Friday, December 19, 2014

Golden Times

The weather doesn’t improve. After writing off Wednesday and Thursday’s plans for birding due to almost constant rain and solid grey skies, Friday’s strong winds were also not designed to help birders, ringers, or anyone else really. Luckily there was a vital job for me that would pass a couple of hours - a trip to Oakenclough where the ringing and feeding station would need a top-up. 

The journey would take the long way round. From home the coastal road through Pilling and Cockerham to Conder Green and Glasson. After that a drive inland over the raised mosses of Pilling, Cockerham and Winmarleigh, skirting alongside the ancient market town of Garstang before heading east and into the foothills of Bowland. Yes, this part of Lancashire is a superb part of the world in which to live and in which to enjoy birds, away from the noise, fumes, expense and stress of city and urban living. 

The week’s rain coupled with the incoming 9 o’clock tide meant that Conder Creek was almost full alongside the road - not the best way to see feeding waders with no shallow water to survey. I’d made an elementary mistake in not keeping abreast of tide times in recent days. Never mind, there was a fine flotilla of 90+ Teal, a dozen or more Wigeon and even a few Little Grebes in the brimming channels. On the pool, a Red-breasted Merganser, 5 more Little Grebe, a couple of Cormorants and a lone Curlew sharing the windswept island with a gang of Mallards. 


I drove to Glasson hoping that diving ducks might be feeding close to the more sheltered margins of the yacht basin as they often do on strong windy days. Bingo - 24 Goldeneye and 22 Tufted Duck at times coming reasonably close to the edge until the steady plod-plod of early but oblivious walkers sent the ducks steaming back to the choppy middle water. Some people just don’t notice the stunning looks of a male Goldeneye, even less do they mind disturbing the birds from their search for food. 


The feeding station was busy, the feeders now just a quarter full after Tuesday’s top-up. I watched from the car as 8 or 10 Goldfinch crowded each one, squabbling as they went and sending the bigger Greenfinches flying off. In the hawthorns and on the ground below I counted 20 or more Chaffinch, Dunnocks, Robins and a constant stream of raiding Coal Tits. When next the weather allows we will surely have another good catch of birds with Goldfinch to the fore. 


Some of our UK Goldfinches migrate to south-western Europe, e.g. France and Spain. Interestingly, many more of these birds are females than males, and birds that migrate one year will not necessarily migrate in others. The weather this winter has been wet and mild which means that many Goldfinches will stay around for the time being, especially since part of our feeding regime includes niger seed and sunflower hearts, both of which are high energy foods that Goldfinches love. 


Goldfinches have recovered well from a serious decline in the 1970s and 80s possibly caused by increased use of herbicides. The comeback has been so strong that the Goldfinch may well be our commonest garden bird, but changing agricultural practices in the future might still threaten the species. 

While birders most often use the term “flock” to describe a number of birds feeding or flying together, an old and now unused collective name for a gathering of Goldfinches is a “charm”. That seems an eminently fitting term to describe our beautiful UK Goldfinch.

There was a Kestrel, a Mistle Thrush in the wood and overhead 40+ Fieldfares heading north, but little else of note on such a windy morning.

No, problem, we'll try again soon. In the meantime linking to Anni's Birding and Eileen's Saturday Blog .

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday’s Ringing

Tuesday morning promised a window of half decent weather so I met up with Andy and Craig for a ringing session near Oakenclough. Craig is back from University until January so is able to join us occasionally only. He takes well the banter he receives as the youngest member of the group, giving us ancient ones in return as good as he gets. Whilst our four hour ringing session was hard, concentrated and serious work it was also good fun when a lull in proceedings allowed time to talk. 

We caught a total of 79 birds, 44 new ones together with 35 recaptures from our previous four visits of November and December. Today’s high proportion of recaptures to new ones is quite high but left us at a loss to explain why, unless it is simply that more birds are adding this relatively new site to their established feeding circuit. 

After previous visits resulted in catches of more finches than members of the tit family, the situation was reversed today with the finch family finding themselves lower down the pecking order of 44 birds - 12 Blue Tit, 9 Goldfinch, 7 Coal Tit, 5 Great Tit, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Robin, 2 Greenfinch, 2 Dunnock, 2 Redwing. 

35 Recaptures - 14 Blue Tit, 9 Coal Tit, 6 Great Tit, 5 Goldfinch, 1 Greenfinch. Soon after dawn there was a movement of approximately 60 Redwing and 30+ Fieldfares, probably birds leaving a local roost. 

We caught two of the Redwing, both first winter birds - note the rather worn plumage and the tail fault bars on the bird below. 

Redwing - first winter


Goldfinch - male

Blue Tit - first winter

Chaffinch - first winter female

Otherwise the resident Bullfinches continue to evade us, as do the Lesser Redpolls which fly over and through the site with regularity. 

On the way home, a Stoat dashed from the roadside into hedgerow vegetation and then at Out Rawcliffe I had brief views of a Mistle Thrush plus 40+ Fieldfares.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday .

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Frosty Foray

Saturday morning. A heavy layer of frost and ice covered the car. The doors were frozen solid and there was black ice on the road so best not to venture far. 

Pilling shore is just a mile or two away and always worth a look for a Snow Bunting, Shore Lark or something equally sensational. More often or not, in fact 99.9% of the time, it’s the same old species which provide the buzz of birding, knowing and appreciating a regular patch. 

At Fluke Hall car park a calling Reed Bunting greeted me, one of several I would see and hear during the morning. Along the shore were the usual half a dozen Little Egrets so highly visible and often vocal that I sometimes wonder if I miss other birds by always looking at the once rare egret. On the accustomed pool where the shooters leave potatoes and swedes to attract wildfowl I counted 48 Whooper Swans along with 30+ Shelduck, but no geese today. 

Whooper Swan

Right alongside a drainage ditch I often walk was a dead Grey Heron, a “stiff” in more than one sense as it was covered in a layer of frost and the whole corpse solid from the overnight below zero. With their reliance on feeding in and around shallow watercourses, ditches and drains, Grey Herons are amongst the first birds to suffer during cold spells, inexperienced first year birds especially so. 

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

There’s a stretch of Phragmites reed from where a single Teal flew off followed seconds later by a Snipe. More calls and sightings of Reed Buntings came from here and the nearby relict maize crop as I jotted 6 more “reebu” into my notebook. 

Reed Bunting

A single Skylark flew over and then a flight of 80+ Linnets heading towards Fluke Hall, the birds landing out of sight somewhere in the distance. Linnets have been very hard to come by in recent months, all year in fact, in contrast to their close cousin the Goldfinch which continues to adapt and flourish in the modern world. A walk across the track to Fluke Hall Lane provided 40 or more Redshanks on the flood and a couple of Curlews but nothing out of the ordinary.

Along the lane and through the wood - a smart looking male Kestrel, a Nuthatch and the pair of resident Pied Wagtails. 


It’s Sunday and raining - again. Now there’s a novelty.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bombed Out Birding

Yes, I’ve been quiet of late, a victim of the ‘Weather Bomb’ which hit North West England this week. I thought this terminology was invented by the TV forecasters but ‘weather bomb’ was imported from the US and New Zealand. Whatever you like to call it we were certainly bombarded by lots of unpleasant weather for most of the week. 

Friday morning was a little better, the wind eased and there was even a little sun at times, with just the odd grenade of hail stones or blast of heavy rain showers. 

I stopped at Damside hoping to see geese but there were none, just half a dozen Redshanks, a number of Black-headed Gulls on the flood and he resident Kestrel pair in the area of their nest box. 

Kestrels are fairly monogamous so both a male and female may often be seen together throughout the year, not just in the breeding season. Over the years our UK Kestrel has collected a number of common names including Hoverhawk, Windhover, Windfanner, Vanner Hawk, Wind Cuffer, Mouse Falcon and Mouse Hawk, the names giving a clue to how the species hunts and what it likes to eat. 


The gales during the week sent many gulls scurrying from the shore to the comparative shelter of inland fields so it was no surprise to see upwards of 1500 mainly Black-headed Gulls on the fields at Gulf Lane, Cockerham. 

There were Curlews too but I decided not to spend a couple of hours grilling the gulls and instead continued north to Conder and Glasson. A brief stop at Braides Farm found a pair of Pied Wagtails, 2 Linnet, 4 Mute Swan, 2 Canada Goose, several Curlews and yet another Kestrel, this one hunting alone. The week’s weather will have stopped many birds from feeding with this comparatively better day a chance to catch up on their meals. 

The regular Spotted Redshank and Common Sandpiper seem set to winter at Conder Green where I found both feeding in the creeks along with 90+ Teal, 10 Wigeon, 5 Curlew, 1 Little Egret and 1 Little Grebe. 

 Spotted Redshank

Common Sandpiper

Another 10 Little Grebes were on the pool together with 2 Tufted Duck, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Grey Heron and a Kingfisher. The latter showing briefly at its usual lookout spot on the water outflow and I rather carelessly let the bird see me and sent it flying off. I'm out of birding practice this week.   

The godwit didn’t appear too healthy, lethargic and looking to rest rather than feed - perhaps a casualty of the high winds and constant rain of the week past. 

Black-tailed Godwit

At Glasson, 51 Tufted Duck and 8 Cormorants.

The forecast for Saturday isn't too bad and then it's back to same old rubbish. Fingers crossed for better days soon on Another Bird Blog.

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

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Sunday Job

There was rain and then the wind blew my garden feeding station to the ground so the prospects for a morning’s birding weren’t good. Nonetheless there was a job to do at Oakenclough where the ringing station needed checking for a top up of bird seed, so I set off inland. 

It has not been much of a Fieldfare autumn so at Out Rawcliffe I was pleased to find a flock of 80 or more Fieldfares feeding in a stretch of roadside hawthorns. It’s a traditional and so almost guaranteed location to find the species, even when they can’t be seen elsewhere. I do wonder whether it is simply that the species homes in on the wealth of red berries hereabouts or if there is an element of a few individuals returning year after year to a known food source and bringing new birds along? 

As one of the larger and more robust members of the thrush family of birds, but bearing in mind it is highly migratory with all those attendant risks, an individual Fieldfare can be fairly long lived. Through the ringing of Fieldfares the longevity record of 18 years is held by a Finnish bird, in stark contrast to an average life expectancy of 2 or 3 years.

"Click the pics" for a light-box show.



There was a roadside Jay which scuttled off as my car approached and then the flap-glide-flap of a Sparrowhawk across the nearby field. I rather hoped the hawk wasn’t targeting the Fieldfares but they often do. 

As I neared Oakenclough I found a wary flock of 60/80 roadside Chaffinches, the birds scattering into nearby trees as I slowed to look. I switched off the engine then looked and listened for a while hoping to see or hear a Brambling or two but none showed. So far this is not a "Brambling Winter".


Watercolour - Oakenclough, Lancashire

The feeding station had been well used with the niger and other seed depleted together with signs of trampling underfoot. Looks like we are fattening up the sportsmen’s pheasants in addition to feeding our own little brown jobs. Best to avoid a ringing session on a Tuesday when the hills echo to the sound of gunfire.


At or around the feeding station - 2 Bullfinch, 4 Blackbird, 15+ Chaffinch, 15+ Goldfinch, 2 Pied Wagtail and 1 Great-spotted Woodpecker, plus the usual selection of Robins, Dunnocks and titmice, mainly Coal Tit. 



The weather forecast for the week ahead looks truly awful with strong westerly winds and lots of rain predicted to Friday which means that Andy and I may struggle to find a suitable day for ringing.

Oakenclough in Black & White 

Not to worry. If there’s a half a chance Another Bird Blog will be out there birding and blogging as ever.

Linking today to Stewart'sWorld Bird Wednesday.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Birding Friday Fun

Following a spot of bird ringing inland on Wednesday it was good to go birding along the familiar coast today. However the weather wasn’t too friendly with wind and intermittent showers so there’s not a lot to report. 

I started off at Knott End for the incoming tide where the stiff north westerly made for cold hands and shaky optics. A far from complete count gave minima of 18 Eider and a single great Crested Grebe on the incoming tide. On the shore and near the jetty a mix of 1700 Oystercatcher, 700 Dunlin, 290 Redshank, 180 Knot, 145 Bar-tailed Godwit and 42 Turnstone. The jetty hugging Turnstones can be relied upon to provide a few pictures, the other species out on the shore proving much harder to approach. 



There was a flock of approximately 45 very flighty Twite. The birds were disturbed by a walker and then settled back down in the grassy marsh and out of sight. Two Pied Wagtails, 10 Goldfinch and 1 Rock Pipit also. 

At Damside, Pilling approximately 1800 Pink-footed Geese occupied the same fields they recently adopted. I searched through the scattered flock for the oddities that occur, the best I could find today a rather obvious partly leucistic bird. Leucism which differs from albinism is caused by a reduction in pigment of a bird’s feathers. This particular pinkie seemed to be leucistic on one side of the body only and so much more obvious when facing one way rather than the other. 

Pink-footed Goose

In the same field were approximately 120 Curlew, a couple of Oystercatchers and a single Black-tailed Godwit. 

Black-tailed Godwit

I parked up at Fluke Hall and walked the wood and shore circuit. Through the wood a Nuthatch called and a Jay shrieked off as I interrupted its feeding time. Along the shore, 12+ Little Egrets, 6 Whooper Swan, more Curlews, 140+ Shelduck, a Rock Pipit and a Stoat, Mustela ermine.

The Stoat was in an area where lots of Red-legged Partridge hang around. There’s no doubt a wily Stoat will help itself to more than a few of the shooters’ partridges in the course of the winter months. 


The human race often interferes with the natural world without fully studying the possible or likely consequences. In the 19th century, Stoats were introduced into New Zealand to control rabbits but the Stoats had a devastating effect on native bird populations. New Zealand has a high proportion of ground-nesting and flightless birds, due to the long geographical isolation and the lack of natural mammal predators. The introduced Stoats took full advantage of the bounty. 

That’s all for today. Look in soon for more birds, birding and other tales from Another Bird Blog.

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Frosty Start, Good Catch

After a few false dawns the weather came good this morning. I’d taken the precaution of throwing a lump of old carpet across the windscreen for the predicted frost and just as well because at 0730 the gauge showed −1 °. The first frost of the winter had arrived. 

I met Andy up at Oakenclough where after first topping up the feeding station we set about catching a few birds in the by now bright sunshine. It proved a busy session with barely time to grab a mug of coffee as we processed 73 birds of 12 species. There were 61 new birds plus 12 recaptures from recent weeks. 

61 New birds:- the main object of the exercise the finch family named first: 31 Goldfinch, 7 Chaffinch, 3 Greenfinch, 7 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 2 Goldcrest, 1 Dunnock, 2 Blackbird, 2 Robin, 1 Blackcap. 

12 Recaptures, and the Coal Tits keep coming back for more: 8 Coal Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Great Tit, 1 Goldfinch. 


The Blackcap was something of a surprise as autumn migrants have long gone to be replaced now by small numbers of wintering birds, possibly from the Continent. Not unexpectedly upon examination our bird proved to be a first-winter male. 


When we set this project up little did we expect to be catching good numbers of Goldfinch here in December and at more than 200 metres above sea level. It will be interesting to see how many Goldfinch remain into the usually colder part of the new year. 



The two male Blackbirds caught both showed characteristics of Continental birds, the scalloped breast and throat feathers plus an all dark bill. 


During the busy four hour ringing session we managed to see a few other birds - Great-spotted Woodpecker, 2 Pied Wagtail, 1+ Siskin.

There's more soon from Another Bird Blog.

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