Friday, February 23, 2018

This And That

Last summer, autumn and now the current winter will be memorable for all the wrong reasons. A series of storms and hurricane remnants battered the west coast of Britain. Our garden developed a sponge like consistency that became a no-go area; not that there were any birds to see or catch. Even the normally resilient band of Goldfinches seemed to depart, and birds which might otherwise winter with us were displaced elsewhere. 

Only now with the lengthening days and the first signs of are some birds beginning to return. I had net up for a few hours and caught 5 new Goldfinch, a Chaffinch and a Collared Dove to kick off the garden ringing for 2018. 


Collared Dove


Today I took a run out to some local spots and to drop seed at two ringing spots. Gulf Lane held about 90 Linnet, 6 Skylark, 5 Stock Dove, 1 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. 

There’d been an overnight frost and the heron was waiting for the ditch to clear of ice. 

Grey Heron

The flood at Rawcliffe Moss had muddy if slightly frozen margins edges to accommodate 16 Pied Wagtails, 6 Meadow Pipits, 2 Shelduck and 15 Lapwing. Later I would see Lapwings in display; a sure sign that spring is here at last. 

Alongside the road a Chaffinch was in full song. I didn’t realise until I looked at the picture but the Chaffinch has diseased legs and feet, a condition known as Chaffinch Viral Papilloma (CVP). 


CVP is thought to affect around 1% of the Chaffinch population at any given time and can affect both sexes. Cases usually occur in clusters and quite high proportions of local populations may be affected in outbreaks. In my experience the disease is associated with Chaffinches that feed in farmyard, and smallholdings and where chickens roam freely. 

The disease causes wart-like growths on the foot or tarsometatarsus, the bare part of the leg. The growths vary from small nodules to large irregular shaped and deeply-fissured masses which almost engulf the entire lower leg and foot. Affected birds usually seem in otherwise good health but some may show signs of lameness and hop mainly on the unaffected foot and digits may be lost. The disease can spread to other ground feeding birds like Dunnock. 

At Conder Green I counted 80 Teal, 42 Wigeon, 24 Tufted Duck, 4 Shelduck, 28 Oystercatchers (inc 4 pairs), 26 Curlew, 18 Black-tailed Godwit and 14 Redshank. A visit to our second Linnet site found 90+ Linnets still around together with 3 Meadow Pipit and 2 Reed Bunting. A Raven croaked overhead heading down to the Lune marshes – the species is now a common sight and sound in this area. 

I saw a number of Brown Hares sitting out in the early sun and they don’t yet appear ready to start their boxing courtships. The hare is a beautiful and intriguing creature that against the odds of agricultural changes has managed to maintain a strong presence in this part of Lancashire. Unlike rabbits, hares do not make an underground warren but nest in a depression in the ground where their young are active as soon as they are born. I know a local farmer who swears that come summertime the local Buzzard population takes a heavy toll on the young hares (leverets). 

Brown Hares

Brown Hares

The wintering Whooper Swans are now well spread across a couple of miles of fields, unlike early winter where for a few weeks after their arrival they stuck together like glue. There are probably still a couple of hundred Whooper Swans, up to 10 Bewick’s Swans and many Mute Swans but today I spotted an unusual interloper that seems to have escaped attention, a Black Swan. 

Black Swan

Whooper Swan

We’ve had some pretty strange weather but I’m certain the Black Swan is not a wind blown vagrant from down-under Australia.

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Photo Or Two

I didn’t get many photos this morning. As each week passes the adult birds and those born last year get older and wiser about birders and keep out of the way of cameras and bins. 

An early morning Barn Owl is pretty much guaranteed at the moment when food is scarce and the owls spend longer on the hunt. So it was this morning as the owl stayed alongside the moss road but hidden by distance and the straggly hedge at eye level. I made do with a Kestrel and then a Buzzard just sat in the opposite field but keeping a wary eye on passing cars. It looked like last year’s bird. 


Along Lancaster Road a farmer was out early taking the tops off and shaping the hedgerow. It rather stopped my looking for finches and much else but the flood at Rawcliffe/Pilling held 4 Fieldfare, 1 Kestrel, 180 Lapwing, 10 Pied Wagtail and 8 Meadow Pipit. At Gulf Lane the Linnet flock is down to about 40 birds, the lowest count of the winter but not surprising given the battering of rain, wind, snow and ice that both birds and vegetation have taken since August. 

Around the moss road produced a couple of calling Buzzards on territory as 5/6 Meadow Pipits scattered ahead of the car. 

I called at Conder Green out of habit more than optimism and the chance the Avocets may appear any day. They are already in Lancashire after their winter away. No up-turned bills just the usual 3 pairs of Oystercatcher, 15 Curlew, 12 Redshank and a gang of 10 noisy Shelduck. Spring is definitely in the air with Robins and Skylarks in song although next week we’re back to cold and frosty air. 


A trip around Jeremy Lane and up to Cockersands produced a healthy if unspectacular mix of species. Best was a mixed flock of Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings numbering 200/200/6. Redwings are much scarcer than Fieldfares in early spring as if the Fieldfares make a leisurely journey north while the Redwings dash through mostly unseen. 

Near Cockersands was the usual Kestrel, a female Stonechat and some pretty huge flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers which numbered in the few thousands of each. Also, 30+ Skylarks, 30+ Redshank, 18 Twite, 13 Pied Wagtail, 8 Meadow Pipit and 6 Tree Sparrow. 

Golden Plovers

I saw a three or four Brown Hares this morning. One stopped in a gateway to clean its feet after it ran through a muddy patch of ground. I’ve seen them do that before. 

Brown Hare
There’s ringing tomorrow, something of a novelty this winter. But the forecast is half-decent with just a 10mph wind at a partly sheltered site. I’m meeting Andy at 0700. Log in later to see how we did.  

A Saturday link toWild Bird WednesdayAnni's Blog and Eileen's blog.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


I guess I missed this when it first appeared during the summer of 2017.

But now in early 2018 comes up-to-date news to add to the earlier picture of a small but significant conservation experiment. It’s an account of a technique known as “headstarting” of birds and the first time this method has been used in the UK.

The species is Black-tailed Godwit, in this case the subspecies that occurs in the British Isles, Western & Eastern Europe, the ‘nominate’ race Limosa limosa limosa. This race of Black-tailed Godwit differs slightly in appearance from the Icelandic race Limosa limosa islandia which occurs as a migrant to the UK but does not breed here.

The UK breeding population of Limosa limosa limosa is limited to a few small areas of Norfolk where successful outcomes are not always guaranteed and where the overall population is about 50 pairs only. Hence the project described here designed to increase the species’ success rate and population.

Project Godwit is focused on two wetlands in the east of England – the Ouse and Nene Washes – where conservationists are growing the Black-tailed Godwit population by enhancing ideal habitat, trialling methods to increase productivity, improving understanding of local and migratory movements, and the rearing & release of godwit chicks. At the same time the project provides publicity with the aim of increasing support among local communities where the birds nest.

During the early summer of 2017 Black-tailed Godwit eggs were removed from nests and then hatched in incubators by staff at WWT Welney Wetland Centre until such time as the hand-reared the young birds could fend for themselves. By mid-summer June 2017 some 25 young Black-tailed Godwits were released into their new home in the Cambridgeshire Fens.
Fast forward to 08 February 2018 where a Norfolk newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press reported that two of the erstwhile hand-reared chicks had been spotted safe and sound in Portugal, 1200 miles away among other wild Black-tailed Godwits. Dutch ornithologists reported seeing the birds among a flock on the Tagus Estuary near Lisbon. 

The team from RSPB and WWT behind “Project Godwit” welcomed the news that their protégés have migrated safely.  Project Godwit manager Hannah Ward said: “Bird migration is an amazing feat and it’s fraught with dangers. These two godwits were last seen on opposite sides of the UK, one in Essex and the other in Somerset."

“It’s a huge relief to hear they have both made it to the same spot in Portugal safe and sound.” She said as the birds were still less than a year old, they would probably not attempt return to the UK to breed this year. 

“But older godwits should be setting off right now,” she said. “We’re appealing to all birdwatchers to keep their eyes out for colour ringed birds.” “Every bit of news helps us create a brighter future for the UK Black-tailed Godwits.” 

Black-tailed Godwit

Headstarting was previously used successfully to help Spoon-billed Sandpipers in the Russian Far East, but Project Godwit is the first time headstarting has been used in the UK.

Yet again, it's raining and blowing here today but hopefully an improvement by weekend and maybe even a little ringing. Stay tuned.


Friday, February 9, 2018

Little But Not Often

Some news from Europe about the Little Owl, Athene noctua, sýček obecný, recently chosen by the Czech Society for Ornithology as their “Bird of the Year”. 

Though common in Europe, Northern Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia, population numbers of the owl fell significantly over the last half century in the Czech Republic, as birds disappeared from farmland areas; as a result the Little Owl is on their endangered list. 

The Czech Society for Ornithology wants to make the public aware of the bird’s plight and that population numbers of the once widespread species fell dramatically over recent decades. 

Little Owl

The society’s Martin Šálek: “We chose the Little Owl because this is an owl which not long ago was very common and widespread. We wanted to reveal the plight of the bird and other animals which live in the vicinity of arable land, where bird and other population levels have dropped. 

“At the beginning of the last century the Little Owl was widespread; today it is on the edge of extinction. We wanted people to know about the danger.” 

Little Owl

According to Mr Šálek, there used to be tens of thousands of breeding pairs but by the 1970s the numbers had dropped around just 2,000. 

“At present the population is tiny: we have counted around 130 nesting pairs. They are limited to small areas of land around the country; whereas 30 years ago the owl was a common sight for our grandparents, now they are only located in isolated areas or “islands” of land primarily in the regions of Ústí, Central Bohemia and South Moravia.” 

One question is whether there are steps the public can take to help; the Czech Society for Ornithology’s Martin Šálek points out even simple steps can make a difference. “Our Little Owls have retreated from farmland into inhabited areas where they face numerous dangers. We studied where most of the Little Owls died and learned that some 40 percent died in so-called technical ‘traps’. These include barrels of water, or upright pipes that are not capped. 

“The owls are curious by nature and go inside to have a look and get stuck and can’t get out. For that reason, it would be good if all small cottage or garden colony owners who have rain barrels remember to but a float inside, so the bird can climb up and escape.Another thing each of us can do is to help the Little Owl is leave a patch of uncut grass on our property, so insects like butterflies which are part of the bird’s diet can remain and hide. A well-trimmed English lawn is not beneficial. If you leave 20 percent uncut, that can help.” 

Little Owl

This account from Czechoslovakia mirrors the story of the UK population of Little Owls. The BTO’s Common Bird Census/Breeding Bird Surveys trend for Little Owl in the UK shows very wide variation, but a downturn in recent decades suggests that a rapid decline lies behind the observed fluctuations. 

A figure of c. 7,000 pairs from the BTO/Hawk & Owl Trust's Project Barn Owl (Toms et al. 2000) was the first replicable population estimate for Little Owls in the UK. An independent BBS estimate is for c5,700 pairs in 2009, since when a substantial further decrease has occurred. 

Little Owl

The primary drivers for this rapid decline are thought to be decreased juvenile survival and the effects of agricultural intensification. 
Little Owl - British Trust for Ornithology

My own observations over the past 35 years in this part of Lancashire have seen the once very, very common Little Owl become something of a scarcity.  Once regular sites are now abandoned with few localities where the species may be found on a regular basis. 

The Little Owl is now so scarce, so infrequent that it is something of target bird for listers, twitchers and toggers at all times of the year. Where breeding localities are known by fieldworkers concerned for the species’ welfare, the locale has to be kept hush-hush so as not to subject the birds to constant and often unsympathetic attention. 

Little Owls

I understand that the BTO are looking to undertake a new national survey of the Little Owl quite soon. The way things look at the moment this could lead to the Little Owl being identified as at least Red-listed, if not endangered. Let’s hope not. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wednesday 7th February

Tuesday was cold and snowy, the first snowflakes of the winter. Thankfully by midday the snow stopped, the sun came out and by evening all the white stuff was gone. Wednesday began with quite a frost on the by now ice free roads.

As noted on the blog before, a cold weather snap brings out the owls and the Kestrels. So on the drive over Stalmine Moss I wasn’t too surprised to spot a hunting Barn Owl. The owl stayed out along the frosty fence before taking off into the distance.

Barn Owl
At Lancaster Road at Pilling Moss was the first of four five Kestrels I’d see during the morning. The Kestrel was on watch across a stubble field where a good number of small birds alternated between feeding on the deck and flying into the hedgerow. I counted 95+ Chaffinch together with, 10 or more Meadow Pipits, several Skylarks, and at least one Reed Bunting and one Yellowhammer. This is the largest Chaffinch flock I have seen this winter and probably last winter too. The days of 200/300 strong Chaffinch flocks seem to be a thing of the dim and distant past.


I called at Gulf Lane to see very few Linnets in the now flattened field. Tuesday’s blanket of snow and this morning’s solid ground won’t have helped the Linnets to stay around. A Kestrel hovered directly over our net ride and where I guess, a rodent or two have helped themselves to the mountain of bird seed. A ride around the edge of the moss revealed huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese, 15,000 or more but too distant to grill in a satisfactory manner. Also, 2 Little Egret and 60 or more Fieldfare scraped a living from the frozen pastures.


When I arrived at Conder Green a flock of circa140 Black-tailed Godwit flew around the back of the pool and then landed out of sight in the field beyond the canal. These wet pastures often hold very large numbers of godwits, Lapwings and Curlews but both viewing and access are difficult with the risk that every single birds flies off at the sight of a human.

The pool was pretty much frozen solid but in the few patches of open water, 2 Little Grebe, a Grey Heron, a drake Goosander, 2 Tufted Duck and the pair of now resident Oystercatchers. In the creeks, a dozen or two Redshank plus lots of Teal dabbling in the unfrozen brackish water. A trip around Jeremy Lane produced two more Kestrels on the lookout for food with one particularly hungry looking female reluctant to leave the gatepost even as cars sped by.


Things were pretty quiet due to every field being frozen solid but there was activity along the tree-lined roadside ditch where I found another 45+ Fieldfares, 15 Redwing and 15 Blackbirds, and even a Song Thrush in full voice.

It looks like we're back to rain tomorrow but there’s more news, views and birds soon from Another Bird Blog.

Friday, February 2, 2018


Sorry I’m late. Windows decided to bring me up-to-date me with the latest enhancements that I can’t live without.

Mr Gates, you need to know, my Sue has been trying to modernise me for years and failed miserably.  Yet it appears that Windows 10 does automatic updates whether the user wants them or not and by clicking constantly pressing “no”, all I did was delay the inevitable.  Like a fool and worn down by the constant messages on the screen I clicked “go”. Three hours later here we are trying to update the blog. 

February and every birder I know has been looking for signs of spring in the extra daylight hours despite the constant Arctic winds headed our way. There’s been a few pointers at home with Blue Tit and Great Tit popping into nest boxes, Blackbirds hanging around the ivy covered hawthorns, and the annual Nuthatch visit following a burst or two of song. I’m still hoping that one of these years the Nuthatches might go further than simply practice their nesting skills in that mostly neglected box. 


I’ve watched a Treecreeper search the apple tree on a couple of occasions and noticed an increase in Goldfinches after a distinct lack during December and January, but I think those latter two are more related to food. 

This morning I set off in the usual direction and soon hit upon a Barn Owl in the half-light. As I watched the owl a handful of calling Fieldfares rattled over having just left their overnight roost. 

There was nothing doing until I got to Gulf Lane where I waited a while for Linnets to arrive for the seed I dropped. Just 100 or so today their numbers and persistence tested to the full in recent weeks by the constant battering of rain and wind. There was a Snipe, the inevitable Little Egret, a Kestrel from the nearby farm buildings, and just over the fence a gang of Lapwings with muddy bills. 


Around Moss Edge I found the male Stonechat that’s hung around for weeks along a line of fence bordering a few straggly reeds. There were Fieldfares here, about 80 or 90 but looking into the light and very flighty. Brown Hares were about this morning. I saw a couple on a circuit of Jeremy Lane tucked in close to the ground, motionless and with their ears pressed flat along their backs, trying for all the world to look like a large clod of earth. 

Brown Hare

“Bits and pieces” between Jeremy Lane, Moss Lane, Slack Lane and Cockersands included 150+Starling, 90 Fieldfare, 2 Redwing, 20+ Meadow Pipit, 1 Merlin, 8+ Skylark, 7 Greenfinch, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Pied Wagtail and 1 Stonechat (female). The Stonechat appears to have parted company with the male Stonechat that was along the same stretch of foreshore for several weeks. The two of them could always be found with a few yards of each other until now, but now just the one. 



 At Glasson I noted just 11 Goldeneye and 1 Goosander although of note, a single drake Pochard was still in residence. 

Conder Green was relatively quiet but still approximately 200 Teal, 22 Redshank, 18 Lapwing, 10 Curlew, 5 Snipe and 1 Greenshank. Of note here was a pair of Oystercatchers on territory close to last year’s nesting site that failed at the busy roadside. 


Don’t forget. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog to see the new updates.

Linking today with World Bird WednesdayAnni's Blog and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

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