Monday, December 28, 2015

A Flood Of Fieldfares

Sunday 27th December - a dry, sunny morning. There haven’t been too many Fieldfares in evidence in recent weeks. By mid-winter our hedgerows are more or less devoid of haw berries, a favoured food of the northern thrush. By January Fieldfares feed almost exclusively on the ground and use hedgerows only as a hiding place/escape route when disturbed from searching the ground. 

Out on Pilling Moss I came across a huge flock of 1400 Fieldfares, a necessary approximation of highly mobile birds spread across at least two or three fields. This count is many times the numbers of Fieldfares reported locally in recent weeks. I can only think that the floods of recent days across parts of both Lancashire and Yorkshire had displaced lots of Fieldfares and pushed them west to where our fields are very wet but do not resemble the huge floods of TV news reports. 


While so many Fieldfares proved difficult to count the sight was one to enjoy, with lots more to see by sticking around the immediate area for a while. Nearby fields and hedgerows plus a particularly good-looking flooded stubble held 150+ Starlings, 100+ Linnets, 80 Skylark, 70+ Chaffinch, 12+ Meadow Pipit, 3 Reed Bunting, 5 Pied Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 2 Mistle Thrush and 2 Yellowhammer. By now Starlings can be sporting their spring plumage - a male below.


Close by were 3 Kestrels - a pair and a single bird. Kestrels mate for life so it is not unusual to see pairs in mid-winter, especially since the shortest day is past and more daylight beckons. Buzzards were about, keeping their usual low and distant profile, leading me to think that at least three were in the immediate area. 


At Cockerham the Linnet flock of late was in the expected place with about 80 birds and a single Stonechat sitting up briefly before doing the usual disappearing trick. Extra today was a single Grey Wagtail and 2 Reed Buntings frequenting the roadside ditch. 

Grey Wagtail

The sunny morning and roadside flood of Fluke Hall was an attraction to both holiday bird watchers and dog walkers; too many of each for my liking. After noting 40+ Skylarks and a good number of Meadow Pipits I turned around and walked the sea wall and then the woodland where a couple more Skylarks and Tree Sparrows knocking around nest boxes enlivened a fairly birdless route. 

It was here that I bumped into a non-birder acquaintance, one who knows his birds and someone in close contact with local shooters. He told me of thousands of Mallards, Teal, Wigeon and Pintail frequenting a huge farmland flood some four or five miles inland. It seems that the sportsmen are kicking their heels in despair that the fields are so deep in water that they are unable to get anywhere close to the wildfowl in order to conduct a mass slaughter. 

It’s an ill wind indeed that doesn’t provide even a smidgeon of good news. 

Log in soon for more news and views soon from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and  Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Last Post?

Here’s wishing Seasonal Greetings to readers old and new of Another Bird Blog. The blog is taking a few well-earned days off to join in the festivities before returning soon. In the meantime there are a few highlights and favourites from the year gone by with words and photographs by way of illustration. 

In January 2015 we left the grey skies of England and escaped south for a few weeks to the warmth of Lanzarote, Spain. One thousand eight hundred miles from home on the island of wide blue skies the weather was spring-like with many birds engaged in the throes of breeding. 

 Berthelot's Pipit, Lanzarote - January 2015

The Desert Grey Shrike is very common on Lanzarote. It is also very vocal and fearless, as proven when I watched one attack and chase a feral cat from an area where both of the adult shrikes fed youngsters out of the nest. 

Desert Grey Shrike

The centre of a thorny bush in the desert like landscape makes for a secure nesting site; this female had yet to lay eggs but was pretty insistent on staying put just yards from the car window. 

Desert Grey Shrike

Lanzarote - January 2015

During February and March Andy and I began to catch both Lesser Redpolls and Siskins at the ringing site near Oakenclough, where to their credit United Utilities invested a large amount of cash in improving the site by removing rhododendron and then replanting. The redpoll passage was more noticeable than the number of Siskins, but by early April the less than spectacular movement of both was virtually over. 


Lesser Redpoll

Replanting at Oakenclough

March and April saw the usual spring arrival of Wheatears, coupled in March with a very noticeable arrival of Stonechats whereby to see at least half-a-dozen Stonechats lined up along a barbed wire fence is fairly unusual. Meanwhile the cool, windy spring restricted opportunities for catching Wheatears with a measly three my sum total for the year. 



The wet and cool spring didn’t help Skylarks much. At Pilling two out of four Skylark nests failed at the egg stage when heavy rain washed out the nests, a third proved inconclusive, with only the fourth nest being successful at “ready for fledging” stage.



“Travel broadens the mind” goes the well-worn phrase so the month of May found Sue and I widening our horizons by spending a couple of weeks in Menorca. When we come back to Earth next time we both want to be landed on this beautiful island and sit in the plaça drinking coffee all day - in between birding (and shopping!) of course. 

Alaior - Menorca 2015

Audouin's Gull

Egyptian Vulture

Back home during June and July around the local patch were a few unexpected Lapwing chicks. Rather perversely the wet spring for farmers and birders proved to be something of a blessing to the beautiful bird which likes wet meadows but struggles to survive the modern world of intensive farming. 

Lapwing - 2015

Lapwing - 2015

During late May, June and July just four timed visits to a local Sand Martin colony produced reasonable early season catches without proof of a good breeding season in the way of many youngsters. We suspect the cool and wet year played havoc with the martins just as it did with many other species during 2015. 

Sand Martin

It might seems strange to mention the common Bullfinch as a highlight but the single bird I caught at Oakenclough on the 28th August was the first I’d handled in almost thirty years. Yes, the Bullfinch is that scarce in this part of Lancashire. 

Tree Pipit was top of the pops at Oakenclough on 16th August when during a quiet ringing session four of the striking pipits found their way to the mist nets. Meanwhile the other fifteen birds of the day divided between a few each of Willow Warblers, Lesser Redpolls, Goldcrests and titmice. 

Tree Pipit


September saw Sue and me adventuring in Skiathos, Greece, yet another beautiful sunny island. There’s a definite island theme going on here. 

 Skiathos - 2015

Skiathos isn’t a famed birding spot, thank goodness. But it may well be the best place on Earth to watch Eleonora’s Falcons in action. On other days I managed to find a good mix of species during and after a particularly violent and historic thunderstorm which wrecked the neighbouring island of Skopelos. Who says it only rains in Britain? 

Yellow Wagtail

 Eleonora's Falcon - Skiathos 2015

October proved a fine autumn month for birding and ringing before the downhill slide which brought major floods to North-West England. By the end of October our ringing sessions at Oakenclough had provided 60 Redwings, a handful of Fieldfares, continued redpolls and even a couple of bonus Sparrowhawks to enliven unwary fingers. 



There’s not much to say about November and December other than I wish it would stop raining and blowing a Hooley. We’ve managed three ringing sessions while the birding has been dire. 

BBC Weather Forecast, NW England - 24th December 2015

Roll on 2016 for longer days, brighter weather, birding and blogging. And SUNSHINE.

Linking today with Eileen's Saturday.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Another Plan B

Plan A was a drive to Oakenclough where it was my turn to top up the feeding station. There had been another overnight deluge but all was well until close to Garstang where at Moss Lane I came upon the road flooded ahead, abandoned cars and folk looking for a way through. A couple of phone calls quickly established that alternative routes via Churchtown village or Gubberford Lane were both similarly impassable. The birds would have to wait for a top-up. 

 Moss Lane, Garstang

On the way over Pilling Moss I’d seen a huge number of birds concentrated on a couple of flooded stubble fields and vowed to look in on the way back from Oakenclough. For Plan B the fields seemed a good place to start a spot of birding and in fact I spent an hour or more just watching from the car and ended up with a great selection of birds and fairly impressive counts. 

In the raptor line 3 Buzzards and 2 Kestrels entertained while being kept on their toes by dozens of corvids, mainly Carrion Crow and Jackdaw. 


Readers will note that the following counts are approximated as all the species were highly mobile due to disturbance factors of passing traffic, Kestrels, crows and sheep, but also a steady wind blowing across the open fields:

500+ Starling, 200+ Linnet, 120+ Chaffinch, 30 Goldfinch. 140+ Fieldfare, 40 Wood Pigeon, 2 Redwing, 15 Meadow Pipit, 14 Pied Wagtail, 5 Skylark, 1 Grey Wagtail, 3 Yellowhammer, 3 Reed Bunting, 3 Whooper Swan. 



Pied Wagtail

Plan B turned out pretty well after all. With luck I should get to implement Plan A when the water subsides and maybe even fit in a spot of ringing before Christmas. If so read all about it here with Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Better Late Than Never

At last, a break in the wind and rain allowed Andy and me to fit in a ringing session at Oakenclough on the edge of the Bowland Forest. With only a week to the shortest day our starts get later and 0815 today - three or four hours later than a typical start time during spring, summer or early autumn. 

A quiet session saw us catch just 14 birds in 3 hours, slow going by any standards - 6 Coal Tit, 4 Goldfinch, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Chaffinch. 

Coal Tit

Although the weather of November and December has been wet and windy, the temperatures have been unseasonably high whereby there seems ample natural food for birds and not much reason for them to visit our feeding station, as evidenced today by the lack of Great Tits, Blue Tits and Chaffinches. Any Lesser Redpolls in the area now are winterers rather than migrants, the two today an adult male and a second year female found in the net together. When released they flew off in tandem. 

Lesser Redpoll - adult male

Lesser Redpoll - adult male

Unlike today’s wintering Lesser Redpolls we received notification from the BTO of a same year spring to autumn recovery. Ring number Z312419, an adult male Lesser Redpoll was ringed here at Oakenclough on March 25th 2015. This bird was recaptured by other ringers on November 27th 2015 at Pelsall Common, West Midlands, and 247 days after the original capture. This is a typical spring to autumn capture sequence for this species but where the eventual destinations at each season are probably uncertain. 

Lesser Redpoll - Oakenclough to West Midlands

Other birds we saw in the immediate area this morning - 2 Buzzard, 5 Mistle Thrush, 18 Goldfinch, 30+ Chaffinch. 

On the way home via Nateby, Pilling and at a flooded field on Stalmine Moss, 72 Whooper Swans, a male Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 2 Buzzard. 

Stalmine Moss

Whooper Swans

After a break in ringing during some six weeks it was good to finally achieve a hard won visit. Let’s hope that’s a good omen for the coming weeks.

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday and World Bird Wednesday.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Water, Water, Everywhere

Wheel Lane was under water again, a foot or so deep in places as I made my way towards the coast road. Luckily I was in the 4x4 so kept going until the relative dry of Fluke Hall Lane and Backsands Lane as Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese flew from their marsh roost and headed inland. 

Distant gunfire told me the shooters were hidden on Cockerham Marsh where they lie in wet, muddy gullies waiting for the geese to fly overhead. It’s a harder sport than bird watching but comes with the chance of a Christmas goose and/or a dose of influenza. Their two parked vehicles stood at Gulf Lane, vacant dog cages sat on the flat backs. 

I stopped to look for the Linnet flock and single Stonechat of late. About 160 Linnets were circuiting, waiting for a chance to stop and feed near their favoured weedy spot which almost abuts the busy main road that is the A588. The Linnets had a few seconds or maybe up to a minute of food before the next vehicle sped by to send the flock into the air and start the sequence all over again. I wondered if the Linnets felt as I do when sat down for a meal and someone knocks on the door to sell me something I don’t want or the telephone rings with yet another of those nuisance calls? There was no sign of the Stonechat. 


A stop at Braides Farm revealed 2 Little Egrets but no waders on the floods. There seems to be a contradiction at the moment whereby the many flooded fields which cover the local landscape hold very few waders. 

There was more to see at Conder Green where the pool-now-lake and the incoming tidal creeks held 195 Teal, 100+ Mallard,18 Wigeon, 22 Redshank, 8 Little Grebe, 5 Tufted Duck, 5 Snipe, 2 Curlew and a Grey Heron. 


Something of a surprise came when a Water Rail fluttered low from one side of the slowly filling creek to the other before diving into the safety of the marsh grass. It was a typical sighting of this skulking and secretive species, one that is notoriously difficult to see in its wetland habitat. Water Rails are often very vocal, especially in the breeding season and the wintertime when their unique squeals and grunts betray their presence a yard or two away from a hopeful but unseeing birder. 

Although their flight looks weak Water Rails are capable of long sustained flights during their nocturnal migrations. British-ringed birds have been recovered from as far away as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Sweden. Play the video - it's a better view than I had this morning.

Towards the old railway I found a couple of Chaffinch and Greenfinch, a vocal Reed Bunting, and the expected Pied Wagtail. 

Reed Bunting

At Glasson Dock the yacht basin held 21 Tufted Duck, 11 Goldeneye, 1 Great Crested Grebe and a handful of Cormorants. A walk of the basin perimeter and the roadside hawthorns gave up a dozen or more Long-tailed Tits, a single Goldcrest and more than a handful of Blackbirds.

Glasson Dock

The Plan was to stay out birding a little longer but rain was moving in from the west. It was time to head home and blog what I had. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Turn To Go

It was my turn to top up the Oakenclough feeding station today. The continued rain and wind suggests the next ringing session may be later rather than sooner, but we live in hope. 

Nearby St Michael’s village has suffered a bad episode of flooding via the River Brock but the Fylde Coast as a whole has escaped relatively unscathed from the severe floods that devastated parts of Lancashire and Cumbria just to the north of here. The wholesale destruction has led to the loss of life, homes and livelihoods. St Michael’s and the A586 was still blocked by floodwater this morning so I took a detour through Cockerham, past the flooded fields of Winmarleigh Moss and headed to the north of Garstang and a drive into the hills. 

At Cockerham the still very flighty Linnets look to have increased to more than 140 birds feeding in the area of a weedy set-aside. They flew around constantly before they settled down to feed or sit along a barbed wire fence, only to erupt into flight again within just a few seconds. 

There was a Kestrel about which probably accounts for the Linnets’ wariness. Although mainly a specialist in taking small mammals a Kestrel is also an opportunist hunter not averse to snatching small birds should they make themselves available. There was a male Stonechat feeding in the same field which sat up on weedy stems a few times in between bouts of feeding before I lost sight of it. 



Predictably there was a Buzzard along the fences at Braides Farm. There must be a wealth of invertebrate food here as there are always one and very often two Buzzards present. 


Just past the village of Oakenclough I came upon a flock of mixed finches in roadside alder trees, approximately 40 Goldfinch, 15 Chaffinch and 12 Siskin. The flock was considerably more birds than I saw 500 yards away at our feeding station, a somewhat open spot which has taken a real battering during wet and windy November/December. I topped up the feeding station, counted a single Mistle Thrush, half-a-dozen Chaffinch, a few Goldfinch and Blackbirds and then crossed my fingers before heading down to the coast again. 

Back at Cockerham a flight of 8 Whooper Swans flew inland in the direction of Pilling Moss where there have been recent counts of up to 200 birds on the flooded stubble of Eagland Hill. 

Whooper Swans

Meanwhile at Fluke Hall yet another flooded field held over 250 passerines in flocks of both single and mixed species. All were very flighty due to the constant passage of nearby people and vehicles, not least the number of dog walkers who encouraged their animals to both run wild and also defecate on private land where crops will be grown in spring. The birds flew constantly between the sea wall, the nearby hedgerow and the field itself but after a while I estimated the birds as 135 Twite, 55 Goldfinch, 18 Skylark, 15 Tree Sparrow, 12 Linnet, 12 Meadow Pipit, 10 Pied Wagtail and 10 Chaffinch. 


There’s more birding and photos soon from Another Bird Blog. With luck and fair weather there may even be a spot of ringing to report. Stay tuned.

Linking today to I'd Rather Be BirdingEileen's Saturday and Run-A-Round Ranch.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Still Here!

There have been times during the last month of wind, rain and grey skies when I thought I’d never get out birding or ringing ever again. November will surely be one of the most dismal on record. My last ringing session was on 4th November, and although our ringing site at Oakenclough has been topped with bird food regularly the dreadful weather has not allowed any further ringing. Today was my turn with the buckets, one of Nyger and the other of mixed seed where I found that a reasonable number of Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Blackbirds had not deserted the site. 


But once again the morning was too blowy for ringing so I made my way back to Pilling and some birding. At Fluke Hall the flooded stubble held approximately 140 flighty Lapwings and just 2 Pied Wagtails where the tracks through the soft, peaty ground told me the field had seen regular disturbance from the shooters’ visits. 

Pilling Morning

Eight Whooper Swans flew over and headed south of the wood to a spot unknown and out of sight. Meanwhile a walk through the wood revealed a Brambling or two in the treetops among a handful of Chaffinch. A Brambling’s nasal wheezing is quite unlike the typical sounds made by its close cousin the Chaffinch, and once learned a Brambling’s call is never forgotten. Otherwise the wood was quiet except for the usual mix of titmice and several Blackbirds. 


Near Lane Ends a large party of approximately 1400 Pink-footed Geese fed in a roadside field, the geese keeping a safe and suitable distance from peering eyes and slowing vehicles. I was 125 yards away where I “grilled” them for a while from the wound down car window but failed to find any interlopers like Barnacle, White-fronted or Bean Geese. At the present time there are many more geese frequenting fields within 800 yards of my home but there are few roads or stopping places from which to take a closer look. Our winter visiting Pinkfeet use their local knowledge and experience gained over a number of years to as much as possible stay out of sight and out of mind while keeping one eye on quick escape from predators, especially those with guns. The average lifespan of a Pink-footed Goose is eight years, the longevity record is more than 38 years, ample time to learn the ropes. 

Pink-footed Geese

Just along from Lane Ends were 10 Little Egrets feeding in a grassy but wet field, the meadow more sheltered than the marsh where the egrets are more usually found. From the sea wall came the sound of an unseen Little Grebe on the pool hidden from view, and out on the marsh a distant Peregrine. I stopped at Wrampool Brook to find the flock of circa 120 Linnets in the set-aside field together with a fence-hopping Kestrel. It’s not only a good weedy field for the Linnets but there’s a handy ditch with mammal prey for both owls and Kestrels. 


A look at Braides Farm found two Buzzards and two Carrion Crows in the area of the farmer’s pile of refuse again. The Buzzards were fence-hopping while searching the ground from above and below and also the midden for insects and worms, as were the crows. I think that all were looking to steal off each other but I imagine the Buzzards would come out on top of any dispute. 



The wind began to pick up again. There's yet another Yellow Weather Warning for the weekend. 

No problem, there will be news, views and more pictures very soon with Another Bird Blog, so please return another day.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird WednesdayAnni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday.

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