Sunday, April 29, 2018

Local Rarity

A Barn Owl floated across Stalmine Moss but that wasn't the reason to stop. I’d heard a local rarity singing from the same spot where I saw a couple of the creatures in deepest winter. It was a Corn Bunting, that once abundant bird of local farmland but now a very occasional sight. 

Corn Bunting 

Counts of Corn Buntings are now desperately low. There are hardly any local breeding records and pitifully low numbers in wintertime when we might expect a few to feed on farmland stubble. Therein lies the problem. 

Not too many moons ago the Fylde was a summer arable landscape of growing vegetables followed by views of autumn and winter stubble, fields of waste and weed seeds left from the harvest that kept myriads of buntings and finches alive through the winter.  Those same fields are now grass and silage for sheep and cows, meat the only food that most people eat since abandoning live vegetables. Big Mac and the like have a lot to answer for. 

I read an article recently that suggested cooking skills may die out completely in the next two generations because we Brits are losing interest. Although we declare ourselves too busy to cook from scratch, opting instead for takeaways and factory food, we have plenty of time to watch TV.  The national obsession with cookery shows and watching other people prepare food on TV does not prompt us to actually cook anything other than microwaved ready meals or beans on toast. A home-made steak and kidney pie is now as rare as hens-teeth in Kentucky Fried Britain.

I digress. Back to the birds. There was a scratchy singing Whitethroat too, one of 8/10 seen this morning; so at last they have arrived. Likewise a few more Swallows scattered around farms, 30+ in total but still very few House Martins, the latter still in single figures. 

I stopped briefly at Braides, the scene of much frenzy last weekend with birders desperate to add a few Yellow Wagtails to their yearly list. How many Yellow Wagtails went unseen in other similar locations is anyone’s guess. Today a couple of Linnets, a pair of Kestrel, one Grey Heron, several Swallows, and unusually for here 4 Rooks. The Rook is a more handsome and beneficial bird than the ubiquitous and villainous Common Crow. 


I called at Conder Green where the water level is still too high for many species but the four to five pairs of Oystercatcher are not so choosy so remain on territory. There was a single Common Tern on the nesting island, the first tern back in 2018 as far as I know. I noted the bird wore a very shiny ring on the right leg but far too distant to read the inscription. Also, a single lingering usually winter only Goldeneye, 6 Tufted Duck, 6 Teal, 2 Pied Wagtail and a Kestrel. Along the hedgerow - a singing Whitethroat. Nearer to Glasson singles of Lesser Whitethroat and Willow Warbler.  

Common Tern

The circuit of Jeremy, Moss and Slack Lanes threw up a good selection of migrant birds in the shape and sound of 4 Wheatear, 4 Whitethroat (all males), 2 Sedge Warbler, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Meadow Pipit, 2 Pied Wagtail and 1 Whinchat. 


It was good to count 12/15 Skylark although a flock of 110 Linnets is suggestive of the still below average temperatures. Heartening also to see upwards of 15 Lapwings sat on eggs but impossible to predict how many will survive the plough of the coming weeks. 

Not everything is late this spring as proven by the Blackbird with a beak full of giant worms for the family meal. Good to see that the Blackbirds at least survive on a diet of fresh food. 


Please login soon to Another Bird Blog. Can’t promise rarities but there’s always a picture or two!

Linking this post to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Poor Old Oyk

There came something of a surprise with a recent email from the BTO. 

The message concerned an Oystercatcher found dead by a member of the public at our ringing site near Oakenclough on 18th April 2018. The bombshell was the fact that our Oystercatcher had died at the grand old age of 22 years, 7990 days after being ringed at the same place on 2nd June 1996. 

This is a site where a number of pairs Oystercatchers breed every year, an inland and upland location with a reservoir where the Oystercatchers nest on the rocky shores dependent upon water levels but also in adjacent fields. Even my memory of ringing occasions doesn't stretch back 22 years so I looked up the original ringing data on our Fylde Ringing Group database and there it was. Ring number FR86494, ringed as a chick, one of two youngsters on 2 June 1996. 

IPMR data

I searched my memory bank recalled the day as an occasion when three of us (Gary, Bob and me) called in at Oakenclough to ring a nest of three Yellowhammer chicks and 5 Willow Warbler chicks found a week or so earlier. 

As we motored out of the site at the entrance we spotted a pair adult Oystercatchers with two chicks so stopped to complete a successful excursion with a little bonus. Sadly, the Yellowhammers were the last ones ringed at the site as it became very overgrown with rhododendron resulting in the area becoming unsuitable for a number of species. 

Oystercatcher chick


Although 22 years is a good age, it’s not quite the longevity record for Oystercatchers. The oldest known Oystercatcher was ringed as a chick in 1970 and later found in 2010, on the same beach in Cumbria, not too many miles from Lancashire. At that time, it was already 40 years, one month and 2 days old. 

Despite the known longevity of the species Oystercatchers are a vulnerable and Amber-listed in the UK.  From the BTO - Breeding Bird Surveys since 1994, which include birds in a broader range of locations and habitats, show strong increase in England but a significant, moderate decline in Scotland. The increase in nest failure rates during the 27-day egg stage probably results from the spread of the species into less favourable habitats, where nest losses through predation or trampling may be more likely. There has been widespread moderate decline across Europe since 1980. 

There is a moral to this story. It is that where possible, everyone should always look at dead birds and examine the legs as there may be a ring, British Museum/BTO or a foreign scheme. High quality metal rings are designed to be long lasting so that the inscription does not easily wear and may be legible for the lifespan of the bird and longer. The information resulting from finding and reporting a ringed bird, dead or alive is very valuable to science.

British Museum bird ring

Linking today to Eileens' Blog.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Change Of Scene

With a forecast of a good sunny morning I decided to have a drive up to the hills to see how things were going in this belated spring. With luck I’d have three hours of birding before the parades of wannabe Bradley Wiggins’ showed up in their day-glow clothing and very loud voices that scare the birds away.

It’s a forty minute drive and a bridge over the northbound M6 before I hit the beginnings of the Trough of Bowland.

"Click the Pics" for a closer look. 

Bowland, Lancashire 


The quiet of early morning was broken mostly by the sounds of displaying Curlew and Lapwing. To lesser extent were the calls of Oystercatcher, Redshank and Snipe, all in the throes of establishing their breeding territories but the last three tend to be later breeders. 




I lost count of the Mistle Thrush seen and/or heard. From every bit of suitable woodland or copse came their loud, fluty song. 

Mistle Thrush 

If Meadow Pipits have been rather thin on the coast they were around in large numbers this morning flitting around on every stretch of fence or dry stone wall for miles. Again, I lost count, or rather made no attempt at a total as they were just everywhere.

Pied Wagtails were numerous but not nearly so many as pipits. I found a couple of pairs of Grey Wagtail along Marshaw and Tower Lodge streams. It was at Tower Lodge that I both saw and heard Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and a single male Redstart. 

Meadow Pipit 

Meadow Pipit 

Pied Wagtail 

I saw at least 4 Wheatears on the journey. They seemed very mobile and were probably migrants. 


Not so the Red-legged Partridge, in loud song from a dry stone wall. Our Red-legged Partridge is not native to Britain but instead are feral or left overs from autumn shoots of released birds. Altogether it is an attractive bird that is able to hack it in the English countryside, unlike our native Grey Partridge which has become a rare sight in modern Lancashire. 

Red-legged Partridge 

Bowland, Lancashire

And while we are on the subject of Bowland, here’s an udate on the case against Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper James Hartley. Previous post here.  Mr Hartley faced 9 charges as follows:
  1. Disturbing the nesting site of a Schedule 1 wild bird (13/04/2016) 
  2. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird (13/04/2016) 
  3. Killing a Schedule 1 wild bird (14/04/2016) 
  4. Setting trap / gin / snare etc. to cause injury to a wild bird (between 13-14/04/2016) 
  5. Taking a Schedule 1 wild bird (14/04/2016) 
  6. Possessing a live / dead Schedule 1 wild bird or its parts (14/04/2016) 
  7. Possessing an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15 to 17 (13/04/2016) 
  8. Possessing an article capable of being used to commit a summary offence under section 1 to 13 or 15 to 17 (between 12/04/2016 – 27/04/2016) 
  9. Causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal – Animal Welfare Act 2006 (between 14/04/2016 – 15/04/2016) 
The case collapsed last week after District Judge Goodwin ruled the RSPB video evidence inadmissible at a hearing at Preston Magistrates Court on 28 March 2018. 

The only bird of prey I saw while driving through Bowland on Saturday was a single Kestrel. The killing goes on.

Log in soon to see more birds on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday with Stewart.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Missing In Action

A rather grey morning left me waiting for the promised lunchtime sun before I hit the trail. Although the light was still not good, sun was on the way with our bit of the “heatwave”. 

Those midday Barn Owls showed again, this time an obvious pair since they hunted the same fields. They weren't quite in tandem with one of them much more active than the other which sat in the adjacent hedgerow for a good hour. I was still on ISO1200. 

Barn Owl 

Barn Owls 

Barn Owl 

I checked out the recent Buzzard location to find both birds on show but partly hidden in the nest, seemingly doing a little housekeeping. Nearby was a Kestrel and also a male Sparrowhawk sat in the depths of the cover with its bright orange breast a dead give-away. 

Some migrant species are rather slow in arriving this year. The long journey from Africa takes its toll when birds hit rough weather. I was out all afternoon and saw just 6 Swallows, four of them in one location at Cockerham; otherwise just two singles near farms. Other species that should be around seem to be either lacking or here in very small numbers; Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats are conspicuous by their absence and we might expect a few Reed Warblers by now, but I've yet to hear that not unpleasant rasping and repetitive “song”. 


At Gulf Lane the farmer has rough ploughed our erstwhile Linnet catching field in readiness for the new crop of bird seed mix in late April/early May. The turned soil has pulled in a few birds looking for an easy meal. Two Wheatears, a Skylark and a Pied Wagtail searched over the ground and a Kestrel hovered briefly overhead. 


I looked at Fluke Hall where Whitethroats can always be found but none today just 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler and 3 Blackcap. Two Buzzards noted and also an odd number of Jays for April as three of them chased through the tree tops. “Two’s company, three’s a crowd” goes the saying. 

On the seaward side a single Wheatear with a few Lapwings on territory in the fields. Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrows along the hedgerows.


The cattle at Braides Farm have puddled a patch of ground that’s proved attractive to a procession of wagtails this week. Today I noted at least 8 Pied Wagtail, 4 White Wagtail and 2 Yellow Wagtail although all were very mobile, flying as far as the sea wall 200 yards away. There was also a Wheatear, a handful of Linnets and several Skylarks in song. 

Yellow Wagtails are the Cattle Egrets of the wagtail world.  More often than not the Yellow Wagtail can be found sharing fields with sheep or cattle where the animals' hooves and the constant grazing disturb plenty of insects.   

Yellow Wagtail 

It looks like we may get our summer in Lancashire tomorrow. If so stand by for more news soon from Another Bird Blog.

Linking to Anni's blog and  Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Early Pipit Late Owl

A 6 am start beckoned and I met Andy at Oakenclough in near perfect conditions - a light southerly, and compared to recent weeks, a temperature that felt quite agreeable. 

Once again newly in birds were rather limited so we struggled to reach double figures with just 10 birds ringed but the emphasis on quality rather than quantity: 5 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Goldfinch and 1 Tree Pipit. 

In most years April 1st is around the normal date for the arrival of the first Willow Warblers so the two males caught today are approximately ten days “late”. Maybe they picked a good time to arrive with predicted temperatures of up to 64°F and fine days for next week. In so many recent years Willow Warblers have arrived into cool and wet weather that continued throughout May and had a detrimental effect upon their breeding success. 

Willow Warbler 

Lesser Redpoll 

Today’s Tree Pipit, our first of the year, was aged as a second year bird (born in 2017). April 14th is bang on the expected date of the first Tree Pipits arriving from Africa. 

Tree Pipit 

A Tree Pipit resembles the slightly smaller Meadow Pipit. Both are at first glance unexceptional looking LBJs, streaked brown above and with black markings on a white belly and buff breast below. 

The Tree Pipit is distinguished from the slightly smaller Meadow Pipit by its heavier bill, stronger more yellowish, heavier streaking and greater contrast with the white belly. The former also has pink legs rather than the flesh-coloured legs of Meadow Pipit. As the name suggests, Tree Pipits spend more time in trees than ground dwelling Meadow Pipits.  Tree Pipits breed across most of Europe and temperate western and central Asia. It is a long-distance migrant and spends our winter in Africa and southern Asia. 

The song flight is unmistakable. The bird rises a short distance up from a tree, and then parachutes down on stiff wings, the loud song becoming more drawn out towards the end.  It is many years since I heard the song here at Oakenclough where it used to breed in the open woodland and scrub of the late 70’s and early 80’s.  The habitat is still suitable now but unless the Tree Pipit regains its former population level it is unlikely to return. 

The Tree Pipit's flight and contact call is a buzzing "dzzz" sound, heard mostly during migration. It’s a high-frequency call that becomes harder to hear for us older generation birders. Luckily we can catch them, take a closer look and confirm that the label of “Little Brown Job” is far from the truth. 

The morning proved quiet in the way of birding except for the usual five or six Buzzards in the air as the morning warmed. Two Red-breasted Mergansers “over” and a smattering of redpolls proved to be as good as it got with little sign of visible migration. "Otherwise" local birds included a handful of Chaffinches, 1 Jay and 2 Mistle Thrush. 

The journey home was quite interesting by way of a Barn Owl hunting across farmland at 11.20am. Many Barn Owls are sat on eggs by now, a scenario that requires the non-sitting bird to spend extra hours in search of food. 

Barn Owl

Nearby I noted a single Kestrel and also a pair of Buzzards at a nest. The female was clearly visible in the huge pile of sticks close to the top of a tall, uncropped hawthorn hedgerow. Let's hope the conspicuous nest will not become a target for vandals and/or those who would harm the mostly harmless Buzzard.


Log in soon for more birds from Another Bird Blog. In the meantime, linking to World Bird Wednesday and Anni's Birding.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Out At Last

What with half-term, car service & MOT and pretty poor weather, I’d been out of birding action for a week. 

Thursday morning and as is often the case I wasn’t sure where to go on my local patch while allowing sufficient time to spend at each. There’s nothing more annoying than birding at one place and seeing not very much to then hear later of birds seen in the same spot soon after. It’s a form of Sod’s Law that applies to birders and probably other obsessives. 

Through Pilling village was the first Chiffchaff singing from an annual location but as I drove past I spotted a hunting Barn Owl ahead. The owl was on a fast, large circuit that took it over fields, behind tall hedgerows and through farmyards so I quickly lost sight. 

Barn Owl 

I drove up to Conder Pool, the first time for a couple of weeks. Very evident here was that the water level here is tremendously high after the autumn and winter rains with very little in way of margins for waders. I counted 8 Shelduck, 6 Tufted Duck, 22 Teal, 2 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron and a good number of Mute Swans. There was a single Kestrel knocking around. Waders consisted of 2 Avocet and 8 Oystercatchers. 

Two Avocets have taken up territory on one of the far islands in exactly the same spot as last year. 


Having bred successfully both adults and offspring Avocets are faithful to a site in subsequent years. And with an average life span of 10-15 years there’s a more than a reasonable chance that either or even both of these birds were here last year. But more’s the pity as Avocets are not the friendliest towards other species. 

It’s not like me to be controversial but I'm far from certain we should be encouraging too many Avocets on Conder Pool, a piece of real estate that for many years was home to more common species. I would much rather see several pairs of species that co-exist rather than pairs of aggressive Avocets that allow no other birds on “their” patch. 

Surely several pairs of declining Redshank, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and maybe one or two Little Ringed Plover would be preferable? There now, naughty me, I've gone and upset the whole of the RSPB and the band of birders who judge a species by rarity value rather than taking a holistic view. 

A tour of the Jeremy Lane and Cockersands found a good selection of species but little in the way of migrants. Even the many hares I saw appeared lethargic, mainly sitting around and uninterested in the fact that it was April 12th and their mating season. 

Brown Hare 

There was a huge Peregrine hunting the marsh where it made several passes but caught nothing. Lapwings are mostly all paired up now with much dashing display, frantic calling and chasing off the crows so I suspect some are on eggs. Not so the Golden Plover, wintering birds only with a loose flock of 180+ birds, but many resplendent in their black& gold summer plumage. It is mostly impossible to get close to this species and as I've mentioned here before, to the UK’s eternal shame that this species is allowed to be shot by hunters. 

Golden Plover 

On the fields here – 40+ off passage Meadow Pipits searching the soggy fields, 8-10 Skylark and 20+ Linnet still flocking. 30+ Sand Martins at our ringing quarry looks promising and where with luck we’ll begin ringing after the first fledglings are on the wing. 

Meadow Pipit 

I was out birding all morning but still didn't see or hear many migrants. A handful of Swallows and two singing Chiffchaffs was the sum total of my summer birds. 

We’re promised warmer weather soon. Not soon enough where migration so far has consisted of a small flurry of early birds while everyone waits for the big fall that hardly ever takes place. 

Saturday looks promising for ringing with a light southerly of 5 mph and no rain. Believe it when we see it!

Linking today to Eileen's Blog.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Boring? Never.

I’d met up with Andy for another ringing session at Oakenclough and where surely we would find a few fresh migrants on this the Fifth of April? The wind was in the North-West and at 0630 and 0.5° it wasn't especially warm. 

A glance at the weather map portrayed a stream of warm air partly headed our way from Iberia with maybe an outside chance of a few new birds although few migrants had yet reached the North West. 

Thursday 5th April 

Our catch was on-par for recent weeks. In other words not so good with just 12 birds caught and still zero warblers - 3 Siskin, 3 Goldfinch, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Dunnock. 


Lesser Redpoll 

We don’t catch many Dunnocks at Oakenclough but today’s bird proved to be a female in early breeding condition.


The name Dunnock comes from the old English words dunnakos/dunoke or donek, meaning ‘little brown one'. Dun = dingy brown, dark-coloured. Ock = diminutive. Its scientific name Prunella modularis translates as ‘little brown singer'.

It has other English and Irish names such as the wren's brother, mother-in-law, field sparrow, black wren, grey robin and hedge warbler. In Scotland one of its common names is blue-dykie - more of that later.

The Dunnock is the persona non grata of the bird world - mostly uninteresting to birders, ignored, unloved and unwanted; especially so when out it pops from the hedgerow where a rare LBJ is rumoured to be. The Dunnock deserves few mentions on bird blogs, barely a frame on You Tube and never a photo on Bird Guides’ Best. And wait in vain for a pager message or urgent tweet about the dismal, drab and dowdy Dunnock.

A Dunnock spends its days lurking mostly unseen in dark corners of suburban gardens or feeding surreptitiously under bird feeders when the glamorous birds have left the feast.  Its song is unhurried and unremarkable; a warble which to the inexperienced or hard-of-hearing can be confused with the Wren, Robin or Common Whitethroat but one which lacks the Wren's intensity, the Robin's sweetness or the scratchy tones of the Whitethroat.

But fear not dear reader. The lacklustre Dunnock does have a trick or two up its feathered trouser legs, as many a ringer will relate. The identical male and female Dunnock are to all intents and purposes monomorphic - identical when even simple biometrics prove unhelpful in separating one sex from the other. Until that is the breeding season when the male displays its most obvious attributes that go toward the legendary sex life of the dreary old Dunnock. Multiple mating systems including monogamy, polyandry and polygyny - you name it, they do it.

You see, there’s more to a boring Dunnock than meets the unwelcoming eye. I do think that Mr Dunnock would agree.

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

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