Saturday, November 30, 2019

Thrush Time

There was a heavy frost this morning with the temperature at minus 4C when I cleared the car windows but then struggled to open the frozen solid doors. 

At those temperatures I decided to give ringing a miss but stopped at Gulf Lane on the corner of the A588 to empty a bucket of seed and to count the Linnets ready for milder days. There seemed to be about 70 Linnets, a few Chaffinches and the usual Little Egret in the adjacent ditch. 


Goodness knows why but I followed the lane around the edge of Cockerham Moss, farmland where crops once grew and where winter stubble and unpicked potatoes provided boundless food for birds like Tree Sparrow, Skylark, Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting. Nowadays “Moss Edge” is one of the worst examples of farming monoculture I know; a bird free desert where the only crop is silage grass that serves to fatten animals until they’re ready for slaughter. 

Cockerham Moss 

Cockerham Moss 

I re-joined the A588 half a mile from Gulf Lane having seen absolutely zero of note around Moss Edge and then turned right towards Conder and Glasson. 

Conder Green seems not to have recovered from its expert makeover of last year and although it is winter there are few birds to be seen. While 90 Teal, 40 Wigeon, 4 Little Grebe and 2 Snipe provided the numbers other waders proved scarce. A Kingfisher provided a literal splash of colour as it dived into the icy water from the sluice wall. 


The dry summer of 2019 gave way to a bumper crop of hawthorn and other berries. In some years berries, mainly hawthorn, get stripped quite quickly by incoming migrant thrushes. This year the countrywide crop is so big that it is lasting longer and may be responsible for the huge flock of Redwings roosting recently at Longridge Fell, 8 miles north of Preston. The latest estimations were of 25,000 Redwings flying to the plantations at dusk. 

I found Redwings, Fieldfares and Blackbirds galore along nearby lanes. The overnight frost which blanketed Northern England on Friday night had obviously sent thrushes far and near in search of food. Huge numbers scattered ahead of approaching cars along busy Moss Lane. 

Some of the Blackbirds were definitely “continental” types, immigrants from Northern Europe, distinguished by their mottled appearance, streaked throats, dark bills and general behaviour in sticking with their cousins the Fieldfares and the Redwings. I settled in one spot and waited for the birds to come to me. 




Hedgerows provide food and shelter for many species. Because they often link small woods, they are essential corridors along which wildlife can travel. It is said that hedges may support up to 80 per cent of UK woodland birds, 50 per cent of mammals and 30 per cent of butterflies. 



The ditches and banks associated with hedgerows provide habitat for frogs, toads, newts and reptiles. It is at this time of year that our protected-by-law hedgerows provide essential food for migrant and wintering species like Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds. 





That was an enjoyable morning.  In most years our Redwings and Fieldfares don't stay throughout the winter and have mostly departed for France and Iberia before the year is out.  It would be nice if they stayed just a little longer.

Linking this post to Eileen's Saturday.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Watching And Waiting With Nothing To Eat

The last week has been another waiting game. Watching the weather forecast and waiting for the one day to come along that might allow a spot of ringing. Today was that day and although not ideal, a predicted 8mph meant a visit to Gulf Lane for Project Linnet might be in order. 

My last trip to Gulf Lane for ringing purposes was back on 2 September when the flock of Linnets numbered around 160. After that date, quite unexpectedly and for no apparent reason, the Linnet flock disappeared when we would expect numbers to grow as autumn turned to winter. 


September and October saw mild, wet and windy weather on an almost daily basis, conditions which may have led to some if not all of the Linnets moving elsewhere. Mid-October saw a count of 80 but the weather remained unsuitable for mist netting. Weekly counts in November realised just 8, 12, and 4 birds. It was about this time when a post on Orkney Ringers Facebook spoke of a “huge flock” of Linnets at a set-aside plot adjacent to Kirkwall Golf Course. 

We know that a number of our wintering Linnets originate from the Northern Isles so could it be that abundant food and mild weather had conspired to keep our winter Linnets some 500 miles north of here? Back at Gulf Lane on 21 November, soon after two days of the first frosty days and nights, saw a count of 80+, hopefully a sign of building numbers. I pencilled a day in the weather diary at 27 November. 

Today the vegetation looked remarkably flat, to all intents and purposes a seemingly barren plot, but one which holds good amounts of natural seed plus rape and millet I had dropped over several weeks. 

Gulf Lane, Cockerham  

By 1030 several counts had realised an average of 140 Linnets with an unhelpful rain shower limiting the catch to just 7 Linnets - 6 first winter males and 1 first winter female. 

Linnet - male


Seems like we are in for a few days frost which should mean another visit is on the cards. Hope so, after missing the whole of October and most of November there’s a lot of catching up to do. 

Other birds noted on site this morning – 15 Stock Dove, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Skylark, 1 Little Egret, 1 Kestrel, 1 Reed Bunting and several thousand Pink-footed Geese overhead. 


A local farmer type stopped his Landy at our parking spot that is usually occupied by shooters’ cars also. “How many have you had?” he asked, leaning across to the car window. “Five”, I replied, my catch at that moment. “Wow” he replied, at which point I realised he thought I’d shot five Pinkies. 

There followed a conversation about Linnets, bird ringing and farming, finishing by him offering me one of the two Pinkies he’d shot on Cockerham Moss. “Thanks for the offer” I replied, “But I really wouldn’t know what to do with them”.

I poured another coffee, searched for a biscuit in the glove box but found none. Such is the life of a bird ringer.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Redwing Morning

This is most unusual. We’ve had two days of frost with minus 2° on the temperature display at 0600 this morning. Not cold by some standards although the forecast was spot on and I was well prepared with five layers on top, three below, a very woolly hat and a scarf. 

I met Andy at Oakenclough where we were very unsure of the birds we might see and those we might catch in a period that is not quite autumn but also a tad off midwinter.

Perhaps the previous couple of days of zero temperatures had an effect on birds too because the morning saw a heavy movement of thrushes and to a lesser extent finches. From 0700 to 1000 we counted approximately 2000 thrushes arriving from the north and north-west. Many birds continued on south with some stopping off to feed on the still abundant crop of hawthorn and rowan.

Soon after 10 am the arrivals stopped and around 1030 we decided to pack in. 

The flocks and smaller parties numbered between two and 200 individuals, mostly Redwings but with a small proportion of Fieldfares. We estimated 1750 Redwings and 250 Fieldfares in the three hour slot. 

Luckily we managed to catch Redwings in our biggest catch of the species this autumn. We were not so lucky with the mornings’ other arrivals so finished with just 25 birds of 5 species only - 21 Redwing, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Goldfinch and 1 Song Thrush. 

Of the 21 Redwings, 19 were birds of the year (Code 3) and 2 adults (Code 4), a high ratio of juvenile/first years. 

Lesser Redpoll 

Redwing - first year

Song Thrush - first year 

A Redwing Morning 

Finches noted this morning, also from north to south - 35+ Goldfinch, 30+ Chaffinch, 12 Greenfinch, unidentified 30+. Also - 18 Lapwing , 1 Jay, 1 Raven, 1 Pied Wagtail. 

On the way home via Pilling Moss there was a flock of Fieldfares numbering 150+ feeding along a hawthorn hedge, obviously part of the morning’s arrivals that we hadn’t seen some 12 miles away. 


P.S. A fellow Lancashire ringer caught 64 Redwings near Lancaster this morning.


This was a morning when huge numbers of both Redwings and Fieldfares on the move.

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

Friday, November 15, 2019

Egg On Their Face

You really couldn’t make this up. The UK has gone completely bonkers. 

“Natural England has given permission for the destruction of 4,500 Mallard eggs over three years to prevent ducks “walking out in front of cyclists” and causing accidents.” 


Environmental campaigner Jason Endfield unearthed the licenses through a Freedom of Information request. The licences to destroy Mallard eggs primarily cover the counties of Suffolk and Bedfordshire, although exact locations have been redacted from the Natural England data. 

The Bedfordshire licence applicant said the Mallard population had risen dramatically and noted that they congregated around seating areas. Other reasons cited were “faeces around seating areas” and the risk of collisions between birds and cyclists. 

Natural England issued the first licence to destroy 500 eggs in Bedfordshire in 2016, with a second licence awarded in 2018 allowing the destruction of a further 1,000 eggs. Officials have also rubber-stamped applications to destroy 500 more eggs this year and another 500 next year, the documents show. In Suffolk in 2017-18, Natural England gave the green light to destroy 2,000 Mallard eggs and 300 geese eggs, according to the papers. 

Endfield, who also brought to light in recent months Natural England’s decision to issue licences allowing the killing of Brent Geese and endangered gulls, said: “I am struggling to find the words to express my disbelief and despair that Natural England decision makers thought it appropriate in any way to issue a licence to an applicant that seriously considered ducks to be a threat to cyclists. 

“Surely someone at the agency should have challenged this stupidity at an early stage rather than proceed to issue a licence that legitimised the wanton destruction of wild birds eggs for such spurious reasons.” 

Natural England was unable to comment due to electoral purdah, but pointed out that a successful applicant must provide evidence that the species targeted is causing a problem; that non-lethal alternatives have been tried; that the action is proportionate and that the species' conservation status will not be negatively affected. 

Comments please. Or, write to your MP, hopefully the new one who will soon replace one of the 650 clowns currently in Westminster. 

Read the comments on Jason's Blog - Comments.

Linking today with Eileen's Saturday Blog and Anni in Texas.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

One Day Week.

That’s all we seem to get lately, one day in seven suitable for ringing, the rest too windy, wet, or more likely, both. 

Wednesday 13th had been pencilled in since last Saturday as it looked the most promising this week; so it proved with our meet at Oakenclough for 0630 in cold but wind-free conditions. 

Once again nets were set in the dark in the hope of intercepting early thrushes, ex-roost or morning migrants. We caught three Redwings in the early half-light and three more throughout the morning, the latter ones from migrants arriving from the north-west. In all we counted approximately 160 Redwings, the largest party one of 40+ that sped south without stopping. 

Just one Fieldfare noted this morning, calling in the half light of the first arrivals. Otherwise, visible migration was limited to 20+ Chaffinch, similar numbers of Greenfinch, and a couple of Lesser Redpoll. And where are the Siskins this year? We have yet to record an autumn Siskin on overhead migration and have a zero count for ringing. 

Totals today: 6 Redwing, 5 Blue Tit, 4 Greenfinch, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Blackbird, 1 Goldcrest - 23 caught of 7 species, 



Lesser Redpoll 

Greenfinch - First year male 

The protozoal parasite Trichomonas gallinae was known to infect pigeons and raptors but beginning in Britain in 2005, carcasses of dead Greenfinches were found to be infected with the parasite. The disease spread, and in 2008 infected carcasses were found in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and a year later in Germany. 

In Britain the number of infected carcasses recovered each year declined after a peak in 2006. The disease hit the population hard, with decline of "more than 20%" in regional breeding populations during the year following the outbreak. 

The decline in my local area here in Lancashire was especially noticeable. Many observers thought it a “crash” in population rather than a decline. Greenfinch numbers have yet to fully recover, as shown on the attached table from British Trust for Ornithology. 

Greenfinch - BTO

BBS - Breeding Bird Survey  
CBC - Common Bird Census 
CES – Constant Effort Scheme (Ringing) 

My own observations this year and last is of a slight recovery. As an example, I saw a 90+ single flock of Greenfinches at Cockerham just last week and the species is now in our garden again on a fairly regular basis. 

Other species seen this morning – Tawny Owl, Pied Wagtail, Sparrowhawk, Great-spotted Woodpecker.

Pied Wagtail

Back soon on another day at Another Bird Blog.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Pick N’ Mix

There was a sad start to the journey this morning when the car headlights picked out something motionless in the centre of the road near Pilling village. It was a Red Fox that had been hit by a vehicle. When when I looked closer there was fresh and still trickling blood. 

It’s an animal I would much rather see alive although I rarely do. Not for us the urban or even rural fox as in this part of Lancashire the Red Fox is controlled mercilessly by gamekeepers and farmers alike. I stopped to take a quick photograph or two as I was on my way to Oakenclough 10 miles away. 

Red Fox

I’d missed a couple of ringing sessions but while I was absent Andy caught more Redwings and a handful of Fieldfares. That brought our autumn Redwing total to 48 before today - 41 first year birds and 7 adults, a fairly typical ratio of ages. Although we thought this a pretty good effort, it broke no records. 

The morning forecast looked more promising than recent ones so we arranged to meet at 0600. That would give us time to have nets up to await the first arrivals of Redwings, overnight migrants or individuals that had roosted nearby. 


We caught the first Redwings in the dark and then a few more later in our catch of 39 birds and a mix of 12 species: 10 Greenfinch, 7 Redwing, 6 Blue Tit, 4 Blackbird, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Robin, 2 Coal Tit and then singles of Treecreeper, Dunnock, Great Tit, Goldcrest and Lesser Redpoll. 

At this time of year individual Redwings Turdus iliacus cannot be sexed by appearance or size. Redwings of the Icelandic race Turdus iliacus coburni can occasionally be separated out by a combination of their larger size and darker colouration. As yet all of our autumn Redwings have fitted the iliacus pattern with none exhibiting features to suggest a more thorough inspection. 

The one pictured below is an obvious first year “iliacus”, easily aged through both the fault bars in the pointy tail and the cream “notches” in the primary feather coverts. 



There was a steady trickle of Redwings until about 0900 hours by which time we had counted about 130 individuals as they arrived from a north-westerly direction. 

To catch four new Blackbirds is quite unusual for us here with all proving to be quite large, heavy at about 100 gm and long-winged (126-137 mm). We considered that three of them were recent immigrant Blackbirds. 

When British Blackbirds return to gardens in the winter, they are often joined by immigrants. Large numbers of Blackbirds migrate from Scandinavia and continental Europe to spend the winter in Britain and Ireland. Very often these individuals, especially the males are subtly different from our own resident Blackbirds, by amongst other things, their dark bills, sooty plumage and scalloped throat and breast feathers. 


There was a noticeable arrival of both Greenfinches and Chaffinches this morning as tiny parties arrived from the north-west throughout our five hour stay. We counted approximately 70 Greenfinches and 50 Chaffinches, a likely underestimate in the always overcast sky and poor visibility. 

At this time of year our Greenfinches eat large amounts of the fruit of the rose plant, rose-hip. A giveaway sign is the amount of red residue on their bills. 


Rose hips 


The morning saw a substantial movement of Wood Pigeons consisting of small parties but also two large flocks of c150 and c300 - in all about 540 individuals flying strongly from North West to South East. 

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