Friday, August 30, 2019

Goldfinch Compensation

A red sky broke over the hills to the east of Oakenclough on Thursday. It was a warning we should have heeded. But after making the effort for a 6 o'clock start and all that entails, Andy and I saw little reason not to carry on. After all, just two days earlier here at Oakenclough we’d caught 45 birds including our record breaking catch of eleven Tree Pipits.

Red Sky In The Morning 

A couple of hours later we asked how two seemingly similar days could be so different in terms of both the birds around and those we caught. The differences were that Wednesday was warm and sunny with a gentle waft from the north while Thursday saw a stronger breeze, this time from the south west with cooler temperatures that demanded an extra layer of top coat for the ringers.

Nine birds was a very poor result, so pathetic that the only “A” rings required were for four Blue Tits. Otherwise a couple of juvenile “willys “and a single adult “chiff” proved the highlights of 4 Blue Tit, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Wren and 1 Dunnock.

Willow Warbler 



On Friday morning I hoped for recompense by way of catching Goldfinches, a few of those suddenly returned to the garden after a major absence of several weeks. The killer cat of next door has left for pastures new, allowing me to once again use a mist net on my own property.

The morning was quite breezy but where the relatively sheltered garden meant a reasonable catch was possible. Indeed it was with 21 Goldfinch and a single Robin caught until rain returned soon after lunch.

This ratio of species is very representative of gardens in our neighbourhood where larger, shyer or perhaps cleverer birds like Jackdaw, Woodpigeon and House Sparrow stay away when a net is set. Our own Woodpigeons are still pre-occupied with "woody nookie".

The fact that I caught entirely Goldfinches of the year, some still in very juvenile plumage, displays this species’ ability to reproduce throughout the breeding season with up to three broods recorded. 



The Goldfinch has enjoyed a wide population boom during recent years.

BTO - “Goldfinch abundance fell sharply from the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s, but the decline was both preceded and followed by significant population increases. The current upturn lifted the species from the amber list of conservation concern into the green category, accompanied by an increase in its use of gardens for winter feeding.

The Breeding Bird Survey map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that increases have occurred almost everywhere, with the exception of the far southeast. These population changes can be explained almost entirely by changes in annual survival rates, which may have resulted from a reduction in the availability of weed seeds, due to agricultural intensification, and subsequent increased use of other food sources such as garden bird tables and niger feeders; for migrants, the effects of environmental change or increased hunting pressure in France and Iberia, where the majority then wintered, may have temporarily reduced survival rates (Siriwardena et al. 1999).

There have been no clear changes in productivity as measured by Nest Records Scheme and Constant Effort Sites (ringing). The recent severe losses of Greenfinches from gardens are likely to have afforded Goldfinches far better access to provided food. A strong trend towards earlier laying may be partly explained by recent climate change (Crick & Sparks 1999).

There has been widespread moderate increase across Europe since 1980. A strong increase has been recorded in the Republic of Ireland since 1998 (Crowe 2012).” 

Goldfinch - BTO/JNCC BirdTrends Report 

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog. There's more news, views and pictures soon.

Linking today with Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Pipits are Top, Burger Is Bad

Expectations were high this morning. Monday afternoon, evening and overnight had been clear and warm, perfect conditions for migrant birds setting out on a long journey. Or so we hoped. I met up with Andy before 0600 to a clear sky and zero wind. We were joined today by Bryan. 

After a slow start birds began to appear with a decent amount of visible migration heading south in the shape and sounds of 45+ Swallow, 8 Sand Martin, 30+ Meadow Pipit, 20 Tree Pipit, 12 Pied Wagtail, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Spotted Flycatcher and uncounted but small numbers of Chaffinch.  

In the main we targeted pipits, wagtails and warblers and  finished at midday with a catch of 45 birds and a mix of 13 species. 

It was pipits that topped the charts today, not the common Meadow Pipit, instead the less abundant Tree Pipit at the peak of the species’ autumn migration timetable and following an apparently successful breeding season. In contrast to Tree Pipits whose migration will be over by September, the migration of Meadow Pipits is just beginning and will last into October. 

Totals - 11 Tree Pipit, 2 Meadow Pipit, 8 Willow Warbler, 4 Chaffinch, 3 Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrest, 3 Wren, 3 Robin, 3 Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 1 Blackcap, 1 Bullfinch, 1 Lesser Redpoll. 

Tree Pipit 

Meadow Pipit 






And now for news and a precautionary tale about crows that live in the city. 

Apparently, and according to a new study, researchers recently found that American Crows living in urban settings have higher blood cholesterol levels than their rural peers. The crows’ higher cholesterol levels came about after they picked up the eating habits of their human neighbours by eating discarded pizza slices and tossed-out cheeseburgers. 

American Crow

For the study, published just last week in the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications, scientists measured the blood cholesterol levels of 140 crow nestlings living along an urban-to-rural beat in California. Researchers also supplied rural nestlings in New York with McDonald's cheeseburgers. The burgers were a huge success with the birds, and some gobbled as many as three a day. Other adult crows would bring home burgers to their nestlings or store them for later.

Like the city-bred crows tested in California, the New York nestlings developed higher cholesterol levels than their fast food-free peers. 

Though urban birds didn't live as long as their rural peers, on average, cholesterol wasn't to blame. 

"Despite all the bad press that it gets, cholesterol has benefits and serves a lot of essential functions," study author Andrea Townsend, a researcher at Hamilton College in New York, said in a news release. "It's an important part of our cell membranes and a component of some crucial hormones. We know that excessive cholesterol causes disease in humans, but we don't know what level would be excessive in a wild bird." 

Still, researchers don't recommend providing birds with fast food. "Wild birds haven't evolved to eat processed food, and it might have negative consequences that we didn't measure, or that will only show up over longer periods of time," Townsend said. "Feeding wild birds can be a great way to connect with nature, and it can be a refreshing change to think that we're doing something that helps animals out. At the same time, though, I do worry that some of the foods that humans give to wild animals, and living in an urban environment in general, might not be good for their health." 


Friends, you have been warned. Stick to peanuts and bird seed and ditch the junk food. You know it makes sense. 

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Saturday Sandpiper

At last, the dogged Jet Stream that brought three weeks of wind and rain has finally moved north and left things looking more settled. 

Saturday morning was indeed a “cracker” for birding or ringing with a clear sky, little wind, and no rain in the forecast.  I was up and about early so after a piece of toast and a mug of Tetley Tea I drove to Gulf Lane, Cockerham for a crack at the Linnets as part of Project Linnet 2019/2020. 

Cockerham Dawn

In the week there had been 60/80 Linnets and several Tree Sparrows feeding in the field of seed crop but it had been far too wet and windy for other than a count. 

Soon after first light and 0630 heading through the crop I noted how 50/60 Linnets were already in there. Either they had roosted in the thick cover so as to get an early breakfast or they had roosted very close-by, perhaps in the thick bramble that lines the adjacent ditch. 

By 0830 the flock had grown to between 160/185 birds, 99% of them Linnets with one or two Goldfinch and Tree Sparrows. This is a good number for so early in the autumn. 

It was a reasonable catch of 11 birds, 10 Linnets and a single Goldfinch. Of the Linnets, eight were male and two female. The Goldfinch could not be sexed as it was clearly a youngster from a second brood of July or August rather than a spring chicken. 

All eleven birds proved to be juveniles/birds of the year - Aged “3” in ringers’ data code. 

Field Sheet 

Linnet - first year male 

Goldfinch - juvenile/first year 

Linnet - first year/juvenile male

Linnet - first year/juvenile female 

It was about 0830 when without warning, a Green Sandpiper flew calling from the adjacent ditch that lines the western edge of the plot. The sandpiper flew off over the farm and I didn’t see it again. This was an unexpected interlude and a “first” for the site. Every record is helpful in proving the worth of this plot and its value as a feeding place for what may prove to be a surprising number and range of species. 

Green Sandpiper 

Other species noted this morning – 6 Tree Sparrow, 4 Stock Dove, 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Reed Bunting. 

A reminder from the BTO as to why we are continuing with the Linnet project, now in its fourth winter. 

“A Red-listed bird of mainly farmland, the Linnets’ abundance fell rapidly in the UK in the late 1960s, and again between the mid 1970s and mid 1980s, but this decrease has been followed by a long period of relative stability. Numbers have fallen further since the start of Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) in 1994. The BBS map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that in both Britain and Northern Ireland there has been decrease in eastern regions and increase in the west. There has been widespread moderate decline across Europe since 1980.” 

Linnet 1966 - 2017 Courtesy BTO

And while we are on the subject of farmland, there's an interesting and revealing article here about the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy of which Britain is a part. Hopefully for not much longer - The CAP doesn't fit.

Back soon with more news, views and pictures if the weather holds.

Linking this post to Anni, who's birding in Texas.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Better Day With No Buzzards.

After almost two weeks of unseasonable wind and rain there was just a chance the weather might ease slightly and allow a spot of ringing.  The dark of Tuesday night and into early Wednesday saw more pouring rain and then en route to Oakenclough the car splashed through fresh pools of water to confirm that August 2019 is the wettest ever recorded; and another week to go! 

I met up with Andy to 100% murk and to cool, threatening cloud but we reassured ourselves that the pourcast for the morning was 5/10 mph wind plus the chance of a fleeting shower only. 

And so it was but the overnight downpours had done us no favours with a poor catch of just 14 birds and minimal obvious migration: 5 Willow Warbler, 3 Blue Tit, 2 Goldcrest and one each of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Great Tit and Chaffinch. 

Today’s five new Willow Warblers, all first year/juveniles, increased our total here to 74 for the year, a much higher figure than normal and almost certainly due to a good productivity during the settled weather of June and July. 


Willow Warbler 


There was little in the way of other birds, the cool, damp start had done for that. We saw a small movement of Swallows heading south in parties of 5-10, in total about 60 individuals. Otherwise, a flock of 20/30 Goldfinch, 2 or more great-spotted Woodpeckers and a single Nuthatch. 

On the way home via Pilling and Rawcliffe Moss there was a flock of 80/90 Swallows on overhead wires, the most I have seen all year. This is a sure sign that Swallows are preparing to migrate. They flew about restlessly, and gathered on telegraph wires. 

Most Swallows leave the UK during September, with early broods of youngsters being the first to go. A few stragglers may hang around into October.  


The return journey to Africa takes about six weeks. Swallows from different parts of Europe fly to different destinations. Our UK Swallows end up in the very south. They travel down through western France and eastern Spain into Morocco, before crossing the Sahara Desert and the Congo rain forest – finally reaching South Africa and Namibia. 

Swallows migrate during daylight, flying quite low and covering about 320 km (200 miles) each day. At night they roost in huge flocks in reed-beds at traditional stopover spots. Since Swallows feed entirely on flying insects, they don’t need to fatten up before leaving, but can snap up their food along the way. Nonetheless, many die of starvation. If they survive, they can live for up to eleven or twelve years but such an age is very exceptional with most surviving less than four years. 

It is very sad that this much-loved species, and like so many others, is in such a downward population spiral. 


As a further aside, I’m not seeing many Buzzards this year. Normally by late summer and on the regular 15 mile journey from Oakenclough to home at Stalmine via Garstang, Nateby, Skitham, Rawcliffe and Pilling, stopping now and again, there would be 10-15 in the air. This morning - none. 

This lack of Common Buzzards has troubled me all year. 


Unfortunately, in this part of quiet countryside where the rearing of non-native game birds followed by the winter shooting of the same in the name of “sport” is very widespread, the Common Buzzard, both innocent and occasionally guilty, is now very much an Avian non grata. 

I’m not accusing anyone, just to note that all of a sudden, Buzzards have become very scarce. Bird watchers - be on the alert, and if necessary report to the authorities any suspicions you have.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Catch Up

Birding and ringing took a back seat this week as school holidays and grandparent priorities came first. Thursday was the first available morning for me so I drove to Conder Green for a catch up before the main task of the day, Gulf Lane. 

The water margins are quite good for waders at the moment during what is peak migration time.  There’s good numbers of Greenshank Redshank and Lapwings. I counted 12 Greenshank, 230 Redshank, 140 Lapwing, plus 6 Common Sandpipers and a handful of Curlews. 

A pair of Avocets now has 4 large youngsters close to full size. 




Juvenile Avocet 

It’s been a troublesome season on the single nesting platform when Oystercatcher, Common Tern and Black-headed Gull all tried to nest in close proximity. The winners appear to be the Black-headed Gulls closely followed by the Common Terns but the Oystercatchers lost out completely and raised not a single youngster. Meanwhile the 6 Common Terns also used the natural island and today I counted 4 adults and at least 2 fledged but now flying juveniles  

At Gulf Lane our Linnet Project is about to enter the fourth winter. Unfortunately Andy could not join me for a spot of hard work cutting a ride through the vegetation as he too was on Granddad duty. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. 

In recent weeks I paid a few visits and noted how groups of four to eight Linnets built to a small flock of 25+ on 4th August. Many of the plants are already dropping seed for the Linnets. 

Game Cover and Bird Seed Plot 


With luck the flock should build to 200/500 Linnets that will remain here throughout the winter months. We start the season with 577 Linnet captures and a number of phenomenal records from Scotland and the Northern Isles which prove that the Linnets here travel many miles to winter in this part of Lancashire. 

I recently contacted Oliver Seeds, the suppliers of the seed mix employed in the field. The mix is named WBS1 – “a winter hardy annual wild bird seed designed to provides cover and feed for small birds, mammals and game throughout the year. It is recommended for those parts of the UK where more frost hardy species are required. It provides shelter in “open” cover and deposits seed through the late Autumn and Winter period.” 

The constituent parts of WBS1 are: 
30% Spring Triticale
 25% Spring Wheat 
25% Spring Barley
 8% Linseed
 4% White Mustard 
4% Forage Rape 
3% Phacelia 
1% Fodder Radish 

I cut a ride through the 5ft high lush growth and then tested the length and width with a single net in readiness for the first ringing session. This shouldn’t be too far away once the Linnets increase their numbers and form a tighter flock. 

While taking a breather, a single Linnet found its way into the net and opened the account for winter 2019/20. A good omen for the weeks and months ahead I hope 

Linnet - Number One 2019/20 

Male Linnet - Number One 2019/20

There’s a poor weather forecast for the days ahead but stay tuned, there will be news and views of some sort. 

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Viewing Nature With Eileen.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Annual Bullfinch Day

The forecast was for a better morning of almost zero wind coupled with bouts of sunshine. Another 0600 start up at Oakenclough where Andy was already out of his car and ready to go.

A check of the DemOn database revealed we started the new month with 137 captures during July including 35 Willow Warblers and 24 Blackcaps, more than we expect and perhaps a sign of a good breeding season.

There were fewer birds this morning with a lack of Blackcaps but a continuation of the Willow Warbler theme with 22 new birds and zero recaptures. Totals - 10 Willow Warbler, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Wren, 2 Blue Tit and one each of Bullfinch, Goldcrest, Chaffinch, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Great-spotted Woodpecker.

Today represents our likely annual Bullfinch catch. We see just one or two Bullfinch a year at this site and we are unable to say from where they originate. The species previously bred here in the late nineties and almost certainly still breeds fairly locally.

Despite the rather striking appearance of the male Bullfinch the species as a whole is rather discreet, unobtrusive and even secretive, a bird that is easily overlooked by anyone unfamiliar with its quiet song and calls.



As with the young Bullfinch, at this time of year young birds that recently left the nest can look rather fine in their fresh plumage. Conversely, adult birds can look rather scruffy after weeks of intensive work and activity in bringing up a family. 

Compare the images below - a juvenile Willow Warbler born sometime in June and an adult Chiffchaff with severely worn flight feathers. 

Chiffchaff - worn adult - 1st August 

Chiffchaff - adult 

Willow Warbler - juvenile/first summer 

Between fledging and its migration south in the autumn the young Willow Warbler will undertake a partial moult of body contour feathers but not flight feathers. This moult is necessary to replace feathers not structurally strong enough to withstand normal wear and tear adequately, or more importantly, the stress and dangers likely to be imposed by the rigours of migration to Africa.

An adult Willow Warbler is exceptional as a species in that it has two complete moults per year, one in the breeding area soon after breeding, the other in the African winter quarters.  This difference in moult strategies of adults and juveniles, and hence the appearance of autumn Willow Warblers, is often the cause of confusion by birdwatchers who claim they can age Willow Warblers in the field. 

The Chiffchaff must soon begin a complete moult and then replacement of all of its feathers in order to be fit enough to return to Africa before winter sets in. A Chiffchaff will take about 6-7 weeks to complete the staged replacement of its feathers.

The Great-spotted Woodpecker was also a juvenile - a noisy and demonstrative individual that drew blood with a series of hammer blows to my thumb.

Great-spotted Woodpecker 

And just the one Blackcap today, another juvenile and a few weeks too early to decide male or female.  


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

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