Monday, April 27, 2015

Staying Cool But A Nest Or Two

This morning was spent looking for migrant birds but some of those I found were not the normal species associated with late April. 

There was another frost and a layer of ice on the car, not ideal conditions for early morning warblers or little brown jobs so I decided to leave the bush bashing until the air warmed and motored to Conder Green instead. Later I learnt that snow fell in Blackburn, not a million miles from here.

The high tides of winter and spring have filled the pool again so that there’s still very little mud and too much water to attract any numbers of waders. So most if not all of the morning’s waders and wildfowl were in the tidal channels or on the marsh. 

There was a good selection without an enormous number by way of 4 Common Sandpiper, 2 Greenshank, 2 Snipe, 1 Spotted Redshank, 2 Teal, 1 Wigeon, 10 Tufted Duck and 1 Little Egret. Through April there has been something of a passage of Tufted Ducks at Conder Green but now many have departed until Autumn. 

Tufted Duck

At Fluke Hall car park were 3 Whitethroats, 2 males in song and a much quieter female, the female already the object of attention in being chased around the hedgerow by one the males. Just then a Corn Bunting called but when I looked across a party of Corn Buntings had sat up on bramble and tall grass stems. In fact there were 14 or 15 of them but within a few seconds they departed north over the sea wall and lost to view, an unusual bit of Corn Bunting migration so late in April. But then it has been a cool, slow and rather delayed start to summer with yet more wind and rain to come we are told. 

There was also a noticeable increase in Wood Pigeons compared to recent days, in particular a huge flock of about 550+ feeding enthusiastically in a few recently ploughed fields. When once or twice they all took flight the scene resembled one of wintertime and not Spring. Woodpigeons are known to move around in large flocks in winter in search of food and it’s probably fair to say that these were migrants of sorts but wherever they’re going they will be somewhat late in setting up home. 


The pair of Mistle Thrush at Fluke Hall have been around all winter but now I’ve found the nest - high on the bough of a beech tree where the female sits on the eggs while the male mostly keeps out of the way. 

Mistle Thrush

Also in or about the wood, 2 Blackcap, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Greeenfinch, 2 Kestrel, 2 Buzzard, 2 Stock Dove, 1 Jay, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker and lots of Blackbirds. Two Greylags continue to frequent the pool within the wood where they conduct themselves in a very quiet and unobtrusive manner, and I’m sure they are “at it”. 


A walk along the sea wall required a jacket in the cool, some might say cold westerly breeze, where a single Wheatear, a few Linnets and singing Skylarks proved to be the only passerines. I tracked down one of the pairs of Skylarks and found their nest of three eggs. 


Skylark nest

There are more cool birds soon from Another Bird Blog. Don’t miss them.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bee Eaters And More

Following a lack of visits for 10 days or more I met up with Andy at Oakenclough this morning for a visit to our ringing site. Andy was in Gibraltar for a week whilst I’d stuck to birding around Pilling and so missed out on visiting Oakenclough. And all of this this during a period when a number of migratory arrivals were probable everywhere! Such are the choices of birders who cannot be in two places at once. 

I was looking forward to hearing about Andy’s ringing and birding trip to Gibraltar and to see his pictures of exotica like Bee Eater, Black Stork, Serin, Black Kite and Bonelli’s Warbler, to name but a few. After being suitably impressed with his bird portraits I could but hope that one day in the future I might see a Bee Eater in the hand. Maybe soon when I holiday in Menorca? 

Bee Eater

This morning lacked colourful Mediterranean birds but there were good numbers of the more mundane green/yellow Willow Warblers on view, some of which may well have seen Gibraltar en route to Lancashire. Andy did mention that in amongst the exciting species Willow Warblers had been the most numerous bird of the previous week! 

By the end of our short session the count was of a minimum of 15 singing males. Female Willow Warblers usually arrive a number of days after males and it is only from then onwards that the competition for mates and nesting sites turns more serious. We supposed that very few females were around due to the male songsters remaining high in the trees in the small piece of woodland already adopted by each one. We barely saw a Willow Warbler near the ground, the mandatory position for the mainly female construction of a nest. 

There was little else in the way of warbler activity this morning apart from a single Blackcap. The Blackcap found our nets as did 3 Lesser Redpolls and 3 Willow Warblers. One of the female redpolls had a distinctive brood patch which signified breeding condition and a probable nest nearby. 

 Willow Warbler


Lesser Redpoll

We received details of a Lesser Redpoll caught here at Oakenclough last month on 14th March, a bird bearing the ring D618555, so not a ring from our own stock. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) tell us the bird was ringed in Market Drayton, Shropshire on 2nd February 2014, the previous winter to our own capture. This is a duration of 405 days and the distance between the two sites of 116 km. 

The details are rather inconclusive except that we caught D618555 during a period of Spring migration 2015 when Lesser Redpolls were heading north in good numbers. Whether numbers of Lesser Redpolls spend winters in Shropshire I do not know for sure, but suspect not. This individual may have been on migration from south of Shropshire in February 2014. 

“A” marks Oakenclough and “B” Market Drayton. 

Lesser Redpoll - Shropshire to Lancashire

Otherwise birding: 6+ Lesser Redpoll, 2 Grey Wagtail, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Pied Wagtail, 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, 1 Swallow plus several each of Curlew, Oystercatcher and Lapwing. 

There’s more local birding soon from Another Bird Blog where anything is possible. Even Bee Eaters are not unheard of in Lancashire, so stay tuned.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Better Late Than Never

Here’s the problem - if I don’t get out for local patch birding I get withdrawal symptoms. This morning I had to stay home to await a delivery and phone calls which didn’t arrive at the promised time. There followed a trip to the Post Office with a package to weigh and then post. Such time consuming non-essentials of life are specifically designed to frustrate and annoy the avid birder and prevent them from discovering the rare bird which will propel them to the summit of the Best Birders League instead of languishing in the lower divisions as I do. 

So Pilling it was, albeit late in the day. Some joy ensued with the first Lapwing chicks of the year, two bundles of fluff which escaped the plough of recent days. So fresh were the chicks they were too small for a ring and in any case the farmer was still busy nearby in churning up the remainder of the field and ploughing in unseen nests. I’ll go back in a day or two and hopefully relocate the two youngsters. Looking on the bright side, and also judging by the furrows, we are in for a crop of vegetables to eat rather than acres of silage. 


Pilling ploughed

On the unploughed bits of land remains a flock of 130+ Linnets as well as a number of Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Redshanks with breeding intent; to be fair the farmer is leaving a reasonable amount of uncultivated margin for both waders and Skylarks to nest. A single Golden Plover along the top of the furrows rather woke me up as it silently flew off but it turned out not to be a Dotterel.

The Stoat was around again, this time slinking along the margins of the same field I saw it in a few days ago and up to no good I’m sure when there are all those ground nesting birds and fresh eggs to take. 



Four Whimbrel flew over calling and heading south - a strange direction for Iceland bound migrants. As of recent clear days the woodland was quietish, enlivened by 2 soaring Buzzards, 1 hovering Kestrel, 1 scratchy Whitethroat and 2 liquid Blackcap. 

I drove to Cockerham for a look at one of the very few Sand Martin colonies in this part of coastal Lancashire. Cockerham is a small village and civil parish a mile or so north of Pilling. The village (population c650) is located close to the River Cocker at the estuary of the River Lune. 

There have been a few pairs of Sand Martins on Chris and Margaret’s farm for a number of years, but following a period of gravel extraction about three years ago the colony of martins increased greatly. Today there was probably in excess of 40 Sand Martins with much activity around last year’s nest holes in the quarry face and pretty soon the newly arrived martins will be laying their first eggs. 

Sand Martin- Andy Morffew / Foter / CC BY-ND 

The gravel extraction left a good sized water area and associated margins where Lapwings and Oystercatchers breed, and in some years Little Ringed Plover. There were no tiny plovers today just 20 or so very noisy Oystercatcher, 8 Lapwing, 1 Canada Goose and 8/10 Pied Wagtails. A Wheatear took advantage of farm machinery as a lookout post, and along the same track were a good number of Linnets, Goldfinches and Tree Sparrows. 


It wasn’t a bad few hours after all, entertaining and productive, even for one who likes to be out at the crack of dawn, but I won’t make a habit of late starts.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday Blog and Run-a-Roundranch.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Quietly Trying

The instrument panel flashed 1⁰C and there was a film of this ice on the windscreen. It had been another clear, cold night and one that tends to both clear migrant birds out while not leaving any new ones in their place. As strange as it might seem, the best weather for finding new migrants is that of a rather changeable scenario with showers and the odd weather front or two, conditions which make migrant birds interrupt their often non-stop journeys. 

I drove up to Conder to check the pool where I found 36 Tufted Duck dominating the water, then 8 Shelduck, a single Cormorant, 2 Canada Goose and 30 or so Mute Swans. Floating around on the margins of the tufty gang was a single Gadwall, a very uncommon duck here. In fact it was probably the first Gadwall I’ve ever seen just here. A pair of Teal continue to feed in the tidal channel. 


Waders were represented by 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Curlew, 15 Redshank, 14 Oystercatcher and 2 Lapwing. The Oystercatchers are mostly paired up now, as are the Redshanks whereby both species breed here, as do Lapwings in most years. There didn’t seem to be much passerine activity apart from a Reed Bunting singing from the area of the road bridge. A number of both Sand Martins and Swallow flew through heading north but generally the arrival of both species and also House Martin has not yet been huge. 

Fluke Hall was the next port of call where things were equally quiet. I saw my first Whitethroat of the year along the old hedgerow, and there was a single male “Greenland” Wheatear on the nearby rockery. Whitethroats seem late this year whereby my calendar is marked at 15th April for the first Whitethroat to be rattling along the hedgerows.


The woodland gave up singing Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler (2), and Song Thrush (3), whilst at least one of the 20+ Blackbirds was busily collecting food. Two Buzzards soared over the wood and there was a single and unusually silent Jay flying through the trees. 

Song Thrush

It was 10am and on the way home I stooped to watch a Barn Owl hunting nearby fields. That’s pretty late in the morning for a Barn Owl to be out and about. I’m guessing it was hunting to feed at least one other mouth. It proved an agreeable end to my somewhat quiet morning of birding, but there’s more birding and ringing soon from Another Bird Blog. 

Andy’s back from Gibraltar with tales of Bee Eaters, Black Kites and Blue Rock Thrushes. I’m sure I’ll hear all about those “Bs” fairly soon when we meet up for a ringing session at Oakenclough. 

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Coming To Rocks Near You

Local birders have been reporting good numbers of Wheatears all week. There have been singles and good sized little gangs of them all along the coast and just inland with as few as one or two or up to 20 together. With the help of the trusty mealworms I decided to spend the afternoon on the Pilling patch to try and locate more Wheatears and maybe catch, ring and measure a few.


Near the sea wall at Fluke Hall was a gang of 7 or 8 Wheatears, all of bright colouring, large in stature and also highly mobile in their search for food. The rocks and stones of the sea wall have lots of crevices, nook and crannies where insects abound and where the high boulders provide great vantage points from which to survey the scene. The barbed wire fence and posts provide additional places to keep a lookout. 



Within a minute I’d caught a large handful of a second-year female, one with a wing and weight of 100mm and 26gms respectively. The measurements immediately put her into the category of a “Greenland” type. I released her and she re-joined the other members of the gang by now some 50 yards west and heading towards Knott End. 


I walked towards Pilling Water and where as a contrast to the Wheatear of Spring were 700+ Pink-footed Geese feeding on the marsh, still reluctant to head north to Iceland. A Buzzard flew from the wood and like me headed towards Pilling Water. It was about 1300 hours when a handful of Swallows arrived from the south and headed directly north across Morecambe Bay - diurnal migration in action. 

Lapwings alerted me to something wrong. There was a Stoat carrying a tiny mammal, probably a vole, and running across the ploughed field which holds a couple of Lapwing nests. The Lapwings weren’t happy. The Stoat ran down into a wet ditch carrying the prey and disappeared from view.  

Memo to self for later Googling - do Stoats eat their prey immediately? In mid to late April would they have the customary 6-10 kittens waiting for food in a nearby den? 


There was a Kestrel and 2 Little Egrets at Pilling Water and not much else save for a few Linnets and a single Wheatear moving up and down the usual line of rocks. This Wheatear wasn’t so easy and gave me the run-a-round for a while until succumbing to temptation. Being quite grey on the mantle and crown and with wing and weight of 97mm and 22.4 respectively I suspect it was a second year male nominate Oenanthe oenanthe. But birds in the hand can be deceiving, even more so at large in the field. 

Best to let the experts out there decide next time they spot those Wheatears clambering over the rockery. 


Please join Another Bird blog soon. There’s sure to be more rocking and rolling with Wheatears.

Linking today to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday Blog.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday Birds

The Pilling morning air looked cold and grey. It was, and for a while I had to wear a pair of lightweight gloves reserved for such Springtime emergencies. With just a few hours to spare before domestic duties I gave the birding all I had without too much success. 

Feeding below the sea wall I found 2 Wheatears and a little further along discovered the Linnet flock of late comprising by now some 100+ individuals. We birders tend not to think of the Linnet as a migrant species but in the Autumn many disappear to the south of England, France and Spain for the winter months and then reappear rather late in the Spring, often into May and in the small flocks associated with Autumn. Once here they soon get on with the breeding season and one pair of birds is quite capable of rearing 3 broods of youngsters before summer is out. 


In the now slightly flooded field were 15 Meadow Pipits and a pair of Pied Wagtails. From a distance the single bird perched up on grass and bramble stems looked like a Reed Bunting, and as I walked closer and heard it call I realised it was a Corn Bunting, the bigger relative of the Reed Bunting. It has not been the best winter for seeing Corn Buntings and this was actually my first of the year. It flew off across the field in the direction of Pilling village and the mosslands beyond where a few pairs survive the unintentional cull of recent years. 

Corn Bunting

Around Fluke Hall the several Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs of my last visit were silent except for 1 “chiffy”. The recent ones were clearly migrants which quickly move on elsewhere and to be honest I’m not sure how many of each nests here but maybe one pair of each at most. As I circumnavigated the woodland edge the Buzzard pair saw me arrive and both birds flew off calling. There is a pair of Great-spotted Woodpeckers nesting and their alarm calls said they had seen the intruder too. A Kestrel flew from the usual trees by the nestbox, and I mostly see the male now because the female will be sat tight. There was a single Stock Dove in the trees and at least 20 Woodpigeons still feeding as a loose flock in the nearby stubble field. 


The light was so grey I couldn’t get a picture of a Mistle Thrush at the top of a nearby tree, and then just along the road a minute or two later it or its mate was busily feeding amongst a recently ploughed field. 

Mistle Thrush

There was no time for a walk towards Pilling Water, my limited time was up, but in the distance and flying out to the marsh I could see and hear a goodish flock of about 400 wintering Pink-footed Geese. The weather’s a lot warmer this afternoon. Omens of a better tomorrow for Another Bird Blog?

Monday, April 13, 2015

No Wrynecks Today

I gave the Pilling patch a good three hours grilling today but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary or much different from recent days. 

Meanwhile over at Heysham, 8km from Pilling as the crow flies, mist nets turned up both a Firecrest and a Ring Ouzel, while at Cockersands, a flap and a glide away, a dogged birder I know discovered a Wryneck! It’s the old truisms that “mist nets find birds which might otherwise go missing” and the other one about “being in the right place at the right time”. 

It’s a good number of years since I’ve seen a Wryneck, and many a moon since ringing one. We don’t get too many of these strange looking beasts Up North. 

Wryneck - P Slade

Today I was clearly both in the wrong place and wide of the mark with my timing so had to make do with commoner fare. Swallows were much in evidence at Fluke Hall with a group of 18/20 feeding above the trees and one or two around farms on the way home. In a few days no one will bother reporting them as they become widespread. It will be the same with both Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, with today at least 4 Chiffchaffs and 3 Willow Warblers singing in the woodland and probably a good number more unseen. In the rain of Saturday morning there was even a Willow Warbler singing in my back garden. 

Willow Warbler

Back at Pilling a Nuthatch busily proclaimed territory as did 3 Song Thrush, a Mistle Thrush and plenty of Chaffinches and Goldfinches. The month of April makes birders look more closely at Blackbirds, hoping to see one with a crescentic breast patch and so become the elusive "Mountain Blackbird” or Ring Ouzel.

I must have studied twenty or more Blackbirds around Fluke Hall, and while none morphed into Ring Ouzels, I did note that most were males. Lots of females tucked away in the undergrowth on nests me thinks. 


Around the woodland, pairs of Buzzard and Kestrel, 5 Stock Dove mixed with in with 20 + Woodpigeon and 2 pairs of Pied Wagtail. I walked the sea wall but found no Wheatears, just a single Little Egret and 40+ Linnets in the damp stubble field. There are Lapwings sat tight on nests, Redshanks and Oystercatchers hanging about with intent but the farmer has done his first ploughing on the very adjacent field. The Lapwings are next for being turned over. Some things never change at Pilling. 


A blog reader asked about the tide in relation to the sea wall at Pilling. The picture below shows the tide in (on a calm, sunny day) on something like a 10.5 metre tide. The high tides are very variable, often much lower so that the water barely reaches the marsh and might be a hundred or more metres out from the sea wall. On very low tides the water might be way out in Morecambe Bay. In the left of the picture is Heysham Power Station.

Pilling Marsh

Pilling to Morecambe/Heysham

Join in Another Bird Blog tomorrow but there’s no guarantee of a Wryneck.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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