Monday, August 31, 2020

Ringers Return

Weeks had slipped by since our last visit to Oakenclough . The last one was 14th August 2020 when we still caught Tree Pipits and Willow Warblers even though the cool morning air suggested autumn was close and that warblers might morph into finches and thrushes. 

Our visit was so long ago that on Sunday while studying the weather forecast I had to remind myself of how we were doing with each species until continual foul weather stopped us dead in our tracks. Up to 14 August and a very mixed bag of 363 birds and 26 species below: 

Blue Tit 20 
Siskin 6 
Goldfinch 39 
Chiffchaff 15
Whitethroat 1 
Coal Tit 26 
Willow Warbler 84 
Tree Pipit 12 
Goldcrest 18 
Song Thrush 2 
Blackbird 3 
Dunnock 5 
Blackcap 30 
Lesser Redpoll 15 
Chaffinch 27 
Wren 20 
Treecreeper 5 
House Sparrow 1 
Robin 10 
Garden Warbler 6 
Pied Flycatcher 2 
Long- tailed Tit 2 
Sedge Warbler 1 
Meadow Pipit 9 
Greenfinch 4 

Would we continue with summer warblers or move almost imperceptibly into autumn birds? 

We met up at 0630 Ringers Three - Andy, Bryan and The One Who Takes the Pictures. The air was cool at 5.5 °C and very little stirred. The earliest sightings came from a flurry of Swallows heading south, flights that continued throughout the morning until we had counted approximately 120 by finish time at 1130. 

Catching was slow but steady with a handful of warblers together with the appearance of the first autumnal Meadow Pipits. Birds caught 22 of 8 species only - 6 Meadow Pipit, 5 Willow Warbler, 3 Blackcap, 3 Goldcrest, 2 Chaffinch , 1 Coal Tit , 1 Wren and 1 Siskin. 

Meadow Pipit
The most unexpected bird of the morning here at 700 ft above sea level was a Marsh Harrier, a brown female/juvenile that appeared from the west, flew along the northern boundary and then down into the valley.  Although we see most raptors here, this was the very first sighting of a Marsh Harrier.

Other birds noted - 2 Nuthatch, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 10 Pied Wagtail, 10 Meadow Pipit, 3 Sand Martin, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Kestrel. 

Another overhead sighting came with the appearance of a brightly coloured hot-air balloon that sailed overhead south to north in the direction of Morecambe Bay. Let’s hope the pilot dropped anchor before sailing out over the Irish Sea. 

Flying High
Stay tuned. There’s a newly published book review on the way.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Mink Encounter

With a dry sunny morning but a 20mph stiff northerly there was no chance of a ringing session at our exposed ringing sites. 

I set off for the usual birding spots with the car heater turned to ‘max’ and four layers on top. Summer had turned to autumn with a vengeance. 

Braides was first stop where an unplanned pool appeared during summer rains after the farmer’s levelling went awry. Fifty-five Curlews were dotted around the margins of long grass with a couple of Swallows hawking for early insects. Along the track in the distance I saw 3 Little Egrets and a single Grey Heron. 

I pulled in at the lay by at Conder Green and almost immediately heard Green Sandpipers – in the plural. In fact there were four together in the creek and not the more usual, a single one on the pool margins or a dark, almost black, white-rumped bird flying fast and furious. The morning was already becoming a reprise of a visit here 9 days ago when I saw two, possibly three ‘green sands’. 

The sandpipers were very skittish, a trade mark behaviour of the species. Within a minute or two they had flown noisily around the creek out of sight. They took a feeding Common Sandpiper along too.  

Green Sandpiper

I stood quietly at the viewing screen hoping that something would come close. A Kingfisher flew up to the top of the marker post, now a favourite spot with water of the preferred depth for fishing. It didn’t linger more than a minute when something spooked the 150+ Lapwings dotted around the islands.  In turn the Lapwings spooked the Kingfisher.


The early hour saw many hirundines feeding in the shelter of the hawthorns; approximately 120 Sand Martin, 30 Swallow and 15 House Martins. Pied Wagtails fed on the early insects too with 20/30 dotted around but highly mobile. 

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a sizeable animal moving around the base of the platform and below the screen. First thoughts were of the most likely, a rat or a ferret but as the animal turned, stopped and stared up at motionless me I realised it was a mink, just a yard or two from my feet. Damn, it was too close for a picture from a 600 lens so I borrowed a pic from Wiki. 

Mink - Wiki

The animal slipped away into the hedgerow that borders the site and I didn’t see it again. I’d never been so close to a mink before but saw now that they are of a similar size to a ferret or polecat. Smaller than an otter and of an overall nondescript brown colour except for a softer, paler face. 

After that encounter everything seemed an anti-climax, but for the record books; 2 Little Egret, 15 Redshank, 12 Curlew, 8 Tufted Duck, 6 Little Grebe. 

Two weeks of bad weather has meant no ringing, but there’s a session pencilled in for Monday at Oakenclough.  Log in Monday evening to see Another Bird Blog’s next encounter.

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


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Green For Go

Wednesday morning - “The Met Office has issued an 18-hour warning for strong winds in Somerset as Storm Ellen batters Britain and the West Country. The storm contains the remnants of Tropical Storm Kyle and will bring gales as it hits Ireland, before striking the rest of the UK all week.” 

With that gloomy forecast in mind I set off for a spot of birding and maybe even a ringing session if the wind held off long enough. 

I was an early bird at Conder Green where the sun shone and the threatened storm seemed far away. The shy and wary Green Sandpiper is one of those species we often hear before we see. Their unmistakable, sharp, high pitched crazy calls alert us to their presence, like someone stepped on their toes and made them fly off cursing. Often, all you see is their pure white rump disappearing into the distance. Listen to their call to hear the wildness within.


I saw at least two ‘green sands' but thought there may have been three because one flew off calling loudly towards the creek and didn’t return. 

Green Sandpiper

In total contrast the Common Sandpiper can be quite amenable, just bobbing along the water margins without a care in the world. I saw two Common Sandpipers. In these parts it is most unusual to see more Greens than Commons in a morning’s birding. On the other hand the Common Sandpiper is an early migrant both coming and going with the peak of their autumn migration in early July whereas the Green Sandpiper is later by two or three weeks. 

Common Sandpiper

Early doors saw the Lapwing roost on and around the islands as 150 plus departed noisily for the River Lune at some unknown prompt. In the creeks were 3 Greenshank together and just singles of both Curlew and Redshank. 


Teal are back in small numbers with 25 in the roadside creek as a Kingfisher flew through. The Kingfisher, or another, was on the pool soon after where it used the level marker from which to hunt the shallows below. Apologies for the long-distance shot; 600mm is as near as the Kingfisher comes when water levels remains low, even after the voluminous rains of June, July and now August. 


Little Grebes numbered eight with Tufted Duck the same. Two Stock Dove and 8 to 10 Pied Wagtail fed around the pool margins. One Grey Heron and one Little Egret completed an hour or so of looking before I headed for Cockerham and Sand Villa. 

By now 1000 the breeze was too stiff for a net through the seed plot. I birded for a while. Fifty or more Linnets along the sea wall joined with a gang of Swallows to mob a passing Sparrowhawk while in the copse a Willow Warbler, 3 Greenfinch and 4 Goldfinch. Richard’s midden with its puddles, rotting vegetation and hive of insects is popular with Pied Wagtails. 

At least ten wagtails around today but no sign of the recent Corn Bunting or the Grey Wagtail of late. 

Pied Wagtail

On dear. Looks like I won't be going anywhere on Thursday. Or Friday.

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

Friday, August 14, 2020

Friday Fortunes

We returned to Oakenclough today. I arrived at 0620, Andy at 0625 for the appointed 0630. That’s just one of the many disciplines of becoming a bird ringer - punctual and dependable timekeeping. Sadly, many a trainee ringer falls at this very first and perhaps most important hurdle of an apprenticeship. 

Following a satisfactory session of 36 birds on Wednesday we hoped for a similar result today. An easterly breeze of 10-12 mph suggested a repeat was unlikely. While north, south and west winds all produce some birds, easterlies arriving via the nearby Pennine Hills rarely produce the goods in numbers. 

Luckily the breeze dropped slightly as the morning wore on, allowing a steady if unremarkable result with 22 birds. Finches were to the fore but we caught yet more Tree Pipits. We totalled - 7 Goldfinch, 3 Siskin, 3 Tree Pipit, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, and 1 Whitethroat. 

The Common Whitethroat was today’s star bird. Not because it is rare but as the “Common” prefix suggests, Whitethroats are a widespread bird of lowland farm, scrub & hedgerow. They are pretty uncommon up here at 700ft above sea level, this the second ever caught here at Oakenclough. Upon inspection, and unsurprisingly, we aged this migrant as a bird born this year. 


Siskins are rather special little birds that come in many shades of grey, green, yellow, buff and brown to name but a few. Even the youngest ones are fine specimens to admire. 



None of the seven Goldfinches could be sexed as they had little or no head colour to inspect. By now mid-August these are youngsters of second broods where the size of an individual might suggest some male, some female. Without the extra information provided by colour and its whereabouts, these birds go onto the database as age ‘3’ - a bird born this year. 


Two more Willow Warblers today brought our total here to 77 captures of the species for 2020. Just six of the 77 were caught on a subsequent occasion, usually within a week or less. 

Willow Warbler

Our Tree Pipits saw three more birds of the year heading south to Africa. Tree Pipits winter in forest and wooded savannas from Guinea in West Africa, east to Ethiopia and as far as South Africa. However, the specific whereabouts of British birds is still unknown. (BTO Migration Atlas). 

As with other declining bird populations, many of the causes may lie outside Britain, on migration or in the African wintering grounds. 

Tree Pipit 

Birding between ringing was pretty unremarkable with little to see in the easterly gusts. Raptors in the shape of Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, 30+ Swallows and a single Swift on the move as the air warmed and the early breeze moderated. 

On the way home I stopped at Lancaster Road to view the flood caused by recent rain and thunderstorms. The hundreds of gulls, dozens of Lapwings and two soaring Buzzards were scared off by a light plane flying overhead. There wasn’t time to wait. Lunch called. 

Summer Scene 

All the rain of June and July with recent hot sunny weather and more bucket loads of rain looks like providing a bumper crop of apples in the garden. 


And still a month or more to swell those Bramleys.  And then it's Apple Pie time.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

I Need A Drink

Seven Tree Pipits caught this morning during the ringing session at Oakenclough. Seven in one morning is something of a record number for birders who see Tree Pipits in Spring and Autumn only. We are at the peak of Tree Pipit migration. A fellow ringer in Scotland has ringed more than 135 so far this autumn, a number that puts our meagre 10 into the relative perspective of the species being much less common in Lancashire than in the wide open spaces of Scotland. 

The morning was almost ideal - zero wind, hot and sultry and barely a cloud in the clear blue sky. A bottle or two of cold beer would have been more welcome than the hot coffee that accompanies bird ringers everywhere. 

 Dawn at Oakenclough

We kicked off at 0600 hours and finished at 1100 with 36 birds for five hours work. 

Fifteen species meant that we processed a good mix of finches and warblers. 7 Tree Pipit, 5 Willow Warbler, 4 Blackcap, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Dunnock , 1 Wren and 1 Blackbird. 

All seven Tree Pipits were seen to be first summer/juveniles. The early season weather was very good to insect eaters like Tree Pipits and this may prove to be a record year for the species and sightings 

Tree Pipit

The two Song Thrush caught were clearly siblings. They were at the exact same stage of youthfulness, found in the net together, and when released flew off in the same direction. 

Song Thrush

Song Thrush 

All four Lesser Redpoll turned out to be first summer/juvenile. A couple of them were so juvenile that their post-juvenile moult had barely begun. 
Lesser Redpoll

All five Willow Warblers were birds of the year/juveniles. 

Willow Warbler 

Other birds seen but not caught Spotted Flycatcher, Tawny Owl, 22 Long-tailed Tit, Sparrowhawk, 15 Swallow.

It’s been a hot and thirsty day. Now what’s it to be, a glass of beer, red wine or a fizz to celebrate our Seven Up? 


After reading the latest Bird Guides I definitely need a stiff drink. 

Bird Guides – 11th August 202 - It seems the plague of Groupthink, authoritarianism, pure bullshit and the uncontrolled urge to rewrite history, has reached the once sensible world of birding. 

"The American Ornithological Society (AOS) has announced that it is to change the name McCown's Longspur, after a unanimous decision by the North American Classification Committee (NACC). Rhynchophanes mccownii, named after the naturalist who first collected the species in 1851, will now be known by the English name Thick-billed Longspur." 

McCown's Longspur - Wiki

It was previously titled after John Porter McCown, who was involved in relocations of Native Americans during the 1840s, and who left the United States Army to serve as a Confederate general during the American Civil War. 

The so-called Bird Names for Birds movement, which “aims to support equity, diversity and inclusion in the birding community”, has so far gathered 3,200 signatures on a petition calling for action. 

Yes, that’s right, out of a world-wide community of hundreds of thousands if not millions of birders, the AOS bowed to pressure from 3,200 nutters, most of whom couldn’t tell the difference between a longspur or a Long-tailed Tit. 

Alex Holt of Bird Names for Birds commented: "This is certainly a positive move, but I hope this now leads to further introspection within ornithology and beyond into other scientific fields. "McCown wasn't just a singular anomaly that has now been "solved", but a single expression of far more deep-rooted issues of colonialism, racism, sexism and other prejudices that have gone unchallenged for too long. Hopefully, by continuing to confront that legacy, we can further break down the barriers around who feels able to get involved with birds and nature." 

Such madness is best summed up by a comment from a Bird Guides reader. 

Oh dear, PC gone too far. We shouldn't attempt to re-write history. Slavery, genocide, colonialism and religious persecution are all part of collective human behaviour dating back more than 5000 years. We may not approve of such shameful behaviour today but it is an undeniable fact, not confined to white Anglo-Saxons and in many parts of the world it is still evident. I suspect that if we were to examine the political views of many 19th Century naturalists we would open a can of worms. 

Now where's that drink?


Friday, August 7, 2020

Another Day, Another Drama

There was patchy rain around at early doors. When at 0630 the three of us arrived from our respective but different journeys, Andy said he drove through a few showers, Bryan experienced the same, but my journey had been rain free. At Oakenclough all was dry and bright with just a slight breeze for another ringing session. 

It’s fair to say the morning was slow but steady with 23 birds caught. More Willow Warblers, another Tree Pipit and a good show of Goldfinches. Total - 8 Goldfinch, 5 Willow Warbler, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Tree Pipit, 1 House Sparrow, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Wren. 

The House Sparrow was a real rarity, the first one ever caught here at 700ft above sea level. 

We kicked off with 2 new Coal Tits, a species usually greatly outnumbered in birding and ringing references and reports by its more abundant cousin the Blue Tit. But up here at Oakenclough the Blue Tit doesn’t have it all to itself. Since 2014 we have 365 captures of Coal Tit compared to 489 captures of Blue Tit, a ratio that many ringers would prefer. 
Coal Tit

The Treecreeper capture was rather unusual. As we checked birds at the feeder of the nearby house we noticed a Treecreeper sat immobile on a window sill. Because it wasn’t moving we wondered if it had stunned itself against the window glass, a not unknown phenomenon for all sorts of birds. Andy went to investigate and the bird allowed itself to be picked up. We put the Treecreeper in a bird bag and hung the bag in a warm car for twenty minutes or so before taking a look inside. The bird was full of beans, seemingly none the worse for its attempt to fly through glass so we ringed and processed it as normal and then watched it fly off to the top of the nearest tree. 


While we caught one Tree Pipit, at least 5 others escaped our attempts to catch them. The one caught was a juvenile/first summer. 

Tree Pipit

Five more Willow Warblers gave us 70 captures of this species here from April to date. 

Willow Warbler

Other birds seen - 15 Chaffinch, 8 Swallow, 5 Grey Wagtail, 2 Greenfinch, 4 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Kestrel. 

We received news of a Lesser Redpoll ringed here on 28 October 2019, an adult male ring number AKE3853. This same bird was recaptured by other ringers at the RSPB Reserve Geltsdale, Cumbria on 3 August 2020. 

This was possibly a Lakeland bird that by October was on its way south, only to return to Cumbria in 2020. 

Lesser Redpoll - Oakenclough and Geltsdale, Cumbria 

Back soon. Don’t go away. 

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


Thursday, August 6, 2020

Changing Places

I missed out on Monday’s ringing when Andy caught another 32 birds up at Oakenclough - 9 more Willow Warblers, more Blackcaps, yet another Garden Warbler and one each of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. 

We decided on a change of venue today when a post-breeding flock of mainly Linnets looked too good to miss. For a week and more the Linnets had fed a quarter of a mile away from our Project Linnet site of Gulf Lane. The birds were using a further plot of set-aside adjacent to a recently collected field of barley,  now planted for a crop of rape seed and turnip. 

The car splashed along the track where recent rains had left very large puddles. There has been an awful lot of rain lately but thankfully this morning was dry and the grey sky soon perked up.  

Down The Track

Seed Plot

We set a couple of single panel nets through the seed plot and a single net in the nearby copse.

We were quite pleased with the catch of 17 birds containing as it did the target bird of Linnet plus a couple of surprises - 9 Linnet, 2 Sedge Warbler, 2 Reed Warbler, 2 Wren, 1 Pied Wagtail and 1 Lesser Whitethroat.

Lesser Whitethroat 

One of the Reed Warblers was a female in breeding condition. The second one sported the most magnificent fault bars through the tail. This obviously came about during one of the rain and windy spells of July when food would have been difficult to find for adults feeding young. 

Reed Warbler with tail fault bar 

Sedge Warbler - juvenile/first summer

Pied Wagtail - juvenile/first summer

Other birds observed today. 40 Linnet, 8 Pied Wagtail, 2 Corn Bunting, 20+ Swallow, Willow Warbler, 8 Curlew, 2 Cormorant. 

We pencilled in Friday for another trip to Oakenclough.  Log in tomorrow evening to see how we did. 

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