Friday, May 31, 2019

Another Linnet Result

It was on December 2018 in Another Bird Blog, that I related the latest chapter in the chronicle of Project Linnet with Linnet AJD5167, caught on 18 September on the Scottish island of North Ronaldsay, Orkney, 605 km due north of Gulf Lane. We had recaptured the Linnet at Gulf Lane on 24th December 2018. This was a clear example of autumnal juvenile dispersal/migration to a wintering destination. 

And now we have another Linnet that evidences the link between our locally wintering Linnets with Northern Scotland and the Northern Isles.

This latest one is a fine example of a first year wintering bird returning in the following spring to the same area in which it was born. AJD6518 was caught and ringed at Gulf Lane, Cockerham as a juvenile male 26th November 2018 and recaptured at the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory, Orkney Isles on 07th May 2019. This is a time of year when the Linnet had either finished or was very close to the end of its spring migration, a journey of 605 km from Lancashire. 

Linnet- Cockerham to Orkney

AJD6518 was one of only two Linnets captured on the day of 26th November during a period when the Linnets were proving very hard to trap. This result and others vindicate mine and Andy’s efforts at that time to continue with the project despite some very low catches with very cold and frustrating mornings when the Linnets would not cooperate. 

The capture of AJD6518 with a wing measurement of 87 mm was one of several Linnets from the 650+ plus captured as part of the project over three winters that triggered “possible error” messages on DemOn, the BTO online database where ringers enter their captures. 

"Possible Error" - BTO DemOn 

As in previous captures/recaptures we have noted that these movements of Scottish birds involve slightly darker plumaged birds and those with slightly longer wings. In many species of birds a tendency to have longer wings than other individuals can be a pointer to clinal variation or sometimes a different sub species. Clinal definition - "a gradual change in a character or feature across the distributional range of a species or population, usually correlated with an environmental or geographic transition."

Linnet - Male 

"Scottish" Linnet

At the present time our Project is on target to recommence in August/September 2019 and into spring 2020.  Farmer Richard has sown the crop of bird seed mix, the spring and summer so far has been good for growth and we expect a healthy crop will lead to a good number of autumn and winter Linnets to ring, many of them from Scotland. 

Results like these highlight the value and importance of agri-environment schemes that are designed to benefit farmland birds. In this case a wintering population of many hundreds of Linnets that use the small Gulf Lane site throughout the winter months, enabling them to survive, migrate in the spring and to then breed in order to maintain their population.

And finally, a reminder from The Common Bird Census and Breeding Bird Survey of the population trend of the Linnet and the reason for our project.

Linnet - 1966- 2017 via BTO 

Back soon.

In the meantime, linking to and Take a look.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Owl Time

When I spoke to Andy a day or two ago he told me of two nests in man-made nest boxes, a Barn Owl and a Kestrel. The Barn Owls had produced eight eggs and also a pair of Kestrel sitting on five eggs. Both boxes have remote cameras so as to monitor the timing and extent of any breeding attempts and to minimise visits. 

We can inspect the Kestrels under a general Ringing Licence, but for visits to Barn Owls we must have our Schedule One Licenses to hand, permits which also cover other species in our geographical area - Cetti’s Warbler, Little Ringed Plover, Kingfisher and Avocet. 

For the interest of readers I reproduce here just a few of the many conditions attached to having a permit to disturb nesting birds. 

• "While engaged in work permitted by this Permit the Permit holder shall carry a copy of the Permit and produce it to any Police Officer or any Country Agency officer on demand 
• Permit holders are expected to exercise the utmost care to avoid undue disturbance to wild birds, and in particular to avoid any action which might endanger breeding success. Failure to do so may result in revocation of the Permit. 
• Any wild bird taken under this Permit shall be liberated at the site of capture immediately after examination and/or ringing or marking 
• The Permit holder should contact the landowner prior to exercising this licence in order to avoid duplication and minimise disturbance to Schedule 1 birds. 
• Eggs or chicks may be handled (by ringers) or moved (by nest recorders) for brief nest examination purposes only. Any chicks or eggs must be returned to the nest immediately after examination unless the eggs are addled or from nests which are known to have been deserted." 

I was on the way to Cockerham this morning when I stopped on Stalmine Moss to watch another Barn Owl. This one clearly had young to feed as it was hunting at 0600 and still at it when I returned the same way.

Barn Owl 

At one point the owl dived into the grass and caught something very small, so tiny it was probably not even a mammal, and then flew immediately into a nearby building. Ten minutes later it was back and allowed some fair distance photography. Clearly, this is an owl on a mission to feed both youngsters and a partner. 

Barn Owl 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl 

Spending time with the Barn Owl rather delayed my visit to Conder Green where the water levels are very low following three weeks with almost zero rain. 

Conder Green 

Tufted Ducks 

There was little to add to the visit of Friday last but some joy in discovering four singing Reed Buntings, a shy bird that is easily missed. And at last a number of Swifts fed over the hawthorn hedgerows, twenty or more in total. 

The small nesting platform is rather crowded with single pairs of Black-headed Gull, Oystercatcher and Common Tern vying for space and where one or more may lose out come hatching time. 

Maybe the Common Tern I saw circling the basin at Glasson Dock is one of the returning pair that laid eggs here in 2018 but failed to progress. Worth keeping an eye open. 

Glasson,  Near Lancaster City

 Common Tern

 More news, views and photos soon.

Linking today to

Friday, May 24, 2019

Almost Smartie Time

A week after our return from holiday and the necessary catch-ups completed it was time to check out a few local places. 

I started at Cockerham Quarry where the Sand Martin colony should be well underway. It was - many dozens of holes and a hive of activity as 140 or more Sand Martins flew back and forth to their excavations. The martins were still collecting dried grasses from the quarry floor for lining their chambers situated mostly at the very top of the quarry face. I saw no early fledglings, just adults. 

Sand Martin 

The quarry face is unstable and the entrance holes very high which puts it into the realms of a mountaineering expedition rather than a modest mist netting session. We plan another visit in early/mid June and when there are youngsters about and when the increase in overall numbers may present catching opportunities at lower levels. 

There were a few Sand Martins over the water at Conder Green, just a flap and a glide from the quarry. A few Swallows too, but sadly, no sign of Swifts. Each year sees a decline in Swallows and Swifts all around us but the success of the nearby Sand Martin colony has increased their numbers in the local area. 

Waders and wildfowl now consist of those either likely too or in the actual process of breeding, and counts of 10 Oystercatcher, 6 Redshank, 4 Avocet, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 10 Tufted Duck and 6 Shelduck. The 4 Little Egrets are not nesting but a pair or two of Common Tern seemed to be among the six individuals that I saw argue and display over the islands and nesting platforms. 

Shelduck - male 

 Shelduck - female

Avocets have at least two feeding methods. In clear water, they feed by sight by picking prey from the surface of water or mud. In poor visibility and when locating prey from within the sediments, they forage by touch, sweeping the long, up-curved bill from side to side through water or loose sediment to locate hidden prey. In deeper water they swim readily and buoyantly, up-ending like a duck to reach food below the surface. 




Passerines along the hedgerow were not many - 3 Goldfinch, plus singing singles of Common Whitethroat, Reed Bunting and Blackcap. Just today saw the first juvenile Goldfinches appear in my back garden, fluttering their wings and begging to be fed by accompanying adults. 

Along Jeremy Lane I found the only Reed Warbler of the morning, singing from the roadside ditch but with none in the usual spots in the dense reeds of Conder Green. As ever, it is not necessarily the species and/or numbers seen. It is those birds that are absent which provide clues about the ups but mostly downs of bird populations. 

Further exploration of the lanes produced good numbers of Sedge Warbler, twelve or more singing along the ditches of Moss Lane, Jeremy Lane and Cockersands. In contrast, Common Whitethroats were few and far between with just three songsters along the same circuit, although I did happen upon a Lesser Whitethroat. 

As the name suggests, this warbler is smaller than its cousin the Common Whitethroat. It has dark cheek feathers which contrast with the pale throat and can give it a 'masked' look. Lesser Whitethroats can be skulking and hard to see, often only noticed when they give their very distinctive harsh, rattling song. In contrast, the song of a Common Whitethroat is fast, scratchy and scolding, often delivered from a conspicuous song post for all to see and hear. Today it was a blossoming hawthorn bush.

Lesser Whitethroat 

Common Whitethroat 

Common Whitethroat 

I saw good numbers of Lapwings, Brown Hares and Stock Doves in the cut meadows near Cockersands where I chanced upon a young Lapwing. Just the right size for a "D" ring - the first and probably last of the year. 

 Brown Hare


Lapwing chick

Back soon with more news and views.

In the meantime, linking with Wild Bird WednesdayAnni's Birding  and Eileen's Saturday Post.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Scops For Breakfast

There’s a story behind the Scops Owl in the picture below. It’s not the best quality photograph and that’s because it’s a photo of a photo.

"Click the pics" in turn for owls and scenes from Menorca 

Two friends of ours, Alan and Jane, who also go to Menorca each year, had arrived a few days before us. One morning while they were sat eating their breakfast, Juan Ramon the head waiter, and knowing them as birders, said that there was a strange bird in the conservatory dining room, a room unused in early May. He and other staff thought the bird might be a Hoopoe! When Alan went to look, having grabbed his camera, a Scops Owl sat at the breakfast table. As Alan approached closer a second Scops flew up from the floor and the two sat together briefly before a hastily opened door allowed them to depart. 

The picture makes for an interesting story but for a technophobe who has yet to invest in a computer, the Internet, a tablet or a Smartphone, there was no way Alan could send me a picture other than a print when he returned to Leeds in June. So when he showed me the picture, the only way for me to obtain a copy was to photograph the digital display on the back of his Nikon camera and hence lose the quality of the original. 

Scops Owl 

Our guess was that the owls had entered the building the previous night in their search for a nesting site. In previous years we have seen the owls on a nightly basis and also roosting in pines nearby. Early May of 2019 came with a cool Tramuntana wind for a number of days which made for unsuitable owling evenings when the owls would normally visit the hotel grounds. We heard them in the early hours on two or three occasions but for the first time in 15 years, failed to see a Scops Owl. 

Scops Owl 

Scops Owls are widespread across Europe with most of the population migratory, however those on the Balearic Islands including Menorca are thought to be mainly non-migratory. The Balearic race Otus scops mallorcae is also said to be slightly smaller than other races, with less bulk and a smaller wing length, the latter probably as a result of becoming less migratory over many, many years: mallorcae is also said to show less colour variation than the more widespread nominate race. 

Here’s more pictures from our time in Menorca 2019. 

Es Mercadal 

At Son Bou marsh we saw a good number of species: Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Bee Eater, Marsh Harrier, Whinchat, Wheatear, Wood Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Ringed Plover, Woodchat Shrike,  Great Reed Warbler, Spotless Starling, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Sardinian Warbler, Nightingale, Cetti's Warbler, Turtle Dove. 

Son Bou Marsh 

Glossy Ibis

Turtle Dove

Cala Galdana 

Cala Galdana is the best place to see Alpine Swift, Egyptian Vulture and Firecrest: three unlikely compatriots.

Egyptian Vulture 

At Tirant - Red-eared Slider

In two weeks we saw just 5 Red-footed Falcons, all second year females, scattered along an overhead cable on the road to Cap de Cavalleria on the morning of 4th May. 

Red-footed Falcon 

Red-footed Falcon 

The roads around Binimel and Cap de Cavalerria proved the best for photographing Corn Bunting, Stonechat and Tawny Pipit.

Tawny Pipit 


Corn Bunting



Log in to Another Bird Blog another day for more birds and photos.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Do The Splits

We are back from Menorca where we spent two weeks enjoying this wonderful island for the fifteenth year.

We collected a Fiat Panda from Mahon Airport via our good friends Setta and Mixalis at Momple Car Hire.  The little Panda is the ideal car for negotiating the sometimes narrow lanes of the Menorcan countryside or the slender, immaculate streets of quiet inland towns. 

We split our time between sightseeing, birding and simply relaxing during the warm, sunny days.

"Click the pics" for bigger photos and a taste of Menorca.

Near Es Prat 

Near Binimel 

Cala Fornells

Es Mercadal 

Es Migjorn

Joan Riudavets Moll - Aged 114 years

Melons- Es Migjorn 

Es Migjorn 

Hotel Ses Tillets

I'm now busy catching up with friends and family alike. Until then the rest of this post is about a relatively common species wherever I go.  

I took quite a lot of pictures of flycatchers, birds that at home I would normally just label as “Spotted Flycatcher” Muscicapa striata, the common flycatcher of the UK that breeds in most of Europe and western Asia.  

Quite recently the International Ornothological Committee (IOC) decreed that the spotted flycatcher that breeds in the Balearic Islands (Menorca, Majorca, Ibiza) and also the islands of Corsica and Sardinia is a separate and distinct species, Muscicapa tyrrhenica. They named the species Mediterranean Flycatcher. 

A molecular phylogenetic study published in 2016 found that the subspecies M. s. tyrrhenica and M. s. balearica were genetically similar to each other but significantly different from the other spotted flycatcher subspecies. The authors proposed that these insular subspecies should be considered as separate rather than conspecific species. In recent years “splits” of previously conspecific species are all about genetics rather than appearance, and as one might expect, the description of each species is much the same. 

It is said that Muscicapa striata has “dull grey-brown upperparts and off-white underparts. The crown, throat and breast are streaked with brown while the wings and tail feathers are edged with paler thin margins.” In comparison Muscicapa tyrrhenica has “paler and warmer plumage on the upperparts, with more diffuse markings on the head and breast.” The sexes are alike in each case. 

Judge for yourself with pictures here from Greece, the UK and Menorca.

Mediterranean Flycatcher - Menorca

 Mediterranean Flycatcher - Menorca 

Mediterranean Flycatcher - Menorca

Spotted Flycatcher - Greece 

Spotted Flycatcher - Greece 

Spotted Flycatcher - Greece

Spotted Flycatcher - UK

Are you a splitter or a joiner? Maybe like me you just enjoy flycatchers - with or without spots?

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

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