Friday, November 25, 2022

Another Drowned Rat

This is a short post because there's not much news. And once again the culprit is the lack of decent weather in which to get outdoors for serious birding. 

Let’s start with a request to regular readers to take a look at a recent photographic competition. The same readers will know that The Forest of Bowland features occasionally in Another Bird Blog. 

“Hi Phil” 

“Many congratulations, your image 'Redshank' has been shortlisted in the Forest of Bowland photo competition. The prize allocation will be decided by the public and voting will run from Monday 28th November to Monday 12th December, so please feel free to share the web link (from Monday) with friends and family, we will also promote voting via social media.”

Hetty Byrne 
Sustainable Tourism Officer 

Here’s the photo and you know what to do folks. If by any chance I win a prize I’m afraid that Sue has bagged the other place for the weekend trip but if I win a hamper of Bowland Delights I will relate the gustatory sensations. 


Like the rest of the preceding days, Friday morning was wet & windy when I drove to Pilling to drop supplementary seed at our ringing site. 

On the last visit here it looked as thought the regular pair of Stonechats had left. But no, today there they were again near one of their hangouts, a line of fenceposts 50 yards from where I looked. Although they stick like glue to each other it is very difficult if not impossible to get two in the viewfinder at once. It’s inevitable that with Stonechats the more striking males become the centre of attention to someone with a camera. In contrast, the less conspicuous female has a major advantage during the breeding season. 


There was some commotion around the area of the pool with complaining crows and I immediately thought there was a raptor nearby. All I saw was a Grey Heron, a bird that crows don’t much like but one  they will tolerate. 

Grey Heron
As I fed the whoosh net area there came a sudden and heavy shower from grey clouds above. I was in danger of becoming a drowned rat for the umpteenth time this last week or two. I took refuge in the car and wound the window partly down so as to watch another net ride that we scatter with seed. 

After a while the usual species appeared – Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Reed Buntings, a Robin or two and a chattering Wren. And a Brown Rat slinking through the slippery grass towards the new seed - so that’s where much of the seed is going. 

Brown Rat

"Rats are found in nearly all areas of Earth which are inhabited by human beings. The only rat-free continent is Antarctica”. 

And then I saw the reason for the earlier hoo-hah, a Sparrowhawk. It dropped from the trees to ground level and flew along the hedgerow to then swoop up and sit in a tree. Here it became less obvious to the naked eye of any passer by but in a handy spot for a fly by of the feeding station or a dash at passing birds. 


That’s all for now folks. Keep watching the weather forecasts and stay out of the rain. 

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


Saturday, November 19, 2022

Sticky Times

The forecasts for Wednesday proved to be on the wrong side of marginal. Luckily I’d already decided to drive and top up the feeding station without taking the ringing gear. The Fiat splashed through deep puddles of the days and weeks before as I looked for a less sticky spot to park up and disembark. 

I’d made a good decision as the wind was a tad strong for any netting and this would be a day for dropping a bucketful of supplementary seed and a quick look around. 

A Cetti’s Warbler greeted me with a burst of rapid-fire song as if it was trying to attract attention but I didn’t even look from where the song came because I knew the chances of seeing the bird were close to zero. And anyway, a few seconds later it would be gone and singing fifty yards away. 

Fifteen and more visits to Spain’s Balearic Islands where the Cetti’s is both common and widespread taught me not to waste time in trying to actually see a Cetti’s but to instead enjoy its song and eccentric behaviour. While morning and evening can be best, the colour, size and the habitat a Cetti’s chooses makes for challenging birding. 

Cetti's Warbler
It’s no different here in the UK where hardly anyone sees the skulking, evasive Cetti’s Warbler, a little bird with one of the UK’s loudest and most distinctive songs. It’s thought that by hiding away and singing loudly and forcefully from different parts of its territory, a Cetti's can fool rivals into thinking there are several males present, making the interlopers less likely to stick around. This behaviour allows a male to then have two or three females in his territory and thereby increase the success of his own lineage. 

Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Long-tailed Tits and Greenfinches criss-crossed the net ride in search of the scattered seed. I watched for a while and then dropped seed on the whoosh netting square where the cleared and flattened ground held puddles formed by the days and weeks of rain.  A couple of days of wind and sun would dry the square - if only. 

Long-tailed Tit

Reed Bunting 


It was Saturday before the wind and rain presented a real window of opportunity by way of a 5mph wind or less across a number of forecasts. It was time to have another go. I met up with Andy and Will at 0700 where the partly flooded farm track glinted in our combined headlights. There was mist which hung around until the sun burnt it off around 10am.

With a little drainage work we made the whoosh net area usable if a little muddy, dropped more seed, set the single panel net to one side of the flooded walkway and erected three nets in the woodland edge.

The morning began, the mist refused to clear, but eventually it did and the catch improved a little. We finished at 1130 with a nice and varied catch of 25 birds -  7 Chaffinch, 5 Linnet, 4 Meadow Pipit, 3 Redwing, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Greenfinch, 1 Wren, 1 Robin, 1 Blackbird.

Meadow Pipit

Reed Bunting





Today was one of the better Chaffinch days, yet another farmland species that is seeing a serious decline in its population. One of the males today, with a wing length of 95mm, was possibly of Northern European origin, a type we are seeing less of in recent years. Our UK Chaffinches are generally smaller, both males and females.  


A good morning was had by all and we'll be back another day on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Picking The Best

Saturday morning was going to be the best of a bad bunch of yet another week of rain blown in from the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Off the south westerly sea currents, air temperatures have been unseasonably but not uniquely warm; but that’s no use if we’re unable to get out ringing. 

During the week Will volunteered for the supplementary feeding and had a good spot count of 70 or so Linnets, a couple of Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. He saw again the Marsh Harrier that we think may have taken up temporary residence while the weather is so mild. He also saw a single Swallow, again, not unprecedented in wet and warm late autumns. 

With Andy in Pisa for Pizza the team today was me and Will for the 0630 meet at the farm. 

The breeze was too strong across the seed plot for catching Linnets so we stuck to a couple of nets in the sheltered spots. Although we knew we wouldn’t catch many birds it was just good to get out in the fresh air after being stuck indoors so much - 13 birds - 5 Reed Bunting, 2 Wren, 2 Great Tit, 2 Chaffinch, 1 Redwing and 1 Blackbird. 

The Redwing was caught early morning as was the Blackbird, the latter an example of a ‘continental’ first year male with streaky throat, scalloped breast & belly with all dark bill. Both species were in evidence for the first hour or so with maybe 15/20 Redwings and a dozen or so Blackbirds plus a single Song Thrush on the move. 



Our supplementary seed drops are now definitely bringing more Chaffinches and Reed Buntings. Our count this morning being 15/20 Reef Buntings (5 new caught) and 15/20 Chaffinches (2 new caught). 


Reed Bunting

A pair of Stonechats has been in residence for weeks now as they both range across a defined territory, all the while sticking like glue, one to the other. They might well stay throughout the winter but the more likely scenario is that after a couple of days of cold frosty weather they will disappear when their preferred insect food becomes hard to source. 

Other birds seen/heard - one large female Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 1 Cetti’s Warbler, 15/20 Meadow Pipit, 60 Linnet, 12 Skylark, 2 Greenfinch. 

The breeze picked up to turn our nets into wind socks. We called it a day at 1030 but we’ll be back. 

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


Saturday, November 5, 2022

A Mixed Bag

We took advantage of Friday's clear but frosty morning with a six-thirty start to the ringing session. Will arrived on site at Pilling from an easterly direction and was lucky enough to see a Barn Owl cross the road in front of his car. By then Andy and I who arrived from the opposite direction were halfway down the access road and missed seeing the owl in our haste to get the nets going. 

It was a shock to the system to discover that a number of the guy ropes we leave on for early speed were solid with a layer of ice. For the first time this autumn/winter we needed gloves to hand. 

More than 20 Little Egrets left the tree roost when the car lights disturbed their sleep and we heard Redwings flying over. We didn’t catch Redwings or Little Egrets and at first it seemed that there weren’t too many birds around in the minus temperatures. 

Things improved as intermittent sun arrived to give us a mixed bag of 21 birds of 8 species - 9 Greenfinch, 3 Linnet, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Wren, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Cetti’s Warbler. 

One of the first birds out was our second Cetti’s Warbler at this site, this latest a male, following the tiny female we caught on October 4th. 

Males are larger than females and some can hold large territories with up to three females. Consequently, the UK population of around 3500 territories is now judged on the number of singing males present rather than “pairs” with the population as a whole thought to be resident rather than migratory. 

The early morning sun enhanced the red/brown tints of the Cetti’s plumage.  

Cetti's Warbler

Although the number of Linnets around was not huge today (70/90 birds) we caught a couple of obvious Scottish types. The first winter female below was especially striking through the dark mantle and its dusky and heavily streaked breast feathers, quite unlike the softer tones of local Linnets. 

"Scottish" Linnet
At last there seems to be Reed Buntings around and of the seven or eight we saw, two new ones was an improvement on recent numbers. We think that our provision of winter supplementary food for all will see more Reed Buntings in the weeks to come.  

The Reed Bunting is one of the species that suffers from the "winter hunger gap". This is the time of year when winter is at its harshest and natural food like seeds, berries and insects are scarce or unavailable to farmland birds. Typically, it lasts from December until March. 
Reed Bunting

This date in November might be a little late for migratory Goldcrests. It’s a species that is in short supply through the winter months where overnight frosts can quickly kill off a tiny bird that weighs less than six grams. 

Perhaps these late Goldcrests are ones from northern Europe, like the similarly sized Pallas’s Leaf Warbler seen on Thursday just across the water in Fleetwood’s Mount Park? The Pallas’s had travelled over 3,000 miles from the mountain forests of southern Siberia, east to northern Mongolia and China. 

Other birds seen today - Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, 2 Stonechat. Fifteen or twenty Meadow Pipits and several Skylarks. 

The weekend beckons. Back soon with more news, views and photos on Another Bird Blog.  

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


Thursday, November 3, 2022

Tweedledee And Tweedledum

It was just as we thought. Tweedledee and Tweedledum the two young Greeenfinch we caught last week at Pilling were on a lad’s day out in South Morecambe Bay. Their real titles were of course TY58186 and TY58188 because as we all know, in the twenty first century, everyone and everything is just a number. 



In the shadow of Heysham Nuclear Power Station the lads and lasses of North Lancashire Ringing Group ringed TY58186 on the 27 September and then followed this up with TY58188 on 29 September. The two youngsters later ganged up in search of a good time with tasty food and something to drink than headed our way, only to blunder into more ringers’ mist nets on 18 October. 

The journey from Heysham to Pilling around Morecambe Bay has many watering holes and eateries on the edge of the saltmarsh in which to take on supplies. The route is a regular one, with  similar records for a number of species, including Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Lesser Redpoll and Cetti’s Warbler. If there were bird ringers in the coastal communities of Sunderland, Glasson or Thurnham they would for sure catch the very same birds that we do. 

Morecambe Bay

There is no rivalry between our respective ringing groups. In fact the overnight lighting, warm waters and balmy air created by the Heysham nuclear power station is a magnet for large numbers of migratory birds, often rare ones, species we hardly ever see, never mind catch. 

The major advantage of ringing at Heysham Power Station is that when setting mist nets in the dark for overnight arrivals, the ringers have no need to use a Petzl head torch. The radioactive glow from the ringers themselves is sufficient to light up their mist net rides thus saving money in buying batteries, the manufacture of which contributes to global warming and the eventual catastrophe. 

We have no such luck in the dark, cold nights of Pilling where even now and just like the famous Pilling Potatoes, the Over Wyre folk are left in the dark about most things and to simply dream of life in the big wide world. 

It was a glorious day in 1993 when the ramshackle Bridge Over The River Wyre gave way to one of steel and concrete to allow incomers from Blackpool, Poulton le Fylde and beyond to export civilisation. They brought with them all the essential things of the modern world – twitchers,  motor cycle racing, pizza joints, litter, anti-social behaviour and traffic jams; very often all on the same day.  


Since then things have never been quite the same in Wonderland. 

Well, what do you know? The weather may relent overnight tonight and present us with a window of weather fit for ringing, the first for ten days. 

Stay tuned to Another Bird Blog.  You know it makes sense.

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