Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tuesday Time

Mondays are a no go for me. In my enforced absence Andy made it up to Oakenclough where he caught the first Lesser Redpolls of the year. 

The BTO Migration Atlas tells us that “return movements in spring from southern to northern England have begun by mid-April”, however in recent years we have noted that a few of our returning migrant Lesser Redpolls are around in late February and definitely more so by early March. 

Lesser Redpoll 

Lesser Redpoll from The BTO Migration Atlas

At 885 pages The Migration Atlas may seem a daunting read but is a must-have-book for any serious ornithologist. “This landmark publication presents the most up-to-date information on bird migration, using the vast wealth of data that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has collected from ringing recoveries”. The Migration Atlas  

With the weather set fair, we hope to return to Oakenclough on Wednesday for more Lesser Redpolls.

In the meantime, gluttons for punishment that we are, the decision was made to have another shot at the Linnet flock at Pilling/Cockerham as they too will be soon on their way north. A good number of the Linnets will head for Scotland, just like their cousins the Siskins and Redpolls. 

With lighter and longer days the Linnets have not been assembling until after 9am so I arranged to meet Andy at 0800. That left time for brief stop on Head Dyke Lane where I spotted a morning Barn Owl glowing in the early sunlight. 

Barn Owl 

There were about 45 Whooper Swans not far away. I picked out a part of four for a family photo. 

Whooper Swans

From a mid-winter peak of 300 the Linnet flock is now down to a steady 120 birds at each visit. Weather permitting Farmer Richard told us he plans to spray off the residue crop in mid-March, and then plough and disc the land before re-seeding for another autumn and winter crop. His agreement with Natural England runs until 2020 which should give us 2 more winters to continue with Project Linnet. 

We caught just three Linnets today, a single female and two males, the males now much easier to sex as they gain their summery breast colours. This brings our winter Linnet total to 123 captures, 120 new and 1 previously ringed elsewhere (Orkney). 



More birds tomorrow - from Oakenclough this time. And what a nice change to have settled weather that allows us to plan ahead!

Linking this post to Eileen's Saturday and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Consolation Prize

The Linnets gave Andy and me the run around again this morning; they just weren't having our attempts at a catch. After three hours of watch and wait we came to the conclusion that the 150 or so Linnets of recent weeks are now wise to our antics. This idea was reinforced somewhat on our last visit of 12th February when two of those caught had been ringed in late 2008. 


Although the Linnets stayed clear we caught a single Skylark and a close encounter with another, two of the several around this morning, four or more of which were singing males. 


A quick search of our data showed that before today our Ringing Group had ringed just 5 full grown Skylarks scattered through the years from 1986 - in 1986, 1987, 1991, 2007 and 2010. We have had more success with the ringing of nestlings with 56 youngsters from about 16 nests over the same number of years. 

Skylark Nest

A local project to find, map and ring nesting Skylarks would seem to be an ideal venture for a keen and dedicated young birder wishing to enhance their ornithological credentials.  

The infrequency of catching a Skylark called for a check of the literature. Svensson reminded us that wing length can be a decider in separation of the sexes. In our case 111mm meant that we almost certainly had a male rather than the slightly smaller female. 


Ageing was much more difficult since both adults and juveniles have a complete moult including wings and tail during July to September, with the result that by the following spring, adults and juveniles look much the same.  We found that our bird had very raggedy tertial feathers together with well-worn primary tips, all of which suggested a summer rather than an autumn moult; hence a likely adult of unknown age. A Skylark can live up to ten years. 

So, no Linnets but a welcome consolation prize in the shape of rarely encountered Skylark. 

Other birds this morning - Kestrel, Buzzard, 8 Chaffinch

If the weather folk are right, which they sometimes are, warm air emanating from the coast of West Africa could bring settled days plus birding and ringing opportunities very soon. Stay tuned. 

Linking today toAnni's Birding Blog and  Eileen's Blogspot.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Now’s The Time

A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees in the next door neighbour’s garden: it was very dark with little time to look, but the owl was very close. The owls breed in a nearby copse, our garden on the edge of their territory. 

This morning was my first ringing trip to Oakenclough for 2019; ahead lay a forty minute drive. Near Out Rawcliffe there was a roadside Little Owl and then 500 yards further on, a Tawny Owl on overhead wires, but there was no point in stopping in the half-light of 0700. 

I met Andy at 0725 and noted how the mornings are getting lighter but not necessarily any warmer at a finger tingling 3°C. Some folk might consider mid-Feb to be still winter but birds don’t have a calendar taped  to the kitchen cupboard, only instinct to tell them when the time is right, just as those early morning owls announced. 

Little Owl 

Visits here at Oakenclough in 2018 provided 870 captures, 767 new birds and 103 recaptures. Once autumn migration was over we packed up in early November when the weather took a turn towards winter. The site at some 550ft/168 metres above sea level doesn't hold many midwinter birds. The decent catches are in spring and autumn as our results show e.g. 151 Goldfinch, 98 Chaffinch , 88 Redwing, 58 Meadow Pipit, 14 Tree Pipit, 52 Lesser Redpoll, 19 Blackcap and 39 Goldcrest. 

We try to filter out the tit family, mainly because in general they provide little information or data over and above that already known; but as a bi-catch we still managed 60 Blue Tit, 48 Great Tit and 18 Coal Tit. 

Andy’s dozen or so birds on Monday spurred our decision to have another go this morning but the catching proved slow and unproductive apart from ever-dependable Goldfinches. We caught just 10 birds - 6 Goldfinch, 3 Blue Tit and 1 Chaffinch. Many of the Goldfinches are in fine fettle, the silvery bills of the older males elongated enough to sex the bird without additional features. 


The most unusual occurrence came with the realisation that a Blue Tit AKC5385 had not been ringed by ourselves but by another ringer – “probably just down the road in Garstang” we remarked ungraciously, knowing that Blue Tits are not renowned itinerants. 

Blue Tit 

As the morning warmed signs of spring came by way of singing Mistle Thrush (2), Song Thrush, Great Tit and Coal Tit with a drumming Great-spotted Woodpecker providing the backing track. 

Mistle Thrush  

We saw fly-overs of Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Raven. It was a Sparrowhawk over the nearby reservoir that sent 150+ Lapwings into the air, a number of which carried on into the nearby hills where some, but sadly not enough, will stay to breed. Likewise, flights of piping Oystercatcher flew across the water to nearby fields for their own early spring rehearsals.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

An Improving Picture

Monday is something of a no-no for me with Grandparent duties the priority so I declined Andy’s offer of the first ringing session of 2019 at Oakenclough. He caught the first Siskin of the year plus several Goldfinch and Chaffinch, but otherwise he was not troubled by too many birds during a very frosty morning. 

There are now bird feeders in place and if the weather warms up as predicted the next few weeks should see an increase in the numbers of Siskins, Redpolls, Goldfinches and Chaffinches. 


For Tuesday we arranged to meet at Gulf Lane, Cockerham at 0730 for yet another crack at the Linnets despite their preference for playing “hard to get” during the whole winter. The morning was cold and overcast with occasional bouts of unwelcome drizzle. During the spasms of drizzle the Linnets disappeared but returned when the sky brightened. 

On Sunday when I topped the Linnets’ supplementary food with fresh millet and rapeseed, I’d counted circa 150 Linnets, 4 Skylark and a marauding Merlin. There was a similar count of Linnets today but with the vegetation now at ground level we changed tactics by employing a whoosh net in cleared ground in place of the usual single panel nets. 

The plan proved successful, albeit with one catch but with 23 at once Linnets under the single net - 11 first winter males, 7 first winter females, 4 adult females and 1 adult male. At 1015 this had been a two and a half hour wait before the Linnets finally dropped into the catching area after several dummy runs on their part. Linnets are "cute" in many ways. 

Included in the catch were two recaptures, AJD6523 and AJD6370 from late November and December 2018 respectively. These two were only the third and fourth recaptures of our own Linnets from 570+ captures over three winters. 


Today is very near the end of the shooting season with just another week left for shooting below the high water mark. At first light the number of sportsmen parked nose to tail along the roadside was a little worrying - exactly from where we needed to release the net. Luckily, and thanks to their cooperation, all the cars had gone by 10am. 

Most times when we are at Gulf Lane one or more of the locals stop to chat: Jim The Keeper, John B or his missus, Philip the nearby farmer, Richard who owns the land, the Ten O’Clock Bus Man (every two hours), or in midwinter, a steady stream of shooters on their way back to their vehicles from a morning on the salt-marsh. Many times they share snippets of local knowledge, information or experience that proves valuable to our enquiring minds. Every so often we hear of breeding birds that they know of, occasionally a pair of raptors, or even owls. 

All are keen to learn about our Linnet catches and often simply amazed at the fact that their tiny Linnets migrate so far. The chance to show them a Linnet in the hand and discuss the biometrics, plumage and sexual dimorphism of Linnets is something they appreciate and enjoy. 



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Linking this post to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Snowflake Birders

When extreme feminism, faux outrage and the ensuing kowtowing to such stupidity infects the everyday common sense world of birding, we know the world has gone truly mad. 

This apparently true story is from The Daily Telegraph of 5th February 2019. I really don’t know whether to laugh out loud at the crass foolishness or to cry with anger. 

“The RSPB has condemned one of its former officers after he gave a “sexist” bird watching talk that compared sparrows to female prostitutes. 

Ex-Tamworth RSPB officer Chris Edwards was accused of “everyday sexism” after he gave a talk in Birmingham on January 26, organised to coincide with the annual Big Garden Birdwatch. 

At the free event to around 60 people, Mr Edwards is reported as saying of mating sparrows ,“the female does the equivalent of going out on the street corner, calling to attract a male, mating, sending the male off to get food, and then heading back to the street corner”. 


One audience member was so disgusted she walked out in protest and the RSPB has since expressed its shock at the “inappropriate comments”. 

Ann Kiceluk, the RSPB's people director, said she was surprised by the former visitor and promotion officer’s remarks. "We are shocked to hear reports of inappropriate language being used at an event that should be celebrating everyone coming together for the Big Garden Birdwatch,” she said. “This is not acceptable. There is no place for derogatory or offensive language on our reserves, in our workplaces or at our events.” 

Writing on her blog, one birdwatcher, Lorna Prescott said she felt “physically sick” at the language used by Mr Edwards, who used to work at RSPB reserve Middleton Lakes in Tamworth, Warwickshire. 

Ms Prescott, a senior development officer for Dudley Council for Voluntary Service said: “The way Chris described [sparrow mating] made me feel physically sick, I couldn't actually believe I was giving time and attention to a person who would say and do this." 

Ms Prescott added that she was shocked by Mr Edwards’ added emphasis on the breeding behaviour of the hedge sparrow, commonly called a Dunnock, during the talk organised by Moor Pool Wildlife Group. 

“Just in case he hadn't quite driven home this slur on women, he had a slide to accompany his pronouncement that he doesn't call it a Dunnock, he calls it a trollop,” she wrote. “I'm not sure how many other women in the room felt uncomfortable.” 


Although it did not organise or support the talk at Grade II listed Moor Pool Hall in Birmingham, the RSPB reiterated its commitment to inclusion following complaints about the event. Ms Kiceluk added: "We did not know about the event and Mr Edwards was not representing the RSPB. “We believe that everyone has the right to enjoy our natural world and amazing wildlife. The RSPB has an important role to play in providing spaces and events that are open and welcoming to all, we take our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion very seriously.” 

But for people interested in birds rather than making nonsensical political gestures here’s a link to an article that correctly describes the complicated sex-life of the much loved Dunnock. 


Give it a read and find yourself amazed and intrigued rather than outraged. 

Linking this post to Anni's Birding and Viewing Nature with Eileen..

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Better Result

Regular readers will know of recent blog posts and the often poor catches of Project Linnet. 

Before today and despite a good number of visits, our total caught during the winter of 2018/2019 was a miserly 87 only; this in comparison to the winter of 2016/17 when we caught 212 and the winter of 2017/18 when we caught 242. Three of these 541 Linnets proved to have links with northern Scotland, in two cases, the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland respectively. 

In recent days I am grateful to two Scottish ornithologist ringers Tom Dougall and Bob Swann, who not only shared their own experiences and thoughts about Linnets, but offered helpful advice on improving our catch at Gulf Lane. Here is a link to a very interesting and useful paper about Linnets, first published in 2014 - “Movements of Linnets Linaria cannabina in northern Scotland. - Movements of Linnets in Northern Scotland

Most interestingly, Bob remarked to me that “Linnets are undoubtedly a species where the more people that are catching them the more information you get. When we first started catching, all our movements were between Orkney and Highland as that was where the ringers were. When folk started catching in Tayside and then Lothian they started catching our birds. Unfortunately when our study was going there were very few ringers in England catching Linnets in winter and this partly explains the lack of long distance movements down to England.” 

So Andy and I started today needing to catch up on numbers but keen to continue with our investigation of the proportion of Scottish Linnets amongst local wintering birds. This is especially useful as it appears that we may be the only ringers in Lancashire, possibly the whole of North West England who actively target wintering and “Red-listed” Linnets. 

The numbers of Linnets here at Gulf Lane has dropped from a peak of 300 in December to around 200 in recent weeks and days. So we were reasonably happy to catch 10 new Linnets to bring this winter’s total close to the one hundred mark. More than happy to report also that Tom’s advice on an alternative catching method worked, despite the Linnets’ usual skittishness. Their nervous behaviour was not helped by a Sparrowhawk which at one point shot fast and low, legs outstretched, and through the flock but without success. 



None of today’s Linnets showed much hint of Scottish variance with all wing lengths up to 82mm and no obvious grey headed birds. 

When finally the morning air warmed up a little we heard out first singing Skylark of the year; a closer look revealed a pair of Skylark in the annual location alongside the ditch in the corner of the adjacent field.  Could it be that just like the Skylark and so many garden birds now in song, the Linnet flock has reduced in size as some individuals seek to establish territories in the wider countryside? 


The next week or more will decide but first we have to negotiate the next Atlantic storm waiting in the wings to ruin the weekend.  

Friday 8th February 2019

Stay tuned folks.  It's just a spot of wind.

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