Tuesday, November 29, 2016

True Grit

Luckily, and after studying the weather forecast I’d prepared well with a good breakfast, double socks and outdoor clothes warming over the kitchen radiator. Minus four (-4°) flashed the temperature gauge as I set off towards Pilling to meet Andy for 0800 at Gulf Lane where we hoped to catch more Linnets. 

We set the usual 3x single panel nets in the frosty, low vegetation and retired to the car for a coffee or two until the birds arrived. Initially the Linnets seemed not to visit the seed heads in the field of set-aside but to instead spend time perching along the roadside barbed wire fence that faced into the slowly rising sun. 

A good number of them also spent time in the roadway taking grit from the surface until approaching cars forced them to fly off. Grit is eaten a lot by seed eating birds. The grit accumulates in the gizzard and helps to break down any tough seeds by abrasive action to make the seed more easily digested. Remember, birds have no teeth with which to munch their morning muesli. 


The Linnets were well up to recent numbers by way of an estimate of 250+ individuals sticking to two or three distinct flocks that split and then re-joined after being disturbed by passing vehicles, or often, an unknown cause. There was a Kestrel sat atop a distant tree that kept watch on proceedings and in the course of a few hours made two unsuccessful passes to grab a Linnet, a distraction that probably helped the flock to become increasingly jumpy and nervous of feeding. Or perhaps the Linnets were waiting for the overnight frost to clear a little before they began their breakfasting? 


Frosted Linnet field

We didn’t catch well with just eight new Linnets, although that increased our project catch to over 130 so far this autumn/winter. As the winter deepens it could be that the Linnets all depart, and even though there is plenty of natural food left for them to go at, the plants are now at virtual ground level which makes it more difficult to intercept them in flight. 

Do we carry on with minimal but perhaps catches of less than ten birds each time? It’s up for discussion but on balance we probably should continue as lowland wintertime Linnets are not caught in any great numbers in the UK, and certainly not in this part of northwest England. 



Any data we collect will add to that already in existence and hopefully give a little more insight into the origins, movements and composition of both individual Linnets and Linnet flocks. Other birds seen at the set-aside, but more correctly in the attached drainage ditch today – 1 Little Egret, 6 Snipe and 1 Teal. 

Little Egret

Back soon with more birds on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to  Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Berry Time

The morning started with a double first of the winter – a squirt of de-icer on the windscreen followed by switching on the heated screen and bum warmer. I’m all for gadgets that do away with scrapers and icy fingers, not to mention enjoying the luxury of a cosy backside while birding. 

The heater was on full blast as I drove slowly east over Stalmine Moss and towards Cockerham. On the outskirts of Pilling village I watched a Barn Owl hunt over the whitened fields. “Rather it than me” I thought as I watched it glide along the icy gullies and then slowly vanish into the distance of the next farm. 

Barn Owl

I stopped at Gulf Lane to check on the Linnet flock and found 200+ comprised of three or more highly mobile groups still finding food in the single field of set-aside. A bird ringer in Scotland contacted me to ask about the composition of the seed mix as he too is interested in a Linnet catching project. Richard the farmer tells me it is a standard wild bird composite from Oliver Seeds but with added wildflower mix. Whatever it is, it certainly works by keeping the Linnets coming back for more and where good numbers of them have found food for the last three months. 


At Sand Villa and Braides Farm my combined counts gave approximates of 350 Lapwing, 250 Golden Plover and 120 Curlew, but also 8 Whooper Swan, 4 Teal and 1 fence hopping Buzzard. 

At Conder Green counts from the pool and the creeks approximated wildfowl to 240 Teal, 130 Mallard, 22 Wigeon and 8 Little Grebe. Otherwise, 3 Little Egret, 18 Redshank, 6 Curlew, 1 Spotted Redshank. 

I hoped for a few Goldeneye at Glasson where a frost or two often makes the diving ducks vacate the estuary for the increased temperatures of the yacht basin. But not today, although the numbers of Tufted Duck look to be on the increase with 34, plus a single Great Crested Grebe. 

A drive around Moss Lane and Jeremy Lane proved useful when I located a flock of about 250 mainly Fieldfares with but a handful of Redwings. It was exactly a week ago when a drive around the same fields produced much the same result except that I don’t think these were the same birds today, just new arrivals finding the same food source of hawthorn berries. 

The Fieldfares proved difficult to pin down to any particular stretch of berries when at one point more than hundred flew en-masse towards the main road and in the direction of Thurnham Hall. That still left a hundred and more in the original spot but where cars speed past to constantly stop the birds’ attempts to feed. 

Our winter thrushes are intensely shy, little wonder when on their winter journeys they are subjected to intense hunting should they reach France and Spain. Once again I sat motionless in the car hoping to picture them in the hawthorns. A little success. A few pictures of both birds and berries. 

Song Thrush




There are more birds soon by logging in to Another Bird Blog. Don’t forget. 

Now go back and “click the pics” for a feast of hawthorn berries.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More Repeats

The weather is much like the TV channels at the moment with no originality, lots of repeats and nothing much to enthuse over. Day after day of wind and rain here in northwest England has seen me sitting in front of the PC most days while wondering where the next blog post will come from. 

More of the same beckoned until late on Tuesday night, but then on Wednesday morning the rain finally stopped, the wind dropped and the sun almost shone. 

Pilling to Cockerham road

I met up with Andy and Dave at Pilling for another crack at the Linnets. Despite the recent rains I’d kept an eye on the Linnet flock with a couple of visits showing that contrary to my fears of a week ago, the Linnets had not entirely deserted this particular food source. Visits between 12th and 21st November gave counts varying from as low as 40 birds or as high as 230, so there was everything to play for this morning. 



We donned wellies to enter the field of set-aside and splashed along the previously dry path to where the crop had now lost most of its autumn height. Linnets were around in some numbers and confirmed recent counts of 200+ but we managed to catch just eight as they proved very adept at feeding around our nets without going in. 

Adult Linnet tail



Being a bird ringer quickly teaches you that birds are cleverer than we humans think. I’d swear those Linnets were trying their very best to avoid us this morning. 


We’ll leave it a week or more before we go back and try again. Log in soon to see more from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Theresa's Last Day and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Fieldfare Find

The weather is pretty dire again with strong westerlies combined with frequent heavy showers of rain and hail, or snow on higher ground. There’s little point in going out birding and no chance of ringing today, but instead news and pictures of Fieldfares. 


We’re having a good run of information from our ringing efforts at Oakenclough on the edge of the Pennine Hills and the Bowland Forest. Since starting this project a couple years ago Andy and I have where possible focused on catching species and bird families that are migratory rather than resident. 

We have been targeting finches and thrushes in particular, a strategy which has paid off with some very interesting recoveries of Goldfinch, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. There was an unexpected but fascinating Goldcrest caught too, one that seemed to be heading for a winter in France. 

The latest communiqué from the BTO involves a first year Fieldfare ring number LC51848 caught on the morning of 31st October 2015. We caught just four Fieldfares that morning but LC51848 was later recaptured by another ringer - on 31st October 2016, exactly 12 months later, this time in Gwynedd, North Wales. 

Fieldfare - Oakenclough to Gwynedd, Wales


On initial inspection the detail of elapsed time and distance travelled may not seem too fascinating but the Fieldfare’s probable lifestyle in the intervening period makes for interesting thoughts and speculation. 

The Fieldfares that arrive in the UK in October and November originate from Scandinavia and are migrants whose departure date is dependent upon the timing and abundance of the northern berry crop. As a highly gregarious species whole flocks fly off south and west on a broad front during October/November and within a day or two the same birds arrive across Britain in sometimes huge numbers. They then begin a roaming lifestyle in search of wild fruit crops. They visit hedgerows until the berry crop is exhausted after which they feed upon invertebrates taken from open fields or visit orchards to feed on fallen fruit, especially during cold and icy spells.


Some wintering Fieldfares travel as far as northwest France and northwest Iberia where they come under pressure from hunters who can take a heavy toll on thrush species as a whole. 


The wintering population of Fieldfares in Britain is thought to number about a million individuals. During March and April Fieldfares begin their journey back north but this time with a greater urgency. They continue their gregarious lifestyle and upon arrival in their breeding grounds where they occasionally nest in colonies of 40-50 pairs. In certain situations and free from hunting and disturbance Fieldfares have taken to nesting in town parks, orchards and gardens, as well as tree-lined streets, especially in Norway. 


So after spending its first winter in Britain our Fieldfare LC51848 found its way back to Sweden or Norway during 2016 where hopefully it bred and raised a whole new family. In mild winters some Fieldfares are able to stay in Scandinavia and dispense with the need to leave the northern cold.

But in the autumn of  2016 our Fieldfare chose to migrate south and west again on very much the same trajectory as it did in 2015. Luckily another ringer was around to provide us with yet more data on Fieldfares.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Linnet Result

What a great outcome from Linnet ring number Z722984. It was aged and sexed as a first year male and caught at our set-aside plot near Pilling on 24th October 2016. Even better news was the fact that Z722984 was ringed as a nestling, one of a brood of six, but many miles from Pilling. 


We found out via the BTO that the young Linnet was ringed by members of Shetland Ringing Group at Scousburgh, Shetland 674 kms from Pilling on 14th June 2016. Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands, is a subarctic archipelago that lies about 150 miles northeast of Great Britain and approximately 200 miles west of Norway. 

Linnet, Shetland to Pilling

The BTO Breeding Atlas for 1989-1991 suggests that Linnets do not breed in Shetland, a landscape where Linnets are often replaced by the closely related Twite, a species known colloquially as the “mountain linnet.” However from the 1990s the Linnet made a small comeback on Shetland with the BTO Bird Atlas for 2007-2011 showing extra dots on the map where Linnets now breed on the mainland but where overall they are still hugely outnumbered by Twite. 


Ringing birds in the nest provides information not generally obtained from ringing fully grown birds. Many ringers participate in the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) to provide data on nesting success and the ringing of nestlings. The data gathered shows trends on both nesting success and breeding failure when a nest fails at egg or fledging stage and the reason, e.g. predation, desertion, weather, etc. 

Where a nest is successful ringing chicks in the nest goes on to provide a life history through the exact age of the bird, the place of birth and the number of siblings. Any subsequent recovery of ringed nestling, as in the case of Z722984 gives an ever more complete picture of an individual’s life. And of course Linnet Z722984 remains in circulation to potentially provide another piece in the jigsaw. 

Linnet nest- via Wiki

The most recent summary of BTO ringing totals for UK and Ireland in 2015 show that of 8,722 Linnets ringed during that year, just 556 were nestlings. This equates to approximately 100 nests only. 

We will continue our visits with aim of collecting more information as current data from BTO ringing of Linnets mainly reflect lowland English populations between April and October. Populations in Ireland, Wales, south west and north west England, and south west Scotland are underrepresented with 14% only ringed as nestlings and just 11% ringed during the winter months. 


The weather this week has been poor for both ringing and birding with a couple of visits to the set aside suggesting that our Linnet flock is much reduced. A couple of counts have seen as few as a dozen Linnets or up to forty five in attendance, and nowhere near the 200/300 of October. As a partial migrant it could be that many Linnets present in recent weeks have moved on, but a spell of cold weather might bring an influx of birds from elsewhere.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Right Decision

At last a morning without wind and rain so I decided to try my luck not far away. A bright, frosty start saw me head east and over Stalmine Moss towards Pilling. 

Pilling Moss

In the half-light I saw a Sparrowhawk glide slowly along the road ahead of me two before it turned a sharp right through farm buildings. Near the next farm two Buzzards flew from roadside telegraph poles and then landed on different ones further along. Leaning out of the car window and at ISO3200 there was no way a photo would turn out well. 


Luckily the camera was still on the passenger seat as I rounded the next corner where a Barn Owl had interrupted its hunting for a look around. I grabbed a few pictures before the owl continued on its path across the fields and then out of sight. Again the picture is at ISO3200 and far from ideal. 

Barn Owl

I stopped at Gulf Lane where I found just 25 or so Linnets on the set-aside. It’s a count well down on recent ones and it could be that the hundreds of Linnets of recent weeks have moved on. Andy is back from Spain today to be greeted by the news of reduced numbers plus a not so good weather forecast of rain and wind to frustrate our plans to catch more Linnets. 

At Sand Villa and Braides Farm I combined counts to give approximates of 800 Lapwing, 700 Golden Plover and 170 Curlew but 12 Whooper Swan, 4 Teal, 2 Buzzard and 1 Merlin were accurate enough. I make it 34 Golden Plover in the picture below but it is very difficult counting a fast flying flock twenty or thirty times that size, especially when they finish off by landing in a distant rough grass field where they mix with several hundred Lapwings. 

 Golden Plover

The tide was in at Conder Green but it didn’t matter too much as bird numbers there are much reduced now that autumn is gone. Highlight was a good count of 190 + Teal in perhaps one of the best local areas to study our smallest UK duck. Otherwise - 22 Redshank, 15 Snipe, 10 Little Grebe, 4 Goosander, 2 Shelduck and 2 Little Egret. 

Alongside the farm buildings the warm sunshine encouraged a few Starlings into winter warbling as half a dozen Goldfinch fed on seed heads and the usual Pied Wagtail searched the tideline. 


A mooch around Moss Lane and Jeremy Lane revealed a mixed flock of circa 100 Fieldfare and 30 Redwing plus several Blackbirds which may or may not be migrants. As might be expected, the thrushes were concentrated in roadside hawthorn bushes, from where they scattered far and wide as cars rushed past but soon returned to gorge on the bright red berries. I found a little spot to wait for them to return but couldn’t get a Redwing to pose, especially as their number was quite low. 



It’s not looking good for weekend birding or ringing. But you know what? Weather forecasters are just like pollsters and very often get their predictions totally wrong. 

In that case, log in soon for more news and views from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday, Anni's birding and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Remember, Remember. The Fifth Of November.

After an uncommonly warm October the weather is back with a November vengeance. The cold northerly wind dictated no ringing at exposed sites so I opted for a spot of early birding over Pilling and Cockerham way. 

The moss road was quiet in the half-light where the Barn Owls of late summer are but a distant memory. I’ve not seen a Barn Owl for a number of weeks except for a single one flying over my headlights during a pitch black journey towards the hills and an early morning ringing session at Oakenclough. 

Viewing Rawcliffe Moss from the roadside I discovered where the Whooper Swans fly to in the morning from their roost on Pilling Sands. I counted 200 or more partly hidden by a fence with mainly their heads poking above the margins of marshy hollow. A couple of farming types had crossed the field on heavy machinery and caused the swans to break off from their feeding to look around for an escape route. Some swans flew off to east and above my head but mostly they stayed put when the vehicles approached no further. 

Whooper Swans

At Braides Farm I just scratched the surface of birds on the small flood and the rough grass fields with minima of 250 Golden Plover, 200 Lapwing, 60 Curlew, 40 Wigeon, 4 Black-tailed Godwit and 6 Redshank. I‘ve had two recent and reliable reports of a Hen Harrier in this area but seeing it for myself is proving difficult and potentially very time consuming. This really is a problematic spot to view via the distant gateway but clearly much safer than stopping on the fast and twisting road where another fatal accident took place just weeks ago when a car drove into the rear of a large farm vehicle. 

Hen Harrier courtesy of USFWS

An hour at the pool and creeks of Conder Green produced a selection of wildfowl but not so many passerines; 139 Teal, 26 Wigeon, 10 Little Grebe, 4 Goosander, 1 Shelduck, 1 Pied Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 4 Goldfinch. Waders: 28 Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 10 Snipe, 1 Black-tailed Godwit and 34 Curlew. 

A lot of the Curlews that inhabit our fields and shores at the moment are immigrants from other parts of Europe, spending the winter in temperate Britain to escape the extreme cold of the far north and east. In turn many of our UK Curlews fly south and west to Ireland or the coasts of France and Spain and return here in the spring. 


Curlew distribution

Curlews use their extraordinary long bills to the full by feeding deep into mud or very soft ground, searching for worms and other invertebrates. They also take crabs and similar items in shore and estuary environments. 
That’s all for now folks. It’s Bonfire Night and I need to go and light my sparklers. Either that or blow up the Houses of Parliament. See you soon.

Linking today to Anni's Birding.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Set-Aside Again

The weather has been kind to our recent ringing plans by way of minimal winds and little in the way of rain. It was the same this morning with a forecast of clear skies overnight followed by a light frost and virtually no wind. Andy and I met next to the set-aside plot at Cockerham where Linnets home in each morning to what seems to be a mix well suited to their needs. The forecast proved spot on with a dusting of frost on the crop together with a pretty cold start in the half-light of dawn. 

We caught Linnets steadily to the accompaniment of geese calling overhead interspersed with the occasional gunshot. We saw two pinkies drop from the sky this morning. The shooting group along this stretch of Pilling and Cockerham Marsh is Morecambe Bay Wildfowlers. They have a membership of approximately 150 participants whose limit each is shooting on three days a week throughout the winter season. Apparently the club has a waiting list of potential members who might wait four or five years to be accepted, such is the demand for places caused by the vast concentrations of numbers of wildfowl quarry in the winter months. 

A typical mid-winter count of the most common wildfowl along this single stretch of coast and dependent on the weather and other factors might be: 8/10,000 Pink-footed Goose, 2,000 Shelduck, 5,000 Wigeon, 1800 Teal, 300 Mallard and 200 Pintail. No wonder the shooters love the place as much as the birders. 



Once again this morning Pink-footed Geese flew off the marsh in almost continuous skeins for at least four hours and a guesstimate of 20,000/30,000 individuals. Many pinkies still arrive from Iceland and the recent mild weather seems to be delaying their onward migration to both Norfolk and south Lancashire. 

We heard lots of distant Whooper Swans but less than twenty flew above us with most heading off towards Fluke Hall where more than a hundred have been noted in recent days. As the morning warmed up a good number of waders appeared to feed on the fields nearest the sea wall. We approximated counts of 1000+ Lapwings, 700 Golden Plover, 100 + Curlew and 20+ Redshank. 

In the picture below Andy checks the nets in the set-aside crop for Linnets. In the background the bund of the sea wall is visible together with the distant Lakeland fells on the far side of Morecambe Bay and the tall white buildings of Heysham Nuclear Power Station some 15 miles away as the crow flies. Click the pic for a view across Morecambe Bay.

Ringing in the set-aside

We had a pretty good catch of Linnets with another 25 to add to our autumn total plus a new bird for the site in the form of 2 Wrens. In all we saw about 200 Linnets in our stay but we have yet to recapture one out of the 100+ caught in the last 3 weeks. This of course suggests a high turnover of mainly different birds birds rather than the same birds returning each day.

Linnet Ringing Station



Andy seems to have timed his six days in Spain to coincide with a change of weather here in Lancashire as a low pressure system brings winds and more changeable weather. We’ll see. 

Log in soon and find out what is happening on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today with http://paying-ready-attention-gallery.blogspot.co.uk/.

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