Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fieldfares And A Feisty Sprawk

Everything was right for a fruitful ringing session. I met Andy at 0645 in the half-light. The air felt almost balmy as a breeze from the south fanned the trees, but just a little too much for our liking. We set the mist nets knowing the preceding week saw mostly poor weather with very few thrushes on the move. Surely Redwings and Fieldfares would be involved in visible migration this morning? We gulped half a cup of coffee each and then waited. 

 The Ringing Office

We didn’t wait too long before the thrushes began to arrive from the north. They came in tens, twenties and hundreds strong throughout the morning until by by1145 we’d counted approximately 2200 Fieldfares and almost 400 Redwings. Some of the flocks were mixed but always dominated by Fieldfares while the bigger flocks of several hundred proved to be exclusively Fieldfares. 

Perhaps because of the steady 10-15 mph breeze a number of flocks arrived from a low elevation and often appeared without warning as they flew above nearby trees to then pass over us. The movement of all birds this morning was 100% north to south. 

The less than ideal wind speed almost certainly limited our overall catch but we were happy with the morning’s total of birds caught and the species: 4 Fieldfare, 4 Redwing, 4 Goldfinch, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Blue Tit and one each of Sparrowhawk, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Great Tit and Goldcrest. 




The Sparrowhawk proved to be a large and feisty handful of an adult female. The orange eye told us she was an older female. Sparrowhawks are short-lived compared to other birds of prey. The average lifespan for a Sparrowhawk is 2.7 years and although very few live longer than seven years the oldest known ringed bird was one 17 years of age. A female Sparrowhawk takes a larger ring size than the much smaller male of the species and the talons of the female need to be avoided when handling one. 

Sparrowhawk - adult female

Sparrowhawk - adult female

Apart from the thrushes there was a steady movement of finches this morning involving mainly Chaffinch and Greenfinch with a couple of Bramblings and Lesser Redpolls noted. 

Otherwise, 3 Whooper Swans flying west.

More news soon from Another Bird Blog. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, linking to Anni's Blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Back On The Moss

After a day of hiding behind the clouds the sun finally emerged at midday today. For old time’s sake I decided to drive to Out Rawcliffe and take a walk across Rawcliffe Moss, an ancient peaty landscape which still characterises many parts of Lancashire. 

I’ve neglected the moss for a year or more. When the new plantation here became overgrown the use of our previously productive ringing area became impossible without both intensive and costly  habitat management. soon after the mixed animal/arable farm was sold and the new owners wasted no time in changing the land use to less crops and more animals. It was a combination that caused a drop in bird life. Birding became more difficult and my visits tailed off.

Rawcliffe Moss

 Rawcliffe Moss
The moss always was a good place for Little Owls with at least two pairs breeding there in each year where they used the traditional sites of both a building and a line of trees. The farm was quiet today, not many people or vehicles so it didn’t take long to find an owl by looking along familiar fences. 

Little Owl

Along the main track of the farm were a good number of Blackbirds but only a single Redwing. The rush of Redwings during past recent weeks is now over without seeing any substantial numbers of their cousin the Fieldfare. I hope to redress the balance by catching some Fieldfares at the weekend with a ringing session in the hills at Oakenclough, the ringing site which has replaced Out Rawcliffe. 


For my North American readers, a Redwing Turdus iliacus is not closely related to the Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus, a North American species sometimes nicknamed 'redwing' which is an icterid, not a thrush. The binomial name Turdus iliacus derives from the Latin words Turdus, meaning 'Thrush' and 'ile' meaning flank as in my photograph above.

Today out on the moss I saw four, maybe five Buzzards, some in flight and another sat motionless on a roll of baled hay, a favourite spot for a Buzzard. The rolls are close to the ground should a small mammal wander by or high enough for lift-off should an unwelcome birder wander by. Next in my notebook came a Hen Harrier, a brown female or juvenile “ringtail” floating across the road ahead of me as it hurried across to Pilling Moss. Later as I drove home via Pilling I saw the harrier make the return journey, helped this time by a convoy of corvids that chased it mercilessly until it was off their feeding stubble. 

The moss was previously a Tree Sparrow hangout, helped by regular dollops of bird seed to feed sundry species. I struggled to see a Tree Sparrow today eventually coming across three or four in the trees where their nest boxes still dot the trees. A number of Chaffinch were among the sparrows, as well as a few Yellowhammers, but on a return viewing an hour or more later the Chaffinch count had swelled to a miserly 15, Yellowhammers to 2 and Reed Buntings to 5. Not the best farmland bird tally. 


Next came the big field and a walk over wet stubble where I came across a Merlin, a Kestrel, 2 Corn Bunting, another half-dozen or so Reed Buntings, 5 Linnet, 15 Skylark and 7 Roe Deer. Although the birds scatter along the hedgerow where they might be seen later, Roe Deer never ever stay around but just melt into to the security of a distant wood. 

There had been geese landing in fields not far away so as I drove home via the mossland of both Pilling and Stalmine I stopped for a look in the stubble fields. It is very hard to approach the geese for either a photo or close scrutiny.

Pink-footed Geese

 Pink-footed Geese

The Pink-footed Geese have been with us for a month or more since leaving Iceland and the closest it is possible to get to them, and by staying in a vehicle, is perhaps 500 yards. On most mornings a number of wildfowlers will lie in wait, hidden in the marshy creeks of Pilling and Cockerham where they hope to intercept the geese with a volley of shots as the birds leave their overnight roost to feed on these inland fields. Boy are these geese wild and who can blame them?

I made my way home after an entertaining and instructive afternoon. Yes it was good to get back on the moss if only for a while.

Linking today to Viewing Nature with Eileen.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Birding The Sunday Showers

The clocks went back on Sunday morning. Winter is here. An extra hour in bed for many folks but not for yours truly, just an extra hour’s birding. Trouble was the forecast of a bright, dry and breezy morning was completely wrong. 

I’d set off in good spirits and high expectations to be met at Cockerham with heavy rain which persisted on and off for the next two hours. At Braides Farm a Buzzard sat along the usual spot waiting out the shower, maybe reluctant to leave because a dog Red Fox prowled through a nearby field. The fox put up a Curlew and a few Lapwings but made no attempt to pursue them. If the animal had any sense it was heading for shelter from the sudden downpour. I too wound the car window up to keep out the now driving rain and made for Conder Green. 


Red Fox

At Conder Green I could bird from the car only as the showers arrived two by two. I was limited to 14 Little Grebe, 1 Common Sandpiper, 4 Snipe, 8 Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Wigeon, 3 Goosander and 70+ Teal. 

Conder Green

As I drove back towards Pilling the sky brightened a little and I stopped at Fluke Hall Lane to count 44 Whooper Swans in the stubble field. I chanced a walk across the potato field towards the sea wall and found 40+ Woodpigeon, 15 Skylark, 2 Pied Wagtails and a single Meadow Pipit. In the wildfowlers’ maize crop and nearby pool were 3 Reed Bunting, 4 Pintail and 200+ Teal. Out on the marsh were 6 Little Egrets and the usual comings and goings of skeins of Pink-footed Geese. 

Whooper Swans

The woodland was pretty quiet although from recent there appeared to be an increase in Blackbirds. Otherwise a single Lesser Redpoll chattered over and a crow chased off a female Sparrowhawk. 

It wasn't the morning I'd hoped for but the weather looks set to improve for Another Bird Blog. 

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday

Friday, October 23, 2015

Back Birding

Two weeks had passed since my last pure birding trip. The fortnight was consumed by lots of bird ringing during a settled spell of weather. Not quite “making hay” but very similar. With this morning’s weather in a more ambivalent grey and undecided mood I decided to take a rest from ringing to devote the morning to bird watching. 

Fluke Hall was first stop. Looking west from the sea wall the shore was jam-packed with Pink-footed Geese yet to leave their overnight roost on the flat sands. It was turned 8am but in the grey morning of late October the geese were yet to head off for a daytime feed. In parties of dozens and then many hundreds they lifted off from the sands as most of them travelled just a few hundred yards to fields south of Fluke Hall and yet more fields close to Ridge Farm.

Within half an hour the sands were clear of geese apart from a few hundred stragglers. It’s hard to describe the spectacle and noise of 8-10,000 Pink-footed Geese, and equally hard to visualise the experience so here’s a video of what is now a daily occurrence at Pilling. 

There wasn’t much doing in the woodland, hedgerows or immediately below the sea wall. In the hedgerow I found 6 Greenfinch and 4 or 5 very active and perhaps newly arrived Blackbirds, and in the field beyond 4 Stock Dove mixed with 40+ Woodpigeon. On the shore was a single Meadow Pipit and in the woodland the highlight was the customary Nuthatch and a single Goldcrest.

It was time for a look at Glasson Dock and Conder Green. A circuit of the yacht basin via the coastal and canal paths produced 15 Tufted Duck, 16 Coot, 4 Cormorant, 1 Grey Heron and the resident family of Mute Swans. Close to the bowling green I found a couple of Blackbirds, 3 Redwing, 15 Goldfinch, 4 Long-tailed Tit and 2 Reed Bunting. 

Glasson Dock

I was looking along the River Lune towards Conder Green, where Redshanks, Lapwings and herons littered the now outgoing tide when distant activity spurred me to look closer. It was a Marsh Harrier leaving the river marshes and gaining height as it flew south. It was distant and in very poor light so a “record shot” of what appears to be a “cream top”. 

Marsh Harrier

Late October is indeed rather late to see a migrant Marsh Harrier although the species now winters in the North West of England. 

Conder Green gave up several species, most notably singles of Ruff, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank. Amongst 80 + Common Redshank were 12 Black-tailed Godwits, the latter one a species I really enjoy watching when they turn up here. 

Black-tailed Godwit

From the roadside lay-by I mopped up the morning with 80+ Teal, 2 Snipe, 3 Goosander, 2 Little Egret, 6 Curlew and 2 Pied Wagtails. 


A very enjoyable and productive morning. And see what the weekend brings by logging into Another Bird Blog very soon.

Linking today to I'd Rather b Birdin and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Those Redwings Again.

The settled weather of late has meant a run of ringing sessions as opposed to the usual postponements due to wind, rain or very often both. I was on Granddad duties on Monday when Andy and Bryan caught another 50+ birds at Oakenclough. Their catch included another 20 Redwings, 7 “Continental” Blackbirds, 10 more Goldcrests and half a dozen Lesser Redpolls. They caught a Tree Sparrow too, a scarce species in the hills. 

Tree Sparrow

That bumped up the total of birds ringed here in the last two weeks to almost 300, and all with a low number of recaptures which typifies the large throughput of autumn migration. 

It looked like our good fortune was due to end but when the weather folk promised high pressure lingering into Tuesday morning I met up with Andy at 0700 for yet another ringing session. 

With a good degree of cloud and a nagging north-westerly we didn’t hit the high spots but were happy enough with another 26 birds - 15 Redwing, 2 Blackbird, 2 Great Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Coal Tit and 2 Chaffinch. 


Today we passed the 50 mark for autumn Redwings, a figure which included just a handful of adults, the majority being birds of the year. The adult below has tertial feathers with narrow creamy-white tips and broad tail feathers which are rounded at the end. 

Redwing from "Svensson"

Adult Redwing

Visible migration was rather thin and unspectacular this morning, perhaps due to the amount of cloud coupled with the less than ideal north-westerly wind.  Our 15 new Redwings came from approximately 200 that arrived in tiny groups of two or three birds or parties of 30/40 strong. Otherwise we saw no Fieldfares, a single Mistle Thrush and just a handful of Chaffinch. 

The forecast of more changeable weather suggests that we’ll now get a day or two off ringing. That’s not to say there won’t be news, views and pictures on Another Bird Blog so log in soon for the latest.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thrushes Again

The objective this morning was a catch of migrant thrushes, hopefully a good few Redwings plus a few of their close relatives Blackbird and Song Thrush. While we all know that Redwings are the main October movers their huge arrivals and those of Fieldfares often disguise the fact that northern Blackbirds and Song Thrushes arrive at similar times. 

I met Andy at 0645 and in the dark we set a couple of nets and waited for the thrushes to arrive. By 1145 our catch of 37 birds comprised of more than 50% members of the thrush family. Our totals: 17 Redwing, 2 Song Thrush, 1 Blackbird, 4 Coal Tit, 4 Blue Tit, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Wren, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Sparrowhawk , 1 Treecreeper. 



Both Redwings and Fieldfares were much in evidence this morning. Flocks of each began to arrive from the north, north-east and north-west soon after dawn. Although mostly busy with ringing our watch gave approximate counts of 500 Redwings and 650 Fieldfares. We didn’t manage to trap any Fieldfares even though flocks of many dozens landed briefly on site to take advantage of the rowan and hawthorn berries. We were however more than happy to catch and examine 17 Redwings, only one of which was an adult. 

A first year bird shows notches of cream tips to the tertial feathers, an adult does not. 

Redwing - first year

Song Thrush



To catch a Sparrowhawk was not totally unexpected, perhaps overdue being the first one caught here since commencing ringing here almost 12 months ago. It’s not the Sparrowhawk’s bill that ringers have to be careful to avoid but the talons. And in this case there is less to fear from the talons of a juvenile male than the larger and more aggressive female of the species. 




In the week I noted that an observer of migration in the Pennines asked “Where are all the Chaffinches”. You may well ask Bryan because the species movement this morning was all but non-existent with not a single Chaffinch caught - most unusual at this time of year when huge numbers of British Chaffinches head south and west. Maybe it has more than a little to do with the poor breeding season?

Our finch quota today was well below par with just two Lesser Redpoll and a single Goldfinch. 

Lesser Redpoll

Log into Another Bird Blog soon for more news and views of birds.

Linking today to Anni's Birding .

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

First Redwing

There was more ringing on the menu at Oakenclough on Tuesday morning. I met Andy and Bryan at 0645. A steady 10-12mph of a north easterly breeze didn’t bode too well for either ringing or watching visible migration but perseverance is the name of the game. We set up shop and waited for some action. 

Just as we thought, the pace of the ringing and birding was slow but nonetheless we caught another good mix 29 birds of 11 species including the first Redwing of the autumn, a fine looking adult.


Totals: 7 Goldcrest, 4 Chaffinch, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Coal Tit, 3 Blue Tit, 3 Goldfinch, 2 Great Tit and singles of Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing, Greenfinch 


The single Redwing was one of a flock of 30+ Redwings which arrived on site from the north about 0900. Apart from this single flock the only other Redwings we saw were in ones and twos scattered throughout the morning. The single Blackbird was a first year male of the “continental” type while the only Song Thrush caught was a quite small juvenile. As in our recent two ringing sessions here migrant Mistle Thrushes arrived from the north to feed briefly in the rowans but we saw less than ten of the large thrushes today. 

Our three Lesser Redpolls consisted of 2 first autumn birds which could not be accurately sexed but these brown birds eclipsed by a stunning adult male. The redpolls appeared in a net without warning while very low numbers of less than 10 were recorded by both sight and sound. It was a similar situation with Siskins whereby one or two flew over throughout the morning but a zero catch.

Lesser Redpoll - adult male

Lesser Redpoll - adult male

Lesser Redpoll - first year

In contrast to our recent visits here there seemed to be no visible migration of Chaffinches on Tuesday with just four new birds.

 So no Siskins on the field sheet but the BTO sent details of Siskin Ring Number L976732 that Andy caught here on 29th September 2015 while I was away in Skiathos.

Siskin - adult male

The Siskin was first ringed by members of Clyde Ringing Group at Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, East of Glasgow, Scotland on 8th September 2012. On both occasions the Siskin was aged and sexed as an adult male meaning that by September 2015 the Siskin had a minimum age of 4 years.

The elapsed period between ringing and recapture was 1116 days and the distance between Oakenclough and Bellshill 226 km.

It is almost certain that like so many others of its kind this Siskin leaves Scotland each autumn to winter further south in England, perhaps to the south coast or even further by crossing the English Channel to France or Belgium.

Siskin - Bellshill to Oakenclogh

The highlight of the morning’s birdwatching came about 11am when the warming sun brought 4 Buzzards and accompanying crows into the air. When a ringtail Hen Harrier appeared in the same group of birds it appeared that the Buzzards were chasing the harrier away. We had clear sight of the Hen Harrier for less than a minute before it disappeared out of sight below the tree line while the Buzzards remained.


Other birding provided 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 2 Grey Heron, 2+ Jays, 30+ Long-tailed Tit, 1 Nuthatch, 3 Pied Wagtail and 1 Nuthatch.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Little Fluke And Greek Delight

I managed an hour two exploring Fluke Hall today. Whooper Swans are back from Iceland with four adults and a single juvenile below the sea wall. There was a Green Sandpiper along the landward ditch, a single Snipe, a couple of hunting Kestrels plus 2 Little Egrets and a Grey Heron.

Best I could find around the woodland turned out to be 45+ Woodpigeon, 3 Stock Dove and a Nuthatch.

Whooper Swans

That snippet of local news rather short changes regular readers so for the rest of this post there are some final pictures from our Skiathos holiday of 16th to 30th September.

We chose a sunny day to make the annual pilgrimage to the ancient abandoned fortress of Kastro where we could watch the exploits of the island’s Eleonora’s Falcons. For a more detailed insight into both Kastro and its Eleonora's Falcons, see my post of last year Fantastic Falcon.

The colony of breeding Eleonora’s live on a rocky outcrop in the far north of the island, the opposite coast to both our hotel and to Skiathos Town. Luckily we made the tortuous overland journey before the historic storms of 22/23rd September as otherwise I think the route via secondary roads and rough tracks would have been blocked by rivers of mud and rocks. 

Kastro, Skiathos

Kastro, Skiathos

The parking spot leaves a foot-slog over rocky paths towards the Greek flag with chance to see Yellow-legged Gulls, Blue Rock Thrush, Kestrel, Alpine Swifts, Common Swifts and swallows of both the common and red-rumped variety. In the vegetation skulked Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Sardinian Warblers and Blackcaps. 

Yellow-legged Gull

The falcons live below the flag along the furthermost point of the rocky promontory where they remain fairly distant until one or two fly directly over. The Eleonora’s performed to their usual incredible and spectacular level, hurtling through the skies at breakneck speed to the rocks and the sea below. With approximately 20 birds present, both adults and youngsters, it was obvious there was lots of family interplay to get through before they fly to Africa for the coming winter. 

Eleonora's Falcon

Eleonora's Falcon

Eleonora's Falcon

Eleonora's Falcon

On a couple of occasion we drove to Koukounaries to visit the famous beach and the lake of Strofilia which lies between a line of pine trees and the road to Koukounaries. 


Strofilia, Skiathos

Strofilia from above, Skiathos

A couple of leisurely walks around the lake taking in the mix of habitats produced a good selection of species with Yellow Wagtails and Whinchats in abundance, on one day in particular 50+ Yellow Wagtails and 20+ Whinchats.

There was also Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Hoopoe, Red-backed Shrike, Hobby, Grey Heron, Honey Buzzard, Spotted Flycatcher, Wryneck, Kingfisher, Little Egret, Kestrel and Sardinian Warbler. That’s a worthy list by any standards, especially considering that by mid to late September many species are absent having set off for Africa. 

Spotted Flycatcher


A Hoopoe is a striking bird but they can be difficult to spot when they choose to stay quiet and sit motionless in a tree. 


Red-backed Shrike

Yellow Wagtail

Hooded Crow

Yellow Wagtail

I hope blog readers enjoyed the recent posts from Skiathos, Greece. It’s a peaceful, stress-free place for a holiday and there's always a spot of leisurely birding available for those who choose not to sun bathe. 


Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog for more birds and more pictures very soon.

Linking this post to Run-a-roundranch blog and  World Bird Wednesday.

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