Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Post-Christmas Post

The blog’s been in sleep mode for a week or more to take in the holiday period. A good time was had by all but there’s only so much food and drink one person can consume before the urge to go birding takes over.  And it was time to find news for a new post. 

I set off over the moss roads towards Pilling where I watched an early morning Buzzard quarter a field in almost harrier fashion. A couple of times the Buzzard dropped into the long rough grass where it was totally out of sight and perhaps searching the ground for a meal. 

At Gulf Lane Linnets began to arrive as I deposited a bucket of seed into our net ride. After a while I’d counted about 90 Linnets, 11 Stock Doves and a hovering Kestrel. 


At Conder Green - 205 Teal, 95 Mallard, 1 Goosander, 44 Wigeon, 2 Goldeneye, 2 Shelduck, 21 Tufted Duck, 4 Snipe, 8 Redshank , 3 Lapwing and 1 Oystercatcher. Also - 1 Little Grebe 1 Kingfisher, 2 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. 


The light was very interesting near the coast. Unfortunately a pair of Stonechats showed in poor light and a heavy shower. Then along came the doggy walkers and goodbye Stonechats. 





Also here - 1 Kestrel, 10 Goldfinch and 15 Greenfinch. That latter count is almost as good as it gets nowadays for the once abundant Greenfinch. 

At Glasson Dock the Linnets proved as flighty as ever and numbered about 300 birds in a couple or more flocks. They alternated between feeding in the wild bird seed mix and flying energetically around and occasionally landing on the roofs of nearby buildings. While the roofs are quite moss covered and might hold insect food it is more likely that the Linnets were taking grit from the roof tiles. Grit is eaten a lot by seed eating birds. But birds have no teeth so grit accumulates in the gizzard and helps to break down the tough seeds by abrasive action thereby making the seeds more easily digested. 


The forecast is better for Thursday with a wind of less than 10mph so there’s a ringing session planned for this somewhat exposed site. 

I drove back over the moss roads where the sound of gunfire was all around as three or more congregations of shooters/farmers planned their route across endless fields. The after Christmas shoot is as much a tradition around here as the birders’ post-Christmas rush for their binoculars. 


On Stalmine Moss I found a party of a dozen Whooper Swans plus a few Mutes, together with 35 Lapwings, 2 Curlew and 2 Snipe. There was yet another Kestrel. As I watched the swans a party of 4 Roe Deer strode across the field but as they met the steep banks of the moss road, hesitated. A car went by, the driver seemingly oblivious to the animals, and up the deer leapt. They crossed the road, walked down the other bank and at a trot disappeared into the next wood. Magic Moments. 

 Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan
Whooper Swans

 Roe Deer 

Log in again on Thursday. There should be news of those Linnets.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Rained off.

That was a whole week of doing not a lot. Well I did have man flu and a chesty cough plus the weather was pretty grim for birding while at death’s door, so that’s the excuse and I’m sticking to it. 

But back home and sat at the computer with phone at the ready, birdy things bubbled away. The Ringing Group gained permission from a very supportive landowner to conduct a number of ringing projects on land at Cockerham - more of that in 2018. 

Meanwhile a phone call or two and follow-up emails to a friendly farmer and Natural England resulted in permission to catch Linnet and Twite in a field of bird seed mix at Glasson Dock. The flock there has built from 130+ birds in October to 350+ last weekend. During that period it had been almost impossible to guesstimate the number of each species other than to say that the majority were Linnet but that more than one Twite was present on more than one occasion. 



For Tuesday morning the forecast was “dry and cloudy” so Andy I met up at the field and proceeded to make a ride for a couple of nets. We caught a couple of Linnets as cloud and mizzle arrived from the south. Of the two Linnets we caught one proved to be a rather large male of wing length 86mm, and rather dark appearance suggestive of Scottish origin. 


By 10am we had to call it a day as the drizzly stuff turned to more solid rain. We had seen 250+ Linnets, a Sparrowhawk, several Blackbirds and a couple Song Thrush so hope to return and try again soon.

Here's wishing all of my readers and followers a Happy Christmas and A Prosperous New Year. 

Linking this post to Eileen's Blog and World Bird Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

No Snow, More Linnets

While the UK crashes to a halt after a few inches of snow, here in coastal and balmy Lancashire we escaped the white powdery stuff and made do with just a few frosty nights and days. It was the same this morning with a -3°C start but dry and wind-free for our ringing session in the wild bird seed mix at Cockerham. 

Andy and I were joined today by Seumus. After the ringing session all three of us were due to visit a farmland and woodland site in Cockerham where the owners had asked if we were interested in carrying out a bird ringing programme. 

The minus temperatures and frozen ground of this week may have already caused some Linnets to move off in search of ice-free feeding spots because our maximum spot count today was of less than a hundred Linnets. This compares with recent counts of 330 on 2 December and 140 on 10 December. Out of today’s comparatively poor numbers we still managed to catch 13 and so increased our 2017 autumn/winter total of Linnets captured here to 213. 

Today’s thirteen new Linnets comprised 3 adults (2 female and 1 male) and 10 first winters (8 male and 2 female). 



Other birds seen while ringing included 40+ Whooper Swan, 18 Snipe, 2 Little Egret, 8 Black-tailed Godwit and an unlikely Song Thrush sat momentarily on the fence where the Linnets congregate. 

Later when surveying our potential new ringing site we saw lots of Snipe with an almost a constant stream of groups of Snipe numbering 2-10 flying off the frozen fields or the ice bound ditches. Also, Reed Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and a Kestrel. 



Looks like we are back to more normal weather tomorrow via 30mph westerlies, and no snow thank goodness.

Friday, December 8, 2017


Sorry, there’s no local news today.  Instead a couple of snippets for those interested in protecting birds of prey followed by a cautionary tale about a twitch that never was. 

Raptor Persecution 

Positive news from Scotland on protection of birds of prey as the Scottish National Party (SNP) very recently adopted the policy of supporting the licensing of shooting estates. 

On Saturday 2nd December at the National Council in Perth, SNP activists voted in support of a resolution calling for the licensing of shooting estates to be introduced in Scotland. This made it party policy to support licensing for driven grouse estates and adds weight to the campaign for the licensing of all shooting estates in Scotland. The Scottish Government recently set up an expert group to consider issues around grouse moors, including licensing. 

This follows increasing evidence that self-regulation by the gamebird shooting industry has failed. There have been frequent incidents of illegal killing of protected birds of prey, culls of Mountain Hares and repeated damage to vulnerable peatland habitats through increasingly intensive management of some areas of moorland aimed at producing ever-larger grouse ‘bags’ for shooters. 

Red Grouse- Another Bird Blog

Mountain Hare - Lepus timidus

SNP’s National Council member Jennifer Dunn said: “I’m delighted that fellow delegates voted in favour of shooting estate licensing. Raptor persecution is a huge issue that many people care deeply about. Although the conference floor cannot dictate policy to the Government, I’m hopeful that ministers will listen to party activists and introduce tough new policies to combat wildlife crime.” 

The full text of the motion reads: “Council notes with concern that wildlife crime, particularly raptor persecution, continues to damage Scotland’s reputation, natural heritage and tourism industry. Council further notes that a recent report by Scottish Natural Heritage found that a third of satellite-tagged Golden Eagles disappeared in suspicious circumstances in and around grouse moors.” 

A Shot Golden Eagle - Courtesy of Raptor Persecution Scotland 

Although there is still a long way to go conservationists in England and Wales will watch closely the developments to see if the Scottish Parliament adopts this recommendation into law. Such a move would hopefully pave the way for similar legislation south of the border where raptor persecution is endemic.


Fake Birds? 

“1st May 1968 - The bird was easily found, in the exact spot that Mr Tarry had described. It was quite approachable. This was the first record of this mainly sedentary African and Middle Eastern species for Britain and Ireland. This large 17–18 cm long wheatear breeds in stony deserts from the Sahara and Arabia across to Iraq where it is largely resident.” 

Little wonder then that there was a twitching frenzy on 1st December 2017 when the potential Second for Britain turned up in a Scunthorpe garden - a White-crowned Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucopyga.

White-crowned Black Wheatear -By Nir Ofir - CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Following online discussion and some thoughts that the exotic Scunthorpe wheatear might be an escape or even a hoax, parking areas for twitchers were organised, just in case.  Online chat came up with a few recommendations and advice for those interested in in the twitch, but one or two comments were less than enthusiastic. 

“It's at a church - please be considerate. They're not used to crowds.” 

“Hi Folks. I am the person who posted the sighting of the bird. I took the photos yesterday morning. It is not a hoax and I am getting a bit fed up of such comments especially on Twitter by some which I find unnecessarily offensive.”

"Yours for as little as a hundred pounds".

"Do not even approach the gate or the lady inside the bungalow will come out swearing and literally set her dogs loose on you. Not one of life's cheeriest souls."

Nonetheless a pack of twitchers assembled early on the Saturday morning of 2nd December for the potential tick. The bird obliged, maybe a little too well, showed to within feet and also accepted meal worms thrown by the admiring crowd. 

It wasn't long before a local came forward and admitted that the wheatear had escaped from his aviary.  Hours later, a member of the assembled crowd was able to recapture the bird by throwing his hat over it and the wheatear returned to its cage as the assembled throng went back to studying their pagers. 

Twitchers - G Bagnell

The wheatear’s erstwhile keeper showed some of his other birds. He had a male Desert Wheatear, a male Siberian Rubythroat, a male Stonechat, a male Blackcap and a male Lapland Bunting in aviaries in his garden. In the past he had bred things like Forktails and Pittas as well as many other softbill species, but being nearly 80 years old he advised that he was gradually giving up keeping birds. It was perhaps the best idea he’d had for a while since he also admitted that he had lost two White-crowned Black Wheatears in the previous few weeks. 

A few thoughts. Maybe as bird lovers we should be concerned that a White-crowned Black Wheatear was in UK captivity in the first place? Who had imported the bird and probably others? Which country did it come from and how did it get into the UK?  Perhaps we should also question the origins of many birds in captivity given the Chinese and SE Asian illegal trade in wild birds and the laxity displayed in the supposed regulated cagebird trade in parts of our beloved EU, most notably Holland and Belgium? 

Meanwhile, even a cursory look on the Internet reveals that as well as the expected parrots and lovebirds, there is a healthy UK trade in pipits, larks, finches, plovers, doves, raptors, owls, ducks and geese. I am told that Bearded Tits are a favourite bird of aviculturists and that even your garden Robin may be an impostor. 

As birders we should always question the origins of any bird we are expected to twitch and initially at least, err towards the sceptical point of view rather than accept everything at face value before we jump in the car on a global warming jaunt. After all, saving the planet from extinction will surely benefit birds as well as any bird watchers left behind? 

So good friends, take care out there in the Birding Jungle. It’s a perilous place full of traps and pitfalls designed to catch the unwary soul. Also, I am reliably informed that there are a good number of escaped and potentially dangerous cockwombles on the loose. Don’t worry unduly as they are easily identified by their habitual carrying of a small piece of digital equipment, easily neutralised by you throwing the black box over the nearest hedgerow.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

An Egret Or Two

Stumbling across rare birds, scarce birds or “good” birds is often just that, an accident; being in the right place at the right time. 

That’s what happened this morning when driving through Cockerham where a sideways glance made the car screech to a halt. There it was, a Cattle Egret feeding on the grass verge, almost under a hedgerow and not searching the ground under cattle hooves as it’s supposed to do. Mind you, and this is partially the secret of the Cattle Egrets’ success, its ability to survive and thrive in a whole set of different environments. I’ve seen Cattle Egrets in the Lanzarote desert, amongst Egyptian gardens, stalking the Plains of Africa, nesting in Menorcan conifer trees and now plodding through the wet fields of a Lancashire winter. 

At least the egret is just scarce nowadays rather than a “mega”. Not even a “tick” for many, so it might have a chance to feed and stay reasonably safe from the parade of weekend birders and their year lists. 

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret

I was around Moss Edge and counted eleven or more Little Egrets, and although a pleasant surprise I didn’t expect to see its close relative. Our Little Egrets have learned to exploit the puddled and ditched winter landscape to their advantage and they are often found on farmland as well as the shore. 

Little Egret

The fields here are very wet and further round the windy moss road were a couple of dozen Curlew, 22 Black-tailed Godwit, 18 Shelduck, 8 Redshank, 3 Whooper Swans and countless Starlings. It’s good to see numbers of Shelduck back along the coast after their summer absence. They bring a splash of real colour to the grey winter landscape. 

Further round the moss road were 15+ Tree Sparrow, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Kestrel, several Chaffinch and a somewhat unusual sighting of 2 Jays. Rather uncommon because the Jay is far from numerous in these parts and also because the two birds were in flight across the windswept moss. There is a good stretch of woodland not too far away and their likely destination. 


A quick look at look at Conder Green found the drake Goosander again, 22 Tufted Duck, 40 Wigeon and 4 Shelduck. Hidden at the back of the pool a single Little Egret and 2 Little Grebe hidden in the tidal creeks.

At Gulf Lane the Linnet flock is holding up well at 200+ birds with 6 Stock Dove in attendance until the car drew up and off they flew. The Linnets stayed around and seemed to head for our seed mix. Now all we need is a calm morning.  While our UK Woodpigeon is very common, it is actually very photogenic and no one should turn up a chance for a photo.

It was pretty breezy this morning and the sky soon turned grey. We’re told Storm Caroline and 80mph winds are headed this way. Stay tuned, there’s birding to be had on Another Bird Blog in all but the most extreme weather.

Linking today to  Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Linnet Project 200 Up

I almost turned around and went back to bed when the drizzle wet the windscreen. But then close to Pilling village the drizzle suddenly stopped and the sky looked lighter. I carried on to Cockerham and Gulf Lane where I hoped to add more Linnets to the year’s total. 

No Andy today. He’s with Sandra sunning himself in Mexico so I was alone. It’s rather a shame we have no trainees at the moment to help with the load and for them to learn more about birds through ringing. But to become a bird ringer involves a time commitment, self-discipline and a willingness to sometimes forego the attraction of twitching or having a lie-in. Ringing also demands a responsible, sometimes discreet approach towards the often private places where ringing takes place so as to safeguard the birds and to respect the wishes of the property owners who grant us permissions. 

All the young birders seem to want to do nowadays is twitch rarities or chase around the local area following Tweets or pager messages and then tick off the latest “good” bird. Some of the older birders are just as bad if not worse in seeming never to have moved on from their stamp-collecting days. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be much desire to learn about birds beyond the latest field guide or text message. 

Whinge over, back to the ringing. 

After the first hints of cold weather it was good to see over 300 Linnets today, maybe up to 350 at one point. But I didn’t catch too well with just 6 Linnets caught, 2 adults, one male and one female, plus 4 first winters - two of each sex. However those six Linnets did push our autumn total of birds ringed here to 200 Linnet, 9 Goldfinch, 1 Wren and 1 Stonechat. 

Of those 200 Linnets, just 25 have been adults, the remaining 175 first autumn/winter birds, a ratio of 1/5 in favour of first year birds. 

During the week and following recent heavy rain our catching area became both waterlogged and flattened so when Andy’s back we need to cut a new, drier ride. That will give a little more cover to our single panel nets and hopefully improve catches into the New Year. 

Linnet - winter male

Linnet - winter female

Linnet - winter tail - Adult, December

Immediately above is a good example of an adult tail, something not really visible in the field with flighty Linnets. Note the very black centres, still fresh almost rounded tips and the well demarcated fringes. At this time of year first winter tails are more pointed and also show more wear. 

A bit of a short post today but there's more soon from Lovely Lancashire.

Linking today to  World Bird Wednesday and Anni's birding.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Plovers Galore

Ask any birder their least favourite time of the year and November is bound to feature highly. 

Autumnal contact calls and mornings of migrants on the move becomes a thing of the dim but not distant past, to be replaced by thoughts of where to spend the mostly grey, murky mornings that November brings. Damnation to those dark mornings where a sprint from the starting blocks rarely beats a doggie walker to an early stroll, or where midday sun quickly becomes 2:30 pm, faded light, and a trail of bouncy finches headed to a rapidly approaching roost. 

With sunrise timed at 8:06 am it was just 0750 plus two when I set off in the usual directions. “Plus two” was the time it took to clear the windscreen of frost.  Now there’s a novelty but with the bonus of clear skies and promised sunshine. 

A single shooters’ car stood at Gulf Lane. By all accounts the shooters have enjoyed a poor season as the “pinkies” refused to cooperate with well-practiced plans. Often the geese have gained height too quickly and were out of range of the guns, or they played it cool and flew west, east or north across the bay of Morecambe. This year the geese have roosted further out in the bay and stuck to the main tidal channel that has moved north with the result that by the time the geese fly over the marsh they can be too high for the shooters. 

When I looked across the bay from Lane Ends and towards Heysham Power Station the geese were uncountable through the sheer density and distance of the flock but certainly in many tens of thousands. 

Pink-footed Geese and Heysham

Sadly, I spoke to a person who was heading out with the sole objective of shooting a Golden Plover. Like me, he’d noticed that in recent days and probably as result of poor weather and snow north of here, our area had seen a large influx of these beautiful but still unprotected plovers. To the eternal shame of Great Britain in 2017, Woodcock, Snipe and Golden Plover are waders of “legitimate quarry”. 

Golden Plover

Just like the geese the numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers today were almost uncountable in the many fields that line the coast road. From Pilling Lane Ends to River Cocker I estimated 4,000 Golden Plover and 7,000 Lapwing, many hundreds of Curlew and in the region of 7,000+ Starlings! 

Golden Plover and Lapwing

Golden Plover and Lapwing


The Linnets at Gulf Lane numbered 170+ with still a male Sparrowhawk in attendance but an unsuccessful one at least on this occasion. Not far away was a Buzzard, one of four that I saw on my travels today. The photo distance is about on the limits of tolerance for a local Buzzard and even then it stares into the way off lens. 


I tried my luck at Conder Green with the distant duck. A dartboard max of 180 Teal, 37 Wigeon, 35 Tufted Duck and 40 Mallards told me that water levels were up and waders were down to handfuls of Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew. Conder Green holds more “tufties” than the more traditional site of Glasson Dock at the moment with a quick look there showing just 12 Tufted Duck but 3 male Goosander. 

There wasn’t much luck towards Cockersands where the 500+ Whooper Swans have done a bunk. More likely is that the farmer decided the trampling of his field was getting too bad, hence the lines of tractor tracks throughout the field which betray an extravagant amount of back and forth action but nothing in the way of crops. 

Best here was a flock of 25+ Greenfinch, in recent years a number now almost unknown plus handfuls only of Tree Sparrows and Fieldfares.


The First of December already. It will soon be Christmas with only 24 days of birding left for the lucky ones.

Linking today to Eileen's Blog.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Speciation in Forty Years

There’s fascinating and exciting stuff for students of evolution and migration from Science Daily of 23rd November 2017. 

 “A study of Darwin's finches that live on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, has revealed direct genetic evidence that new species can arise in just two generations. 

The arrival 36 years ago of a strange bird to a remote island in the Galapagos archipelago has provided direct genetic evidence of a novel way in which new species arise. Researchers from Princeton University and Uppsala University in Sweden report that the newcomer belonging to one species mated with a member of another species resident on the island, giving rise to a new species that today consists of roughly 30 individuals. 

The study comes from work conducted on Darwin's finches, which live on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The remote location has enabled researchers to study the evolution of biodiversity due to natural selection. 

The direct observation of the origin of this new species occurred during field work carried out over the last four decades by B. Rosemary and Peter Grant, two scientists from Princeton, on the small island of Daphne Major. 

"The novelty of this study is that we can follow the emergence of new species in the wild," said B. Rosemary Grant, a senior research biologist, emeritus, and a senior biologist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "Through our work on Daphne Major, we were able to observe the pairing up of two birds from different species and then follow what happened to see how speciation occurred."

In 1981, a graduate student working with the Grants on Daphne Major noticed the newcomer, a male that sang an unusual song and was much larger in body and beak size than the three resident species of birds on the island.

"We didn't see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived. He was so different from the other birds that we knew he did not hatch from an egg on Daphne Major," said Peter Grant, the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, emeritus.

The researchers took a blood sample and released the bird, which later bred with a resident Medium Ground Finch of the species Geospiz fortis, initiating a new lineage. The Grants and their research team followed the new "Big Bird lineage" for six generations, taking blood samples for use in genetic analysis.

In the current study, researchers from Uppsala University analysed DNA collected from the parent birds and their offspring over the years. The investigators discovered that the original male parent was a Large Cactus Finch Geospiza conirostris from Española island, which is more than 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) to the southeast in the archipelago.

Large Cactus Finch Geospiza conirostris - Harvey Barrison from CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Medium Ground Finch Geospiz fortis - Charles J Sharp - CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The remarkable distance meant that the male finch was not able to return home to mate with a member of his own species and so chose a mate from among the three species already on Daphne Major. This reproductive isolation is considered a critical step in the development of a new species when two separate species interbreed. The offspring were also reproductively isolated because their song, which is used to attract mates, was unusual and failed to attract females from the resident species.

The offspring also differed from the resident species in beak size and shape, which is a major cue for mate choice. As a result, the offspring mated with members of their own lineage, strengthening the development of the new species.

Researchers previously assumed that the formation of a new species takes a very long time, but in the Big Bird lineage it happened in just two generations, according to observations made by the Grants in the field in combination with the genetic studies.

All 18 species of Darwin's finches derived from a single ancestral species that colonized the Galápagos about one to two million years ago. The finches have since diversified into different species, and changes in beak shape and size have allowed different species to utilize different food sources on the Galápagos. A critical requirement for speciation to occur through hybridization of two distinct species is that the new lineage must be ecologically competitive -- that is, good at competing for food and other resources with the other species -- and this has been the case for the Big Bird lineage.

"It is very striking that when we compare the size and shape of the Big Bird beaks with the beak morphologies of the other three species inhabiting Daphne Major, the Big Birds occupy their own niche in the beak morphology space," said Sangeet Lamichhaney, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the first author on the study." Thus, the combination of gene variants contributed from the two interbreeding species in combination with natural selection led to the evolution of a beak morphology that was competitive and unique."

The definition of a species has traditionally included the inability to produce fully fertile progeny from interbreeding species, as is the case for the horse and the donkey, for example. However, in recent years it has become clear that some closely related species, which normally avoid breeding with each other, do indeed produce offspring that can pass genes to subsequent generations. The authors of the study have previously reported that there has been a considerable amount of gene flow among species of Darwin's finches over the last several thousands of years.

One of the most striking aspects of this study is that hybridization between two distinct species led to the development of a new lineage that after only two generations behaved as any other species of Darwin's finches, explained Leif Andersson, a professor at Uppsala University who is also affiliated with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Texas A&M University. "A naturalist who came to Daphne Major without knowing that this lineage arose very recently would have recognized this lineage as one of the four species on the island. This clearly demonstrates the value of long-running field studies," he said.

It is likely that new lineages like the Big Birds have originated many times during the evolution of Darwin's finches, according to the authors. The majority of these lineages have gone extinct but some may have led to the evolution of contemporary species. "We have no indication about the long-term survival of the Big Bird lineage, but it has the potential to become a success, and it provides a beautiful example of one way in which speciation occurs," said Andersson. "Charles Darwin would have been excited to read this paper." 

Sangeet Lamichhaney, Fan Han, Matthew T. Webster, Leif Andersson, B. Rosemary Grant, Peter R. Grant. Rapid hybrid speciation in Darwin’s finches. Science, 2017; eaao4593 DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4593

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Down And Down

No apologies today for returning to a recurrent theme of Another Bird Blog. From a recent article in The Guardian newspaper.

The latest official figures show that birds on the UK’s farmland have seen numbers decline by almost a tenth in five years. Farmland bird populations have declined by 56% since 1970, largely due to agricultural changes including the loss of mixed farming, a switch to autumn sowing of crops, a reduction in hay meadows and the stripping out of hedgerows. 

While the majority of the decline happened during the late 1970s and 1980s as farming practices changed rapidly, there was a 9% decline between 2010 and 2015, the statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show. 

The latest figures have prompted renewed calls for an overhaul of farming as the UK leaves the EU and its system of agricultural subsidies, to support wildlife and farming. The data showed some “specialist” species, those restricted to or highly dependent on farmland habitats, have seen precipitous falls - Corn Buntings, Grey Partridge, Turtle Doves and Tree Sparrows have all suffered declines of more than 90% since 1970, though others such as Stock Doves and Goldfinches saw populations double. 

For Turtle Doves in particular, dramatic falls continue, with numbers down 71% between 2010 and 2015. 

Corn Bunting

Grey Partridge

For those of us out in the countryside on a regular basis these figures are no surprise, just a confirmation of that we know to be true. 

Elsewhere in the countryside, woodland birds have seen numbers remain relatively stable over the last five years, although they are down almost a quarter (23%) since 1970. Across all species, including farmland, woodland, wetland, waterbirds and seabirds, numbers are down around 8% on 1970 the figures show. 

The RSPB’s head of land use policy, Jenna Hegarty, said: “Birdsong from some of our most iconic species once filled the air, but for many years the soundtrack of our countryside – from the song of the Skylark to the purr of the Turtle Dove – has become quieter and quieter. 

Turtle Dove

“Today’s figures show the number of farmland birds continues to drop. The farmland bird indicator has fallen by 9% in the last five years – the worst period of decline since the late 1980s. Many farmers are doing great things, and without their efforts, today’s figures would undoubtedly be worse. But the current agriculture system doesn’t work for our farmers or our natural environment, something needs to change."

“Leaving the EU gives us a seminal opportunity to overhaul the system, and use public money to build a more sustainable future, reversing the dramatic declines in farmland wildlife and supporting resilient and thriving farm businesses into the future.” 

Hear, hear.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday

Friday, November 24, 2017

After The Deluge

We’ve had a lot of rain. On Thursday we had a month’s average rainfall in less than a day. Fifteen miles from here the River Conder burst its banks just south of Lancaster and flooded the village of Galgate. The story made the national TV news. 

When I set off birding this morning I ran into still partially flooded roads that criss-crossed acres of waterlogged fields. Three miles south of Lancaster and on the other side of the River Lune the fields surrounding Cockersands Abbey (circa 1184) were some of the worst. That’s the tiny ancient abbey in the centre of the picture with Mute Swans installed on the flood. 

Slack Lane, Cockersands

B&W of Slack Lane

 Cockersands Abbey

As might be expected the floods held lots of birds looking for food washed from the ditches, dykes and already saturated ground following historic summer rain. Too many to count and scattered far and wide were Starlings, Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Curlews, Redshanks, Mallards, and a couple of Grey Herons. 

A stop and look found 40 Meadow Pipit, 14 Goldfinch, 8 Tree Sparrow, 4 Greenfinch, 3 Chaffinch, 3 Pied Wagtail, 2 Reed Bunting and 2 Skylark. The Golden Plovers spooked at nothing and then wheeled around, twisting and turning in unison before they settled again among Lapwings, Redshanks and paddling Starlings. The morning sun lit up the plovers' pale bellies against the shower filled sky.


Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

Grey Heron

Golden Plover

The herd of Whooper Swans picked a well-drained field in which to spend their days. They are more scattered across the field but still in excess of 400 individuals and ever wary to passing cars that slow or stop for photographs. The now well-trodden field grows muddier by the day but the swans’ method of feeding leaves them looking less than white. 

Whooper Swans
After the Deluge

I called at our Linnet field, waded along the net ride and dropped seed into the nearby vegetation. With a little luck the 140+ Linnets will stay around and we’ll get a ringing session when it stops raining and our seed stops washing into the adjacent ditch. 


Back home I was greeted by a calling Nuthatch, one of the few birds in the garden just lately. 


Even the Goldfinches have mostly deserted us after weeks and weeks of cascading water.

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

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