Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday Sun

The morning didn’t look too with heavy cloud, spots of rain and a northerly breeze. Luckily I’d spoken to Andy on Friday night to cancel plans to catch Linnets. 

Then suddenly about 0915 the sky cleared to leave a bright blue sky. Later than normal I set off birding, new camera at the ready. 

At Gulf Lane I counted 150+ Linnets in the set-aside as well as 11 Stock Dove. Looks like the doves have found the seed mix but when I took a closer look there seemed to be lots on the ground so I’m still not sure if the Linnets are taking much. Holes and pathways through the crop suggest that voles, moles and rats may be having a beano during the hours of darkness. There was a Kestrel hanging around and at one point it dived into the grass as if to grab a bite to eat but came away with nothing. 


At Gulf Lane/Braides/Sand Villa birds pushed from the rising tide and into the inland fields were very distant with best estimates of 1000 Lapwing, 600 Pink-footed Goose, 500+ Golden Plover,250 Curlew, 150 Redshank, 60 Wigeon, 25 Teal, 8 Whooper Swan, 4 Shoveler and 2 Shelduck. 

I decided to take drive down towards Cockersands but stopped first on Moss Lane where a small herd of mixed swans fed, 10 Mute, 12 Whooper and 8 Bewick’s. There have been 400/500 Whooper Swans in the extensive fields around here, almost a full day’s work to locate and count them all. Even then the counts come with a health warning because of the swans’ constant mobility. 

Whooper Swan

At Cockersands I stopped to watch a flock of about 80 Twite feeding quietly in and out of the marsh grass and tide wrack. It proved to be a good move as an hour or more later I was still there after a series of birds appeared. 

First came a Barn Owl which suddenly appeared from over the caravan site and where at the back are tumbledown farm buildings ideal for a winter roost. Like the Kestrel before, the owl dropped into the grass, did a quick about turn and disappeared from whence it came. There was just time for a few snatched shots. 

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

It wasn’t just Twite feeding in the marsh, also 10+ Greenfinch, 3 Reed Bunting, 6 Linnet, a couple of Blackbirds, several House Sparrows, 2 Collared Dove and dozens of Starlings. In the paddock: 3 Fieldfare, 1 Redwing, 1 Song Thrush, 4 Goldfinch, 6 Tree Sparrows and more Blackbirds.






Collared Dove 

What of the new camera? Well a little sun makes all the difference for sure. I have to work on the intial exposure setting as well as getting used to a different set of buttons and changed menu, but so far so good. With 24 megapixels the crop factor is pretty good, ideal for those long range pictures that birds often demand.

Linking today to Anni's Birding.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dodgy Days

I was desperate to go birding and experiment with my new 80D, preferably at a sensible ISO. All I needed was a decent spell of sunshine but that wasn’t to be. On Wednesday the sun appeared in spasms as 30mph westerlies and 50mph gusts pushed grey clouds across the sky. I ventured forth more in hope than expectation, but with yellow weather warnings I was due for a day or two of dodging the showers. 

Across the windswept moss I’d clocked up a pair of Kestrels, one of four territories noted in recent days. 

There’d been reports of several White-fronted Geese and even a Red-breasted Goose with the pinkies at Cockerham. Chances were the geese had already departed; seen off by the farmer or deterred by the day long procession of people keen to see the colourful goose, star of pager buzz but of dubious origin. 

Red-breasted Goose

I stopped off at Gulf Lane to feed the Linnets and where a shooter advised that the farmer had indeed moved the geese from his fields. A drive down his track in a Land Rover would send the geese into the air and seek out new grazing on a neighbouring farm. Farmers around here stick together - even to the extent of letting each other see the wild geese. Birders see a wild goose chase as fun sport, but for a farmer his livelihood goes down the drain when several thousand geese poop on his pasture. 

The shooter also advised that a birdwatcher had told him the flock of birds flying around the set-aside were Twite; that’s a major problem with these twitches - they bring out dodgy, part-time birders as well as suspect birds. I checked – yes, definitely Linnets, all 200+ of them; and a Little Egret sheltering from the wind in the dyke. 

Along Lancaster Lane is a major flood. Lapwings fed in their thousands with dozens of Redshanks, 30 Black-tailed Godwits, and then good numbers of Curlew and Golden Plover in the far distance. Skylarks appeared from the black stuff when flighty Lapwings caused temporary panic and mass flight of the assembled crowd. About 80 Fieldfares fed close to the hedgerow, partly sheltered from the wind but close enough to dash back should danger threaten, as they did more than once. Along the lane, and for the second time lately, I found another Kestrel hanging about a likely looking barn 

Mostly Lapwings


The wind raged across Braides Farm where many Lapwings hunkered down against the gusts that made their feeding hard work. 

I drove on up to Conder and Glasson where the high tide coupled with strength and direction of the wind would surely make Goldeneye and Tufted Ducks appear as if by magic? It did, with tightly packed counts of 45+ Goldeneye and 60+ Tufted Duck bouncing across the usually calm marina that now resembled a wave packed sea and made photography difficult. 

Tufted Duck and Goldeneye

At Conder Green the high tide had almost reached the road. From there and on the pool I managed to count about 200 Teal, 30+ Redshank, 4 Little Grebe, 15 Wigeon and 1 Sparrowhawk fighting against the wind to find something to eat.


Little Grebe

The weather isn’t much better today although there’s no sign yet of the predicted snow, but I ain’t going nowhere just yet.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pigeon Post

I’m rained off again today, so here’s a post about three members of the pigeon family of birds. 

Pigeons and doves constitute the bird family Columbidae, which includes about 310 species in the world as a whole. The terms "dove" and "pigeon" are used somewhat interchangeably. In ornithological practice, "dove" tends to be used for smaller species and "pigeon" for larger ones, but this is not consistently applied, and historically, the common names for these birds involve a great deal of variation between the terms. 

We know all about Collared Doves Streptopelia decaocto here in the UK. The spread of Collared Doves across the United Kingdom from mainland Asia and Europe was very rapid. From the first breeding report in Norfolk in 1955 the species was subsequently reported breeding in Kent and Lincolnshire in 1957, with birds seen as far north as Scotland. Two years later Ireland was colonised and by 1970 there may have been as many as 15,000 - 25,000 pairs in Britain and Ireland. The BTO Common Birds Census revealed a five-fold increase in their population between 1972 and 1996 until some levelling off in the 1990s. By the Millennium and into the summer of 2014 the population stabilised at about 980,000 pairs. 

Collared Dove - Europe and Asia

Collared Dove

Now there’s news that the Collared Dove continues its spread into North America and Canada, with reports this winter of Eurasian Collared Doves in Calgary, Alberta, North West Canada. "We counted 38 on this year's Christmas bird count, and really in two spots. One of them here in Forest Lawn and the other over in Dover," said Phil Cram, with the Calgary Christmas Bird Count. They have been expanding throughout southern Alberta for the last 13 years, since they first turned up." 

"This kind of habitat exists throughout the city, but once a pair establish here and have young and so on and so forth, that's how a little population will grow, and then from here they will undoubtedly radiate out," he said. So I would expect in 10 years’ time, we will see hundreds of these on our Christmas bird count." 

Eurasian Collared Doves made their way to North America via the Bahamas, where several birds escaped from a pet shop during a mid-1970s burglary; the shop owner then released the rest of the flock of approximately 50 doves. Others were set free on the island of Guadeloupe when a volcano threatened eruption. From these two sites the birds spread north through Florida, and now occur over most of North America. In a matter of approximately 30 years this dove has been sighted in southern Ontario, west, across the southern portions of the prairies, to a few sighting in Alaska, to southern California, east, across all the states to the tip of southern Florida, north to the US and Canadian Atlantic border. Collared Doves are now seen through all of Mexico, and into Central America. 

Collared Dove - North America

Just as in the UK, North American people helped make the Collared Dove at home. Bird feeders and trees planted in urban and suburban areas are cited as two of the main factors in the species’ colonization of the continent. Of a global breeding population of circa 8 million, 5% are estimated to live in the United States. 

Studies in North America on interactions between Collared Doves and other species have not yet shown a negative impact on populations of native birds, including the Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura, a related species that could be seen as a competitor in the food stakes. 

Mourning Dove - 

The number of individual Mourning Doves in North America is estimated at approximately 475 million. That large population and its vast range explain why the Mourning Dove is considered to be of least concern, meaning that the species is not at immediate risk and a legitimate target for hunters. As a North American gamebird it is estimated that 20 million (and up to 40–70 million) Mourning Doves are shot by hunters each year. 

As an introduced species, Eurasian Collared Doves are not protected from hunting and like the endemic Mourning Dove, the newcomer has become a popular game birds in rural areas of the Southeast and Texas. I trawled the Internet but couldn’t find any information on the number of Collared Doves taken by hunters in North America. 

The Mourning Dove and the Collared Dove are two distinct species related species to the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius, another member of the dove/pigeon bird family. The Passenger Pigeon was hunted to extinction in America in the early 1900s, from a population numbering in the billions. The last confirmed wild bird is thought to have been shot in 1901. 

Passenger Pigeon - extinct circa 1900

Via Wiki - Today, more than 1,532 Passenger Pigeon skins (along with 16 skeletons) are in existence, spread across many institutions all over the world. It has been suggested that the Passenger Pigeon should be revived when available technology allows it (a concept which has been termed "de-extinction"), using genetic material from such specimens. In 2003, the Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica, a subspecies of the Spanish ibex) was the first extinct animal to be cloned back to life; the clone lived for only seven minutes before dying of lung defects. 

A hindrance to cloning the Passenger Pigeon is the fact that the DNA of museum specimens has been contaminated and fragmented, due to exposure to heat and oxygen. American geneticist George M. Church has proposed that the passenger pigeon genome can be reconstructed by piecing together DNA fragments from different specimens. The next step would be to splice these genes into the stem cells of Rock Pigeons which would then be transformed into egg and sperm cells, and placed into the eggs of Rock Pigeons, resulting in Rock Pigeons bearing Passenger Pigeon sperm and eggs. The offspring of these would have Passenger Pigeon traits, and then would be further bred to favour unique features of the extinct species. 

The general idea of re-creating extinct species has been criticised, since the large funds needed could be spent on conserving currently threatened species and habitats, and because conservation efforts might be viewed as less urgent. In the case of the Passenger Pigeon, since it was very social, it is unlikely that enough birds could be created for revival to be successful, and it is unclear whether there is enough appropriate habitat left for its reintroduction. Furthermore, the parent pigeons that would raise the cloned Passenger Pigeons would belong to a different species, with a different way of rearing young. 

I'm hoping to get out birding soon and to try out my new camera. 

Log in soon and see how I do. 

In the meantime, linking to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ringing In The New

The extra daylight of post-solstice is already noticeable by way of an 8 o’clock rendezvous with Andy at the set-aside. Maybe I should change that dashboard clock or perhaps just leave it until mid-March and the spring equinox when it will right itself? It was a cold but clear start which meant that the rising sun quickly appeared over the open field.

Early Start
We’d cut an extra ride in the vegetation and added rape seed to the nyger/millet mix, so hoped to add to recent catches. Improve we did with 15 new Linnets, and once again, no new recaptures from previous visits where a count of 200/300 birds was the norm and 160 Linnets the total catch. This morning the flock appeared larger whereby we both agreed that the number of Linnets today was close to 400 individuals; it was quite a sight when once or twice the whole flock took flight and then landed in the tops of nearby trees. 

We were on the lookout today for greyer headed individuals which might indicate birds of Scottish origin. This is a very personal and subjective assessment due to changing light and the angle of view, but the majority of those we caught seemed to be inseparable other than by sex. An exception is shown below with the uppermost male having a noticeably greyer hind neck and more streaked crown than the lower example. This difference is very marginal which may become more apparent if we can continue to catch and examine more “winter” rather than summer Linnets. 



Otherwise birding – many thousands of Pink-footed Geese, easily 10,000 +. Two Snipe, 1 Whooper Swan, 1 Buzzard. 


Linking this post to Anni's Birding. There's more soon from Another Bird Blog

Monday, January 2, 2017

First Post

There was a touch of frost this morning for my first birding of 2017. I waited until the sun began to rise and then set off through Hambleton towards Out Rawcliffe, watchful for both patchy ice and any roadside birds. First off, and just on the edge of the village was a Kestrel in a now familiar spot. Later there would be a second Kestrel and then a third, the latter taking great interest in a flock of Linnets. 

But for now I stopped near a farm where I hoped that the morning frost might bring a Little Owl out to play. There’s no doubt that snow, ice and frost cause Little Owls to be more visible. My theory is that frozen ground makes the owl’s prey, typically worms, beetles, moths and small mammals, easier to spot with the prey less likely to escape into frozen earth and vegetation. 

Little Owls catch prey by stooping on it from a perch or running after it on the ground. The owl’s natural instinct probably makes it spend more time hunting in cold weather as a safeguard against the unforeseen. Also, and like other species of owl the Little Owl is in the habit of keeping a “larder” of food for the unexpected events of life. It’s rather like us humans stocking our cupboards with tinned food or filling the freezer with Hovis. Unfortunately, fresh voles don’t come with a “use by date”, nor is an owl very house-proud in cleaning behind the fridge; as any ringer will testify, the content of an owl nest is often extremely messy and very smelly. 

Little Owl
The owl was both watchful and at the at times disinterested enough to close its eyes and face into the morning sun. Shame it was a little distant, but at least one for my non-existent year list. 

I found myself along Crook Lane where Fieldfares lived up to their name by feeding in roadside fields. During the morning I noted that almost without exception our local hedgerows are now devoid of hawthorn berries, the favoured autumn food of the Fieldfare as they now switch seamlessly to searching for earthworms and field dwelling insects. I saw a dozen or so Redwings along the lane but they were gone as soon as look at them. If anything an always nervous Redwing is shyer than the watchful Fieldfare. 


The roadside flood at Rawcliffe Moss is no longer a budding lake but just a very damp and obviously still soggy pasture with dozens of Lapwings probing the ground and gulls waiting to test their piracy skills. Across the far side there was a fence-sitting Buzzard and closer, a Kestrel that flew periodically into the building and then out again to sit along the fence. Two Pied Wagtails here. 

At Union Lane were 40 or more Fieldfares and 8 Stock Dove, both in exactly the same field as last week. And at Gulf Lane came the third Kestrel of the morning keeping watch on our set-aside where 200+ Linnets flew around, flew around, and then flew around again. The Kestrel was definitely making the finches nervous and although a Kestrel feeds mostly on mammals, should an opportunity arise, the Kestrel would take a Linnet. 

Cockerham Moss Edge held a distant flock of several hundred Pink-footed Geese. The geese were adjacent to a private farm track a good half mile away and with new groups arriving as I watched. I could have driven down the track but decided to leave the geese feeding rather than risk sending them back into the air and towards the sound of gunfire. 

Pink-footed Geese

Around the moss road to Crimbles; 40 Curlew, 35+ Lapwings, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Pied Wagtail, 1 Skylark, 2 Reed Bunting, 7 Tree Sparrow, 15 Chaffinch, 18 Fieldfare, 12 Blackbird, 2 Song Thrush and 1 Mistle Thrush. 

The Mistle Thrush is the largest of our UK thrush family but equally as shy as all of the others. One rattled off from our back garden the other day when I came by the side of the garage and surprised the thrush feeding on what’s left of the crab apple tree. Any day now male Mistle Thrushes will begin their loud singing from a high point in the landscape, usually the tallest tree, and often on a stormy day. “Stormcock” is an old English name for the Mistle Thrush because unlike most birds it sings in the heaviest of weather. “Singing in the Rain” - no problem to a Mistle Thrush. 

Mistle Thrush

Turn left at Crimbles and I’m soon back at Braides Farm where the frost put paid to much other than 200+ Golden Plover, similar numbers of Lapwings and 50 or so Redshanks. 


Apologies that my pictures are a little distant today. Sometimes these birds just don’t want to play ball with us birders. 

Anyway I have decided to spend my generous £100 Christmas Bonus towards upgrading my current camera to a later version in the hope my photography will improve.

In any case Mrs Theresa Maybe, and with your own and other leading Minister’s veiled threats to target the oldies. A miserly £100 is hardly enough to buy something really trendy and useful like an iPhone 7, an Apple Watch or a Microsoft Band is it? 

Happy New Year folks.

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

Friday, December 30, 2016

Last Post

Just one day to bird before the end of 2016, and I finished on a reasonable high. 

There seemed to be Lapwings everywhere I went this morning. In virtually every field I passed I heard the calls of Lapwings and saw their black and white patterns against the sky, or when I stopped to scan, found more hidden amongst the black peaty fields. 


It’s not too surprising as mid-winter is when widespread counts reveal the UK and Ireland winter population to be between 2 and 3 million individuals. That number includes a high proportion of birds from Scandinavia, Denmark, Holland and North Germany that join Lapwings from Northern Britain that move to more coastal and warmer locations.

If here in Lancashire we have one of our rare sustained spells of ice and snow many of these same Lapwings will move even further west over the Irish Sea to spend the winter in Ireland. But for now there are many, many thousands of Lapwings in this small part of Lancashire we call The Fylde, a coastal plain in west Lancashire, England. It is roughly a 13-mile (20-kilometre) square-shaped peninsula, bounded by Morecambe Bay to the north, the Ribble Estuary to the south, the Irish Sea to the west, and the Bowland Hills to the east. The eastern boundary is approximately the location of the M6 motorway. 

Fylde, Lancashire

Flat Fylde

My early route took me over Stalmine Moss, Union Lane, Lancaster Lane and then Skitham Lane towards Garstang and then the same in return mode. Stopping here and there I clocked up brief views of a Barn Owl which at least made me pause and look harder. It was then I started to count 1000+ Lapwings in many fields as well as to discover 60+ Fieldfare, 25+ Chaffinch, 2 Yellowhammer, 8 Stock Dove, 2 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Grey Heron and 1 Little Egret.

It’s a good bet there’s not been much traffic, motorised or pedestrian, if there are Pink-footed Geese in roadside fields. As usual and for weeks the geese have hid themselves away from the prying eyes of both shooters and birders so I was surprised to see 500/600 in the field closest to Lane Ends and the A588. Needless to say at the first sign of pedestrians and birders standing up beside their car, heads lifted and the geese stopped their feeding to go walkabout in the opposite direction. 

Pink-footed Geese

For goodness sake birders. The geese need to feed after spending the previous 14 hours of a dark and cold winter’s night out on the saltmarsh. These geese are shot at on a daily basis. They are extremely wary and will take flight at the first hint of trouble, more so if folk leave their car to clatter about with tripods and then stand in full view when they could just as well stay in the car and observe the geese from a wound down car window. It’s called “fieldcraft”.

After watching the geese move to a quieter spot I tackled the A588, Murder Mile, where good numbers of Lapwings fed in the roadside fields but where it’s too dangerous to stop a car at almost any time of the day. 

At Gulf Lane I counted 200 or more Linnets finding natural food while a single Stock Dove helped itself to our millet/niger mix. We’re adding rape seed any day now to hopefully make a difference to the Linnets’ feeding routine. 


At Braides Farm and hung over the gate was a Christmas gift, a meal of roast goose waiting for collection. "Pluck it yourself". there's no fast food in Pilling and Cockerham.

Pink-footed Goose

Also - 800 Lapwing, 400 Golden Plover, 80 Black-tailed Godwit, 40+ Redshank, 30 Wigeon, 15 Teal, and 9 Shoveler. 



The tide was in at Conder Green where the wintering Spotted Redshank “showed well” among 120 Teal, 30+ Redshank, 6 Curlew, 6 Little Grebe, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret and then 1 Jack Snipe which didn’t show at all well. 

Spotted Redshank

The “half-snipe” had been moved by the rising water and then flew across my line of vision, landed near a Redshank and tucked itself into a clump of marsh grass from where it failed to show again, despite me watching the exact spot for several minutes. That’s what Jack Snipe do best, squat down and stay dep in cover until something or someone disturbs them. Even then one will fly fly just a short distance before dropping back into vegetation. 

Snipe and Jack Snipe - Henrik Grönvold - wikimedia commons

This is the last post for 2016 from Another Bird Blog. Tomorrow Sue and I prepare for the invasion of New Year’s Day and a house full of eight adults and five grandchildren. If I survive there will be more news soon from Another Bird Blog. 

In the meantime here's wishing every one of my readers a Happy, Prosperous and Bird-Filled 2017.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mostly Linnets

A disappointing session of ringing this morning with just three new Linnets caught. All the more frustrating to watch the usual 250+ Linnets fly all around the area and then feed mostly away from our couple of single panel nets. The problem now is one of low winter vegetation and nets without background becoming more visible to overflying Linnets. Andy and I are now resigned to remaining winter catches of single figures but view the entire project as very worthwhile. 

Flocking in their winter habitat of flat, weedy fields or maritime marsh makes Linnets very difficult to catch. As such the data on wintering Linnets is under-represented in the national database of Linnets where 89% of the species’ recoveries are from the months April to October. 

Richard the farmer has told us of his plans to reseed the same plot this spring and to start an additional new plot about half-a-mile away. Both plots should hold plenty of Linnets by late summer of 2017. In view of this and also of the suspicion that many Linnets that visit us in autumn and winter may be much more than local birds, we hope to add value to our project by colour ringing the ones we catch. Broadcasting the project to bird watchers and the public in other parts of the UK will hopefully generate a number of sightings of our Linnets. 



We didn’t catch any obviously “different” Linnets this morning, but I did a little more research on the idea that some of our locally wintering Linnet flocks may be from Scotland while hiding a few of the seemingly forgotten Scottish race of Linnet, Linaria cannabina autochthona. The Latin autochthona means endemic/original. 

David Callaghan 2011 - "The autochthona is not recognised by all authorities, as this longer-winged and more slender-billed form is likely to be the end of a continent-wide cline. With a population of up to 90,000 pairs, it is most abundant in eastern Scotland, though this positioning also opens it to potential intergradation.” (with cannabina from the south or cannabina from Scandinavia). 

Scottish Birds 2003 - "Bannerman (1953) does add "perhaps also Ireland", remarking that Irish resident birds are variable though "mostly dark and match those from Scotland". Nevertheless, no comparative analysis of this observation seems to have been undertaken."  The BOU Records Committee (BOU 1971) sees "the subspecies as 'poorly distinguished', however, no real determination of subspecies has so far been made regarding the recent colonisation of the Outer Hebrides (Murray 2000). Whilst the race appears to be largely sedentary, we still have much to learn about the overall distribution and movements of autochthona.” 

Add to the above that in recent years the Linnet has recolonised Shetland (from Scotland or Scandinavia) and the mystery deepens. 

I found two pictures on the Internet, specimens only. Note the earlier scientific name of Acanthis now Linaria.

Linaria cannabina cannabina

Linaria cannabina autochthona 

We took a drive down to view Richard’s plot at Sand Villa for 2017 - looks promising.  When Andy drove off to continue his Christmas and New Year chores I took a look at Braides Farm. 

Combined approximate counts from Braides and Sand Villa: 600 Starling, 190 Curlew, 900 Lapwing, 300 Golden Plover, 60 Redshank, 170 Pink-footed Geese, 140 Wigeon, 30 Teal, 12 Shoveler, 6 Little Egret. 

Back home I counted 15-20 Goldfinch in the garden with 6 Blackbirds and the now almost resident but single Fieldfare. That reminds me, I must go and top up the feeders and then hit the shops to find some cheap apples to chuck out.

More soon from Another Bird Blog.

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