Saturday, November 27, 2021

Double Whammy

There’s a double blow to our ringing plans this weekend. Number One is the weather with a Red weather warning of severe winds up to 70mph over northern Britain as Storm Arwen passes over in a north to south direction. Sat here in my office there’s a hoolie blowing and I’m not for going anywhere until Monday when the winds should ease. 

Wednesday saw another visit to Project Linnet where Catch of the Day was that extreme rarity - a Song Thrush. After a little levelling off in recent years the graph seems to be heading in a downward direction again via “a rapid decline in England” - BTO Bird Trends. 

For what it’s worth the decline in this part of Lancashire seems especially marked where the Song Thrush is no longer a garden bird and is one that receives barely a mention on local bird news Internet sites. Our own catches of Song Thrushes number so few that catching a Song Thrush becomes a Red Letter Day. 

Bird Trends - British Trust for Ornithology
Song Thrush 

In addition to the single Song Thrush we caught 1 Redwing, 2 “continental” Blackbirds, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Greenfinch, 1 Robin and added another seven Linnets to our totals. 




Just as were looked forward to better weather next week, Friday morning brought unwelcome Blow Number Two. 

“Dear Philip” 

“Avian influenza H5N1 (pathogenicity to be confirmed) has been found in a premises near Poulton le Fylde, Wyre, Lancashire. A 3km and 10km Control Zone has been put in place around the premises. Please see the map here for more information (search on SD3748). 

You are being notified as we can see you, or your ringing group, have either submitted ringing records from close to the outbreak in recent years or your postal address is within the area. 

Effective immediately, as a precaution, the following measures apply: All ringing is suspended within the 10 km Control Zone as outlined on the map until further notice. 

We will inform you by email when ringing can recommence and we will be monitoring the situation during the BTO Christmas period.” 

Avian Flu Hotspot
A couple of our local ringing sites fall into the exclusion zone, another unwanted blow to our commitment to local bird ringing, activities that monitor bird populations for the benefit of society as a whole. Project Linnet (and farmland birds) is now on hold until sometime in 2022. 

This latest episode is the third recorded outbreak of bird flu at the same Preesall/Pilling premises 

Once again in 2021 the avian virus has been found where Pheasants, Red-legged Partridge and Mallards are reared in captivity so as to be released into the countryside for shooting. This is a subject covered many times here on Another Bird Blog, in the birding press on a regular basis and in National newspapers on a number of occasions. As ever there is no interest from the UK Government or other parties to put a stop to an archaic practice that has such a devastating impact upon native species. 

The BTO Atlas of 2013 tells me that the numbers of captive-bred Pheasants released into the wild has increased fivefold since the early 1960s to around 35 million birds annually. Some 15 million Pheasant are shot annually. 

Captive Pheasant rearing

“High densities of Pheasants potentially have negative effects on native species, but these have been poorly studied. Indirect effects possibly include modification of the structure of the field layer, the spread of disease and parasites and competition for food. Recent research indicates that infection with caecal nematodes from farm-reared Pheasants may be contributing to the decline of Grey Partridge.” 

Grey Partridge

When I watch hordes of young Pheasants thundering through late summer fields and woodland edge there is no doubt in my mind that their effect on the environment is wholly negative. 

The BTO Atlas also states that there has been a 91% population decline of Grey Partridge in the UK between 1967-2010, during the Breeding Atlas of 1968-72 and the Breeding Atlas of 1988-91. 

“Local extinctions may be masked in some areas by the release of captive-bred birds onto shooting estates: about 100,000 captive-reared Grey Partridges are released in Britain each year”. The Atlas gives no figures on the number of captive-bred birds subsequently shot for sport; neither does it give any indication of how any surviving birds impact upon any truly wild Grey Partridge population. 

Given that the Grey Partridge is in any case a secretive and difficult species to study, any such investigation would by now be almost impossible to conduct. 

The problem is further complicated by the release into the same environment of Red-legged Partridge, a picture I know only too well from local farms. 

Red=legged Partridge
"As more farms diversify into shooting, the number of Red-legged Partridges released has increased and this is illustrated by the National Gamebag Census, where numbers shot quadrupled between 1990 and 2005 (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust 2013). It is estimated that 6.5 million partridges (Grey and Red-legged) were released across the UK in 2004, and 2.6 million were shot. There has been little research on the impacts of released birds on native species, but there is some evidence that shooting operations based on large-scale releases of Red-legged Partridges could be implicated in local extinctions of Grey Partridges.” 

Red-legged Partridge

To my unscientific but daily birding eyes that last sentence would seem to be a gross understatement. 

At the end of the day there is one conclusion to be drawn from this now familiar, sorry story. 

Nothing will change - just Follow The Money. 


Monday, November 22, 2021

Sunday Monday

Sunday morning and the wildfowlers were out long before me. I heard the sound of their gunfire as I put the first net up in the semi darkness. Ropes left out for a speedy job were frozen solid after Saturday night’s frost. 

Soon after 10 am four guys and four dogs, young and old, came walking towards me with their spoils, two geese to share between them - not much to show for around five hours laid out on the frozen marsh. We exchanged pleasantries as they trudged off to their cars and me back to the job in hand. 


I had slightly more luck than the shooters with ten birds caught, not as good as I’d hoped but more grist to the mill of Project Linnet with 8 new Linnets and a by-catch of 1 Chaffinch and 1 Great Tit. 

Not a lot else to report except for a female Sparrowhawk looking for breakfast, half a dozen Skylarks, and the 80 or more Linnets that produced my catch. 

Sparrowhawk - female
Monday started with the 0830 school run to Hambleton followed by a sprint to Pilling to meet up with Andy who’d been on site since 0645. I’d taken the precaution of five layers on top and two below to ward off the frost. I was glad I did because it was pretty cold out of the sunshine. 

I missed early Redwings but caught up with a new Greenfinch, a Chaffinch, more Linnets and a fine adult male Reed Bunting. 

In all we had 16 new birds - 5 Redwing, 4 Linnet, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Greenfinch. 

Reed Bunting

The forecast for Tuesday looks good. The morning is already pencilled in for five layers and more ringing. 


Friday, November 19, 2021

Snail Pace

There’s no ringing again. It’s too windy until maybe Tuesday next. 

Here’s something that may interest readers into all things wild and wonderful, especially those who eat the occasional meze, escargot or snail egg caviar on their holidays to the Continent.  

On my way to drop seed at the ringing plot I stopped by the roadside to photograph an unusual sight - thousands of land snails. They were massed on several upright fence posts with lesser numbers spread out sideways onto supporting branch posts.  

In all I counted at least ten fence posts that each held between a few dozen or several hundred snails. Most appeared to be small, perhaps young snails? There were lesser numbers of larger snails that I took to be the adults but as a snail greenhorn this was my nearest guess. 

A look on Wiki and Snail Internet revealed some remarkable facts about the British gardener’s nemesis. 

“The great majority of land snails are hermaphrodites with a full set of reproductive organs of both sexes, able to produce both spermatozoa and ova. A few groups of land snails such as the Pomatiidae, which are distantly related to periwinkles, have separate sexes: male and female." 

"The age of sexual maturity varies depending on species of snail, ranging from as little as 6 weeks to 5 years. Most pulmonate air-breathing land snails perform courtship behaviours before mating. The courtship may last anywhere between two and twelve hours. In a number of different families of land snails and slugs, prior to mating one or more love darts are fired into the body of the partner. "

"Pulmonate land snails are prolific breeders (yes, we can see that) and inseminate each other in pairs to internally fertilize their ova via a reproductive opening on one side of the body, near the front, through which the outer reproductive organs are extruded so that sperm can be exchanged. Fertilization then occurs and the eggs develop. Each brood may consist of up to 100 eggs." 

"Garden snails bury their eggs in shallow topsoil primarily while the weather is warm and damp, usually 5 to 10 cm down, digging with their foot. Egg sizes differ between species, from a 3 mm diameter in the grove snail to a 6 mm diameter in the Giant African Land Snail. After 2 to 4 weeks of favourable weather, these eggs hatch and the young emerge. Snails may lay eggs as often as once a month." 

"Most species of land snail are annual, others are known to live 2 or 3 years, but some of the larger species may live over 10 years in the wild. In captivity, the lifespan of snails can be much longer than in the wild, for instance up to 25 years in H. pomatia." 

"In the wild, snails eat a variety of different foods. Terrestrial snails are usually herbivorous; however some species are predatory carnivores or omnivores. The diet of most land snails can include leaves, stems, soft bark, fruit, vegetables, fungi and algae. Some species can cause damage to agricultural crops and garden plants, and are therefore often regarded as pests." 

"In an attempt to protect themselves against predators, land snails retract their soft parts into their shell when they are resting; some bury themselves. Land snails have many natural predators, including members of all the land vertebrate groups, examples being thrushes and hedgehogs.” 

A word of caution for anyone thinking of taking a drive over Cockerham way to reap this unexpected  harvest; wild-caught land snails prepared for the table but not thoroughly cooked can harbour a parasite (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) that can cause a rare kind of meningitis. 

Wiki again - “Although there is not usually considered to be a tradition of snail eating in Great Britain, common garden snails Cornu aspersum were eaten in the Southwick area of Sunderland in North East England. They were collected from quarries and along the stone walls of railway embankments during the winter when the snails were hibernating and had voided the contents of their guts. Gibson writes that this tradition was introduced in the 19th century by French immigrant glass workers. "Snail suppers" were a feature of local pubs and Southwick working men were collecting and eating snails as late as the 1970s.” 

It’s probably best to leave those snails for our UK Song Thrushes to eat – if only there were Song Thrushes left in the countryside. 

Song Thrush

In the meantime, enjoy your evening meal everyone. 

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

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Linnet Tales

Start time 0645. I was on my own on Sunday and planned to ring Linnets again, Linnets caught in the seed plot only. I knew there would be good numbers because on Saturday when Sue was busy on the phone to her sister in Torquay, I snuck out for an hour (or three) to check the Linnet numbers and drop fresh seed in the plot. 

After a good few looks I reckoned from both sight and sound of the numbers there could have been as many as 300 Linnets; when they all join together in the tree tops they make quite a racket. 

At last, Sunday dawned with a 4mph negligible wind and no rain. I went on to catch total of 17 new Linnets with zero recaptures from previous occasions, this year or from the almost 1000 Linnets ringed in this location during recent years. The 17 ringed comprised 14 males and 3 females, an overabundance of males on this occasion. 

These proportions of males and females are similar to the autumn as a whole where the total catch of 227 Linnets this autumn equates to 136 males (117 first year, 19 adults) and 91 females (77 first year, 14 adults). 


Linnet ringing 

Here are a couple of tales about our UK Red Listed Linnet a once familiar bird of the countryside, an environment as rapidly vanishing as the birds it once supported in huge numbers. 

Readers of a certain age will certainly remember a ditty featuring the Linnet and made famous by Cockney (London) music-hall in the early part of the 20th Century. 

“My old man said "Foller the van, and don't dilly dally on the way", the story of a couple doing a “moonlight flit” from their house in the dark of the night to avoid paying rent owed to the landlord.  Anyone who knows the song will remember how the wife continues the story in the Cockney dialect. “Orf went the van wiv me 'ome packed in it, I followed on wiv me old cock linnet." 

The “old cock linnet” was the family pet – a Linnet, a finch highly prized for its rich musical song a century and more ago. Around that period it has been estimated that 50% of households in Britain kept a cage bird. Linnets were the most popular of all because they were very numerous and huge numbers were taken from the wild to satisfy the whims of the time. 
Cock Linnet - Spring
Cock Linnet - August  

And from “Every Woman's Encyclopaedia” circa 1910 -1912. 

Every Woman's Encyclopaedia 1910-1912 

“There are five other members of the family of the Fringillinae which well deserve notice, as they are very suitable for pets. They are the linnet, siskin, redpoll, twite, and crossbill.” 

“The linnet claims the first place in popularity, and is one of the best of our British songsters. Its notes are very sweet and soft, although on this point individual birds vary, some being far better songsters than others. Old birds have a much fuller and better song than young birds, and are thus sought after by those who know of this characteristic." 

“The cock linnet varies considerably at different periods of his life in the colours of his plumage, a fact which has led to the belief that there are several varieties of linnets, whilst, in reality, this variation in the colour of the plumage depends on the age of the bird.” 

“For instance, birds of a year old are called grey linnets, the feathers on the head and breast being edged with grey. Adult birds in the spring assume what is termed the breeding plumage, when the feathers on the head and breast become bright red, and the whole plumage brighter and more intense in colour. These birds are known as rose linnets. This red colouring quite disappears from birds in captivity.” 

“During the autumn and winter months the plumage of the adult birds becomes a rich brown, and they are then known as brown linnets. The plumage of the female bird does not vary, and is very similar to that of a young male bird. It is of a sombre colour, with less white on the wings and tail, and never possesses any crimson plumage on head and breast.” 

“The linnet is naturally a shy bird, but in confinement becomes quite tame and makes a very pleasing and interesting pet. In their wild state Linnets become gregarious in winter, and may often be seen in the open country feeding on the seeds of wild mustard, sharlock, and other plants.” 

The Linnet overcame such muggings upon its place in Victorian England only to face ever more determined and sustained assaults in recent years by those looking for ways to concrete over what’s left of England's countryside. 

Stand by soon for more Linnet tales, old and new from Another Bird Blog.


Wednesday, November 10, 2021


Monday morning I devote to the school run, transporting two of the grandkids to their school a mile or two away while their mum heads off to work and a 0830 start. That’s not to say there’s no birding or ringing for me because I later caught up with Andy at our Pilling ringing site at 0900. 

He’d already had some success by catching a couple of Redwings, a few more Linnets and three “Continental” Blackbirds. 

Almost three-quarters of the Blackbirds breeding in this country may be resident but others winter in France and yet others (particularly from Scotland and northern England) head for Ireland. Their places here are occupied by migrants from Scandinavia, Denmark and Germany. Some of these Blackbirds, more noticeably the males, display “continental” like features of sooty colouration, entirely dark bills, scalloped breast feathers and finely speckled throats. 

A southerly breeze and blowy net hindered our Linnet catch but we still gathered another seven individuals and so reached a total of 204 for this autumn. This is a great result so far with more to come and thanks are due to Farmers R and H for their support & encouragement during this and other years.  

There’s no shortage of Greenfinch so far this autumn as testified by our catching of another nine that gave a total of 50 Greenfinch here during September, October and early November. 

After a number of years in the population doldrums there’s little doubt that “green linnets”, Greenfinches, made something of a comeback during 2021. 

Total birds caught on Monday - 7 Linnet, 9 Greenfinch, 3 Blackbird, 2 Redwing, 1 Wren, 1 Blue Tit. 

On Tuesday the rain lasted all day long, not good for the already muddy paths we planned to tread on Wednesday morning. 

Wednesday seemed fine at 0630 until we started to erect the first net and then half way through came a few spots of rain that became even heavier when the heavens opened. There was no option but to carry on and then close the net until the rain stopped after about fifteen minutes. 

The sky remained grey and overcast, the morning quite unlike the one forecast except for a welcome wind of zero.  We caught 14 new birds - 6 Linnet, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinch, 1 Robin, 1 Wren and 1 Blackbird. 


Understandably the Linnets seemed reluctant to drop and feed in the saturated seed plot with the maximum seen about 60 birds milling around in contrast to the bigger flocks of late. It was as if by some unknown method of communication the Linnets knew to go elsewhere for a feed.  

The second year male Blackbird was another “continental” type with an above average wing length of 133mm and a healthy weight of 101gm. 

At this time of year it’s not only thrushes that may come from further afield and it was striking this morning how all three Chaffinches were not only adults but also of slightly larger dimensions than typical UK Chaffinches. The males came in at wing lengths of 92mm and 90mm respectively while the female’s wing gave up a whopping measurement of 87mm. 


In between birding was hindered by the weather but we noted good numbers of Lapwing, Curlew and Starling. 

We watched a Sparrowhawk very nearly take a Linnet in flight, a drama eclipsed by the sight of a Merlin in relentless, twisting, turning and stooping dive bombing pursuit of a single Linnet. After a few close shaves the Linnet finally evaded capture when after a minute or so the Merlin gave up the chase to rest on a fence post. 

Birding doesn't get much better than encounters like those two.

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


Saturday, November 6, 2021

Making It Count

“Don’t count the days. Make the days count” - a quote from the greatest boxer of all time Muhammad Ali. 

On that basis I rose at the unearthly hour of 0530 on Friday to meet up with Andy out Pilling way to once again set up mist nets in the half-light of 3° where cold fingers fought to stay warm.  With no time for chitchat our priority was to set nets in readiness for early birds in search of a worm or two, hopefully Redwings. As the morning progressed we expected to add more species and numbers. 

Although we have both seen and caught numbers of Redwings this autumn, the strange weather of the last three weeks has seen very few Fieldfares to accompany their cousins. The two thrushes often arrive together in mixed flocks of tens, dozens, hundreds or even thousands, but not this year. Perhaps Friday would see both arrive as dawn broke or soon after? 

There were no Fieldfares again so we made do with three Redwings that found the net in the dark. Those were the only ones we caught out of 40+ that flew over in tiny groups in three hours and more. 

The morning continued with a light drizzle out of the 100% grey cloud and poor visibility, murk that hung around for quite a while and prevented us from any useful birding. The light was so poor that my camera stayed in the car, these pictures from previous days.

The most notable thing about Friday morning was how the highly mobile Linnets reached approximately 200/250 individuals, a number reflected in our catch of 21. This brings the total of Linnets ringed here this autumn/winter period to 192 - with zero recaptures. If only we could persuade more NW ringers to target Linnets we might together discover more about this Red Listed species. 

New birds caught: 21 Linnet, 3 Redwing, 2 Greenfinch, 1 Wren, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Reed Bunting. 




Reed Bunting

News arrived of a Lesser Redpoll, Ring number AKE3924, a second year female we ringed up at Oakenclough back on 19 March 2020. 

AKE3924 was recaptured over the Pennine Hills by other ringers in Spennithorne, North Yorkshire on 20 October 2021, a duration of 586 days and a distance of 73 km. 

This is another between years Lesser Redpoll recovery that tells us little except that both dates coincide with known migration times of Lesser Redpolls and also their north/south and south/north movements in spring/autumn. 

Lesser Redpoll - Oakenclough, Lancashire - Spennithorne, Yorkshire

Lesser Redpoll

We live to ring another day but probably not this weekend when the weather again turns unfriendly. 

The whole of next week looks reasonable in which to make our bird ringing and bird observations contribute to the wider picture. Log in then to Another Bird Blog to see how we do.


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Starting Afresh

This last two or three weeks was possibly the worst cycle of rain & wind weather systems I have experienced in my years of being a birder, bird ringer and weather watcher. 

Every day became a “no go” until a brief respite on Tuesday took me to our Pilling ringing site to assess the damage. Fortunately things were not as bad as feared once the still flooded track was negotiated by avoiding soft spots where the car might sink. Puddled net rides might dry out overnight given their open situation, while ropes left in situ were still visible if soaked and wind-blown wayward. 

By a miracle and in the few hours of dry with glimpses of sun, it seemed a few birds had returned or perhaps never left; alongside the fence flew three Stonechats and in the trees Reed Buntings, Linnets, Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Redwings. A Buzzard mewed in protest as crows gave chase and Skylarks flitted overhead. 

On the pool with ducks a single Gadwall faked being a Mallard and then drifted out of sight. I dreamt I heard a Water Rail. 


All was well for new a beginning on Wednesday, perhaps Thursday, and even Friday. 

“Now then Mr Slade don’t get carried away. It can't last”, came the weatherman’s voice. 

I arranged to meet Andy at 0645, a new time now that clocks are also back to a normal winter.  

We rather hoped the Stonechats might be around to spice up the morning but there was no sign of any Stonechats, just the expected species list dominated by approximately 120 Linnets in several small parties that came and went through our four hours. The Stonechats were a “one day wonder” and almost certainly moved on during the overnight clear skies of Tuesday/Wednesday. 

We caught 21 new birds – 7 Long-tailed Tit, 5 Linnet, 4 Greenfinch, 2 Redwing, 1 Robin, 1 Blue Tit and yet another Chiffchaff. 





Long-tailed Tit
Birds noted in between our ringing, mostly approximate numbers: 120+ Linnet, 25 Greenfinch, 18 Redwing, 4 Skylark, 2 Chaffinch, 2 Reed Bunting, 10 Little Egret, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Sparrowhawk. 

The forecast is OK for tomorrow, maybe even better by way of less of a breeze and more sun. We arranged to meet up again for another go. 

What's that saying? Make hay etc, etc. 

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

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