Tuesday, June 30, 2015

More Smarties

On Tuesday morning I left the builders to finish off our bathroom upgrade and went in search of another set of British Builders, the Sand Martins at our Cockerham gravel pit colony.

Sand Martins build their nests at the end of tunnels up to four feet in length, the passages bored into sand or gravel by using their beak, feet and wings. Sand Martins are very sociable in their nesting habits whereby anywhere between a dozen and several hundred pairs nest close together in the likes of sandy river banks, cliffs or gravel pits. 

This species is unusually difficult to monitor, because active and inactive nest holes are hard to distinguish, and because whole colonies frequently disperse or shift to new locations as suitable sand cliffs are created and destroyed by natural causes, occasionally by interference or even on occasion by predation. 

Sand Martin colony

Although the Cockerham colony is not huge it is certainly the biggest in the local area. On preparatory visits for 2015 in the latter part of May we estimated 100+ nest holes and approximately 200 Sand Martins in the immediate area. A week or two later and in early June Andy, Craig and I went on to catch 85 mostly adult birds during a ringing session. Tuesday was the follow-up visit and Andy and I reckoned there could be a good number of fresh juveniles ready to be ringed plus a chance of capturing more adults. 

Sand Martin

Today we totalled 88 birds comprising 62 new birds, 5 birds previously ringed elsewhere (controls) and 21 recaptures from our previous visit of 12th June. Of the 62 new birds, 18 were juvenile birds and 44 adults. The five “controls” all bore rings beginning Z401, the similar numbers far from coincidental as we are sure they were ringed by other ringers at Sand Martin colonies about 20/25 miles to the north along the River Lune. 

Sand Martin

Catching and processing 88 Sand Martins kept the two of us busy but in between times the other birds we saw included 2 Common Terns overflying the water plus resident Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Moorhen, Coot and a number of breeding Oystercatchers. One pair of Oystercatcher has a late nest containing 2 eggs in a very busy part of the farm where only time will tell if their gamble pays off. 

Oystercatcher nest


The approximately 250 Sand Martins on site vastly outnumbered the few Swallows in residence around the farm buildings.

More news and views of birds soon. In the meantime I'm linking to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Short Saturday Birding

We’ve had the builders in all week which made it difficult to get out birding or to find subject matter for blogging. At last on Saturday I could escape for a while to take in some birding at Conder Green. 

The narrow and undulating road across the farmland of Stalmine Moss is not one that too many people travel on a Saturday morning. That makes the drive a good one for spotting Barn Owls and Kestrels although there aren’t too many places to park unless you cheat a bit by using the widened bits of road set aside as “passing places”, or by parking in farm gateways. Doing either might lead to black looks from the locals who always stick to the rules which make the Over Wyre World go around in a generally sedate manner. 

There was a Barn Owl hunting alongside Union Lane but nowhere to stop with a tractor looming large in the rear view mirror. This at 6 o’clock with masses of fields ready for a trim. Near to Lancaster Road was the expected Kestrel scattering roadside Linnets, Goldfinches and House Sparrows. 



At Conder Green there’s chance to stop, look and listen and to soak in the solitude of an early start. Listening provided 2 singing Reed Warbler in the roadside reeds, 2 calling Reed Buntings and a Whitethroat warning from the scrub. Just as a few days ago, and from precisely the same hawthorn came the loud rattling song of a Lesser Whitethroat. 


Reed Warbler

From Wiki - The Lesser Whitethroat has been commonly assumed to be closely related to the Common Whitethroat, as their names imply. It was suggested that the two species separated in the last ice age similar to the pattern found in the Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, with their ancestor being forced into two enclaves, one in the southeast and one in the southwest of Europe. When the ice sheets retreated, the two forms supposedly no longer recognised each other as the same species. However, scientists researching this question have for quite some time realized that these two taxa are not particularly close relatives. It rather appears as if the divergence of the Lesser Whitethroat complex and its closest living relatives are from the southern parts of the Lesser Whitethroat range into Africa and include the Orphean Warbler group, the Arabian Warbler, and the Brown and Yemen Warblers. 

When seen in the hand the two species are more markedly different than in the field and it is hard to see how they became supposed close relatives. 


Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat - Photo: oldbilluk / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

There wasn’t too much in the way of waders today with perhaps a slight increase of Lapwings to 18+ while 15 Oystercatchers and 70+ Redshanks remain steady in numbers. Otherwise - 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Curlew, a single male Teal and 1 Grey Heron. 

There’s more birding from Another Bird Blog just as soon as those builders are finished.

Linking today to Anni who would rather be birding, and to Eileen's Blog.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Larks

The Summer Solstice proved to be a bit of a joke here in breezy Lancashire where May and June will surely prove to be the most miserable on record. I heard tell of folk reigniting their central heating this week during yet more days of wind, rain, cool temperatures and endless grey skies. My only contact with birds this week was a dash to Pilling on Thursday morning during a brief spell of dry and when I ringed a brood of 3 Skylark chicks. Otherwise my notebook stayed shut, so apologies to regular readers who looked in to find no new posts. There weren’t any. 

With their downy fluff the Skylark chicks were well insulated against the weather and camouflaged from overhead predators. Was it chance that a flat stone immediately behind the nest gave protection from the prevailing westerly winds while providing a marker to the adult birds? I think not. 

Skylark nest

Sunday morning was marginally better and at least dry although with a temperature of 12⁰C and a stiff breeze it was hardly summery. Undeterred I set off for Conder Green where there’s always something to see together with a chance of the unexpected. True to form and following more than a little perseverance the old notebook looked reasonable enough. 

Redshanks in the creeks numbered 60+ with amongst them 2 returnee Common Sandpipers, a single Curlew, a couple of Pied Wagtails plus the obligatory Grey Heron and 2 Little Egrets. Two Common Terns continue to frequent the island. 

Birder Lore says that thinking of or talking about a species is bound to jinx it in some way and most likely will mean the species never appears. But no sooner had I thought about when the regular but generally autumnal Kingfisher might appear than one flew across the creek. The Kingfisher sat up on a piece of tide washed tree and then promptly disappeared into the shelter of a sandy bank where it remained out of sight. It was good while it lasted as a Kingfisher is one of those species which can turn an ordinary day into one that is better than average. 


There are two pairs of adult Oystercatchers each with a single chick while a number of other adults continue to display and chase around without any signs of youngsters. Shelduck numbers are steady at a dozen or so and Tufted Duck less than ten but no signs of any youngsters. 



Along the hedgerow and about the marsh I counted 8+ Greenfinch, a small number of Linnets & Goldfinch plus 3 Stock Dove. 


Along the railway path a Lesser Whitethroat was in full and loud song, a sign that at this stage of the season it may be singing for a second shot at breeding. 

I made off for Pilling where there was unfinished business by way of another Skylark nest I’d failed to locate on Thursday - one where adults were feeding smallish young. The 6+ pairs of Skylarks here have small territories which makes it quite difficult sorting out who is who and where each pair belong. I pin-pointed the nest in Hi-Fly’s field margins and close to a potato crop, the nest with three good sized chicks and just 50 yards from the earlier one out on the marsh. 

Another Skylark nest

Skylark chick

In the picture above the chick’s egg tooth is still visible. The egg tooth is an essential component to the hatching process in almost all species of birds. Whereas most mammals maintain a protected internal environment for the growing foetus, birds use an external protective covering consisting of calcium which makes up the shell. This protective shell provides an isolated environment to allow the developing chick to thrive, but once the chick is ready to enter the outside world this secure cell has to be opened. The chick breaks open the shell by using its own internal clock in knowing when to emerge and while its beak and claws are not yet strong or sharp enough to break the shell, the egg tooth is able to penetrate the shell. 

The marsh and ditches were quiet except 2 Little Egrets, 2 singing Whitethroat, a Reed Bunting and 10 or 12 Linnet. In the wood there was a Blackcap in full song and then along the hedgerow a pair of Whitethroats at a nest in the early stages of construction. 

Yes, a good morning's birding.

Please log in next week for more birds and news with Another Bird Blog.

In the meantime this post is linking to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Taking Part In Birding

The preferred destination was an early look at Conder Green and Cockerham. As often happens there was a delay caused by roadside birds to view, today a Barn Owl. Luckily there was a handy gateway in which to park. 

It gets pretty busy with traffic along Lancaster Lane and once or twice my heart was in my mouth as the owl flew across the road in what appeared to the path of oncoming vehicles. 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Needs must I suppose when the bird’s best and regular feeding spots are either side of the road. After twenty minutes or more I couldn’t bear watch the Barn Owl put itself in such danger so started up the engine and set off north. 

Conder Green is pretty quiet in now mid-June but I hoped for an early returning Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank or Greenshank, three species very much on the cards any day now. No such luck, however there was an obvious influx of common Redshanks by way of a count of 52, way above recent numbers and a whole gang of 30 or more very noisy individuals sticking close together. 


The nesting Common Tern was taking a break from incubation and at one point took a quick flight around the pool before returning to sentry duty at the island nest. Oystercatchers don’t appear to have done as well as other years with as far as I could see just one well-grown chick amongst the still 3 or 4 pairs. 


Otherwise - 8 Tufted Duck but no sign of youngsters, 1 lonesome Wigeon, 2 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron and 3 Curlew. 10 Swifts fed over the hawthorns with 3 Pied Wagtail in the creeks and 2 singing Reed Bunting. There are young Starlings around now but in any great numbers just yet. 


Andy and I have been following the fortunes of the Skylarks along Pilling way. Two nests we located failed in mid-May during a period of wet and windy weather by way of one saturated nest containing 3 dead and very wet chicks and in the other nest 3 cold eggs. Both pairs are still close to their original nest sites although today I could find only the one nest despite both pair of adults being very active. 


Skylark nest

With good weather forecast for the next week the chicks will provide data for the BTO and others by way of a Nest Record Card and ringing information when they are slightly bigger. 

Nest Record Card

Nest Record Card

Through the efforts of volunteers participating in BTO surveys, the bird populations of the British Isles have been monitored more effectively and for longer than those of most other parts of the world. This has produced a uniquely rich and detailed body of scientific work. Read about some of this Citizen Science and how to get involved at The British Trust for Ornithology website.

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mainly Smarties

Andy and I checked the local Sand Martin colony yesterday where we found approximately 200 Sand Martins together with enough holes in the quarry face to accommodate the possibility of 100 pairs. And all of this from a colony which has increased from a handful of pairs 4 or 5 years ago to its present size due to a period of gravel extraction. The colony is on private farmland where Chris the farmer is rightly proud and protective of his Sand Martins. 

Everything looked right for a go at catching Sand Martins on Friday morning with a slight breeze from a friendly direction and a morning sun that would not shine directly on our single mist net. Andy and I were joined by Craig who next week flies off to bird observatories in Sweden and Denmark to further his University studies of birds. 

Although we all had breakfast before we set off there was a posse of Grey Herons hoping to snaffle an early meal from Chris’ lake. This last week has seen an increased number of Grey Herons about as the yearlings begin to fledge nests and explore their surroundings.

Grey Herons

With such an active colony of Sand Martins a catch was assured. When we totalled up we found the catch to be 85 birds made up of 42 adult females, 34 adult males, just 3 fresh juveniles and 6 individuals left unsexed. One Sand Martin, an adult female, had been ringed elsewhere on a previous occasion as recognised by an unfamiliar ring beginning D996. The totals point to very few flying juveniles being around but obviously many more to come in the weeks ahead. So as not to disrupt the colony our next catch is scheduled for a week or two ahead when sun, wind and fine weather allow. 

Field sheet - Sand Martins

Adult Sand Martin

Juvenile Sand Martin

Sand Martin

Eighty-five Sand Martins kept us pretty busy and so limiting birding time to 8 Oystercatcher, 8 Tree Sparrow, 1 Buzzard, 2 Mute Swan, 8 Canada Goose. 

Log in soon to Another Bird Blog for more news, views and lots of birds.

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wading Through It.

It was early doors, 0530 or thereabouts, an unearthly hour when normal folk slumber away as crazy birders prowl the countryside. It was a morning without a plan but one which developed into something of a wader morning and then finished with an unlikely Yellow Wagtail. 

I stopped along Head Dyke Lane at Pilling, waiting for a Roe Deer to cross the road so as to reach a fellow deer which had found a route into a field to the left. It’s best for a car not to pick a fight with a panicking deer, and I hoped no cars would suddenly accelerate past at 60mph as they often do along here. One deer ran off in the direction of Pilling village while the other turned tail, slipped through the hawthorns and ran in the opposite direction. A good enough start but I was after birds not Bambi. 

Things improved near Fluke Hall when an Oystercatcher gave the game away; “kleep-kleep, kleep, kleep”, came the frantic warning. Down below were 2 good sized youngsters already legging it across the field for all they were worth. Too late - 2/2 ringed and the first ones for the year. 



After complaining a day or two ago of the lack of Lapwings locally I walked the sea wall and found two pairs with youngsters this morning, a brood of three plus a single and quite small chick tended by both parents. Lapwings generally start with 4 eggs so while the brood of three might be considered OK, to have one chick does not provide enough new blood for Lapwings to go forth and multiply. I thought back to the Red Fox of fifteen minutes before which I’d disturbed from the remains of a freshly killed Red-legged Partridge. The fox melted into the undergrowth but was soon replaced by an opportunist crow. 

Both the Fox and the Carrion Crow take their share of our few remaining Lapwings and their eggs and chicks. Local crows begin to have the air of the unchallenged while farmers find better things to do than chase the legions of corvids which throng the countryside. 

Spot the Lapwing



Carrion Crow

There was no success with finding Redshank chicks. When it comes to spotting predators from afar adult Redshanks are simply the best. From a good 75 yards away it was clear the Redshanks had young when the male took up guard on the gate and warned the female. The female took to the air and joined in the distractions with warning cries while circling overhead as the young slipped further away and out of sight. Not to worry, my old legs can’t chase sprinting Redshank chicks which run like the clappers and never stop for breath, unlike me. 

Bits and Pieces today - 1 Buzzard, 4 Whitethroat in song, 2 Reed Bunting in song, 1 displaying/singing Sedge Warbler, 1 singing Blackcap. 3 Grey Heron, 2 Little Egret. 

There was an unexpected sighting of a bright male Yellow Wagtail which flew in from the marsh and landed but briefly on top of the fresh midden pile. After a few moments the wagtail flew off south east towards Pilling; most strange as Yellow Wagtails are now simply birds of spring and autumn in these parts, the sighting perhaps best explained as a failed or completed early breeder bird from not too far away. 

Yellow Wagtail- Photo by Nicholls of the Yard / Foter / CC BY-NC

Unplanned mornings often turn out OK don’t they? Join in soon for more accidental birding from Another Bird Blog.

In the meantime linking to Theresa's Ranch.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday Surprises

I don’t ring many Lapwings nowadays. The species is so scarce in this part of coastal Lancashire that finding a brood of young Lapwings is something of a surprise and an occasion to boot. 

On the outskirts of Cockerham this morning I found 2 pairs of Lapwings and both had two youngsters each. So once the female had sent the chicks off to feed I located them quickly because the field was so close-cropped. 


Lapwing chicks

Lapwing chicks are nidifugous i.e.animals which leave the nest shortly after hatching or birth, a term derived from Latin nidus for "nest" and fugere meaning "to flee". The terminology is most often used to describe birds and was introduced by Lorenz Oken in 1816. The term "nidifugous" is sometimes used synonymously with "precocial", as all nidifugous species are precocial - that is, born with open eyes and capable of independent locomotion, and in the case of waders, able to feed themselves soon after birth. (Wiki).

In wader chicks the legs and feet are well developed at a very early stage, a natural adaptation which helps their early locomotion and thus the ability to find their own food. 

There were 4 Mistle Thrushes, a family party feeding in the same field as the Lapwings. It’s a pretty poor picture but then Mistle Thrushes are generally as shy as the rest of the thrush family. 

 Mistle Thrush

Alongside the nearby wood was a Willow Warbler nest with just 3 young, one of which had recently died, the small and poor brood almost certainly a result of the recent weather. 

Willow Warbler chick

It’s something of a wildfowlers’ wood and one that is not without the remnants of last autumn’s shoots by way of a good number of Pheasants. There was also a Reeve’s Pheasant today, a rather good looking and photogenic creature which made a nice change from our ubiquitous Pheasant. 

Reeve's Pheasant 

The Reeves's Pheasant (Syrmaticus reevesii) is a pheasant of the genus Syrmaticus. It is endemic to China. It is named for the British naturalist John Reeves, who first introduced live specimens to Europe in 1831. 
This pheasant is kept as an ornamental species, easily reared in captivity by placing eggs under domestic chickens or by buying adult birds. As always happens in such cases a certain number escape from captivity and breed in such numbers that a feral population becomes established. Reeve’s Pheasant is not on the main British List which birders use to count their ticks as the feral population is so small it is not yet recognised as being self-sustaining. 

Nevertheless they seem to be becoming increasingly easy to find in the Norfolk Brecks where they are targeted by rather sad twitchers. There are a number of other locations around the country where this species seems to be gaining a foothold, so perhaps it won't be long before they are recognised as a “British Bird”. 

In the meantime if you have a broody chicken or two and fancy having a Reeve’s Pheasant in the back garden, eggs guaranteed to hatch are available through Ebay. Alternatively by rearing a few, releasing them onto a private estate and then charging twitchers ten quid a time could generate a tidy sum towards that new camera. 

A male Pied Wagtail carrying food wasn’t unexpected but it gave the pheasant a slice of competition in the good looks department. 

Pied Wagtail

There were no more surprises this morning. But you never know, there could be more soon on Another Bird Blog so keep looking in.

Linking this post to  Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Birding Rerun

The Common Terns at Conder Green had me well and truly fooled on Wednesday when all seemed silent and deserted on their nesting island and around about. There was no sign or sound of the pair for the thirty or so minutes I was there and neither was the male at Glasson Dock, one of his regular fishing spots last year. 

The female must have been hunkered down against the cold wind and out of sight of prying eyes because when I looked again on Thursday morning there she was as large as life, stood just a metre or so from where clutch of eggs lie. Two minutes later the male flew in and joined his mate. I guess things are OK after all, especially if the weather improves as promised. 

Common Tern

On the pool things were much the same with most of the noise and action coming from the several pairs of Oystercatchers and Redshanks. By contrast the few pairs of Tufted Ducks here are less obvious in their low-key courtship and breeding rituals. The males are in fine condition at the moment with splendid pony-tails of feathers falling from their crowns of glossy purple. I watched as one called quietly to a nearby female which had floated off from the shore; I swear he was trying to coax her back to a nest.
Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck

There was a Grey Heron along one bank, a displaying Meadow Pipit and a single Stock Dove, a dove which seems to be a summer visitor only here but a species which breeds in tree holes and woodland close-by. In contrast to the day before there was just a handful of Swifts and House Martins. 

A walk along the canal proved fruitful for warblers by way of 3 Reed Warbler, 2 Sedge Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff and not quite a warbler but a “brown job” in the shape of male and female Reed Buntings.

Mute Swans breed here every year, this year at least two pairs along the canal. 

Mute Swan

Swallows are nesting under the road bridge again this year, a dark and dismal place with a steady flow of traffic trundling a few feet above the hidden nests. The Swallows are still at the construction stage, collecting nesting material from the nearby car park where there are muddy edged puddles-a-plenty. A few House Martins joined in harvesting the mud, the martins flying back to houses in Glasson village 50 yards away. 

House Martin

Barn Swallow

The Swallow in the picture below is an adult male singing and not a juvenile begging for food. There will be no fledglings for about 3 weeks if all goes to the Swallows’ normal timetable. 

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

On the way home through Pilling and Cockerham were a Buzzard and 2 Kestrels plus a male and a female Sparrowhawk flying close together and on the same heading. The male carried food but from the road it was impossible to see where they were bound.

I was headed home, my limited time up, but there’s more news and views soon from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog.
Related Posts with Thumbnails