Monday, December 31, 2018

Great Result

Wow. We had had a great result from the Linnet mentioned on here a day or two ago. 

As suspected, ring number AYD5167 that Andy and I caught at Gulf Lane on 24th December had been ringed in Scotland. Better still, the Linnet location on 8th September 2018 was the Scottish island of North Ronaldsay, Orkney some 605 km due north of Gulf Lane. 

Wiki - “The main purpose of the island's bird observatory, established in 1987, is to conduct long-term monitoring of bird populations and migration. North Ronaldsay is well known as one of the best birdwatching sites in the country during the spring and autumn migration periods.” 

Linnet - North Ronaldsay to Gulf Lane, Pilling/Cockerham 

North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory - Mike Pennington 

Given the location of North Ronaldsay there is a good chance that AYD5167 was passing through and that its original location and birth place in the summer months was Shetland, or even Norway. We cannot know for certain where it began the long journey south, however this latest information is now the third link between the wintering Linnets of Gulf Lane and the far North of Scotland. 

The Orkney Islands UK

My one visit to North Ronaldsay was more years ago than I care to remember, but I do recall, quote - “the quantity and variety of birds that can be seen at these times is often spectacular.” It was too and I recall catching Long-eared Owls, Yellow-browed Warblers, Waxwings, hundreds of Scandinavian Blackbirds, and a real rarity, a single Pine Bunting. 

Pine Bunting - by Jargal Lamjav

There was even a Linnet or two.


Stay tuned. Wednesday is looking good for more birding and ringing.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Linnet Recap

Andy and I met up again on Thursday morning for another crack at the Linnets. 

The Linnets didn't want to play ball and it could be that many or most of the 300 present were the same as on 24th December and would not be captured twice. So we caught just 4 Linnets but once again all four were quite big males at wing length 84, 83, 83 and 82 mm.

One in particular was very dark on the cap, the head in general and noticeably on the nape. We thought it more than likely this was a good example of the Scottish race of Linnet Linaria cannabina autochthona, and that coupled with a catch of similar examples on 24th December, recent days have seen an influx of Linnets from the far north of England and from Scotland. 

Linnet - Linaria cannabina autochthona 

 Linnet - Linaria cannabina autochthona

This is probably the last ringing session here in 2018 but we will return as soon as possible in 2019 to continue with our work. 

For the benefit of readers yet to learn of this project.

Andy Dixon and I began Project Linnet in the autumn of 2016 to investigate wintering Linnets using a site at Gulf Lane, Lancashire; here the two parishes of Pilling and Cockerham meet alongside the A588 at Wrampool Bridge. Just 100 yards across sheep pasture to the north is a 10 mile sea bund that links the town of Knott End in the West to the parish of Cockerham in the East. The bund/wall protects farmland and villages from the infamous tidal surges of the area, the southernmost extremity of Morecambe Bay Site of Special Scientific Importance (SSSI). 

Gulf Lane - Pilling/Cockerham 

The background to our mission is as follows. In the Fylde, Lancashire the Linnet’s demise over a number of years is part and parcel of the species’ national decline that has resulted in its current UK status as a fast disappearing farmland bird. This part of coastal Lancashire has not been immune to these environmental changes and as a highly agricultural area reflects the typical downward trend for the UK Linnet population. 

The Linnet is resident throughout the year in this part of Fylde, Lancashire. As a partial migrant it is here in spring, summer and autumn but numbers usually increase during October/November/December and into March/April according to the severity of winter. 

My own observations and experience from the last 40 years, more so since the Linnets gradual decline that began some 20 odd years ago, suggested that the regular winter influx of Linnets has helped to mask a substantial loss in the species’ breeding population in the wider area of the Fylde.  

A look at local sources of both digital and printed information painted a very sketchy picture of the Linnet’s status, with nothing to suggest that our winter Linnets were other than local birds choosing to spend their winter close to where they breed.  Other than random and piecemeal counts from the  area, there was little or no work, past, present or proposed to establish the species’ overall breeding and migratory status, even though the partial migratory habits of the Linnet is well documented elsewhere. 

So when a chance to investigate a wintering population of Linnets presented itself the two of us decided to use the opportunity to catch and ring this previously neglected but now priority species. Our project at least gives us a fighting chance to find out where winter Linnets originate from, and where they go to the following spring. In the process we might prove the conservation value of argri-environment schemes that provide winter feed to a number of bird species including the Red-listed Linnet. 

Our ringing site is a triangular plot of farmland, planted each year with a mix of cover crop that yields bird seed during the autumn and winter. There is no cover or hedgerow to protect the site from this often windswept part of Lancashire with the nearest habitation two small farms some 100 yards away; hence we are very dependent upon fine weather in using mist nets. Our project is a labour of love that requires both dedication and persistence in the face of the often poor weather and the uncertain nature of Linnets and their feeding habits; e.g. Thursday 27th December. 

Including Thursday we have 508 captures - 363 juvenile or first summer/autumn, (212 male, 148 female and 3 not aged), 63 second years (36 male and 27 female) and 80 adults (52 male and 28 female). 

Same site recaptures have been few and far between, a fact that tells us the daily, weekly and monthly turnover of Linnets on site is huge. From the 508 captures there are just two individuals caught on two occasions each. These two at least display a degree of loyalty to the same winter site: 

S348543 caught on 03/10/2016 and 03/12/16 
S800285 caught on 02/11/2017 and 09/03/2018. 

In contrast to the two individuals above, other records show the species’ migratory status. 

There are 2 Linnets ringed at Gulf Lane and recaptured elsewhere (Lochinver, Scotland and Barrow, Cumbria), There are 2 Linnet ringed elsewhere and recaptured at Gulf Lane - Shetlands, plus one outstanding - AYD5167.

Linnet - Linaria cannabina

More soon. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog in 2018 and 2019.

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

Monday, December 24, 2018

Mainly Men

With so much wind and rain in recent weeks there’s been little chance of getting to Gulf Lane. This is highly frustrating, even embarrassing, when a recent count realised 280+ Linnets on site compared to our miserly catch of just 30 birds for the whole of this autumn/winter. 

Monday promised better things so I met up with Andy at 0815 to a clear if cold and frosty start of Minus 2°C. We were joined today by Bryan. 

Linnets appeared soon after dawn and continued to arrive in small parties until at the peak of activity at about 10 am when we estimated 300 birds. 

Our catch was much better today with 20 Linnets. The catch included a first winter male already bearing a ring (AYD5167) but not one of our own. We hope that when details of its original ringing emerge it will prove to be another bird from Scotland, especially since its biometrics came in at 83 mm wing length and a weight of 20.3 gms. Three of the other males today had wing lengths of 86, 84, and 84 mms respectively. 

The 20 Linnets caught comprised 11 first winter males, 5 adult males, 3 first winter females and 1 adult female - so this was something of male morning. Pure chance or perhaps other factors; who’s to know? Ideas on a postcard to …… 

Below is AYD5167, a first winter male. We named him Jimmy and sent him on his way. 

Linnet AYD5167 

Today's Linnets 

The flock today appeared to be wholly Linnets apart from one or two Tree Sparrows. Otherwise we noted several thousand Pink-footed Geese leaving the nearby marsh. We saw 3 Buzzards in the vicinity of our plot but all in flight. 

I believe there’s something planned for tomorrow; someone just mentioned peeling spuds, carrots and parsnips. So that's me signing off for a few days. Hopefully back on Thursday. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Tale Of Two Fieldfares

We don’t ring too many Fieldfares but on Friday came news of a Fieldfare that Andy and I ringed up at Oakenclough, Lancashire on the morning of 1st November 2017.

“The morning followed the same pattern as the last two occasions here. There was a dawn arrival of thrushes from the south east and quickly leaving in a westerly direction that lasted in all about 40 minutes. This was followed once again by a slow morning of odds and ends of thrushes, a lack of finches and just 26 birds ringed. Totals captured: 9 Redwing, 3 Fieldfare, 4 Goldcrest, 3 Goldfinch, 3 Blue Tit, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Blackbird, 1 Chaffinch. In all we counted approximately 80 Redwings, 40 Fieldfares and 5/6 Blackbirds.” 

The first winter male Fieldfare was given ring number LC94559. We released it so it could continue its onward migration south and over the English Channel, and thence to the Southern Europe. 


Then on Friday came details of the same bird’s death 406 days later. It was found “Freshly dead - unidentified thrush within about a week of 12 December 2018 – Hunted” at Val d'Ornain, Meuse, France some 766 km from Oakenclough. 

Fieldfare - Oakenclough to Meuse, France 

So our Fieldfare probably spent its first winter in the same region of France, returned to breed in Scandinavia during the summer of 2018, and was then killed during early winter of 2018. 

“Fieldfares are hunted and trapped in large numbers over much of their continental autumn and winter range. 58% of all deaths of known cause were deliberately taken by man. The principal countries involved have been France and Italy.” BTO Migration Atlas. 

It’s a sad end for a very beautiful bird. 

Now here’s news of a different Fieldfare that flew in the wrong direction and ended up in British Columbia. 

From the The Vancouver Sun 19th December 2018. 

SALMON ARM - A wayward bird seems to have taken a fancy to Salmon Arm. 

A Fieldfare, spotted only once before in B.C., was still foraging in the company of American Robins on Tuesday, three days after being sighted in the town’s annual Christmas bird count. 

“He’s still around, which is quite remarkable,” said Roger Beardmore, who first photographed the Fieldfare. 

Fieldfare - Roger Beardmore 

“It’s good that he’s staying put, because it’s given a lot more people the chance to see him,” Beardmore said. 

The bird was viewed by dozens of people on Tuesday near the corner of Krick Road and Kernaghan Road. 

So, how rare is a Fieldfare? Between 1991 and 2015, only one Fieldfare was reported in the United States, according to eBird. 

The bird breeds in the eastern part of Russia, but migrates toward Western Europe. Speculation among birders is the Salmon Arm Fieldfare got blown off course by a big storm and found his way down the Alaska-B.C. coast. A Fieldfare was spotted in B.C. only once before, in December 2003, near Pitt Meadows. 

Beardmore and his wife Ann were participating in the Christmas bird count when they spotted a bird they didn't recognize feeding on mountain ash berries. An amateur photographer, Beardmore used a high-quality long lens to get excellent pictures of the bird, which was later confirmed to be a Fieldfare. 

 Salmon Arm, British Columbia, Canada

“Although he’s a long way from home, he seems to be in excellent health,” Beardmore said.

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

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Headline Birds

Friday. There was a frosty outlook and a cold south-easterly and I was ready for a spot of fresh air birding. 

Once again a hunting Barn Owl stole the morning headlines as it put on a short display over Stalmine Moss. Soon it was gone, back to roost in a nearby barn. The Barn Owl is well named; although in parts of the UK they nest in hollow trees, cavities or tree-mounted boxes, in this region of Lancashire they nest in newish agricultural buildings where provision has been made, or where they still exist, older type barns yet to be “modernised”. 

Barn Owl 

At Fluke Hall I was in time to see 100+ Whooper Swans land behind the sea wall fresh from their roost on the nearby marsh. Hardly had they settled when a shooter/farmer plus Border Collie arrived on a quad, unbolted the metal gate, drove across the field and scattered the swans into the red of the morning sky. The swans take some of the shooters’ bait laid to pull in wild geese, wildfowl and their released game birds but thankfully the swans are “protected”. 

My own seed drop at Gulf Lane was for a different reason and upon arrival I saw a flock of 60 or more Linnets circling the plot. I walked the icy path in trainers and scattered a full bucket of millet and rape seed, retraced my steps to the car and then watched as the Linnet flock grew. Perhaps the frosty start moved them from other sites but they certainly seemed hungry, so much so that within thirty or forty minutes the flock grew to between 220/260 birds that piled as one into the seed. There was a single Stock Dove in our net ride and also a Snipe that flew from the adjacent drainage ditch. This winter has seen very few Stock Doves in contrast to the winter of 2017/2018 when up to a dozen could be seen here most days. 

Stock Dove 

Conder Green seemed strangely quiet with a distinct lack of anything “new” and just the usual crew of ducks – Teal down to 140, Wigeon steady at 64, Mallards present, and 5 Little Grebe. Even waders were sparse in the frosty creeks and on the surrounding grassy margins - 55 Curlew, 40+ Lapwing and 25 Redshank. 



The story continued with an uneventful run up to Cockersands where lingering Fieldfares scattered from the roadside trees then leapfrogged ahead as they looked for the last of the berries. Near the caravan park and around the dilapidated barns were 4 Pied Wagtails and a single Grey Wagtail. It was noticeable how as they all fed around the yard the Pied Wagtails were the dominant species as each in turn chased the Grey Wagtail to the edges of the area. 

Grey Wagtail 

Alongside the white frosted marsh was a small flock of 8 Greenfinch, 3 Reed Buntings, a couple each of Chaffinch and Tree Sparrow. 

The Greenfinch; not too long ago this was a ubiquitous bird of farmland and garden that birders could ignore, safe in the knowledge that commonality would ensure the species' continued success. How wrong we were; the Greenfinch has become a headline bird, one to notice and to then report as something of a rarity. 


Meanwhile birds featured in other headline news. “200 Turkeys Vote For Christmas” and “A Lame Duck Flaps Into Brussels” ran just two of the comical stories. The nation laughed out loud until tears ran down our collective ruddy cheeks. 

If politicians were an endangered species we might all sleep safer in our beds.

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Natural England’s Kill List

Following on from Wednesday’s post about the wholesale Killing of Ravens here is another troubling story. This also concerns Natural England. 

Natural England is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. It is the UK Government’s adviser for the natural environment in England – “helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and for the services they provide.” 

December 7th 2018 via Jason Endfield blogger and environmental campaigner  

“Natural England recently confirmed that they issued licences to shoot at least 40 species of birds between 2015 and 2018. The list of species makes for shocking reading and includes such treasured British birds as Curlew, Skylark, Blackbird, Great Tit, Red Kite, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Kestrel, Ringed Plover, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Plover, Robin and Wren.” 

Natural England's Kill list 

The list surfaced after Jason Endfield made a request under Freedom Of Information (FOI) as part of his campaign to stop the cull of English Ravens. 

Readers will immediately identify a significant number of the species for which shooting licences have been granted are classed as endangered and feature on the Red and Amber lists for birds of conservation concern. This includes Skylark, Golden Plover, Curlew, Ringed Plover and others, all in need of the most urgent conservation. Such species repeatedly feature on Internet birding sites, newspaper articles and other outlets as a means of alerting the general public to the demise of many species of birds in the natural environment.  

“Natural England say that these are all 'individual licences' permitting the 'lethal control (shooting)' of the said birds. The list doesn't include any species listed on the CL12 'Air Safety Class' licence or General Licences GL04, GL05 and GL06, so the actual number of species targeted is likely to be much higher.” (This licence allows for the catching or killing of wild birds on or near an aerodrome for air safety purposes.) 

The news that so many of our most loved and familiar species of birds have been shot is quite appalling, potentially even more so when it appears that Natural England nor the licensees have  shown due diligence or completed the necessary checks of the supposed facts. 

The list shows that Natural England hand out licenses to people who cannot identify the birds they wish to shoot and that Natural England itself does not know even the correct names of birds they “help to protect” but allow people to shoot. 

From the FOI request above - “Fan-tailed/White Dove”. There is no such wild bird on the British List. Presumably the applicant means Collared Dove but cannot recognise one or even name it correctly?  So once in possession of a licence they could easily shoot one or more Turtle Doves? Or a raptor that flies in a similar manner to a small dove – a Merlin or a male Sparrowhawk? 

“Sparrow” - how will the applicant distinguish between House Sparrow and Tree Sparrow, not to mention Dunnocks and other small birds? Will they kill all small brown birds just to be on the safe side?

"Finch". Which species of finch does the applicant want to shoot? All of them? Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Linnet, Brambling, Bullfinch, Redpoll, Siskin?   

The lack of knowledge displayed by the use of misspelt “Black Bird”, Sky Lark”, “Oyster Catcher”, and “Widgeon” is very worrying and suggests to me that the applicants require to prove their fitness to even hold a gun licence, never mind own the added responsibility of shooting wild birds. The fact that Natural England can not identify and correct such basic errors shows a lackadaisical approach to their important role in judging applications.   

While the specific reason for each of the licences being issued above is not known, can there be any justification for shooting a Wren, Robin or a Skylark? To even the most jaundiced eye these are harmless birds and there can be little defence in allowing their slaughter.  As a nation we issue licences to kill threatened birds just because they are are in conflict with human activity. This needs to stop.  


I intend to write to my Member of Parliament about the apparent lack of checks, balances and lack of accountability displayed via Natural England’s response to Jason Endfield’s email. 

I would urge others to do the same. 

Alternatively, write to Natural England, County Hall, Spetchley Road,Worcester, WR5 2NP. Email  

Or read how to make a Freedom Of Information request at 

Good Luck.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Scotland Leads The Way

Good morning folks. There is a health warning on the below. It will make you angry. 

From Rob Sheldon - RDS Conservation 11th December 2018 Rob Sheldon - RDS Conservation 11th December 2018.

"Previous information on the subject of licensed Raven killing has shown that in England the numbers being legally killed are increasing. Ravens are being killed in Wales to protect livestock and to protect non-native pheasants released for the shooting industry. 

In summary the total number of licences issued between January 2014 and July 2018 in England and Wales are 13, with up to 107 Ravens legally killed, thanks to permissions granted by the statutory conservation agencies. 


What about Scotland? Earlier this year Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) issued a year-long research licence that permits the killing of 69 Ravens in the Strathbraan area of Highland Perthshire. This licence formed part of a proposed five-year experiment to allow the killing of 300 Ravens on the pretext of ‘seeing what happened’ to the breeding productivity of waders in the area, even though peer-reviewed scientific studies suggest Ravens are not responsible for wader population declines. The licence was quietly issued without prior consultation with other stakeholders, notably the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), whose members have been monitoring the local Raven population for over 30 years. Following a legal challenge by the SRSG, the licence was revised and the cull was suspended, although 39 Ravens had already been killed. Full details of the Strathbraan debacle can be found on the Raptor Persecution blog. Raptor Persecution

However, it appears that the Strathbraan licence was just the tip of a rather large Raven killing iceberg. What was unusual about the Strathbraan licence was that it was issued as a ‘research’ licence. Following a Freedom of Information request, details of other Raven licences have been made available. To compare the figures with England and Wales I asked for the number of licences issued between 2015 and 2018, as well as the details of those specific licences 

The numbers are staggering. An incredible 621 licences have been issued in the last 4 years allowing for up to 4124 Ravens to be killed. Not all licence holders kill their allocation but approximately 75% of those permissible are killed (the figures aren’t available for 2018 yet). So in Scotland somewhere in the region of 3000 Ravens have been legally killed in the last 4 years (Table 1).

Licenses to kill Ravens - Scotland 

Ravens killed in Wales 

SNH has commissioned a scientific report from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to look at the population effects of the Raven killing. The results are yet to be released, but correspondence with SNH suggested it is working on a revised population size of 3241 pairs of Ravens. Including the non-breeding population, which could add approximately another 6500-13000 individuals, the population size seems to be in the region of 12,982-19,482. How allowing the licensed killing of approximately 700 Ravens (3-5% of the Scottish population) a year will impact on the overall population remains to be seen, but the commissioned report should give us some answers to many questions. 

It is worth noting that in the recent bird trend data that was released by SNH, Ravens declined by 12% between 2016-17 (against the back drop of a longer term increase between 1994-2017 of 59%). 

Variation in trends from year to year isn’t always easy to understand due to the range of pressures that any particular species faces. Given the significant culling of Ravens in Scotland it seems highly plausible that there must be an impact at the population level – hopefully the SNH commissioned report will shed some light on the implications of removing a minimum of 3000 Ravens from the Scottish population. Despite the early warnings of a recent decline in Raven numbers, it seems unlikely that there will be a decline in the numbers of licences to be issued." 


Once again the pretext for the killing of birds is the protection of livestock, in this case sheep, when the major driver as always is the money made via the shooting industry, the rearing of Pheasants, 
Grouse and Red-legged Partridge for what is termed “sport”. There is little evidence that Ravens are in any way influential in the decline of wader populations, rather that the decline in farmland populations of Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing and others is due to relentless agricultural changes and modifications to the way land is used. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

What A Week

Another week goes by. There was more rain and wind with no chance of another ringing session and little in the way of productive birding. 

But Sunday dawned much better and a promise of sunshine so I set off birding over Stalmine and Rawcliffe Moss in the general direction of Cockerham. 

It wasn’t long before I met up with not one but two Barn Owls in the half-light of dawn. The owls hunted almost in tandem with at times both in the binoculars as they traversed the same stretches of grassland and hedgerows, probably an area of past success. I parked the car, wound the window down and hoped the owls might show better in the improving light, but after just a few short minutes of circling the area they flew into the farm buildings and out of sight. 

Barn Owl 

Something of a raptor hour ensued with 2 Sparrowhawks, 2 Buzzards and 2 Kestrels seen before any small birds of note. 

I stopped at Gulf Lane where 160+ Linnets was a welcome sight but I scattered a whole bucket of seed into our catching area on the basis that the heavy rain this week has either washed seed away or made it unpalatable to the finches. With luck we’ll fit a ringing session into the week ahead. 

Although Conder Green didn’t have a great variety of birds a count of 210 Teal was mighty impressive. There was a party of 60 Wigeon feeding on the far bank, with 6 Little Grebe, 2 Goosander and 2 Little Egret on the water. 

Little Egret 

Waders were less numerous, just 30 Curlew, 22 Redshank and 2 Oystercatcher; the reason I found later, many, many thousands are now feeding on fields saturated and softened by two weeks or more of often heavy and persistent rain 

At Glasson Dock the numbers of both Tufted Duck and Goldeneye proved quite high, probably because of the rising tide i.e. 70 Tufted Duck and 29 Goldeneye with a single Goosander. 

Tufted Duck 


Up on the hill above the village is a flock of at least 200 Linnets and down on the marsh at the incoming tide, 7-8,000 Lapwings. No wonder then that I saw a large female Sparrowhawk try its luck and then a Peregrine do the same. 


On the drive towards Cockersands I encountered another Sparrowhawk, a Buzzard, 3/400 Starlings and also 90 or so Fieldfares. Fieldfares are now feeding alongside Starlings in wet fields as there are very few berries to be had. 


I also met up with two species of swans that winter in the UK, Whooper Swan and Bewick’s Swan that are superficially alike and hence sometimes misidentified. From Moss Lane and Jeremy Lane and up to Cockersands were more than 450 Whooper Swan, while at the junction of Moss Lane and Slack Lane were 6 Bewick's Swan. While both species are winter visitors to this area, the Whooper is much more numerous than the Bewick’s with this ratio of c100/1 typical of their occurrence. 

Bewick’s Swans breed at high latitudes in Arctic Russia from the Fenno-Russian border east to the Lena Delta. They spend the winter mainly in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, with smaller numbers in Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and France. 

Whooper Swans breed exclusively in Iceland and winter primarily in Britain and Ireland, with smaller numbers remaining in Iceland while low numbers winter on the near Continent. Whooper Swans undertake what is probably the longest sea crossing of any swan species, migrating 800-1,400 km between Britain/Ireland and Iceland. 

Whooper Swan 

 Bewick's Swan

Of the two, the Bewick’s has a more goose-like appearance but like the bigger Whooper Swan, an adult Bewick’s is snow white all over. Bewick’s has a shorter neck and proportionately bigger head than Whooper, as well as a smaller body and bill. However, this can be difficult to appreciate on lone birds or in single-species flocks and it is the bill pattern which can clinch a firm identification. 

A basal yellow beak patch is common to both species, but Bewick’s has the colour extending to less than half the length of the black bill and it generally has a squared-off appearance, always finishing behind the nostril. The beak itself is subtly more slender with a very slightly upturned shape at the tip. 

Whooper Swan’s beak is more of a Roman nose, with the yellow extending in a pointed wedge shape to the very front of the nostril. The beak shape itself is longer and more triangular than Bewick’s. 

Whooper is a larger species with a very long neck, often held erect, and a bulkier body and longer legs, making it stand out straight and tall when the two species are together. 

On the way back home and at well flooded Braides Farm I noted several thousand each of Lapwing and Golden Plover with hundreds of both Redshank and Curlew. But time was short. I’d had a good morning and a hot coffee beckoned.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Frosty Gulf

Last week was one to forget, seven days of wind and rain with no birding. But now on Tuesday morning it was time to make amends with a much needed visit to Gulf Lane for Project Linnet. 

A quick check on Monday evening with on-line DemOn revealed a catch total of 470 Linnets in the three winters to date. The early winter is disappointing so far with a lack of Linnets on site, the reasons as mentioned in a previous post of 22 November- “an abundance of natural food that Linnets and other species have exploited, hence their lateness at arriving at Gulf Lane to a field of bird seed mix, one that could never match their natural diet.” 

It was a cold, frosty start this morning, 0730 and setting nets in the darkness to await the Linnets that roost fairly close by and soon after dawn arrive in groups for a morning feed. Our best count of the mobile Linnets this morning was 160+, a fair number, but as yet a good deal below recent winter counts of 400+. 

Andy in the dark 

Frosty Start 

Despite the lack of numbers we are still keen to catch more and explore the theory that many of our locally wintering Linnets are of Scottish origin and from the slightly larger and darker sub-species Linaria cannabina autochthona. We were given a boost for this idea on this morning by a first winter male with a wing length of 87mm, and two more with wing length of 84mm. The 87mm is at the top end of the range of published Linnet wing lengths, a data entry that provokes a query/potential error from the set parameters of DemOn, the online BTO database. 

Birds of Western Palearctic: Linnet Wing Length
Nominate race Linaria cannabina cannabina - Average ♂ = 80.8.  Range 78- 85 
Linaria cannabina autochtona (Scotland) Average ♂ = 80 - 82.  No range given 

Linnet - First Winter Male 

Such first winter birds carry their retained primary wing feathers, the ones they were was born with in the summer of 2018. The replacement feathers grown during the latter half of 2019 will increase the wing length by one or two millimetres. It would be good to recapture this or similarly sized Linnets in consecutive seasons but this is highly unlikely with minimal recapture rates for small passerines like the Linnet. 

We caught just 11 Linnets this morning, a slightly disappointing number given the 160 we saw, and while our project is not simply about numbers, the more we catch the better the information. 


Birds have thousands of feathers and each one is subject to wear and tear that leads to moulting. Birders who understand the moult process can recognize how birds change their appearances and why those changes are a necessary and vital part of bird biology. Understanding the process can lead to easier identification no matter what stage a bird's plumage may be in. 

Moulting is the process of a bird shedding old, worn feathers to replace them with fresh plumage. A moult may be partial and replace just some of a bird's feathers or complete when all the feathers are replaced at once. The time it takes to complete a moult varies for different species, but may last as little as two weeks or much longer for larger birds. 

I found a video on the Internet that shows the typical sequence of moult in the wing of a passerine. It is quite instructive for anyone unsure or unaware of how and when birds replace their feathers.A passerine is a bird of the order Passeriformes, small songbirds which perch - more than half of all bird species. 

Another Bird Blog is back soon with more news, views and photos.

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


The weather’s becoming unfit for man or beast. Storm Diana is hurtling up the Irish Sea and it looks like there will be zero birding or ringing for a few days or more. 

So for this post I'm turning to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and recent information on indicators of bird population trends for UK and England, first published on 8 November 2018. 

These indicators are part of the Government’s suite of biodiversity indicators that show the fortunes of birds of farmland, woodland, waterways & and wetlands, and marine & coastal between 1970 and 2017. 

Regular readers may recognise a number of bird names here as they occur here on the blog with alarming regularity, usually for the reasons highlighted again by this latest information, the relentless downward trend of their populations. The graphs below may suggest some recent levelling off which may not be a cause for celebration when so many species are at levels which could hardy drop much more. There are still too many downward trends on the diagrams and hardly any showing upward movements. The bold highlights are my own, those that equate to the situation here in Lancashire. 

The indicators are calculated annually by the BTO, RSPB and Department for Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) and are based almost entirely on data collected by volunteers contributing to national bird monitoring schemes such as the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey and the BTO/RSPB/JNCC Wetland Bird Survey. 

Population trends of common birds that are native to, and breed in, the UK are assessed using two assessment periods: long-term (for most species between 1970 and 2017), and short-term (2011-2016). The wintering bird indicator shows how the internationally-important numbers of wintering waders, wildfowl and other water-birds using coasts and wetlands have changed since c1975. 

Changes in the abundance of breeding birds of woodland, farmland, water and wetlands and all-species in the UK. 

The breeding farmland bird index continued to fall and has declined by more than half between 1970 and 2017 in the UK. Whilst most of these declines occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a short-term decline of 7% since 2011. Farmland specialists showed the most prominent declines; for example, Corn Bunting, Grey Partridge, Turtle Dove and Tree Sparrow all declined by at least 90% since 1970. Grey Partridge and Turtle Dove also declined strongly in the short-term, but there was no change for Corn Bunting or Tree Sparrow during this time. Conversely, some farmland specialists (e.g. Stock Dove and Goldfinch) have more than doubled in the long-term. This illustrates that responses to pressures are likely to vary between species. 

Changes in the abundance of  farmland birds 1970 to 2017 in the UK.

Grey Partridge

The breeding woodland bird index for the UK has declined by 25% between 1970 and 2017, and 5% over the recent short-term period. These declines are greater than documented previously, driven by the declining numbers of woodland specialists; down 46% since 1970. Generalist woodland species, typically those that also breed in gardens or wooded areas of farmland, have increased overall, by 14%. Woodland species such as Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Spotted Flycatcher and Willow Tit have shown the most serious declines (more than 80%) since 1970, whilst numbers of Long-tailed Tit, Blackcap and Nuthatch have almost doubled, and the Great-spotted Woodpecker is three times as abundant as it was several decades ago. 

Changes in the abundance of woodland birds between 1970 and 2017 in the UK. 

The breeding water and wetland bird index for the UK fell by 6% between 1975 and 2017, but over the short-term increased slightly by 3%. Over the long-term, species associated with slow-flowing and standing water, and with reed beds, fared better than those associated with fast-flowing water or with wet grasslands. Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe and Common Sandpiper showed the strongest declines over the long-term, athough Snipe has shown a recovery of 27% in the recent short-term period. 

The abundance of breeding water and wetland birds between 1975 and 2017 in the UK. 


Ringed Plover

The breeding seabird index was not updated this year due to a shift of effort by the JNCC Seabird Monitoring team towards the ongoing Seabird Census. In the UK, the seabird index declined by 22% between 1986 and 2015. Declines began in the mid-2000s; and more recently, between 2009 and 2014 there was a 14% decline in the indicator, driven largely by large declines for Arctic Skua and Black-legged Kittiwake. The wintering waterbird index was 106% higher than in 1975/1976 in the UK. The index peaked in the late 1990s, and has declined since; by 4% between 2010/2011 and 2015/2016. Some wintering waterbirds have increased markedly over the long-term, including Gadwall, Whooper Swan, Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit. Conversely, White-fronted Goose, Eider, Ringed Plover and Dunlin all declined.  

The abundance of wintering waterbirds between 1975 /76 and 2016/17 in the UK.   

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Linnet Time

Regular readers will remember that the Linnets haven’t played ball this year with their appearances at Gulf Lane limited to small flocks of 10-40 individuals performing short and swift flyovers. There’s been little sign of the much bigger flocks of 300/400 birds of the past two winters. We have attributed this to plentiful food sources in the wider area as we have seen Linnets in decent numbers, for example, c150 half a mile away at Braides Farm two weeks ago. 

The week’s niggling easterly wind vetoed any hopes of making it to Cockerham for a crack at the Linnets where less than 10 mph is vital. Until today, when a forecast of 8 mph, freezing temperatures but with that still easterly chill dictated five layers of top clothes and a woolly hat. At 0700 I met Andy, shivering when after a week in the heat of the Egyptian desert, he was plunged into a frosty Lancashire morning. 

Minus One

A very slow start with just one bird by 8 am picked up slightly until by 1115 we had amassed a total of 17 birds - 16 Linnets and 1 Tree Sparrow. 

The Linnets comprised 7 first winter males, 6 first winter females, 3 adult males and zero adult females. We were more than pleased with this total considering the lack of birds in recent weeks, especially since this visit coincided with our best count of the season at 125+ Linnets. We are hoping that numbers build up from now. 



Tree Sparrow 

A local farmer/shooter who passes here at Gulf Lane every day stopped to ask how we were doing. Interestingly he confirmed our own recent low counts of Linnets with his own maximum counts of 30/40 Linnets. He also shared the view that this year has seen an abundance of natural food that Linnets and other species have exploited, hence their lateness at arriving at Gulf Lane to a field of bird seed mix, one that could never match their natural diet. 

The photo below is taken from Birds of The Western Palearctic. It lists the very catholic diet of the Linnet, literally dozens and dozens of species of seeds and plant matter, but also a number of insects which Linnets eat during the summer months. The insects are especially important in the spring and summer when they feature in the diet of nestlings. 

Agricultural changes over UK farmland in the last 40/50 years have depleted stocks of many of the seeds and plants listed and also decimated populations of many insects. It's little wonder and no coincidence that the Linnet and many other farmland species have suffered catastrophic declines.      

Linnet Diet 

With more breezy days to come soon, we may have another Linnet day soon. Stay tuned to see how we do.

Linking today to World Bird WednesdayAnni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday Blog

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