Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Mixed Results

Bird ringers around the country report mixed results with Barn Owls this year. Some say productivity is down while others say “normal” and yet others think the season is late. The Pilling owls were at it again this morning, hunting in bright sunshine for all to see. Maybe they are struggling to find food? 

One owl appeared to want to hunt the roadside where the car was parked so after a few snaps I motored off and left them to the job in hand. 

Barn Owl 

Barn Owl 

Barn Owls are highly dependent upon a healthy population of their main prey voles, both water vole and field vole, but they also take mice, shrews and rats. The abundance of voles in particular fluctuates strongly with peaks occurring at intervals of three to four years. 

The peculiar feature of voles is that autumn population densities can attain a couple of thousand individuals per hectare in peak years whereas during population lows the numbers may decrease to virtually zero. This lack of food puts extra pressure on owls and raptors that feed on small animals. 

In contrast to owls which prey on animals, Sparrowhawks, as their name implies, feed entirely upon birds mostly smaller than themselves. At Cockersands I came across a blotchy young Sparrowhawk sat upon a handy wall from where it surveyed the immediate scene of feeding Starlings, Tree Sparrows and House Sparrows. A veritable bundle of nerves, when it sensed the click of the camera might pose a threat, off it shot, pursued by Swallows. Later in the morning I saw another Sparrowhawk, this one chased away from farm buildings by a posse of Swallows. 


A circuit of the lanes between Conder and Cockersands gave a fairly healthy count of small farmland birds which included at a minimum, 12 Sedge Warbler, 10 Whitethroat, 10 Skylark, 8 Reed Bunting, 6 Tree Sparrow, 4 Reed Warbler and 3 Pied Wagtail. The fields around here are drained by a network of ditches, conduits which eventually feed into coastal waters. At this time of year the channels overflow with the likes of common Phragmites reed and similar plants which provide linear wetlands for the species mentioned above. 

Reedy Ditch

Sedge Warbler 

Pied Wagtail 

It’s a couple of years since I’ve seen our native UK Grey Partridge in this part of Lancashire known as The Fylde, an area bounded to the North, South, East and West respectively by Morecambe Bay, the River Ribble, the Pennines and the Irish Sea. That’s an awful lot of landmass in which to confidently state that the Grey Partridge is now completely absent, but I believe it be so. It seems we have to accept the inferior, introduced and now feral Red-legged Partridge as a substitute. Sad to say the red leg is here for all the wrong reasons and stands as a testament to the dreadful state of our once thriving bird populations. They're photogenic but I hate the damn things. 

Red-legged Partridge 

No change on the pool at Conder, the highlight being 175+ Redshank. And I’m not mentioning Common Terns, Avocets or Common Sandpipers today. 

I called in to our Sand Martin quarry and where unfortunately we have not been able to reach just lately for a ringing session. There are still 200+ martins around, numbers swelled of late by the first flush of young from the nest. Hopefully we may get there soon and catch up with our catching. Around the area of the pool and in nearby field were 40+Curlew, 150 Starling, 1 Grey Heron, 4 Tree Sparrow and a single Linnet. 


The Linnet may be either poorly recorded in our area or the lack of summer records an indication of its decline. I suspect it is the some of the first but mainly the latter so will give impetus to our Linnet ringing project due to commence again on 1st August. This has already shown that the Linnets wintering alongside our marshes are from further afield, sometimes considerably so.

Linking today to Anni's Blog and Eileen's Blogspot.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Early Doors

I’m trying to pack some early starts in these now longest days even though the birding is a little unexciting and predictable until July kicks in. There was a fine start this morning but cloud increased quite quickly and I found myself back home in time for morning coffee and a Rich Tea. 

Early Start - Cockerham 

Without the morning traffic it’s surprising just what can be heard across the quiet moss roads. I located both Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting by their respective far-carrying songs but each was a good 60+ yards away. Further along the same route I found a second Corn Bunting, two more Yellowhammers and a party of six Mistle Thrushes. Six is a good number together at this time of year and the likelihood is that they were one family group from one very crowded nest. 

Corn Bunting 

I stopped in a farm gateway to check out a Buzzard nest 75 yards away in a line of trees. When found in early May the nest was a lot more obvious but it is now difficult to see, especially on a breezy morning. 

Today both adults were in attendance but at the sight of a stopped vehicle they made themselves scarce in double quick time. Such is the Buzzards’ local status and ongoing harassment that a nesting pair still fears for their own safety. The single downy headed youngster appeared on the edge of the nest, took a few practice flaps and then settled down into the now somewhat flattened sticks. There would appear to be a week or more to fledging. 

Young Buzzard 

The retreating adults had been chased off by a local Kestrel from a farm down a nearby track. Where the Sparrowhawk pair is I do not know but as I waited for the Buzzard chick to show again, I made do with a single Sparrowhawk heading across the fields. 

Along the next road I came across two Pilling celebrities, Bill and Bunty, the pair of day-flying owls. These two continue to surprise and delight passing farmers, cyclists, motorists and white van men to such an extent that a vehicle pile-up may be imminent as road users swerve, stop, stare and shout to each other at the sight of these common but often invisible creatures. The pair are well known and treasured by locals so it’s all to the good if the owls’ presence diverts people from disturbing other Barn Owls that may be susceptible to interference. The Barn owl is after all, a Schedule One species and should be immune from any type of illegal meddling. The two were a soccer pitch away today so no chance of a world beating photo; and anyway I was on my way to Conder Green for early doors. 

Barn Owls 

At Gulf Lane I caught sight of Tawny Owl as it flew for a safer spot but pursued by angry Blackbirds and chippy Tree Sparrows. 

The usual fare was at Conder – 6 Common Tern, possibly one of which was later fishing the canal basin at Glasson Dock. As noted recently, an increase in Redshanks to more than 150 today; 32 Oystercatchers (including non-flying young), 15 Lapwing, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Curlew, 1 Avocet, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret. The Avocet was flighty today as it flew over to the creek where it both fed and bathed. I gained the impression it may now be without a partner. 



Smaller stuff around and about – 20 Swift, 5 Sand Martin, 5 Sedge Warbler, 4 Whitethroat, 4 Reed Bunting, 1 Reed Warbler.  

Reed Bunting 

Log on soon for more early doors with Another Bird Blog.

Linking this post to World Bird Wednesday and Anni's Birding Blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Underground And Overground.

We’ve had a few dreary mornings and I’d waited days for a bright, clear morning to drive into the hills with camera at the ready. Tuesday looked promising so I was up early and then drove north and east with fingers crossed as I left the coast behind. This was probably the last chance of the year as upland birds have already started their return journeys to coastal locations. "Click the pics" for close-ups. 

To The Coast 

There are not many Lapwing around now and I was counting ones and twos only, with little sign of late breeders. In my experience, Lapwings tend to give up rather than try again if their early breeding fails with small flocks appearing as early as mid-June. I found a good number of Curlew, some with large “running” chicks but also a good sized one learning the ropes of calling from a drystone wall. 




There were still good numbers of Oystercatchers but all seemed to be adults lounging around and content to watch the world go by. Even Snipe proved elusive today with plenty of “chipping” from the fields where they have youngsters in tow but none posing along the lines of fence or wall; but I did find one close to a roadside pool that took off as soon as a vehicle came by. 




Tower Lodge is a gateway to the country estate beyond but it is no longer inhabited by employees that safeguard the gentry and the grouse. 

Tower Lodge - Bowland 

A farmer had been trapping moles quite recently. 


This part of Lancashire is meat rearing country; beef and sheep. Sheep that eat dirt from molehills can die from listeriosis, while winter feed for dairy cattle can become foul-tasting or toxic if contaminated by soil bacteria. So there’s a long tradition of mole trapping - showing the moles who’s boss and proving to neighbours that your farming is “reet”. 

The word “mole” is thought to derive from the old English word mouldwarp, which literally means earth-thrower. The animals’ forelimbs are large, pink and practically hairless, and, apart from an extra digit, have the appearance of a doll’s hands. So prized were moles’ hands that farmers once kept them in silk bags as talismans for good luck and to ward off toothache, epilepsy and scrofula. 


Moles dig their tunnel systems to catch earthworms, shoving the excavated earth out of vertical passageways to produce molehills. In a 1976 study, researchers counted 7,380 molehills on a single hectare of English pasture, estimating their total weight to be 64,500kg. 

Mole Hill 

Mole control became a national policy in 1566, when a bitter cold period known as the Little Ice Age threatened England’s food supply. Queen Elizabeth passed “An Acte for the Preservation of Grayne”, which would remain in force for the next three centuries. The law prescribed bounties paid for the destruction of a long and dubious list of agricultural vermin, including everything from hedgehogs to kingfishers. Some parishes paid out a half-penny per mole, others appointed mole-catchers with contracts lasting up to 21 years. In addition to their salaries, mole-catchers sold the silky mole skins, which were prized for the tailoring of waistcoats. 

In the early 20th century worms dipped in strychnine became the preferred method for controlling moles on farms. Because strychnine doesn't break down in animal tissue, it can also work through the food chain when a bird of prey or even a domestic dog consumes a poisoned mouse or mole. 

In 1963, when the House of Commons debated a bill to ban the poison, David Renton, the minister of state for the Home Office, testified that moles “strangely enough” failed to show “the same symptoms of pain” as other animals. In the end the law banned strychnine for mice and rats, but exempted moles because no ready substitute existed. 

In the following decades, British farmers purchased more than 50kg of strychnine each year – enough, in theory to kill half a billion moles. The poison was eventually phased out with new pesticide regulations in 2006. 

Summer moves on with as Swallows and Grey Wagtails feed young plus countless Meadow Pipits both young and old along the walls and fences. While there are insects Meadow Pipits tend to stay around but come late August/early September there is a mass movement of the species south and west. 



Meadow Pipit 

Grey Wagtail 

Other birds today: Redshank, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Red Grouse, Pied Wagtail, Tawny Owl, Common Sandpiper, Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Redpoll.

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sleepy Time North

There’s not a lot to report from this morning’s birding sortie but then it is sleepy mid-June. 

The regular Barn Owl flew over someone’s garden and past their lounge window. That’s a pretty good bird for anyone’s garden list. 

Barn Owl

I stopped at Gulf Lane to inspect the bird seed cover crop and where pretty soon we’ll be catching more Linnets, a few Goldfinch and one or two other species. There’s been a tremendous surge of growth in the six or seven weeks since the farmer sowed the field during which there’s been zero rain with lots of sunny days. At the end of July we’ll cut a 100 ft ride for single panel nets through the crop and away we go with Linnet catching through until March. 

Bird Seed Cover Crop 

I saw six or eight Goldfinch and a couple of Linnets along the edge of the dried up ditch plus a singing Whitethroat. The Oystercatchers bred successfully here but then moved their young across the fields and towards the shore 200 yards away. 



Nearby and at the roadside Buzzard nest, one of the adults tried to hide but didn’t fly off so there’s a good chance there are one or two nestlings ready for fledging. Close by, a Kestrel and a singing Yellowhammer. Yellowhammers breed rather late around here so it’s not unusual to have them singing way into August. 



At Conder Green it’s “as you were” with the breeding birds; 2 pairs of Common Tern, 5 or more pairs of Oystercatcher and 1 pair of Avocets. Goodness knows what the Tufted Ducks are up to with as far as I know a zero count of ducklings from 10-20 paired adults that have been around all year.

A number of the Oystercatchers were busy with their “piping” rituals. At some unknown prompt the birds suddenly decided to display with up to six or seven taking part but three captured in the picture below.  The ritual is a way of defending pairs’ territories and consists of the Oystercatchers bowing their heads up and down with their beaks facing the ground while making long, high-pitched piping sounds. The shrill piping sounds are often directed to their neighbours. Sometimes they chase their neighbours or intruders away, piping loudly as they go.  Note the bowed heads and open bills.


Noticeable today was an increase in Redshanks as inland and upland birds return to the coast. I counted 60 Redshanks this morning as well as 4 Black-tailed Godwits. Strange as it may seem the somnolence of summer breeding for passerines occurs at the same time as wading birds begin to migrate. By mid June many northern waders have finished their breeding with the adult birds the first the first to feel the southerly urge. 

The few passerines in the immediate area were noted as 3 Whitethroat, 4 Reed Bunting, 4 Sedge Warbler, 2 Reed Warbler, 2 Pied Wagtail, 1 Blackcap, 1 Lesser Whitethroat and 2 Tree Sparrow. 

It’s sad to say that 9 Swift flying around the pool and the hedgerows was my best UK count of the year. 

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

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Missed The Pink

I found myself looking at Starlings this morning. Yes, those noisy, mucky pests that carry the very appropriate Latin title of Sturnus vulgaris. For readers not up to speed with the latest rarity news, there has been an influx of Rose-coloured Starlings into Western Europe and the UK from the pink ones’ normal area of easternmost Europe and southern Asia.  In those parts the species inhabits steppe and open agricultural land but when they turn up here in the UK they might be found in almost any habitat that resembles their original.  

An adult Rosy Starling looks nothing like our Common Starling but for the next few weeks it’s a good idea to check out any post-breeding Starling flocks as the juveniles of each species have a closer likeness.

All of a sudden there are a lot of Starlings around this week with flocks here and there and 90% of them fresh juveniles. 

Rose-coloured Starling 

Common Starling 

Good and bad news from Conder Green. A mink scurried along the water’s edge, glistening black from its dip in the creek before it disappeared into the grass. This was my first sighting here of this non-native terrorist, the originals of which were escapees from fur farms and those released by misguided Disney-heads. 

Mink - Pdreijnders CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Unsurprisingly the watery creeks held little apart from a handful of Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Shelduck, plus singles of Curlew, Grey Heron and Little Egret.

Fortunately the story on the pool was much better with proved breeding from a number of birds and a "maybe" from a single Little Ringed Plover that is unlikely to be alone.  On the nearest island an Oystercatcher had three chicks, vying for the limited space with four fresh out-of-the-egg Redshank chicks.  Play “Spot the Chick” in the picture below. 


Otherwise - a pair of Avocet in the throes of egg sitting, 18 Tufted Duck and at least 4 more pairs of Oystercatcher with more small young.

There are still two pairs of Common Tern, one pair with chicks, all of them joined briefly today by two other Common Terns that flew in from the estuary. After a few very noisy but brief skirmishes the would-be interlopers flew back from whence they arrived out to the River Lune.

I completed a circuit of the lanes from Conder Green via Jeremy, Moss etc. to estimate the passerines hiding in the ditches and hedgerows with singing counts of 12 Tree Sparrow, 8 Sedge Warbler, 6 Whitethroat, 3 Reed Warbler, 5 Reed Bunting, 4 Pied Wagtail, 2 Willow Warbler and 2 Blackcap

Tree Sparrow 

Pied Wagtail

I drove back via the moss roads to find more juvenile Starlings, a day flying Barn Owl, 4 Buzzards and a single Yellowhammer belting it out from on high. A Yellowhammer is quite a find nowadays, almost rarer than a Rosy Starling.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owl


That’s all for now folks. Another Bird Blog is back soon with more colourful bird tales.

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


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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wader Snaps

This is the quiet period when migration takes a breather as the birds settle down to breed. I took time out with the camera today with the intention of snapping a few waders in the hills a thirty minute drive from home.  Don't forget - click the pics.

Snipe intrigue me. Dumpy, squat  little waders that like to hide away in marshy places and rarely make it easy for the camera. In the breeding season the males keep an eye open for trouble along fences or dry stone walls and where with a stealthy approach there’s a chance of a picture or two. I took loads of pictures of one obliging Snipe. 




For a minute or more the Snipe took a walk along the fence towards an on-guard Oystercatcher. The Oystercatcher had chicks but Snipe are generally a week or more behind the oyks. 


Oystercatcher chick 


Oystercatcher and Snipe



Up here in the hills Oystercatchers breed in the fields, amongst scattered trees, and also along the beds of stony streams. 


Oystercatcher chick 

I didn't see too many Redshanks today but one of a pair, I think the male, proved pretty obliging. He sounded a warning from a roadside post to the female just yards away on a nest in the rushy field. 


Lapwings weren’t too numerous and the ones I saw were adults or well grown youngsters so I suspect that the Lapwings are more or less done for this year. 



Curlews are the difficult ones. They are very wary of approaching cars where even slowing makes them very prone to fly off. Unlike the other waders up here, Curlews rarely sit on walls and even less so on fence posts. 


Bowland, Lancashire

Other species seen but not photographed today – 2 Cuckoo, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Pied Flycatcher, several Siskin, 4+ Lesser Redpoll, Mistle Thrush (many), Red Grouse, Grey Wagtail, Sand Martin, Swallow, Willow Warbler, Blackcap. 

Four plus hours - No raptors!

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

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