Friday, April 21, 2023

Sand Martin Hat Trick

We have three Sand Martin recoveries in one week. This unprecedented glut of news began on Monday after a visit to the Sand Martin colony out Cockerham way. We knew that roughly 100-130 Sand Martins have been seen at the colony following our three recent visits, two visits to count followed by one for catching purposes. 

Monday looked to be the best morning of zero wind and minimal sun, the lack of bright sunshine ideal for making mist nets mostly invisible. It’s early season when Sand Martins are around in numbers but not necessarily glued to their nest holes, males or females. 

Many are on their way further north than Lancashire, into Cumbria and as far as the north of Scotland. Our 10% or thereabouts catch of 15 was pretty good with the preponderance of females (10) also pointing to the possibility that females were more intent on gaining access to last year's nest holes than wayward dilly dallying males. 

Sand Martins' Colony

The fifteen included a recapture from July 2022 and also a “control” a ring number not ours but from elsewhere, AAX9650. On Thursday came the news that AAX9650 had been ringed on 14 April 2023 at Woolston Eyes, Warrington, Cheshire almost directly 180 degrees south of Cockerham. 

Sand Martin
And then came the second piece of news that another Sand Martin, ALJ4781 a "3J", code for a very young bird, born at Cockerham in 2021 and ringed on 5 June 2021 was recaptured on the way back to North West England. This second one was recaptured on 6 April 2023, also at Woolston Eyes, Warrington. There is no record as to where this bird was during 2022 but safe to assume it was somewhere in North West England where it evaded capture by bird ringers. 

The hat trick of Sand Martin news emerged with ALP8530 another 3J ringed at Cockerham on 30 June 2022 and recaptured at Woolston Eyes on 13 April 2023. During the first two weeks of April counts of Sand Martins at Woolston had reached over 350 using the area to feed and to roost before continuing their northward migration. 

The Merseyside Ringing Group of Woolston Eyes took good advantage of the high counts of Sand Martins during those first two weeks of April. I'm pretty sure their catches included many new ones and probably ones ringed elsewhere in the UK and probably ones with French rings. 

Cockerham and Woolston Eyes x 3
Stay tuned for more bird news, views and pictures very soon.

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

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Windy Week, Sunny End

Last week was a little wild and very unlike April. Here in coastal Lancashire high winds toppled trees, wrecked fencing and blew sea ducks inland as far as Preston and probably beyond. 

Andy phoned to say friends had a Common Scoter on their garden pond for a day or more and would I like to go and “grab a picture or two”? You know the rest. The wind subsided, the Scoter decided that Poulton -le-Fylde wasn’t quite so nice after all and did a moonlight flit. 

Common Scoter

Not to worry, Saturday morning looked a goer for ringing at Oakenclough so I met up with Andy and Will at the appointed 0630. When I arrived on site the dashboard read 1.5°, a major improvement on the -0.5° when setting off from home 35 minutes earlier. 

The sun was on the rise and gave way to a pleasant enough morning with a good mix of species to ring but not many birds on the move in the clear blue sky. Fifteen birds caught – 6 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Dunnock, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Great Tit, 1 Siskin. 

Click the pics for close up views.

The most unexpected bird of the morning was a Reed Bunting, a species quite scarce on site and at the elevation here of about 700ft above sea level. It’s a species more generally thought of as a lowland farmland dweller. 

Reed Bunting
The single Siskin caught was a fine adult male. 
Six new Lesser Redpoll added to recent catches of the species while the two Coal Tits came from previous visits here in the winter of 2022/23. 
Lesser Redpoll

Coal Tit

Other species seen – 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Swallow, 5 Sand Martin, 3 Jay, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Sparrowhawk, 1 Buzzard. 

Great-spotted Woodpecker

All three Jays flew overhead, unusually silent as they disappeared into nearby trees. Jays are normally noisy when they are around as their Latin name of Garrulus glandarius would suggest. Garrulus is a Latin word meaning "chattering", "babbling" or "noisy". The specific epithet glandarius is Latin meaning "of acorns", a woodland fruit in which the Jay specialises. 

See you in the week folks. 

“It’s warming up” said the BBC weatherman. If it's on the BBC it must be wrong. You heard it here first.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Book Review - Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland

“An unexpected topic for Another Bird Blog”, regular readers might say, a review of Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland, a field guide to fish. A soon to be released book from Wild Nature Press via Princeton (25 April). 

Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland - Princeton

Let me explain. I live a two minute drive from the Lancashire coast, the wonderfully species rich ecosystem of North West England known as Morecambe Bay, where man, birds, animals and fish live together, often in competition, very frequently as prey and predator. 

The historic and once major fishing town of Fleetwood is a short ferry journey across the mouth of Morecambe Bay via The River Wyre, a focal point of the geographical area. Hereabouts, many people retain an affinity to what is today a mostly lost industry.  The important source of employment declined during the 'cod wars' of the 1970s when Iceland restricted how much fish could be caught in its waters. Later in the 1990s many fishermen sold their boats off under a UK government and EU led decommissioning scheme. And thereafter Fleetwood lost its main raison d'être. 

I will own up now; I like to eat fish. Fish is a rich source of protein filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins such as D and B. Fish is rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. 

My pal Jamie the Fishmonger has skills acquired via his Fleetwood family where he learnt the trade of knowing about the buying, selling and the processing of many sea foods.  He can tell me how good a fish will eat by glancing at the colour of the flesh or feeling the thickness of the skin. He knows about fish where I know the bare bones; he educates me about his iced display of treasure from the deep while filleting a bright eyed plaice in the blink of an eye. 

When Princeton floated Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland my naturally enquiring mind came into play whereby a landlubber’s curiosity might learn a little about the 400 or more species of fish which surround UK shores. After a quick shuffle of the pages, the many photos and the explanatory illustrations I just knew I had to share this gem of a book with followers of Another Bird Blog, so here it is. 

Unlike birds and mammals, fish in their live state are not obvious or easily accessible to land based observation but much more likely to be seen and studied by divers and snorkellers who can more easily identify and record these fast moving animals underwater. 

The authors of Inshore Fishes, Lin Baldock and Frances Dipper have a wealth of expertise and worldwide experience of  studying marine life through diving expeditions in the UK, Canada, Australia, the Middle East and Asia. As one who paddled in the Red Sea while surrounded by myriad exotic fish I remain in awe of Lin Baldock’s 4,000+ dives.  At Page 8 the authors acknowledge more than seventy  contributors who provided photographs, illustrations, previously unpublished information and other content that made this overdue and unique book possible. 

A glance at “Contents” shows the diversity, breadth of the species and the information to be found in this delightful and educational book of a succinct 288 pages.  

Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland - Princeton

“How to Use This Book” is essential reading to understand that unusually shaped fish can change both colour, shape and even sex, but that Habitat is equally important for fish identification as it is for bird and animal ID. 

The why and how of underwater photography points out the potential pitfalls and likely delights of portraying a pipefish or flashing to a flounder while showing many fine examples by way of e.g. Leopard-spotted Goby, a Starry Smoothound, a Norwegian Topknot or an Angelshark in their natural environments.

Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland - Princeton

Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland - Princeton

And if you thought that some birds are pretty good at hiding away through cryptic plumage take a look at the photographs of a number of species of flat fish like brill, turbot and scaldfish. Such beautiful and unique creatures have the means to become motionless and invisible to all but the sharpest eyes.

Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland - Princeton

Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland - Princeton

 Some pages emphasise key identification features and possible confusion species and also include a “confidence guide” distinguishing between easily recognisable species and those requiring closer examination. It’s a feature that could be put to good use in bird guides for novice birders when considering recent faux pas I witnessed - Short-eared Owl v Barn Owl or Wood Warbler v Willow Warbler, occasions when the use of a field guide would have saved embarrassment. 

The species’ accounts at pages 35-273 make for truly fascinating and compulsive reading in their descriptions and explanations of the remarkable lifestyles and life histories of these barely known creatures, many of which were completely unknown to me. 

There are of course a number of UK species which can sting, electrocute or otherwise harm an unwary diver - the rays, sharks, scorpion fish, or the venomous weevers.  Yet others like the wrasse family live close to the sea bed where they can be rare or rarely seen. I learnt that the Black Seabream, a protogynous hermaphrodite, bulldozes a nest on the ocean floor for the female and that this extraordinary behaviour has been the subject of a seven year study along the Dorset coast. 

With Inshore Fishes and following on from a number of very bulky “field guides” we appear to have returned to a more manageable size of guide at a pocket sized 5.88 x 8.25 inches of minimal weight and mass. The colour coded on-page icons, pointers and illustrations work a treat. The book is concise, compact, practical and extremely user friendly. Hooray. 

Inshore Fishes is published in association with the UK Marine Conservation Society, a joint imitative that makes an invaluable contribution to the series of marine photographic titles of Seasearch, a species recording project for volunteer sports divers. 

Inshore Fishes of Britain and Ireland - Princeton

Price: $27.95/£22.00 
ISBN: 9780691249018  
Published (US):Aug 1, 2023
Published (UK):Apr 25, 2023 
Pages: 288 
Size: 5.88 x 8.25 in 

Here is a fine book that will appeal to the growing band of divers and marine conservationists who explore the coast of Britain. I imagine that many fishermen will be drawn to read this book, also part time sea anglers or those inshore hobby fishermen who set off in small boats from towns and villages around all parts of Britain and Ireland. In the book they will surely find much to interest, excite and educate. 

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

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Good Saturday

Following my 0525 alarm clock and the inland drive Saturday dawned bright if a little cold at 2.5°C. No problem because the sun would soon rise to bathe us bird ringers in the morning sun of Oakenclough where I met up with Andy and Will. 

Until this point England had seen its wettest March in more than 40 years. Met Office data up to 30 March showed 111.3mm of rain fell during the month, 91% more than the average. So far April has been little better but fairly normal, less rain but quite cold, therefore not helpful to the arrival of large numbers of migrant birds from southern climes. 

And whisper it quietly so as not to be “cancelled” but the Northern hemisphere may be entering a temperature cooling phase until the 2050s with a decline up to 0.3°C. Arctic summer sea ice stopped declining about a decade ago and has shown recent growth. The Greenland surface ice sheet grew by almost 500 billion tonnes in the year to August 2022, and this was nearly equivalent to its estimated annual loss. 

Of course, climate alarmists have not caught up with these recent trends because there’s more money to be made by frightening Joe Public that the world is about to end unless they subscribe to such patent nonsense.

Back to the job in hand and Saturday’s ringing. The morning was slow with 11 birds caught. Although migrant warblers were in evidence in the shape and sounds of 3 Willow Warblers, 2 Chiffchaffs and a single Blackcap we caught none of those, instead 7 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Robin, 1 Goldfinch and 1 Long-tailed Tit. 

Three male Willow Warblers stuck to their chosen song posts all morning without venturing the very few yards to our mist nets. It was as if they were reluctant to vacate the perfect spot for even a minute or two to let an interloper grab the prime location together with a passing female. 

Willow Warbler
Lesser Redpolls were much in evidence with at least 20 seen and heard in small parties throughout our 4 hours stay. Unusually all of the ones caught were females. Perhaps many males have already travelled further north in their search for territory? 
Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll


Long-tailed Tit
With eyes peeled for birds on the move a single south bound Swallow was potentially going in the wrong direction unless it changed its mind upon hitting the cold that we too felt. Otherwise, three Buzzards, but not together, a single Pied Wagtail and a passing Mistle Thrush completed a good Saturday morning. 


Back soon with more news, views and pictures from Another Bird Blog.

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

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