Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday 17th August

The forecast was OK for later in the day but no good for early birders like me. Rain spotted the windscreen as I stopped off at Lane Ends, Pilling, hoping for another look at the Marsh Harrier that us three ringers saw on Tuesday, possibly the same harrier one that’s been around for a week or two. 

Lots of local farmers have all seen the mystery bird but can’t put a name to the thing that’s “not a Buzzard and much bigger”. Our local farmers aren’t too good at bird ID but they are red hot at counting sheep & cattle or making a bob or two. 

Anyway I didn’t see a harrier but I did see and hear more than 25 Little Egrets leaving the island roost and 70 or more Greylags coming off the marsh and flying south. A couple of Willow Warblers tuned up ready for the day ahead, not singing but contact calling. 

I called next at Gulf Lane where I stayed for a while to count the Linnet flock. Three days ago they numbered about 50, but today there was an increase with 140+ Linnets, 8/10 Goldfinch and 4 Tree Sparrows. What a shame that once again there was sufficient breeze to put paid to any hopes of a ringing session. The Linnets are really homing in on the natural food now but it’s hard to see what they eat when they drop deep into the cover and feed either very low or actually on the ground. Linnets eat a whole variety of mainly “milky” seeds, too many to list, but many from the cabbage family. The list of their food items takes up almost a full column of The Birds of The Western Palearctic.

Linnet

The local Kestrel was about. It sits atop a roof or a roadside post from where it keeps an eye on the field and the feeding Linnets. Although Kestrels eat mainly mammals they are very opportunist and on a couple of occasions last year we encouraged a Kestrel to spend less time watching our ringing of Linnets. 

Kestrel

I made my way to Conder Green where Sand Martins and Swallows fed over the pool and along the hedgerows. I counted 50+ Sand Martins and 10+ Swallows. The Kingfisher put in another fly-by appearance as it headed off towards the road bridge and the quiet upstream of the River Conder. The tide ran into the creek and brought 4 Goosander, 4 Teal and 5 Little Egret alongside the road. Goosanders are such handsome birds but as a species targeted by anglers, they are very wary of anyone pointing a lens in their direction. 

Goosander

There’s not much variety in the waders for now with 30 Redshank, 3 Oystercatcher, 2 Curlew and 1 Common Sandpiper. A good count of Lapwing though as more than 200 put on the occasional flying display as they spooked from their island retreat. A Sparrowhawk spooked the Lapwings once but of the other half a dozen “dreads” I saw nothing to cause the panic. An overhead Raven seemed to have no effect on the Lapwings but then a Raven is probably a threat to Lapwing chicks only and not to adults. 

Lapwings

A female Tufted Duck still has four youngsters in tow while Little Grebes were back down to two. Otherwise small birds were few and far between except for a flock of 40 Linnets, 6 Goldfinch, 2 Pied Wagtail and 1 Willow Warbler in quiet sub-song. 

Stop Hare Coursing

That’s it for now. Back tomorrow hopefully.  



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yes or No. Touch and Go.

Text messages flew back and forth at 5am this morning. There’d been rain most of the night with a forecast that was a little “iffy”, especially so for a site on the edge of the Bowland fells. There seemed just a small window of opportunity for a ringing session. 

“Let’s go for it” was the final message, so I met up with Andy at 0615 at Oakenclough. The morning remained grey with the camera set at ISO1600 but in between an odd light shower or two we managed a respectable 33 birds. 

Our total included one or two warblers and our second Tree Pipit of the week. 34 birds - 11 Goldfinch, 7 Goldcrest, 6 Coal Tit, 3 Robin, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Tree Pipit. 

Tree Pipit

Goldfinches were around in some numbers today. As noted earlier in the week, there are Goldfinch flocks beginning to appear in a number of localities. 

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

One of our two new Willow Warblers was a tiny individual. The juvenile female had a wing length of 60mm and a weight of 7gms, much on the lower limits of Willow Warbler size and more equivalent to the biometrics of a Chiffchaff. 

Willow Warbler

At 1030 we packed in when a strengthening wind brought a heavy shower. 

Other birds noted this morning – 1 Jay, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 10 Swallow, 30+ Goldfinch. 

Finally, and having the delight of seeing magnificent Marsh Harriers in action this week I was appalled to see the video below. There truly are some disgusting individuals at large in the British countryside.

Please watch it and if you feel as aggrieved as I do, write to your Member of Parliament about what is happening to raptors in upland Britain.



Linking today to World Bird Wednesday. Take a look.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday’s Plan

They do say the British weather is unpredictable. Well not this year because there’s a definite pattern emerging in this the worst one for many a year. There’s a day of dry, then the next day of rain, and then a mixed up day when there’s sun for half of the daylight hours and rain during the remainder. Mostly it has been breezy or windy come rain or shine. 

So in a strange way, it is possible to plan birding, ringing and a spot of photography by looking out for the good days, ignoring the rest and planning accordingly. Luckily Sunday’s forecast of wall-to-wall sunshine looked to be one of the better days so I set off early with camera and bins at the ready. 

The regular as clockwork Kingfisher opened the account at Conder Green. The bird wasn’t for hanging around though and after it quickly flew off I soon saw it again going in the opposite direction. This time it carried a small item of prey. Kingfishers can have more than one brood of chicks. 

I turned my attention to the water where 10 Little Grebe ducked and dived for the same thing the Kingfisher wanted. Four Cormorant were after bigger stuff to eat but they quickly come and go from the estuary 100 yards away where they find the bigger prey. The grebe count should double before the year is out on this a very regular winter gathering place. Meanwhile a Tufted Duck still chaperones 4 growing youngsters - quite an improvement on recent years of zero success. 

Cormorant

 Little Grebe
 
I saw my first Snipe of the autumn with 2 in the creeks and a single on the island. Redshank numbers are on the increase with 65 today, a single Greenshank, a couple of Curlews and 4 Common Sandpiper. Most of the Curlews and Lapwings are on the estuary and inland fields, exampled by a later count of 270 Lapwings in a single field on Pilling moss. 

Apart from the above the pool and margins are very quiet with 4 Little Egret, 6 Pied Wagtail and 3 Stock Dove to add to the above. I found a good flock of circa 50 Goldfinch along the hedgerow where a couple of Whitethroat can still be heard churring. I did a circuit of Jeremy Lane to get a male Sparrowhawk, a few Swallows, a good flock of juv Starlings, a very tatty Kestrel and a very obliging Wheatear.  Don't forget to "click the pic".

Don’t you just love ‘em when they perform so well? 

Wheatear

Wheatear

Wheatear

Kestrel

Swallow

Swallow

Juvenile Starlings are comical this time of year in their mix of adult and baby feathers. They behave in a rather strange way as if they are partly lost, looking around for where to go and what to do without a guiding adult. Then all of a sudden they spook for no reason and off they go in a blur of noise. 

Starlings

I stopped off at the moss where for the third time this week I saw a Marsh Harrier; a little distant as usual. Also, the aforementioned 270 Lapwings, 2 Buzzard and 12 Pied Wagtail. 

So what's in store next week on Another Bird Blog?  Well Monday is baby sitting. After that it's anyones guess but I dare say there will be birding or ringing soon, so stay tuned.





Thursday, August 10, 2017

Gulf News

We get the impression that Linnets are not early risers. It can be half an hour after dawn before Linnets arrive in small parties at our Gulf Lane ringing site. Of course we don’t know where they all spend the night but it looks like there is no large roost, at least not at this time of year. As the autumn and winter progress, things may well change. 

This morning I arranged to meet Andy and Bryan at 0600. Within five minutes the first Linnets began to arrive in parties of from 5 to 15 birds. Comings and goings continued until 11.30 when we called it a morning by which time we had ringed 37 Linnet arriving to feed in the wildflower and bird seed crop. 

Early Start

Ringing Linnets provides information essential to their conservation. Ringing allows us to investigate the cause of changes in the population of Linnets. For their population to be stable and to preferably increase from current lows, the production of new breeding adults, which is dependent on breeding success and survival of immature birds, must balance or outweigh losses due to mortality. For effective conservation we need to know why the Linnet population is changing. Marking birds as individuals is the only way that survival rates can be estimated and therefore is an essential part of bird conservation. This is especially so for a Red Listed species like Linnet. 

Linnet

We processed 37 Linnets in 5 hours. A breakdown of the individuals showed 5 adults (3 female, 2 male) and 32 juvenile/first years (19 male and 13 female). Added to the 49 ringed on Saturday last that is 86 Linnets ringed this week, a figure which rather begs the question of how many Linnets pass through this site in the course of a day or week? 

“Processing” each Linnet involves a number of steps where we collect information. As experienced bird ringers we each have a long-standing principle of processing a bird as quickly as possible. This is based upon the premise that the bird’s welfare always comes first. In the course of each ringing session we collect basic data that combined with past, present and future data sets are used further along the line for analysis and scientific research. 

Ringing station

1) Firstly of course, and as obvious as that may sound, we identify the bird as to its species and note this on the working field sheet for later input to a computer system. A week or two later the same information is transferred to the central BTO database that holds records of all birds ringed in Britain. 

Linnet

2) Once identified the bird is fitted with the correct ring size, in this case a Linnet requires an “A” size, and the letter/number combination fitted is noted on the work sheet. 

Linnet

3) We measure the wing length according to whether the ringer is left or right handed. Wing length is very often a clue as to the sex of the bird being processed. In many species, especially passerines, the wing length of a male is greater than that of a female. Where both sexes are alike e.g. Meadow Pipit, the wing length can help decide the sex of the bird, but this is never the deciding factor of ageing. 

The wing length of a Linnet is within a quite tight range whereby it is the plumage differences throughout the year that determine a Linnet’s sex. In the case of Linnet, the wing length helps only to confirm the sex i.e. males are bigger than females. For the coming winter our own thoughts are that some of our winter Linnets may originate from Scotland and be recognisable as the forgotten Scottish race Linaria cannabina autochthona by their longer wings. 

Linnet

4) We sex each Linnet according to well established criteria, mainly the amount of white in the 7th to 9th primary feather. In the spring and summer this process is made easier by the striking difference in male and female body plumage. The sex is noted on the field sheet next to the age. 

Female Linnet
 
5) We check each Linnet and determine the amount if any of moult. If moult is present we note it on the working field sheet. Moult is a useful indicator of the health of a bird and its whereabouts in the yearly cycle of plumage change. Adult Linnets have a complete but staged moult of all their body and flight feathers during July to September. First year Linnets undergo a partial moult July to September. Of the five adult Linnets today, all were in active moult, a couple of them more advanced than others. Spotting the marked difference between old feathers and new feathers was very easy. 

Adult Linnet moult

 
Adult Linnet moult

5) We weigh each Linnet to the nearest tenth of a gram. Weight can give an indication of the health of the bird. We combine the weight with an examination of whether or not the bird has visible fat and if so how much; the combination of the two may lead to the conclusion that the bird is storing fat in readiness for migration or during a cold spell. If fat is present we “score” it on the working field sheet alongside the weight. Normally, Linnets appear to carry little fat. 

6) We note the time of weighing. A bird’s weight can change during the day so it is important to combine information about the weight with the actual time of day. 

7) The bird is released. The whole process has taken a couple of minutes in which to collect a set of valuable information. 

Bryan and Andy 

Ringers' Manual
 
Ringing kept us pretty busy but we also managed to see other species this morning. In particular we noted 1 Marsh Harrier, 2 Kestrel, 2 Pied Wagtail, 6 Goldfinch, 3 Tree Sparrow and 2 Skylark. 

  Gatekeeper - Thanks Bryan

Stand by for more news, views and pictures soon on Another Bird Blog.

Linking this post to Ann's Birding Blog.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

It’s A Start

I set off early to meet Andy at Oakenclough where we planned maintenance of net rides and bamboo poles in preparation for our autumn and winter ringing on site. We leave the 12ft poles there in all weathers so as to minimise lugging them around each time we visit. Insulation tape stops water seeping into the bamboo and also helps the net loops slide up and down. 

Bamboos

Although all seemed quiet we decided to put a couple of nets up as we repaired the poles one-by-one. To be truthful we didn’t expect much of a catch so were pleasantly surprised with the outcome. 

After four hours we called it a day with a catch of 29 birds of 11 species. This included one Willow Warbler recapture from April 2017, a resident male. Our totals: 8 Willow Warbler, 6 Goldcrest, 3 Chiffchaff, 3 Robin, 2 Great Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Sedge Warbler, 1 Tree Pipit and 1 Redstart. 

Ageing autumn Willow Warblers in the field is well-nigh impossible but much easier in the hand. The potential problem is that adults go through a complete autumn moult while juveniles undertake a partial moult, so that by late summer/early August individual birds of different ages appear the same. In the hand, in general but not absolutely, adults have whiter bellies than first year birds but this on its own and because of the separate moult strategies and species’ races variation, is not enough to separate the two age groups. Reliable ageing of this species also involves checking the wear and shape of both tail feathers and flight feathers and then comparing the ground colour and the gloss of the same feather tracts. 

Willow Warbler - adult

Willow Warbler- juvenile/first year

Oakenclough is a strictly woodland site where we expect to catch woodland species. Imagine our surprise then to catch a Sedge Warbler, the first ever here. When we thought about it more, the emergent vegetation that lines the margins of a nearby reservoir fits the bill of a Sedge Warbler’s preferred reed scrub habitat, but we don’t expect to catch another.

Sedge Warbler

The Sedge Warbler had classic fault bars across the tail. Fault bars are translucent cross stripes where during the growth of the feather a disturbance has taken place, under stressful and adverse environmental conditions, usually hunger and/or bad weather,

Fault Bars - Sedge Warbler

We don’t catch many Redstarts, here or anywhere so were pleasantly surprised to find we had a juvenile/first year male. 

Redstart

Redstart

Our catch of Goldcrest included three juveniles/first year birds from on-site or very close-by. 

Goldcrest

We caught a single Tree Pipit, a species which bred here until about the early 1980s when habitat changes and range retraction led to quite marked losses in breeding numbers. 

Tree Pipit
 
The graph below shows the population changes of Tree Pipit found by combined results from Common Bird Census and Breeding Bird Survey 1966 -2009, BTO. 

Tree Pipit - BTO

Species noted but not caught today included Swallow, Pied Wagtail, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Redpoll and Kestrel.

Well, what do you know? two o' clock and it's raining again. At  least we made a start on our Oakenclough year.

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



Saturday, August 5, 2017

Linnet Kick-Off

The wind and rain finally eased, opening a tiny window of opportunity for Andy and me to kick off Linnet Project 2017/18 at Gulf Lane. We hope to increase last winter's total of 210 Linnets, a project that came to a halt when avian flu intervened. 

From a birding point of view the summer is a washout but the crop of wild bird seed is in fine fettle. The days of often torrential showers followed by spells of hot sunshine have produced a profuse crop in both garden and the countryside. The field of seed crop is no different and at this time of year provides a useful height of four feet in which to set single panel nets. 

Wild Bird Seed field

We started at 0600 but by 0900 the wind had picked up to 12-15 mph and we closed the nets. By then we had caught steadily and ended up with 49 new Linnets, zero recaptures from last year and zero recaptures for the morning. 

The catch consisted of a single adult male and 48 juveniles/birds of the year with a ratio of 25/23 in favour of males. Those figures might suggest that adult Linnets have sent their young off to explore and allow the adults a second brood.  Most certainly today, a number of the youngsters were not long from the nest whereas others were several weeks old. Sexing of the Linnets is carried out be examining the amount of white in the primary feathers.

Field Sheet

Linnet

Female Linnet

 
Male Linnet

Observations today over three hours suggested upwards of 70 individuals on site at any one time but a catch of 49 would indicate the actual numbers involved to be much higher. The lack of same day recaptures also points to the well documented mobility of Linnet flocks and their ability to fool bird counters. 

It was just nine-fifteen so I drove back home via the moss roads and picked up a few birds near the summer flood. On the long shot there are 80 or so Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls, a couple of Pied Wagtail and a good number of Starlings. Out of camera range I noted 3 Buzzard, a male Sparrowhawk and a juvenile Marsh Harrier. Nearby I found a party of Whitethroat, a couple of Greenfinch and a Yellowhammer. 

Pilling/Rawcliffe Moss
 
Mainly Lapwings 

Whitethroat

Now please excuse me while I enter those linnets on the database. Back soon with more news, views and Linnets on Another Bird Blog.

Linking this post to Anni's Birding Blog.




Friday, August 4, 2017

Motivation

As a change from local bird news I searched the Internet and also talked to local contacts about what’s going on in the wider world of birds. 

So today and below are just a couple of snippets I found. 

From The Lancashire and Westmoreland Gazette 1st August 2017 – “The Chairman of The British Upland Management Society (BUMS), multi-millionaire, landowner Sir Henry Spindley-Legge welcomed the news that three pairs of Hen Harriers successfully bred in England this year.” 

“My keepers are tremendously proud of their achievement this year in almost maintaining the 2016 total of four pairs of Hen Harriers in the 50,000 square miles of upland England. For their hard and often unappreciated work that led to this wonderful outcome, each will receive a large pay bonus very soon. These men spent night & day and many long hours in the uplands to ensure that all our birds of prey were accounted for. Their newly issued hi-tech night-time goggles and digital equipment allowed them unrivalled views and close inspection of nesting Peregrines, Merlins, Goshawks and Hen Harriers at their overnight roosts and daytime haunts. Unfortunately the early find of the first Red Kite nest in our area could not be followed up due to inclement Spring weather when the kites decided to head back to warmer climes.” 

Gamekeeper

“Sad to say that accidents do happen and whilst patrolling on a particularly cold and windswept dawn when no one else was around, our most experienced keeper Olly Winchester tripped over a large boulder and accidentally discharged his shotgun in the direction of a sitting Peregrine. Needless to say, Olly was distraught and despite his best efforts to revive the bird with chest compression and then placing the expiring creature under a warming clump of thick heather, the poor thing died.” 

“When the RSPB later informed us that the incident had been captured on their CCTV, and despite ours and Olly best efforts to explain, he was in the frame. Nevertheless I explained to Olly that unfortunately we had to quickly find a replacement keeper but that upon Olly’s release from Pentonville his bonus will still be paid and he will have the responsibility of mucking out the dog kennels.” 

Hen Harrier - Graham Catley - Pewit Blogspot

But now from local contacts come reports of a new bird sightings pager company, Speedbird at speedbird.org. Their stirring motto? “Our Message Is Your Motivation”. 

The company, under the direction of its birder-founder Les Vane is offering a package to rival, and in most cases beat, those of established pager companies, but from a more user friendly and acceptable starting point of £99 a year. 

Les claims that his bargain pager service is “the ultimate tool” for birders with live news of over 100,000 sightings per year, updated on a constant 24 hour, 7 day basis by his team of experienced but retired twitchers now looking to augment their somewhat depleted nest eggs. 

Subscribers will have access to the Speedbird web page and Smartphone coverage offering live stream videos of birds and twitches as they happen. Les says “In this way birders can not only check up on the bird in real time but also on the birders who are there, or more importantly, birders who are not there.” 

Speedbird pager

There will be a large Photo Gallery to share photos, but as Les explains, “This will be restricted to 50 photos per rarity per person and just 1000 pictures per rarity overall, as our systems may be unable to cope with so much digidata”. He adds mischievously, “and in any case when you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all”. 

Les described how a “Previous Records fully searchable database” will include all accepted rarities in Britain and Ireland, with colour maps, stats, photos, and an important novel feature, the highly important name(s) of those credited with the find. 

He also claimed his pager to be “unhackable” to ensure there will be no false records from rival twitchers posting messages that send birders in the wrong direction to often far flung places in search of birds that don’t exist. A valuable feature Les. 

Twitchers

There are worthwhile links from Speedbird.org. Users can click onto Car Hire firms, a list of B&Bs located all over the UK, and even private hire boats and planes based at local ports and airports. In addition to these special offers Les has also signed up many petrol stations to give discounts to Speedbirders.

Another Bird Blog normally steers clear of recommending products and services to its readers but in this case I will make an exception. Les is offering a free 6 month trial to the first one hundred subscribers so come on folks, give Les a go. 

After all, another pager service must be a good thing and we can never have too much news of rare birds can we? 




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