Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Too Few Birds

Last week saw a combination of rain, northerly winds and cold temperatures that conspired to prevent early migrants moving our way.  Internet bird news confirmed the paucity of birds - a flurry of Chiffchaffs, the occasional Wheatear, and a smattering only of pipits and wagtails. Excitement arrived in the form of a few high flying Ospreys headed for Scotland. 

Tuesday's forecast looked likely to break the deadlock with southerly winds and temperatures forecast to be in the teens. If only.  I arranged to meet with Andy at Oakenclough at 0630 but stopped briefly for the obligatory Barn Owl. 

Barn Owl

The morning was 100% cloud with gradual clearance into a sunny but still chilly morning. Birds were few and far between and a miserly catch of just 6 birds, about as bad as it gets with neither rhyme nor reason to explain our disappointment. 

Visible migration seemed nil apart from a handful of Meadow Pipits and a high-fly flock of either Redpolls or Siskins that numbered about 25. Our catch comprised 2 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Robin, 1 Wren, 1 Dunnock and 1 Blue Tit. 

By 1100 hours we'd called time on the morning. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

Other birds seen - 2 Sparrowhawk, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Pied Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Nuthatch, 1 Buzzard, 15 Oystercatcher, 4 Lapwing. 

On the drive home back home via Rawcliffe Moss I stopped to watch a Kestrel and then spotted the pair of Highland Cattle, many miles from Scotland. 

Highland Cattle


Back home we have a regular Grey Squirrel looking for food and nest building Collared Doves, Woodpigeons and Greenfinches.

Grey Squirrel

Collared Dove

More news soon I hope. "Things can only get better" for Another Bird Blog.

On reading the latest news back home it appears that migration was much more obvious in coastal locations with Sand Martins, Wheatears, Siskins and Willow Warblers in evidence.  

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Coal To Wales?

Last November I posted here on the blog a record of Coal Tit ALJ4344. 

“The Coal Tit is known as one of the most sedentary species of Britain and Ireland whereby ringing has shown that very few Coal Tits travel distances from their natal area. Strangely enough it is Coal Tits from the North West of England that travel furthest from the average of just 20km between seasons. This is thought to relate to the distribution of suitable habitats between the north west and other regions. (BTO Migration Atlas).  

The recovery of Coal Tit ALJ 4344 ringed at Oakenclough on 21 July 2020 was one of the very few that Fylde Ringing Group has received in many years and 1120 captures of Coal Tits.  When we caught ALJ4344 on 21 July 2020 we confidently aged it as a juvenile born just several weeks before. The yellow cheeks alone were a dead giveaway.  

Coal Tit - autumn juvenile

We did not see ALJ4344 again during the summer and autumn of 2020 during many visits to Oakenclough. It was later in the autumn when notification arrived that ALJ4344 had been recaptured other ringers at Hoylake Shore, Wirral, Merseyside on 16 October 2020.  At 67km from Oakenclough this represents quite a southerly migration for a Coal Tit, and an example of autumnal movements more likely to be undertaken by first year birds than by adults."  

Coal Tit - Oakenclough to Hoylake
"The south-south- west direction of travel might suggest that this Coal Tit was on its way to the extensive conifer forests of North Wales (see map) where it would join up with others of its kind and prove able to survive the winter.”  


Quite remarkably, and now in March 2021 comes another Coal Tit that made an almost identical journey - ALK0174. 

So noteworthy is this latest record that it prompted a query from a BTO staff member as to whether we had made a mistake with reading the ring number on 20 March! We always double check unfamiliar ring numbers by reading out aloud and then verify the number on the field sheet we use.

Coal Tit ALK0174 was first ringed at Bidston, Wirral, Merseyside on 1 February 2021. Just 47 days later on 20 March 2021 we recaptured ALK0174 at Oakenclough. 

This was the morning when Andy and I caught nine Coal Tits, including ALK0174, found in a mist net alongside five other Coal Tits, a small party of newly arrived birds, amongst a catch of other migrants. 

Coal Tit - Bidston to Oakenclough
Experienced birders and ringers know that on migration Coal Tits use their highly distinctive call to maintain contact with other migrating Coal Tits.  Some ringers use play back calls of Coal Tits so as to encourage the species into mist nets. Almost certainly our six Coal Tits had called each other into catching themselves in our net without any help from us. 

On suitable occasions of migration and weather conditions it is possible to catch dozens of Coal Tits. We do not use calls to catch more Coal Tits, the danger being that the Coal Tits bring large numbers of other titmice (great, blue, long-tailed and treecreepers) with them into our mist nets, a time consuming process that prevents the catching of species that generate  superior data. 

Coal Tit
However, we may have to rethink our policy of not catching of too many titmice if we could limit such catches to Coal Tits only. The two records above appear to show that Coal Tits from some parts of NW England undertake autumnal journeys in a south westerly direction into Wales where the shelter and food abundance of conifer forests may afford them a better chance of winter survival. 

More records from us and other ringers could add to information while supporting these two findings. 


Earlier in the week I was at Knott End to see the first Chiffchaff and see the first Sandwich Tern of the year - on it's way to Scotland I guess.

Sandwich Tern

Knott End to Fleetwood Ferry

Just the photos to link to Rain's Thursday Art Date and the theme of "Motion and Movement" don't you think?  http://www.rainfrances.com/p/thursday-art-date-with-rain-2021.html

Knott End, Lancashire

Linking at weekend to Eileen's Saturday and to Anni in Texas.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A March Morning

Saturday morning and Union Lane was closed yet again for repairs to the road that crosses Stalmine and Pilling Moss. Through years of neglect too many of our local roads are in constant danger of sinking into the quaggy mires of Lancashire, turn of the century circa 1900. I turned the car around and took a detour through Pilling village and hoped to be on time. 

Turn Around
On the journey to Oakenclough I caught up with Andy's car at a road junction. It was 0600 and we both arrived bang on the agreed time for another ringing session. There was zero wind with overcast but brightening skies and a sense of Spring optimism in the air. 

Our ringing was slow and steady, as it was on On Wednesday Last.  

At first it was extremely slow but picked up slightly as a colder front bearing rain approached from the west. Perhaps the few extra birds that arrived, including Meadow Pipits, had travelled ahead of the boundary of relative warm and hit the westerly chill? Suddenly, we stopped catching anything and called it a day. 

We finished with a mix of 8 species and an average March catch of 22 birds - 9 Coal Tit, 5 Meadow Pipit, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Chaffinch, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Siskin and 1 Lesser Redpoll. 

We caught the first Lesser Redpoll and Siskin of  Spring 2021, both bright males. 

Lesser Redpoll
It's unusual that Coal Tit is the most captured bird in a single session. Our 9 Coal Tits contained a couple of our own recaptures and also a “subsequent” from elsewhere that carried another ringer's ring. We suspect that Coal Tit ALK0174 had not travelled too far but had certainly joined up with other Coal Tits when six were in a net together. 

Coal Tit

All five Meadow Pipits were on the large side with wing lengths of 81mm or above that put them in the “male” bracket. 

Meadow Pipit


The Treecreeper found an unusual companion when it was in a net alongside a Lesser Redpoll.

Stay tuned folks, more birds and news soon.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Back In The Hills

2020 was a frustrating year of stop-start ringing at our site Oakenclough, situated at the western edge of the backbone of England, the Pennine Hills.  The year was one of consistently poor weather – cold, wet and windy with a distinct lack of sunshine. The poor weather coupled with the many non-visits caused by lockdowns resulted in ringing totals below our pre-Covid projections at the beginning of the New Year. 

Despite these setbacks we managed a creditable total of 679 captures, 619 new and 60 recaptures (subsequent) birds. The most ringed species Meadow Pipit, followed by Willow Warbler and Redwing a close third. Prior to today the last visit to Oakenclough was on 26 November 2020. Below is a table of the birds caught and one that shows the range of species in a typical year, early spring to December.


Above - 2020 at Oakenclough

This morning and for our first time in 2021 we hoped to catch early migrant species such as Goldcrest, Chiffchaff and Meadow Pipit. (“Mipits” as they are named by students of visible migration.). Mipits have been migrating north this week - see Arnside and Silverdale Blogspot.

With luck today we might expect to also capture both Lesser Redpolls and Siskins, two species strangely absent during 2020.

I met Andy at the unearthly hour of 0600 in the half light of a dull cloudy morning. We left at 1130 after a rather slow session and 18 birds caught: 9 Goldfinch, 4 Meadow Pipit, 2 Robin, 1 Dunnock, 1 Chaffinch and 1 Long-tailed Tit.

Although we caught four Meadow Pipits their northward movement was far from obvious, best described as a “dribble” of some 15/20 individuals all morning. Meadow Pipits' diurnal migration in spring takes place from mid March through to mid April and often takes place high in the sky, out of range of human vision; almost certainly, our 15/20 was an underestimate of true numbers, even at this, the early days of their migration.

Meadow Pipit

It was good to see Goldfinches again, a species difficult to find of late. Unlike most years, Goldfinches have been absent from my own garden for months, returning only in the last week or so. So too Greenfinches, already prospecting our conifers where they nested last year.


Today's Dunnock, a first winter female, still carried last year's tail. The tail bore evidence of a period of poor nutrition during the nesting period of 2020.

Dunnock's tail - March 2021


Even in the hand a Robin will display their red breast to best effect in case the ringer is a rival.


If Lesser Redpolls and Siskins were around today, we didn't see or hear any. Nor Chiffchaffs or Goldcrests.  All the more reason to try again soon.  

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

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Comings And Goings

It's usual for me to spend a short time only at Braides Farm where the parking gateway allows views over a wide expanse of open fields devoted to growing grass. And more grass.  And not many birds.

After the autumn and winter of 2020/2021 there are still large areas of floods that have held a few Whooper Swans for weeks now. Imagine my surprise this morning to see those few swans suddenly transformed into an enormous herd of Whoopers that counted in the region of 450-470 individuals. The herd extended from the roadside, north to the River Cocker and then all the way across to the sea wall some 300 yards away. The count may prove to be bigger as when I later drove up to Conder Green, more Whoopers were in the roadside fields there but mostly hidden from view by hedgerows. 

Click the pics. Here's a not very good video shot with a Sony and 135mm lens. 

And then a couple of closer pictures with a 600mm. All of a sudden the herd erupted into a clamour of frantic calling and whooping, I suspect they will be heading off back to Iceland very soon. 

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans

At Hillam, and where 2 Sand Martins flew across the lake, I checked the water level to see if Avocets might return. Last year's nesting island is now buried by autumn and winter downpours. A word with farmer Chris and he said he would look into making the island visible again for the spring and summer. 

I drove up to Conder Green where I soon picked out a single Avocet amongst the 10 Shelduck and 40 Black-headed Gulls. 

Conder Green

The Avocet won't be alone for long - soon joined by several more I expect.  


The Oystercatchers here are becoming flighty. I saw a group of four in the throes of their springtime “piping” display. The piping displays in this the early breeding season allows the birds to establish a territory. They bow their heads and point their beaks at the ground, then pipe loudly while walking and flying around the area. The display often attracts other Oystercatchers so that half a dozen birds may eventually run along side by side in a line or fly around in a tight flock while calling loudly - "kleep kleep, kleep kleep." 

"Piping" Oystercatchers

Other sightings. 6 Tufted Duck, 4 Little Grebe, 1 Little Egret, 4 Pied Wagtail, 36 Wigeon, 65 Teal, 8 Redshank, 2 Curlew. 

I was out in the new car this morning, giving it a run because due to lockdown it has been hardly anywhere for weeks. 


“What is it?” you say, just as many others have done. It's a Ssangyong Tivoli 1.2 Ventura, of much the same size and with similar performance to my old 1.6 Suzuki Vitara. The difference is an equivalent Vitara today is about four grand more than this Ssangyong. This comes with half leather heated seats and heated steering wheel for the winter days together with a few more bells & whistles like keyless entry and cruise control.  A 7 years warranty! - well recommended. 

And here's a heads up for the suppliers, Barker's of Preston . Thanks guys. 

Another heads up for my pals Wally and Gini over in Florida. They sent me a virtual coffee. Take a look at Wally's blog – blue sky, birds, bugs and alligators at Our Natural Places Florida   

Cheers guys. Enjoy all that sunshine but look out for those harmless alligators and friendly snakes. No such problems here in occasionally sunny Lancashire.

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

The weather for this weekend looks very poor. Unless something should change it seems like it will be next Tuesday or Wednesday before I can post more news on Another Bird Blog.  


Thursday, March 4, 2021

End Of The Road

We're near the end of our Linnet winter. To some, it may seem odd that wintering flocks are breaking up during the cold days of early March, but that's how it is just now. Spring starts early in the world of birds. About the same time as daffodils and crocuses poke their heads through the winter frosts. 


At Gulf Lane this morning the once tight Linnet flock is now down to twenty or so individuals where the gathering is loose and fluid. There are males in song too, a sure sign that spring has replaced winter and when a Linnets' thoughts turn to priorities anew. 

With the early and then late lockdowns, plus the uncooperative weather of 2020 and early 2021 our catch of birds here for the winter period stands at 78 Linnet, 3 Reed Bunting, 2 Stonechat,1 Skylark and 1 Chaffinch. Those numbers include our somewhat poor showing this morning of just 4 birds ringed – 3 Linnets and 1 Reed Bunting. 

But better still, our Project Linnet total now sees 819 Linnets ringed over the last five winters commencing in October 2016. We also have assurances from Richard the farmer that his field will soon be drilled ready for the next crop in time for our winter of ringing in 2021/22. 

This morning began with a local Barn Owl, a fly past only, but a welcome sight while preparing the catching area.  

Barn Owl
Our task may sound easy. Hide in a a car and drop a net over a few dozy birds. A piece of cake you might say. Well no, it's a little more complicated than it may appear. 

For starters those Linnets are hot wired for an instant take off should danger threaten. After all, they spend half their tiny lives on the lookout for Sparrowhawks and Merlins, the two most deadly predators of small birds. And then there's the occasional opportunist Kestrel that passes above their head or the Magpie or Carrion Crow looking for an easy meal of Linnet chicks. Or the likelihood that their nest or night time roost may be discovered by night raiders like owls, stoats or weasels. 

A couple of bleary eyed ringers trying to literally catch them out is just another hazard of a Linnets' existence. If only they knew that we are actually trying to help? 

With so few Linnets around this week we'd already decided that we would go for small numbers rather than wait for a larger flock that would probably not materialise. And so it was, with just 2 adult male Linnets, a first year female Linnet and an adult Reed Bunting to show for our efforts. 

Reed Bunting 



Other birds this morning included a Kestrel, 2 Little Egret, 3 Reed Bunting, 4 Skylark, Barn Owl, 3 Stock Dove. 


Come back soon for more news, views and photos. 

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

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