Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Mucking About

We escaped the rain until 1000 this morning and even managed to catch a few birds. I’d met up with Andy at 0730 where in view of the poor forecast of both wind and rain we planned to a little maintenance work on a net ride by clearing overgrow so as to make the ride a little longer. 

When I arrived in the dark before Andy there was no wind so I quickly set the usual net for Linnets even though this was unplanned. 

Andy did most of the mucky hard graft with a bow saw as I moved a few branches and periodically checked for Linnets. In fact we caught another 14 to make our Linnet autumnal total here in 2021 an impressive 162 with zero recaptures. 

Linnet
 
We didn’t spend time birding but couldn’t help but notice 10 Little Egrets and good numbers of Greenfinch close to where we worked and also flying over. Another example of what has seems to be an exceptionally good year for Greenfinches and a recovery of the species’ fortunes. 

Greenfinch
 
The farmer had mentioned seeing a Green Sandpiper feeding around the edge of his slurry pit so despite the now persistent rain, I went for a look. For sure the sandpiper was still there, bob-bob-bobbing along the muddy edges while finding lots of food. “Where there’s muck, there’s brass” - and food. 

Green Sandpiper

There’s been a few sightings of a Glossy Ibis in the area of Pilling nearby but it seems the sickle bill has done a bunk, watched flying off to the North West on Monday. That’s not to say it won’t be back as these strays have a habit of doing a disappearing act only to be found near the original spot a few days later. 

I last saw Glossy Ibis in Menorca a few years ago where in typical fashion several of them fed in shallow marshy pools in the company of Wood Sandpipers, Mallards and Black-winged Stilts. 

Glossy Ibis

I fully expect to next see a Glossy Ibis in Lancashire fairly soon but also in Greece in May 2022. 

Glossy Ibis breed as close as close to the UK as the Camargue, other parts of France, into central Europe and further east around the area of the Black Sea. Glossy Ibises are especially nomadic during the autumn when the more northerly populations of Europe are fully migratory and travel on a broad front, for example across the Sahara Desert. 

Perhaps Glossy Ibis, among the most widespread bird species in the world and one capable of impressive long-distance movements between breeding and wintering areas, could like some of the heron and egret family, become a British breeding species soon? 

There’s more rain and wind for a day or three but back soon on Another Bird Blog. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Saturday Blogspot and Anni's Birding in Texas.

 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Stick Or Twist

There was a 6° and cold but clear start to the latest ringing session at Cockerham. I’d met Andy on site at 0730 and within minutes we had a few nets up. 

Linnets began to arrive but in less numbers than recent weeks. Our best Linnet count today was 130+. As the morning progressed we wondered if constant attention from two, possibly three, or even four Sparrowhawks big and small had caused the previously large Linnet flock to fragment into the smaller groups we saw. 

These Sparrowhawks must find the Linnets a relatively easy catch as they appeared a number of times and used various methods by which to catch Linnets, succeeding just once. In comparison the hawks appeared to ignore the flocks of Starlings we saw throughout the morning. 

Sparrowhawk

Less Linnets round and about meant a smaller catch of that species, balanced out by more Greenfinches, a couple of Reed Buntings and a Redwing. 

Totals caught - 23 birds of 5 species -13 Greenfinch, 6 Linnet, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Redwing, 1 Great Tit. 

Reed Bunting

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

Linnet

Redwing

Quite suddenly Lapwings are back in our area in large numbers. Many flew over the ringing site this morning heading for nearby fields. And then on the way back home and through Pilling at about 1115 there seemed to be rather a lot of Lapwings in a roadside field. I stopped for a closer look and counted 1700! 

There were piles of Starlings too and although I was more interested in the Lapwings and whether Golden Plovers were in the mix, I knew that both Starlings and Lapwings had recently arrived from similar areas of Europe and that hereabouts it's not unusual to see Starlings feeding alongside Lapwings. 

British Lapwings are mostly resident, but some migrate westwards to Ireland and others fly south to France and Spain. Any remaining winter population is increased to about 2 million by migrant Lapwings from continental Europe. 

From late summer, migrant Starlings from as far as Scandinavia, the Baltic States, the Low Countries, Germany, Poland and Russia join our resident Starlings to make enormous daytime flocks and to form huge night-time roosts. 

Starlings
 
Lapwings
 
At Gulf Lane, our usual catch site for Linnets there was a flock of 50+ in a very similar seed plot to the morning's site not too far away and where we have caught 144 Linnets so far this autumn. 

Now we are left in a quandary with a wealth of places in which to catch Linnets. Do we stick where we are or move soon to tried and trusted Gulf Lane and its 819 Linnets over recent winters? 

Answers please on a postcard to Another Bird Blog........... 

Linking this weekend to United States birders, Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Redwings Aplenty

We swop and change our ringing sessions according to available bodies, the weather, and the theory that too many or too few days at the same location is not normally a good idea. Hence, Wednesday saw three ringers, Andy, Bryan and me back at Oakenclough, 15 miles from the coast, 700 metres above sea level at our autumnal site for catching Redwings and other migrant birds. 

We have learned that when weather conditions are suitable many bird species use this edge of the Pennine Hills as a part of their migration route, east to west/west to east or north to south/south to north. Very often the directions of travel change mid-stream or are impossible to decipher if birds disappear from view by distance or landscape. 

Examples of visible migration become especially evident during October when it is possible to witness nocturnal and diurnal migration of large numbers of northern thrushes like Redwing, Fieldfare, Blackbird, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush. The most numerous of this group are Redwings and Fieldfares, species that migrate on any given day but whose migration is wholly unpredictable and may be as small as a few dozen individuals, or on occasions many thousands over the course of a single morning. 

The forecast for Wednesday of brightness, zero rain and a 8/10 mph breeze looked almost perfect so we arranged to meet at 0645, just before dawn. The drive up to Oakenclough is a steady climb in third gear so as to maintain a respectable speed while watching for unpredictable deer and roadside pheasants that can dent a moving car. Gaining elevation and ever closer to my destination the low cloud turned to mizzle & drizzle as visibility dropped to 20 yards. Parking up there was a 15 mph wind rattling overhead trees and the weather forecaster was treated to yet another expletive. 

We concurred. If Redwings had been on the move during the night and into morning they could well be around despite the unwelcoming weather, so we set nets and hoped for the best. 

Amazingly and even in these poor conditions, Redwings arrived. They came slowly at first, with four Redwings on the first look at the nets. And then more of them, and also other species as the morning wore on. 

Redwing

About 0920 and without warning a flock of almost a thousand Redwings arrived from the east and circled around for a few minutes before flying west. The same thing happened again later as at least two more large contingents of several hundred Redwings arrived and left to the west, as did smaller parties of tens and twenties, sometimes mixing with flocks of finches disturbed from the treetops by the swirling Redwings above them.  

Cloud and drizzle encircled us north, south, east and west as it ebbed and flowed, appearing to ease off before starting up again, but all the time we added to the catch. At 1030 real rain arrived to replace the mizzle as an unwelcome flock of 19 titmice, blues, coals, longtails and creepers found a net – time to pack in after almost four hours of intensive work. 

We finished with a catch of 54 birds - 26 Redwing, 4 Chaffinch, 3 Goldfinch, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 12 Blue Tit, 2 Coal Tit, 2 Treecreeper, 2 Long-tailed Tit and 1 Goldcrest. 

Redwing

Chaffinch

Goldcrest

Lesser Redpoll

Treecreeper

Long-tailed Tit

Goldfinch 

We totted up the sightings – mostly approximate taking into account the poor visibility - 2500 Redwing, 40 Lesser Redpoll, 40 Jackdaw, 25 Goldfinch, 25 Chaffinch 2 Siskin, 1 Mistle Thrush, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Kestrel. 
 
Redwing

It had been a good morning. It’s not everyone who sees 2500 Redwings in a single morning or witnesses at first hand the magic of bird migration. 

More soon from Another Bird Blog. Don't go away.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Scoring More

After Saturday’s disappointing foray into the hills Andy and I turned our attention back to the flat fields of Cockerham on Sunday morning. There was zero wind and a cold start until the sun rose to warm the air. We employed two nets only, one in the seed plot and one in the nearby trees, a fast job of setting up that took all of 15 minutes and so much quicker to pack away. And much closer to home for the drive back- for me at least! 

There was a somewhat slow start with 4 Linnets caught in the first hour. Fortunes bucked up quickly and then a good catch of 37 birds with some superb bird watching in-between. 

For once it was Greenfinches that topped the catching chart, not Linnets. All new birds no recaptures - 19 Greenfinch, 13 Linnet, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Wren, 1 Chaffinch. 

Greenfinch

Reed Bunting

Chaffinch

Thanks to watchful crows we’d had early but brief views of a Peregrine, an hour or so later bettered by the sight of a Peregrine chasing a Wood Pigeon across the open field in front of us. It all happened very quickly but the pigeon proved up to the challenge by diving into the nearby copse where the Peregrine would not venture. 

Later, the morning turned out so warm, inviting and spring like that we agreed “October 10th, it’s not too late for a Marsh Harrier”. Sure enough within 30 minutes a “cream top” arrived from the east, put on a gliding/hunting display and left quite quickly to the south and in the direction of the inland mosses. 

This is the Marsh Harriers’ usual route here; today’s the latest of four autumn sightings of the species. They arrive from the north or east after a journey around or across Morecambe Bay and then fly inland on a direct southerly or south west heading. Their slow but purposeful method of flight allows them to migrate while hunting over suitable landscapes of marsh, reedbeds, and farmland where they find favoured foods like frogs, small mammals and birds, such as moorhen and coot. 

Marsh Harrier
 
It’s virtually every Linnet catching session that a Sparrowhawk or two appears looking for a meal. The hawks are drawn in by the sight and sound of 200 and more chattering Linnets, in the air or feeding in the seed plot. This morning was no different as a young male Sparrowhawk appeared as if from nowhere to single out a Linnet but once again failed to catch. 

I’m not sure what the success rate is for hunting Sparrowhawks but imagine that here at least it is quite low. Sparrowhawks that hunt by surprise tactics in suburban gardens seem to do much better than these probably inexperienced youngsters. 

Not to be outdone and just as we were ready to leave the crows found us a Buzzard that circled above to give great views in sunny sky. After a couple of circuits the Buzzard too drifted off in a southerly direction. 

Buzzard
 
All three raptors, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Marsh Harrier are migrants through this part of Lancashire, their numbers increasing in the autumn as young birds disperse and adults wander in search of consistent and good feeding. The Peregrine is a winter visitor to these lowland and coastal areas where concentrations of waders and wildfowl provide rich pickings for the supreme hunter. 

Peregrine
 
That's all for now. Back soon with more news, views and photos.


 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Better Luck Next Time

Friday was on flat coastal fields at Cockerham, just south of Lancaster. Saturday a change of scene in the hills at Oakencolugh on the edge of Bowland Forest, the two places 15 miles apart and a good way from each other in their respective landscapes and the species they support. 

We have a number of ringing sites from which to choose and to juggle for maximum effort and a concentrated catch but it’s far from an exact science where birds and the weather pool their resources and frustrate our best. The forecast for Saturday was reasonable enough at 8 mph and dry until early afternoon when rain would move in from the west. 

The journey across the early morning moss roads was enlivened by a Tawny Owl that flew across the road ahead and then not 200 yards more, a Barn Owl alongside the road. As a strictly nocturnal animal local Tawny Owls are rarely seen in comparison to the Barn Owls that frequent. 

Barn Owl
 
This was a good start to anyone’s day and heightened expectations when Andy and I met at dawn in in readiness for the arrival of early October Redwings. To catch the first ones of the autumn always brings a thrill. 

The potential problem was that even at this time of the morning the breeze was close to 15 mph and as soon as it became light we could see from our elevation that a good deal of cloud sat over the Fylde coast to the west and into Morecambe Bay to the north. The rain was on the way three or four hours before the expert predictions of Friday evening and even Saturday morning.  

West Lancashire

We caught the "first" Redwing at about 0745 and then no more, even though in the next three hours we saw approximately 90 Redwings in small groups, most of them arriving from east or south east and then flying west without stopping. 

Redwing

Redwing
 
A niggling wind and increasing cloud to 100% did little to help our cause as small flocks of finches, mainly Chaffinches and Goldfinches flew from north to south in opposite conduits to Redwings. The light was so poor that many a finch could be positively identified by close call only. We settled on roundish figures of 100 Chaffinch, 35 Goldfinch, one or two each of Siskin & Lesser Redpoll and 3 Pied Wagtail. 

Lesser Redpoll
 
The Redpoll and the Redwing were just reward for our efforts, the remaining Wren, Blue Tit and Great Tit (2) a somewhat embarrassing result. 

Drizzle rolled in slowly at first until 0945 when it became persistent. The wind dropped to near zero but too late and it was time to pack in and hope for better luck next time. 

 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Blown Away

It seems my precious Linnets are not as popular as the newest guide book about birds. With 286 views and still counting, my review of Europe's Birds on 4 October blew away "Those Linnets Again" of 6 October, the latter post attracting a miserly 44 viewers to Another Bird Blog’s tales. 

As far as I’m concerned the more Linaria cannabina the better so on Friday I made for Cockerham armed with a couple of mist nets, a pair of bins and a high dose of expectation. There was coffee, a slice of malt loaf and a crispy apple for second breakfast. 

It wasn’t so bad despite the cold morning air leading to expired coffee and food long gone by 0930. After near zero wind at the 0700 start, a breeze in the region of 10-12mph took over and began to make the net visible to the Linnets, a species that is wary at the best of times. Here in Fylde of coastal Lancashire near enough every field is as flat as a pancake with no let up from wind coming from any direction. 

At 1030 I packed in after a pretty good catch of 14 new Linnets (11 first years, 3 adults), a Wren and a migrant Chiffchaff. Had the wind not blown me away early there was a chance of 20 or more Linnets. 

Chiffchaff

Wren

Each Linnet takes about 25 seconds to process, a concentrated but brief routine that leaves ample in-between time for looking, listening and watching. 

Birds other than the ones ringed manifested as 200 Linnet, 12 Greenfinch, 4 Pied Wagtail, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Grey Heron, 4 Magpie, 2 Robin, 2 Reed Bunting, 4 Skylark, 8 Stock Dove.

Kestrel
 
Regular flights of Pink-footed Geese overhead amounted to over 1000 together with more distant sounds from geese that were not counted. 

Short and sweet I hope. Back soon with more news, views and pictures at Another Bird Blog.

 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Those Linnets Again

It was Wednesday of last week the 29th of September when we arrived back in England following two weeks in sunny Greece. Since then it’s rained every day, sometimes very heavy and unpleasant, so there’s been no opportunity for birding or ringing, until today. 

The forecast for this morning looked OK and suggested a slightly blowy start at 10-15 mph but quickly dropping to 5 mph by 10am. For once the prediction was spot on and I had a really interesting ringing session. 

Once again the main target was Linnets with the intention of adding to knowledge about the movements of Linnets between here (Pilling Marsh the location for DemOn database) and the Northern Isles, a recently discovered phenomenon between us and the Scottish Ringers. The recently published Scottish Ringers Roundup featured several movements between the North West England and the far north of Scotland. 

Scottish Ringers Roundup
 
I added another 13 Linnets to make the total caught here this autumn into a nice round 111, with zero recaptures, hence birds on the move. As well as the Linnets I caught 2 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Blue Tits and a single Robin. 

Long-tailed Tit
 
Blue Tit
 
Linnet

Robin
 
Flocks of Linnets came and went during my four hour watch. My best estimate was 200/240 individuals but with mobile Linnets always difficult to be precise. 

Such a lot of Linnets in the air attracted in a number of predators with a Merlin, two Sparrowhawk and a male Peregrine all having a dash at a meal. It was as I sat unseen in the lee of the car that overhead I heard the rush of Peregrine wings in pursuit of a Linnet. The Peregrine was incredibly close and gave tremendous views for several seconds before it flew out towards the marsh.    

Peregrine
 
As the morning sun warmed up a good number of flies found the metal of my car a good place to warm their bodies. 

Sunbathing flies

There’s more ringing planned for Thursday. Let’s hope the weather holds. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Review - Europe’s Birds

There is a brand new guide to European Birds due to cause a stir among birders ever eager to have the most up to date in field guides. Rob Hume Robert Still, Andy Swash and Hugh Harrop the four co-authors of the bestselling Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide and British Birds have followed up with “Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide” - “the most comprehensive single-volume photographic guide to Europe’s birds ever produced”. 

Covering 900 species in 640 pages, 4,700 colour photos, 540 maps and at a very reasonable price it’s impossible to see how this latest WILDGuide can be anything but another winning-formula best seller. 

Europe's Birds - Princeton Press
 
Europe's Birds - Princeton Press

Before discussing the book and contents there’s a word or two of caution here that is probably unnecessary for most birders - buying bird ID books can be like buying the latest technology. 

Just as we think we have the latest and best camera, binoculars or telescope, a newer model appears that promises to surpass everything that went before. Just as optics change, usually without warning, so does taxonomy, the science that deals with the description, identification, naming and classification of bird species or families. Taxonomy is open for questioning whereby an element of previously “settled” science quickly becomes outdated and/or obsolete, just like that pair of Zeiss bins, the bees-knees of 2019. 

Now more than ever a buyer must accept that a date line is inevitably drawn with printed field guides and that keeping tabs on a species in the ever-evolving field of science isn't feasible through printed books alone. To this end buyers and/or readers should note that Europe’s Birds follows the treatment of species and sub species and scientific classification of BirdLife International rather than The International Ornithologists' Union or other bodies.  Confusions and disagreements over species and subspecies do and will arise, especially when discussions around a single global bird taxonomy system are still ongoing between ornithological institutions. 

Rather than rely upon print alone a birder must keep their ear to the ground by other ways, such as the Internet, bird forums & chat, and regular publications and decide when to lose a tick or claim a new one.  Of course there are many bird enthusiasts who simply want to enjoy birds and their own projects without stressing over  the seemingly endless splitting and lumping discussions between the birding “elite” and the hugely popular but unscientific twitching and listing scene.

Through this latest volume Europe’s Birds shows again how recent advances in camera optics and a photographer’s ability to fully exploit this progress have led to the demise of line drawn and painted guides, books that are not obsolete but now used by fewer birders.

The quality of the photographs from 350 worldwide photographers displayed in Europe’s Birds is mostly stunning, exceptional or simply the best on offer, so much so that I struggled to find one below the high bar set by this latest example of photographic art. I think that by 2021 the majority of birders are won over by photographic field guides as exemplified by the WILDGuides series. These are books that provide precise, enjoyable and reliable identification that simply wasn’t available, even less guaranteed through even the very best line drawn books of yesteryear. 

The style, format and layout of Europe’s Birds follow the winning ways of the many before, so to most people reading this review a description how and why this works so well is superfluous. 

For those unfamiliar with the splendid WILDGuides presentations, the pictures below serve to illustrate the point of their user-friendly layouts and information delivery. It may be unfair to pick out pages for special mention but I was particularly excited by my own favourites but also ones that fit the authors’ criteria for inclusion in choosing the most natural and informative examples. 

The Types Of Birds, Pages16/17 -  Europe's Birds - Princeton Press
 
Buntings, Page 510/511 - Europe's Birds - Princeton Press

Redpolls, Page 492 -  Europe's Birds - Princeton Press

Phylloscopus, Pages 434/435 - Europe's Birds - Princeton Press
 
Merlin & Red-footed Falcon, Pages 312/313 - Europe's Birds - Princeton Press
 
Starlings, Pages 378/379 - Europe's Birds - Princeton Press
 
Europe’s Birds is open to birdwatchers of all abilities and experience with many, many pages to simply enjoy or from which to verify, learn or check understanding - there is something for everyone.  And at just £20 or less from non-Princeton outlets the book will be bought by a huge numbers of birders. 

With 640 pages this book is a weighty tome and not very portable and I note that the sub-title is "An identification guide", rather than a "field guide". It's hard to see how so much information could be compressed into something that would travel easily unless a user buys the Kindle version.

Following the Covid pandemic there is huge pent up demand to restart travel, not least for locked down birders who long to return to the birding hot spots of Europe, armed with the best available field guide for their journey. This book is the one and I only hope that Princeton have done their homework and printed enough copies of Europe’s Birds to satisfy the demand of coming weeks and months. 

I confidently predict a sell out, so get your order in quick. 

Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide 
Price: $29.95 / £20.00 
ISBN: 9780691177656 
Published (US): Dec 7, 2021 
Published (UK): Oct 12, 2021 
Pages: 640 
Size: 5.87 x 8.25 in. 
Illus: 4,700  colour photos + 540 maps 


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