Saturday, February 27, 2016

An Owl Or Two, Or Three Or Four

This morning I set off birding on a regular route north over Stalmine Moss. A telegraph pole Kestrel was the first notable bird, unless I was to count common Blackbirds. There’d been a few near misses of the dark shapes along the way. It’s one of the perils of early morning driving along country lanes in the half light of a springtime morning where Blackbird territories seem to be not linear but to criss-cross east to west almost immediately in front of a moving vehicle. 

Next came a pair of Little Owls sat in a tree alongside Union Lane. The owls may have changed their affections in recent years by crossing to the other side. It was in 2008 and then in 2012 when Will and I found youngsters squashed into the roof space of an outbuilding to the south of the road, but extricated them in order to ring each one. Nowadays the regular Little Owls of the birding tourist trail hang out to the north of the road at a different farm - unless of course there’s more than one pair of Little Owls in the Fylde? 

Little Owl

I tuned right at Lancaster Lane where an early morning togger was on the prowl for an owl or two. A veritable enthusiast and probable expert judging by the car complete with an impressive “OWL” number plate. I turned tail and headed for Cockerham and Moss Edge just in time to see a Barn Owl fly off in the direction of Lancaster Lane. Maybe OWL would see an owl after all? 

Barn Owl

Along Moss Edge was a familiar car so I braked – JR working on a Saturday morning while I worked at birding – such dedication from both. I relayed news of the Barn Owl from two minutes before and then set off towards Braides and Conder Green. 

Beyond Braides Farm were several thousand grey geese where a couple of hours with a scope might reveal an intruder or two amongst the majority pinkfeet. I heard tell lately that thousands of Pink-footed Geese and good numbers of Whooper Swans remained in Iceland during their mild mid-winter when normally both species would migrate and remain here in the UK until March and April. 

On the Braides fields I counted 24 Lapwing, 2 Grey Heron and 1 Little Egret. 

Before hitting Conder Green I detoured around Moss Lane and then Jeremy Lane where as luck would have it there appeared another Barn Owl. The light was better now. 

Barn Owl

At Conder Green all appeared as mostly normal - 52 Teal, 120 Curlew, 30 Wigeon, 2 Little Grebe, 18 Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 8 Oystercatcher, 2 Grey Heron and 2 Pied Wagtail. A flight of 140+ Black-tailed Godwits appeared as if from nowhere but as they turned and headed down I could see they were about to land in the still wet fields south of the canal. 

Black-tailed Godwits

On the way back towards Pilling the Linnets at Wrampool were as flighty as ever with about 40 today along with a singing and territorial Pied Wagtail plus a patrolling Kestrel. 

At Fluke Hall Lane and Backsands Lane - 26 Curlew, 44 Redshank, 26 Lapwing, 350 Pink-footed Geese plus at the hall itself a calling Nuthatch in amongst the nest boxes. 

Pink-footed Geese

Please visit Another Bird Blog soon for more birds and owls. There’s always one but sometimes two, three or even four. 

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday and Anni's blog. She would rather be birding too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Heading North

Braving yet another icy start I drove north at 0630 to meet Andy up at Oakenclough for a spot of bird ringing. 

Last week’s Brambling, Siskins and Lesser Redpolls (Brambling & Lesser Redpoll  + Siskins) together with news of Bramblings in the south-west of England encouraged us to rather hope for more of the same today. During February, March and April and together with Chaffinches all three of these species start their northward movement through England towards Scotland and more northerly outposts. Another finch on the move at this time of year is the humble and now commonplace bird of suburban gardens the Goldfinch, many of which move to more southerly locations for the winter. All of these species are our main targets for this mostly all year round ringing site.

Although we didn’t catch any Lesser Redpolls today we did catch the other species in our total of 33 birds: 14 Goldfinch, 9 Chaffinch, 4 Siskin, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Brambling. Today’s Brambling was another adult female. 


Brambling - adult female

The four male Siskins found the net together and so were released at the same time. It was very soon after the Siskins that a passing snow shower from the north-west curtailed our activities for a while. After fifteen minutes or so the sun returned and we went on to continue catching until 1230.


The suggestion of finches heading north was reinforced by a male Chaffinch with a wing length of 93mm, a couple or more millimetres above the norm for a British Chaffinch.


The Reed Bunting is not a species we associate with this predominantly woodland site, except perhaps in small numbers in the adjoining landscape. Today’s second year female was only the second ringing record for here. It was a visitor to our winter feeding station and unlikely to be recaptured here again.

Reed Bunting

It was well past midday by the time I headed home where at Cockerham there was a distant Barn Owl circuiting a stretch of roadside fields where it followed the barbed fence. Unfortunately the owl didn’t come any closer than the pictures below. 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

The months of January, February and March can be a dangerous time for all birds when the “hunger gap” is at its most intense. Barn Owls are especially vulnerable because their exclusively mammalian food is in very short supply. The owls have to spend many more hours searching for food. That is the reason that in recent weeks many more than is normal are being seen during daylight hours. 

The owl provided a notable ending to a very successful morning.

Please log into Another Bird Blog soon for more news, views and photos of birds.

Linking today to  Eileen's Saturdayrun-a-roundranch and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Frozen Fingers

The car door was frozen solid thanks to yesterday’s rain followed by a frosty night. “Minus 2°C” - “Danger of Ice” said the dash display when I eventually got into the car. 

There was a choice - head up to Oakenclough for a ringing session or drive out Pilling way for a spot of birding. I chose ringing, braved the frozen ropes and poles and worked through the early pain barrier of icy fingers. 

I was pleased I did as a total of 18 birds was pretty good for a lone effort, including as it did an unexpected bonus in the shape of a Brambling and more of the target finches. Totals today: 7 Goldfinch, 5 Chaffinch, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Robin, 1 Lesser Redpoll and 1 Brambling. 

Bramblings have been very scarce during this very mild winter but this time of year is one of the better periods in which to see this close relative of the common Chaffinch. Better still to catch one, today’s an adult female caught in the company of Chaffinches. 



The single Lesser Redpoll was the first bird of the morning. Although an obvious adult male the early morning sun emphasised the red of the photograph. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

There’s no need to accentuate the red in a Robin Redbreast or the red in the face of a Goldfinch or a Chaffinch. 




The morning’s birding was rather limited due to working alone whilst ringing. Of note came 1 Buzzard, 20+ Chaffinch, 1 Siskin, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Sparrowhawk, 4 Cormorant and 6 Oystercatcher.


There are more birds very soon via Another Bird Blog. Don't miss out.

Linking today to I'd Rather be Birding and also Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Productive Birding

I was looking to go ringing this morning but a stiff easterly put a stop to that plan. Instead there was some good birding to be had on the local circuit. 

Heading north I stopped off at Cockerham to see the wintering flock of Linnets still very flighty over the weedy set-aside field but holding firm at 70/80 individuals. Half-a-mile away at Braides Farm there’s lots of water in the fields where I found 2 Little Egret and 30 Lapwing seriously outnumbered by a feeding and bathing flock of some 1500 Starlings and several hundred gulls. The gulls were mainly Black-headed Gulls with a couple of dozen Common Gull and one or two Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the mix. There was a Kestrel hovering over the roadside verges. 


I made my way to Conder Green to be greeted by a Barn Owl quartering the marsh. No sooner had I lifted the camera than the owl flew towards its daytime roost and swooped out of sight into the building. It was almost 0900, a time when Barn Owls should be tucked up for the day. 

I turned my attention to the creeks and the pool where I quite quickly found the wintering Spotted Redshank and similarly long staying Common Sandpiper. My now old “Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland”of 1986 shows that both species wintered in the UK at the time of the fieldwork I took part in during 1981 to 1984). As one might expect both were concentrated in the warmer south and west of England (and Ireland for the Common Sandpiper), but the Common Sandpiper was represented here in NW England by a number of dots on the map. 

Common Sandpiper

The pool was pretty crowded with both waders and wildfowl, albeit most of them at long distance and away from the busy, noisy road. A few of the counts and bouts of activity, especially from Oystercatchers, Shelducks and Tufted Ducks, suggested that a number of birds have arrived back with a view to taking up summer residence. Here are the counts – 95 Teal, 65 Curlew, 15 Shelduck, 12 Wigeon, 10 Lapwing, 12 Redshank, 5 Little Grebe, 4 Tufted Duck, 2 Canada Goose, 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron. 

Tufted Duck


A single Skylark flew over and there were a few Chaffinch and a singing Greenfinch along the hedgerow. 

A quick look at Glasson found no Goldeneye on the yacht basin so I settled for 21 Tufted Duck, 24 Coot and 16 Cormorant. Of the latter, two were fishing the others lined up along the far jetty drying out from their own earlier fishing expeditions. 


The route back home took me past flooded fields at Pilling where I stopped awhile to count 400+ Lapwing, 350 Redshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Ruff and many more Black-headed Gulls. 


That was a pretty good morning of birding I hope everyone will agree. Look in soon for more birding, ringing or photography.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Birding, Ringing And Broke

Apologies for the shortage of blog posts but just lately but I have been rather busy with non-birding but essential tasks like fixing the garden fence and buying a new PC. 

On the positive side our new brand new set of posts and rails will deter marauding cats and there’s now a solid base from which to secure a mist net pole. 

My minimal IT skills meant that the trailing-wires installation of the new PC was initially less than perfect but I loaded Integrated Population Monitoring Reporter (IPMR), moved 130,000 ringing records at the third attempt and even managed to transfer my favourite blogs into Firefox Favourites. 

So now I’m skint and it’s a blessing that birding costs nothing - well relatively so, unless you’re also a ringer, but that’s another story. 

After keeping a close eye on the weather forecasts Andy and I finally got a bash at Oakenclough on Thursday. We met up at 0730 to a frosty but sunny start and were joined today by Seumus and Jean. 

The ringing office

A five hour session produced 24 birds - pretty slow going but then January/February is both the least productive and the slowest part of the year for catching birds. Our 24 birds were made up of 21 new and 3 recaptures/retraps from previous occasions in 2015. New birds today - 7 Siskin, 5 Goldfinch, 4 Chaffinch, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit. The recaptures comprised one each of Goldfinch, Blue Tit and Coal Tit. 

Today’s Siskins gave a good range of ages and both sexes for direct comparison. 

Siskin - adult female

Siskin - adult male

Siskin - second year male

All of the Goldfinches proved to be second years. 

Goldfinch - second year male

With the breeding of most of our birds just weeks away, now is a good time to brush up on bird song , before the dawn chorus becomes too overwhelming as spring migrants arrive to join the resident songsters. There was a good list of species in territorial song this morning – Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Wren, Robin, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit and Dunnock. 


Non-singing birds today, including those seen or heard flying overhead included Greylag Goose, Cormorant, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Siskin, Starling, Lapwing, Curlew, Chaffinch and Oystercatcher. 

Several small parties of Oystercatchers flew overhead giving their customary “piping” calls. The species breeds close by whereby their apparently random flying to and fro is a prelude to the setting up of nearby breeding territories. 


Rich or poor there will be more birds soon. And remember it costs nothing to log in to Another Bird Blog.

Linking today with Eileen's Saturday.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Birding Home And Away

After arriving back from holiday late on Sunday it’s been hard to find the time or even the motivation to go birding. But om Wednesday morning I dug my hat, gloves and birding jacket out of the car boot in the sure knowledge that the feel of a Lancashire winter at 5⁰ is in stark contrast to two weeks of Lanzarote’s wall-to-wall sunshine and 23⁰. 

Wednesday was my turn on the Oakenclough rota. It was time to top the feeders and check the numbers of birds feeding there in case the weather should relent and allow a ringing session - a week from now looks a possibility after yet another stormy weekend ahead! 

Andy topped up last Saturday and reported decent numbers of Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Coal Tits, concentrated as usual in the least windy spots. Three feeders were barely touched, another three close to empty. So it was a minimal top-up in the more exposed feeders and a heftier dollop of nyger in the others. There was nothing in the way of extra species apart from at least two Mistle Thrushes in full voice. 


Mistle Thrush

That was the extent of my birding, so for this post I’m including a few pictures from the Lanzarote of late January. 

Lanzarote had enjoyed the driest, warmest November, December and January on record with virtually nil rainfall and endless sunny days. This historic and glorious weather continued during our two week stay with barely a cloud to be seen. We took many coastal walks in the immediate area venturing out in the hire car on just three or four days. 

Puerto Calero, Lanzarote

Puerto Calero, Lanzarote

The dryness of the landscape can be seen in the picture above but few walkers ventured from obvious paths to look for birds like Berthelot’s Pipit, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Trumpeter Finch, Desert Grey Shrike or Linnet. A number of Berthelot’s were feeding young but judging by the large numbers of larks around in groups and even small flocks, their breeding season was more advanced. The larks hugged the ground so much in their cryptic brown plumage that it was almost impossible to get close before one exploded into the sky and took many more along. On one walk 40 or more Lesser Short- toed Larks took to the air upon spotting my approach.

Berthelot's Pipit

Lesser Short-toed Lark

Lesser Short-toed Lark

Berthelot's Pipit

Desert Grey Shrike- Lanius elegans koenigi

Trumpeter Finch

From the coastal paths could be seen Sandwich Tern, Kestrel, Yellow-legged Gull, Whimbrel and Common Sandpiper.

 Common Sandpiper

On a couple of days and very close to the hotel we found a party of three Hoopoes. In parts of the Mediterranean I’m used to Hoopoes being very approachable but this trio proved hard to close. 



Fortunately the dry and dust of the coastal paths would often lead to a watering hole or two for thirsty travellers like ourselves. 

 Puerto Calero, Lanzarote

There’s more home or away birding soon on Another Bird Blog. Don’t miss it.

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

In Recovery Mode

“Welcome to Manchester” crackled the pilot over the intercom without a hint of irony. “The temperature outside is ten degrees and it is raining quite hard. Be careful as you step onto the air-bridge as it is wet and slippery”. 

After two weeks in the endless sunshine of Lanzarote we arrived home with a soggy reminder of why we felt the need for a change from the UK winter of 2015/16. Speeding though the darkness of Sunday evening the roadside pastures glistened wet and deep. Nothing much had changed. 

After a day or two of domestic catch up and readjustment I’ll be ready for a spot of birding, but in the meantime came news of a couple of recaptures/recoveries. 

While I was busy sunning in Spain, and despite the poor weather here, Andy braved a couple of ringing sessions at Oakenclough. It was the ringing site which provided an interesting Goldcrest movement of last autumn and when the migration of Goldcrests was particularly noticeable. During August, September and October of 2015 we caught 73 Goldcrests at the site. 

We ringed HDN315 a juvenile male on 9th September whereupon it was recaptured 41 days later on 20th October by other ringers at Rollesby, Gt Yarmouth, close to the Notfolk coastline. This is a distance of 319kms. Autumn movements of British Goldcrests show a distinct northwest to southeast axis, the likely origins of the birds being the extensive conifer forests of Scotland and Northern England and the southerly destination of the birds generally unknown. Small numbers of Goldcrests are proven to have crossed to the near continent where they winter. Perhaps our Goldcrest was on its way to France or Belgium to escape the British winter? 

Goldcrest - Oakenclough to Norfolk


During the summer of 2015 we made four visits to a Sand Martin colony at Cockerham where we ringed 169 Sand Martins and one or two other bits and pieces. 

Sand Martin number Z470329,a male in breeding condition on 30 June 2015 was subsequently recaptured by French ringers on 30th July, exactly a month later at Roseliere, Chenac-Saint-Seurin-d'Uzet, Charente-Maritime, France. 

Sand Martin

 Sand Martin - Cockerham to Roseliere, Chenac-Saint-Seurin-d'Uzet,

This is a distance of 949 km and at 172deg, almost exactly due south from Cockerham. Sand Martins are some of our earliest arriving migrants during March and April and are often gone from the UK by August, especially so during 2015 when a poor breeding season meant that this Sand Martin colony dispersed early with little noticeable breeding success. By late July our Sand Martin Z470329 had further to travel before reaching its wintering quarters of North Africa. 

There should be more local news soon and maybe some birds and views from Lanzarote. In the meantime Another Bird Blog may have to take a little sundowner this evening to help the recovery along by pretending that summer is heading this way. 

Lanzarote - January 2016

Yellow-legged Gull - Lanzarote

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