Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sunday Scores

There was no time for ringing on Saturday, the visit to Cockerham was to drop a little extra seed in the ringing area only. It was a pity then that views of both a juvenile Marsh Harrier and a male Hen Harrier had been brief but decisive. The Marsh Harrier circled over fields and a maize crop before drifting south while the Hen Harrier followed a line of ditches from which flew a dozen Mallards and 20 or more Teal at the arrival of the predator. 

Hen Harrier
Sunday dawned at 7° degrees with a fine mist and a definite autumnal nip to the air. This morning I swopped the baseball cap for a woolly bobble hat when winter felt too close for comfort. 

Misty Sunday
As I drove into the ringing site a Buzzard flew out of the trees where it had probably spent the night out of harm’s way. That Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk that unsuccessfully broke up a flock of Linnets were the only raptors seen today during three hours of watching in between tending nets and ringing a few birds. The migrant harriers of Saturday had clearly been the customary “one day wonders” but hopefully a sign of successful breeding from whence they came. 

I keep picking up new Reed Warblers here, with another two today, both birds of the year, lately fledged but already showing signs of moulting body feathers; the one below replacing head feathers. That makes 18 Reed Warblers captured here since July. 

Juvenile Reed Warbler
A Whitethroat came as a nice surprise while the main target of Linnets produced 9 more new ones to make 38 Linnets ringed here in August. Thirty two of the Linnets have been juveniles and just 6 adults. 

Whitethroat - first year/juvenile
A number of the juvenile Linnets show signs of their partial post-juvenile moult in replacing their median coverts while other individuals showed no signs of yet doing so. 

Linnet - juvenile wing moult
Linnet - juvenile no wing moult

Linnet - juvenile/first summer

Eyes peeled for harriers meant that not much was missed on the birding side - I hope. 

So other birds seen equalled 125 Linnet, 30+ Goldfinch, 2 Reed Warbler, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Robin 2 House Sparrow, 14 Curlew, 40 Greylag, 15 Swallow. 

Back soon. Don't go away.

Monday, August 23, 2021

New Wellies, New Birds

It was no coincidence that I decided to buy a new pair of wellies. Last week saw day after day of mizzle, drizzle, rain and cloud, the ultimate manifestation of an English “summer”. Hardly surprising then that the number of birds ringed during a week of rained off and blown away could be counted on the fingers of one hand - four Linnets. And then the old boots leaked, but Ebay came to the rescue with a pair of Dunlop “Blizzard” thermal wellies - perfect for the coming days and weeks of summer. 

New Wellies
Monday 23rd began with more drizzle but the forecast was OK so I set off for a ringing session. By the time I reached Cockerham village there was no rain, the grey sky had fizzled out and there was zero wind. Just the job. 

From the off Linnets began to move west and south in small parties of anything between 5 and 30 so that by 1030 when I packed in at least 140 had passed through the area. 

The catch of birds was better, 8 additional Linnets, 2 more Reed Warbler and an unexpected but very welcome Garden Warbler. These young, silky smooth and immaculate Garden Warblers are simply beautiful to behold. 

Garden Warbler
Garden Warbler

Reed Warbler
Brown Hare

Birding was unspectacular and highlighted by a persistent Sparrowhawk that soared around for a while and took a special interest in the groups of Linnets knocking about. The Linnets plus a handful of Swallows were having none of it as they took it in turns to harass the hawk until it fled the scene without a meal. 

There does seem to be a number of Sparrowhawks around at the moment, perhaps another species to benefit from humans being locked away for months where they can’t harm, birds of prey, intentionally or not. 

Birding consisted of small numbers of Goldfinch and Greenfinch and one or more Sedge Warblers, none of which got caught. Two Grey Heron and a single Little Egret completed the scene apart from a single Whimbrel that flew over calling its seven whistles. 

The weather is looking ok for the rest of the week. It’s probably Wednesday for me as tomorrow is a day out with two of the grandkids . Wish me luck. 

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

PS. Here are a couple of photos from our day with the grandkids  - Knott End to Fleetwood. Click the pics for the journey. 

L.S. Lowry and his dog in a hurry to catch the ferry.

Knott  End

There was a lack of tidal water in the channel but sufficient for the ferry’s first trip of the day where slippery mud has to be cleared from the jetty before passengers embark.   A pair of wellies might be better than boots?

Knott End Jetty

Knott End Slipway

There's a reason for the name "slipway".

Across the water

The price of fish – a Fleetwood family wait anxiously for the return of their bread winner from a week or more fishing trip in the Irish Sea and beyond. 

Welcome Home

In Memoriam

On the ferry

Close that door

Close that door

Mmm! Wallings Ice Cream

Back soon with more birds and birding.


Monday, August 16, 2021


I don’t normally have a leisurely breakfast, more a “grab it and go”. At 0630 on Sunday a steady drizzle rattled on the conservatory roof. It was rain enough to bang another piece of bread in the toaster, make a second cup of tea and wait for the skies to brighten. An hour later it was time to hit the road. 

The plan was the usual - a little birding over Cockerham way and hopefully a spot of ringing. 

I stopped at Gulf Lane where the farmer had promised to cut a swathe through his other seed crop in readiness for the first signs of a decent sized flock of Linnets. Richard had done a gret job with the tractor with a terrific 9ft wide path that skirted the ditch and the bramble patch where many birds frequent during August to May. 

Already birds were in the ride, foraging through the cut crop, along the fence posts or hiding in the hedge - 2 Tree Sparrow, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Stock Dove and 18 Linnets. 

Tree Sparrow
Reed Bunting

A good start to the morning that went slightly downhill as the previously slight breeze picked up enough to signify that ringing was a no-no. Not to worry as the big fields held many birds even if most were a little distant. 

The distance combined with the ebb and flow of birds constantly moving between the field and the marsh beyond made counting almost impossible. My best estimates were 750 Greylag, 200 Lapwing, 175 Carrion Crow, 90 Curlew, 25 Stock Dove and countless gulls, mostly Black-headed. 

Black-headed Gulls


Constant activity was enough to draw in raptors in the shape of two Sparrowhawks and a Marsh Harrier. I was be sure of two Sparrowhawks because of their relative sizes, a small, fast moving male and soon after a larger female that circled around in a higher plane as females of the species are inclined to do. 

The Sparrowhawks were quickly followed by a Marsh Harrier, a somewhat nondescript bird of the year, which gave intermittent views as it hunted over and around the ditches, fields and few trees that dot the area. When Richard arrived on the quad carrying the morning breakfast of cattle nuts I asked “Where were you five minutes ago?” 

Luckily the harrier reappeared again to give us both splendid views until it drifted off south, over the A588 and in the direction of Winmarleigh Moss. Mid-August is a classic time to catch up with Marsh Harriers as they disperse from breeding sites north and east of here. In recent years Marsh Harriers have begun to winter on the Lancashire coast, Leighton Moss and Martin Mere/Southport/Merseyside. 

Marsh Harrier
Smaller birds were difficult to find with singles of Reed Warbler, Great-spotted Woodpecker, a handful of Goldfinches and about 20 Linnets max. A single south moving Swallow was the only one noted. It's really autumn now. 

After a dismal start the few hours spent in the Great Outdoors proved to be a winner - again. And who wouldn’t rather be birding?  

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

Thursday, August 12, 2021


Wednesday morning at Cockerham began ok. Not perfect but a cool 10mph southerly wind. A couple of sheltered nets meant ringing might be possible. By Wednesday early evening the heavens opened to a downpour and my decision to go ringing had been absolved. 

As usual the morning target was Linnets and anything else that might stray into the catching area. It’s a seed plot/game cover, although in this case the farmers are not shooters but people who have to make a living, but where possible farm with an eye on maintaining their land for animals, birds and wildlife in general. 

Ten birds caught - 8 more Linnets to add to eight of last week, 1 Willow Warbler and a House Sparrow. Of those 16 Linnets, twelve have been juveniles and four adults, a healthy enough ratio to suggest that 2021 has been a decent year. 

Linnet - juvenile/first summer

Willow Warbler - first summer/juvenile

House Sparrow - adult male

The morning turned into something of a raptor fest with four species seen - Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, a Merlin and then two sightings of a Peregrine (or two individuals.) 

I have intermittent sighting of Sparrowhawks here as they do not breed on site but probably do so nearby. The Sparrowhawk did the usual trick of hanging around in an area where small birds were likely to show. As soon as the hawk spotted me, it flew through the nearest clump of trees and carried out the customary disappearing act. 

Kestrels have been pretty scarce this year perhaps as a result of the dearth of small mammals in the early year and during the frosts of May. Until this Wednesday I’d seen very few Kestrels, the one hovering close by my ringing station proved a welcome sight. 


In the distance recent heavy rains have left a flash flood in good shape to welcome a huge concentration of hundreds of crows, gulls & Greylags, dozens of Woodpigeons and Stock Doves, and dozens of assorted waders, including Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit. 

So many potential items of food pulled in a Peregrine from out on the salt marsh. The reaction of the massed birds could only be Peregrine, the fastest bird in the world. The panic was almost instant as wave after wave of birds took to the air in what appeared to be sheer terror. No other bird has quite the same effect as a hunting Peregrine. It’s as if the hunted share a common warning call for this major killer of birds large and small, a predator so efficient that the targeted one faces certain death. 

The falcon was so fast through the flocks that I lost track of it more than once and didn’t see it take anything. An hour later it, or another, came back for a second go. In fact it’s not unusual to see Peregrines hunt in pairs or even threes, especially in early autumn when families may still be partly reliant on siblings and parents finding food. 


I imagine that Peregrines have done quite well during lockdown. Free from the normal and continuous disturbance by moorland tourists, fell walkers, landowners & their gamekeepers, our upland Peregrines probably made hay for 18 months and more. 

Peregrines breed in rugged uplands and feed in the open countryside surrounding such sites. Whilst the breeding populations of Peregrines in many areas of England have shown a general pattern of increases in recent decades the same trend is not evident in northern uplands. Here marked losses in the range and population have been experienced and continue to this day. In particular, breeding productivity at sites on or near driven grouse moor estates is half of that found on non-grouse moor habitats. 

There are now significant gaps across the northern uplands where Peregrines previously bred and where overall numbers are lower compared to the 1990s and 2000s, for example in the Peak District, Bowland Forest and the North Pennines. 

The Merlin is also an upland breeder primarily restricted to heather moorland that too relies heavily on open country prey. Although Merlins are generally no longer directly persecuted, their breeding habitat, much of which is on moorland primarily managed for Red Grouse, is vulnerable to change of land use. The decline in farmland bird populations like Linnets is also likely to have an impact on survival of Merlins that winter around the Lancashire coast. 

As I watched Linnets flit around the seed plot a Merlin appeared, flying low towards me, inches off the ground and alongside the 3ft high vegetation. At first, and as seemed the most likely, the brown head probably belonged to a Sparrowhawk. Then as the bird drew near the flight pattern was not the flap glide of a “sprawk” but the characteristic hurrying flight of fast wingbeats with mildly undulating progress. Some birders liken the Merlin’s flight to that of the similarly sized Mistle Thrush. 


Again, as soon as the little falcon spotted me, it lifted, veered off and flew out of sight over nearby trees. 

There was a small but visible migration of Swifts and Swallows, 4 Swifts together and then a loose party of 20/25 Swallows hugging the ground so as to make fast progress on their way south. I watched them disappear over the fields and into the distance - visible migration. 

Other birds seen during my three hour session – 35 Linnet, 2 Goldfinch, 5 House Sparrow, 8 Stock Dove, 45 Woodpigeon, 2 Grey Heron, 5 Little Egret, 7 Teal, 28 Curlew, 2 Little Grebe.

Grey Heron
The weather is looking unhelpful for a few days but as ever I will be looking for a window through which to explore. Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog.

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

Sunday, August 8, 2021

A Tern For The Better

Friday morning proved too breezy for ringing so with the little sun I headed for Knott End village and the viewpoints of the jetty and promenade. From here are vistas across Morecambe Bay to the English Lakes, Barrow and on suitable days, The Isle of Man. There are many birds to be seen in most seasons except for high summer when grockles appear. 

It was just here on Monday that a lady and her dog were rescued after getting stuck in mud off the end of the slipway. I’m on safe ground in saying that because she had a dog with her, the lady was probably not a birder. 

Monday 2 August - Knott End, Lancashire - @LancsLive

The poor lady was pulled unceremoniously from the sticky mud by members of Knott End Coastguard with help from the crew of the Knott End/Fleetwood ferry. She was fortunate that a fast tide was not rushing in and that local people spotted her plight, as without their help, the seemingly innocent  walk could have ended in tragedy. 

The tides and sands of Morecambe Bay are incredibly dangerous but there is no accounting for stupid when warnings are clear and abundant.  

Knott End slipway - "Beware of sinking sand and mud. Check tides and weather"

My own walk along the river path was less eventful but dictated by the incoming tide which flooded the mud, sand and mussel beds. As the land disappeared about 450 Oystercatchers flew upstream to their roost. There was a steady flow of 55+ Sandwich Terns, their breeding season at an end with many now journeying to winter off the south and west coasts of Africa. 

Out of our own UK season of Sandwich Terns from March to September I have seen the species in the winter warmth of Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gambia, West Africa, but wherever it is, Sandwich Terns seem to always retain their fear of man and keep a safe distance. 

This fear is not surprising when many past recoveries of ringed Sandwich Terns are from hunting in West African countries like Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Ivory Coast , Liberia and Sierra Leone. Here the trapping of terns for food is carried out by children setting noose traps on the beach baited with dead fish. Although this practice may be less prevalent than say the 1960, 70 and 80s, it is apparently still widespread in some areas. 
Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Tern

The best and certainly the rarest birds I saw were two other terns, Little Terns, on the beach and close to a gang of a dozen or more Sandwich Terns. Soon, the two smaller terns followed their cousins out over the incoming tide. 

Little Terns used to be much more common in Autumn in the days before the familiar story of falls in their UK population.    

Factors contributing to this low productivity include predation of chicks and eggs by, Kestrels  Foxes and the crow family. other losses from nest loss due to bad weather, food shortage, and, most significantly, disturbance by humans. Most Little Terns nest along the east and south coasts of England, adjacent to some of the most densely populated areas of Britain, although many sites are now guarded in an attempt to limit disturbance.

Little Tern

Early August is the best time to see Little Terns in Lancashire. Many years ago I counted more than 100 gathered on the shore at Cockersands on a single August morning.  Sad to say it is highly unlikely such a high number will be seen again in these parts but instead the norm becomes a count by fingers of one hand. 

There seemed few other species alongside the river and the edge of the golf course except for a handful of Greenfinches, Linnets and that rarity the House Sparrow.  A good number of Collared Doves look as though they have enjoyed a successful breeding season. There's been up to a dozen around our local gardens this last week. And of course the shore and the river provide lots of gulls.  


House Sparrow
Collared Dove

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Near Sea Dyke Cottage (1754) two Grey Herons flew upriver, croaking in flight as the tide engulfed their feeding patch. 

Knott End, River Wyre

Grey Heron
Our summer weather is looking pretty poor to at least Monday. I’m thinking that Wednesday 11th might be my next birding and/or ringing day. Fingers crossed the experts have got it wrong again. 

Related Posts with Thumbnails