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.

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