Saturday, April 22, 2017

Good Morning

The morning started in fine style. Not a cloud in the sky and a promise of sun all day. There was no ringing today so I set off birding camera at the ready as mist began to clear from the ditches and dykes. 

Pilling morning, Lancashire

All was quiet at Conder Green save for the usual display flights of the Oystercatchers and the resident Shelducks still sorting out their pairs. I looked across at the far bank hoping to see the elusive Avocets but instead of the expected two I saw four. There seemed little aggression between the four as they all fed together until at one point two flew across to a nearer island. After a few minutes the pair flew back to join the others on the far side of the pool and I turned my attention to what else might be lurking unseen.  It was cold and just 3°C at 0730. Visible migration seemed nil apart from a few Swallows and Sand Martins heading north at a fair rate of knots. 




I looked around for other birds and on the water found 18 Shelduck, 16 Oystercatcher, 6 Tufted Duck, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Goosander and 2 Teal. A Kingfisher flew by but didn’t stay. Kingfishers breed not far away along the canal or upstream of the River Conder which just here is little more than a trickle of water at the end of its journey from the inland fells. 

In the creeks and on the marsh: 2 Greenshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Curlew, 4 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron and 2 Pied Wagtail. 

I drove up to Cockersands where the drake Shoveler still frequents the flash flood that will soon dry up. I’d watched him fly in from close by and where I think his mate is hidden on a nest. The handsome Shoveler is now something of a scarce breeding bird in this part of Lancashire whereby a possible breeding pair is quite noteworthy. 


Near Lighthouse Cottage a female wagtail was busy collecting nest material while the male looked on. That looks to be a rather fine finishing material she’s collecting for the nest lining. 

 Pied Wagtail

 Pied Wagtail

I heard my first Whitethroat of the year. It was jumping around between the hedge and the bramble fence-line, singing for all it was worth after that long journey from Africa. There was a Sedge Warbler along the ditch too but it sang from low down with just a sub-song at that. Maybe it tuned up later after I‘d hi-tailed it towards the caravan park. 


I noted several Linnets about and also six or eight very mobile Twite. The Twite spent a minute or two on the overhead wires before they twittered off into the distance towards the shore. The Twite is very closely related to the Linnet and carries the colloquial name of “mountain linnet” after its habitat preference for the uplands. A male Twite has a very short yellow beak and no pink chest, unlike the Linnet which has a heavier greyish bill and at this time of year a bright red chest. The call of the two species in flight is similar, but to the trained ear noticeably different. 



There wasn’t much doing near the caravan park although I did notice much more Brown Hare activity than of late, including a little chasing and sparring. The sunny morning helped me see upwards of 20 hares this morning although not all of them were as obliging as the ones that sit motionless, ears sleeked back and disguised as a clump of earth. Mostly they run from the sound of an approaching vehicle or footsteps. Look closer, it’s a Brown Hare, not a bundle of brown soil. 

 Brown Hare

Brown Hare

Towards the caravan park: 6 singing Skylark, 6 Tree Sparrow, 4 Goldfinch, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret and 80+ Lapwing. 


Fingers crossed for those Lapwings and Skylarks.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday Trundle

Swallows were everywhere this morning. I saw them in each place I stopped or noted twos and threes heading north all morning and ended up with 80+ in my notebook. Despite or perhaps because of  the unexceptional overnight conditions new Wheatears and maybe a few Willow Warblers had also found their way north.

I’d started off on the coastal circuit at Conder Green with just the usual species and a few new waders: 2 Greenshank, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Chiffchaff, 8 Teal, 14 Shelduck, 14 Oystercatcher, 3 Little Egret, 2 Pied Wagtail. Two pairs of Tufted Duck is looking quite promising, especially since there seems to be a lack of competition for nesting spots around the pool margins this year. 

Tufted Duck

I didn’t catch up with any Avocets again and I’m wondering if the intermittent sightings in recent weeks involve a number of birds moving through rather than the supposed same pair. Interestingly, the species’ numbers at have built in the last few weeks at their stronghold of Leighton Moss some 30 miles away. 

The Cockersands area proved fruitful in numbers; especially so when a Linnet flock numbered 80+, alternating between feeding in the Lighthouse Cottage fields and the shore. In the set-aside field was a pair of Reed Bunting and a few only Meadow Pipit. From here and on the route to the “other” end of Cockersands I counted in excess of 120 (potentially 60 pairs of Lapwings) in the many fields. After a mild, wet winter the fields look very suitable for Lapwing success this year with the proviso that farming activity and predators can and usually do take a huge toll of Lapwing nests. Many seem to be still in display mode but one or two are definitely sitting on eggs. There are pairs of Redshank dotted here and there, also Oystercatchers, a pair of Greylags and the lone drake Shoveler of recent weeks whose partner either “did a runner” or is holed up nearby. 


Also along the route to the caravan park, two or three pairs of Skylark with a good deal of “chasing” in evidence. I saw a couple of Brown Hares too and unusually by now, perhaps because of the cold un-April like weather, I’ve seen none of their customary chasing around the fields nor witnessed any boxing matches. 

Brown Hare

At the caravan park end of the stretch: 3 Willow Warblers in song, a Wheatear along the shore and also a handful of Greenfinches and Linnets searching the tideline. 


At Hillam Lane approximately 200 Sand Martin in the colony in repair and reconstruct mode and yet to settle into their nest holes. A drive to the marsh found 1 Buzzard, 70+ White Wagtail, 30+ Meadow Pipit, 5 Wheatear, 1 Grey Heron and a good number of Swallows heading over or flying around both farms. 

Sand Martins

There was time for a brief visit to Fluke Hall, if only to count the mutt walkers and move some of their bags of dog poo. Why be so tidy as to pick up their doggy-do and then throw the said plastic bag on the ground to be run over and squashed by the next vehicle to pass that way? Mindless, selfish idiots. 

I also “picked up” 6 Wheatear here as they fed across the ploughed field. There was a Buzzard nearby and at least two each of Blackcap and Chiffchaff. “Best” bird came by way of a single loudly calling Siskin passing overhead and into the tree tops. 

Looks like Wednesday may be OK for ringing and if Andy made it back from over the border. If so read about it here soon.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Swallows At Last

More cold north-westerlies didn’t bode well for this morning’s circuit but I did get Swallows into double figures, picked up a few other summer migrants and ended up with a decent tally of birds. 

First stop was Gulf Lane where the winter set-aside crop now lies flat as a pancake awaiting this year’s plough. There must still be some food in there, probably the legacy of our feeding regime to catch Linnets. I found 9 Stock Dove searching the ground, 10 Linnet flying around and a single Wheatear. 

I rather like the Stock Dove, a bird which to most folk is just a bog-standard town pigeon that pecks around their feet while pooing a lot. Look closely. The Stock Dove is an attractive and rather subtly coloured bird by way of the overall bluey cast, the green ear patch, neat black wing bars and those ruby red legs. It’s a birder’s bird. Unfortunately, in the shooting season this smart little dove suffers from both looking a little like and often hanging around with its bigger cousin, the Woodpigeon. 

Stock Dove

There was another Stock Dove at Conder Green, a single bird that arrived to feed on the bare ground around the islands as I scanned across the water. After a wet winter there’s a lot of water here and this makes the pool rather deep for both waders and dabbling ducks. There was no sign of recent Avocets with waders and wildfowl limited to 16 Redshank, 14 Oystercatcher, 12 Shelduck, 4 Teal, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Curlew, 1 Little Egret and a pair of Tufted Duck. 

The “tufties” bred here last year with their ten or so youngsters reduced within a few days to one or two still fluffy balls.  Who would be  parent nowadays?

Tufted Duck

As I drove towards Glasson Dock a single Swallow flew across the road, and then a little further along I spied a hovering Kestrel. Singing Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff at Glasson Dock where a pair of Swallows fed around and about the roadside and lock gates. 

I took a drive down Hillam Lane towards the marsh. The local Sand Martin colony swarmed with martins with my best guesstimate around 200+ birds plus four or more Swallows. Andy and I are hoping to ring the martins this year, but once again it looks like the little beggars are nesting too high up the quarry face for us to reach them. We may need a Plan B. 

Down at Cockerham Marsh it seemed to be mostly White Wagtails and Meadow Pipits with counts of circa forty of each and just 2 Pied Wagtail. A couple more Swallows rushed through and two more around the farm. 
White Wagtail

Meadow Pipit

I pulled off the single track road and onto the soggy marsh to let an ambulance pass by and on its way back to Lancaster Hospital - best not to bounce the passenger from their stretcher.  I’d heard the wail of the siren earlier as the ambulance rushed along the main road and down Hillam Lane to collect yet another casualty from the nearby Black Knights Parachute Centre. I do worry about that place. I’m sure there should be an apostrophe in that name. 

Time flies when you’re having fun but I had enough minutes left for a quick look at Fluke Hall. Here at least two each of both Blackcap and Chiffchaff, a Canada Goose lurking on the pool and a roadside Kestrel. Oh, and more Swallows. 

Maybe spring isn’t too far away? Next Tuesday - if those weather folk are right.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog in Texas.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Timely Advice

Migrants are trickling north in ones and two without any signs of a major arrival to enliven a morning’s birding. Ringing is on hold while cold north westerlies predominate and this week I’ve been busy with half-term duties. 

I’m hoping to go birding Friday and/or Saturday, but in the meantime this week came timely reminders on the reporting of rare breeding birds from Mark Holling of the UK’s Rare Breeding Birds Panel and Mark Thomas of RSPB Investigations,  here.

They suggest a long list of species where news blackouts should apply in circumstances suggestive of breeding or potential breeding unless public viewing has been arranged:
Black-throated Diver 
Little Bittern 
Cattle Egret 
Great White Egret 
Purple Heron 
Eurasian Spoonbill 
Red-necked Grebe 
Slavonian Grebe 
Black-necked Grebe 
Honey Buzzard 
White-tailed Eagle 
Peregrine Falcon 
Montagu's Harrier 
Baillon's Crake 
Common Crane 
Black-winged Stilt 
Temminck's Stint 
Purple Sandpiper 
Green Sandpiper 
Wood Sandpiper 
Red-necked Phalarope 
Snowy Owl 
Long-eared Owl 
European Bee-eater 
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 
Golden Oriole 
Red-backed Shrike 
Penduline Tit 
Savi's Warbler
Marsh Warbler

Peregrine Falcon

Long-eared Owl

Lesser-spotted Woodpecker - Crossley ID Guide Britain & Ireland 

"By nature of their rarity, rare breeding birds are vulnerable to disturbance, but to do so deliberately is against the law. Although some species, particularly raptors, are still persecuted by game managers in some areas, there has been an increasing incidence of disturbance by birdwatchers and especially by bird photographers. Although such disturbance may be accidental, inconsiderate or careless behaviour can lead to birds deserting their nests or losing their eggs or young to predators.” 

The list includes species that are now beginning to make their mark in the UK as new colonisers but also one or two like Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Long-eared Owl, Peregrine and even the once common Ruff, all subject to relentless chasing around pressure in this area should they appear either in or out of the breeding season. 

If only all bird watchers, including local ones, had taken note of the sensible advice and guidance above, we may have avoided the recent deliberate shooting dead of a Peregrine Falcon at St Anne’s-on-Sea, 15 miles from here and where the birds were subjected to almost daily visits and reportage on Internet social media.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Birds of India - A Photographic Field Guide - A Review

After five visits to India and one to Sri Lanka I never tired of Indian subcontinent, the landscapes, its people or its birds. I did however become weary of the interminable flights of 22 hours door to door with unwanted stop overs in the Middle East. So even though flights to India are nowadays more direct I restrict holiday/birding trips to three or four hours on an aeroplane where I can bird the same day. 

A new field guide reminds me of what I am missing by not returning to India. With a great deal of time, money, luck plus a whole series of local guides with specialised knowledge, I might eventually see 13% of the world’s birds as portrayed in the book. 

Reviewed today is a book first published in 2016 in India by Om Books, “A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh”, now given a wider audience by Princeton University Press and on sale at $45 or £37.95. The authors of Birds of India are Bikram Grewal, Sumit Sen, Sarwandeep Singh and Nikhil Devasar, four experienced and well-travelled birders and photographers. 

Birds of India - A Photographic Field Guide - Princeton Press
Trying to fit almost 1400 species into a single field guide is surely a well-nigh impossible task. With 792 pages, 4,000 colour photos and 1,300+ maps the authors and publishers have made a valiant effort but the book has a number of key failings. The major problem and perhaps to be expected is the sheer usability. Weighing in at almost 1.5 kg and nearly 2 inches thick, this is a heavy volume to lug around for any length of time and is more at home on a table top.

 Birds of India - A Photographic Field Guide - Princeton Press

Introductory pages by Carol and Tin Inskipp give a fascinating overview and history of ornithology in India and its immediate neighbours, the several pages illustrated with evocative thumbnail sketches. We are also reminded how the protection of wildlife has a long tradition in the history of the region and continues today in large areas of special protection in parts of India, Bhutan Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Birds of India - A Photographic Field Guide - Princeton Press

Unfortunately other parts of the book do not live up to this initial excitement and anticipation. From the Introduction the reader is plunged straight into the species accounts via the barest of a Contents list or even a brief explanation of the pages that follow. 

The taxonomy and nomenclature used is not described, whereby a summary of at least the families of the birds and the order in which they appear in the ensuing pages would be of great value to a reader new to India. As it is the pages appear to follow Inskipp et al of 1996 by using the order beginning partridge, quail, pheasant etc first, followed by ducks, grebes etc, etc. Rather confusingly the information about species contained in the book is held in not one, but two checklists, both of which are at the end of the book. The first checklist follows the classification and nomenclature of Birds of South Asia; The Ripley Guide of 2012, while the second and more modern one of 2016 follows the Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of Birds of the World. 

Almost as an afterthought, advice on how to use the book’s maps is contained in three lines at the foot of the Introduction, while the maps themselves are both small and often difficult to interpret or occasionally missing.

Birds of India - A Photographic Field Guide - Princeton Press

While there are many fine, even stunning photographs within the book, their use is inconsistent and often unnecessary, especially so when a single full page photograph takes up space that could be used to show the variation of age or sex within the same species. The lack of explanation and picturing of such normal variation is both notable and striking in many pages where it highlights the difficulties of producing a purely photographic field guide. The natural inclination of most bird photographers is to picture the conspicuous male while sometimes neglecting portraist of the mostly drab looking female or autumnal juvenile.  The inclusion of different plumages and age classes is a “must” for any field guide, especially so when a birder is faced with the unfamiliar species they might find In India.

Birds of India - A Photographic Field Guide - Princeton Press

Also lacking in Birds of India is a range of photographs of birds in flight, especially raptors and waders, in particular the difficult family of accipiters where a fleeting glimpse of a bird in flight is often the most a birder can expect. 

Having been rather critical of this book I must emphasise its many valuable points cantered around the top-class and sometimeds superb photography. Birds of India will remain with me as a comparative reference guide that contains very many high quality images, a book that that will slip easily into my birding library. 

In fact I recommend it as handy comparative reference guide, perhaps alongside a traditional illustrative guide, in this case another Princeton guide - Birds of India by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp and Tom Inskipp.  I reviewed  this earlier guide on Another Bird Blog on March 4th 2012.

Stay tuned for more news, views and reviews from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

More Polls

Overnight had been clear.There was a slight frost on the screen as the instrument panel lit up - “beware of possible ice”.

I was travelling back to the hills today where I met up with Andy in the expectation of more finches and maybe a warbler or two; especially so since Andy’s ringing near his home on Friday produced 5 Meadow Pipits, a couple of Great-spotted Woodpeckers, a Tree Pipit, a Blackcap and a Willow Warbler. 

Tree Pipit

Try as we might we caught no Tree Pipits today nor did we catch a singing Blackcap, and one only of the 4 Willow Warblers around. So we made do with yet more Lesser Redpolls amongst the 19 birds of 5 species: 13 Lesser Redpoll, 3 Goldfinch, 1 Siskin, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Willow Warbler. 

Willow Warbler


The very first Lesser Redpoll caught was already ringed but with ring number not of our own sequences. At number S295643 the record is now sent to the BTO who interrogate their data to discover the who, when and where. 

Just one Siskin today out of the eight or ten we saw and heard. At 8th April the species’ spring passage may be over. 

One of the Lesser Redpolls we caught had greyer tones than the other more typically brown and buff Lessers caught at the same time. The unwary might be tempted to call it a Common (Mealy) Redpoll but at this time of year and as a second year female the plumage is very worn by way of extensive whitish covert bars and fringes to the flight feathers. The bird was Lesser Redpoll size and “jizz” and we concluded it to be this species alone. Two images of the same bird below. The top one is taken in goodish sunny light, the second one in the shade of the car's hatchback.

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

Thankfully and not before time the Common Redpoll and Lesser Redpoll will be lumped back together as one species beginning in 1st January 2018 after the rather dodgy split into two species made in the year 2000.  I hope someone remembers to tell the birds before 1st January so that they can prepare for spring 2018, safe in the knowledge that it’s OK to begin breeding with the “other” species again. 

Are Redpolls Just One Species? March 2015.

"Mason and Taylor looked beyond the plumage into strands of the birds’ DNA in the most extensive look ever at the redpoll genome. Whereas previous genetic analyses of redpolls looked at just 11 regions of the genome (at most), Mason and Taylor examined 235,000 regions. (That impressive number is a testament to the exponential advances in DNA-sequencing technology, but the researchers are quick to note it’s still less than 1% of the total genome.)

In all, the duo compared DNA from 77 redpolls, including specimens from museums around the world, from the Museum of Vertebrates at Cornell University to the Natural History Museum of Geneva in Switzerland. They found no DNA variation that distinguishes Hoary Redpolls from Common Redpolls. Furthermore, another redpoll species found in Europe—the Lesser Redpoll—also had extremely similar DNA sequences. This extreme similarity among all the redpolls stands in marked contrast to studies of other groups of birds—such as Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees—which show differences at many regions of the genome.

In nature, one of the key differentiators among distinct species is assortative mating, that is, members of a group breeding with each other more often than they breed with members of another group. According to Mason, when it comes to Hoary, Common, and Lesser Redpolls, “There are no clear-cut genetic differences, what we would expect to see if assortative mating had been occurring for a long time.”

"The physical differences among redpolls are associated with patterns in their RNA, not their DNA. In other words, the variation in plumage and size is probably not a matter of genetic variation, but of genetic expression. It’s like how two humans might have the same gene for brown hair, but one person’s might be lighter than the other’s—that gene is being expressed differently.”

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymeric molecule essential in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes.

There’s a useful set of photographs of Lesser and Common Redpoll here.

On the way home via Garstang and the mosslands I saw my first Swallows of the year, a pair on wires close to farm buildings. Also, 3 different Kestrels and a pair of displaying Buzzards, one of them visiting last year’s nest.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

First Willys

Preparation is everything for these early starts. I packed a bag with camera, outdoor breakfast and a vacuum flask primed with coffee & milk.  The alarm was set for 0500 allowing time for a rapid wake-me-up shower. A large mug of tea, a piece of toast and twenty minutes later I’m on the road heading for Oakenclough and a few spring migrants. 

As I arrived Andy was already on the move and keen for the off. According to the Beeb’s weather forecast, the morning would be dry but 100% cloudy. It was more of the BBC’s bogus information as we started off in bright sunshine but by 10am a belt of rain arrived and we took the nets down. 

We caught slowly but surely and ended up with another 20 birds in the field sheet including our first Willow Warblers of 2017. Once again, finches led the list at 6 Goldfinch, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 4 Siskin, 2 Willow Warbler, 2 Chafffinch, 1 Robin and 1 Coal Tit. 

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll

Willow Warbler

Birding was pretty quiet although we thought that Siskins and Lesser Redpolls were around in larger numbers than of late with upwards of 25 of both species either lurking or passing overhead. Just the two Willow Warblers we caught, zero Chiffchaffs on site today and still no Goldcrests! 

Otherwise - 15/20 Goldfinch, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Pied Wagtail, 2 Mistle Thrush, 1 Song Thrush.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

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