Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Must Do Better

At the end of December the BTO encourage bird ringers to renew their ringing permit by submitting returns and confirming they are fit to continue ringing for the coming year. Fit in mind and body for now, but it gets more difficult each year, especially those 4am summer starts or scrambling up and down a quarry face to catch Sand Martins. 

So now my permit for 2018 just arrived hot from the Canon Pixma. This rather exclusive piece of paper will reside in the glove box of the car for the inevitable, often puzzled but mostly interested, occasionally irate questions from onlookers. 

Bird Ringing Permit

“Why are you trudging through that muddy field in the middle of a cold, grey January morning picking up wild birds from that funny looking net? Are you harming them? Are you catching them to eat ?” Then try explaining how the vital scientific work is also rewarding enjoyment,  see the look on their face as you show the rings, pliers, scales and other equipment, and then watch their reaction as the tiny Linnet they hadn’t spotted in your hand is released to fly away. 

Yes, each UK bird ringer must have a licence to capture and ring birds. They pay yearly for the privilege of being involved in the national ringing scheme, as well as buying their own equipment and the rings they use; unless of course they are fortunate in having sponsorship or a rich benefactor. A busy day of ringing 100 small birds costs about £25 for the “A” sized rings that passerines take. Donations readily accepted or just send a sort code. I’ll do the rest. 

A check of my personal ringing data on our Fylde Ringing Group database showed I processed 516 birds during 2017. An average of ten a week for a year is pretty pathetic by past performance of almost 25,000 birds since 1985 thanks to last year’s foul weather of summer, autumn, and early winter. But there’s a reasonable mix of species in that 516 and as it’s raining and snowing today, chance to recall a few of the highlights, guess where we went wrong and surmise how to be a ringing superstar in 2018. 

During 2017 Oakenclough near Garstang proved the most productive of sites and where ringing with pal Andy I processed 268 birds. Most encountered species was Goldfinch at 57 and Lesser Redpoll at 47 followed by 22 Redwings ringed during October and early November. 

Redwing

Redpoll

Goldfinch

In amongst the dross of tits and wrens that ringers choose to forget were singles of Sparrowhawk and Redstart; and always welcome, a couple of Tree Pipits, all worthy of bold lettering as is the custom of bird blogs in identifying the more exciting species. 

Tree Pipit

Redstart

Sparrowhawk

For the moment we have given up on Oakenclough, a very finch orientated but also weather dependent site where autumn migration hardly took place when many northern finches chose to fly over Yorkshire, Humberside and SE England on their way to the Continent rather than chance the series of storms that hit the West Coast. With luck there will be a strong movement back north in a few weeks’ time when we can return for Redpolls and maybe even Siskins. 

The weather also limited our visits to the Cockerham Sand Martin colony at the aforesaid quarry. Two visits only during the summer months resulted in my poor number of 33 Sand Martins, just half the full total shared with Andy. Normally we would hope to get in four or maybe five visits to measure breeding success but it wasn’t to be. 

Sand Martin

A few summer visits to Marton Mere realised 28 new birds including a small number of Reed Warblers and a couple of the recent colonist and now proved breeding Cetti’s Warblers. 

Cetti's Warbler

Regular readers will be familiar with, probably even bored by the blog’s continual mention of Project Linnet. Suffice to say that it is a very worthwhile project, so much so that during the year we had guest appearances from other ringers keen to get their hands on Red-listed Linnets. There was the added bonus last year of a single Stonechat to add to the Linnets and a handful of Goldfinches.

Stonechat

Of 70 birds ringed in my garden on lazy days, 51 were Goldfinches and just 3 House Sparrows. There are no prizes for guessing the most common bird in this part of Lancashire and probably the whole of the UK. How times change. 

Goldfinch

Here’s hoping for better ringing weather in 2018.

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



Thursday, January 11, 2018

It's Never Easy

There’s ringing news down the page but first some information not unconnected from the voluntary work that bird ringers undertake. 

According to a new study, if given funding and support from similar or future new schemes, British farmers have the potential to partially reverse the declines of Linnets and other farmland birds over the past 40 years - Birdguides.

“New research funded by Natural England and DEFRA used six years of survey data to track changes in the abundance of birds on farms. The study involved over 60 farms under Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements in three English regions between 2008 and 2014, and revealed that 12 of the 17 priority farmland bird species showed a positive change in abundance, going against the 56 per cent decline in the number of farmland birds nationally since 1970. 

The Farmland Bird Index, one of our most important measures of biodiversity, increased by between 31 per cent and 97 per cent in different regions under HLS during 2008-2014. The average response of 17 priority bird species to HLS management was an increase in abundance of 163 per cent; bird numbers more than doubled. Results from farmers and land managers working on HLS agri-environment schemes were compared with farms in the UK’s wider farmed landscape. 

Results show farmers have the potential to deliver large and rapid population increases in a number of struggling farmland birds such as Skylark, Starling and Linnet if they are given the funding and support to manage their land in a wildlife-friendly way. This new information comes as the UK government is considering how to invest in a better agriculture system post-EU membership that works for nature, rewards farmers and benefits everyone around the country.” 

Skylark

“UK Government Environment Minister Michael Gove said: “Our farmers are the original ‘friends of the earth’ and these results clearly demonstrate the vital role they play in protecting our wildlife and boosting biodiversity. These results show that with the right management and more targeted support for farmers, we can reverse the decline in numbers of our birds.” 

Dr Will Peach, RSPB head of research delivery section said: “The UK has experienced a massive loss of farmland wildlife since the 1970s and DEFRA’s Wild Bird Indicators published only last month shows this loss has continued during the last five years. Our latest study shows that when farmers are supported to adopt wildlife-friendly approaches, then bird life will rapidly bounce back. 

Many farmers are doing great things for wildlife, and without their efforts the countryside would undoubtedly be in a much worse position. We have the knowledge and the tools to reverse farmland bird declines. What we need now is the political will to implement them more widely.”

Starling

Meanwhile, bird ringers have an important role to play in collecting data, even though our own catches of Linnets during the latter half of wet and windy 2017 have been poor at two ringing sites, both areas of farmland under Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements. 

There was a slight frost this morning for a meet up at Gulf Lane, our first visit of 2018 to Project Linnet. We started the morning with a respectable total of 213 new Linnets from August to December 2017 and 423 new Linnets for year 2017. 

The winter has been mild with the number of frosty nights counted on one hand but I am buoyed up by the number of Linnets at ringing sites at Cockerham and Glasson Dock, anywhere between 150 and 350 throughout many visits.

Linnets
 
The problem at the moment is catching the Linnets, with today no exception. Despite a count of 160 birds this morning we managed to catch just two. There is still plenty of natural food around in the field of wild birdseed crop with the Linnets reluctant to use the food we leave as backup. But we don't give up easily so it’s back to the drawing board with our theories and proposals for next time.

 Linnet

Stay tuned, there’s more birding, ringing and pictures soon.

Linking today with Anni's Birding and Eileen's Blogspot.




Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sunday Best

After one of the few overnight frosts of the winter Sunday began with a layer of ice. I set off with a couple of tail slides and the dash showing 0°C. 

The raised road over Stalmine Moss catches any overnight ice and frost and where one false move over the roller coaster road can see a vehicle plunge into one of the roadside ditches that lie either side. There must have been a layer of ice in the ditches because three Little Egrets stood around on the roadway wondering where their open water feeding had gone. The nearby flash flood had a film of ice with now a small patch of open water with just 20 Lapwings and a single Black-headed Gull. 

Little Egret - Stalmine Moss

At the junction of Lancaster Road was another Kestrel, the third of my so far short journey and all of them sat atop roadside posts watching and waiting for movement on the whitened ground below. Later, and by midday the morning proved to be good for Kestrels with at least six observed throughout the four hours. 

Kestrel

I drove towards Cockerham and Wimarleigh where I checked out the latest ringing/birding site where the owners have given permission for both ringing group members and their vehicles to access their private land. Very soon we hope in return to give the owners lots by way of birding/ringing data together with an understanding of the bird species that use their land throughout the year. This should keep us busy, enhance the land owners’ existing environmental policies and help towards their future plans. 

There was a lively start when I heard Fieldfares close by and then through a handy gateway spotted what appeared to be a dozen or two amongst a flock of Starlings. In fact as I settled down to watch, the numbers feeding in the undulating field seemed closer to 250 Starlings, 250 Fieldfares and 15/20 Redwings. Once or twice the whole lot took to the air when both a Sparrowhawk and then a Buzzard came by. These birds may be new arrivals from the near Continent as both Redwings and Fieldfares have been rather hard to come by around here throughout December.  But with no berries left the hedgerows open fields and treetops are the best places to find the shysters with their bills now darkened by soil rather than berry juice.

Redwing

Fieldfare

Along nearby woodland edge was a large mixed flock of titmice, 50 or more strong with a large contingent of both Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tit but not so many of Great Tit and Coal Tit. It has been a mild winter where survival of this bird family has been for me at least, undocumented until now. 

Long-tailed Tit

Also along the woodland edge, 8/10 Blackbirds and a solitary but welcome Song Thrush. I checked out a marshy pond, a reedy ditch and a meagre looking but newly planted hedgerow. 30+ Mallards, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Kestrel, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Buzzard and countless Starlings were to be expected but perhaps not the single Stonechat which worked the fence line and the ditch where it seemed to find food-a-plenty. 

In the distance and closer to Winmarleigh I could see hundreds of Pink-footed Geese feeding in extensive pastures with not a road in sight. Those geese are expert at finding quiet fields in which to feed in between avoiding the morning and evening gun rush. 

I called at Gulf Lane where Linnets numbered 150+ and still feeding on the natural stuff close to the fence - unlike the 8 Stock Doves that lifted from the line of rape/millet seed I dropped two days ago. 

Linnets

Linnets
 
I waved goodbye to the ungrateful Linnets but warned them we’d be back soon - with nets.


Friday, January 5, 2018

First Of The Year

What with that stubborn cough, Christmas, New Year and some pretty dire weather that included storm Eleanor, I struggled to get out birding or ringing. 

Finally this morning and with a bright start I set out for the usual spots via the road that heads north over Stalmine moss just half-a-mile from home. After the rain of recent weeks there are a number of flash floods in the stubble fields here with a couple of handy pull-offs/passing places on what is a single track road. There on patch that’s held unpredictable numbers of wild swans, Lapwings and Snipe in recent weeks. Today saw no swans, but 45 Lapwing, 2 Snipe and 2 Ruff. 

Ruff by J.M.Garg - Wiki

The Ruff is an interesting record as mid-winter sightings in this part of Lancashire are both unpredictable and irregular and almost certainly involve birds moving westwards from continental Europe at the first signs of cold weather. Should cold weather take hold here these birds may well move south again to join the large numbers of Ruff that winter in West Africa south of the Sahara in the regions of Mali and Senegal. 

The Ruff is a common breeding species in Fennoscandia and Russia but breeds in much smaller numbers elsewhere in Europe. In England a few dozen pairs breed in eastern counties but Ruff are more commonly recorded as a spring and autumn migrant across the whole of the UK during March to May and then late July to October. 

In the late 1970s early 1980s there was a spring and early summer lek on the North River Ribble adjacent to the British Aerospace plant at Warton, Fylde, about 15 miles away where up to 20 or more Ruff, males and females could be seen resplendent in their summer finery. In some years breeding took place with handfuls of chicks noted on two or three occasions during the early 1980s. Over the years the numbers of Ruff seen there declined following expansion of the aircraft factory, development of nearby land and the subsequent disturbance and the species is no longer recorded there. 

There was Corn Bunting sub-song coming from a sparse hedgerow on the other side of the road and when I looked across a gang of five were sat on top taking the early morning sun. There were 15 or so Chaffinches too which flew into the stubble as the buntings stayed around. Both species were still there as I drove off towards Pilling. It’s a little strange that we don’t see Corn Buntings for months but as soon as the New Year arrives, so do the “corn bunts”, a yearly occurrence which suggests that they are birds from further afield and their arrival weather related. 

Corn Bunting

I had two lots of seed to drop. The first stop was Gulf Lane where the Linnets numbered 160, plus a couple of Chaffinch and a Skylark. There was a Little Egret and as I sloshed through the pathway a Snipe flew off from my feet. There’s still natural food here for the Linnets with no real evidence of them taking our already two or three bags of seed, most of which has washed into the adjacent ditch where an egret or two is ever present. 

Little Egret

High tides and Storm Eleanor have filled Conder Pool to the brim where there are plenty of ducks, but few waders. Best I could do today was 70 Mallard, 150+ Teal, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Goosander but barely handfuls of Redshank, Curlew and Snipe. 

At Glasson Dock I counted 250+ Linnets feeding in the field of bird seed mix. Just like the field at Cockerham, the farmer here is paid to plant and manage this small and otherwise out-on-a-limb field for the benefit of birds and insects. Our two Linnet projects currently hold a combined minimum of 400-500 birds which might otherwise struggle to find such a regular and consistent supply of food through the winter months.  If only the weather would allow us to catch and mark a few more!

Linnets

But it’s good to see environmental schemes having a positive impact on wintering birds. In an announcement on Thursday, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said that post-leaving the EU Britain will only pay public funds to farmers who provide public benefits such as wildlife habitats or improved soil quality. Good news following a recent string of policy announcements and well received interventions – tighter regulation on puppy farming, CCTV in slaughterhouses, a ban on microbeads and the intention to ban neonicotinoids a pesticide linked to a decline in the bee population. 

Meanwhile, on the water adjacent to the village – 36 Tufted Duck, 40 Coot, 1 Great Crested Grebe and 2 overflying Raven from the direction of the marsh. 

A circuit of Jeremy Lane/Moss Lane produced 1 Kestrel, 6 Fieldfare and 3 Mistle Thrush. Recent high tides have left a good amount of tide wrack for birds to search and doing just that at Cockersands were loads of Starlings, 15+ Meadow Pipit, 6 Goldfinch, 6 Greenfinch, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Stonechat, 1 Pied Wagtail and 1 Rock Pipit. 

Rock Pipit

Meadow Pipit

We’re promised that the weather may settle down for the weekend. Mind you, it was it was the BBC who said that, so don’t plan too much.

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



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