Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday Warblers

We were back at Oakenclough again this morning for another ringing session, hoping to catch more Blackcaps and other warblers.

Here's news of the Blackcap caught here on 24th July, an adult female that bore the BTO ring ACE2152.  


Finer details arrived quite quickly with the information that the Blackcap had been ringed on 15 September 2018 at Five Houses, Calbourne, Isle of Wight, UK.   At that time the ringers, the Isle of Wight Ringing Group, aged the bird as a first autumn female.

Both the date and location suggest the Blackcap was on its way to France, Spain or perhaps North Africa to spend the winter. The following summer of 2019 saw the Blackcap somewhere in the north of the UK before we recaptured it on July 24.  

Blackcap- Isle of Wight to Oakenclough 

This morning at 0600 the sky was overcast and threatened rain but at least there was zero wind and it later stayed dry but with mostly poor light and visibility in all directions. 

The morning proved quite successful by way of 35 new birds of 11 species. It was unusual for us that the most caught species was Blue Tit, a bird that doesn’t feature much on our field sheets. Bird feeders at a nearby dwelling usually keep the tit family from our nets. We noted on our last visit that the feeders were empty, a fact which may have inspired the tits to seek food further afield and into our ringing area.

The catch of another batch of migrant warblers (Blackcap plus both Garden and Willow Warblers) came as compensation for sedentary titmice.

No recaptures amongst 9 Blue Tit 9, 8 Willow Warbler 8, 3 Goldcrest, 3 Blackcap, 2 Garden Warbler, 2 Great Tit, 2 Dunnock, 2 Wren, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Chiffchaff.

Garden Warbler  

Willow Warbler 


We caught our first Lesser Redpoll of the autumn, two streaky brown juveniles of an age that cannot be sexed until there is more colour in the feathers.

Of the thirty five birds caught this morning, there was but one adult, a Willow Warbler, the rest birds of the year.   Our catches and observations this summer and early autumn do suggest a productive breeding season. 

Lesser Redpoll 

Stay tuned. If the weather holds it’s another 0600 start for Thursday.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

It’s A Start

Andy and I returned to Oakenclough this morning for a 0600 start and another go at catching migrant birds. We were joined today by Bryan. After two recent catches of 40 and 47 birds respectively, we hoped for a triple hit in the forties. 

In contrast to Wednesday’s cloud and zero wind this morning was both bright and slightly breezy. And with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the different conditions were unlikely to produce any good numbers of birds. By 1030 we had packed up, fell back to earth with a bump and just 9 birds, one of them a recapture from yesterday, a Robin. All bar one, the 87 birds of 17 July and 24 July had continued their migration by departing our ringing site. 

Although today’s catch was low there was quality by way of 4 new Blackcaps, 2 new Willow Warblers, a new Garden Warbler and a young male Common Redstart.  A Redstart may have the word ”common” in its title but the species is far from abundant in these parts so to catch one makes for a rather pleasing experience and even eclipses the catch of yet another Garden Warbler. 

Common Redstart

Common Redstart 

Garden Warbler - juvenile/first summer 

The Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus is loosely related to the European Robin Erithacus rubecula, both members of the family of Old World flycatchers. The youngsters of each share the scaly appearance until they moult their juvenile feathering. 

European Robin 

Both of today’s Willow Warblers were juveniles/first summers, very smart and bright too on what the weather experts predicted would be “hottest day of the year” at 35+ degrees C. 

Willow Warbler 

There was a noticeable but small movement of Swallows this morning with tiny groups heading directly into the southerly wind. These totalled up to 60 individuals, proved so watchable partly by the overall lack of Swallows this year. This may seem rather early for Swallows to be on the move but we know that post-breeding roosts of migratory and dispersing young Swallows begin to form in mid-July. 

“Otherwise birds” consisted of tiny numbers of Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and Chaffinch overhead, 3+ Great-spotted Woodpeckers, 2 Raven, 2 Snipe flying east and 15+ Curlew heading south.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni's Birding Blog.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Willys Win

The early hours had seen bouts of thunder, lightning and torrential rain as Andy and I met up at 0600 to very overcast conditions that threatened more rain. After last week’s 40 birds we hoped for a repeat performance at Oakenclough. 

After The Deluge

The rain held off, the sun came out, and by 1130 we’d caught another 47 new birds, including a Blackcap ringed elsewhere. 

Today’s birds included a nice haul of migratory Willow Warblers and Blackcaps - 16 Willow Warbler, 6 Blackcap, 6 Great Tit, 5 Blue Tit, 4 Chaffinch, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Robin, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Garden Warbler and 1 Spotted Flycatcher. 

Oakenclough often springs a surprise. Today’s came when we caught a Spotted Flycatcher. Spotted  Flycatchers are not rare; in fact they breed here at Oakenclough in woodland some 250 metres from our ringing site where the nestlings are ringed but we rarely if ever see Spotted Flycatchers in spring or summer away from that summer habitat. 

The Spotted Flycatcher is well known as one of the species that makes minimal stops to and from their African wintering grounds and the UK. Today’s bird was an obvious, very spotty and still fluffy juvenile, not long fledged from a nest but not one from our nest boxes as it had no ring. It may have come from a natural site close-by. 

Spotted Flycatcher 

Of the sixteen Willow Warblers, only three were adult, as one might expect from what appears to be a productive summer. All three adults were in the process of completing their main summer moult. 

Willow Warbler - juvenile/first summer 

Willow Warbler - adult 

Of today’s six Blackcaps the only adult we found was a female, ACE2152, the ring from elsewhere on a previous occasion. We’ll find out the details in a week or so. 


Blackcap - ACE2152 - adult female

Goldcrest - adult male 

Treecreeper - Juvenile/first summer 

It’s another 6am start tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how many of today’s birds we catch. I suspect none.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Surprise Surprise!

On Tuesday I met Andy at 0600 for our first ringing session at Oakenclough since early spring, an unproductive period for ringing when the weather was predominately cool and wet.  We don’t normally head up to the hills until a little later when real autumn migration begins rather than the summer time of post-breeding dispersal.  The post-breeding species list can be rather short here at 800 metres above sea-level but increases substantially when finches and thrushes from further north begin to appear. 

But with recent good weather and signs of a productive breeding season we decided to give it a go. This proved a good decision as the morning became very interesting with a catch of 40 new birds. We had zero recaptures from previous visits. 

When we arrived all seemed quiet with little no bird song or even contact calls but as both the sun rose and the temperature gauge climbed we began to catch with a morning dominated by warblers. 

We finished soon after 1100 with a catch of 40 birds of 12 species: 11 Blackcap, 9 Willow Warbler, 2 Garden Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Goldcrest, 5 Chaffinch, 2 Robin, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 1 Treecreeper, 3 Wren and 1 Tawny Owl. 

Willow Warbler 




The biggest surprise of the morning came with a Tawny Owl languishing in the bottom panel of the mist net at 10 0’clock, a time when all Tawny Owls should be tucked away and fast asleep. Upon examination and measuring we ascertained that the owl was a juvenile born this year. A wing length of 265mm and a weight of 335 grams determined a male; a female is bigger than the corresponding male. 

 Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl 

We no longer catch many Garden Warblers so it was good to catch two. There was one adult male Garden Warbler and a juvenile, which is far from proof of breeding on site, but possibly so. 

Garden Warbler 

Garden Warbler

Garden Warblers bred here at Okenclough on an annual basis until the late 1990s when invasive rhododendron overran the landscape of bramble, bracken, bilberry and hawthorn. Slowly but relentlessly the site became unsuitable for a number of species like Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Tree Pipit and Garden Warbler, and they were pushed out by the all-conquering intruder. The rhododendron beat us too and we were forced to abandon the site in 1997.   

Then in 2012/13 the land owners North West Water began a programme of rhododendron clearance and replanting of native species whereby, and after an absence of many years, we returned to the site in 2014. 

Since then we have captured almost 3900 birds including two Garden Warblers in 2018 and now two more in 2019.  It would be nice to think that Garden Warblers have returned for good as the site is now suitable for them. Time will tell.

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

Friday, July 12, 2019

Owls Top And Bottom

The regular Barn Owl wasn't too obliging this morning. It spent the whole time dashing across and around several fields, hunting on the wing without taking a breather whereby I might picture it at rest. Barn Owls seem to do that at times - whizz around in an almost random and unpredictable fashion rather than a logical steady and measured search of the available ground.  And then on the very next occasion you go the same bird will spend ages just sat around, moving occasionally from pillar to post and using the “watch, wait and pounce” method. 

I've never quite worked out why the techniques are so different and how they relate to prevailing weather conditions, prey availability, the degree of urgency to find food, or the layout and the irregularity of the habitat which owls hunt. 

Barn Owl 

I had a few hours in which to check Conder Green. A surprise awaited in the form of a pair of Avocets with four brand new chicks. This was something of a shock because the family were on the marsh, running through the tidal creek, and not on the pool where everyone expects to see this year’s brood. 


So the Avocets have shown the resident Redshanks and Oystercatchers how to beat the system in what apart from a few pairs of terns and gulls has been a poor year for productivity. With mostly casual records rather than detailed study it’s hard to explain the poor year. The very low water levels with increased disturbance and interference from gulls, crows, ground predators and grazing sheep could be factors. 

Otherwise, counts of waders and wildfowl included another pair of Avocet at the far end of the pool,  45 Redshank, 22 Oystercatcher, 5 Common Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, 5 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Grebe and 2 Shelduck. At least two Shelduck have been present most of the season without any visible breeding success. Today gave a zero count of Tufted Duck, another species which so far, and  now so late, failed to breed this year. 


The season saw successful but limited breeding courtesy of both Black-headed Gull and Common Terns on the floating pontoon with both species now feeding good sized young. The fact that these successes came via a relatively safe construction that is surrounded by water was perhaps a deciding factor. The pontoon is now only partially floating due to the drop in water level and may soon become a muddy island. 

Common Tern 

Little Egret 

Small birds arrived in the form of 20 Sand Martin, 4 Reed Bunting 2 Whitethroat, 1 Reed Warbler and 1 Chiffchaff. 

Just the other day came news of a Tawny Owl we ringed in 2011. It was caught at 0710 hours during an early morning autumn ringing session of 28 October 2011 at Rawcliffe Moss. 

Tawny Owl GR26760 from 28/10/2011

Will and I aged it as an adult and fitted ring number GR26760. The morning was quite quite productive with 29 birds caught - 10 Chaffinch, 5 Reed Bunting, 4 Redwing, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Goldfinch and one each Dunnock, Great Tit and the Tawny Owl. 

On 29th June 2019, over seven and a half years later the owl was found “Sick, Wounded, Unhealthy” in the same location and taken into care by a raptor rescue team. 

The typical lifespan of a Tawny Owl is five years, but an age of over 18 years has been recorded for a wild Tawny Owl, and of over 27 years for a captive bird. 

I hope our Tawny survived its mishap and old age but so far I have not been able to check out the latest news. Stay tuned for an update.


The owl had an eye infection, is now doing well and will be released in the next few days.

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileens's Saturday Blog.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Back To The Barn

Andy and I went back to ring the runt Barn Owl of 11 days ago - Boxing News

It was good to see the four Kestrels we ringed then had now fledged, flying free but still partly dependent upon the adults. The young Barn Owl was now big enough to take a “G” ring with all three siblings now looking likely to survive to adulthood. 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

We took the opportunity to do a little woodland-edge mist netting as early July should mean catching plenty of juveniles. Juveniles are newly fledged birds that are still partly dependent upon their parents but stick around the area they were born until they are ready to explore their wider surroundings. We hoped to catch both warblers and finches so we gave it a couple of hours. 

Including the Barn Owl, we finished with 22 birds for the morning, all fresh-faced adolescents apart from an adult Blackcap - 6 Great Tit, 4 Blackcap, 3 Robin, 3 Long-tailed Tit, 3 Blue Tit, 1 Whitethroat, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Barn Owl 




There are lots of Woodpigeons in this locality, and even without really trying we counted 150-200. A recent report from the BTO mentions that this formerly rare garden bird is now booming and that it is seen in around 90 per cent of gardens which put out bird food. Our own garden is one of the 90% and where the Woodpigeon is an all-day resident. 


Thanks to garden feeding the Goldfinch is mentioned in the same report, another thriving species that was formerly rare in gardens. We saw a good sized flock of 25+ Goldfinch and other small groups with a total of 50+ in a couple of hours. 

Also - 4 Tree Sparrow, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Greenfinch, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Grey Heron 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 30+ Swift and 20+ House Martins. 

Tree Sparrow 

Back soon. Don’t go away.

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

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

One Each

The Sand Martin Saga continues. 

Even though our catches this year have been very poor, we don’t give up that easily. So I met Andy today for another go at the Sand Martins that live on the high cliffs of Cockerham Quarry. We thought there to be less martins today - c250 compared with our last visit of 23 June when we counted about 400 birds and caught five. 

It could be that some have left already as Sand Martins are known to use different colonies in the same season. This happens often due to the transient, almost temporary nature of many colony sites which may deteriorate through erosion and other weather factors, or even via ground predators like Badgers destroying the tunnels.  

Also, previous studies have shown that both adults and juveniles regularly visit colonies other than their own, especially during post-breeding and post-fledging. Adults may breed at different colonies in the same season. 

Our two birds today were both juveniles, so we ringed one each but we couldn't tempt any more to the nets. 

Sand Martin - juvenile 

On the way home I stopped to photograph young Swallows. 





There’s more ringing and more birds news on Friday.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Wet My Lips

Local birders are currently animated by the arrival in our area of a number of Common Quail Coturnix coturnix, late migrants from Southern Europe and Africa. 

With streaked and barred brown feathers and a prominent white eye-stripe, a Common Quail is distinctive in appearance, but their small and stocky build gives little hint to the impressive flying feats and migrations the species is capable of. These birds habitually avoid flying. If disturbed, they prefer to either run away or ‘freeze’, hoping to go unnoticed.

Common Quail - via Wiki Creative Commons

However, this changes in spectacular fashion when, using their disproportionately long and powerful wings, they take to the skies to migrate between their breeding grounds in Northern Europe and wintering grounds in the Sahel belt of sub-Saharan Africa. 

During early May we glimpsed a number of Quail in Menorca where the species is quite common, very vocal and occasionally seen quite well. More often than not it was the celebrated and highly distinctive call that drew our attention to a bird in a nearby crop.  At Tirant one day we were so close to a loudly singing bird, a foot or two away only, that we heard first the lesser known “growl” that precedes the actual "wet my lips" song.  This part of the quail’s repertoire sounds rather similar to a small dog; we likened it to the sound of a Jack Russell or Border Terrier. 

Common Quail 

The small, shy Common Quail prefers to stay hidden amongst the grasses and tall crops of farmland as it forages with its long, sharp claws for insects and seeds. Unless birdwatchers rise early when quail are much more active in the hour after dawn, they have little or no chance of actually seeing a quail but will almost certainly find themselves continually frustrated by the species’ habit of creeping unseen through the dense crop. 

Rarely if ever does a quail show itself to a human being; stand by for a familiar tale. When Common Quails do encounter humans it is often at their peril.

It seems that not all Common Quails migrate - the tendency to do so is determined genetically. Within a population, some individuals perform long migrations, some may only migrate to the southern Mediterranean, and others, referred to as sedentary birds, will not migrate at all. The proportion of quails that migrate is actually declining and there are two suggestions as to why.

Firstly, conditions in wintering grounds have become poor because of recurring droughts since the 1970s, making individuals that migrate only a short distance or not at all, more likely to survive. The second theory is that by introducing non-migratory Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica into populations to replenish game stock for shooting, the gene pool is flooded with sedentary genes.

Yet, for those that do migrate, the characteristic which makes them so impressive is also their downfall. While making the trip, their attempt to live a life free from human interaction is compromised as they are highly vulnerable to trapping and shooting. The efforts of those that take the Eastern route are all too often wasted after completing their epic flight across the Mediterranean. Having journeyed across the sea they fly low, heading for a place to rest but instead find themselves shot in huge numbers in France, Spain or Malta, or caught up in vast nets, particularly in Egypt and Libya.

Common Quail in Egypt/Libya

Common Quail - Malta

The illegal killing of Common Quail will provoke debate. With very large population numbers and an IUCN Red List rating of Least Concern, Common Quail are not considered to be at risk of being hunted to extinction. Historically, they have been an important food source to Egyptians and the consumption of their meat, though limited by quotas, is legal. (In the UK the Common Quail is not a quarry species and is additionally protected as a Schedule One species).

However, with advances in hunting methods over the last century, the odds have become increasingly stacked against quail. The placement of electronic devices under nets which play recordings of quail song lures greater numbers towards the traps. Additionally, lack of policing means that regulations on net size, spacing and time of year are ignored – including hunting during spring, which is illegal. This, along with the poor enforcement of catch restrictions, means quail trapping is now taking place on an unsustainable, commercial scale.

It’s not just the quails that get caught in the nets. The nets are indiscriminate meaning the demand for quails is putting other birds (including protected or Endangered species) in at risk. The trapped quails often entice predatory birds such as Merlin, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Common Kestrels towards what looks like an easy meal. They then become ensnared and meet the same fate as their prey.

Yes, it’s good to hear, and even better to see a Common Quail, but the bigger picture deserves attention too.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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