Friday, July 30, 2021

Boxed In

Sorry folks. Today is Barn Owls again, just like last Friday. 

Friend Steve made contact to say that his Barn Owls were probably ready to ring. I readied large bird bags and a set of “G” rings and arranged to meet Bryan over at Steve’s place. 

Steve’s home is not a farm but is close to farmland where Barn Owls hunt. The average countryside dweller does not have to be a farmer to play host to a Farmer’s Friend, the Barn Owl. If someone either owns or has access to a building that Barn Owls might use, the paragraph below has useful information. 

From the Barn Owl Trust - Barn Owl Trust.   “If there’s a large building that a Barn Owl can enter at 3+ metres above the ground then this is almost certainly the best place to put a new Barn Owl nest box. An owl box in a building is easier to erect, costs less, or is quicker and cheaper to make. Such locations mean a box lasts much longer and affords extra shelter.” 

“Mounting an owl box on the outside of a building has many disadvantages and is not recommended unless there is no alternative. Buildings that are in human or agricultural use can be very suitable; Barn Owls can get used to almost any kind of activity as long as they can stay out of sight.”

Unfortunately Steve’s owls had of late soiled the lens of the “in the box camera” during their daily routines. By Friday morning all we had to go on were unclear images from early July which showed small owlets. 

Let’s elucidate by explaining that owl homes don’t have plumbing or waste disposal systems and Barn Owls do not have a weekly tidy up of the home. Their messy nest places also contain remnant, long forgotten body parts of voles, rats and other furry creatures. On occasions, and when food is in short supply, a box may hold the remains of smaller siblings that serve as emergency rations - yes Barn Owls have a cannibalistic streak. In other words, an owl box may not be the most sanitary of places to explore by the senses of hand or nose. 

With fingers crossed that in the interim things went well for the owls, Bryan volunteered to climb the ladder, peer into the dark box and stretch a hand into the unknown. With luck the same hand might emerge unscathed, holding a Barn Owl or two. As soon as we put the ladder towards the box an adult Barn Owl flew out, immediately followed by another - a good sign that all was well with the family. 

Bryan shouted down “Success, two chicks, but one unhatched egg”” as he gently placed each owl into bags and fetched them to ground level to be ringed. The chicks had well developed legs and feet of just the right dimensions for the “G” rings, GR26343 and GR26344. 

Barn Owl

There was time to clean the camera lens and for Steve to check the image on his phone. All was well, the picture bright and clear so that Steve and family can watch the progress of the owls from the comfort of their home screens. The young owls will leave the box for good in about 14 to 21 days’ time. 

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


Friday, July 23, 2021


Dare we even think it, let alone say it? At last an old-fashioned British summer where the sun shines from dawn to dusk, a knotted handkerchief the must-have headgear and Lobster Red in vogue.  After the coldest May on record we may be headed for the sunniest July. 

All well and good but hot sunny days and clear sky nights do little for bird migration or to hear the “ping” of a birding WhatsApp message. It’s changeable weather that fetches the birds, common or rare whether here in the British Isles, the Mediterranean, the Aegean or across the pond in North America & the islands of the Caribbean. Here in Lancashire showers through the night and rain before dawn can be the precursors to a “fall” of birds, especially if such conditions include an easterly blow. 

This, the first week of the school hols, was a busy week for grandparents keen to go birding despite the “unseasonal” weather, accustomed as we are to rain in July. Friday morning presented the first opportunity to hit the road without kids so off I went towards Cockerham; the breeze was a little blowy for ringing. 

2021 has been a funny year for Barn Owls too. Poor success in 2020, a cold spring in 2021 combined with a shortage of voles has meant the farmer’s friend is only now catching up, breeding only when everything is hunky dory.  In Pilling village I met up with one of the locals strangely absent for months but now back on the trail of rats, voles and much besides. 

Barn Owl
Here at Cockerham farmers have taken the dry weather opportunity to take a cut of silage, the newly cut fields quickly discovered by mainly Curlews, Stock Doves and assorted Gulls (Lesser Black Backs, Herring and Black-headed. The cut fields mean there are less places for Brown Hares to hide from view while leverets have yet to learn that man may not be a friend. One ran towards the car. 

Leveret (Brown Hare)
The Sand Martin colony at Hillam Lane was fairly busy if difficult to count at around 120+ birds, both adults and juveniles present.  Also here was a family of Moorhens, 4 Curlew, 1 Grey Heron and a single Common Tern from nearby Conder Green 

Common Tern

Sand Martin

After the lack of rain with corresponding hot weather the water level at Conder Green is possibly as low as it has ever been with lots margins that are mostly distant or hidden from view. However while the sum of birds on view was not high, the number of species via combined pool and tidal creeks was very impressive. 

Waders amounted to 22 Redshank, 14 Lapwing, 10 Oystercatcher, 7 Curlew, 6 Avocet, 4 Common Sandpiper, 2 Snipe, 2 Greenshank and 2 Little Egret. 

Little Egret
Add to those waders the odds and sods like 3 Little Grebe, 4 Tufted Duck, 1 Grey Heron, 16 Mute Swan, 45 Greylags and then the obligatory Swallows and Sand Martins, it all amounts to more than acceptable birding. Greylags are now a constant sight at Conder Green at almost any time of the year, even more so in autumn following a successful breeding season. 

If the wind drops a little for tomorrow I may try a little ringing. Saturday looks a touch breezy, Sunday less so but either way more sunny days beckon. How unusual! 

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

And then take a look at my lovely friend Rain Frances in New Brunswick, Canada who via You Tube will show you how to sketch and draw - Rain Frances on You Tube.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Billy No Mates

Saturday morning, 17 July. My usual ringing pal Andy is laid up for some weeks following his knee op this week. Regrettably that means he will lose his part time job as a Car Park Attendant as he won’t have the essential qualifications of a lop-sided limp - (his joke, not mine). There’s no way Sue will accompany me at 0600 and support the far end of a 60ft mist net while I tie the near end. She’s not keen to provide secretary duties either. Arrangements like that would probably cost me dearly in the way of a contribution to the Gordon’s Gin Empire. 

Fortunately Billy No Mates knows of a quiet place where he can sit in a shaded chair with a couple of mist nets up and also bird with eyes and ears, even though in mid-July there’s not a lot to see or hear. 

This venue is private with no one to trouble me except for the pesky sand flies that even through a shirt dig their needle teeth in as soon as they land. This is not a place to catch piles of birds but rather a place to watch the world go by and wonder how I have managed to stay sane for 18 months while the world around has gone completely insane. 

The seed crop isn’t quite ready to split and drop but already the mass of flowers hold a myriad of insects and creepy crawlies. It’s no wonder then that a single net through the crop catches insect eating Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers that visit here from a reed bed fifty yards away. 

Seed Plot

Seed Plot

So here’s a quiz for clued up non-ringers or even ringers who see few “acros”, acrocephalus warblers. The two pictures below show two ages of Sedge Warbler, an adult (male as it happens) and below that a juvenile born in recent weeks. Which is which? The differing stages of their respective plumage provide the answer. 

Sedge Warbler - juvenile/first summer
Sedge Warbler - adult
Differentiating the ages of Reed Warblers is less easy. At this time of year one of the best and quickest methods is to examine the wear on the primary flight feathers, especially at the tips. Birds of the year look fresh, new and unworn, whereas the equivalent feathers of an adult will be slightly worn and bleached at the outermost points. 

See the two pictures below. 

Reed Warbler - juvenile/first summer 
Reed Warbler - adult
Reed Warbler
A stroll along the paths led to a locked gate and the farmer's sign “Bull in Field”, an essential to deter trespassers of many kinds.  As I looked over, the young bull stared back. He appeared d harmless enough with blunt, stubby horns and a kindly face, nothing like those steamy nostril Spanish bulls that trample bullfighters into the Iberian dust. 

Beware of the Bull
As docile as the hulk appeared it’s best to never approach a bull, young or old, especially if there are heifers around. I also know to steer clear of the occasional Galloway cow found in local cattle herds; given the chance they can get fairly obnoxious and chase unwary birders across a field. 

Half a dozen Reed Warblers, two Sedge Warblers and a Wren the sum total of my ringing efforts. Adult Reed Warbler AKH0265 was from elsewhere, further details will follow. A Common Whitethroat sat atop a nearby hawthorn bush, the berries green with youthful innocence and the “throat” an older male with a greying mop, a wise old bird that I didn’t catch. 

Likewise an unexpected count of 35 House Sparrows and 40+ Swallows were my highest counts of both species this year. Sad to say not a single Swift crossed my path - a poor year for this species. 

And sad to say, no other warblers where I might expect a couple of Willow Warblers and /or Blackcaps. 2021 - What a strange year in many ways when this cold spring followed the abysmal weather, poor breeding and low productivity of 2020.  There are no finches in the seed plot yet because natural seeds of the countryside are abundant for now, but the variety of the seed plot will work its magic soon. 

All season I watched the secretive Tufted Ducks that gave nothing away as to where the nest might be. And then today the family, minus dad of course, toddled along the track and then dived off and into the pool as mom saw me ahead. 

Tufted Ducks
On the waterway also - 3 Little Egret, 2 Little Grebe, 1 Grey Heron.  An entertaining morning for sure, even if there was no one to talk to except the birds or myself. 


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

A Smelly Subject

Here’s a story with conclusions that may not be all that surprising to many bird watchers. It’s about birds’ sense of smell, a subject tackled here on Another Bird Blog in December 2014.  

The story below is from Science Daily of July 2021 - “The fine nose of storks." 

"The sharp eyes of an eagle, the extraordinary hearing of an owl - to successfully find food, the eyes and ears of birds have adapted optimally to their living conditions. Until now, the sense of smell has played a rather subordinate role. When meadows are freshly mowed, White Storks often appear there to search for snails and frogs. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behaviour in Radolfzell and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz have now studied the birds' behaviour and discovered that the storks are attracted by the smell of the mown grass. Only storks that were downwind and could thus perceive the smell reacted to the mowing. The scientists also sprayed a meadow with a spray of green leaf scents released during mowing. Storks appeared here as well. This shows that White Storks use their sense of smell to forage and suggests that the sense of smell may also play a greater role in other birds than previously thought."
White Storks

"For farmers around Lake Constance, it's a familiar sight: when they start mowing their meadows, storks often appear next to the tractors as if out of nowhere. The White Storks live in the wet areas around the lake, feeding on snails, frogs and small rodents that find shelter in high meadows. If these meadows are mowed, the small animals are easy prey. However, the storks do not always appear when mowing takes place. Until now, it was not known how the storks locate the rich food source. "

White Stork

"Previously, it was believed that birds relied primarily on their eyes and ears rather than their sense of smell. "It was simply assumed that birds can't smell well because they don't have real noses," says Martin Wikelski, director at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior. "Yet they have a very large olfactory bulb in the brain with many receptor molecules for scents." So birds have the best prerequisites for a fine nose. 

Wikelski has spent many years observing storks and researching their migratory behaviour, among other things. When he talked to his colleague Jonathan Williams about the storks' puzzling reaction to mowed meadows, Williams had an idea. Williams works at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, studying volatile organic compounds and their effects on humans and the environment. "My guess was that the storks were reacting to the intense smell of freshly cut grass," Williams says. This typical smell is produced by so-called green leaf odorants and consists of only three different molecules. "These are also added to perfumes, for example, to give them a fresh, "green" note," explains Williams. 

The researchers now wanted to find out whether the sense of smell actually leads the storks to freshly mown meadows. To do this, they monitored the birds' movements both from aircraft and via GPS sensors of tagged animals. "We first had to rule out the possibility that the storks could hear the tractor or see the mowing process," Wikelski says. Therefore, they only included storks in the observation that were more than 600 meters away from the mowed meadow and did not have direct visual contact. The researchers also made sure that the storks were not alerted to the mowing process by the behaviour of conspecifics or other birds. 

When mowing began, only the storks that were downwind flew to the meadow in question. The conspecifics that were upwind and thus could not perceive the grass smell did not react. To test whether the smell of the cut grass alone attracted the storks, the researchers switched to a meadow that had been mowed two weeks earlier. "The grass of this meadow was still very short. Therefore, it is uninteresting for the storks to forage," Wikelski explained. On this meadow, he and colleagues spread grass that had been mowed a short time before at a greater distance. A short time later, the first storks flew in and searched for food in the mown grass. 

The researchers finally mixed a solution of green leaf scents and sprayed it on a meadow with short grass. The meadow then smelled intensely of mown grass and also attracted storks from the surrounding area. "This proves that storks find their way to feeding sites via scents in the air," Williams says. This finding contradicts the previous assumption that storks primarily use their eyes to find food. Rather, the birds rely on their sense of smell to do so. "There have been storks that have flown more than 25 km from the other side of Lake Constance to mowed meadows," Wikelski says. The researchers suspect that the sense of smell may also play a greater role than previously thought in the foraging activities of other bird species." 

Birds of prey such as Buzzards, kites and falcons spring to mind. These species are regularly observed flying over or within striking distance of meadows where their sense of smell probably plays a part in their hunting prowess.


Red Kite


These scientists might be surprised to learn that experienced bird watchers already suspect that birds find their food by many methods, the sense of smell being just one of them. Birders have a nose for such things and are often ahead of the game. If only they were consulted a little more often by experts. 

Red-footed Falcon

 Story via - Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.  ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 July 2021. 

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

Friday, July 9, 2021

Yellow Or Grey

Here’s a new header, the one that caused all the Blogger problems.  This new header will provoke comments and questions to rival why Blogger once again changed things that work to something that doesn't make sense.

How do I know there will be comments? The answer is that a post on Another Bird Blog entitled “Grey Or Yellow” of August 21 2016 has to date gathered an amazing 10,095 views, easily the most viewed post.

The search terms “grey wagtail” or “yellow wagtail” crop up on a very regular basis whereby Google directs the user to a number of sites, web places that include Another Bird Blog.      

So for today, and while I try to resolve the header problem, I hope to answer again the question “When is a grey wagtail not a Grey Wagtail but a Yellow Wagtail”?

It’s a subject that cropped up at Another Bird Blog when a reader suggested via a comment that my image of a Yellow Wagtail was in fact a Grey Wagtail.  The photograph is the one below. 

Yellow Wagtail

The species under discussion are two closely related ones, Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava and Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea

The images below are pages from the The Crossley Guide that show not only the plumage differences between the two wagtails but also the different habitats and situations in which each is usually found. I’m sure that at most times of the year almost everyone can identify the adults of both species as they are really quite different in appearance.

Grey Wagtail - Richard Crossley (The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland) [CC BY-SA 3.0 a/3.0)] via Wikimedia Commons 

 Yellow Wagtail Yellow Wagtail - Richard Crossley (The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland) [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Yellow Wagtail, male or female, is an overall shade of yellow, whereas the Grey Wagtail while having parts of striking yellow plumage in both male and female, is an overall grey colour above.  No problem there then. 

 Yellow Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Less practiced bird watchers may experience confusion and misperception when dealing with autumnal “grey” Yellow Wagtails such as the one in my picture at the top of this post, a very pale and quite fresh Yellow Wagtail in its first autumn plumage during September. At this time of year juvenile Yellow Wagtails are greyish/brown/olive above and buff whitish below, with a partly yellow belly and yellow under tail. Rather than the bright yellow and immaculate males of some field guides, autumn encounters of both species usually involve less bright and slightly worn plumaged adults of either sex, or duller juveniles. 

My pictures below show the typical dark, almost black legs of a Yellow Wagtail and not the flesh coloured legs of a Grey Wagtail. The Yellow Wagtail has clearly defined wing bars as formed by the pale covert feathers. By comparison a Grey Wagtail of any age always displays slate grey wing feathers together with narrowly edged greyish coverts rather than the much whiter ones in the wing of a Yellow Wagtail.

Grey Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

A feature that is less obvious unless the two species are side by side is that the Grey Wagtail has a very long white edged tail whereas a Yellow Wagtail has a shorter tail. This is a useful separation tool in the field when the long tail of a Grey Wagtail “bobs” and “pumps” almost incessantly as opposed to the less mobile and much shorter tail of the Yellow Wagtail. A Yellow Wagtail has a demeanour rather like a pipit, often standing taller than the similarly sized Grey Wagtail that can appear quite "crouching". 

Another separation in the field is the differing calls of the two species. The Yellow Wagtail has a sweet “tsee” or “schlee” or a louder “suree”. The call of Grey Wagtail is totally different with an explosive, metallic “zi-zi” or “tsvit”

Below is a great video from the BTO which not only sets out the difference between Yellow and Grey Wagtails, but for good measure also includes the Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba, yet another “grey” wagtail.

I hope this post has been helpful to anyone unsure about separating Yellow Wagtails and Grey Wagtails, or even grey wagtails.

And for anyone looking for a top quality field guide to the birds of Great Britain and Ireland I recommend the following three books:
That's all for now. Back soon with Another Bird Blog.  I hope to fix the half a header problem soon, perhaps via Blogger or through a helpful and HTML knowledgeable reader.

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

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Ones And Twos

Friday’s ringing session at Oakenclough began with a cracker of a bird, an immaculate, recently fledged Redstart with a fiery orange tail. 

It’s a species that we rarely catch at Oakenclough, perhaps one or two each year in habitat that lacks the mature birch and oak woodland that Redstarts favour. Such woodland is fairly near and also a couple of miles away on the edge of Bowland from either of which our annual Redstarts may originate. 

A juvenile Redstart has the blotchy looks and overall demeanour of a juvenile Robin. Without the red tail, a Redstart could impersonate a Robin. The two species share many habits, actions and chat-like behaviour but the Redstart is slightly slimmer and not quite as heavy. 

We started with the firecracker bird but the session fizzled out with the catching of other site rarities that leave us unmoved, a humdrum Blue Tit and an uninteresting Great Tit. 

It seems we are not alone with a lack of Willow Warblers that other ringers report during June and now July. Just two Willow Warblers caught - one adult and one juvenile when normally we should be into double figures for a July ringing session. The single adult male was well into the stage of replacing all of its flight feathers in readiness for autumn and the journey back to deepest Africa. 
Willow Warbler - post breeding main moult
Willow Warbler - juvenile
During the morning we’d heard a few Siskins overhead with their unmistakable high-pitched “ping” flight call and hoped we might catch one or two. The Siskin is another species that breeds close by but not on site and we expect to catch them on their in spring and autumn migrations rather than summer. The flight call of a Siskin is of course unique and one that once learnt is not forgotten and can be picked out during autumn visible migration watches. Click on the sound track below to hear the call of a Siskin.


But catch we did, a second summer male,  the actual one shown below.  



A recently fledged Goldcrest was without a crest of gold or any other colour which rather confirmed the fact that Goldcrests breed in the conifers just across the stone wall that borders the ringing site. These youngsters begin to develop colour on their crown feathers at their partial moult within a couple of weeks of leaving the nest. 

Goldcrest without crest
The Chiffchaff was also a post juvenile wanderer from not too far away. The species does not breed within our ringing plot.

To recap, the morning of ones and twos and 10 birds caught - 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Redstart, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Siskin, 1 Goldcrest,1 Blue Tit, 1 Wren,1 Great Tit.

Better luck next time?

Apologies for the loss of the header width. It seems that once again Blogger changed a setting that worked well for 10+ years.  When I changed the header picture to a Yellow Wagtail, Blogger automatically shrunk the picture. I'm still working to fix this but if anyone knows the settings of old, please let me know.

For the weekend I am linking to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.  


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Martin More

Tuesday morning 29 June. Catching and ringing the Sand Martins was the easy bit. 

Later that day and back home with a cup of coffee at hand I had the wearisome job of entering each of 59 Sand Martins onto the BTO DemOn database via the day’s field sheet. Thanks Andy! 

Tuesday 29 June

There’s no bashing the keyboard with abandon, no unthinking tabbing along, because each entry is different where accurate transposition is vital with a program designed to catch out the lazy or forgetful inputter with a “do not pass” error message. 

Every wing length and every weight is unlike the previous entry where both males and females require a qualifying item of “why” or "are you sure". Thankfully the 3Js are a faster keyboard proposition without the encumbrance of underage sex to slow their progress through the system.  Recaptures and their random emergence (foot of the field sheet) don’t fit the automatic sequencing of ring numbers expected by DemOn so each must be entered on an individual basis; with fingers crossed that the number and details match previous entries! Otherwise, input is put on hold while earlier details are checked. 

And at your peril, don’t forget to split the entries into time slots that match the time of catch and weighing.  And yes, over the page there are another 25 entries and another 30 minutes or more at the keyboard. Whoever said that ringing is not work? 

Sharp eyed readers will note a large proportion of 3Js - CLICK THE PIC. In fact the juveniles outnumbered the adults by a narrow margin of 30 to 29. All of the 13 recaptures were from earlier this year and 2020. 

It appears that after a cold, slow start to the season our Sand Martins are making the most of the continued warm, sunny and settled weather of June to make up for lost time.  And we still catch new adults, fifteen in all.

Sand Martin - juvenile

Further to my previous posting of 29 June about the Spotted Flycatcher, AKE3299, here’s more information from Paul Wheatley, AKA Leeds Birder on Twitter and his piece of remarkable detective work. 

Reading a ring in the field

Great stuff, and an example to birders and ringers everywhere.

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

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