Saturday, March 26, 2022

Staying Grounded

Saturday 26 March. There was a cold start at 0600. The temperature gauge displayed 2°C as I erected nets alone while musing over what the next four or five hours might bring. 

During the week bird news from Merseyside, North Morecambe Bay and North Wales confirmed my observations of the early week - low-key migration with small arrivals of Chiffchaffs, Lesser Redpolls, Goldcrests and Wheatears, together with unusually low numbers of Meadow Pipits in the run of clear-cold mornings. 

In North Wales there was an early Willow Warbler on Thursday 24 March together with nine Black Redstarts! I was expecting most of the above but definitely not a Black Redstart, although it was almost 12 months ago to the day of April 1st 2021 that I unexpectedly saw a Common Redstart perched at the gateposts. 

Common Redstart

By 0630 I was up and running with a cup of steaming coffee, the car ticking over and the heater turned to “Hi”. 

This site at Pilling is certainly good for Reed Buntings, already the most ringed bird here for 2022 with another three on the books today. 

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

In the furthest mist net lay yet another Brambling, one that at first glance looked identical to the Brambling caught on Thursday. When I turned the bird over to begin extracting there was no ring on either leg and I could see that this was also a second year female, marginally paler than the one of Thursday. 

Unlike us in the grey winter of Northern England the Bramblings may have faded in their winter sun destinations of France, Iberia or The Cornish Riviera. 



From here on the west coast Bramblings have a long journey yet before they reach their eventual destinations of Scandinavia and further east, into that presently troubled part of Northern Europe. Bramblings breed in coniferous and birch woodlands in much of Scandinavia, a large part of Russia, and northern Kazakhstan and Mongolia. 

Brambling Range in Europe
I gradually shed layers of clothes as the sun rose higher and grew increasingly warm. Unfortunately the clear blue skies and zero wind probably helped birds to move off site very quickly. A couple of Lesser Redpolls, 2 Pied Wagtails, Blackbirds and a singing Chiffchaff all evaded the nets and I was left to birdwatch rather than ring birds. 

There were lots of “pinkies”, Pink-footed Geese, around this morning, with perhaps an influx of those that wintered in Norfolk and South Lancashire, birds now ready to set off for Iceland. There seemed to be many hundreds, even thousands, over 3,000 of them when they panicked from their feeding in the Cockerham meadows when the regular aircraft climbed off from Black Knights Parachute Centre loaded with thrill seekers. 

Pink-footed Geese
For adrenalin junkies there’s the opportunity to throw your body out of a light aeroplane for as little as £199 with a “One Jump Taster”.  With luck you will land in Cockerham and not in Morecambe Bay.

Black Knights Parachute Centre - Cockerham Marsh
I think I will give that a miss, stick to solid ground and watch from below rather than have the ground rush up to meet me. 

Other birds seen today – 3 Little Egret, 2 Skylark, 1 Buzzard, 8 Linnet, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Meadow Pipit. 

Andy is back from Egypt this weekend, keen to show off his sun tan and eager to get out ringing again, if slightly miffed to miss two Bramblings. Let’s hope bird numbers improve soon for his ringing fix. 

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

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Quality Not Quantity

There goes that old chorus again, the one that ringers use when numbers are low but there are a few goodies to shout about. 

Until today the week was a little breezy for the Pilling site where even a breath of wind blowing through the bare hawthorns wafted a mist net around and made it visible. This morning was slightly better with zero wind and by now, after a couple of sunny days, green leaves and blossom in place of bare branches. 

Although by the end of March there are migrant birds to see the main bulk of migration of insect eating passerines is still three, four and more weeks away. I hoped to catch a few Meadow Pipits, a species that migrates north in good numbers in March but there seemed to be few around and I thought maybe they were high up in the cloudless sky with no reason to landfall. 

In fact visible migration was rather poor with small numbers of Lesser Redpolls and Reed Buntings being the most numerous. Just 9 birds caught – 5 Reed Bunting, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Lesser Redpoll and 1 Brambling. 

The Brambling, the second one caught here this spring, was a subtle looking second year female without the black and bright orange shades of the male caught here a few weeks ago. 
The redpoll likewise proved to be a second year female. A second Lesser Redpoll escaped the net before I could reach it when I was forced to deal with a Mallard crashing about in another mist net. The nets are not designed to cope with wayward Mallards. Fortunately the duck found a way out without damaging the fairly new £90 net. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll
Reed Bunting
Other birds seen and heard - 20 Linnet, 6 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Blackbird, 1 Kestrel and 1 Snipe. Wintering birds comprised over 300 Pink-footed Geese on nearby meadows where their stay will soon be ended by a flight to breeding grounds in Iceland. 

I disturbed the Snipe when crossing a still soggy field on my way to the seed plot and where over the winter we had caught Linnets. An escaping Snipe or two became a regular feature of most days when splashing across to the seed plot. The Linnets are no longer with us in any numbers with so many gone north, hopefully to the top of Scotland where with luck one or two will be recaptured by Scottish colleagues. 


Back soon. Maybe even Saturday if these winds stay down and high pressure stays around.

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


Saturday, March 19, 2022

Gulls But No Shortie

There wasn’t much light when on Saturday morning I set off in the direction of Pilling. When I reeled off a bundle of shots at a hunting Barn Owl, the resulting pictures were badly under. I checked the settings were correct, and they were, so I think the camera and lens had been out of action for so long in our dreary winter the two had forgotten how to interact together. I rescued a couple of frames that are still pretty poor. 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
The light was slightly better when the Roe Deer appeared and where speed on the button was essential before the animals ran into the distance. Our local deer are very shy and wild so don’t hang around for portraits. 

Roe Deer

It had been ages since my last visit to Conder Green and where today the usual species were on display. Winter work by RSPB to build up the islands has led to a massive increase in the number of Black-headed Gulls looking to begin their breeding cycle any day. Summery Black-headed Gulls are handsome creatures but their large colonies are both noisy and messy. 

Black-headed Gull

Group names for a collection of Black-headed Gulls include a flotilla, a screech, and a squabble. It will be interesting to watch the interplay between so many gulls and the annually returning Common Terns in a month or so. Although both species can and do nest in close proximity the terns may have a shock to see so many gulls on their islands. 
Black-headed Gulls
The Black-headed Gull is the most widely distributed seabird breeding in the UK, with similar numbers breeding inland as on the coast. The majority of the breeding population are resident throughout the year, with numbers being greatly bolstered during the winter months by birds from Northern and Eastern Europe, especially in the east and southeast of England. Black-headed Gulls breed throughout the middle latitudes of the Palaearctic and have recently formed a breeding outpost in North Eastern North America. 

Just recently I heard of nest robbers who are looking forward to the Black-headed Gull nesting season. Read the link below to see why a Black-headed Gull egg is a sought after delicacy that can cost £8 for just one - maybe even in normally law abiding Conder Green?

On show today with 350 Black-headed Gull - 380 Black-tailed Godwit, 44 Oystercatcher, 41 Redshank, 32 Teal, 22 Tufted Duck, 1 Snipe, 1 Curlew, 1 Little Egret, 1 Barn Owl, 1 Chiffchaff. The Barn Owl here at Conder Green hunted towards the back of the pools and islands and didn’t venture close to the road. 

There was no sign of the recent Short-eared Owl, despite a sans-bins togger kindly informing me that the far off white owl was a “shortie”. 

Venturing towards Cockersands I saw a number of migrant passerines that included several each of Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail and Skylark, together with a single Wheatear (Cockersands). At Cockersands too, a Merlin drifted along the shore line, no doubt hoping to surprise a pipit or two. 

Reed Bunting

Meadow Pipit

Pied Wagtail

On the usual fields Behind Cockersand Abbey the Lapwings were in the early stages of nesting, busily chasing off their ever present foes, the Carrion Crows, another set of villains on their nest robbing adventures. 

Cockersands Abbey


At last and after a brutally wet and windy winter Spring may be around the corner. Next week is forecast for a dry and warming week.

Log in soon for more news, views and better photos.


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Three Hour Slot

Bird ringers must grab every opportunity on offer in these windswept weeks even though such times may not be ideal. And so it was that we pencilled in Tuesday morning’s forecast of a three hour slot and a strengthening breeze as perhaps the only chance of the week. 

When soon after six I opened the house door to the morning air I was greeted by the unmistakeable staccato of a rare bird - a Song Thrush no less. 

It was too dark to photograph the thrush but I noted that it sang from the same part of hedge where a number of years ago a pair bred successfully. That must be eight or more seasons ago so while it’s very unlikely the thrush was a survivor of that brood, a bird of any species always picks their ideal habitat in which to set up home. Let’s hope he soon finds a mate and nests again in the hedge we share with a neighbour. 

Song Thrush
Another rarity was soon to follow with a Grey Partridge very close to the entrance to our ringing site. I am fairly sure that in this area of Fylde, Lancashire the Grey Partridge is rarer than a Song Thrush. 

Grey Partridge
I met Andy at 0630 and nets were soon up to a 5mph southerly, so far so good. Even better were the first migrants of the year caught early on as a Chiffchaff and 2 Goldcrests, all three males out to stake their claim wherever they were headed. As early morning migrants all three tipped the scales at less than 6 grams. When later inputting details into DemOn, the system prompted a check of the Chiffchaff weight as below the species' expected range.

These birds were a great start to a morning, one that petered out when the wind increased to 10 and then 15mph.  At one point we could see a Grey Wagtail balanced on a branch directly next to a blowy net. There was no way the wagtail would be caught, even Grey Wagtails aren’t that dozy - 10 o’clock it was time to pack in. 

Reed Bunting

All was not lost when upon neutralising the wind-socked nets a female Sparrowhawk decided to fly directly into the nearest one. Had we not been quick off the mark it would surely have escaped from the billowing mesh with a flap or two of its wings. 

The second year female could best be described as “feisty”, with legs and sharp talons lashing out at every opportunity. It was ringed and released pretty quickly but not before it had drawn blood from pierced fingers. 

Sparrowhawk talons 


So ended an eventful if not very productive morning of just seven birds – 2 Goldcrest, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Sparrowhawk. 

Andy is off with Sandra to the winter sunshine of Egypt on Saturday and is keen to fit in more ringing on Friday. Pencilled in once again.  

Fingers crossed. We shall see. 

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


Thursday, March 10, 2022

In Like A Lion

“Comes in like a Lion, goes out like a Lamb.” - attributed to Thomas Fuller’s 1732 compendium, “Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings”.

Thomas - I am not amused by your witty saying.  Another week of weather watching has seen a couple of pencilled in days scrubbed from the ringing diary as March roars like the proverbial Lion. Thursday was looking good, Thursday moved to Saturday and now that too looks unlikely. And there’s little sign of lambs gambolling in spring sunshine.

So friends, it’s back to the archives today with a few pictures of Bramblings and others from December 2012 when there was something of a “Brambling Winter” and our ringing group processed more than 70 Bramblings between September 2012 and April 2013.          


Did last week’s blizzards in Eastern Europe, dubbed “The Beast From The East” cause Bramblings to head west? This morning I caught 4 new ones in the plantation at Out Rawcliffe, making nine this week. It’s not a huge number in the grand scale of the millions in which Bramblings can flock in Europe, but it could mean many more are heading this way soon. 

Bramblings can be overlooked in apparently single species flocks of very flighty Chaffinches, the Bramblings giving away their involvement by the slim, white rump. Very often a Brambling will give out a nasal contact call but sometimes not, when the unremarkable chattering flight call can be overlooked in the calls of accompanying Chaffinches.  Click on the "xeno canto" button to hear Brambling calls.


I think the attraction at Rawcliffe is the nyger feeders and the small amount of mixed feed on the ground, a mixture which contains sunflower seed. During the last large influx of Bramblings in 2010/2011 many took to using garden feeders. As a species they were very dominant in the feeding hierarchy by chasing off most interlopers.



It was a short session, a late start only when the sun warmed the air, followed by a hasty pack up when a strengthening easterly wind blew through leafless trees and billowed the nets. 

So, 4 Brambling, 4 Chaffinch and a Goldfinch with no recaptures of the Bramblings from Tuesday. 



The dullish female pictured above had very visible fault bars. 

Brambling - fault bars

There were a good number of birds to take note of this morning, with 2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel and a Little Owl before I even reached the farm.  The owl had puffed up to keep warm air in those feathers. 

Little Owl


In between the bit of ringing I clocked up 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Snipe, 35 Fieldfare, 22 Redwing, 32 Skylark, 15 Reed Bunting, 250+ Lapwing, 1500+ Woodpigeon, 1 Mistle Thrush and 2 Raven. 


There’s more news from North, South, East and West pretty soon from Another Bird Blog, so log in soon to find out just where. 


Fingers crossed that I get out soon. Maybe a Brambling or two from the supplementary food dropped at Cockerham.

Thursday 10 March 2022.

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

Saturday, March 5, 2022

March Mornings

So soon do March mornings need the alarm clock to cope with lighter mornings and earlier starts to catch those early rising birds. Saturday began with a 0615 alarm for the 0700 meet with Andy over Cockerham way. 

On Friday night predicted a 6mph from the north and they weren’t far off the mark as we set a couple of nets while allowing for wayward gusts that might snag nets on nearby hawthorns. At 1° it was to be a cold morning and a tad too breezy for a go at the open field Linnets. 

In the week I’d dropped seed in our main net ride to guarantee a few birds and suspected the usual species would conform but the catch was poor. Perhaps many birds have left for the north and not been replaced or maybe the weather played a part in our poor catch of just 7 birds - 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Robin, 2 Blackbird and 1 Blue Tit. Whatever the reason by 1000 we decided to abort the session and hope for a better day soon. 


Reed Bunting

Other birds seen – 120+ Linnet, 2 Skylark, 50+ Curlew, 17 Lapwing, 450 Pink-footed Goose, 4 Little Egret, 1 Sparrowhawk looking for careless Linnets. 


Back soon. Don't go away.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Trying Linnets Again

The enforced three month absenteeism from our Cockerham ringing site was both worrying and frustrating, more so when thinking about information that was probably missed. 

Here below is an example, a Chaffinch ringed on one side of the divide on 10 November 2021 and then recaptured 25 February 2022. The record nicely illustrates how a common and seemingly unexciting Chaffinch can provide an interesting recovery. 

Adult male Chaffinch ALP8327 was captured, then ringed and released at Cockerham on 10 November 2021, one of three Chaffinches and 13 other birds caught that morning. The Chaffinch was recaptured by Borders Ringing Group at Garvald, a hamlet near Dewar in the Moorfoot Hills, Scottish Borders area of Scotland on 25 February 2022. 

Chaffinch - Cockerham to Dewar
Chaffinch - adult male

A glance at the direction of travel shows a direction of travel as due North at a time of year when wintering Chaffinches are known to migrate. 


On Tuesday morning Andy and I decided to try out our newly acquired ringing site at Warton near Preston where until recently there had been over 1000 Linnets, perhaps as many as 1500. So numerous were the Linnets that the farmer told us how on a dozen or more occasions the combined weight of so many Linnets (1000/1500 x 18 grams) had snapped the overhead wires above the set-aside field, lines that the Linnets used as a launch pad and resting spot. 

The farm is a dairy farm only where crops are not grown, so apart from Swallows, owls in the outbuildings and common hedgerow species like Wood Pigeon, Dunnock, Blackbird and Chaffinch, the bird life is run-of-the-mill. The fields of agri-environment provide more bird interest in autumn and winter, especially for ringers. 


When we arrived about 0830 we counted more than 500 Linnets already on site. Unfortunately the Linnets did not perform as we hoped whereby we managed to catch the grand total of two. 


It was the old story that we know only too well after five years of trying to catch a species that shares some human attributes of being shrewd, cautious, wily and wary when suspecting danger. 

There was a Kestrel that watched proceedings from atop the poles, together with a calling and circling Buzzard from nearby woods, but it seemed that the Linnets were more wary of two humans in their plot rather than winged predators. 


Just as the aforementioned Chaffinch on its way north, the Linnets too are daily reducing in numbers, and where by early April there will be a few pairs in the farm hedgerows once the winter flock has left for pastures new and north of here. 

The weather is due to turn wet windy again until perhaps Saturday. Stay tuned friends, there will be more news and views soon. 


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