Thursday, April 29, 2021

Winter Woollies

There was a thin film of ice on the windscreen again this morning.  After the coldest, frostiest April for at least 60 years with an average of 13 days of air frosts, the temperatures are said to rise next week. 

I was too early for the meet with Andy at the Sand Martin quarry so I spent the first hour birding at Conder Green in winter woollens. It was pretty quiet. Already the breeding birds appear to have settled into a routine. 

As predicted, my count of 16 Avocets just a week ago on Thursday 22nd on was a flash in the pan of noisy, quarrelsome migrants. In their place today were just 3 pairs of Avocets tending their nests and interacting with partners. 

Other waders produced similar counts to a week ago with a good number of Black-tailed Godwits, several Oystercatcher, and singles of Snipe, Curlew and Spotted Redshank. It’s a little late in the spring for a Snipe to be hereabouts when they should be thinking about breeding. 

I met Andy at 0830 and we drove down to the foot of the quarry and looked up at about 150 Sand Martins as they circled noisily around the concentration of nest holes. 

Over the winter Chris the owner of the quarry constructed a ledge in the hope that we could reach the martins more easily. In this our first visit of the year it worked well and enabled us to catch 30 Sand Martins, 29 new ones and one recapture from 2020, AKE3973, an adult male we ringed last June. 

Sand Martin
Sand Martin
We’ll stay away from the site now until late May/early June when the first brood of youngsters should be on the wing. 

The fishing lake here holds few other birds apart from today a Grey Heron, a single Kestrel, 2 Goldfinch, 4 Oystercatchers and 8 Mute Swan. The water level is too high this year to host breeding Avocets and the water too cold to welcome anglers with just one hardy sole camped out today. 


If as promised the weather warms then a visit up to Oakenclough is on the cards for next week. 

Just the other day details arrived of Lesser Redpoll AHK3073 caught at Oakenclough on 20 April 2021. This recapture turned out to be a very valuable one because AHK3073 had been ringed by other ringers (Sorby Breck Ringing Group) just 2 days earlier on 18 April 2021. 
AHK3073 Sheffield to Oakenclough

Lesser Redpoll

AHK3073 had travelled 99kms from just north of Sheffield in those two days. Here was a bird on a mission of heading north, probably on the way to the English Lakes or Scotland and where it would find a mate for the summer months. 

Don't go away. Back soon. 

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

Sunday, April 25, 2021

No Show

Three degrees at dawn but not the songsters. The temperature was 3º at Oakenclough where Friday's ringing turned into another poor show of zero migration and little in the way of new birds.  I tell a lie. Visible migration consisted of consisted of 2 Swallows arriving as singles and 2 Siskins, singles again. Otherwise, nothing in the clear skies above or in the trees and bushes below. 

Click the pictures for a full frame.

We started off with high hopes and three birds on the first round at 0700. Willow Warblers have somehow found their way north, hence a count of 10 to 12 singing males. We had three new male Willow Warblers in our catch of just six birds - 3 Willow Warbler, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Robin and 1 Goldfinch. 

Lesser Redpoll
Willow Warbler

Very often it's the absent species that provide the clue to an overall picture. So female Willow Warblers have yet to arrive, along with Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, Whitethroats and the elusive Goldcrests. The latter species is not represented at all in our catches this spring, perhaps as a result of the cold wet autumn and icy winter of 2020/2021 when large numbers would die.  Likewise the lack of Long-tailed Tits this year, another species susceptible to cold winters. 

Swallows and House Martins are extremely scarce so far in April despite the plentiful arrival of Sand Martins in late March when winds were more favourable. Swifts may too be delayed as by now the 25th, the first of their ilk are usually reported in Lancashire. 

Nationally it is hard to get a handle on how many of the commoner species are arriving in the country when Internet birding sites are 99% dominated by rarity reporting. So for instance we know when Bee Eaters, Hoopoes and other exotica arrive, but common migrants are off the radar of too many hit-list birders. 

Birds around the area of our ringing site consist of resident Robins, Dunnocks, Wrens, Mistle Thrushes and Pied Wagtails. Blackbirds and Song Thrushes are pretty scarce here where the tree and shrub cover is sparse until late summer. 

Maybe next time we'll pick up a few of the missing species?


An hour and two on Saturday at our ground zero Pilling/Cockerham ringing site birds proved birds more varied and in higher numbers. By Saturday afternoon temperatures reached the balmy heights of 15 degrees but it felt cool away from sunshine.

The tiny pool held a pair of Canada Geese with four or five youngsters in tow, the goslings so tiny that they were mostly hidden from view in the grassy undergrowth. Also on the pool - 2 Shelduck, 2 Greylag, 3 Tufted Duck, 2 Moorhen, a pair of Little Grebe, a Little Egret, and a single Reed Warbler in raucous song.


Further exploration found 4 Wheatear, 10 Linnet, 4 Pied Wagtail, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Buzzard. Three pairs of Oystercatcher show all the signs but seemingly they are yet to lay their eggs.


Pied Wagtail


I think we might have a bash at the Sand Martins next week. At least we know there are plenty on site.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Mostly Waders

While we have been waiting for migrants the Lapwings just got on with the job in hand. I was fairly surprised this morning to find a brood of three young Lapwings at Cockersands. Not one to miss an opportunity I walked through an open gateway and immediately picked up two of them while the third managed to hide from sight in the muddy tractor ruts. So that's ring numbers DE33134 and DE33135 used, the first D2s of the year. 


There were other several other pairs of Lapwings around but I didn't see any more youngsters, in fact not many birds except for a few Skylarks, half a dozen Linnets and a single Swallow. 

The morning had been one of waders, especially so at Conder Green. Sixteen Avocets was quite a count. Equally impressive was the sight of 180 Black-tailed Godwits in their many shades from last years greyish youngsters to the dark brick colour of full breeding males. Unfortunately most of the godwits stayed roosting out of camera range on a far island with just a few in the roadside creeks. 


Black-tailed Godwit

The Avocets were noisy and flighty, just as migrant birds tend to be. Not all of the sixteen will stay around to breed, most likely four or five pairs depending upon levels of disturbance, the attentions of predators and the ever changing weather. Pretty sure that two days of downpours and cold temperatures last summer killed all four of the young Avocets we ringed on 16th June. 



Other waders and wildfowl in lesser numbers; 14 Oystercatcher, 7 Redshank, 2 Greenshank, 1 Snipe, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Curlew. All the sixes with 6 Shelduck, 6 Tufted Duck, 6 Greylag. 

Small birds were few and far between with two Willow Warblers along the footpath the best and still no sign of Whitethroats. I drove to friends R and H for a look along their private tracks and found a couple of Wheatears. There was both Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler in the reed bed and 3 Willow Warblers in the copse. 

On the pool 2 Greylag and 2 Canada Goose, a Grey Heron and a Little Egret. Behind the sea wall I found five more Little Egrets and a single Great Egret. 
Great (White) Egret

 Hopefully more news tomorrow. A spot of ringing looks likely. 

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

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Getting Better

Here we are again. As promised in yesterday's blog post when the sighting of a less than common Great Egret at Cockerham provided the Monday Highlight. 

After recent unremarkable ringing sessions and the sum total of ten birds caught, I met Andy at 0630 at Oakenclough on Tuesday in the hope of a change in our bird ringing fortunes. 

We had a better catch and even managed to achieve double figures. Once again, on a clear bright morning the visible migration was nil except for the few Lesser Repoll that sneaked in unseen. Lesser Redpoll was the most ringed bird today with 6 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Chaffinch, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Robin and 1 Wren. 

One of the six Lesser Redpoll AHK 3073,a second year female was a “control” - a bird ringed elsewhere. 

Willow Warbler
Lesser Redpoll


It seems that many of the Greylags on site laid their eggs at similar times. Today saw a number of crèches of adults with similarly sized youngsters. The crèche strategy is common amongst a number of geese & duck species and one that increases the survival rate when so many pairs of eyes serve to watch over the youngsters pooled together with three, four or more adults.  

When the ring details of Lesser Redpoll AHK3073 are entered into the BTO online database back home we will learn about the original ringing information within a few days. 

The British Trust for Ornithology online database of DemOn has many possibilities and choices available for ringers to record their catches. The data ringers collect is real and in real-time, not made up as they go along. For instance, we collect a minimum of: 
  • the place (map reference) 
  • whether the bird is new to us or a subsequent capture – one ringed elsewhere or one ringed by ourselves on a previous occasion 
  • date of ringing 
  • time of ringing 
  • the species 
  • the species' age and sex 
  • the species' breeding condition (or not) 
  • biometric measurements e.g wing, bill, tail, claw 
  •  the weight 
  • fat score 
  •  moult status 

Even when we catch very few birds the info we collect still adds to the vast database of information on birds' lives and their survival, all of which aids conservation science. 

“Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.” 

Most volunteer ringers probably class themselves as citizen scientists of varying degrees of application and expertise. They share and contribute to both national and international data monitoring programs through sharing information across the continents and countries through which birds migrate at many different times of year.

Stay tuned. There's more birding, ringing and photos soon. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Missing In Action

Monday morning. After the school run I tripped to Cockerham for an hour or two and a walk on Richard and Helen’s farm. Maybe I would meet up with some of the migrant birds still missing from our delayed spring? 

There’s a little copse with a pool and a reed bed that held singing Chaffinch, two pairs of Mallard, a Grey Heron, and a couple of sweet singing Willow Warblers. From the woodland came no sound of Blackcaps or Chiffchaffs, just a loud Wren, the flapping of Wood Pigeons and a wheezy Greenfinch, residents all. In the dry looking reed bed but from where I heard a Moorhen in the depths, no Reed Warblers and no Sedge Warblers, not even a Reed Bunting, the partial migrant. 
Willow Warbler
A Buzzard flew from behind me and landed on the fence some 70 yards away; about as close as our local Buzzards will tolerate us humans. When I jumped from the car to open a farm gate, the Buzzard flew off pursued by crows. Leaving a car causes our persecuted Buzzards to stay even further away from a possible gun. 

Behind the sea wall I came across the usual Little Egrets, another Grey Heron and then the raucous calls of a Great (White) Egret. I’m not sure why the experts dropped the “white”, but for many birders, the now abandoned name of Great White Egret is more descriptive. 

Great (White) Egret

The “becoming commoner” Great Egret seems to show the same tolerance levels as our Grey Herons and for sure this newcomer will fly off if birders approach too close. I left the egret fishing the pool close to its smaller cousin the Little Egret. 

Alongside the sea wall came a single Wheatear, three pairs of Oystercatcher, (two on eggs), 6 Redshank, 2 Pied Wagtail, 8 Linnet and 6 or 7 Skylarks. No Swallows on the move and none seen in three hours. What a strange spring this is. 

There’s a ringing session pencilled in for Tuesday where for sure we will see those missing migrants! 

 Join me then and see what we catch.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Slowly Does It

Tuesday proved to be another non-event with just 5 birds caught and zero records for the migration stats. 

I'd met Andy at 0700 for another ringing session, hopefully one where the weather on the day matched the forecast of Monday evening; at last, a south-easterly, no rain, patchy cloud and 5mph. the prediction. A change of wind direction that would surely produce new migrants? The potential problem was that the south-easterly airflow actually originated off northerly winds in the North Sea on the east coast. 

That was the problem because a catch of five birds is pretty terrible. Two Lesser Redpoll, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Robin was all we had for our five hours work. At least two Willow Warblers in song but we didn't catch one. 

Lesser Redpoll
While we wait for migrants to arrive from south of here the local Greylags have been getting on with life.  A pair appeared with five very newly fledged youngsters, not bad going for 13 April. Look closely at the photo - the youngsters' egg teeth are clearly visible. 


The incubation period for Greylags is about 30 days, give or take a few. Incubation begins with the last egg laid of between 5 and 7. This means that our pair of Greylags had completed their nest and laid their first egg during the first few days of March. 

Such a short post. Not to worry. We don't give up so easily and are due for another go later in the week. 

For an extra bit of fun I'm linking today to Rain Frances and her Thursday Art date at

It's a difficult theme today of “coils” that set me thinking about birds and coils. So here's a few, the artistry of birds that make a nest through coils of dried grass and herbs. In this case, a Skylark.


And of course, bird rings, that are made from coils of metal and sometimes plastic.

Bird rings

Back soon. Don't go away.

In the meantime, linking to Eileen's Saturday  and Anni in Texas.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Silent Spring

Six in the morning. I was wide awake as warm feet hit the cold floor. It was time to fill the Thermos, *pack baggin in the bait box and try again. 

Arctic northerlies for ten days and more put the kibosh on birding and ringing. Glacial winds and single digit temperatures held a Stop Sign to migrant birds heading our way. Whole days went by with nothing on the migration score sheet but big fat zeros. The highlight of my spring so far was an unexpected Redstart and a Wheatear on April 1. Since then nowt. 

Now was time to make amends and catch up - we hoped. We arranged to meet at 0730 to allow for the plantation to defrost. 

On the way over the moss I again met up with a flying Barn Owl which dived into the base of a hawthorn hedge. It lifted with nothing and went on its way over the field to try again. 

Barn Owl 
At 0715 and despite the “late” start the dash showed -2.5° degrees as we arrived.  We feared the worst. A slight north-easterly motioned the trees, stirred the nets but left the water without a ripple. After recent days things could only get better? 

10th April 2021 
near Oakenclough - 10th April 2021

How wrong can we be? Just five birds caught - 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Wren, 1 Robin, 1 Meadow Pipit. 

Meadow Pipit
Maybe the highlight of the morning was not the few birds ringed but the “others”? An early morning Cuckoo called incessantly for five minutes or more and then went silent.  April 10 is a fairly early date for a Cuckoo in these parts where the species now breeds sparingly. 

After the initial burst of calls the Cuckoo probably carried on flying north, as did the three Swallows and four Siskins that we saw overhead. 

Otherwise, migration was non existent. A single Willow Warbler sang for an hour or more but that too fell silent. 

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

*put food in the lunch box 

More soon. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Early Start.

A shot of Ouzo makes a fine nightcap - for a while. I slept a deep sleep but woke up early perhaps knowing that the forecast was OK, too breezy for ringing but fine for a spot of birding. 

I set off north to a couple of places to check out for the coming weeks. 

Chris had told me how in the winter he worked with the digger at the face of the Sand Martin colony to try and make access somewhat easier for the ringers and if possible to improve the catch rate. He'd done a pretty good job and constructed a ledge where we can set nets some eight foot higher than the quarry floor of last year where we had no luck with the martins. 

I counted 130+ excitable Sand Martins crowding around the holes they used last year. In the photo below you can see how nest holes are excavated in a layer of softer sand and gravel, immediately below the larger and harder pebbles of the quarry face. The martins know the best places in which to nest but nature doesn't always cooperate with them when the holes may be weakened or even destroyed by the elements. 

Sand Martins

The water levels of the pools are extremely high after an autumn and winter dominated by rainfall. Even with a dry spell it is unlikely that water levels will drop sufficiently or quickly enough to allow the return of the Avocets to breed this year. 

Even the Oystercatchers seemed reluctant to pair up this morning, their one or two likely spots still covered in winter rain puddles as they face into the stiff breeze. 

The picture below shows three ages of Oystercatcher. The all black one with bright pink legs and bright red eyes is an adult, the one on the right with partial collar, paler bill and greyish legs is last year's bird. The Oystercatcher at the back still has the grey legs of last year and a less bright eye and is probably a month or two older than the right hand one, but not a full adult.  


The Sand Martins will be left to breed now.  Only when we know for sure that their breeding season is well underway will we return to ring some if the new setup works in our favour. 

I drove further back towards Pilling to look at another of our ringing sites. A real surprise came in the shape of a fine male Redstart, a scarce enough species in these parts where it is a spring and autumn migrant only. To see a Redstart is nice enough but to see one on the exceptionally early date of 1 April was quite unexpected. 

Buoyed by this unforeseen event, and carrying a bag containing trap, meal worms and A rings I took a walk along the sea wall in the hope of seeing a Wheatear or two but there were none. 

By now the stiff breeze had turned to a cold easterly with mostly waders and herons seen - 6 pairs of Oystercatcher, 7 Redshank, 4 Lapwing, 6 Little Egret and 1 Grey Heron. 

Lapwing - male 

Grey Heron 

Smaller birds found were 12 Skylark, 8 Linnet, 2 Pied Wagtail and 1 Meadow Pipit. 

Things are looking better for Skylarks this year along a stretch of breeding habitat that was subject to disturbance last summer from The "Environment" Agency. Very slowly, over many days, they cleared tidal debris from the sea wall with huge, lumbering noisy machinery. Unbelievable! 

Stay tuned.  There could be more news and another early start soon on Another Bird Blog.

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


Related Posts with Thumbnails