Friday, July 29, 2022

Too Many Questions Not Enough Answers

“Six-fifteen?” We agreed. It seemed like a good idea at the time until the alarm buzzed at five-fifteen when I went through the well-practiced routine of ablutions, clothes, breakfast and a flask of coffee for the day ahead. Minutes later I hit the road to Oakenclough and met Andy on the dot to a cloudy start and a light south-easterly. 

We heard the soft piping calls of a Bullfinch near to the first mist net and thought it highly likely we would catch a Bullfinch or two now that the species has returned to the site. Better still, a few recently fledged youngsters.

Within minutes of our arrival there was shower that lasted three or four minutes after which it remained dry until we left at 1115. It had been a while since our last visit here of 17 June Another Bird Blog when we had questioned the lack of newly fledged birds.    

Throughout the rest of June and through July we thought that with the exception of Sand Martins and probably Linnets, the breeding success of all species had been both late and/or poor. 

The next few hours might give more clues and develop a few theories. We finished with a better catch of 25 birds, 24 new and one recapture, an adult Bullfinch first ringed on 17 June. The only other adult caught was a male Goldcrest. 

The remaining 23 captures were all shown to be juvenile/first summer individuals, and thirteen of those Willow Warblers. We were seeing juveniles in larger numbers and in more species for the very first time this year, all to confirm our suspicions of a late breeding season here in the cool of North West England. 

In total - 13 Willow Warbler, 6 Blue Tit, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Blackbird, 1 Great Tit, 1 Bullfinch. 

The single juvenile Lesser Redpoll was a very young bird yet to begin any post juvenile moult or develop reddish tinges. We were sure it was part of a brood born quite close to the site. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll
Willow Warbler

A gentle blow of the crown feathers of the partly moulting “female” Goldcrest showed remnants of a male’s orange feathers.  A male quite quickly loses those orange centres used to attract a female at the start of the breeding season.

The male Bullfinch remains in good breeding condition. It displayed an obvious incubation patch and a cloacal protuberance, plus that we did not catch the female suggest the pair may have a second clutch of eggs somewhere in the dense woodland. Like many species, the male Bullfinch does his share of incubating eggs, hence the need for a bare, warm belly. 

Birding between bouts of ringing/processing produced the surprise sighting of a fly-by Kingfisher, only the second one ever seen here.  Also, 4 Pied Wagtails, a handful of Swallows, a Great-spotted Woodpecker and a couple of Chaffinches. 

As is often the case it’s the species not seen, caught or even heard caught that provoke the questions. Today it was “Where are the Blackcaps, the Whitethroats and the Garden Warblers”. Or, “Why only four or five Swallows and no Swifts?” 

And there’s always the perpetual one, “Why no Buzzards, on this fine morning for a circling raptor?” Well I think we all know the answer to that last one, especially when we noted young pheasants on the loose. 

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


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Put The Kettle On

Readers will be pleased to know I survived the two day “heatwave” that only last week was projected to “kill thousands”. This is all very confusing because five or six years ago scientists predicted that “Earth is 15 years away from a mini ice age" when we would all freeze to death. 

For those of a nervous disposition likely to be triggered by the daily diet of doom and gloom served up by TV and newspapers, it’s best not to worry about the latest scam. Just like buses, you can bet there’ll be another one along very soon. 

Instead, take a seat, relax, put the kettle on and contemplate the next birding day. 

Keep Calm

This preoccupation with weather watching does occasionally make for the wrong decision, as we may have for Thursday when at the last minute we cancelled Thursday in favour of ringing on Friday. 

Friday dawned but there was no point in fretting what may have been but instead concentrate on the job in hand at our ringing site out Pilling way. It was 0615 when Andy’s car negotiated the rough track, where in my inability to sleep at the prospect of a ringing session, I had already set the Linnet net. 

With mid-week reports of early migrants including Yellow Wagtails, Whitethroats, large roosts of Sand Martins plus returning waders like Ruff and Greenshank, anything was on the cards in the slight, almost non-existent easterly draft. 

An hour or two later we had our answer when cloud rolled in, the breeze sprung up and drizzly rain enveloped us. This proved very frustrating as by then we had caught just seven birds, two each of Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Linnet plus a single Wren. We saw 60/70 Linnets head our way and stop for a look as the single panel net grew increasingly balloon-like; there was no way the Linnets would fall for that. 

Sedge Warbler

Reed Warbler


A Wren or “wrigglearse” as ringers fondly name them, has a reputation as a tiny, troublesome beast, one that will wind itself into a mist net several times over or run up an unwary ringer’s open sleeved jacket. Twisty turning fidgeting Wrens are the best learning experience for a trainee ringer in how to handle small birds, lessons they never forget. 

However, Troglodytes troglodytes the cave dweller is an in interesting species and certainly more migratory than many bird watchers realise, hence the reason we catch the species. 

Click on the map below taken from the BTO’s phenomenal online migration atlas.

We’ve hit a Wren sweet spot because today we caught another two Wrens plus 2 Sedge Warbler, 2 Linnet, a Willow Warbler, a Greenfinch and the ultimate rarity, a Song Thrush. 

Song Thrush


We packed in early when contractors arrived to turn the cut grass in readiness for silage stage. The noise and disturbance from the huge machines made ringing almost impossible. 

On The Farm

We saw our first autumn Marsh Harrier when a brown juvenile followed the species’ usual route north to south and then disappeared into the distance. 

Marsh Harrier

Also, 2 Little Egret, 1 Kestrel, 60+ Linnet, 40 Lapwing, 30 Curlew, 300 Starling, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 4 Pied Wagtails. 

I was home early so clicked the kettle on and dropped a tea bag into a favourite mug. Life is sweet when there’s nothing to worry about. 

There’s more news, views and photos soon from Another Bird Blog. 


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Cool, Calm and Collected

Visits to the Sand Martin colony must coincide with zero or gentle winds from the east or south east. Anything else is a no-no when a billowing mist net becomes visible to keen eyed Sand Martins able to pick out an insect from many yards away and then unerringly catch the insect in flight. Our visits must also be in the cool of early morning and before the sun travels west and makes a mist net visible. 

Our third visit of the season and a perfect forecast made us pencil in Tuesday. I met Andy at 0615 to a temperature of 20°, pretty normal for a real British summer rather than the wet and windy ones of recent years. 

Two earlier visits on 4 June and then 30 June saw 119 Sand Martins caught-103 adults and 16 juveniles of the year. We still await details of one of the adults caught on 4 June that bore “Paris Museum” 8911708. 

Before today
It’s never easy to come up with a Sand Martin count when so many are in the air, a good number feeding over the nearby water and others toing and froing at the nest tunnels where poking out heads add to the counting difficulties. Our best guesstimate was 180/200 individuals throughout two hours of watching while working at ringing. 

The count was probably fairly accurate with a catch of 65 Sand Martins being a healthy proportion of those around. The 65 comprised 37 juveniles of the year, 17 new adults and 11 adult recaptures, the eleven recaptures all from 2021 or 2022. 

Today’s figures, especially of juveniles, suggest that the Sand Martins here are having a pretty good year following a couple of poor years caused by wet summers, failed broods and the birds’ early departure for Africa. 

Sand Martin

Field Sheet 19 July
Sand Martin - juvenile/first summer
As an afterthought, here in the UK the two day heatwave green hysteria doom and gloom is out of control. It has become comical and ridiculous by confusing climate with patterns of meteorological conditions that have been with us for the last 15 billion years. 

In the 14th and 15th centuries ‘unnatural climatic phenomena’ were often blamed on ‘a great conspiracy of witches’. During the Little Ice Age in particular, when crops failed in many parts of Europe, there was a frenzy of witch-hunting. Some in society held witches directly responsible for the high frequency of climatic anomalies. 

This sounds all too familiar, like current attempts to pin the blame for weird weather of any sort on today’s witches - coal-mining, cows or motorists. 

Everyone needs to calm down and cool off. We’re safer from weather than we have ever been. It’s the ever increasing numbers of “experts” we should be afraid of. 

Other birds this morning comprised 1 Swallow, 4 Common Tern, 2 Grey Heron, 2 Oystercatcher, 2 Pied Wagtail 

I worked hard this morning doing real Citizen Science. Now it’s sunny and warm. I’m off to sit in the garden with an ice-cream and dream of holidays in Hot and Sunny Skiathos - nine weeks and counting. 

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

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Minor Movement

Monday at Pilling proved fairly unproductive with yet another catch that barely reached double figures. There was a lack of warblers but a noticeable increase in the flocking behaviour of Linnets. It appears that Linnets have done OK, but for warblers the season has been less productive with post breeding dispersal*yet to kick-off. 

Eleven birds caught - 4 Linnet, 2 Robin, 2 Reed Warbler, 2 Blackbird, 1 Sedge Warbler. 

Adult male Linnets quickly lose their bright red colours and in a few weeks will look completely different after their post-breeding moult. 


The two Reed Warblers were recaptures from 19 May 2022 and from August 2021; quite remarkably for mid-July of any years past it meant we had yet to catch a juvenile of the year. 

Reed Warbler
Post breeding dispersal. When juvenile birds from the last brood have successfully fledged they are no longer dependent upon their parents for feeding and training and it is common for both adults and juveniles to disperse. They are no longer tied down to the nest site when the rearing of young is over. Adults don’t need to defend their territory anymore and begin to wander further afield in search of food while youngsters head off to discover the big wide world away from their birth place. 

The week continued warm but windy from the north and it was Saturday before any morning looked suitable for another go so I met Will at 0615. The forecast of 5mph proved partly accurate as the wind increased to 10 and then 15 mph with full cloud cover by 10 o’clock and no sign of the overhyped "heatwave". 

We hit a morning of minor dispersal with a handful of warblers newly arrived from elsewhere and definitely not from our site. 

Ten birds caught - 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Sedge Warbler, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Blackcap, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Linnet and 1 Great Tit. Once again, no new Reed Warblers in our catch report although a few adults still sing away. It could be that all the nests of June and July have failed. 

The Lesser Whitethroat was an adult in partial moult, the rest of the warblers being birds of the year. 

Lesser Whitethroat

Sedge Warbler

Willow Warbler

The ever increasing breeze put paid to plans of catching Linnets when the net became visible to the ever wary finches. Throughout the morning we estimated 50/70 Linnets visiting the area but only one caught. 

Other birding entertainment was provided by a pair of juvenile Peregrines twice hunting a pack of Starlings. It was the rush of sound from the wings of tightly packed Starlings that alerted us to the pursuing raptors presence. 

Others - 1 Kestrel, 1 Raven, 4 Swallow, 2 Swift, 2 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron. 

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

Friday, July 8, 2022

A Handful Of Martins

After the windswept week it was Friday before our second visit of the season to the small House Martin colony near the village of Dunsop Bridge, Forest of Bowland. The last visit here was 7 June 2022 when we caught 11 adult House Martins, the objective today being to catch more adults together with juveniles of the year. 

Andy picked me up at 0600 in his mobile ringing office and me met up with Will about 55 minutes later at the low office building that sits alongside the River Dunsop. 

"Click the pics for full size images."

The great majority of House Martins build their nests under the eaves of houses, (and other low buildings, as here in Bowland) but a few colonies can still be found on cliffs. The famous Malham Cove just over the hills into the White Rose county of Yorkshire and about 20 miles away from Dunsop is one such example - or it was the last time I was there several years ago. With the population decline of House Martins I suspect that the species has gone from that site, as it has from so many others. 

Malham Cove, Yorkshire
The House Martin is one of the most widespread birds in Europe, occurring from the Mediterranean all the way north to the Arctic. They are rare breeders in Iceland. Though almost all Europe’s House Martins go a long way south for the winter, a few remain in southern Spain and Portugal throughout the year. 

It is possible to attract new House Martin colonies by erecting boxes in suitable sites (as here), but beware House Sparrows will often take over martin nests, frequently ousting the rightful owners. 

Around 86% of House Martins nesting in Britain attempt to rear two broods. Though the same pair will usually remain together for a single breeding season, it is rare for the two to pair again the following year, even if both survive. A House Martin diet is almost exclusively flying insects, caught on the wing. House Martins typically feed at a higher altitude than Swallows, so the two species do not compete with each other. The House Martin’s furry legs of tiny feathers are thought to be an adaptation to protect the birds from the cooler air of higher altitudes. 
House Martin

We’d set off from the coast into Friday morning into a fine morning with zero wind. Upon arrival at the upland site we were greeted by low cloud with a cool, stiff and sometimes swirling wind around the building. Such conditions are far from ideal in which to catch keen-eyed martins but after the long drive we persevered. 

Five birds caught, 2 adult House Martins recaptured from 7 June, 2 new adult House Martins and a Pied Wagtail. Rather surprisingly we caught no juvenile House Martins of the year, although it soon became clear that adults going under the eaves were in the process of feeding youngsters still in the nest.  

House Martin
Pied Wagtail

We’ll leave it for a week or two then try to find an ideal weather morning when we hope to see more House Martins on the wing. 

This morning saw a selection of raptors in Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Merlin and Buzzard. 

Into the stiff headwind a Common Buzzard soared around as normal but also “hovered", much like a Kestrel does. It’s relatively uncommon to see Common Buzzards perform this type of hover, and it rarely lasts for more than a few seconds at a time, unlike a Kestrel that can be stationary in the air for minutes at a time. The most likely time to see a Buzzard 'hovering' is when there's a headwind that they can use that makes them appear fixed or barely moving in the air.  It seems that some individuals develop more of a habit of doing it than others. 

Common Buzzard
Other birds seen - 3 Pied Wagtail, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Red Grouse, 2 Meadow Pipit.

Meadow Pipit
Linking this weekend to  Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Ireland.

I think next week will see an improvement in the weather and more visits to the Great Outdoors. 

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