Friday, May 28, 2021

Diary Dates

How soon spring turns to summer, by the calendar that is, not the actual weather. May 2021 has been both the coldest and wettest on record up here in the Frozen North. Thursday morning was fairly warm by recent standards and I took the opportunity to visit a couple of spots out Pilling way. 

There was an Oystercatcher to check in the field where last week we ringed three Lapwing chicks. There may be more Lapwings to come from distant adults when they bring their young towards the coast via the path. And perhaps young Oystercatchers from the three egg nest located today.  Oystercatcher incubation is around 25 days, therefore, allowing for the uncertain days of laying, the date of egg hatching should be close to 13 June. I marked my diary with “Oyks Pilling”. 

Oystercatcher nest - May 27
A pair of Oystercatchers has just one breeding attempt each year. It is said that if at first they don’t succeed they do not try again, but as long lived birds, up to 30 years, they have lots of time to make up for unproductive years. 

Meanwhile and not too far away a pair of Pied Wagtails was busy feeding young, the nest hidden in a thick tuft of grass alongside a watery ditch. Both birds had hung around the same spot for weeks without giving much away.  The young were pretty big so were quickly ringed and put back in their nest, and then covered with a cloth for a couple of minutes so as to settle them back in their dark hidey hole. 
Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail

Along the same waterway was the now regular Great Egret, destined perhaps to spend the summer here out of sight and out of mind. Two Grey Heron but no Little Egrets.  Not far away was a single Wheatear, a remnant from recent migration and not likely to breed hereabouts. 

Part of the day's task was to find Skylarks, and plenty there were, upwards of 8 singers in several hundred linear yards so potentially the same number of pairs. Skylark nests are difficult to locate and May has been so cold and wet that the chances of finding active nests was close to zero. However I chanced upon a pair in the early stages of nest building below a fence post and entered another marker in the diary “Skyla East End 15 June.” 

In nearby reedy pools and scrapes were 6 Tufted Duck, 2 Little Grebe and many active Sedge and Reed Warblers zipping around the reeds and in and out of the vegetation. Like other species this year, the “Acros” were late to arrive, late to start but now seem intent on making up for lost time. 
Sedge Warbler

Reed Warbler

The Tufted Ducks involved themselves in some sort of group courtship behaviour which consisted of males sailing off over the water, closely followed by a noisily quacking female. That guy looks a little henpecked.  Maybe the picture is worthy of a caption contest - “Don’t be long. And what time will you be back?” 

Tufted Ducks
That reminds me. I have a few chores to finish.  Back soon.

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Britain's Insects - Book Review

Princeton Press sent me a new WildGuides for review on Another Bird Blog.  A book I didn't request because apart from a passing summertime interest in dragonflies, damselflies & butterflies, my knowledge of insects and entomology is virtually zero.

Britain's Insects - Princeton Press

Britain's Insects - A field guide to the insects of Great Britain and Ireland, is published on 8 June 2021. The Author is Paul D Brock, a name that will be entirely familiar to devoted entomologists and probably to birders with a secondary interest in lepidoptera and odonata.

Paul D. Brock is an entomologist and a scientific associate at the Natural History Museum, London. He is a renowned author of insect books and a widely published photographer. He is a world authority on stick-insects and leaf-insects, with a genus and several species named after him - Paul D Brock.

On the other hand, Princeton's mistake was an opportunity to discover more about a branch of wildlife I rarely explore while upholding the principle of “learn something new every day”. I opened the book cautiously in case a creepy crawly emerged from within. Nothing did, so I investigated in greater depth. Read on.

The short Introduction to Britain's Insects is just that, an unveiling of the contents of the 570 pages that contain the species accounts. The Introduction reminds us that Britain's 25,000 insect species, and the World's 1.07 million species, are crucially important to the health of Planet Earth through the ecosystem. Insects are waste controllers, pollinators and pest controllers while themselves providing food for animals, birds and humans. If insects were to disappear, our planet's ecosystem would collapse.

From the species accounts I learnt that Britain has 25 broad “types” or “orders” of insects, many familiar to the average householder through their often undeserved reputation as pests e.g. earwigs, cockroaches, lice, beetles and flies. Others of the order, equally familiar but more colourful and beautiful are treated more favourably by man, e.g. dragonflies & damselflies, butterflies and moths. A celebrated few, e.g. stick insects become children's pets while yet others produce food that we consume. Who doesn't enjoy a blob of the finest honey made by Apis mellifera or love to wash with soap containing bee wax?

Britain's Insects - Princeton Press

Pages 8-26, a guide to insect orders, introduce the general character of each order of adult insects while reminding the reader of the considerable differences of immature stages of larvae, caterpillars and nymphs. There's also a timely reminder for the reader/novice to check that the animal in their gaze or up for ID is in fact an insect, rather than “insect-like” by checking/counting the features of head, body parts legs, eyes, wings and antennae.

Britain's Insects - Princeton Press

Note to bird watcher self. The procedure of identifying insects is infinitely more complex than the simplicity of seeing that a bird is a bird alone and can never be an entirely different animal. Already I am learning that insects have quite unique, amazing stories to tell and that there is much to discover by amateurs and professionals alike.

The Species Accounts pages 33-464 vary in how orders are treated. In some, every species is covered, e.g. odonata, grasshoppers & crickets, butterflies (but not moths), and some of the smaller orders. In the case of larger orders, similar detail would create problems of bulk and accessibility that would require a number of volumes, therefore the accounts give an overview e.g. ants, wasps, bees and their relatives of flies & beetles. For example, the largest order, the ants, bees, wasps and their relatives of Britain consist of 64 families, 1592 genera and 7,760 species; thus, even in this hefty tome of 680 pages it is impossible to be finite in detail, more so when some insects are little or rarely known. As the author states as early as page 4, it is still possible to find a species new to a region, or the ultimate discovery - a species new to science!

Britain's Insects - Princeton Press

The text and layout of the species accounts and indeed throughout the book follow a consistent layout and presentation that is immediately recognisable as a WILDGuide. Like others in the series Britain's Insects contains colour coded labels, clear and succinct text, mostly side-by-side photos and many charts, in all, 476 colour illustrations. Many pages have signposts and pointers to help the reader to home in on the most salient features of a species.

The accounts include a huge amount of detailed information such as geographical range and status, conservation status, measurement, ID features, life cycle, habitat, food plants, hosts, and indications of similar species. In the case of grasshoppers and crickets, the accounts include both sonograms and QR codes, the QRs will link with sound recordings when the book is published. Just like birds, insects make similar if somewhat quieter “churrs”, “chirps” or “squeaks” to advertise their presence to potential mates and use vocalisations to ward off rivals and predators.

Quality photographs abound, many from the author, others by dedicated enthusiasts and both professional & citizen scientists, all selected so as to show off key ID features. Only by macro photography can the full glory of insects be appreciated and British Insects has advice on how best to achieve photographs of similar quality to the many (2600) superb ones in the book. There are five pages of acknowledgements and photo credits, a testament to the amount of work that went into creating this phenomenal piece of work.

Britain's Insects - Princeton Press

This is a delightful if demanding book, a major work in fact. It is daunting in some respects for a complete novice/beginner but without doubt a welcome addition to the libraries of insectophiles and professional biologists as a source of reference.

Britain's Insects will surely become an essential and everyday guide for entomologists, naturalists, gardeners, wildlife photographers and anyone else interested in insects, whatever their level of knowledge.

Britain's Insects upholds the superb presentation and finish we have come to expect from the WildGuides series. At £25 for 608 pages that contain 4000 colour illustrations/photos the book is a real  bargain.

Price: $32.50 / £25.00

ISBN: 9780691179278 

Published (US): Jul 13, 2021

Published (UK): Jun 8, 2021

Pages: 608

Size: 5.87 x 8.25 in.

2600 colour photos

1476 colour illustrations

Back soon with another post. Birds I expect. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

No Ducks Today

Sorry folks, no birds today. However, regular readers will know of my liking for art. As the saying goes, “Can't draw for toffee but I know a good picture when I see one.” 

A week or two ago and on my FB feed courtesy of Mr Zuckerberg's algorithms appeared an unfamiliar Northern Artist by the name of Dale Traskowski. I was immediately struck by the vibrant colours, clean lines and strength of the paintings, but also the sense of familiarity that Dale's work aroused. Many of the scenes homed in on Lancashire and an era almost gone; nostalgic, almost wistful in their portrayal of streets, vehicles, people, scenes and landscapes gone by. 

Dale's pictures feature inland Lancashire towns and villages like Brinscall, Chorley, Wheelton, Wigan and White Coppice. I thought there was an influence of the late LS Lowry, Lancashire's most famous artist and I soon christened Dale's images “Lowry on steroids”, paintings with a sense of fun that is rarely found in a Lowry.  

I ordered a print that especially took my eye. “Playing for the Les Pass Trophy, White Coppice cricket pitch”, a signed and numbered limited edition, framed and delivered for the incredible bargain price of £70.  The Internet version of the print brought memories of lazy summer days spent watching cricket with a pint of Boddingtons to hand. I couldn't wait to see the print for real. 

Cricket has history in our family. When the kids were younger we travelled to Old Trafford many times to watch Lancashire County Cricket Club play and also to Stanley Park and Lytham cricket grounds when Lancashire played home games at their “out” grounds. 

Middle son Carl played for Fylde Cricket Club for a number of years where he was a more than useful player. This theme is now taken up by grandson Theo, aged 15, who has a regular place in the Fylde CC second team and where he is challenging for promotion to the first team. 

Fast forward a few weeks and a message from Dale that he would deliver my picture and use the opportunity to visit Knott End on Sea, a mile or two from here in Stalmine.  Knott End just happens to be a regular haunt of LS Lowry in the mid 1900s.  Maybe my suspicions were justified?

Knott End Jetty, Wyre Estuary/Fleetwood Town by LS Lowry 
Knott End, Wyre Estuary/Fleetwood Town

A Lowry statue at Knott End slipway was unveiled in September 2015. The Fleetwood to Knott End ferry features in several of Lowry’s drawings and paintings. He had a long association with the Fylde region, the statue a landmark to celebrate his association with the area. Lowry visited Knott End frequently in the 1940s and 1950s. He stayed at boarding houses on the sea front and became a familiar figure to local people. They would observe him making sketches on whatever he had to hand. Hotel note paper, old receipts, napkins, envelopes and even toilet paper would be put to good use as he drew the landscapes and the people within them. 

Sue and I drove to Knott End with Dale, his wife, also Sue, and their two beautiful and lively sheep dogs, Mist and Bertie. Here's Dale and Bertie with Mr Lowry who's striding out to catch the Knott End ferry that crosses the Wyre Estuary to Fleetwood.  Bertie didn't much like the camera.

Dale Traskowski, LS Lowry and Bertie
The modern day Knott End to Fleetwood Ferry

We left Dale and Sue to explore Knott End. I later learnt they had found Knott End Chippy, probably the best chippy in the area. 

Back home my print of White Coppice cricket hangs in the hallway where visitors and family alike can admire it at their leisure. 

Playing for the Les Pass Trophy, White Coppice cricket pitch - Dale Traskowski
We felt privileged to meet Dale and family in person. For sure his recent venture of a web site will showcase his art and lead to a talent becoming more widely recognised. 

I urge readers to visit Dale's web site Dale's Art from where I predict they will find it difficult to resist a purchase from the many pictures destined to catch their eye. 

Dale will also take orders for one-offs and commissions.  Give him a bell and place the order. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021


Where to go was the dilemma? Oakenclough had been quiet with poor catches, Tuesday might be too soon after our last uninspiring visit, and strange as it may seem, by 18 May, spring migration is already tailing off.

We knew that at Cockerham was a brood of Lapwings ready for ringing together with some “Acros”, the lazy birders' name for Acrocephalus warblers, small insectivorous passerine birds belonging to the genus small,insectivorous passerine birds belonging to the genus Acrocephalus.

We drove to where the Lapwing chicks were seen a couple of days ago to see the farmer's £200,000 sprayer heading across the field. Luckily the field is sizeable and the ringing job would be done and dusted before the huge machine reached the Lapwings or ourselves. Andy quickly located all three chicks and popped them into a tractor rut as the adults watched from above before returning to parental duties. 

Lapwing chicks

Crop Sprayer

Lapwing chick

In the same field were more Lapwings and an Oystercatcher sat on recently laid eggs. We didn't check but the oyk appeared there soon after the crop sprouted to give cover to the eggs. It went into my notebook for something to think about in coming days. 

Job done we set a couple of nets in nearby reeds and caught acros but no other species - 4 Reed Warblers and 4 Sedge Warblers. One of the Reed Warblers bore a ring ALJ4078 that we thought would be our own. It was, sort of. In fact our ringing colleague Seumus Eaves had first ringed the Reed Warbler on 6 August 2020 at Fleetwood Marsh just 20 miles away in a south westerly direction.

“Well what's so great about that” you might say - “It just followed the coast”.

Reed Warbler

Sedge Warbler
Fleetwood and Cockerham

Not so much is the answer except that in the intervening period of ringing at Fleetwood and recapture at Cockerham, the Reed Warbler had flown to Africa and back.

Last August and setting off at dusk from Fleetwood this bird found its way to sub Saharan Africa where it spent the winter of 2020/21. Don't forget, this bird was born in Britain and had never been to Africa before attempting this perilous, unknown adventure.

In early May 2021 it headed back to England, avoided Border Control checks and found it's way to Cockerham.  A little off target for Fleetwood but not a bad effort don't you think?

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


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Over To You Padre

Blogger friend The Padre over in Grand Junction Colorado requested “more Barn Owls please.” Ever one to please I found another Barn Owl this morning. 

In broad daylight at nine am I guess the owl hunted for its mate and/or young owlets so after a few pics, I let it be. 

Barn Owl
Local birders are pretty much OK in realising that disturbing nesting Barn Owls is a no no because the owl has Special Protection as a Schedule 1 species. Other casual birders and/or toggers either don't know or don't care and often continue to be a nuisance, even in the breeding season.  

Members of our own Fylde Ringing Group are all covered by a Schedule 1 Permit to cover Barn Owls and other species but would never abuse that privilege for a photograph. 

Close by was a Common Whitethroat, a male Reed Bunting and a pair of Skylark. 

Common Whitethroat
A walk took me to fields where I found a Lapwing pair with three fluffy youngsters, spaced out behind mum. Give it a couple of days and the chicks will be large enough to find in the short sward and have legs suited to take a D ring. Another two or three adult Lapwings hunkered down in the crop while their mates chased off crows, a sure sign that these Lapwings at least are still on eggs. 

An Oystercatcher posed up for me while a pair of wild Tufted Duck looked for all the world as if they would fly off any second. Tufted Ducks in the local park become tame as mice. Here in shooting country the tufties don't much like human company and may prefer to take their chance in life with natural food and sportsmen rather than live on a diet of white bread and greasy crisps. 
Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck 


I found the regular Great Egret and 3 Grey Heron and just a single Little Egret rather than the eleven of last week. 

Great Egret
There seemed to be good numbers of Skylark with at least 6 singers and potentially 8/10 pairs once they sort themselves out.   At last, the slightly warmer weather of the last few days has spurred the Skylarks into action. 

Around the areas of reeds, water and woodland edge - 1 Swallow, 1 Pied Wagtail, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Mute Swan, 2 Little Grebe, 6 Reed Warbler and 7 Sedge Warbler. 

Back home I found a micro moth hiding against my pure white car. From a yard or two away it looked like a strand of vegetation had stuck itself onto the paintwork. Closer inspection revealed it to be White Plume, a ”micro moth” Pterophorus pentadactyla. 

White Plume

Fairly common I imagine and I'm not normally “into” moths but I have just been reading a new field guide to insects to be published in June by Princeton Press - Britain's Insects – a bargain buy of 600 packed pages £25 if ever I saw one.

Britain's Insects

Log in soon you insectophiles, There's a review of this book from a strictly neutral birder.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Quality Not Quantity

Another early breakfast. Then at 0525 a drive towards Oakenclough, a 35 minute journey and ETA 0600 for a meet with Andy. 

Half a mile from home came the welcome distraction of a flypast Barn Owl. A white van ahead had slowed down and alerted me to a Barn Owl heading my way alongside but below the raised road. There was time for a few clicks of the shutter before continuing east and into the rising sun. Doesn't everyone drive with a camera on the passenger seat just in case? 

Barn Owl
Andy was already there as I pulled in at 6.02 with the excuse of "Barn Owl" the reason for the poor timekeeping. 

Over the fence 15 yards away a Garden Warbler was in full song, a good omen for what lay ahead. We enjoyed a quiet ringing session of quality rather than a quantity of birds with the sum totals of 3 Garden Warbler, 3 Willow Warbler, 2 Goldfinch and 2 Lesser Redpoll. 

It was during 2020 we noticed increased numbers of Garden Warblers here at Oakenclough, a site  where the species has not bred for at least ten years. But now the plantation is revitalised by a clearance of rhododendron and restocking with native trees, we are confident Garden Warblers will return. Our three today consisted of one male, one female and one yet early season indeterminate. 

Garden Warbler

Willow Warbler

While there's a good population of Willow Warblers here we think that Lesser Redpolls breed close by if not in the plantation in which we ring.  Similarity to Garden Warblers, the redpolls bred here in the not too distant past and they too may return as the planting matures and thickens.    

Lesser Redpoll
Our birding was unremarkable in the clear and cool morning but we notched up several Swallows, 15 Sand Martin, 2 Pied Wagtail, 2 Buzzard, 1 Siskin, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 12+ Willow Warblers,. In nearby fields were several Oystercatchers and Lapwings plus a good number of Greylag families.

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

Friday, May 7, 2021

A Tale Of Two Halves.

Wednesday morning produced yet another icy start at Oakenclough. After a few dire days of catches and thinking along the lines of that old upbeat Howard Jones song, we imagined that “Things could only get better”. 

How wrong we were as we failed to even reach double figures. Just 5 birds caught and once again, virtually zero visible migration of note in the bright blue skies above. Throughout four hours we noted three or four Swallows heading north. Luckily the four (2 x 2) Siskins overhead drew our attention by their distinctive piercing flight calls or may have missed them too. 

Our catch - 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Blackcap, 1 Wren and 1 Willow Warbler. 

The second year male Blackcap was the first to be caught this year when normally we might expect to be in double figures by early May. 


Lesser Redpoll
The single Willow Warbler was a recapture from the week before, so new birds numbered four. In the plantation ten or twelve Willow Warblers sang from their now established location without us catching any females. From this, and the lack of chasing around, we deduced that female Willow Warblers had yet to arrive to our site. This is a natural enough lag in timing for Willow Warblers and many other species, accentuated in 2021 by the icy spring. 

Although by 1030 temperatures had climbed to the dizzying heights of 11 degrees, we knew to call it a day. 


Friday dawned bright but slightly breezy with the decision not to go ringing already made. I headed off Pilling way for a spot of birding alone. 

Swallows were more obvious with a number of them seen to fly north and quickly out of sight. In my two plus hours I counted more than 20, a vast improvement on recent days. But still no Swifts or House Martins, the latter still absent from their breeding eaves in our semi rural location and now two weeks behind schedule. 

I searched a stretch of land I'd not done in weeks and found 3 Lapwings sitting while their mates chased off gulls and crows that showed too much interest in the very obvious nesting pairs. In the same area were two or more pairs of Skylarks, a single Wheatear, a male Pied Wagtail and ten to twelve Linnets. 

Pied Wagtail


In wetter areas came 11 Little Egret, 2 Great Egret, 1 Grey Heron, 3 Tufted Duck, 4 Shelduck, 5 Mute Swan, plus both Canada Geese and Greylags with youngsters in tow. Also, 6 Reed Warbler, 4 Sedge Warbler, 8 Oystercatcher, 6 Redshank. 

Sedge Warbler 

Back home today we sat with a coffee and watched a male Sparrowhawk sat on a neighbour's garden wall. After a while the hawk dropped to within inches of the ground, accelerated like a rocket and crossed into another garden.


That's all for now folks. The forecast for Saturday is rain and wind so it looks like a day doing nothing but chores. Don't go away, see you soon.

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

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Mayday, Mayday.

Saturday morning. The First of May began bright and cold again. I waited an hour or two until the sun burnt off the frost and then drove north, hoping for a quiet walk in the warming sun and fresh air. 

They came along the private track, four adults and two dogs against the skyline. Urbanites on their May Day weekend. The egret saw them coming and flew off with loud protests. 

Hunkered down in the car and concentrating through the viewfinder, I'd not seen the intruders headed my way. Thankfully the townies took the other direction and left me in peace. Such are the joys of trying to bird now that lockdown is all but over when the countryside become a free for all again. 

Great Egret
I disturbed a Buzzard from the fence line but it made no sound as it slipped away perhaps thinking I'd not seen it in the exact same place for a couple of weeks. The local Carrion Crows gave the Buzzard a noisy send off . 

Carrion Crow and Buzzard

Along the track two pairs of Redshanks showed all the signs of having nests nearby. Oystercatchers too, piping and wary.  And a Lapwing called to youngsters to get their heads down - “Mayday, mayday”, and then circled and flapped to make sure the danger had passed. The young Lapwing were in the longer grass of a ditch, safe enough and hidden from a ringer's view. 

The sun came from the wrong direction. Overexpose the only way to get some sort of picture. 

The Wheatear on the other side of the sun made for easier viewing even though it kept a safe distance.

The ditches also held 3 Little Egrets and a Grey Heron. On and in the reed fringed edges of nearby pools came 2 Pied Wagtail, 4 Sedge Warbler and the snapping song of 4 Reed Warblers. A couple of Swallows whizzed by; so good to see a few at last. No House Martins seen but the farm hand reported seeing House Martins and a Whitethroat on Friday. 

Pied Wagtail
On the water - 4 Greylags with young, 2 Canada Geese with young, 2 Shelduck, 4 Moorhen, and then 2 Coot with their early brood. 


And now on Sunday morning we have a hailstorm. No kidding!  Help.


Related Posts with Thumbnails