Thursday, March 31, 2016

Finches Again

The weather is staying cool with the lack of summer/spring birds unsurprising despite in recent years our becoming accustomed to many species appearing somewhat early. But then we are still in March with the weather and winds less than ideal to help birds travelling many miles to get here to North West England. In some years nothing much happens until April and it looks like 2016 is shaping up to be one of those. 

With rain forecast for both early and late week Thursday was pencilled in as the possible day for a ringing session. The prediction was spot on when at 0545 the sky was clear with a hint of frost in the air. I switched on the heated seat and set off for another 0630 start up at Oakenclough. 

Andy and I met up in the car park and then we set to with a couple of nets. The morning was mainly slow and steady with a sudden rush of Siskins after 1030 which boosted our catch to 32 birds of a mixed 8 species, dominated once again by finches: 13 Siskin, 10 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Blackbird, 1 Wren and 1 Dunnock. 

Including today and to date in 2016 we have ringed 60 Siskins and 55 Lesser Redpoll here at Oakenclough. One of today’s Lesser Redpolls, a second year female, wore a ring beginning S109, a number sequence not of our own but a “control” – a bird ringed by other ringers on a previous occasion. This is the second “control” Lesser Redpoll of the spring here, details of which we will be notified to us and the original ringer once the BTO database records are matched. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

Upon examination a number of Siskins displayed accumulated fat in three areas; the furculum (the so-called wishbone), the wingpits and the abdomen. One individual weighed in at a magnificent 16.2 grams. This almost equalled the weight of the morning’s Chaffinches and exceeded the weight of both Goldfinches. 

Visible Fat




A reader was intrigued by a picture of two Siskins in last week’s post which showed the plumage differences between second year and adult male Siskins. As a broad rule that applies to most passerine species, second year birds can be separated from an adult, especially at this time of year. This isn’t always strikingly obvious but can be found by looking closely at the flight feathers of the wing and tail. First year birds will retain into their second year many of the feathers they were born with because their autumn moult is partial only. In general, adult birds have a complete moult of their flight feathers once they have finished breeding. At the present time of year and in comparing adults and second years side by side, an adult will have some newer, brighter and fresher feathers than a second year bird that still sports much of last year’s juvenile plumage. 

Siskins - second year and adult

We don’t catch many Wrens or Blackbirds at this location. 



Siskins dominated the visible migration this morning with small parties of up to 6 or 7 birds passing overhead south to north most of the morning whereby Lesser Redpolls were less evident. We looked and listened hard for Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler or an early Blackcap, Sand Martin or Swallow but none appeared. 

We made do with resident Buzzards, Oystercatchers, Pied Wagtails and Great Crested Grebe until the highlight of a single Common Crossbill “chup, chupping” overhead. Crossbills breed not too far away but are just occasional visitors to the site even though there are extensive pines in the immediate area. 

Common/Red Crossbill - Loxia curvirostra by "Wiki".

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog and more birds soon. Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Siskin Sheet

I hope regular readers are up for more news of the bird ringing at Oakenclough? It seems the best place to be at the moment with good numbers of finches continuing to pass through. Down at the coast the news from birders is that the lasting high pressure system is holding back migration. Early migrants like Chiffchaffs, Sand Martins and Wheatears seem hard to come by whereas winter birds like Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Goose are noticeable by their continued presence in good numbers.

I met Andy at the ringing station at 0630. We were later joined by Will who called in to trade birding gossip and to ring a few birds.

On a grey, cold morning we caught steadily for about three hours as both Siskins and Lesser Redpolls arrived from the south, some stopping briefly, others flying determinedly north and west. This was especially true for Siskin as their vibrant calls rang out from close to the feeders but also overhead as small parties flew over. Lesser Redpolls were not so numerous, as reflected in the ringing totals below. There was also a movement of Chaffinches with at one point ten or more in the tops of a couple of nearby trees.


Following a catch of 22 Goldfinches last Friday the species’ status as a sometime migrant was confirmed by today’s catch of a single new bird and two recaptures. Suddenly at 1030 the feeders went quiet and overhead birds dried up. By 1130 we had decided to pack up and go home.

We totalled 31 birds today – 22 new and 9 recaptures. New birds: 12 Siskin, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Chaffinch, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Wren, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Robin. Recaptures; 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Goldfinch, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Siskin, 1 Great Tit.

The Reed Bunting proved to be a second year male.

Reed Bunting

Two male Siskins. The adult Siskin is on the right, the second year on the left.


Lesser Redpoll

At each ringing session all the captured birds are entered onto a field sheet. The Information is later transferred to a database, Integrated Population Monitoring and Recording (IPMR) and each month a file of captured birds e-mailed to the BTO for inclusion on their master database.

Field Sheet - 23/03/2016

In the left hand column of the field sheet “N” indicates a new bird while “R” signifies a recapture. The system uses a five letter code for each species. Age “5” means a second year bird while “6” indicates an adult bird. We collect wing length as in many species this can be used to separate males and females where both sexes are similar. Weight at the corresponding time of capture is recorded as an indicator of general condition. At 14 grams one of today’s Siskins had a weight somewhat over the an average. Upon checking the amount of visible fat in the furculum, “little fork” or wishbone, the Siskin was found to have a fat score of 30, pointing to an individual in active migration.

Birding today - singles of Buzzard, Grey Wagtail, Great-spotted Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush.

The month of March is proving to be very productive for our ringing but with the weather due to change tonight there may be a lull in proceedings. Not to worry, there will be more news and pictures very soon on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday, Anni's Blog and Viewing Nature With Eileen.

Friday, March 18, 2016

More Finch Tales

We are enjoying a good few days of settled weather. Despite the northerly origins of the winds which produce cold nights and cool days, many birds are making progress in their spring migration. This is especially noticeable at our Oakenclough ringing site on the western edge of the Pennine Hills where Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and Goldfinches have dominated recent visits, either in mist nets or overhead on visible migration. In searching local websites and blogs this migration seems to be much less evident in coastal areas or even missing completely. It’s tempting to say that many birders turn out later in the day than the average ringer? Or maybe it’s just that the birds use inland migration routes in the early spring? 

I’m not complaining about seeing the same species but instead enjoy recent days as an opportunity to record our observations and collect yet more data about migration. So Friday began with a scrape of the windscreen ice, a thirty minute drive into the hills and a 0630 meet with Andy for another ringing session. 

A cold easterly breeze reduced today’s catch somewhat but we still finished up with 45 birds of which 43 were of the finch family. It was a rather striking result in producing 22 Goldfinch, 12 Lesser Redpoll, 6 Siskin, 3 Chaffinch, 1 Great Tit and 1 Blue Tit

One of today’s Lesser Redpolls proved to be a “control”. It carried a BTO ring but of a letter and number sequence we did not recognise (D700 etc) so had been ringed elsewhere in the UK by another ringer. We will find out the details of this bird in due course once the capture from today is computerised and sent to the BTO. 

Lesser Redpoll

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Bird Atlas 2007-11 relates a success story for the Lesser Redpoll. Despite a 16% decrease in occupied squares in England since the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas, there was a corresponding  26% increase in Scotland and a 163% increase in Ireland. We can be fairly certain all the Lesser Redpolls we are seeing at the moment are on their way north and west to Scotland and Ireland. 

On a point of interest to readers outside of the UK, the Lesser Redpoll was elevated to full species status by British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) in 2001 whereas in Ireland and elsewhere it continues to be treated as a race of Common Redpoll. The Lesser Redpoll is widespread throughout the UK whereas the Common Redpoll is a scarce visitor to Britain from northern Europe, Greenland and Iceland. Prior to 2001 birders and ringers who encountered these paler, larger and uncommon visitors referred to them simply as “Northern Redpolls”. Only after 2001 could we put a “tick” in the box next to Common Redpoll. 

 Lesser Redpoll

The Siskins we caught today are on their way to more northerly parts of the UK, potentially to Norway, just over the North Sea from Scotland. 


The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Bird Atlas 2007-11 tells us that since the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas the Siskin has enjoyed a “spectacular” increase of 166% in the number of occupied 10km squares. Gains were achieved in Wales and large parts of Ireland. In Scotland, Siskins have spread into the northeast and onto the Northern Isles and the Outer Hebrides 


It was good to see the Goldfinch at the top of the scoresheet today. The Goldfinch is now so abundant we often forget that it too is a partial migrant which returns north at this time of year. Because Goldfinches are always around in wintertime, albeit in reduced numbers, it is not always easy to spot the spring arrivals. 


The Goldfinch has a chequered history in the UK, a past and present story which is replicated here in the county of Lancashire where during the late 19th century it was almost extinct as a breeding species. 

The then status of the Goldfinch is described in a book from 1892 - The Birds of Lancashire by F. S. Mitchell. “The Goldfinch is resident, but so decreased in numbers as to be almost extinct. The march of agriculture is one great reason for this; waste lands where thistle is its favourite food, groundsel and nettles used to grow in plenty, being now so largely brought under cultivation. The bird-catcher too (or as he is more commonly called the "tuttler" or "touter" i.e. one who entices), is the deadly enemy of the Goldfinch, and any stray individuals are at once captured to satisfy the exigencies of the demand from the large towns.” 

The Goldfinch hung on in there until during the 1980’s there came a sudden revival in its fortunes. 

The following information is also taken from the BTO Atlas 2007-11. “Since the 1990s the UK Goldfinch population has exploded, a phenomenon almost entirely explained by improved annual survival. During 1995-2010 there was a 91% increase in the UK breeding population and a 158% increase during 1998-2010 in Ireland. 

The Goldfinch owes much of its recent success to adapting to and exploiting bird feeding stations in suburban gardens and elsewhere. Goldfinches were recorded in 50-60% of gardens in Britain in 2011 with a similar pattern evident in Ireland with Goldfinches recorded in 80% of gardens.” 

Stay tuned. There will be more finch tales soon from Another Bird Blog.

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

No Time For Sitting

These starts are getting earlier now that spring is here. Today was a 0530 wake-up for a meet up at Oakenclough with Andy at O630. We were joined today by Bryan who was also hoping our run of luck would continue by catching more Siskins and Lesser Redpolls. 

As it turned out there wasn’t much time to relax and by midday we were more than pleased with our total catch of 38 birds which included a good number of the aforementioned two species: 11 Lesser Redpoll, 10 Siskin, 7 Goldfinch, 3 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Robin, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Coal Tit and 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker. 

Ringer's lounge

Of the eleven Lesser Redpolls two, a male and a female, Z312630 and Z312632 were recaptures from 23 April 2015. The almost consecutive ring numbers could mean the two may have stayed together in the intervening period. It is also interesting that neither has been recaptured between April 2015 and today and may have been returning “home”. 

Lesser Redpolls

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

For comparison, below are adult Siskins of each sex and don’t need labels to show which is which. 



After a temporary blip last week Goldfinches returned in smlll numbers today.

Great-spotted Woodpeckers are pretty common here but rarely come to our bird feeders, especially since we don’t employ peanuts but stick to Niger and mixed seed. 

Great-spotted Woodpecker - second year male

Great-spotted Woodpecker

Birding between ringing produced migrants in the shape and sounds of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls overhead. Also 2, Grey Wagtails which fed briefly. 

Otherwise, local birds included 4 Mistle Thrush, 2 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk and 4 Pied Wagtail. An unexpected sighting proved to be three Snipe which rose from a still boggy area of the plantation as we walked towards the nets.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Trickle Time

There were small numbers of Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and Goldfinches on the move north this week. It was on Monday at Oakenclough that Andy caught handfuls of all three species. 

We both returned today hoping to witness further evidence of spring migration and catch more of our target species for the site. The forecast wind speed of 5mph was some way off the mark as we arrived to see swaying tree tops and ripples across the surface of the nearby reservoir caused by a 15mph chilly northerly breeze. Fortunately the wind dropped somewhat, the sun came out and we managed to catch 15 birds in a slow trickle of activity but during a morning when the temperature never rose above 8°C. 

We didn’t catch a single Goldfinch today and we both scratched our heads trying to remember the last time Goldfinch failed to appear on a field sheet from this site. Coal Tits are also regular here, mainly as recaptures from previous ringing sessions so we were surprised to catch three new ones today in our total of just 15 - 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Siskin, 2 Chaffinch, 3 Blue Tit, 3 Coal Tit and 1 Dunnock. 

Coal Tit

The four Lesser Repolls consisted of three new ones and a recapture from Monday. Both Siskins were new birds and both adult males. 

Lesser Redpoll

 Lesser Redpoll



We saw a number of raptors this morning with circling and calling Buzzards much in evidence and a count of between four and eight individuals, all of them harried by crows or gulls in the course of their soaring. We also saw at least two Sparrowhawks plus one or more Peregrine. On Monday Andy had also clocked up a ringtail Hen Harrier over nearby farmland. 

Carrion Crows and Buzzard

Other birds today - 4 Mistle Thrush, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Pied Wagtail, 8+ Oystercatcher, 12+ Curlew and the rather unusual sight of a Dipper feeding alongside the water’s edge of the nearby reservoir.

The normal habitat of the dipper is fast flowing streams, and although there are some nearby, to see a dipper along the reservoir’s margins made us look twice.

White-throated Dipper - R. Knight. East Sussex, UK [CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

More birds next time from Another Bird Blog. Log in soon.

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

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Lazy Day Birds

Yesterday’s snow lasted a couple of hours here on the coast. Thank goodness that by late afternoon there was no sign of the white stuff. Today was Lazy Saturday except for another visit to the feeding station in the hills beyond Garstang where I expected to see a good amount of lying snow. But apart from a smattering on the higher fells there was little sign of Friday’s several centimetres. Maybe the snowfall had cleared out the birds because the feeding station was pretty quiet apart from the customary Chaffinches and Goldfinches. 

With luck we’ll fit in a ringing session later in the week and catch up with a few Siskins. Via Yahoo “vismig” messaging it appears that February saw good numbers of Siskins heading north in both The Netherlands and Belgium, with some record counts during the last week. 

In the meantime I drove back via Pilling Moss and stopped to view a field with approximately 450 each of both Fieldfares and Starlings and just a couple of wagtails. The Fieldfares appearing now are on the move north and have not wintered around here in any large numbers. The status of the Starlings is more difficult to judge but almost certainly many of those are not British birds but are on their way back north beyond these shores. 

The field holding these birds is very soggy from months of rain, making it easy for both species to delve into the soft surface. The other attraction is the large number of molehills where the turned soil has exposed invertebrates and worms. 


Like their cousins the Blackbird and the Song Thrush the Fieldfare searches for food using its acute hearing to locate food below the surface. 


The noise and activity of a thousand birds attracted first a Sparrowhawk and then a Buzzard. The Sparrowhawk had no luck and so flew off to try elsewhere. The Buzzard scattered all the feeding birds before landing on a line of fencing. But the average Buzzard is too lazy to chase fast flying birds like Fieldfares and Starlings, much better to sit and wait for a passing meal.

Starlings and Fieldfares



After a while the Buzzard flew into the field and began to delve into the soft soil and search the ground for easy pickings of earthworms and the like. By now the Starlings and Fieldfares had settled back into their own routine and while they gave the Buzzard elbow room, none of them took great exception to the presence of a harmless Buzzard.

Alas the Buzzard was too far back in the field for a photograph so I headed home for a lazy Saturday evening.

Linking today with Run A Round RanchStewart's World Bird Wednesday and  Anni's blog.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

More Owls

I was tempted to do a spot of ringing at Oakenclough but it was just a little too breezy from the north and the forecast was less than perfect with “showers” which might be snowy. In any case it would be a solo effort and a bit of a chore while Andy is still sunning himself in Morocco. 

So I did a food drop only while noting a single Lesser Redpoll and still good numbers of Chaffinch and Goldfinch about the feeders and a couple of Siskin “over”. 


Lesser Redpoll

I drove back to the coast via Garstang and landed up at Cockerham and then Conder Green. The pool and creeks hold few bird surprises now as we wait for spring to arrive with the early migrants. Around the pool and in the tidal creeks – a Reed Bunting in song, 2 Little Grebe, 45 Wigeon, 18 Shelduck, 8 Oystercatcher, 2 Tufted Duck, 40 Curlew, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron, 2 Pied Wagtail and a handful of both Chaffinch and Goldfinch. Both Redshank and Teal numbers may be down with respective scores of 28 and 30. 

Turned 0900 and in broad daylight arrived yet another Barn Owl, probably the regular one which is seen almost daily now and has a winter roost nearby. The owl was busily hunting both the inner and outer marshes and while I didn’t see it catch any prey it was out of sight for minutes at a time. After a while it flew back towards its daytime hideaway. 

Barn Owl

At Braides there was a Buzzard searching the rough grass, on the flood 30 or more Lapwings plus a couple of Skylarks on fence posts. Skylarks were in song today with a number of Lapwings showing territorial behaviour through snatches of aerial display. There was nothing doing through Cockerham/Pilling and just a couple of Linnets at Wrampool with no sign of any Stonechats. 

It was now turned 1030 and as I drove through Pilling village a Barn Owl flew directly over the car and out of sight into a building complex on the left. In reading local web sites and blogs in the past week or two it is remarkable but also worrying how many Barn Owls are being seen during daylight hours. Good that there seem to be numbers around but not good that they are all obviously having difficulty in surviving these lean times by spending inordinate amounts of time searching for food. The birds are also exposing themselves to the extra risks posed by dodging busier daytime traffic. 

Barn Owl

I was on my way across the mosses of Pilling and Out Rawcliffe. I stopped to watch a gang of Roe Deer saunter into a small copse and simply melt into the trees and out of sight. Roe Deer are smaller than many people might imagine – look at their size in comparison with the bales of fodder. 

Roe Deer

I found a good selection birds feeding in the stubble fields of the mossland – 80 Fieldfare, 80 Linnet, 40+ Corn Bunting, 21 Yellowhammer, 20 Chaffinch, 10 Reed Bunting, 3 Song Thrush and 1 Grey Heron. Accompanying raptors were noted as 2 Buzzard and 2 Kestrel. 


As on the coast an hour or two before both Skylarks and Lapwings were in display mode with pairs of Oystercatchers noted at three or more locations. There’s snow forecast for the weekend. But come rain or shine Another Bird Blog will hopefully bring, news, views and birds. Log in again soon.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and to Run A Round Ranch.

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