

Five hours of pretty constant work gave us a total of exactly 70 birds caught and a very good selection of 13 species. Evidence of Spring migration came with the catching of new Goldcrests and new Lesser Redpolls, two species which are both typical of March ringing sessions. 

One of the Lesser Redpoll bore a ring not of our own series and so is highly likely to have arrived as a recent migrant. 

Totals and species caught: 16 Blue Tit, 12 Great Tit, 10 Goldfinch, 8 Coal Tit, 6 Lesser Redpoll, 4 Goldcrest, 5 Chaffinch, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Robin, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Blackbird and 1 Jay. 


The two Song Thrush were definitely an item as both were caught together and headed off in unison when released; so too with two pairs of Lesser Redpoll and the pair of Long-tailed Tits. Male Lesser Redpolls are now looking especially stunning in their Spring colours, while catching a Song Thrush is something of an occasion. 

Song Thrush

Lesser Redpoll

The male Nuthatch proved to be a recapture from previous weeks and a regular visitor to the feeding station. 


At least one Jay has been a regular visitor to the feeding station and while we don’t expect to catch the Clever Crow, we did today. 


We were so busy with ringing that our birding was limited but we did note a pair of Pied Wagtails on territory, one carrying nesting material. Also, a pair of Great-spotted Woodpecker, singles of Buzzard and Kestrel plus a good number of noisy Oystercatchers heading back and forth via the surrounding fields. 

Pied Wagtail

There's more news soon from Another Bird Blog.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mainly Chats and Pipits

Because it is possible to see Stonechats in the winter we almost don’t think of the species as a migrant but it is, or at least a partial migrant. 

I was reminded of this at Pilling this morning as I watched a party of six Stonechats fence hopping while feeding fervently along the ground below. There may have been as many as eight in the locality because an hour before and 250 yards away I’d watched a male and a female Stonechat behaving as if they might be intent on setting up home together. 



In February and March Stonechats begin to find their route back to often traditional territories in preparation for their extended breeding season. A single pair of adults may have three broods of youngsters, a strategy often employed by species that are susceptible to the ravages of winter. 

Many Stonechat territories are occupied all year round while more exposed sites are mostly deserted in the colder winter months when many Stonechats, especially young ones, move to France and Iberia. Some Stonechats travel as far as North Africa. 

A Stonechat is so named because both sexes have a clicking call like stones knocking together, a call they use to good effect as a warning. 


Apart from the Stonechats things were pretty quiet this morning with the exception of 15+ obviously new-in Meadow Pipits feeding along the same boundary fence. I looked hard but couldn’t find that other harbinger of Spring the Wheatear, despite some being seen not far away in North Wales during recent days. 

Meadow Pipit

At Fluke Hall I counted 190 Pink-footed Geese, 12 Curlew, 2 Pied Wagtail and a pair of Oystercatchers in the car park field. There was the usual Buzzard and Kestrel knocking around the trees, with upwards of 45 Woodpigeon in evidence and 3 Song Thrush in good singing voice. 

A closer look revealed 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 12 Goldfinch, 4 Tree Sparrow and another Pied Wagtail walking along someone’s roof. 

Pied Wagtail

In the stubble fields and along the shore - 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Little Egret, 65 Lapwing, 6 Shelduck, 18 Redshank and 6 Oystercatcher. 

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog for more news, views and pictures very soon.

Linking today to Run-a-Roundranch and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, March 6, 2015

It’s Magic

This morning dawned grey and breezy so I finished a few chores, rescued the lawn mower from hibernation then cranked it up for the first cut of grass in 2015. Things are warming up for a day or two, then next week there’s more cold weather to let the lawn go back to sleep. There’s nothing quite like the delightful and mysterious British climate to keep a birder or a gardener on their toes. 

By midday there was sun and a spot of birding beckoned. While a.m. birding is mostly more productive than p.m., I set off for a few gentle hours at Pilling. 

The fields at Fluke Hall Lane seemed strangely empty with just 45 or so Lapwing including some paired birds and tumbling display. The hundreds of Golden Plovers of Wednesday had mostly gone with less than 30 remaining and even the Redshanks and Oystercatchers in single figures. A single Snipe rose from the wet stubble, calling as it flew out to the marsh. 

Then I spotted the possible cause of the almost deserted meadows, a tiny, bright-as-a-button Merlin sat motionless, quite high and partly hidden in a tree which overlooks the marsh. The falcon let me take a few shots from the car window before it shot away across the fields in pursuit of a meal, scattering a Skylark or two in the process. Merlins have been pretty scarce this winter with this one almost certainly a migrant heading north for the coming Spring. 


Most birds are an anti-climax after catching sight of a magical Merlin, but I left the car behind and set off to walk the lane and shore in search of more birds. A silent Buzzard appeared overhead and flew towards Lane Ends but I know both birds are back on territory now. Likewise the Kestrels; the female hovered above the edge of the wood and then further along the lane a male lifted from the grass and carried a vole to a more convenient dining table. 


Through the wood a Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Song Thrush, a pair of Long-tailed Tit, 4 Tree Sparrows and an all too brief Sparrowhawk. The Twite flock of Wednesday was no longer in the car park field, just 190 Pink-footed Goose, 8 Curlew, 2 Pied Wagtail and a pair of Oystercatcher. 

Long-tailed Tit

More Pink-footed Geese were crammed into the fields at Braides Farm, the suspicious flock not daring to come closer than 200 yards from the road. Maybe the recent cold northerly winds have held back their migration because their numbers today were something like 10/12,000, a good number for March when by now many should be on their way to Iceland. The only interloper spotted was a single Barnacle Goose. 

Also there - a single Buzzard, 2 Little Egret, 14 Linnet and 7+ Skylark. 

It’s not an awful lot to show for an afternoon in the sun but a Merlin sure makes any day a special one. If only that Merlin could work its magic on the weather to make Winter vanish and Spring appear? 

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ringing In The Window

The weather forecast was pretty much correct when Andy and I finally made it up to Oakenclough for a ringing session this morning. After an hour or two the wind increased to an unacceptable level so we curtailed the session early, but thankful for the brief window of weather in an otherwise unfriendly week. 

We managed a total of just 19 birds, 14 new ones and 5 recaptures only, figures which suggest that many local birds have moved out of the immediate area to pursue their early season breeding and/or territorial desires. Meanwhile the continuing cold weather and northerly winds hold back any migration which might otherwise get under way. 

New birds: 4 Goldfinch, 3 Chaffinch, 3 Great Tit and one each of Lesser Redpoll, Robin, Blue Tit and Blackbird. 


Recaptures: 2 Goldfinch and one each of Lesser Redpoll, Great Tit and Coal Tit. 

Lesser Redpoll

Just last week we heard via the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) of a couple of Goldfinch recoveries involving the site here at Oakenclough. 


Z355192 a young male Goldfinch we caught at Oakenclough on 30 December had been ringed at Walney Bird Observatory on 19th September 2014, 102 days earlier. Walney lies on the north side of Morecambe Bay, some 35 kms as the Goldfinch flies. In September the Walney folk were unable to sex the Goldfinch so I’m guessing it was a late brooder, but as juvenile birds do, it soon set off to explore the world, or in this case North West England. 

Yet another Goldfinch, Y596532 we ringed at Oakenclough on 3rd December 2014 was later the victim of a domestic cat, the Goldfinch found freshly dead in a garden just a mile or two down the road on 30th December. Regrettably this type of recovery is all too common for small birds.

I would urge all cat owners to try to make their own cat a house pet and to not let it wander through gardens or the countryside where it may kill wild animals and birds. If a cat is a dedicated outdoor rambler then it should be fitted with a bell around its neck as a warning device to other animals. 


I see that the first Wheatears plus a “trickle” of Meadow Pipits and “Alba” wagtails arrived on the south coast of England on 3rd March. 

It's our turn soon here in the North West - stay tuned to Another Bird Blog to see who, what, when and where. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Do or Die Birding

At last this morning the rain and wind eased enough to attempt a spot of birding, and although there was still a stiff, cold breeze there was a hint of sunshine. After a couple of birdingless days it was do or die for yours truly. 

I decided to give Fluke Hall the once over. There’s the shore, the wintry fields, the woodland and a good number of hedgerows, all worth a look for lingering signs of winter and maybe one or two hints of Spring. 

In the field behind the car park were 5 Pied Wagtails and a tight feeding flock of 70+ very flighty Twite, the birds taking to the air at the slightest disturbance. Close by a close relative of theirs a Linnet was in good singing voice from the hedgerow with both Goldfinch and Greenfinch singing from the trees above. 


There’s a pair of Kestrels on territory and it looks like the Buzzards are back after going missing for a few weeks or more. A pair of Mistle Thrushes made lots of noise; I watched as they joined forces to chase off a third bird intent on being in their territory. 

The Mistle Thrush, the largest of our UK thrushes is renowned for being aggressive in defending both a feeding territory and a nest, and only in autumn migration time are they likely to be seen in smallish flocks. Mistle Thrushes are regularly chronicled attacking Nest Recorders and bird ringers who stray close to an active nest. The noisy, rattling attack they employ against trespassers must be quite disconcerting to anyone not in the know. 

Mistle Thrush

A Great-spotted Woodpecker flew calling from the trees but no sign today of the Nuthatch which has been around all winter. Today saw a pair of Stock Dove, hole nesting birds and a regular breeding species here. Thankfully the wood here is not overly managed in the modern way of removing the rotten trees that birds favour for nesting by either making or using existing holes. 

The still wet fields held lots of waders with upwards of 550 Golden Plover, 130 Lapwing, 60 Dunlin, 30 Redshank, 24 Oystercatcher and 4 Black-tailed Godwit. It was a bit too cold and blustery for Skylark song with just 3 birds noted plus 6 Meadow Pipit and 1 Pied Wagtail. 

Near Lane Ends a Buzzard crossed the road and a Kestrel hovered, circled and hovered again. Beyond Gulf Lane and Sand Villa several thousand Pink-footed Geese were scattered across the fields too distant to study or count with any degree of accuracy but “3500+” was the notebook entry. 

At windswept Conder Green a Robin said “hello” from its usual spot along the fence while the reliable Spotted Redshank and 70+ Teal proved the climax. Otherwise just 2 Goosander, 2 Little Grebe and single Goldeneye the also-rans. 


Spotted Redshank

Thrushes were the highlight of Thurnham with a pair of Mistle Thrush along a line of trees plus 28 Redwing and 4 Fieldfare feeding in the wet fields with c 70 Starlings. Four Little Egrets on a flood. 


If the forecast of a falling wind speed is correct Andy and I might finally get a crack at some ringing tomorrow. If so log in to Another Bird Blog tomorrow for an update and pictures. 

Linking today to Run-a-Roundranch.

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