Friday, June 26, 2020

Caption Contest

I couldn’t make it on Thursday so Andy sent me a picture of three young Kestrels he ringed. It’s deserving of a funny caption. All entries to Comments section please. The winner will receive a copy of the photograph. 


Friday morning, and prior to meeting Andy I had an hour spare for a look at Conder Pool. 

Late June and singles of both Greenshank and Common Sandpiper are back. There was an increase of Redshanks too with a count of 30+, with maybe a slight increase in Oystercatchers and Curlew in the creeks where 2 Avocet fed. On the water, 4 Shelduck, 6 Tufted Duck and 3 Canada Goose - of the latter, two adults and one gosling. The Canada Geese would seem to be the single wildfowl success this year with the winning waders a single pair of Oystercatchers; but even they reduced now to a single chick. 


There may be an inquest into what has gone wrong with the breeding birds of Conder Pool in 2020. Animal predators like Mink and Fox, overgrazing of both cows and sheep, or human interference appear to be the favourites. My own observations suggest a mix of all three. 

While 2020 has been a disastrous year there remains too much focus and emphasis on the two recent colonising species, but there is memory failure, inexperience, and a lack of awareness of those species lost as breeding pairs in recent years. 

As might be expected nowadays, star billing is given to the ‘celebrity’ species of Common Tern and Avocet. Meanwhile the less glamorous but equally important ones like Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Shelduck, and Redshank are shoved down the memory hole. 

With the right habitat suitably managed and protected from interference by man and/or predators, those lost species will surely return to breed at Conder Pool with the terns and avocets? 

There might be a few hours before rain would arrive where Andy and I might catch a few warblers and to update our farmer pal on his breeding birds. We ringed 3 Reed Warbler and 2 Sedge Warbler before ever darkening clouds rolled in from the west. 

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler 

Reed Warbler

Birds seen, including the five ringed: 1 Blackcap, 2 Sedge Warbler, 8 Reed Warbler, 7 Reed Bunting 

Around the fields and the small pool - 2 Grey Heron, 2 Little Grebe, 3 Mute Swan, 4 Corn Bunting translated as 2 breeding pairs. 

Seven Reed Bunting, 400+ Starling, 65 Curlew, 12 Lapwing, 10 Oystercatcher, 4 Stock Dove 6 Woodpigeon, 12 Swallow and 1 Sparrowhawk. 

By ten o’clock the dark clouds turned to rain so we ran for cover.

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Martins and Hobby

It was 16 June, 8 days before, that we ringed four tiny Avocet chicks. When I telephoned Chris on Tuesday evening to say we’d be along on Wednesday to the Sand Martins he said that the Avocets still had four youngsters. That’s quite an achievement since many wading species that start off with four eggs followed by four chicks can quite easily find just a single one makes it to adulthood. 

The Avocets were close by again, near enough to rattle off a number of pictures before we set up the single net for the Sand Martins. It was quite difficult to get all four chicks together in one frame. 

Avocet chicks






We were joined today by Bryan, an extra pair of safe hands for the tricky job of erecting a net to catch the Sand Martins. Catching Sand Martins proved more successful than 8 days earlier as it became clear that more juveniles were around this week. 

Andy and Bryan 

Sand Martin - juvenile 

The martin nests are located at the end of long tunnels, which can be up to a 1m long into the gravelly sand. The chambers are a hotbed for parasites, mostly blood sucking hippoboscid, louse flies. Although not all chicks have the parasite, where we spot them and where possible, we remove the unsightly ticks by a light squeeze and twist of the tip of the ringing pliers. We then quickly send the chick on its way. 

Sand Martin with parasites 

Sand Martin - juvenile 

We caught 23 Sand Martins, 13 juveniles and 10 adults. A recapture ring number S348922 had been ringed here as a juvenile on 1st July 2017 but not in between those dates. 

We had finished ringing the last martin when we heard the distinctive calls of a Little Ringed Plover flying overhead as it continued in a southerly direction. ‘LRPs’ as they are known by birders have bred on this site. Not in recent years, but in conjunction with the farmer, we are working on the idea of increasing the site's species list.  

Over a nearby wood we saw a family party of 6 Kestrels in the air together, probably 4 young and both parents. It’s not a completely unknown sighting but rather welcome when it happens. 

Better was to come a minute or two later in the shape of a Hobby, the bird attracted into the area by the sight and sound of 140+ Sand Martins. It hung around for a minute or two before flying off south in the direction of Pilling. 

It was a fitting end on the high of a very enjoyable morning.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Short Saturday

June is a quiet month for both birding and ringing. Many birders hang up their bins for a month and take a well-earned respite from the 'ping-ping' of WhatsApp messages. Ringers carry on through the quiet days knowing that although catches may be small, the data they collect is vital, more so if they have nest boxes to process. 

June is the period when young and recently fledged birds begin to discover their surroundings and the local area, learning it well enough so as to return to the same location next year. It’s a little like human infants that once having learnt how to crawl on all fours then begin to explore the small world around them in ever expanding circles. While human young take months and years to learn the ropes and to gain their independence, most young birds have just weeks before they head off alone to far  flung places. 

With such thoughts in mind I set off to meet Andy at Oakenclough for a bright and sunny start. Unless we hit a freakish patch we knew the morning would be quiet, and with luck, our catch into double figures. 

So it proved with just 13 caught - 3 Blackcap, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Wren, 2 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Robin, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Dunnock . Ten of the thirteen were young birds of the year. The three adults caught were those recently breeding on site - a male Willow Warbler first caught here on 22 April 2020 and two new male Blackcaps. 

Blackcap - adult male 

Willow Warbler - juvenile

Young Goldcrests show zero colouration on the crown, unlike adults that are sexed according to the colour of their crown feathers. 

Goldcrest - juvenile 

The morning’s hatch of insects brought in p to eight Swifts and several Swallows aerial feeding around us. Otherwise birding was unspectacular apart from a Cuckoo that called as it patrolled the edge of a nearby plantation. 

And now for Sunday afternoon - Father’s Day. We await the arrival of kidsand grandkids bearing gifts that might include a bottle or two. That’s Sunday evening sorted. 

Back soon with more birding and ringing from Another Bird Blog. Maybe next week we’ll get the much promised heatwave? 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Minor Species

This has been a disastrous time for the small number of Avocets that nest in their usual location of Conder Green, where this year, three or more pairs failed to rear a single chick. On Monday I drove to Cockerham to check out the remaining pair of Avocets that nested at a different location for the very first time - the perhaps unusual setting of a private and working dairy farm. 

From a fair distance away I noted the Avocets had four tiny young in tow so I arranged to meet with Andy on Tuesday with a view to ringing those chicks and to combine this with another go at the nearby Sand Martin colony. Both jobs would require two pairs of hands and eyes should the young Avocets be difficult to locate through their parents’ ability to divert and disrupt. Sand Martin catches can be unpredictable in numbers whereby it is also essential to have two or three pairs of hands around. 

Tuesday morning and we met up at the Sand Martins to see the whole of the Avocet family just yards away from our parking spot and to hear the warning ’kleet-kleet’ calls of the adults. Before long we had four youngsters in the bag despite the “broken wing” distraction displays and overhead warning flights of the adults. Four ringed - the first Avocets for Fylde Ringing Group. 


A look in the BTO Migration Atlas (first published in 2002) showed the Avocet - Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta as being featured in the pages of “Minor Species” rather than “Waders”. This is a reflection of the species status at the turn of the millennium when the population of the UK was at about 450 pairs. Avocets had recolonised Britain over 50 years earlier from 1947. 

They spread quite slowly to include North West England in their range in the 1980s and 1990s and first bred in Lancashire in 2001. The number of Avocet breeding pairs in the UK in 2020 is thought to be now close to 1,950/2,000 (BTO). 

It is known that Avocets from Southern England join post-breeding moulting flocks of Avocets in the Netherlands where they mix with birds from Sweden, Denmark and Germany. As winter progresses individual birds move further south to wintering sites in southern or southwestern Britain, e.g. the Tamar, Tavy and Exe estuaries. Yet others may fly south to Portugal, Spain, Morocco or West Africa. 

Our North West England Avocets are winter absentees but return as early as late February/early March to look for breeding opportunities. It is likely that these individuals have spent recent months in southern England rather than being Africa returnees. 

So little is known about Lancashire and Merseyside Avocets, an area where very low numbers have been ringed, that more ringing records and recoveries should add to the current understanding of the movements and migrations of the species as a whole. 


While we counted around 140 Sand Martins at the colony the catch of just 13 was disappointing- 10 adult males and 3 juveniles of the year. The ten adults included a ring not of our own series - APA6004. 

Sand Martin - adult

Sand Martin - juvenile 

Sand Martin
We had no recaptures from our previous one of 30 Sand Martins on 30 May when twenty of those were adult males. It would appear that the ladies avoid us and that the resident birds as a whole have in a short time, learned to negotiate our mist net. 

 Sand Martins

We will leave them to get on with it for a while and try to time our next visit for a more substantial result.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


And now for the worst TV advert of 2020. 

Why is this woman talking about Cuckoos from her childhood when the bird song in the advert is a Chiffchaff that sounds nothing like a Cuckoo?

Come on Nationwide, don’t take us all for mugs. At least dub the sound of a Cuckoo over the film and tell us about your savings accounts instead of virtue signalling about coronavirus.
Nationwide Building Society is a mutual building society, also known as a ‘mutual’. Put simply it means the society is owned and run for the benefit of their members.

Their Chief Executive Joe Garner was paid a total of £2.37 million in 2019 and he would like you to put your hard earned cash into a Nationwide ISA account that pays out the magnificent sum of 0.5% interest. That’s right, put £100 into their fixed one year ISA and you will receive a whole 50p in interest.
Now that is cuckoo.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Waiting Game

Five in the morning and I lay wide-awake, mulling over the weekend gone and the days ahead. With another morning of waiting around for a promised delivery, I felt a rant coming on and sat at the keyboard with one eye trained along the road outside. 

For three days we watched for a delivery that never arrived. But the neighbours' did. White Van Man and then another food drop as Sainsbury’s green one failed to stop at Number 3. I swear those neighbours are stockpiling the garage, cupboards and freezers for the next pandemic or the newest Project Fear, inspired by our unbiased and impartial but highly predictable media. 

I have news for BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Sky - We, the public who pay your wages, know what you’re doing, your hidden agendas.  For sure it’s the re-election of President Donald Trump in November 2020 and Real Brexit of 1st January 2021 when the media’s EU funding dries up. 

I left Sue on lookout Monday afternoon and snuck out to Cockerham for a look along the sea wall. Richard had newly fixed Covid signs to gateposts to deter social distancing doggie and cycle folk from their recent and ongoing trespass through his sheep and cattle. None had bothered to seek permission for their jaunts. So it continues - farmers versus townies and never the twain shall meet. 

I had a good selection of birds where the pool, reeds and hedgerows provided the best. At least six singing Reed Warbler and three pairs of Reed Bunting proved easy to find by their respective songs. More difficult to see were now quiet Sedge Warbler, Blackcap and even Chaffinch, all of which by June have less need to display their desirability.

Reed Bunting 

Reed Warbler 

The water held several Greylag, Mute Swans with 2 young, 4 Tufted Duck, 2 Shelduck, the inevitable Little Egret, and whinnying but unseen Little Grebes. The grebes may be on their second brood by now because ten days ago I saw a flotilla of young and old disappear into the pool margins. 

Little Grebe 

Along the sea wall the Environment Agency had found work for idle hands whereby three x four by four vehicles and a JCB were sent to drive up and down the bund and shift tidal wrack a few yards higher up the sea wall. The story is that the lower down debris stops the growth of grass that binds the grass to the substrate which in turn maintains the strength of the bund. The bund/sea wall serves as a defence to high tides that might one day engulf the land behind. Mystified? Yes, me too. 

Needless to say, I saw few Skylarks, the single species that actually nests on the same ground during May, June and July and along which the vehicles drove up and down for some hours. In several visits I have seen no evidence of Skylarks nesting along here this spring. I also think The Environment Agency could do with a makeover that includes a different title.


Along the ditches and dykes came 6 Oystercatcher, 5 Redshank, 4 more Little Egret, a single Pied Wagtail and several Linnets. Out on the marsh were distant gulls, more Shelduck and 2 Eider ducks, male and female but as far as could tell, no young in tow. Half-a-dozen Swallows and a lone Swift drifted by. 

I bumped into Richard, out to survey his barley, a crop struggling for height in this driest of springs. As we spoke a Roe Deer crashed from the dense hedgerow, bounded through the crop and disappeared out of sight. 

Richard told me the family had not ventured out onto Murder Mile last weekend because they could see and hear the probable aftermath of release from lockdown. They were right to stay safe. Bikers hurtled full throttle along the A588 where 100 yards up from the farm another middle aged wannabe racer bit the dust by landing head first into the roadside ditch. Six kids and a wife left behind. Another needless death caused by the China virus. 

I heard tell via the Internet that all three Avocet nests at Conder Pool had failed so motored on for a gander. Indeed all gone with not a one to be seen, least of all little fluffy grey ones. There’d been a little unanswered discussion online as to why the Avocets failed so miserably, perhaps sheep or mink, even though Oystercatchers and gulls yards away produced fine chicks? 

No one seems or even wants to know except that grazing sheep or a mink might carry the unopened can of worms, but not bird watchers. 

Luckily, another pair of Avocets half a mile away on a stony island encircled by comatose, immobile anglers succeeded where others failed. There they strode, three healthy looking chicks and two proud parents who for weeks saw off Grey Herons, gulls and Greylag Geese with no interference from trespassing birders. 



We’re still waiting for the van. Watch this space.

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

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Garden Time

Monday 25 May 2020 produced a tiny catch of birds at Oakenclough during our first visit of the spring. We planned a return for this week as we knew from experience there would be more Willow Warblers and other species along pretty soon. 

Andy and I met up at 0630 to zero wind, full cloud cover and a promise of no rain. We ringed just 13 birds - 9 Willow Warbler, 2 Great Tit, 1 Blackcap and 1 Garden Warbler. 

The highlight of the morning was the last named species - yes, a Garden Warbler Sylvia borin. 

“So what’s the big deal?” I hear the cry from afar. 

Garden Warbler

The big deal is that seven or eight pairs of Garden Warblers bred in the plantation here every year until the mid-2000s when they were gradually pushed out by invasive rhododendron that overwhelmed the entire area. Other species forced out at that time included the Common Bird Ringer, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch, Tree Pipit and Lesser Redpoll. There was also a drastic reduction in the number of breeding Willow Warblers from 15/20 pairs down to single figures. 

And then in 2012/2013 the owners United Utilities (UU) invested money in trying to eliminate the rhododendron and followed it up with a replanting scheme of native species. It was a thankless and massive task that took many hours of manual labour working in difficult terrain. Even now, the evil rhododendron is attempting a come-back and will surely succeed unless UU begin an ongoing and periodic regime of destruction. 

The significance of today’s Garden Warbler is that our bird was a female in prime breeding condition; a full brood patch at this the appropriate time of year rather than the species' usual appearance as an uncommon spring or autumn migrant. Fingers crossed that we catch the corresponding male, the youngsters and that the Garden Warbler has returned. 

Garden Warbler 

Over the years 1996 to 2019 our tiny group of ringers have ringed over 370 nestling Willow Warblers at Oakenclough. During that time finding, recording and ringing the nestlings became a project in itself where no mist nets were employed and no adults caught. 

Today we chanced upon a further nest that held 6 young Willow Warblers of an ideal size for ringing. Therefore our nine Willow Warblers consisted of 3 new adults and 6 nestlings. 

Willow Warbler nest 

Willow Warbler

The single Blackcap was a new adult male, the two Great Tits recently fledged youngsters. 


Great Tit

Other birds today - 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Cuckoo, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Grey Wagtail. 15 Greylag, 2 Oystercatcher, 2 Swallow, 4 Chaffinch, 2 Goldfinch.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog and Eileen's Views of Nature.

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