Friday, June 28, 2019

Bygone Times

We’re already planning the autumn Linnet ringing so with that in mind I set out to check Richard the farmer’s bird seed plot at Cockerham. Although we like to complain about the weather the year has been a good one for plant growth with a good mix of showery rain and now a spell of hot weather that should ripen the seeds.

Bird Seed Plot- Cockerham 

There was a Linnet singing from the stretch of bramble that lines the adjacent ditch. Hopefully it has found a mate. As a breeding species the Linnet is now pretty scarce around here so let’s hope this is an omen but I suspect not – more like a relic of times gone by. It’s not so many years ago that close to here were two loose breeding colonies of Linnets - one in gorse at Lane Ends 750 yards away and the other in a larger clump gorse at Braides farm half-a-mile away. Now we have none. 


As we have discovered through ringing here, the autumn and winter Linnets are not our own but originate much further away, some from the Northern Isles of Scotland.  They come here to bask in the relative winter warmth of the Lancashire coast.   

At the monoculture of Braides Farm I saw very little over or in the expanse of green except for a couple of distant Skylarks and a single Red-legged Partidge walking the farmer's track. 

I motored towards Conder Green and to compare notes now that early autumn is here. Already we have passed the longest day, the summer solstice.

There was evidence of early returning waders by way of 2 Greenshank, 4 Common Sandpiper, 24 Lapwing, 70+ Redshanks, and a handful of Curlews. Resident waders had changed little with 2 Avocet, 15 Oystercatcher and a single adult Little-ringed Plover. There have been a number of sighting of Little-ringed Plovers this year, sometimes one, often two, but it appears that no breeding occurred with zero young reported. 

Little Ringed Plover 

Little-ringed Plover Charadrius dubius is named via Charadrius a Latin word for a yellowish bird and dubius, Latin for “doubtful”, via Sonnerat a French naturalist, writer and explorer who in 1776 thought this bird might be a variant of the common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula. We now know of course that the two birds are related but totally different species. 

Wildfowl and herons have changed little in recent weeks and continue as 6 Tufted Duck, 4 Shelduck, 1 Teal, 3 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. There’s little change on the crowded nesting platform with what looks like two chicks each for both Common Tern and Black-headed Gull.  
Common Tern

It appears that any breeding success of both Oystercatcher and Redshank here has been poor; my own sightings consisted of a single young Oystercatcher some weeks ago. Small birds and “others” were limited to 12 Pied Wagtail, 3 Reed Bunting, 3 Whitethroat, 2 Sedge Warbler, 1 Blackcap and 2 Stock Dove. 

Swallows continue to be scarce other than an unexpected posse of 35 or more at Gardner’s Farm along Moss House Lane. First broods are on the wing now so let’s hope the fine weather continues and allows the Swallows another go. A feeding party of 30 Swifts over the hedgerows was rather fine to witness. 


 On the way home I chanced upon a single Corn Bunting, another rarity relic of times gone by.

 Corn Bunting

Back soon. Don't go away and have a super weekend.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Boxing News

A few weeks ago I mentioned how Andy’s contacts had invited him along to see progress in two nest boxes installed at their home. At that time a pair of Kestrels occupied a box located on a building and a pair of Barn Owls occupied a box not too far away in an open fronted barn. By using a nest box camera it was possible to see that the Kestrels had laid 5 eggs and the owls had 8 eggs. 

Barn Owl

Armed with our Barn Owl Schedule One Licence and ringing gear we went along on Monday in the hope of catching the youngsters at an appropriate age to fit their rings. Our general ringing licence covers the ringing of Kestrels but extra protection afforded to Barn Owls requires stricter rules.

Andy went up to the Barn Owl box and brought down 3 chicks. One small one proved too tiny for a “G” ring while the other two were about right, each with well-developed legs and feet. 

Barn Owl Box

Barn Owl - too small for a ring 

Barn Owl

Barn Owls begin incubation as soon as the first egg is laid and lay additional eggs over a period of around 8-21 days. After 31-32 days' incubation the eggs hatch every 2-3 days, usually in the order they were laid. This is termed “asynchronous” hatching. The age difference between the oldest and youngest nestling can be as much as three weeks. This age variation reduces the peak in food demand and spreads it over a longer period. The female does all the incubation and the male provides all the food until the young are around 3 weeks old. 

Research shows that Barn Owls regularly let their nest mates know whether they plan to compete for an incoming meal or not. The delivery of usually a rodent of some sort is fed only to a single offspring at a time, chicks queue up based on their hunger level. This approach prevents arguments (in the form of beak stabbing and stealing) from breaking out when the food arrives, thus ensuring the maximum survival of the brood. 

It will be several more weeks before our two young owls are old enough to leave the box and fend for themselves. Meanwhile the camera should let us know how they all develop, including the runt. 

Meanwhile, four juvenile Kestrels were of an ideal size and age to take an “E” ring. From their size we estimated they should fledge in about a week or ten days. 



We also took advantage of a brood of five Barn Swallows that were at the ideal age for ringing. 


Swallow nest

All in all, a successful and productive few hours.

There's more news, views and photographs soon by logging in to Another Bird Blog.

Linking today with Anni's Birding and World Bird Wednesday.

Sunday, June 23, 2019


There was 30 minutes to spare before the meet with Andy at the Sand Martin colony so I stopped off at a place I know. 

Barn Owl

 Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Regular readers will be familiar with our Sand Martin dilemma. “How do we catch martins when the tightly packed colony of 400+ birds is some 40ft up a sheer face of slippery sand and gravel?” Well the answer is - “we don’t”. 

In the morning shade we set a couple of mist nets on the floor of the quarry but the martins had little difficulty in outsmarting our tactics. The paltry five we caught consisted of four adults and one juvenile, so for the time of year, not a truly a representative age sample of the 400+ present when lots of youngsters should be around. 

Sand Martins have superior eyesight, supreme manoeuvrability and great flying skills; how else would they catch insects on the wing and as a side skill, be able to avoid a mist net? So it’s back to the drawing board and Plan B for our next visit. 

Sand Martin 

 Sand Martin colony

Sand Martin colony

A local Kestrel hung around at the top of the quarry most of the morning, waiting on a fence post or hiding against the grass tussocks. It is more than likely a regular visitor looking for an opportunity to snatch an inexperienced youngster or pounce upon fledglings that leave the nest tunnels prematurely. It’s an easy meal that takes little effort.  We watched a Carrion Crow stick its head into a nest tunnel until a gang of martins chased it away. 

But when a small raptor dashed through the quarry and dropped into our net, it wasn't the anticipated Kestrel but a young male Sparrowhawk, also on the lookout for a quick snack. A colony of several hundred Sand Martins will always attract predators, mammalian or airborne. 



In Sparrowhawks  the iris colour changes with age. Brownish-black at hatching, the iris becomes pale lemon yellow within a couple of months.  As the birds age, the iris goes from yellow to orange and, in some adult males, wine red.



Back soon with more news and views. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Curlew Morn

With a slightly better forecast I returned to the hills of Bowland this morning in the hope of more pictures. 

Curlews are quite difficult to nail down for a picture. They are very skittish and prone to fly off at the slightest hint of danger. No wonder the species is wary of homo sapiens since it was recently as the late 1970s that wildfowlers were allowed to shoot the Curlew. The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 stopped that but the Curlew does itself no favours by continuing to live close to birds (geese and wildfowl) that remain legal “quarry”. 




There is an interesting discussion from Hansard, the Houses of Parliament October 1981 - Birds  which may be killed or taken.  

I recently read a book called Curlew Moon in which the author Mary Colwell takes us on a 500-mile journey on foot from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast of England, to learn more about the Curlew and why it has declined so much. 

Curlew Moon 

The author sets off in early spring when the birds are arriving on their breeding grounds, watches them nesting in the hills of Wales and walks through England when the young are hatching. She finishes her walk on the coast of Lincolnshire when the fledglings are trying out their wings. It’s a beautifully written if slightly sad book. 

For anyone interested in the fate of this beautiful bird I heartily recommend buying a copy. 


All the data shows a similar downward trend. 

Curlew - via BTO 

Curlew - via BTO

A few more pictures from this morning. While taking photographs of two Oystercatchers I noticed that one of them bore a ring. I blew up the picture at home and could see two of the expected five numbers (2828) but none of the two letter suffix. 


Oystercatcher - unringed

Oystercatcher - ringed

It may be possible to trace this if I ask nicely at the BTO. Stay tuned.

Linking today with Anni's Birding and Eileen's Blogspot.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Bowland Trip

At this time of year I enjoy a visit or two in the Bowland hills to see how things are and also to grab a few photos. The weather has been so poor with rain and cloud on most days that until now there was no point in that forty minute drive. Things were slightly better this morning but far from ideal with periods of cloud that blotted out the sun, but I managed a few pictures in the couple of hours without rain. 

Bowland, Lancashire - Wiki Commons

On the wader front I saw the expected numbers of Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Snipe and Common Sandpiper but rather worryingly, not a single Redshank. Normally the species is very noticeable up here in the boggy uplands. The weather made me a week or so later than other years but I would still expect to see and hear Redshanks watching over their growing youngsters. 





Because of the scale of its decline and range contraction in many areas of the UK in the period 1988-1991 and beyond, the Redshank now qualifies for amber listing. The decline is not just in upland areas, it is also because of increased grazing pressure on saltmarshes where the Redshank also breeds. The picture below was taken in Bowland almost to the day on 16 June 2017 on a traditional and unchanging stretch of habitat where all was silence today. 


There was a young Lapwing by the side of the road and it didn't look too healthy. There seemed to be something wrong as it walked with a limp and also held one leg up. I decided to catch it and perhaps examine what the problem might be. There was sheep wool around both legs with the wool joined one leg to the other like manacles. 

Possibly the Lapwing had not been feeding too well as the wool had restricted its normal leg movements. It proved impossible to unravel the wool as it was so tough and also wrapped very tightly around the bird’s legs. 

Luckily I had my ringing box in the car for just such situations and where I keep a pair of scissors. Upon release the Lapwing flew off strongly and an hour or two later on the way back I saw it again, still limping but with an adult watching over its progress. 





Up here in Bowland where waders breed amongst the sheep it’s not uncommon to see chicks or indeed adults with wool wrapped around a leg, sometimes both. Occasionally it leads to a bird losing part or all of a foot or lower leg when the tight wool may restrict the blood flow and cause the limb to rot and fall off. 

The Oystercatcher below is also adorned with sheep wool; thankfully the bird appears unharmed. 


A look at Marshaw found the usual flycatchers, Spotted and Pied, plus Grey and Pied Wagtail, Lesser Redpoll, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Mistle Thrushes and two male Cuckoos; the latter seen in flight only. 

I lost count of Meadow Pipits at 100 with now just the occasional songster and good numbers of youngsters lining the walls and fences. 

Pied Wagtail 

Meadow Pipit 

I chanced upon a party of Red Grouse, two adults and ten+ young. They all scurried off into the marsh before I could get decent pictures. 

Red Grouse 

Red Grouse

Red Grouse chick

The Red Grouse, a subspecies of the Willow Grouse, is a bird of heather moorland with a range restricted to areas of blanket bog and upland shrub heath. The Red Grouse differs by not developing white plumage during winter and having a diet almost exclusively of heather. 

Since the mid-1800s many areas of upland heather have been managed to produce grouse for shooting. Grouse shooting is one of the major land uses of upland ground and a source of income for many estates. That income, how it is derived, and the impact of shooting upon raptor species is the subject of considerable debate in the UK, but not all of it informed or dispassionate. Let’s not go there for now. Suffice to say that I saw no raptors today. 

Heading Home 

If the weather improves, as it is promised to do yet again, there may be another visit to Bowland in the offing. Stay tuned.

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