Friday, July 28, 2023

Mixi Maxi

What a mixed up week! Two days of wind and rain, a one day window for a ringing session followed by even more rain. And then for Friday the Met Office promised another cloudy, showery, and unsummery day. They were wrong (again) of course as I sat outside in 22°C at 1430 while Julie the mobile hairdresser trimmed what’s left of my thinning hair. 

It was Tuesday when Will and I met up for the single ringing session of the week, hoping mainly for juvenile warblers. The catch of 15 proved slightly disappointing through the lack of variety that the 15 birds gave us -  6 Reed Warbler, 5 Sedge Warbler, 1 Willow Warbler and 3 Blue Tit. 

Sedge Warbler

Reed Warbler

Three of the Reed Warbler were recaptures, two from this year and one from 2022. Reed Warblers are perhaps on of the most site faithful bird species, whereby individual birds will return to the same patch of reedy habitat year after year after spending their winter in middle Africa. 

Our single Willow Warbler was a very welcome bright and lemony individual after a poor spring of catching this species. 

Willow Warbler

It seems that many other ringers are reporting the dearth of Willow Warblers this autumn with little in the way of theories or evidence as to the reasons of the species’ scarcity. It is perhaps related to the very dry spring of April/May followed by the sun-baked month of June, all of which resulted in an apparent lack of insects. But now the month of July has been intensely wet, following the weather pattern of recent years, four weeks good followed by four weeks of bad and masses of insects. 

Disappointment arose because of the lack of other species around - no Whitethroats, Blackcaps or Garden Warblers when we might have expected at least a single representative of each of their species. Instead, 15 Pied Wagtail, 1 Meadow Pipit, 2 Grey Heron, 2 Little Egret, 1 Buzzard, 4 Goldfinch and 15-20 Swallows. 

Grey Heron

Little Egret

Pied Wagtail

Meadow Pipit
Compensation for the slow ringing came by way of sight of a young Yellow Wagtail mixed in with the pied variety, this an early date for a now uncommon species’ autumn dispersal. 

The three species of UK wagtails, Yellow, Grey and Pied can cause intense discussion amongst less experienced bird watchers, mainly because all three of the youngsters of each are “grey”. Below is the Yellow Wagtail subject of this post, quite grey above but with a pale yellow wash to the underparts. 

Yellow Wagtail

While the Pied Wagtail is fairly easily sorted, and leaving aside for now the pitfalls of spring and autumn White Wagtails and Pied Wagtails respectively, the ID differences between Grey Wagtails and Yellow Wagtails causes discussion, not least amongst followers of Another Bird Blog. 

In August 2016 and again in July 2021 I decided to remedy this with the post “Yellow Or Grey”, a posting that has since proved to be the most read post in 15 years blogging.  Yellow or Grey

Enjoy the weekend everyone, be it grey, yellow, pied, or better still, sunny,

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Fifty Up

It’s ages since a ringing session hit the fifty birds processed mark.  When I met up with Will and Andy at the Sand Martin colony at 0700 this morning it didn’t seem likely that this day would be any different. Tuesday had seen downpours with inches of constant rain between midday and midnight but where weather forecasts still confirmed that Wednesday would be a “goer”. 

Early cool and 100% cloud cover saw very few Sand Martins around; we really thought we might struggle into double figures given the lack of activity at the nest holes. As the morning warmed and the sun appeared, things began to look up with Sand Martins on the move, joining in with the activity around the nest holes and over the feeding area of the fishing lake. 

By 1110 hours when we tallied up and packed in we had caught 50 new Sand Martins from an estimated count of 150-180 individuals. That would mean a catch of at least 33% of those birds seen, an unlikely ratio and therefore more likely that the number of martins around was actually above 200.

Sand Martin

Field Sheet. First Page.

The field sheet showed 12 new adults, an equal split of 6 males and 6 females, plus 38 juveniles. Interestingly, we had zero recaptures from earlier in 2023 or from previous years, another indication of post breeding dispersal from other sites. 

Sand Martin

Sand Martin

Other activity saw a juvenile Kestrel trying its luck around the martin nest holes, an unsuccessful ploy that also failed for the adult Kestrel we caught here on 14 June. 
When we arrived just before seven Will spotted a small flock of 15/20 Black-tailed Godwits flying some distance away, perhaps looking for rain soaked fields in which to feed. About mid morning we realised that two of the godwits had landed a field away from our processing point. The two appeared to be of the Icelandic islandica race by way of their very strong brick-red colouration. 

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit

April produces the largest flocks of Black-tailed Godwits which correlates well with the bulk of breeders arriving in Iceland between mid April-mid May. The second half of May and early June is considered late for islandica to be in England and it is presumed that these birds are non breeders that may spend the summer here. 

Other birds seen - 4 Common Tern, 1 Common Sandpiper, 6 Tree Sparrow, 2 Pied Wagtail. 

A good morning was had by all.  Come back soon for more news, views and photographs.

Linking on Saturday to Viewing Nature With Eileen.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Out And About

Blackbirds took every single cherry in garden and didn’t bother waiting until the fruit was red ripe. And then they came back for the next tree along, the rowan berries just turning from green to orange, nowhere near the final glossy red that completes a winter landscape. 


Thursday evening was warm and sunny in our sheltered back garden. I watched a male Blackbird drop down from the rowan tree into a dried up patch below where thirsty berry trees had made for a  dusty piece of ground. 

The Blackbird spread its wings and tail, opened its bill and settled down into the dusty ground and began to sunbathe and perhaps to also “ant”. I have seen this behaviour on a number of occasions from different species of birds and this time managed to both observe and to photograph the activity. 




Birds in various climates all around the world indulge in sunning. This can be anything from simply standing with their backs to the sun, with feathers rustled up to expose the skin below, to a full sunbathing posture with wings and tail feathers spread out to maximize the area open to the sun. Obviously, in many cases the birds get warmth from the sun, which reduces the amount of metabolic energy they have to expend in order to maintain a constant body temperature of around 40 degrees C. However, some birds sunbathe in spots which can be quite hot. In such circumstances, sunbathing appears to leave them over-heated as they can be seen panting. 

From Wiki - “Anting is a maintenance behavior during which birds rub insects, usually ants, on their feathers and skin. The bird may pick up the insects in its bill and rub them on the body (active anting), or the bird may lie in an area of high density of the insects and perform dust bathing-like movements (passive anting). The insects secrete liquids containing chemicals such as formic acid, which can act as an insecticide, miticide, fungicide, or bactericide. Alternatively, anting could make the insects edible by removing the distasteful acid, or, possibly supplement the bird's own preen oil. Instead of ants, birds can also use millipedes. More than 200 species of bird are known to ant " .

This week has been quite windy with no chance of a ringing session. During Thursday a quick runaround a local patch resulted in a few expected birds and a Green Sandpiper.  Green Sandpiper is a shy species, one of the earlier returning migrant waders and can be seen in a variety of muddy margined places like ditches, farm middens and similarly secluded locations.  For these early returnees from north and east it is autumn, even though for us in England it is still summer.
Green Sandpiper
The same stream held 3 Little Egrets, a Grey Heron and 2 Redshanks. 

Little Egret
The waterside margins seemed quiet except for a couple of Sedge Warblers and a single Reed Bunting both of which have been in their same spots for weeks now without any sign of having youngsters out of nests. Not so the pair of Moorhens with 5 youngsters in tow and probably their second brood by now mid-July. 


Reed Bunting

Sedge Warbler
I recently heard that the dry spring and lack of moisture of 2023 has not been good for egg production or breeding success of both Barn Owls and Kestrels. Whether this is the same for other bird species we do not know: it is a subject for research probably beyond the average birder, me included. My own observations at least are that local Swallows have had a better year, and not before time. There was a single youngster on a gate, waiting for a parent to arrive with food. 

I called at our Sand Martin colony to see 100+ Sand Martins still around, despite the quarry face suffering from a degree of natural erosion, a combination of the Sand Martins’ own constant toing & froing combined with the vagaries of weather. The gulley left of centre formed by water run-off from above is a concern for the remainder of this year and next year when the martins return from their winter in Africa.  Imagine having to move home every 12 months! 

Sand Martin colony

Sand Martin
Friday morning. Rain arrived bang on the XC Weather forecast of 1000. The decision to leave the Sand Martins for another day was the correct one. 

Join Another Bird Blog soon to find out what happened next. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Anniversary Blog.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Testing Times

The thunderstorm of Saturday moved north and east from here in coastal Lancashire and headed across the Pennines to disrupt the Headingley Test Match. There was less cricket to watch on TV but the Sunday forecast was unimpaired; a dry, bright morning with 2-5 mph and the prospect of a ringing session following weeks of inactivity. 

The rain was gone when I met up with Will for a brutal 0600 start but high hopes of catching a few warblers. Viewing visits in recent days saw seven or eight singing Reed Warblers and pairs of both Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler with plenty of feeding activity around their reed bed of choice. Surely by now, early July there would be fresh juveniles aplenty? 

Our own scoreboard saw an improvement with 16 birds caught – 2 recaptures (Wren and a Reed Warbler from 2021) and 14 new birds. 6 Reed Warbler, 2 Blackbird, 3 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Robin and 1 Whitethroat. 

Score sheet
Of the seven Reed Warblers just two were juveniles, the other five adults, numbers that meant we had scratched the surface, with more juveniles yet to fledge following the very slow start to breeding during the cold weeks of May. Reed Warblers need dense and tall reeds in which to hide their nests suspended between solid reed stems, growth that was sluggish and not to anyone’s liking. 
Great Tit


Blue Tit

Reed Warbler

A single Whitethroat was the other representative of the warbler family with no sight or sound of hoped for Blackcaps, Willow Warblers or Chiffchaffs, never mind more exotica like Lesser Whitethroats or Garden Warblers. The singing Reed Bunting stayed out of range and we never got to see the female buried somewhere in the edge of the reeds on her precious eggs,  

Reed Bunting


It looks as though we will have to wait a week or two more for post juvenile wanderings to begin in earnest. 

Bird watching in between the ringing provided scant rewards with handfuls only of Goldfinches, Linnets and Swallows plus flybys of Grey Heron and Little Egret. 

Later,  I caught up with the cricket. England beat the Aussies in the Third Test. Now it’s all to play for in the following two games, Old Trafford next and then The Oval for the decider. 

It’s a little like ringing. Playing to win and not giving up. You can’t keep a good team down. 


Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Candid Camera

Old age combined with bird photography in all sorts of weather in many parts of the world finally caught up with my now rough around the edges Canon EOS 80D. I listed it on Ebay as needing “tlc and attention” and it sold quickly for £200, enough dosh to kick-start the search for another camera. 

Now was the time to check under the floorboards for spare cash towards the new investment. Well there’s no point in keeping money in rip-off banks with their paltry interest rates is there? And in any case, and just this week, if a customer doesn’t conform to many banks’ increasingly odd world view they will simply close an account. Whatever happened to “The Customer is Always Right”? 

As luck would have it I found a stash of notes that Sue had forgotten about and then set to Googling digital SLRs. 

Mirror-less cameras are the new trend and destined to replace digital SLRs. I already have a mirror-less in the shape of a pocket sized Sony SLR used for street and landscape holiday shots, a camera that performs incredibly well. But I needed a camera to which I could seamlessly switch without learning a whole new set of function buttons and complicated menus, a feature in which the Sony excels. I love the little Sony with a passion but could never use it as a tool for bird photography, an ability that demands rapid changes of ISO, f numbers and zoom settings, mostly all at once, with one hand. 

Sony A Series
The upgrade had to be a camera that would take Canon and third party EF/EFS lenses, more especially an 18-55mm for birds in the hand and a Sigma 150-600mm telephoto for longer shots. Choices were limited but I settled on the next Canon up, an EOS 90D, probably the last of Canon’s digital SLRs before their recent move to a number of mirror-less cameras. 

The main reason for going for the 90D was extra megapixels, 33MP as opposed to 24MP, plus the aforementioned familiarity with Canon’s user friendly menus together with the layout of the camera back plate and the top buttons, both of which are satisfyingly similar in both cameras. I used HDEW Cameras who supplied me a grey import at £200 less than most retailers, and it came with a 3 year warranty. 

Canon EOS90D versus Canon EOS80D

It didn’t take long to get used to the 90D where a few shots in the garden confirmed the upgrade worked well until I could get out in the real world when the winds drop and sunny days return. 


Blackbird scoffing the cherries

Collared Dove


And whilst on Ebay another camera sparked interest with memories of how cameras used to be: my old dad’s Box Brownie, the Kodak Instamatic, a useless Polaroid, and a pre-digital 35mm film camera, a Pentax ME Super. 

Loading a film camera
Those were the days - not. Open Up Your Camera. 

The first step is to open the back of your camera. ... 
Step 2: Prepare your film. Take your film out of the little container. ... 
Step 3: Secure the film leader in place 
Step 4: Wind the film forwards...ensuring your sprockets are aligned 
Step 5: Close the camera and take some photos! 
Step 6: Wind the film to the end and pray that the film captured half decent images that fully display your expertise as a photographer 
Step7: Put the film back in the little container and take it to Boots or a High Street photography shop where it will be sent off to experts who will transform your film into printed images. Hand over a large amount of money for the service 
Step 8: Pray again for about 7 or 8 days until the prints are ready 
Step 9: Save the one or two acceptable prints and bin the rest 
Step 10: Buy another roll of film and start all over again. 

The little camera on Ebay reeled me in. An Italian Job from 1953 - £15 including postage. What a find, a Bencini Comet “like new”.  Thanks Stuart.

The Bencini Comet was the first of a series of cameras made from 1948 into the 1950s. They were made by CMF Bencini in Milan, Italy. 

“Solidly built from polished metal castings with a sheet metal back. A viewfinder camera fitted with a 60mm meniscus lens and instantaneous & time shutter. The time function operates as 'Bulb'. The shutter release, which is on the body, is threaded to allow for the connection of a remote shutter release cable. The shutter function selector is unusual in that it is a tab that is pulled out from the lens barrel. The camera is capable of capturing sixteen half frame exposures (3 x 4 cm) on 127 film by the use of two red windows. It is a front focussing camera giving focus down to 3ft. A tripod mount is provided. The viewfinder is very small, the eye piece being only 3.5mm across.” 

Bencini Comet

Bencini Comet

Bencini comet

I have no intention of using this little gem. Cameras of this period and Art Deco looks can never replace a modern digital SLR. But it sure looks good on display in the lounge and provides a great talking point for visitors. 

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

Linking on Saturday to Eileen's Saturday Blog.

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