Sunday, July 26, 2015

Early Bird Birding

It looked like early birding only when the weather forecast promised rain by lunch time. For once the experts were spot on and the rain arrived at 1130 after a half decent morning of a bright but gradually clouding over sky.

I waited at a regular Barn Owl spot in the hope one would come along. One appeared on cue but was up and over the hedgerow, across the road, and out of sight over another field within seconds. 

Barn Owl

It’s worth repeating that Barn Owls are having a poor year with reports from many parts of the UK of starving broods caused by a shortage of their regular prey of voles. A pair of Barn Owls with three or four chicks need something like the equivalent of 1500-2000 voles over a 12 week period before the youngsters fledge, not counting the additional voles required to feed themselves. 

According to a study in 2013 the natural cycles in vole populations across Europe are fading away with climate change the likely reason. Until recently vole populations have fluctuated enormously on a three to four year cycle. A peak year, known as an outbreak, provides a bonanza for predators like owls, foxes, weasels and kestrels. But after a crash only a few voles per hectare may be left to rebuild the population. 

These long-established cycles have diminished across Europe over the last couple of decades with the years of population outbreaks no longer as marked. This change in one group of species at the bottom of the food chain is bad news for a diverse range of predators like the Barn Owl which relies on these years of plenty to keep its population at sustainable levels. 

There was little new at Conder Green except for a Greenshank in the creek and a single Snipe hiding amongst the rocks of one island. 


Otherwise it was “as before” with 3 Common Sandpipers, 2 Dunlin, 50+ Redshank, 30+ Lapwings and 20 Oystercatchers. On, around and over the pool - 2 Little Egret, 1 Little Grebe, 2 Grey Heron, 4 Tufted Duck, 2 Wigeon and 5 Cormorant. There are still Swifts about with a count of 12+ today and the birds feeding as ever on the swarms of early morning midges which emerge from the hawthorn hedgerow. 

A walk of the “railway circuit” found a Kestrel using a distant boat mast as a lookout point. A few small birds appeared by way of a family party of 6 Linnets, then 4 Greenfinch, 4 Meadow Pipit, 8 Goldfinch and 2 Reed Bunting. 


Two flocks of House Sparrows numbered some 40+ birds. I’m not sure if it is the paucity of other species this year which is making House Sparrows appear more numerous or if the spodger is experiencing a real revival of fortune.

On the other hand House Sparrow nests are less likely to take a battering from our inclement weather than the nests of species like Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat which build open nests in often fragile vegetation close to or on the ground. Cold northerly winds have been a feature of Spring and Summer of 2015 with our Lancashire rainfall for July looking to be on course as the wettest on record. 

House Sparrow

With the cloud building and rain on the horizon I made time for a walk at Fluke Hall. A Whitethroat sang a partial song and a couple of Tree Sparrows busied themselves around nest boxes but in the wood all was quiet.

Fluke Hall - Pilling, Lancashire

A walk along the sea wall salvaged a few Linnets, a Green Sandpiper, a female Sparrowhawk, a Grey Heron and a couple of Skylarks. One of the Skylarks was still in song and perhaps waiting for a spell of warm weather to have another go this year. 


Grey Heron

When the weather improves I’ll be having another go too, so log in soon for news and views from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.


eileeninmd said...

Hi Phil, I love your Barn Owl and Snipe shots. It is a shame the voles are fading away, especially if it is due to climate change. We have so many politicians here denying climate change even exists. I wish they would wake up or stop being so greedy. I should stop my rant, great post and photos. I hope you weather clears up for more birding. Enjoy your new week ahead!

Margaret Adamson said...

Such a oity the Barn Owls adn voles have not had a good year. Lovely bird shots.I think i misght have missed that Snipe. Have a great week ahead.

Hannah said...

I wish I could send you my voles. They wreak desolation on my pole bean vines, they nip them off without any apparent food value, just because they are in their way or something. I haven't seen any diminishing cycles in their population. I do sometimes hear an owl over in our woods but haven't seen it. You are so skilled to capture it in flight, I love arching wings and light shining through the feathers.

I also wish I could send you my House Sparrows and Starlings. The snipe is so cute. I hear cheeping coming from my chimney, I think chimney swifts are nesting there for the first time.

Linda said...

Lovely captures, Phil, and the Barn Owl in flight is stunning!

David Gascoigne said...

Hey Phil: I am in your country right now. No Barn Owl yet - but eleven Little Owls! Including two juveniles.

Phil Slade said...

Enjoy your trip David. Let me know if you're over this way.

Phil Slade said...

Enjoy your trip David. Let me know if you're over this way.

Caroline Gill said...

Thank you, Phil, for your kind comment on my toad sighting. We see plenty of frogs here in my part of Suffolk, but few toads. I was interested to read about the House Sparrows. In the absence of 'our' Greenfinches, we have gained a couple of House Sparrows. We also have two regular Dunnocks. We were at Wicken Fen on Sat, where there were some very young lizards. A number of species of butterfly (Skippers, Whites, Gatekeepers and meadow Brown) were active in large numbers, but there were few birds about that we encountered. There were, however, plenty of (wasps and) House Sparrows enjoying the outside tables of the NT tea room!

David Gascoigne said...

Hey Sladester:
I know you have great influence in the UK so can you please use it to get us some better weather? A high of 12.5 degrees with rain all day and a cancelled trip to the Farne Islands seems hardly the kind of treatment I would expect during my long-awaited visit. It's a bummer!

Fun60 said...

What a fabulous photo of the Barn Owl.

Mary Cromer said...

Oh My what is warming is the culprit, well I just wonder then why so many do not believe such a thought. Makes our world so topsy turvey and it is quite a hard lump to swallow when we realize, at least some of us realize that there truly is such a thing a global warming. Please don't get me started, or I shall be writing for hours. Our people here in this country, those who the powers may be are so ignorant when it comes to truths about this issue. How very sad about your Barn Owls, the Voles and all of it. Here in Kentucky, based on past reports as late as last winter, we are the most weather changing state in the USA and I can see the changes while my neighbors wear blindfolds...ugh! Have a happy week Phil~

carol l mckenna said...

Beautiful photography of our 'feathered friends' ~ Excellent! Beauty Plus!

Happy Week to you,
artmusedog and carol

Barb said...

The barn owl in flight is an awesome photo. They are so beautiful. I'd be glad to send your owls all the voles they can eat from my property here in CO! I think maybe I need a barn owl in residence! I love the sepia photo.

Dianne said...

a delightful capture of the Barn Owl Phil and something I never see in my corner of the world.

Chandra Eswaran said...

The photo of the Barn Owl is amazing and the other ones are very nice also.
Great share!
Have a Great Week!
Peace :)

NC Sue said...

Great photos!
Hoping you'll stop by this week's linkup:

Chris Rohrer said...

The Barn Owls don't seem to catch a break, do they? Their story is similar to that of the Snowy Owl and their prey. They eat a little rodent and some years are better than others. For the past two years, the populations have exploded thanks to the Lemming population increase. That means many of them come further down into the US for food and people go crazy. But the Barn and our Burrowing Owls are having a hard time here as well. Well, it's frustrating. As the year has been continuing on, I have been studying several owl populations here in Arizona. I have another one coming up in a couple months to keep their site protected for now. Nesting has been a success for most of them, but the Barn has had issues. We had a idiot shoot THREE of the 4 baby Barns in a sketchy part of the Phoenix outskirts. It was heartbreaking. Others, away from the highway, have been okay. We'll keep monitoring and I hope things change down the road for your populations. Positive thoughts and small changes can and do happen here. I am finding that our writings and our being out in the field make people more aware of our wildlife and that carries into how they vote or carries some weight when an area is being considered for protection. Saw some of this happening in Mexico of all places and I am at times hopeful.


That Crested Skylark is a stunner!! And the Barn Owl in Flight!! Awesome...I happen to be reading a true story about a woman raising a barn owl [for 19 years she had it] --- and I have a whole new outlook of these owls. Amazing.

Wish it would rain HERE!!

Adam Jones said...

Nice looking Snipe and it has been a tough year for the Barn Owls unfortunately. Let's hope the bounce back and have a better year next year.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Very interesting to learn about voles and their role in the food chain and very scary to think what we've done to it. Beautiful pictures and as always I'd be thrilled with your "as usual".

Pat Ulrich said...

lovely species to see - especially the snipe on the rocks!

Mary Cromer said...

Had to stop in again and say, oh I do love your new banner image. Barn Swallows rock ;)

Marie C said...

The light through the Barn Owl's soft white wing is just stunning! I am sorry the lack of voles are causing them issues. Your photos were all wonderful as usual...great birding!

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