Saturday, September 30, 2023

A Kingfisher Plus

Just a few days after returning from two weeks in sun-kissed Skiathos I had messages from Andy and Will. Unlike my sunshiny days of Greece they had struggled with gloomy, rainy Lancashire and managed only one or two ringing sessions. 

On Saturday morning we met up out Pilling way to a bright start and 5mph breeze and set the usual nets plus one. The Plus One was to be important. 

The morning began slowly and in a rather unexceptional way with half a dozen Long - tailed Tits and singles of the Blue and Great variety. “Things could only improve” we thought in unison. And they did with a final catch of 32 ringed and a couple or more superb sightings. 

Ringed - 10 Linnet, 5 Goldfinch, 4 Greenfinch, 7 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, 2 Wren, 1 Robin, 1 Kingfisher. 

We quickly realised that a number of the Linnets coming from the seed plot had characteristics of the Scottish race of Linnet. 

We have noted in past years that movements of Scottish birds beginning in September include slightly darker plumaged birds and also marginally longer winged individuals, often both characteristics in the same bird. The dark features of Scottish Linnets are very noticeable on the crown, around the ear coverts and on the back, especially so when when compared side to side with the “average” Lancashire individuals we see in the summer months. 

" English" Linnet

"Scottish" Linnet

A couple of years ago and after discussion with experienced ringers from North of The Border we concluded that there is no Scottish sub-species but that the marked plumage and size variation in Linnets during our Lancashire winters is one of a gradual north to south clinal variation  between two populations of Linnets. 

Our 19 Goldfinch/Linnet/Greenfinch catch came mostly from the seed plot where the concentration of 150 - 200 finches attracted in turn a marauding Hobby and two Sparrowhawks. 


When I travelled off on holiday Andy and Will were under strict instructions to catch the female Kingfisher I had photographed on 7 September. Of course the usual weather tricks put paid to that and other plans but this fine Saturday morning allowed the first opportunity. 

A Kingfisher obliged in net Plus One but it wasn’t the individual from September 7, a female, but this one a male. It’s the old cautionary story of never assuming that the bird seen one minute is the same individual five minutes later. And we must never assume so where hours, days or weeks are involved. 

Kingfisher - male

Kingfisher - female

Other sighting came today via a Marsh Harrier, Cetti’s Warbler, 15 Little Egret, 20 or more Swallows, 50/60 Meadow Pipits, 25+ Skylarks. 

Back soon with more tales news and photos on Another Bird Blog. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Saturday.


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Wheats About?

A wander out Pilling way on Sunday saw activity of mainly egrets, pipits and Linnets along the sea wall. Two identical looking Wheatears caught my eye so I stopped for a closer inspection.

The tidal defences here keep Morecambe Bay tides at bay with a high raised earth bank, (a bund) interspersed with sections consisting of large rocks and stones. The rockery is an attraction to migrant birds where crevices and holes out of prevailing winds provide a sanctuary to insects attractive to Wheatears and other insectivores. 

Over many years I have ringed over seventy Wheatears along Pilling shore, until taking a break in recent years when human and canine disturbance made the job impossible. Having recently found a new private spot, and even in the limited possibilities of September when their numbers decline,  the desire to catch Wheatears resurfaced with the appearance of these two Wheatears. I suspect the two were siblings so closely did they resemble each other and to follow in each other’s movements. 

Luckily mealworms were at hand together with a couple of spring traps that caught one bird quite easily as the other scooted into the distance upon seeing its companion compromised inside a tent of netting. 





After a few days off I met up with Will and Andy on Thursday at 0630 for a go at the Linnets and anything else linked to the month of September. Thirteen birds caught/ringed -  6 Linnet, 5 Meadow Pipit, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Robin. 

We have to remind ourselves that male Linnets are normally a touch larger than females but this is never the decider between male or female. The most reliable method is the amount of white on the outer web of the primary wing feathers numbers 7 to 9.  A gap of less than 5mm from the white feather to the centre shaft tells us the bird is a male, more than 5mm a female. In other words, males have more white in the wing, a feature that is sometimes discernible with Linnets in flight, more easily picked out ina large flock rather than isolated birds.

Very often autumn males show brown/rufous rounded markings on the breast, unlike a female which is more streaked. 

Linnet male September

Linnet female September
Linnet male September

Linnet female September

It is not surprising that about 80/90 % of autumn Meadow Pipits we catch are first summer/juveniles as the species is able to raise two broods of youngsters in a normal summer. The juvenile below is already part way through its post-juvenile moult. 

Meadow Pipit

Other birds seen and not caught - 50+ Linnet, 50+ Meadow Pipit, 8/10 Tree Sparrow, 2 Blackbird, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Marsh Harrier, 1 Peregrine overhead.


Fifteen Pink-footed Geese arrived from the north and landed on the salt marsh. The first of the Autumn.

Log in again soon everyone. 

There’s always news, views and pictures of The Real World on Another Bird Blog. 

Linking this weekend to Eileen's Saturday


Saturday, September 2, 2023

A Boiling Kettle

Saturday 2 September with the full team out at Pilling, Will, Andy and Yours Truly. Better still, and after another breezy week, the wind had dropped and the sun shone bright for our 0630 start. 

In the week I dropped additional seed and windfall apples into the varied seed plot where I thought the natural is not quite ready. A flock of more than 70 Goldfinch testified that their favourite sunflower seed needs more time but that they are well prepared by warming up on the lesser stuff. 

Along the sea wall were eight Little Egrets, two Grey Heron, a couple of Pied Wagtails, a single Kestrel and 2 Wheatears. The chats avoided the steady north westerly wind and found hiding insects by ducking in and out of the sea defences.



The Saturday session came with a small mixed bag, one that once again lacked both numbers and the warbler species that are simply not around this autumn. The Experts have no evidence as yet but there is a real possibility that avian flu virus has passed in some degree to passerines via the known and now well documented death toll upon many sea bird species during 2022 and 2023. 

Our catch of 14 birds comprised 3 Linnet, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Blue Tit, 2 Wren, 2 Reed Bunting, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Blackbird and 1 Sedge Warbler. 


Sedge Warbler


Reed Bunting

During the morning we saw 20 or more Swallows on the move south but little else obvious in the clear blue sky save for a couple of Meadow Pipits plus a number of finches we didn’t catch. 

As we packed up the ringing gear about 1100 hours Richard, Eyes-Like-The-Proverbial, drew our attention to a number of Buzzards at great height and slowly moving west. 

In all we counted sixteen, yes 16 Buzzards taking advantage of thermals of the warm morning by “kettling” together, swirling and spiralling like objects being stirred or boiled in a pot. 

Such a large number of Buzzards together represents an autumnal dispersal of sorts. Some Buzzards, probably younger and less experienced individuals, move south and west from their northern strongholds into more favourable areas for the winter before returning north in the early part of the following year. 


A few minutes later a Marsh Harrier flew west, spotted by six Ravens who drew noisy attention to the large predator in their midst. It was a good morning for raptors and where we had seen both Kestrel and two Sparrowhawks during our ringing session. 

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday


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