Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Never The Same

The alarm clock buzzed at 0520. I was due to meet Andy and Bryan at 0630 for another ringing session near Oakenclough. The weather forecast of a 2mph wind with no rain proved to be accurate and we enjoyed an eventful morning of both ringing and birding. Three pairs of eyes and ears proved extremely useful during the usual lulls in ringing. 

After an initial round of Great Tits, Coal Tits, a Blue Tit and just a single Willow Warbler it seemed as if the session might be below par for this always productive site. But within an hour the species changed when visible migration began, and after five hours we had caught 51 birds of 10 species. 

While no two ringing sessions are ever the same it was finches top of the leader board again with yet more Goldfinch and Lesser Redpoll. We had handfuls of both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff together with another Tree Pipit. 

Totals - 14 Goldfinch, 8 Lesser Redpoll, 6 Willow Warbler, 5 Goldcrest, 4 Chiffchaff, 4 Chaffinch, 4 Coal Tit, 3 Great Tit, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Tree Pipit. 

Willow Warbler

Long-tailed Tit
The Ringing Office

Lesser Redpoll

Tree Pipit

Birding proved very interesting and began with our second Osprey of the week. This one followed a similar route to the one on Friday last by flying North to South alongside Harris End Fell before disappearing from view. Seven Grey Herons appeared together from the south, circled for a while before they lost height and dropped to the north and towards the fisheries near Scorton. 

Other raptors seen – 2 Sparrowhawk,1 Kestrel and 9 Buzzard. The Buzzards appeared late in the morning as a “kettle” of 7 plus 2. Three Ravens added to the action on high. 

We noted a steady stream of high-flying hirundines with Swallows to the fore. 60+ Goldfinch and 30+ Chaffinch dominated the arriving finches where Lesser Redpolls seemed less vocal than normal. We were a little surprised to catch nine redpolls when so few seemed to be around. 

An initial count of 5 or 6 Mistle Thrushes turned into a massive 29 when two parties that arrived unseen at the North West corner of the site took to the sky flying east. As the thrushes spread out we counted a flock of 22 and then a gang of 7, all heading the same way. 

It’s often in September that people mistakenly report Fieldfares arriving early in the UK, when in fact Fieldfares do not really arrive here from Scandinavia until late September/October. What those observers have actually seen is a far less common but not unknown flock of Mistle Thrushes. Just last week a local birder, Bryan Yorke saw over 80 Mistle Thrushes in the hills north of Lancaster. 

Mistle Thrush

Seems like our largest UK thrush has enjoyed a good breeding season! 

Other birds noted in the plantation – a single Nuthatch and 2 or more Bullfinch.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Visit 4

Saturday was Visit 4 to our Project Linnet 2017/2018. With darker mornings and the evenings drawing in we make a slightly later start; fifteen minutes a week is the rule until the Autumn solstice. 

I met up with Andy at Gulf Lane at 0630 and even then we waited a while for the first Linnets to arrive. Our three previous August visits realised catches of 49, 37 and 43 Linnets respectively with not a single recapture from this year or the last. Such a huge turnover of birds for one small area! 

Although we counted circa 300 birds in the air at any one time today, not all were Linnets. The Linnets had been joined through the week by a flock of some 60+ Goldfinches. The Goldfinches had found their own niche by exploiting in particular a plant that resembled a tall dandelion but which may be sow thistle. The heads of the plant are stuffed with tiny black seeds, spot on for the species' fine ppointy bill. Meanwhile the Linnets preferred to feed out of sight, on the ground and on seed dropped by the maturing plants.

Sow Thistle?

Goldfinch food
Goldfinch on Common Thistle

After a number of guesses we concluded the huge flock to be split approximately 250+ Linnet and 50+ Goldfinch, the flocks now concentrating on the abundance of natural foods and relying less on our dried rape seed from a sack. However we did catch more Linnets, plus our first Goldfinch, in total 16 Linnet and 4 Goldfinch. 

Naturally enough our catch was dominated again by juveniles/first year birds, all four Goldfinch and 12 of the 16 Linnets. All of the Goldfinches we catch at this time of the year appear to be third broods, whereas the young Linnets we catch are definitely some weeks older and most part way through their post-juvenile moult. 



Part of the UK’s Goldfinch’s success story of recent years is down to its ability to exploit a wide range of nesting and feeding opportunities in orchards, hedgerows, open cultivated land, woodland edge, and perhaps crucially in recent years, gardens and suburban tree-lined streets. 

In contrast, the less adventurous Linnet population may be held back and in decline due to its dependence on gorse, rough uncultivated land and the traditional farmland habitat of the UK. Linnets are rarely found in gardens and orchards whereas the Goldfinch is now the most common bird in many gardens, especially where food is offered. 


Other birds seen today - 1 Peregrine, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 40+ Swallow, 2 Stock Dove, 3 Little Egret, 100+ Greylag Goose. 


Back soon with more news and views. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

First Vis Mig

I’d met up with Andy at Oakenclough at 0630 for a ringing session. All started fairly quiet and uneventful but as the minutes ticked by it became clear that the morning would see the first substantial visible migration of the autumn. 

An early highlight was the Osprey that powered in over the trees from the North West about 8am and then turned as if to plunge for a trout in the reservoir. It hovered briefly but then turned again and continued on a southerly track and out of sight to leave the trout for the Cormorants and anglers. 

There were plenty of other birds heading south, mainly finches and Swallows, but also 2 Song Thrush. After five hours we had counted 95+ Goldfinch, 45+ Lesser Redpoll, 30+ Chaffinch, 4+ Siskin and 4+ Tree Pipits arriving from the north and heading either into or over our ringing site. 

Our catch of 47 birds reflected the species we’d seen plus a few warblers that linger on site and the inevitable tit species of woodland habitat. Totals - 19 Goldfinch, 14 Lesser Redpoll, 4 Blue Tit, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Tree Pipit, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Wren, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Great Tit and 1 Goldcrest. 

Every single one of the Lesser Redpolls proved to be a recent juvenile, so young in fact that we considered most to be at least second broods, possibly third. Likewise the Goldfinches caught. None of the Lesser Redpolls could be sexed and all but two of the brown-headed Goldfinches were left unsexed. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll



We missed a third Tree Pipit when one climbed out of the mist net before Andy could reach it. 

Tree Pipit

On the way home I clocked 2 Buzzard, 15 Pied Wagtails and good numbers of Swallows. At one farm I slowed to see a young Sparrowhawk try to take a Swallow in flight. The Swallow won by easily outmanoeuvring the inexperienced hawk. 

The forecast looks OK for Saturday with a wind speed of less than 10mph. If so we’re heading for Gulf Lane and a catch of more Linnets as part of Project Linnet 2017/2018.

Linking today with Eileen's Blog.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cream Top Etc.

Conder Green was quiet as quiet can be this morning. I was a little late as I waited for the rain to stop, but even so, rarely have I seen the water and the immediate area so devoid of birds. There was a solitary Lapwing on the island and the usual handfuls of Cormorant, Little Grebe and Little Egret, but no sign of the regular Kingfisher. 

A dozen or so Pied Wagtails skittered around the margins, joined briefly by two loudly calling Green Sandpipers. The sandpipers flew off towards the canal and in the direction of Glasson Marsh.

Little Egret

I followed the Green Sandpipers and stopped overlooking Glasson Marsh where I hoped to see a Marsh Harrier. There have been good numbers about in recent weeks and one of my contacts tells me that a pair bred successfully in The Fylde. That’s the River Lune on the horizon. 

Glasson Marsh

Out on the marsh I could see a couple of Little Egret and Grey Heron, 2 Ravens, a Kestrel and a gang of about 30 Swallows. I found many Lapwings in the fields adjoining Jeremy Lane with upwards of 600 where the pastures are still sopping wet after the rain of recent weeks. One field had 5 Stock Dove as well as wagtails, gulls galore and a Grey Heron. 

I was side-tracked by a large bird flying inland, a Marsh Harrier. It stayed very distant as Marsh Harriers tend to do. As strong and fast flyers they have a knack of avoiding roads and people as the two pictures long-range of the female “cream top” show. For almost an hour the harrier stayed distant or completely out of sight and I think that at some point it flew out to Cockerham Marsh. 

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier

The Marsh Harrier is typically illustrated in field guides as a sexually dimorphic species, with several age classes identifiable by differences in plumage pattern and colour. In some populations however it is known that the species can show extreme plumage variability in adult males and, to a lesser extent, in adult females. Populations may be markedly polymorphic with highly distinct patterns of coloration and almost continuous individual variation between those different morphs with few adult males resembling a typical ‘field-guide male’. Since this plumage variability is independent of age and sex, it is almost impossible to age birds solely from their plumage. This contradicts the established view and questions the claims of birders who age and sex Marsh Harriers from hundreds of yards away. 

Marsh Harriers are a still scarce, possibly declining breeder in Britain with just a few dots on the map in comparison to Europe. Their UK stronghold is East Anglia with a few pairs in NW England and others in locations withheld. 

Western Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus 

At home Goldfinches are back in the garden with a good number appearing to be recently fledged youngsters. Goldfinches have been absent for weeks now as they feed on the plentiful seeds in the countryside. I will catch and ring some very soon. Last evening a young hedgehog paid us a visit. 

As with most small mammals living around humans, vehicles pose a great threat to hedgehogs. Many are run over as they attempt to cross roadways. It is suggested that peaks in road deaths are related to the breeding season and dispersal/exploration following independence. 


From Wiki – “In 2006, McDonald's changed the design of their McFlurry containers to be more hedgehog-friendly. Previously hedgehogs would get their heads stuck in the container as they tried to lick the remaining food from inside the cup. Then being unable to get out, they would starve to death.” 

McDonald’s have a lot to answer for.  I went there once.

Linking today with Anni's Birding Blog.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Linnet Tales

Start time 0615. At last, a 4mph negligible wind and no rain. I met Andy at Pilling and we set a couple of single panel nets in time for Linnets to arrive from their overnight haunts and head for the seed plot. 

Within 15 minutes we had our first catch. We went on to a total of 43 new Linnets with zero recaptures from previous occasions. Of the 43 ringed we had 5 adult males and 38 juvenile/first years, broken down further to 20 males and 18 females. This brought our overall total to 129 Linnets ringed in August, an excellent start to Project Linnet 2017/18. 

Our maximum count of the flocks and smaller groups in attendance today was of approximately 200 Linnets at about 0930. The flock is almost entirely Linnets with just a handful of Goldfinches tagging along. 


Readers of a certain age will certainly remember a ditty featuring the Linnet and made famous by Cockney (London) music-hall in the early part of the 20th Century. “My old man said "Foller the van, and don't dilly dally on the way", the story of a couple doing a “moonlight flit” from their house in the dark of the night to avoid paying rent owed to the landlord. Anyone who knows the song will remember how the wife continues the story in the Cockney dialect -“Orf went the van wiv me 'ome packed in it, I followed on wiv me old cock linnet. 

The “old cock linnet” was the family pet – a linnet, a finch highly prized for its rich musical song a century and more ago. Around that period it has been estimated that 50% of households in Britain kept a cage bird. Linnets were the most popular of all because they were very numerous and huge numbers were taken from the wild to satisfy the whims of the time. 

Cock Linnet

Cock Linnet - August 2017

From “Every Woman's Encyclopaedia” circa 1910 -1912. 

 Every Woman's Encyclopaedia 1910-192

“There are five other members of the family of the Fringillinae which well deserve notice, as they are very suitable for pets. They are the linnet, siskin, redpoll, twite, and crossbill. 

The linnet claims the first place in popularity, and is one of the best of our British songsters. Its notes are very sweet and soft, although on this point individual birds vary, some being far better songsters than others. Old birds have a much fuller and better song than young birds, and are thus sought after by those who know of this characteristic. 

The cock linnet varies considerably at different periods of his life in the colours of his plumage, a fact which has led to the belief that there are several varieties of linnets, whilst, in reality, this variation in the colour of the plumage depends on the age of the bird. 

For instance, birds of a year old are called grey linnets, the feathers on the head and breast being edged with grey. Adult birds in the spring assume what is termed the breeding plumage, when the feathers on the head and breast become bright red, and the whole plumage brighter and more intense in colour. These birds are known as rose linnets. This red colouring quite disappears from birds in captivity. 

During the autumn and winter months the plumage of the adult birds becomes a rich brown, and they are then known as brown linnets. 

The plumage of the female bird does not vary, and is very similar to that of a young male bird. It is of a sombre colour, with less white on the wings and tail, and never possesses any crimson plumage on head and breast. 

The linnet is naturally a shy bird, but in confinement becomes quite tame and makes a very pleasing and interesting pet. In their wild state linnets become gregarious in winter, and may often be seen in the open country feeding on the seeds of wild mustard, sharlock, and other plants.” 

Stand by soon for more Linnet tales, old and new from Another Bird Blog.

Linking this post to  Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Times

Saturday was rubbish for birding so I odd-jobbed, blogged and saved my energy for Sunday. I didn’t get many photos this morning but right at the end is a video that everyone will like. 

Braides Farm was first stop this morning where a roadside Buzzard flew off as soon as the car slowed. Our resident Buzzards don’t like being looked at, even less being pictured on bird blogs. Many of our native farmers and country folk have very established opinions about birds with “hook bills” and there’s not much doubt that the local Buzzard population suffers as a result. Hence the aversion to man. 

There’s been a large influx of Continental Starlings this week with substantial flocks noticeable. So much so that at Braides/Sand Villa I counted a minimum flock of 1000+ swirling around the cow sheds and the open fields. 


Of course the large autumn and winter flocks that visit the UK do not represent the overall status of the Starling. The following paragraph from the BTO  (British Trust For Ornithology) website may surprise anyone who thinks Starlings are abundant. 

“The abundance of breeding Starlings in the UK has fallen rapidly, particularly since the early 1980s, especially in woodland, and continues to be strongly downward. The map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that decrease has been widespread across England and eastern Scotland but that some increase occurred in Northern Ireland, western Scotland and Cumbria. Recent data suggest a populations decrease in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the trends were initially upward. The species' UK conservation listing has been upgraded from amber to red as the decline has become more severe. Widespread declines in northern Europe during the 1990s outweighed increases in the south, and the European status of this species is no longer considered 'secure' (BirdLife International 2004). There has been widespread moderate decline across Europe since 1980” 

Starling abundance in England - BTO

The Kingfisher was about at Conder Green. It flew around the pool a few times and eventually landed on the sluice wall but didn’t stay more than a few seconds. 



 Other fishermen around this morning were 4 Cormorant, 2 Little Grebe and 3 Little Egret. 


The pool water is way down at the moment and it appears that the level is being managed via the sluice for some reason, perhaps to encourage wading birds. If so, it hasn’t worked just yet with my counts remarkably similar to recent ones - 140 Lapwing, 14 Curlew, 32 Redshanks, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Snipe and 1 Common Sandpiper.  Pied Wagtails seem to like the margins with a count of 18 today. 

The female Tufted Duck still has four youngsters. At one point I watched her angrily chase off a Cormorant that came too close to the island where the youngsters were hiding up. I noted a few passerines today in the shape and sound of 10 Goldfinch, 8 Linnet, 4 Reed Bunting and 1 Willow Warbler. 

A “quickie” at Bank End revealed a flight of 19 Black-tailed Godwit dropping into the wet fields, an overhead Jay, plus a Grey Heron and 20+ Sand Martin on the quarry pool. On the marsh and living up to its name, a Marsh Harrier and lots of Pied Wagtails.

Black-tailed Godwits

I stopped off at Gulf Lane and the 120 strong Linnet flock. More than 50 fed quietly in our net ride until I walked in to leave more seed for them. There’s lots of natural seed now but the Linnets obviously like the rape seed too. Looking ahead, Tuesday and/or Wednesday may be OK for a ringing session on the tail end of Hurricane Gert.

On the way home I stopped off to see another Marsh Harrier, 2 Kestrels and a single Buzzard, this time over farmland.

Meanwhile as a change from gulls that steal ice creams, here’s a video of a town in Alaska with Bald Eagles that like to play Bingo. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday 17th August

The forecast was OK for later in the day but no good for early birders like me. Rain spotted the windscreen as I stopped off at Lane Ends, Pilling, hoping for another look at the Marsh Harrier that us three ringers saw on Tuesday, possibly the same harrier one that’s been around for a week or two. 

Lots of local farmers have all seen the mystery bird but can’t put a name to the thing that’s “not a Buzzard and much bigger”. Our local farmers aren’t too good at bird ID but they are red hot at counting sheep & cattle or making a bob or two. 

Anyway I didn’t see a harrier but I did see and hear more than 25 Little Egrets leaving the island roost and 70 or more Greylags coming off the marsh and flying south. A couple of Willow Warblers tuned up ready for the day ahead, not singing but contact calling. 

I called next at Gulf Lane where I stayed for a while to count the Linnet flock. Three days ago they numbered about 50, but today there was an increase with 140+ Linnets, 8/10 Goldfinch and 4 Tree Sparrows. What a shame that once again there was sufficient breeze to put paid to any hopes of a ringing session. The Linnets are really homing in on the natural food now but it’s hard to see what they eat when they drop deep into the cover and feed either very low or actually on the ground. Linnets eat a whole variety of mainly “milky” seeds, too many to list, but many from the cabbage family. The list of their food items takes up almost a full column of The Birds of The Western Palearctic.


The local Kestrel was about. It sits atop a roof or a roadside post from where it keeps an eye on the field and the feeding Linnets. Although Kestrels eat mainly mammals they are very opportunist and on a couple of occasions last year we encouraged a Kestrel to spend less time watching our ringing of Linnets. 


I made my way to Conder Green where Sand Martins and Swallows fed over the pool and along the hedgerows. I counted 50+ Sand Martins and 10+ Swallows. The Kingfisher put in another fly-by appearance as it headed off towards the road bridge and the quiet upstream of the River Conder. The tide ran into the creek and brought 4 Goosander, 4 Teal and 5 Little Egret alongside the road. Goosanders are such handsome birds but as a species targeted by anglers, they are very wary of anyone pointing a lens in their direction. 


There’s not much variety in the waders for now with 30 Redshank, 3 Oystercatcher, 2 Curlew and 1 Common Sandpiper. A good count of Lapwing though as more than 200 put on the occasional flying display as they spooked from their island retreat. A Sparrowhawk spooked the Lapwings once but of the other half a dozen “dreads” I saw nothing to cause the panic. An overhead Raven seemed to have no effect on the Lapwings but then a Raven is probably a threat to Lapwing chicks only and not to adults. 


A female Tufted Duck still has four youngsters in tow while Little Grebes were back down to two. Otherwise small birds were few and far between except for a flock of 40 Linnets, 6 Goldfinch, 2 Pied Wagtail and 1 Willow Warbler in quiet sub-song. 

Stop Hare Coursing

That’s it for now. Back tomorrow hopefully.  

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yes or No. Touch and Go.

Text messages flew back and forth at 5am this morning. There’d been rain most of the night with a forecast that was a little “iffy”, especially so for a site on the edge of the Bowland fells. There seemed just a small window of opportunity for a ringing session. 

“Let’s go for it” was the final message, so I met up with Andy at 0615 at Oakenclough. The morning remained grey with the camera set at ISO1600 but in between an odd light shower or two we managed a respectable 33 birds. 

Our total included one or two warblers and our second Tree Pipit of the week. 34 birds - 11 Goldfinch, 7 Goldcrest, 6 Coal Tit, 3 Robin, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Tree Pipit. 

Tree Pipit

Goldfinches were around in some numbers today. As noted earlier in the week, there are Goldfinch flocks beginning to appear in a number of localities. 



One of our two new Willow Warblers was a tiny individual. The juvenile female had a wing length of 60mm and a weight of 7gms, much on the lower limits of Willow Warbler size and more equivalent to the biometrics of a Chiffchaff. 

Willow Warbler

At 1030 we packed in when a strengthening wind brought a heavy shower. 

Other birds noted this morning – 1 Jay, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 10 Swallow, 30+ Goldfinch. 

Finally, and having the delight of seeing magnificent Marsh Harriers in action this week I was appalled to see the video below. There truly are some disgusting individuals at large in the British countryside.

Please watch it and if you feel as aggrieved as I do, write to your Member of Parliament about what is happening to raptors in upland Britain.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday. Take a look.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday’s Plan

They do say the British weather is unpredictable. Well not this year because there’s a definite pattern emerging in this the worst one for many a year. There’s a day of dry, then the next day of rain, and then a mixed up day when there’s sun for half of the daylight hours and rain during the remainder. Mostly it has been breezy or windy come rain or shine. 

So in a strange way, it is possible to plan birding, ringing and a spot of photography by looking out for the good days, ignoring the rest and planning accordingly. Luckily Sunday’s forecast of wall-to-wall sunshine looked to be one of the better days so I set off early with camera and bins at the ready. 

The regular as clockwork Kingfisher opened the account at Conder Green. The bird wasn’t for hanging around though and after it quickly flew off I soon saw it again going in the opposite direction. This time it carried a small item of prey. Kingfishers can have more than one brood of chicks. 

I turned my attention to the water where 10 Little Grebe ducked and dived for the same thing the Kingfisher wanted. Four Cormorant were after bigger stuff to eat but they quickly come and go from the estuary 100 yards away where they find the bigger prey. The grebe count should double before the year is out on this a very regular winter gathering place. Meanwhile a Tufted Duck still chaperones 4 growing youngsters - quite an improvement on recent years of zero success. 


 Little Grebe
I saw my first Snipe of the autumn with 2 in the creeks and a single on the island. Redshank numbers are on the increase with 65 today, a single Greenshank, a couple of Curlews and 4 Common Sandpiper. Most of the Curlews and Lapwings are on the estuary and inland fields, exampled by a later count of 270 Lapwings in a single field on Pilling moss. 

Apart from the above the pool and margins are very quiet with 4 Little Egret, 6 Pied Wagtail and 3 Stock Dove to add to the above. I found a good flock of circa 50 Goldfinch along the hedgerow where a couple of Whitethroat can still be heard churring. I did a circuit of Jeremy Lane to get a male Sparrowhawk, a few Swallows, a good flock of juv Starlings, a very tatty Kestrel and a very obliging Wheatear.  Don't forget to "click the pic".

Don’t you just love ‘em when they perform so well? 







Juvenile Starlings are comical this time of year in their mix of adult and baby feathers. They behave in a rather strange way as if they are partly lost, looking around for where to go and what to do without a guiding adult. Then all of a sudden they spook for no reason and off they go in a blur of noise. 


I stopped off at the moss where for the third time this week I saw a Marsh Harrier; a little distant as usual. Also, the aforementioned 270 Lapwings, 2 Buzzard and 12 Pied Wagtail. 

So what's in store next week on Another Bird Blog?  Well Monday is baby sitting. After that it's anyones guess but I dare say there will be birding or ringing soon, so stay tuned.

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