Friday, July 31, 2020

A Swallow Morning

Andy’s shiny new battle wagon didn’t bring much luck today.  Just a week ago we had the best catch of the autumn so far with 43 birds,  

Ringing Station

This morning we set up the ringing station in the hatchback expecting a good catch on such a fine and warm morning.  If anything, the south-easterly breeze was a little too blowy with the glaring sun on mist nets providing an unwanted addition.   

There seemed to be few birds around and we struggled to even reach double figures with 4 Willow Warbler, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Wren, 1 Robin and 1 Chiffchaff.

Willow Warbler

All Chiffchaffs look unkempt at this time of year. Both adults and juveniles undergo their respective moults. The one below is in post-juvenile moult.



Luckily and despite today’s poor numbers the month of July here at Oakenclough has been quite productive with 175 captures. Top spot was taken by Willow Warbler on 47, well clear of Blackcap and Chaffinch on 15 captures each followed by 9 Chiffchaff and 5 Garden Warbler.  Bonus birds came in unexpected singles of Sedge Warbler and Pied Flycatcher plus a couple each of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll.       

In contrast to our poor catch the morning provided a good show of visible migration by Swallows. The four hours with not much to do allowed time and opportunity to watch and count groups of Swallows. In the clear skies they arrived from the north in small gangs of 5-15 individuals that fed on the wing around the buildings and woodland edge before each one of them headed south.  We counted 150 + in four hours of observation. July 31st may seem early for Swallows to begin their long migration but that is exactly what they must do to reach South Africa for their second summer.    


Swallow Migration - BTO

I see Google has "improved" Blogger. Alright, it may take time to adjust to the changes but this has taken an hour instead of the normal 15 minutes.

Am I alone?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Wood You Believe It?

Wednesday morning was too windy for ringing so I grabbed the camera bag and set off birding. 

Conder Green provided a good selection of species and some very good counts, much better than my last visits. I guess the “star” bird of the morning was a single Wood Sandpiper, a species best described as “uncommon” in these parts. In most years I would see them in their teens on the annual visit to Menorca in May, but not this, 2020 The Year of the Virus. 

The Wood Sandpiper breeds in subarctic wetlands from the Scottish Highlands across Europe and then east across the Palearctic. They mostly nest on the ground but also use an abandoned old tree nest of another bird, such as the Fieldfare. The one this morning didn’t come terribly close as can be gleaned from the record shot below. 

On a couple of occasions it fed with both Redshank and Common Sandpiper when the comparative sizes of each became more marked. In fact, the common Redshank (Tringa totanus) is the closest relative of the Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola). 

Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper 

Common Sandpiper 

Other waders this morning - 21 Redshank, 7 Dunlin, 6 Greenshank, 5 Common Sandpiper, 3 Curlew and 4 Avocet – two adults and two half- grown chicks. Not to mention the 200+ Lapwings roosting when I arrived on site but which dispersed out to the estuary in bundles of tens and twenties. 



Many birds were drawn into the early morning’s hatch of flying insects, such a swarm of both insects and birds that it proved hard to estimate numbers. Let’s try 65 Pied Wagtail, 60+ Swallows, 40 Sand Martin, 8 House Martin and 10 Swift. The wagtails brought along a single Meadow Pipit that joined in a feeding frenzy that had all but subsided just an hour later. 

What’s that about the early bird? The Robin joined in too.


For students of moult, here’s a picture of a Starling from which to sort out the new feathers from the old ones. 


Wildfowl and Odds & Sods – 4 Common Tern, 2 Little Egret,4 Little Grebe, 6 Tufted Duck, 2 Stock Dove. 

I just looked at the forecast for tomorrow morning’s pencilled in ringing. Would you believe it? Yes, more rain is likely between 0700 and 1000.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Business As Usual

Three mornings in the same week must be some sort of record for Oakenclough. The forecast of zero wind and a dry morning dictated a start at 0600 for Andy, Bryan and yours truly. Off we go again – Three Go Ringing 

Moody Morning 

Although the clouds looked threatening, showers stayed away, the sun shone briefly and we caught migrants in the way of more Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, and yet another Garden Warbler. Towards the end we had our first Tree Pipit of the autumn. 

We packed in soon after 1100 with 43 birds of 13 species as follows :- 7 Willow Warbler, 6 Chaffinch, 6 Coal Tit, 6 Blue Tit, 4 Blackcap, 4 Goldcrest, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Treecreeper, 2 Great Tit and one each of Dunnock, Robin, Garden Warbler and Tree Pipit. 

The titmice numbers were unusually high because the normally well-stocked feeders at the house just thirty yards away were empty this morning. Earlier in the week we noted how local Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits enjoyed fulsome meals as the container levels dropped. Only today at the sight of empty feeders did those birds stray into mist nets 50 yards away from their regular snacks. 

Although it is very difficult to see in the picture, the Tree Pipit had already started its post juvenile moult in the crown feathers. 

Tree Pipit 

Treecreepers often travel with tits in search of food. We seldom catch one, never mind two in a morning or three in a week as we have this time. The one below is a juvenile. 


A juvenile Blackcap shows how post-juvenile moult makes the sex easy to determine as the summer progresses. 


juvenile Robin  

A wing length of 81mm and the sheer bulk of this Goldfinchs’ bill strongly suggest a male even though it does not look like one just yet. 


Today’s seven Willow Warblers brought our total to 39 "WILWA" captures for the month of July. 

Willow Warbler 

Looks like we are back to normal tomorrow and over the weekend with yet more rain. Fortunately we made hay while the sun shone with 156 birds caught here in the month of July.  

Back soon with Another Bird Blog. Stay as normal as possible my friends. 

But don't go shopping to The High Street, it ain't there. Boris just killed it.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Branching Out?

Wednesday proved somewhat disappointing when a visit to the 180 strong Sand Martin colony resulted in a catch of just one juvenile. Our previous visit of 24 June saw a reasonable catch of twenty-three -24 June, but visits here are very unpredictable. 

The difficulty is in tempting the martins into a less than ideally placed net just too far away from the quarry face in both the vertical and horizontal planes. This will now be the final visit of 2020 but with luck the martins may choose a different part of the cliff face in 2021, one that makes the monitoring of them easier. 

Sand Martin - juvenile 

However, all was not lost. The hour and more we spent waiting for the martins to cooperate led to a few other sightings - Hobby, Kestrel, Common Tern, 2 Buzzard, 4 Oystercatcher, 2 Grey Herons, 2 Swallow, 12 Linnet, 2 Pied Wagtail, and over 120 Curlews flying to nearby pasture.  

We caught the first Linnet of the autumn period prior to restarting Project Linnet for 2020/2021.

Linnet - juvenile/first year male

Upon going to a nearby copse to investigate cries of “feed me, feed me”, flapping at the foot of a tree stood a young Buzzard of suitable age for a “G” ring. It may have been a Buzzard “branchie”, a young bird still fed by parents but one which leaves the nest, climbs onto outer branches of the tree, only to be then blown or fall to the floor before it is able to actually fly. 



The word “branchie” is an old name applied to other species, very often young Rooks who quickly explore the surroundings of their treetop nests where they nest in large colonies. The term is the probable origin of the ancient verse, “Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie”. Young Rook meat is said to be very savoury with a similar taste to Wood Pigeon meat. 

In Olde Englande a visit to a large Rook colony after a spell of strong winds might easily yield a catch of two dozen black birds for a tasty pie.  

Rookery - by John Petrov 

If the forecast is correct Friday morning will see us in the near Pennines at Oakenclough again. Not so much the hills alive to The Sound of Music as the sight and sounds of birds we hope.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

And There’s More

Monday was the day I couldn’t make it - Summer Holidays and Grandparents Rule. Andy had been to Oakenclough and in less than ideal conditions caught another 20 or so birds with more Willow Warblers and Blackcaps. There was even an unlikely Sedge Warbler, the second one ever up here on the edge of Pennines at 700ft above sea level. 

Tuesday’s forecast promised a better morning with less cloud and higher temperatures. At 0600 the wing gauge read zero and the reservoir resembled a sheet of glass - most unusual in this often windy, wet spot chosen as a site in which to gather rainwater.

The Reservoir 

The omens were good as the very first round saw three juvenile Willow Warblers in the nearest net. We then caught steadily until the 1030 finish mandated by a dental appointment. 

Two or three themes emerged; the continuation of movement through the site of new Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches. Also, our fourth Garden Warbler of the year. By many standards just four Garden Warblers may not seem high but after a summertime absence for many years their reappearance augurs well for the species’ return here to breed in 2021. 

A good mix of species saw 27 birds caught – 7 Willow Warbler, 4 Chaffinch, 3 Great Tit, 2 Chiffchaff,2 Goldfinch, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Blue Tit, and one each of Greenfinch, Wren, Siskin, Garden Warbler and Blackcap. 

The juvenile Siskin was almost certainly a roaming and fairly local one. We are reliably informed that North of the Border in Bonnie Scotland their Siskins still swarm around garden bird feeders like clouds of green-yellow bees. Small finches like Siskins, Redpolls and Chaffinches have little reason to leave Scotland until the weather turns inclement and/or their food depletes. 


2020 has seen an improvement in the fortunes of Greenfinches. Many birders report seeing better numbers and we have started to catch a few here too. The one below is a juvenile female. 


Good numbers of Chaffinches around today as there has been for a week or so. It appears that Chaffinches have had a productive breeding season. 


Seven Willow Warblers today brought our total here to 32 in the month of July as the species moves through the locality. 

Willow Warbler 

One of today’s Chiffchaffs was about as small as they come. With a wing length of 56mm and a weight of 6.8 grams it was marginally bigger than a typical Goldcrest. 


If this weather holds we may get a crack at the Sand Martins and/or back to Oakenclough on Friday. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog so as not to miss out.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Too Good To Be True

After another week of rain and rubbish weather we hoped that today’s forecast of a decent morning would be accurate. 

On the drive towards Oakenclough a hint of sun broke the early clouds. At 0630 roadside trees hardly stirred. This was all too good to be true. And so it proved.  For the next four hours Andy and I dodged periodic drizzle and showers that blew in from the west until we packed in at 1030 when light rain turned to a heavy wetting shower. 

Had the sun stayed around longer we felt sure that our catch would have been higher as despite the cool showers and grey skies, there seemed to be good numbers of birds moving through the area. Between the drizzly showers came post-fledging parties of Nuthatch, Chaffinches, titmice and Swallows. One of these moments brought in a Hobby that gave a rapid fly past before heading south east and out of sight. A birder who lives not far away reports seeing a Hobby every day of the week. 

Given the stop-start nature of proceedings we were quite pleased to finish with 28 birds of 13 species – 24 juvenile birds of the year and 4 adults - 8 Willow Warbler, 3 Chaffinch, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Blackcap, 2 Treecreeper, 2 Great Tit and singles of Goldfinch, Robin, Wren, Blue Tit, Goldcrest and Garden Warbler. 

Pictures below - all taken at ISO800/1600 in poor light yet again. Whatever happened to summer? 


Coal Tit 


Willow Warbler


Note how the outline shape of the Chiffchaff wing differs from the Willow Warbler. The Chiffchaff wing is shorter and rounder with primaries 3,4 and 5 of similar length. Primaries 3 and 4 of a Willow Warbler wing are longer than primary number 5.

The sixth primary feather of the Chiffchaff is partially emarginated whereas the equivalent feather of the Willow Warbler is not emarginated. 

Wing of Chiffchaff

 Wing of Willow Warbler

The differences are easier to see from the drawings in my 1984 dog-eared edition of "Svensson". But the facts remain the same in 2020.


Willow Warbler

 More news and views soon from Another Bird Blog.

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Pied Surprise

It’s a week since my last posting. In between has seen rain, rain, then more rain, and no chance of birding, ringing or lifting a camera. Given all the foul weather I was not surprised by news from Chris at Cockerham where after two days of relentless wind and rain he found a dead Avocet youngster, one of the chicks ringed on 24th June

Avocet chick 

It appears that during the bad weather the adults moved the chicks from open water to a more sheltered part of the farm but at least one succumbed. Let’s hope there are no more fatalities. Fingers crossed too that the Avocets return here in 2021. 


On the strength of different forecasts Wednesday morning was pencilled in as a “maybe”, and Oakenclough as the venue. The previous visit of July 1st saw the first real hints of autumn migration. 

This morning I met up with Andy and Bryan at 0630 to a 15-20 mph easterly wind, far stronger than several forecasts that all suggested 6-8 mph. After each of us had driven 40 minutes or more we decided to continue in the less than ideal conditions in the hope the wind would drop. 

As the morning wore on the wind dropped slightly and allowed us a reasonable catch of 24 birds – 21 birds of the year and three adults: 5 Willow Warbler, 4 Great Tit, 3 Chiffchaff, 2 Blackcap, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinch, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Wren, 1 Dunnock, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Pied Flycatcher. 

Oakenclough springs a few surprises on most days. Our surprise today was the juvenile Pied Flycatcher. It’s a species we never catch in mist nets despite the fact that Andy rings many nestlings from boxes a quarter of a mile away. 

Pied Flycatchers are notorious for arriving unseen on their breeding sites and then leaving in autumn equally undetected. This one, AKE3941 was ringed at the nest box along with three siblings on 28 May 2020. 

Pied Flycatcher 

 Pied Flycatcher - juvenile/first summer

Greenfinch - juvenile/first summer

Chiffchaff - juvenile/first summer 

Willow Warbler - juvenile/first summer 

Strong early winds didn’t help our birding, a highlight being a passing Peregrine Falcon as it dive bombed a local Buzzard. Otherwise a few Swallows, a Great-spotted Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail and the arrival of autumnal Goldfinches around the feeders. 

Back soon. Don’t go away.

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The First Of July

Last weekend saw hints of an early irruption of both Siskins and Crossbills from their summer breeding haunts in Scandinavia. So far, the migration had occurred on the east coast, the part of England closest to Scandinavia. 

“24 June - After an amazing 327 Crossbills at Scarborough, South Cliff, Yorkshire yesterday (23 June) blown away by an incredible 610 Crossbills between 0430-0700 this morning together with a supporting cast of 601 Siskins” 

“25 June - Another day on Scarborough South Cliff dawns & incredibly, even more Crossbills on the move! Over 1200 flew south this morning (with 1100+ in first two hours)." 

Would the change to July bring some of these birds here to the west of the Pennine Hills that divide Yorkshire and Lancashire? As expected we’d had a couple of low number catches during June but with a definite autumnal feel to the week gone by we felt that July might bring change.

This morning I met Andy at Oakenclough to a dull, mizzly morning. Full of optimism and imaginings we added Crossbill to our autumnal bird callers and laid a tray of water in the net ride nearest the confer plantation. It’s said that because Crossbills feed mainly on dry conifer seeds, they are always thirsty and that a good supply of water is really important to their survival.

Gradually the mist and drizzle cleared before the sun finally arrived around eleven o’clock. Needless to say, we caught no Crossbills but we did enjoy an unseasonable adult male Siskin amongst our catch of 17 birds - 5 Willow Warbler, 4 Blackcap, 2 Robin, 2 Great Tit, 1 Blackbird, 1 Garden Warbler and 1 Siskin.

Apologies for the not so good pics today, most taken at ISO1600 in the drizzly light of 0630 to 1000 hours.

Siskin - adult male 

Willow Warbler - juvenile 

Garden Warbler - adult female 

Blackcap - adult female 

Meanwhile, the captions for Caption Contest continue to arrive for my last post of Friday 26th June. 

Kestrel chicks 

Thank you everyone for your topical, inventive and funny captions. And for those readers yet to enter the competition, it is not too late.

Read the captions so far and just enter your suggestion in the comments box of this or the last post of Another Bird Blog.

Back soon with more news and views. And ......................



............... keep eyes and ears open for those Crossbills.  You just never know.

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

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