Monday, October 15, 2018

Rare As Hen's Teeth

As predicted, a weekend of Storm Callum made for several grey, wet and windy days and left no chance of a ringing session. During this time it seemed unlikely that many of our target birds had made it south to Lancashire through such unfavourable weather systems, despite good numbers of Redwings, Bramblings and Fieldfares in the Northern Isles of Scotland, some 6/700 miles away. 

Sunday afternoon was bright and sunny to further heighten expectations for Monday morning, already pencilled in as the first “probable” day for a rush of birds from the North. At 0630 I met Andy at our regular ringing site near Oakenclough, a hamlet that lies on the very edge of the Pennine Hills. 

Before today at this site we’d handled over 620 birds for the year but with luck September and October see a major arrival of many birds into the UK – mostly finches and thrushes, but also buntings and eastern warblers. This is our chance to bump up the totals and gain a few extra species. 

But it wasn't the anticipated Redwings that topped our catch but our old friend the Lesser Redpoll, a species hard to come by this autumn. Total birds caught - 36 of 11 species. 10 Lesser Redpoll, 5 Redwing, 5 Chaffinch, 4 Blue Tit, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Great Tit, 2 Coal Tit , 1 Robin, 1 Song Thrush. 

We can only guess why Lesser Redpoll have been conspicuously absent until today but it was good to see them back on site. We saw a total of about 45 this morning, the numbers made of several small flocks which began to arrive only after about 10 am. Our main theory for the lack of redpolls this year is that the hot summer and warm autumn to the north delayed their departure until now. The next few visits up here to Oakenclough should either confirm this or give yet more food for thought if we fail to catch more. 

Lesser Redpoll 

We counted approximately 70 Redwings this morning, less than we hoped for but still nice to see and examine. In what was a slight north-easterly breeze they arrived in small flocks from various compass points but gave little clue as to their routes of travel. 

Redwing 

The Redwings Turdus iliacus we see here have crossed the North Sea from Scandinavia & Russia and arrived in the UK on a broad front - west, central and east before some found their way into Lancashire via the coast or by travelling overland. Icelandic Redwings Turdus iliacus coburnii arrive about the same time by taking a westerly approach to Britain. This sub-species is darker overall, and marginally larger than the nominate Turdus iliacus. 

The two are hard to distinguish in the field but slightly easier in the hand, especially so with direct and immediate comparisons of several individuals. The five today were or all iliacus specimens confirmed by their “normal” appearance and biometrics. 

As autumn turns to winter, Redwings have largely finished their journeys and settle in the warmer and relatively frost-free areas away from the east coast. Hard weather may force them to migrate further, as Scandinavian/Russian birds continue west to Ireland or south into southern Europe. To some degree, Redwings can be somewhat nomadic, with individuals taking different routes in different years when leaving their breeding areas. 

The birding was pretty sparse this morning, the main components of visible migration being Woodpigeons and Chaffinches. Many Woodpigeons flew in a clear north to south west trajectory in groups of 10-60 individuals and a total count of 800/900 in the five hours of watch. Chaffinches totalled circa 150 individuals with once again a clear north to south movement of between 5 and 20 birds. 

Chaffinch

Other highlights included 4 Fieldfare, 3 Buzzard, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker and a “ringtail” Hen Harrier. 

The Hen Harrier is as rare as hen’s teeth here on the edge of the infamous Bowland with its history of persecuting raptors, not least the Hen Harrier with its reputation of being partial to grouse chicks. 

Hen Harrier 

The harrier appeared from the north, quite high up and over the distant hills where it briefly interacted with a Buzzard. As it got closer but still fairly high we could see that it was a “ringtail”, a female or juvenile, and we watched as it drifted out towards the coast in a south-westerly direction. 

Almost certainly this was an individual from Scotland or the North East involved in visible migration. We were pleased that it chose not to linger in Bowland. 

Linking today with Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.


17 comments:

Fun60 said...

The last picture is a real gem. It looks so majestic in flight.

eileeninmd said...

Hello, beautiful variety of the birds. The Redpoll is one of my favorites. Love the Harrier in flight! Enjoy your day and have a great new week!

eileeninmd said...

Hello, beautiful birds and photos. The Redpoll is a favorite and I like the Harrier in flight. Enjoy your day and have a great new week!

mick said...

Beautiful birds and I'm glad your storms delayed your migrants but other than that they are OK I have no idea what the hail storm did to the migrating shorebirds out here and - sheer frustration! - at present I am incapable of getting out to see for myself.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I enjoyed this post so much and as always appreciate your taking time out from your counting and banding to make those good photos. I am especially fond of the hen harrier in flight photo. I remember reading how they are endangered because of hunting and I hate that.

Angie said...

Congrats on the rare Hen Harrier sighting!!

P.S. Love the partridge in your header.

Lowcarb team member said...

Always lovely to see the variety of birds …
But that last photograph is just wonderful :)

All the best Jan

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Pretty little birds!

italiafinlandia said...

Bye-bye Chaffinch! See you here in the north next spring...
The Robin is still here, instead.
Always interesting to read your posts!

Margaret Adamson said...

great sighting of the Hen Harrier

Latane Barton said...

Very nice collection of different bird pictures. Have a great week.

A Colorful World said...

Love those redwings! A great post as always.

Rhodesia said...

Love that last shot Phil. My hard drive has completely crashed out and they can save nothing. I have most things backed up thankfully but it is going to take me a while to get back into working order again. Cheers Diane

David Gascoigne said...

The news about the Harrier is good, Phil. Let's hope it moves to an area where it can be left in peace. Just back from Australia. Lots to do - laundry, shopping, banking....stuff like that. I also need to get my aging body back to normal - but Miriam says that may take eons, so better not get my hopes up too much!

Stuart Price said...

They're still persecuting the Harriers in Bowland? Terrible.

Chris Rohrer said...

Fantastic birds! How close are you to Wales:)? Just asking:) Harriers are amazing birds. Aren't they protected?

Phil Slade said...

100 miles to North Wales Chris.

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