Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Value Added Birding

Tuesday morning - New Year’s Eve. There was a thin layer of frost on the windscreen but it soon cleared once the heated screen kicked in. On Monday evening Andy had convinced me we should have another go at the Linnets at Gulf Lane despite the little monkeys playing hard to get by refusing our bait for several weeks. 

Fifteen minutes later I’d parked at the gate to see Andy already striding out over the field towards Linnet Square. It was 0800, zero degrees, zero wind and clear skies. Perfect. 

Linnet Square 

We set the whoosh net, added a single shelf mist net along Linnet Road, crossed our fingers and then sat waiting in the car supping a coffee to warm icy fingers. At last, we caught a few - 13 birds - 12 Linnets (10 first winter males, 2 first winter females) and a single adult male Chaffinch. 




Continuous counts and observation throughout the morning saw about 150 very mobile Linnets. They are so flighty, easily startled and reluctant to settle that they seem to use an awful lot of energy simply airborne, going round and around. The busy roadside plot means that whenever a largish vehicle passes, e.g. a tractor, large van or vehicle + trailer, the whole flock takes flight yet again. 

The autumn/winter totals here at year end stand at 40 Linnet, 1 Dunnock, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Goldfinch and 1 Reed Bunting. 

This is somewhat disappointing as it means we have been unable to continue investigating “the Scottish connection” due to not catching more Linnets from Scotland and vice-versa, Scottish ringers catching Linnets ringed here at Pilling. But fingers crossed again that a couple more successful visits could increase the data we collect while putting more ringed Linnets into circulation for the coming spring and summer. 

In previous winters we considered that a number of the Scottish Linnets we catch have belonged to the sub-species Linaria cannabina autochthona because of their size and colouration. This now seems unlikely since correspondence and further investigation suggest that autochthona (Clancey, 1946) may not exist as a subspecies and that the sometimes substantial variation in a number of the Linnets we catch is due to clinal variation only of Linaria cannabina. 

This is a subject worthy of complete investigation by an ornithologist with the time, determination and due diligence to invest in a single project. Value added birding perhaps? 

It’s my New Year Resolution too. Try and add a little value to my own birding expeditions. 

As we approach January 1st the airwaves and Internet buzz with messages about target species for the Big Day and New Year Listers. 

You know the type. Four up cars loaded with scopes, bins and cameras and a list of places and birds scrawled on the back of fag packets or loaded on the Smartphone. Birds already identified and confirmed for them. Bang, slam, chatter, chatter, tick, tick, bang, slam and off they go to the next one on the list at the following hot-spot rather than spending additional time in the same place. Here  they might have to look at common birds or find a bird of their own. And heaven forbid, learn about species, their life histories, their migration, where birds fit into the bigger picture of avifauna or the world at large. 

Isn’t that what birding is all about? 

Cambridge Dictionary - “Bird-watching is the activity of watching and studying wild birds in their natural surroundings, unlike ornithology - engaging in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods." 

Two rants this week. I think that’s the histrionics over for a while. Honest. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Sunny Start, Rain Later.

We have 0900 starts for now until the days lengthen but amazingly or not, our garden Dunnocks and Great Tits are already in song? How do they know? 

Great Tit - CC-BY-SA-3.0

There was sunshine this morning so I kicked off at Linnet Square and dropped yet another bucket of seed at the catching spot where dummy poles mark the line of our whoosh net. Tracks and holes in the soil told me that our seed had been found by small mammals and deer.

Trouble is, the mild, wet weather and the Linnets themselves have conspired to make catching impossible since August. The past three winters have seen a number of counts around the 400/500 mark but this season’s average is around 130 only with and a total catch of just 28, way below our target. The count this morning was 150/160 very mobile Linnets and several Chaffinches, none of which stopped to use our seed while natural food seems still plentiful. The sowing mix the farmer uses is so good that the resultant seed seems to last right through the winter until the flock disperses in March. 


Linnet Square 

There was the usual Kestrel, 2 Stock Dove and a single Little Egret. 

When fifteen minutes later I stopped at Conder Green the effect of the continued mild weather was noted again by way of a female/first winter Marsh Harrier. A "Gold Top", circling over the back of the pool and behind the bund, pursued all the way by a complaining Magpie. 

Marsh Harrier  

It was roughly 20/25 years ago that Marsh Harriers were something of a rarity in this part of Fylde, central Lancashire. It was around that time that Marsh Harriers began to breed in the northernmost part of the county at Silverdale, since when the species has never looked back by increasing its spread and numbers into more southern parts of the county. 

In recent years the  harriers seem able to survive through the winter months by preying on the abundant wildfowl in their chosen wetlands. There have been sporadic attempts to breed on farmland here in Fylde but with very limited success. 

The harrier was the highlight of the pool with little else to cheer except the continued and consistent presence of 140+ Teal in the tidal creeks. Otherwise it was 15 Redshank, 4 Curlew, 24 Wigeon and singles of Little Grebe, Little Egret and Grey Heron. 

Little Egret

Grey Heron  


There was a second Grey Heron at Glasson Dock along with 25 Tufted Duck but zero Goldeneye. The Goldeneyes tend to fly into Glasson Dock at the onset of ice and snow. Our wintry days with zero temperatures have so far been counted on one hand. 

I looked for the harrier in the fields beyond the pool with no luck except for two quite separate gaggles of geese, 20 Greylags and 19 Pink-footed Geese. Never the twain shall meet. 

Glasson Dock 


Pink-footed Geese

By 11am clouds rolled in and rain began to fall. I reluctantly headed home after an interesting few hours and a forecast for Tuesday of a decent day. 

Andy thinks we should try for a catch of Linnets but I’m not so sure. 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Doom And Gloom

A Happy New Year to all my readers, regular or new. Apologies for a lack of recent posts and there being few pictures today. I have been on a short sabbatical or as Sue might say, "What are you thinking about?" 

In the coming year of 4,500,000,001, we approach a new scientific age and leave behind Old Religion to embrace a new age of enlightenment. We must realise that The Earth is 4.5 billion years old (give or take several million) existing within a cosmos of unimaginable dimensions where other planets are many, many light years away. 

(Part of) Our Universe 

Year 2020 is but an arbitrary date invented by Man, a fantasy of ideas, myth and religious stories. For now in 4,500,000,001 and as a climate catastrophe engulfs our tiny world we must prepare and survive by adopting the New Religion of Climate Change. 

Fortunately we have a new god to replace the old - Doom Goblin, a child” activist”, together with a band of vocal preachers in the form of the secular BBC and mainstream media to constantly remind us of impending disaster and the coming of the Extinction. Whether the last day arrives via a flood of biblical proportions or as a bolt from on high they have yet to reveal, but it all sounds remarkably similar to stories in the now obsolete Bible.  Apparently the BBC Environment Editor Roger Harrabin “reports what he thinks is true” and is “a journalist”. He is clearly not a scientist, nor is he willing to entertain discussion or debate about climate change alarmism. 

The BBC and other media is unapologetic and well-practised in telling people what to think and how to go about their lives. Their bias against Brexit is still plain to see, so too their diversity and political correctness policies that make TV programmes unwatchable and leaves newspapers redundant. Unless of course you think that Strictly Come Dancing, Eastenders, Channel Four "News", and the Daily Mirror are cultural highs while waiting for Noah’s Ark to arrive? 

But what goodies we enjoy via this new found religion as we await The End. Electric cars that glide silently London to Glasgow (one way only) or Smart Meters that cut off the gas and electric should a householder over-consume. Or rotating Bat and Bird detectors that litter our once green and pleasant land with corpses; blades that kill but which if the wind doth blow, can produce enough electricity to make a few cups of tea? And what of the advance that Northern Hemisphere Solar Energy provides during gloomy winter days in The Northern Isles?  Or maybe you fancy a pair of hemp slippers (£29.99 free delivery) that when worn out (very quickly) can be a light snack or a crafty smoke, whichever takes your fancy. 

The list is not endless, unlike the uninterrupted propaganda and marketing of overpriced “green” goods. Now if I was a cynic, I might conclude that someone somewhere is making a tidy sum out of Climate Change.  Including the BBC. 

The changes in climate, formerly known as Meteorology is the study of climate that is in a constant state of flux on a day-to-day, monthly or yearly basis; sometimes micro sometimes macro, but always unstable. 

Even a tiny search of the Internet reveals that modern climate global record-keeping began roughly 140 years ago, in 1880 only. That's because earlier available climate data doesn't cover enough of the planet to get an accurate reading. The computation of many types of records, including personal, financial, climate and anthropogenic records didn’t begin until the late 1960/early 1970s with increasingly sophisticated computers. 

There is evidence that the changes we see are due to a 1,500-year climate cycle, a phenomenon which produced more than a dozen global warmings similar to the current circumstances since the last Ice Age, and that such warmings are linked to variations in the sun's irradiance and solar energy. 

If only George Orwell were alive today to cut through the lies, deceit and crap we are fed and to ferret out the countless omissions to which we are not privy. He might deduce by some strange quirk of the time machine that he’d arrived at Animal Farm in the year of Nineteen Eighty Four. He wouldn’t be wrong. 

“Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure. On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?” 

George Orwell 

Dear Reader.  Do not worry unduly. I'm thinking the end is not nigh and that I may be back soon in the real world with birds, bird photos and bird news. Stay tuned but if you see a large vessel arriving at your door, dial 999 and ask for Police Constable Noah.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

More Canaries

I'm out of action. For today’s post I put together more archived material. This selection is from January 2013, a winter escape to Fuerteventura, just 60 miles from the coast of Morocco, North Africa.

Fuerteventura is the oldest Canary Island, formed about 70 million years ago as a result of volcanic activity. The geographical position of Fuerteventura means that for many tens of thousands of years sand from the Sahara has been deposited on Fuerteventura's shores, resulting in 125 miles of the world's finest beaches. 

Beach Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura Beach

Little Egret

I volunteered to check out a few beaches for waders and clocked up Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Sanderling, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew.  Lots of Sandwich Terns buzzed along the shoreline too, West Africa being a hot-spot for seeing the species.


Kentish Plover


Sandwich Tern

Anyone planning a trip to Fuerteventura should be forewarned that the island is something of an exhibitionist paradise.  Couples of all persuasions think nothing of walking hand in hand along  the fine sand beaches.

Beach Bums, Fuerteventura  

Although holding a certain attraction, the beaches of Fuerteventura weren’t the sole interest of the holiday. A hire car for a few days gave a chance to explore the island although at approximately 650 square miles there’s a lot of ground to cover. A pure white car may not have been ideal for approaching cautious birds like Cream-coloured Courser, Stone Curlew or Houbara Bustard, the birds of the sandy plains.


Over the Plains Fuerteventura

Cream-coloured Courser

Stone Curlew

There were lots of Lesser Short-toed Larks on the dry, open plains with small gangs of Linnets and occasional Desert Grey Shrikes. The Linnets were very unapproachable, likewise the Goldfinches that can be glimpsed in greener parts of the island. The Linnets in the Canary Islands belong to the race/subspecies Linaria cannabina mediterranea, and in these desert islands have a sandy appearance. 


Desert Grey Shrike

Lesser Short-toed Lark

We journeyed through the centre of the island through the village of Betancuria and on to the highest parts of the island at 600 metres, giving a spectacular outlook on the landscape below and distant views of an Egyptian Vulture. This species is apparently now rare on the island as they are elsewhere in its range and we had just two sightings of the vulture in two weeks.

Egyptian Vulture

Fuerteventura January 2013


Fuerteventura, January 2013.

Inland birds and around the village of Betancuria proved to be Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Kestrel, African Blue Tit, Spectacled Warbler and Trumpeter Finch. The latter three were all new birds for me with the wary Trumpeter Finch a particular favourite, due to its slightly comical appearance.

Betancuria - Fuerteventura

Betancuria - Fuerteventura

Trumpeter Finch

A few Spectacled Warblers were in song, and we guessed the breeding season to be early in these parts.

Spectacled Warbler

The so named Canary Islands Stonechat Saxicola dacotiae is found only on Fuerteventura where it is said to frequent dried up river beds, the "barrancos", dotted around the island. I found them in a couple of locations where houses ran down to the beach, one time finding one feeding on the tide wrack with Berthelot’s Pipits. This endemic species is very like a very dark-headed Whinchat rather than a Stonechat but it has the chat like habits of both.

Berthelot's Pipit

Canary Islands Stonechat - CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons


We enjoyed our single visit to Fuerteventura and Costa Calma, a large bay approximately 1.5 km long.  Southwards it is possible to walk along the beach to Morro Jable for approximately 21 km.  

Costa Calma Hotel

In the quiet parts of the hotel grounds were Spanish Sparrows, a pair of Hoopoes, the resident Kestrel and at least one White Wagtail, following  the gardener’s watering hosepipe so as to locate insects. There were Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs about the grounds but they kept out of sight in the strong sunshine of most days.


 Spanish Sparrow


African Market, Costa Calma

As very birder knows, there’s a price to pay for a spot of birding, brownie points to be earned and then banked for another day with bins and camera. Here in Costa Calma it’s the “African” market where bartering is the order of the day followed by a glass or two of wine reflecting on the fading light and planning the day to come.


More soon. Stay tuned.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog and Eileen's Saturday.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

From The Archive

There’s no local news today. I’m not getting out birding and unlikely to do so whilst this foul weather hangs around. Instead I robbed the archives from a winter holiday that Sue and I took to sunny Lanzarote, the Canary Islands almost five years ago. 

Lanzarote is well known as a fairly windy island. Part of the reason the climate is so good is because of the Atlantic wind which blows there on most days; without it temperatures would be much higher and the island would effectively become a desert, like the nearby Sahara, 125 kms away. Maybe it was the Sahara dust, the fluctuations in the daily temperatures caused by the winds or some other factor, we don’t know. But we always came home with the Lanzarote Sniffles or a full blown cold.

In 1993, the island of Lanzarote was declared a Biosphere Reserve as it conserves one of the most exceptional ecosystems and volcanic landscapes in the archipelago. Lanzarote was born through fiery eruptions; the solidified lava streams and extravagant rock formations bear witness to that.

The island along with others in the Canary Islands emerged about 15 million years ago after the breakup of the African and the American continental plates. The greatest recorded eruptions occurred between 1730 and 1736 in the area now designated Timanfaya National Park. This is an area where most tourists head to in order to see the spectacular displays of cold water poured onto the ground turning immediately to a spout of steam. As we drive along stopping here and there to explore it is impossible to pause without taking pictures of the dramatic and often deserted landscapes.


Camel Ride at Timanfaya



The number of bird species is quite low in Lanzarote, even more so during the winter, so anyone arriving here expecting to add a few dozen new species to their list might be sorely disappointed.

The tiny Berthelot’s Pipit is endemic to the Canary Islands and is very common on Lanzarote, almost impossible to miss until its grey-toned plumage melts into the rocky backdrops.

Berthelot's Pipit

The common gull around here is the magnificent Yellow-legged Gull, looking all the more stunning against the volcanic shorelines.

Yellow-legged Gull

The vineyards of La Gería with their traditional methods of cultivation, are a protected area. Single vines are planted in pits 4–5 m wide and 2–3 m deep, with small stone walls around each pit. This agricultural technique is designed to harvest rainfall and overnight dew and to protect the plants from the winds. The vineyards are part of the World Heritage Site as well as other sites on the island.

 La Geria, Lanzarote
We always planned at least a couple of visits to the salt pans and tidal lagoons at Janubio in the south west of the island where we hoped for a good variety of very common waders. Almost guaranteed here are scarce UK birds like Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover mixed in with the everyday Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank and Grey Plover of home.

Saltpans - Janubio, Lanzarote

Kentish Plover

Black-winged Stilt

We always stayed at Hotel Costa Calero where along the nearby beach and rocky shore were found Common Sandpiper, Turnstone, Sanderling, Whimbrel, and a steady stream of Sandwich Terns fishing the clear waters. 

Hotel Costa Calero

Common Sandpiper


Near Calero

Near the hotel were residential streets with large gardens and decent amounts of shrubbery with common birds like Collared Dove, Chiffchaff, House Sparrow and Desert Grey Shrike. The shrike, part of the "Grey" shrike complex and formerly known as Southern Grey Shrike, is now considered to one of the several sub-species of  Lanius elegans, the North African Desert Grey Shrike.

Desert Grey Shrike

Desert Grey Shrike

Where avenues petered out into the typical dusty, dry Lanzarote landscape Linnets and Berthelot’s Pipits appeared, and with luck, a few Trumpeter Finches or Lesser Short-toed Larks. The related Short-toed Lark (the one with the unstreaked breast) is but a rare visitor to Lanzarote.

Lesser Short-toed Lark

Trumpeter Finch

Sunny wind free days were spent looking on the plains in the area of El Jable and Teguise for Houbara Bustard and Cream-coloured Courser, never easy to find but two of the real speciality birds of Lanzarote.

Cream-coloured Courser

Houbara Bustard

Near El Jable

The Alfa didn't drive nearly as good as it looked. A sluggish, noisy and polluting diesel engine.

Alfa Romeo

It's looking like Tuesday before the weather here improves enough for birding or ringing.

Meanwhile, over at Gulf Lane a Linnet flock has numbered anywhere between 120-200 birds. Andy and I cut a square of vegetation down to soil in readiness for a session with a whoosh net. All we need now is for a half decent morning to have a crack.
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