Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Demo Time

On Tuesday I joined Andy at Marton Mere Nature Reserve Blackpool to help out with a demonstration of bird ringing. A start time 7 a.m meant a bit of a lie-in. 

Demo Time 

Events like this present a great opportunity for non-ringers to see birds in close-up instead of through a pair of binoculars.  It’s an opportunity to learn a little about how bird ringers’ age and sex birds by using techniques involving the taking of biometric measurements, studying feather wear and moult or by simple but sometimes subtle differences in appearance.  

The morning dawned bright with a few cursory showers but not enough to deter the 12 or so people who initially turned up. A good number of those volunteer at the reserve and give freely of their time and energy to make the nature reserve a better place for visitors and birds alike. 

Maybe the 7am start did not encourage many more to join in but the smaller group allowed everyone to get a close look and for us to answer their many probing questions.. 

Reserve Warden Rick at centre stage 

Ready to go.

After a couple of hours we’d caught 4 Whitethroat, 4 Reed Warbler, 2 Cetti’s Warbler, 1 Sedge Warbler and 1 Blackcap, not a tremendous total but enough birds to allow close examination and explanation for the appreciative visitors. 

Andy holding court

The two Cetti’s Warblers, both adults, a male and a female, proved to be object lessons in how our UK summer warblers moult. The two had quite recently finished breeding and one in particular was in the advanced stages of complete moult of wings, body and tail. Not the prettiest of Cetti's to be sure.

Cetti's Warbler 

Cetti's Warbler

No wonder then that adult warblers hide away during the height of summer when their lack of fully working plumage makes it harder to avoid predators. Cetti's Warblers are secretive at the best of times so our visitors enjoyed seeing the pair we caught as it is a species they mostly hear but rarely if ever see well in the field.

Sedge Warbler 

juvenile Blackcap 


Reed Warbler 

A good morning was had by all. And there's more soon from Another Bird Blog - ringing, birding and photos.

Linking today to Eileen's Blog.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Smart Moves

The plan was to meet Andy at the Sand Martin colony at 0630. 

I set off at 0600 as an HGV accident on the M6 near Garstang on Thursday resulted in closure of the motorway overnight, gridlock on the alternative A6 and local congestion on the A588. One accident and the whole of the North West ground to a halt. Luckily, no one was hurt and I heard that one side of the motorway was opened early morning. 

Following our last visit to the colony on 3rd July 2018 I paid a few visits but looked from the road above so as to not directly trouble the nesting birds. The visits were mostly inconclusive but I suspected that after the first broods of June and early July many birds had already left as numbers seemed not to exceed one hundred birds. 

Getting up close this morning showed the numbers present to be about 180 and possibly more as suggested by the catch of 72 Sand Martins. 

Out of that overall total, 52 were new birds and 20 recaptures from this and previous years. The 72 comprised 29 juveniles and 43 adults; it was quite illuminating to find that on this our third visit, we are still catching new adults amongst the expected juveniles. 

Sand Martin 

Sand Martins are members of the swallow tribe, and one of the few British birds that nest in sometimes tight colonies; it’s a type of sociable living afforded to them by their preference for nesting in sandy or gravelly banks. 

But Sand Martins are subject to the whims of nature when they return to a colony each year. The riverine bank or quarry face may erode or disappear completely during the birds’ six-month winter absence. In March and April the early returnees have first choice of existing holes that are in good shape when all they have to do is tidy up last year’s nest and add a few new feathers to protect the eggs from the cold sand and gravel of the tunnel. 

New members of the colony may have to compete to find a suitable excavation, but if they can’t they have to set to and make a home. A Sand Martin has claws adapted for clinging, the beak short, rigid and pointed, the two a useful combination for excavation tasks. They grasp the perpendicular surface of their chosen spot with their claws and steady themselves by means of their tail and then make a small hole with their bills. They gradually enlarge the hole by moving round and round, edging off the sand with the side of their bills. Their progress is slow at first but after they have made room to stand on the excavation they intensify the work and push out the sand and gravel with their feet. Both sexes take their turn at the labour until the hole is three to four inches in diameter and up to three whole feet in depth. 

Sand Martin 

The building work is so expert and practised that the terminal nesting chamber of up to five or six inches is situated above the level of the entrance so that no rain water lodges where the eggs and chicks will be. 

The picture below shows how the holes become worn, damaged and eroded throughout the season but if you look closely (click the pic), there are Sand Martins at hole entrances. 

Sand Martin colony 

Processing 72 birds for age, sex and biometrics kept us rather busy but we managed to see 2 Grey Heron, 6 Linnet, 2 Pied Wagtail and 2 Oystercatcher. 

Pied Wagtail 

Grey Heron 

Take a look soon for more birding, ringing and photos in Another Bird Blog.

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Rare Find

I was on the way home after an uneventful morning when up popped a real rarity near Pilling. Not only was this bird a major rarity but there was also proof of breeding by way of an adult with several youngsters in tow. It is a species now so rare, so scarcely if ever seen in recent years in this part of Lancashire that I for one believed to be locally almost extinct. 

"The Grey Partridge, a native game-bird has declined enormously and, despite years of research and the application of a government biodiversity action plan, the continuing decline shown by the Common Bird Census and Breeding Bird Survey suggests that all efforts to boost the population in the wider countryside have so far been unsuccessful. Grey Partridge is one of the most strongly decreasing bird species in Europe, with steep declines evident in all regions since 1980." BTO.

Grey Partridge

I grabbed a few pictures before the covey disappeared through a gateway and, over a rise in the ground and then into the next field. The picture shows how well grown the young ones are, so hopefully they will reach adulthood before long, despite this being an area where “sportsmen” abound. A Grey Partridge is a major trophy for birders and shooters alike although I know of shooters who profess not to take aim at Grey Partridges, even if they should see one. 

Grey Partridge 

Grey Partridge

Claims of Grey Partridge from the locally inexperienced may involve sightings of the numerous and non-native Red-legged Partridge, released for sport in their tens of thousands during the autumn and winter months of every year. 

Apart from the partridge highlight things were pretty normal this morning. There were very good numbers of birds in the area of Conder Green and up to Cockersands via Moss Lane, Jeremy Lane and Slack Lane. 

The dry and rain-free summer seems to be producing a good harvest of birds if not of famers’ crops. Not least was a flock of 80/90 House Sparrows along Jeremy Lane where my arriving car caused a Barn Owl to vacate a fence post and disappear into the distance. But my stop produced a moulting Willow Warbler, hiding away in a hawthorn bush plus a Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting. 

Willow Warbler 

Sedge Warbler 

I suspect there may be a Swallow roost close to Moss Lane (maybe at the fishery) because quite early on I counted 100+, Swallows on the wires. An hour or so later there was just the resident few pairs of both Swallows and House Martins at Gardner’s Farm. 

A good mix of species ensued along the ditches and hedgerows up to and including Slack Lane with 30+ Goldfinch, 10 Linnet, 10 Tree Sparrow, 8/10 Reed Bunting, 6+ Whitethroat, 5 Skylark, 4+ Sedge Warbler and even a Greenfinch or two. There was evidence of the first post-breeding movement of Meadow Pipits too with 10/12 in the fields here. 

Meadow Pipit 

Meadow Pipit 


Unfortunately the pool of Conder Green was not as busy as the lanes that radiate to and from the expanse of water. There was a brief Kingfisher and the usual mix of wildfowl and waders; 120 Redshank, 35 Lapwing, 20 Oystercatcher, 7 Little Grebe, 2 Little Egret, 2 Grey Heron. 

That was it for the morning apart from a look at Gulf Lane and a check of the set-aside. Here was a flock of 12 Linnets, 2 Tree Sparrows and the warning calls of a Whitethroat from the clump of bramble. Whitethroats have been resident since May and definitely raised a family, maybe two by now. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Cure For Ornithophobia

I’ll bet we have all met people who don’t appreciate birds. You know the type. Just as you’re enjoying a quiet spot of birding, relishing the grace and beauty of a Spotted Flycatcher or watching a Peregrine beating up the waders, along comes Mr Dickhead, all mouth and an over-abundance of non-functioning brain cells. He’s hoping to wind-up a nerdy birder. Although he’s never met a birder he knows they are all nerdy 'cos his mate in the pub told him. 

Spotted Flycatcher

"Spotted anything interesting pal? What f...ing use are birds anyway? I can’t sleep at night because of bloody seagulls on my roof from dawn until dusk. And they shit too much. That is when they are not rooting through my bin bags and scattering KFC boxes all over.” 

“And those sodding pigeons, rats with wings I call them, clogging up the town centre and crapping everywhere. Same with those duck things in the park. My kids can’t eat their jam butties in peace without “Quack, quack, bloody quack. Give us our daily bread”. 

There’s not much point in trying to explain science to a moron, someone who’s never taken the trouble to think about birds’ role in the natural world; how birds maintain sustainable population levels of their prey and predator species and, after death, provide food for scavengers and decomposers. How birds are important in plant reproduction through their services as pollinators or seed dispersers and why birds are important members of many ecosystems. 

I suppose the poor chap could have a touch of Ornithophobia. Yes, there’s a name for a person's abnormal and irrational fear of birds, or someone with a dislike of birds because of their habits or reputation as pests e.g. Carrion Crows, Collared Doves, Jays, Starlings, Gulls, Magpies and pigeons (feral & Woodpigeon). 

In such cases, keep it simple. I mention that birds eat a lot of insects, bugs and creepy-crawlies, all the things that Mr D also hates, and that if birds didn't do that, the world would be knee deep in such things within the week. Such a mind-blowing, revolutionary idea is often enough to make their dimmed light flicker, at least for the time being.  Off he goes in search of more worldly knowledge and I go back to birding with a cheery under my breath “bugger off”. 

But, here’s proof. “Birds around the world eat 400 to 500 million metric tonnes of beetles, flies, ants, moths, aphids, grasshoppers, crickets and other anthropods per year.”


It’s from Science Daily, 2018. The numbers have been calculated in a study led by Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel in Switzerland. The research, published in Springer's journal The Science of Nature, highlights the important role birds play in keeping plant-eating insect populations under control. 

"Nyffeler and his colleagues based their figures on 103 studies that highlighted the volume of prey that insect-eating birds consume in seven of the world's major ecological communities known as biomes. According to their estimations, this amounts to between 400 and 500 million tonnes of insects per year but is most likely to be on the lower end of the range. Their calculations are supported by a large number of experimental studies conducted by many different research teams in a variety of habitats in different parts of the world. 

"The global population of insectivorous birds annually consumes as much energy as a megacity the size of New York. They get this energy by capturing billions of potentially harmful herbivorous insects and other arthropods," says Nyffeler. 

Bee Eater

Forest-dwelling birds consume around 75 per cent of the insects eaten in total by birds which make up about 300 million tonnes of insects per year. About 100 million tonnes are eaten by birds in savannah areas, grasslands and croplands, and those living in the deserts and Arctic tundra. Birds actively hunt insects especially during the breeding season, when they need protein-rich prey to feed to their nestlings. 


Further, the researchers estimated that insectivorous birds together only have a biomass of about three million tonnes. Nyffeler says the comparatively low value for the global biomass of wild birds can be partially explained through their very low production efficiency. This means that respiration takes a lot of energy and only leaves about one to two percent to be converted into biomass. 

"The estimates presented in this paper emphasize the ecological and economic importance of insectivorous birds in suppressing potentially harmful insect pests on a global scale -- especially in forested areas," explains Nyffeler, who says that this is especially so for tropical, temperate and boreal forest ecosystems. 

"Only a few other predator groups such as spiders and entomophagous insects (including in particular predaceous ants) can keep up with the insectivorous birds in their capacity to suppress plant-eating insect populations on a global scale," he adds. 


A study from 2017 which Nyffeler also led showed that spiders consume between 400 and 800 million tonnes of insects each year. Other predator groups like bats, primates, shrews, hedgehogs, frogs, salamanders, and lizards seem to be valuable yet less effective natural enemies of plant-eating insects. He says their influence seems to be more biome-specific rather than on a worldwide scale. For instance, lizards help to suppress insects on tropical islands, but less so on a broader scale. 

"Birds are an endangered class of animals because they are heavily threatened by factors such as afforestation, intensification of agriculture, spread of systemic pesticides, predation by domestic cats, collisions with human-made structures, light pollution and climate change. If these global threats cannot soon be resolved, we must fear that the vital ecosystem services that birds provide -- such as the suppression of insect pests -- will be lost," says Nyffeler. 

Short-toed Lark

Maybe all birders should carry a paper copy of the above? It would come in handy when we next meet up with Mr Butthole; although the chances are he can’t read. 

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

One Good Tern

The Common Terns at Conder Green are very unhelpful to anyone with a camera. Since they arrived in May they have kept their distance from the nearest viewing point. They are so fast, erratic and unpredictable in their flight patterns that it’s only possible to get a decent in-flight picture with a very fast and expensive lens. With its long tail streamers, general shape and zig-zag flight there’s a good reason that the species was once known colloquially as the “sea swallow”. It’s a term that has fallen out of fashion and one I never hear nowadays. 

Fortunately the pair that bred at nearby Glasson this year have been a little more obliging by resting occasionally, especially so this morning. There’s a question; did you ever see an adult tern sit on the water? I’m not sure I have. 

Common Tern 

Common Tern 

During the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s Common Terns bred on the north side marshes of the River Lune. Here and from either side of the river channel they became a daily spectacle fishing the tidal flows. The Common Tern was another one of those birds that we birders took for granted; no one imagined that such a numerous and easily seen species could vanish. Years of disturbance from weekend sailors, jet skis, wind surfers, walkers with & without dogs, plus miscellaneous nuisance and even deliberate destruction took its toll until the birds finally abandoned the River Lune.  

Fortunately, and after almost twenty years a pair arrived at Conder Pool in 2014 and bred successfully on an island situated relatively safe in the centre of the pool/small lake. Since then a pair have bred each year with every sign that the population might increase. Not that it will ever reach the dizzy heights of c250 pairs of Common Terns when the marsh colony peaked. 

Common Tern

Apart from the chance to photograph and be alone with a Common Tern, the other highlight of my morning was the sight of 50+ Swifts over Conder Pool. That’s a fairly good count that must include some birds of the year. Meanwhile there were just 20 or so House Martins around the creeks, plus a handful each of Swallows and Sand Martins. 

There was a single Kingfisher today. In addition - 190 Redshank, 20 Oystercatcher, 15 Lapwing, 4 Curlews, 3 Greenshank, 3 Common Sandpiper, 1 Black-tailed Godwit and 6 Little Grebe. 

It was almost 10am before I got to Jeremy Lane where I was in time to see a Barn Owl hunting across the fields. After sitting briefly along the fence it disappeared into the distance. I was to see another one later a good 3 miles away. It too did the same vanishing act. 

Swallows seem to have done well so far this year with my best count of 60+ in and around the fields up towards and including Cockersands. 


At Cockersands itself I spotted a Kestrel chased by Swallows plus singing Whitethroat and Reed Bunting; plenty of sparrows by way of a flock of about 40 House Sparrows & 12 Tree Sparrows and the usual collection of Collared Doves around the farm buildings. 

Tree Sparrow

House Sparrow

 Collared Dove

In the direction of Lighthouse Cottage were 20 or more Swallows, 5 Sedge Warbler, 5 Goldfinch 2 Reed Bunting and 2 Linnet.

Linking this post to Eileen's Blog.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Three Of A Kind

We had a drop of rain on Friday; the first here for several weeks, just a few showers that barely wet our parched, straw coloured lawn and briefly dampened the roof tiles. By Saturday morning we were back to sun and blue skies but I rather hoped that the scattered showers had produced a different bird or two as the birding of late has been rather predictable.

So I hit Micawber Road at the usual unearthly hour in the hope that something might turn up.  Naturally I headed for Conder Green, one of the most productive of local birding sites and where a couple of extra places are but a stone’s throw away to make for an often satisfying circuit.

It was good to see up to 20 Swifts hawking insects over the surrounding hedgerows this morning. That’s probably as good a count as anyone has had this year.

July sees the first Kingfishers returning to the pool. They breed close by along the canal or the associated River Conder. “River” is something of a misnomer since the waterway resembles the final throes of a babbling brook rather than a mighty river. I was more than pleased to see three Kingfishers today, a family group that stuck close together but stayed distant from the camera. Sorry for the poor images. Today wasn't the most productive in the picture stakes but you get the idea.



Kingfisher and Common Tern


Like many other species, Kingfisher families stay together for a week or two after the youngsters fledge so that the inexperienced birds learn from the parents about growing up and how, where & when to feed. It’s rather like a human family except that kids and teenagers are very slow to learn, always think they know best, and if they ever leave home will likely be back.

The single pair of Avocets still have three good sized chicks ably looked after by their aggressive parents. In turn I watched both adults chase off a Grey Heron, a Little Egret and any number of Redshanks and Oystercatchers.


Grey Heron 

Other waders noted as 120 Redshank, 18 Oystercatcher, 15 Lapwing, 4 Common Sandpiper, 4 Curlew, 2 Snipe, 2 Greenshank. Smaller stuff – 6 Pied Wagtail, 2 Blackcap, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Whitethroat and 2 Reed Warbler.


Pied Wagtail 

Six Common Terns still around as they vied with the Kingfishers for the prime launch pad into the water below. Three Little Grebes on the water and now just 8 Tufted Duck and another mostly unproductive year for the persistent tufties.

Common Tern

There's still a pair of Common Terns hanging around Glasson Dock and here’s where I found a flock of 18/20 Goldfinches and a healthy number of House Martin nests right in the village centre. The martins fly down towards the dock gates for their building materials and where the tidal flow leaves exposed mud in this driest of summers.

Common Tern

House Martin

I called into Gulf Lane where a small party of 6/8 Linnets plus 2 Whitethroats suggested it will soon be time to cut that ride for project Linnet.

That’s for another, cooler day.

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

Dove Tales

I found an interesting piece on-line about the work of scientists at Lincoln University UK. It concerns the Turtle Dove, another rapidly declining bird of British farmland. The Turtle Dove is without doubt the most beautiful of the UK family of wild doves and pigeons. 

Turtle Dove  

Turtle Doves are pretty rare on the west coast where I live but they cling on in southern and eastern parts of the UK. Many years ago I used to see lots of Turtle Doves on family drives to the east coast of the UK when groups of the doves would scatter at sight of an approaching car. Like those other members of the pigeon family, Collared Dove, Stock Dove and Woodpigeon, the Turtle Dove is not averse to early morning feeds along the carriageways of major roads where they find grit essential to grind up their diet of grain. I believe that those self-same roads of Middle England and Yorkshire no longer produce anything like the number of Turtle Dove sightings due to the species’ decline. 

I see lots of Turtle Doves each year when we holiday in Menorca where they are still fairly common, but even here I have seen a decline in 15 years of visiting the island. It’s no secret that many, many thousands of migrating Turtle Doves are shot in the Mediterranean area each year, the main culprit being the island of Malta where at least 10,000 Turtle Doves were shot during 2015. 

Turtle Dove 

“New research into Britain's fastest declining bird species has found that young Turtle Doves raised on a diet of seeds foraged from non-cultivated arable plants rather than foods provided in people’s gardens are more likely to survive after fledging. 

Ecologists at the University of Lincoln investigated the dietary habits of adult and nestling European Turtle Dove -- a IUCN Red List Threatened Species -- breeding in the UK, using DNA analysis of faecal samples. They found significant associations between the body condition and the diet of the bird. 

Nestling Turtle Doves still being fed by their parents were found to thrive on seeds foraged from non-cultivated arable plants such as scarlet pimpernel and chickweed, but the birds were in poorer condition when their diet was high in seeds provided by humans in back gardens or public spaces. In contrast, adult body condition was better when more cultivated seeds such as wheat, oil seed rape and barley were present in the diet. 

Data collected for the study, which was carried out in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the University of Sheffield and Cardiff University, was compared with the results of previous studies carried out in the 1960s and 1990s. It revealed a fundamental shift in the diet of Turtle Doves, showing that the birds are now relying more heavily on food found in gardens, such as sunflower and niger seeds, than they did 50 years ago. 

As the UK's fastest declining bird species, the results of the study have important implications for conservation strategies to save the Turtle Dove. Previous research has shown that nestling birds with better body condition are more likely to survive after fledging and strategies should be developed to provide the correct diet for the bird at each stage of its life. 

Turtle Dove 

Dr Jenny Dunn, Lecturer in Animal Health and Disease in the University of Lincoln's School of Life Sciences, led the research. She said: "Turtle Doves are the UK's fastest declining bird, with a loss of 98% of breeding birds since 1970. Researchers are trying to tackle the problem by identifying ways to provide food resources for the species while they are breeding in the UK, but for this to be effective we need to understand the birds' food sources and the impact they have on both adults and their young. 

"The results of this study suggest that conservation strategies should include provision of anthropogenic seeds for adults early in the breeding season, coupled with habitat rich in accessible seeds from arable plants once chicks have hatched." 

To understand the diet of the birds, researchers caught Turtle Doves on breeding grounds at 11 sites across East Anglia, and extracted DNA from the faecal samples which enabled them to identify the diet of each bird. Their body condition was also examined, and nest sites monitored. Further research is now needed to link the findings of the study to the use of habitats provided for Turtle Doves through agri-environment schemes.” 

Turtle Dove 

Thanks go to University of Lincoln. "Garden seed diet for threatened turtle doves has negative impact."  Science Daily  June 2018

This research may have implications for other species that regularly feed in gardens on supplementary food.  I guess the moral of the story is that when using additional feed systems in our gardens we should aim to provide food that is as near to a birds natural diet as possible.  Don’t feed on the cheap, and always buy the best you can afford.

Linking today to Eileen's Blog.

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