Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Nailed On?

On Wednesday morning I met up with Andy at 0815 to a cold, frosty start of minus 1.5° degrees – not the best conditions for messing about with metal poles, pegs and cords. We had coffee, five layers, the will to succeed, and as usual, lots of theories. Ringers will know exactly what I mean.  

Sunrise at Pilling
A Frosty Start 
Setting Up

The catch seemed as they say, pretty much “nailed on.” I’d been topping up the Linnets’ supplementary winter diet for days without an opportune day for catching purposes. Topping up trips of 27 December and 29 December had given counts of 50+ and 70+ Linnets respectively. Even better, recent cold mornings had witnessed the Linnets hunger by their wasting no time to drop onto the niger, millet and rape seed mix. Gangs of 20 to 40 birds in the immediate catching area had been regular, if as flighty as ever. Timing pulls of the whoosh net would be crucial if we wanted a good sized catch today. 

However, the schemes of mice and men rarely if ever turn out exactly as planned. The Linnets were less in numbers, a max count of 35 all morning and they seemed reluctant to stop in the catching zone. 

Eventually we caught a couple of times and finished up with just 8 new ones - 3 first winter males, 2 first winter females, 2 adult males and 1 adult female. 


Although the catch was poor a series of such numbers and a winter total in excess of 100 Linnets will help our ideas about the proportion of Scottish Linnets in this winter’s birds. Although for now we have rejected the concept of their being a proven Scottish sub-species, Linaria cannabina autochthona (in litt) previous winters have shown that a proportion of the Linnets we catch are definitely darker, bigger, and longer-winged than their archetypal English cousins. We are sure that such variation is clinal rather than species driven. 

In between our ringing we noted other birds as 1 Wren, 1 Barn Owl, 1 Kestrel, 1 Robin, 1 Reed Bunting, 2 Stonechat and 2 Little Egret. 

Barn Owl
Meanwhile back at home Sue had been busy going through the Christmas cards in readiness for recycling. I had plans for one card in particular. 

A Blogger pal, Rain Frances who lives in New Brunswick, Canadian Maritimes, had posted us a card of one of her original and signed pen and graphite sketches. This now sits framed on my office window sill. 

Lucille Ball by Rain Frances

For those of a certain age, the portrait is immediately recognisable as Lucille Ball in the 1952 B&W episode of Lucy & The Chocolate Factory. 

Rain is a talented amateur artist with plans to sell her work soon through an Internet market place like Etsy.  You can visit Rain's blog and admire her creativity at  Rain Frances.

Here's wishing Rain and all my blogging pals a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

See you soon.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Last Minute Win

Wednesday evening. There looked to be a window of weather for the morning of Christmas Eve. All the forecasts promised a biting northerly wind with a frost but this would probably be our last ringing session for 2020 so one not to miss. 

There was a film of ice on the windscreen that soon cleared and by 0830 I was at Gulf Lane to meet Andy where we hoped to catch a Linnet or two. Recent numbers of Linnets had been poor but as they say “Hope springs eternal” and we needed few Linnets to bump up the year’s total for Project Linnet 2020/2021. 

We set the whoosh net, put out fresh seed and waited with a hot coffee to warm our by now icy fingers.  

Ready To Go

The Linnet flock numbered 40/50 at maximum so we were quite pleased with our catch of 10 – 5 first winter females, 4 first winter males and 1 adult male. 

Linnet - adult male
Linnet - adult male
Linnet - adult male

Other birds seen during our stay- 2,000+ Pink-footed Geese, 2 Stonechat, 1 Robin, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Wren, 1 Reed Bunting. 


Now you must excuse me. There’s a pile of spuds, carrots and parsnips to fettle and a glass of ouzo waiting for the kitchen volunteer.

See you soon fellow blogger and birders. Have a great Christmas. See you soon. 

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

Saturday, December 19, 2020

No Go Blow

It’s Saturday morning and there’s something required for the weekend – blog posting. It’s been one of those weeks again with everlasting cycles of wind, rain and blow after blow that makes for difficult, unproductive birding and impossible ringing. 

We tried to get to the 450 Linnets at Glasson Dock near Conder Green but the niggling southerly winds with blowy nets meant the safety first of another no-go. 

River Lune, Near Lancaster
Another Shower, Pilling
After yet another early doors I returned home and surfing online. I came across a story on Bird Guides news about a gull that demanded my attention. There at the head of the news item was one of my own images taken in Menorca in 2016 – an Audouin’s Gull Ichthyaetus audouinii. 

Audouin's Gull -

The Audouin’s is a large gull restricted to the Mediterranean Sea and the Iberian Peninsula. The genus name is from Ancient Greek ikhthus, "fish", and aetos, "eagle", and the specific audouinii and the English name are after the French naturalist Jean Victoire Audouin.

For those who struggle with French pronunciation, the “Oddwin’s”, is one of the rarest gulls on the planet but pretty common in Menorca. Here some individuals have adopted the habit of taking food from the island’s visitors. The givers are mostly Brits banned now from feeding gulls at home for fear of being fined heavily by jobsworths and the Thought Police. 

I included more of my own archived photos of this most delightful of gulls, pictures taken in Menorca where the gull breeds on tiny offshore islands. Getting a clear image of that highly distinctive red, black and orange coloured bill depends upon good light and the pose a bird adopts. 

Audouin's Gull

“A territorial pair of Audouin's Gulls was observed on the Atlantic coast of France during summer 2020, and although breeding could not be confirmed, hopes are high that the birds will return in 2021. 

On 4 May 2020, Matthias Grandpierre was conducting a survey in the dunes at Banc d'Arguin Nature Reserve in Gironde department, south-west France, when his attention was drawn to an unusual gull call. It quickly became apparent that the vocalisations were coming from an Audouin's Gull, which was behaving much in the same manner as the other breeding gull species in the vicinity. 

At the beginning of June, during a boat count, Matthias noticed an Audouin's Gull on the beach, close to the colony. It was wearing a coloured ring engraved with an alpahnumeric code. It transpired that this bird had been ringed as a chick at the nest in Castellón de la Plana, north of Valencia, Spain, on 11 June 2018. "

Audouin's Gull

Audouin's Gull

"Throughout the first half of June, while conducting further surveys of the gull colony, an Audouin's Gull was always seen defending its territory in flight. Over the same period, observations from a boat repeatedly noted the ringed Audouin's perched in the same spot on the beach, although whether one or two birds were involved remained a mystery. 

Then, on 16 June, two Audouin's Gulls were observed side by side – one ringed and the other unringed. The birds were engaging in nuptial behaviour and vocalising regularly. Due to the colony always taking flight on approach, and with many gulls swirling overhead, finding a possible nest was a difficult challenge and ultimately failed. 

Although the presence of young was not confirmed, this is the first case of potential breeding of this species on the Atlantic coast of France, and the most northerly on record. "

Audouin's Gull

"The closest Atlantic-coast colony to Banc d'Arguin is in southern Portugal, where 2,663 pairs bred in 2019. This increased appears to correspond closely to the decline and abandonment of some Spanish colonies, which suffered a 31% decline between 2013 and 2017. 

In France, Audouin's Gull breeds only on Corsica, where 40-60 pairs have nested in the Ajaccio and Aspretto area since 2012.” 

With the holiday week coming up days out birding will be limited but for now Tuesday next is pencilled in for a spot of ringing.

Fingers crossed  - again. 

Linking today with Eileen's Blog and Anni's blog.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Sittin’ On The Dock

Between rain showers I’ve regularly checked out the Linnets at Gulf Lane in the hope of a ringing session. The visits gave a series of unpredictable and disappointing counts between zero and 50. These are numbers that inspire little confidence in a catch of Linnets, a species that is in any case nervous, jittery, flighty and difficult to catch. 

At least one Stonechat, the male, has hung around at Gulf Lane; visible most days at the top of the bramble that lines the ditch, but I now see the female less frequently. A couple of days ago the male caught an enormous caterpillar as below. Into the afternoon light I could not get the photo I wanted but the green caterpillar was quite interesting in being so long and meaty. 

Perhaps a Winter Moth Operophtera brumata? Are there any lepidopterists out there? 


On Thursday and because of the lack of birds at Cockerham Andy and I decided to have a go at the Linnet flock that’s been building close to the River Lune marshes at Glasson Dock, about 7 miles from Gulf Lane. In recent days the flock at Glasson has numbered around 200 birds so I squared it with Stewart the land owner for a visit and met Andy on site at 0800. 

River Lune marshes, Lancashire

The wind was a little fresh and from the “wrong” direction but we caught 8 first winter Linnets, 5 males and 3 females. Following our couple of hours on site rather than the more usual spot counts we now estimated the number of Linnets at 400+. 

So now we await a morning of wind from the north and sheltered nets or that real rarity, a frosty morning of zero wind. 

Stay tuned for more news soon from Glasson Dock of Morecambe Bay.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Touch Of Frost

Most unusual - there was hint of the white stuff this morning when Andy and I met up at Gulf Lane at 0830. The temperature gauge read 1° but it felt warmer in the already rising sun. 

Three days earlier we’d cut a square from the now defunct seed crop in preparation for a first catch of Project Linnet 2020/2021. We left a mix of rape seed and millet on the bare earth and crossed our fingers. The autumn had seen very few Linnets so far when a typical late November flock here should number 200/300 individuals. When we returned to our cars ready to leave only then did we note a flock of 40 Linnets in the tree tops of the nearby farm. That gave us hope for the days and weeks ahead, more especially for this Tuesday and the promise of a sunny morning. 

Prepping The Square
And then on Sunday I checked if the seed had been found. Indeed it had, not by Linnets but by the predictable Wren and a party of 8 Stock Doves. There was the unexpected bonus of a pair of Stonechats but yet another dismal grey morning when a tiny Stonechat half way across a field presented a difficult target for a camera. 



We had a similar count of Linnets this morning with 40 or more doing their usual flypasts without committing to landing in the target area. We caught the female Stonechat, but not the more wary male. We aged the female in the hand as a first autumn/winter. We had nothing else but felt that our effort of a few days earlier paid dividends in preparing the ground for better luck next time when Linnet numbers increase. 

Stonechat- first winter female
Very little is known about the Stonechats which appear in this part of Lancashire during late autumn and early winter. Sometimes they stay to winter, other times not, depending upon the severity of January to March. It is likely that they are representatives of the partially migratory cohort of Scottish and Northern English Stonechats that breed in the upland fells but move to warmer climes at signs of cold weather. 

It is almost certain that they are different individuals from the small number of Stonechats that breeds at our coastal localities in the summer months. 

Other birds seen during three hours of watching Linnets fly around but not in - a single Goldfinch, 2 Buzzard, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Wren,2 Chaffinch, and the pair of Stonechats. 

Many thousands of geese flew off the marsh and headed inland this morning. A local shooter with a regular handle on these things opined that the first calm and frosty night for weeks had seen an influx of ‘pinks’ from the Scottish Solway, perhaps as many as 15/18,000. 

Pink-footed Geese

Reed Bunting


And now those Linnets need checking on a regular basis, as does the seed that we left behind. 

Let me know how many Linnets you count and also whether the Stonechats stick around.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

A Family Visit

What to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon? 

OK.  I own up Boris. I broke the lockdown rules, snuck onto an aircraft at Manchester Airport and paid a visit to old friends, the Family Hoopoe who live in Menorca, the Balearics, Spain. 

The Hoopoe is a firm favourite with birders, toggers and even Joe Public who normally hates birds but will break off from his DIY or walking the dog to look at a Hoopoe. 

For a good few years a pair of Hoopoes nested in the very same spot along a quiet roadside of Menorca. All photos were taken in the month of May from a car window while the 28 degrees sun beat down. The family became good friends of mine and no Hoopoes were harmed in the taking of these pictures. 

The below is a compilation of visits over three seasons. Click the pics for close-ups of the family fun. 

Enjoy the family visit while you can folks. The Government is just following orders and expects you to do the same.


Back soon from my trip to Spain. There's local news and views in a day or two from Another Bird Blog.
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