Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thrush And Goose

Lots of Fieldfares were on the move today. And later there was a bonus bird in the shape of a Greenland White-fronted Goose. 

I’d started off as usual with a drive north towards Pilling and Cockerham. The flood at Braides Farm was partly frozen where my distance-impaired counts still realised approximately 250 Lapwing, 140 Golden Plover, 180 Curlew, 40 Black-tailed Godwit, 20 Redshank and 40 Teal. There was a very tightly packed flock of about 400 gulls, mainly Black-headed, but also some Common. A black mass of birds was immediately recognisable as a post-roost huge flock of Starlings, and as they slowly dispersed left, right and centre in smaller feeding parties I counted 600+ and still some left on the ground. 

Starling, Golden Plover, Lapwing

There was very little doing at Conder Green where the recurrent high water level made for a poor show on the pool. Best I could manage here were 40+ Wigeon feeding across the bund at the back of the pool, a few dozen Teal, a couple of Little Grebe, several Curlew and the obligatory Little Egret. But, 200+Teal in the creeks and the wintering Spotted Redshank.

There had been a few Fieldfares flying over Conder Green but a drive along the lanes of Jeremy and Moss suggested something of a new influx, precipitated perhaps by the overnight drop in temperatures and the overnight frost. 

For readers who do not know our northern Fieldfare Turdus pilaris, it is a highly gregarious but intensely shy member of the thrush family of the Northern Hemisphere. It is very different from, but immediately separatedfrom our native UK thrushes by way of its mobile tendencies, loud ‘chacking’ call and flocking behaviour both when feeding and during its autumn migration from Scandinavia. 


It was hard to count the Fieldfares as flocks of them moved continually inland by following the hedgerows of Moss Lane and then across the A588 towards Thurnham Hall and beyond. There seemed to be few Redwings amongst the approximately 300 Fieldfare and of course the two species do not always coincide in the timing their migration. 


At Cockersands I located more than 20 Tree Sparrows, 30+ Goldfinch, 12 Collared Dove and a Pied Wagtail before I hit the road again and back towards Pilling in search of more. 

I checked out a potential new ringing site offered by a local farmer where I found 40+ Linnets in attendance but using a very narrow and extremely long strip of land which might rule it out as a workable project. Not to worry, it is a useful place to keep an eye on and I did see more Fieldfares in roadside hawthorns, plus a watchful Buzzard which scattered the Fieldfares as well as feeding Woodpigeons. The farmer tells me that Buzzards wiped out all his leverets this year, which if true doesn't help the raptor's already dented reputation in the tight-knit farming and shooting community. 


The many thousands of Pink-footed Geese have been incredibly difficult to pin down this autumn, due mostly to disturbance from autumnal farming activities, shooting pressures and disturbance from busy roads in sometimes semi-rural locations. Despite this continuous daily disruption the geese seem to find and use new and different fields in which to both feed and hide, bringing a truism to the old saying about the wisdom of undertaking a “wild goose chase”. 

At last near Lane Ends today I got sight and sound of the pinkies and with them was a single adult White-fronted Goose of the Greenland race – Anser alibfrons flavirostris, in the company of c500 Pink-footed Geese. The appearance of European or Russian White-fronted Goose of the race albifrons and Greenland White-fronted Goose of the race flavirostris differ in a number of ways. 

White-fronted Goose - Greenland race

The Greenland White-fronted Goose always appears darker than the European White-fronted Goose at rest and in flight. The belly-barring on adult birds is on average more extensive on flavirostris than on albifrons. The bill of adult Greenland White-fronts are orange-yellow at the base, but can be more pinkish-yellow on the outer-half, thus close in colour to European white-fronts on some individuals. 

I spent a while with the geese before brightly clad and slow moving cyclists caused the predictable flight to pastures new, all of the geese and yours truly back home for a warming coffee.

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

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Friday on Saturday

I’m a little late with yesterday’s blog post. That’s because Friday evening was the annual Fylde Ringing Group Christmas dinner, a chance for members to get together and discuss birds for a change! A good time was enjoyed by all at The Farmer’s Arms, Great Eccleston. 

Farmer's Arms

Meanwhile the Linnets don’t get any easier to catch even though there are up to 300 birds present at any one time. Another session at the set-aside on Friday saw us add another eight birds to the project total. 


Male Linnet

We recorded our first recapture - a first year male originally caught on the very first visit of 3rd October 2016, now re-trapped 2 months later, despite eight other visits in the intervening period. This is the first real indication we have that some of the Linnets probably visit the field on a regular basis. Our overall total of new birds ringed is now approaching 150 individuals out of a seemingly unchanging flock of circa 300. Almost certainly the daily flock is comprised of a mix of regular visitors, periodic callers but also a steady stream of new arrivals to replace those which moved on to other locations. The total number of Linnets involved in the two month period must number in the high hundreds rather than any daily count.

In the field is one plant in particular that the Linnets appear to favour; it looks to be a member of the Cruciferae family of plants and is known as Fodder Radish which at this time of the year displays brown/straw coloured pods containing rows of tiny brown seeds. Many of the now dried up pods have split open or are partly broken so that the seeds are still visible or have popped out onto the ground below. 


Fodder Radish

A local farmer stopped to talk and invited us to take a look at his own set-aside plot half-a-mile away and for us to judge if this plot might be suitable for additional or complementary ringing. We found the spot, a strip of land located next to a drainage ditch of phragmites reed and other vegetation plus a substantial but cropped hedgerow along one side. It does look suitable for a spot of ringing so I will in the next week or two make regular visits to assess the species and number of birds present and take it from there. 

Afterwards I looked at the fields near Backsands, Sand Villa and Braides Farm where the wet fields have attracted a good selection of waders and wildfowl. In particular were good numbers of Black-tailed Godwit, a species which has the knack of finding partly flooded fields in which to feed. 

Black-tailed Godwit & Redshank


 Counts – 120 Black-tailed Godwit, 480 Curlew, 330 Lapwing, 380 Golden Plover, 80 Redshank, 55 Teal, 8 Shoveler, 15 Shelduck, 300+ Starling, 200 Black-headed Gull, 1 Merlin.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

True Grit

Luckily, and after studying the weather forecast I’d prepared well with a good breakfast, double socks and outdoor clothes warming over the kitchen radiator. Minus four (-4°) flashed the temperature gauge as I set off towards Pilling to meet Andy for 0800 at Gulf Lane where we hoped to catch more Linnets. 

We set the usual 3x single panel nets in the frosty, low vegetation and retired to the car for a coffee or two until the birds arrived. Initially the Linnets seemed not to visit the seed heads in the field of set-aside but to instead spend time perching along the roadside barbed wire fence that faced into the slowly rising sun. 

A good number of them also spent time in the roadway taking grit from the surface until approaching cars forced them to fly off. Grit is eaten a lot by seed eating birds. The grit accumulates in the gizzard and helps to break down any tough seeds by abrasive action to make the seed more easily digested. Remember, birds have no teeth with which to munch their morning muesli. 


The Linnets were well up to recent numbers by way of an estimate of 250+ individuals sticking to two or three distinct flocks that split and then re-joined after being disturbed by passing vehicles, or often, an unknown cause. There was a Kestrel sat atop a distant tree that kept watch on proceedings and in the course of a few hours made two unsuccessful passes to grab a Linnet, a distraction that probably helped the flock to become increasingly jumpy and nervous of feeding. Or perhaps the Linnets were waiting for the overnight frost to clear a little before they began their breakfasting? 


Frosted Linnet field

We didn’t catch well with just eight new Linnets, although that increased our project catch to over 130 so far this autumn/winter. As the winter deepens it could be that the Linnets all depart, and even though there is plenty of natural food left for them to go at, the plants are now at virtual ground level which makes it more difficult to intercept them in flight. 

Do we carry on with minimal but perhaps catches of less than ten birds each time? It’s up for discussion but on balance we probably should continue as lowland wintertime Linnets are not caught in any great numbers in the UK, and certainly not in this part of northwest England. 



Any data we collect will add to that already in existence and hopefully give a little more insight into the origins, movements and composition of both individual Linnets and Linnet flocks. Other birds seen at the set-aside, but more correctly in the attached drainage ditch today – 1 Little Egret, 6 Snipe and 1 Teal. 

Little Egret

Back soon with more birds on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to  Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Berry Time

The morning started with a double first of the winter – a squirt of de-icer on the windscreen followed by switching on the heated screen and bum warmer. I’m all for gadgets that do away with scrapers and icy fingers, not to mention enjoying the luxury of a cosy backside while birding. 

The heater was on full blast as I drove slowly east over Stalmine Moss and towards Cockerham. On the outskirts of Pilling village I watched a Barn Owl hunt over the whitened fields. “Rather it than me” I thought as I watched it glide along the icy gullies and then slowly vanish into the distance of the next farm. 

Barn Owl

I stopped at Gulf Lane to check on the Linnet flock and found 200+ comprised of three or more highly mobile groups still finding food in the single field of set-aside. A bird ringer in Scotland contacted me to ask about the composition of the seed mix as he too is interested in a Linnet catching project. Richard the farmer tells me it is a standard wild bird composite from Oliver Seeds but with added wildflower mix. Whatever it is, it certainly works by keeping the Linnets coming back for more and where good numbers of them have found food for the last three months. 


At Sand Villa and Braides Farm my combined counts gave approximates of 350 Lapwing, 250 Golden Plover and 120 Curlew, but also 8 Whooper Swan, 4 Teal and 1 fence hopping Buzzard. 

At Conder Green counts from the pool and the creeks approximated wildfowl to 240 Teal, 130 Mallard, 22 Wigeon and 8 Little Grebe. Otherwise, 3 Little Egret, 18 Redshank, 6 Curlew, 1 Spotted Redshank. 

I hoped for a few Goldeneye at Glasson where a frost or two often makes the diving ducks vacate the estuary for the increased temperatures of the yacht basin. But not today, although the numbers of Tufted Duck look to be on the increase with 34, plus a single Great Crested Grebe. 

A drive around Moss Lane and Jeremy Lane proved useful when I located a flock of about 250 mainly Fieldfares with but a handful of Redwings. It was exactly a week ago when a drive around the same fields produced much the same result except that I don’t think these were the same birds today, just new arrivals finding the same food source of hawthorn berries. 

The Fieldfares proved difficult to pin down to any particular stretch of berries when at one point more than hundred flew en-masse towards the main road and in the direction of Thurnham Hall. That still left a hundred and more in the original spot but where cars speed past to constantly stop the birds’ attempts to feed. 

Our winter thrushes are intensely shy, little wonder when on their winter journeys they are subjected to intense hunting should they reach France and Spain. Once again I sat motionless in the car hoping to picture them in the hawthorns. A little success. A few pictures of both birds and berries. 

Song Thrush




There are more birds soon by logging in to Another Bird Blog. Don’t forget. 

Now go back and “click the pics” for a feast of hawthorn berries.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More Repeats

The weather is much like the TV channels at the moment with no originality, lots of repeats and nothing much to enthuse over. Day after day of wind and rain here in northwest England has seen me sitting in front of the PC most days while wondering where the next blog post will come from. 

More of the same beckoned until late on Tuesday night, but then on Wednesday morning the rain finally stopped, the wind dropped and the sun almost shone. 

Pilling to Cockerham road

I met up with Andy and Dave at Pilling for another crack at the Linnets. Despite the recent rains I’d kept an eye on the Linnet flock with a couple of visits showing that contrary to my fears of a week ago, the Linnets had not entirely deserted this particular food source. Visits between 12th and 21st November gave counts varying from as low as 40 birds or as high as 230, so there was everything to play for this morning. 



We donned wellies to enter the field of set-aside and splashed along the previously dry path to where the crop had now lost most of its autumn height. Linnets were around in some numbers and confirmed recent counts of 200+ but we managed to catch just eight as they proved very adept at feeding around our nets without going in. 

Adult Linnet tail



Being a bird ringer quickly teaches you that birds are cleverer than we humans think. I’d swear those Linnets were trying their very best to avoid us this morning. 


We’ll leave it a week or more before we go back and try again. Log in soon to see more from Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Theresa's Last Day and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Fieldfare Find

The weather is pretty dire again with strong westerlies combined with frequent heavy showers of rain and hail, or snow on higher ground. There’s little point in going out birding and no chance of ringing today, but instead news and pictures of Fieldfares. 


We’re having a good run of information from our ringing efforts at Oakenclough on the edge of the Pennine Hills and the Bowland Forest. Since starting this project a couple years ago Andy and I have where possible focused on catching species and bird families that are migratory rather than resident. 

We have been targeting finches and thrushes in particular, a strategy which has paid off with some very interesting recoveries of Goldfinch, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. There was an unexpected but fascinating Goldcrest caught too, one that seemed to be heading for a winter in France. 

The latest communiqué from the BTO involves a first year Fieldfare ring number LC51848 caught on the morning of 31st October 2015. We caught just four Fieldfares that morning but LC51848 was later recaptured by another ringer - on 31st October 2016, exactly 12 months later, this time in Gwynedd, North Wales. 

Fieldfare - Oakenclough to Gwynedd, Wales


On initial inspection the detail of elapsed time and distance travelled may not seem too fascinating but the Fieldfare’s probable lifestyle in the intervening period makes for interesting thoughts and speculation. 

The Fieldfares that arrive in the UK in October and November originate from Scandinavia and are migrants whose departure date is dependent upon the timing and abundance of the northern berry crop. As a highly gregarious species whole flocks fly off south and west on a broad front during October/November and within a day or two the same birds arrive across Britain in sometimes huge numbers. They then begin a roaming lifestyle in search of wild fruit crops. They visit hedgerows until the berry crop is exhausted after which they feed upon invertebrates taken from open fields or visit orchards to feed on fallen fruit, especially during cold and icy spells.


Some wintering Fieldfares travel as far as northwest France and northwest Iberia where they come under pressure from hunters who can take a heavy toll on thrush species as a whole. 


The wintering population of Fieldfares in Britain is thought to number about a million individuals. During March and April Fieldfares begin their journey back north but this time with a greater urgency. They continue their gregarious lifestyle and upon arrival in their breeding grounds where they occasionally nest in colonies of 40-50 pairs. In certain situations and free from hunting and disturbance Fieldfares have taken to nesting in town parks, orchards and gardens, as well as tree-lined streets, especially in Norway. 


So after spending its first winter in Britain our Fieldfare LC51848 found its way back to Sweden or Norway during 2016 where hopefully it bred and raised a whole new family. In mild winters some Fieldfares are able to stay in Scandinavia and dispense with the need to leave the northern cold.

But in the autumn of  2016 our Fieldfare chose to migrate south and west again on very much the same trajectory as it did in 2015. Luckily another ringer was around to provide us with yet more data on Fieldfares.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Linnet Result

What a great outcome from Linnet ring number Z722984. It was aged and sexed as a first year male and caught at our set-aside plot near Pilling on 24th October 2016. Even better news was the fact that Z722984 was ringed as a nestling, one of a brood of six, but many miles from Pilling. 


We found out via the BTO that the young Linnet was ringed by members of Shetland Ringing Group at Scousburgh, Shetland 674 kms from Pilling on 14th June 2016. Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands, is a subarctic archipelago that lies about 150 miles northeast of Great Britain and approximately 200 miles west of Norway. 

Linnet, Shetland to Pilling

The BTO Breeding Atlas for 1989-1991 suggests that Linnets do not breed in Shetland, a landscape where Linnets are often replaced by the closely related Twite, a species known colloquially as the “mountain linnet.” However from the 1990s the Linnet made a small comeback on Shetland with the BTO Bird Atlas for 2007-2011 showing extra dots on the map where Linnets now breed on the mainland but where overall they are still hugely outnumbered by Twite. 


Ringing birds in the nest provides information not generally obtained from ringing fully grown birds. Many ringers participate in the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) to provide data on nesting success and the ringing of nestlings. The data gathered shows trends on both nesting success and breeding failure when a nest fails at egg or fledging stage and the reason, e.g. predation, desertion, weather, etc. 

Where a nest is successful ringing chicks in the nest goes on to provide a life history through the exact age of the bird, the place of birth and the number of siblings. Any subsequent recovery of ringed nestling, as in the case of Z722984 gives an ever more complete picture of an individual’s life. And of course Linnet Z722984 remains in circulation to potentially provide another piece in the jigsaw. 

Linnet nest- via Wiki

The most recent summary of BTO ringing totals for UK and Ireland in 2015 show that of 8,722 Linnets ringed during that year, just 556 were nestlings. This equates to approximately 100 nests only. 

We will continue our visits with aim of collecting more information as current data from BTO ringing of Linnets mainly reflect lowland English populations between April and October. Populations in Ireland, Wales, south west and north west England, and south west Scotland are underrepresented with 14% only ringed as nestlings and just 11% ringed during the winter months. 


The weather this week has been poor for both ringing and birding with a couple of visits to the set aside suggesting that our Linnet flock is much reduced. A couple of counts have seen as few as a dozen Linnets or up to forty five in attendance, and nowhere near the 200/300 of October. As a partial migrant it could be that many Linnets present in recent weeks have moved on, but a spell of cold weather might bring an influx of birds from elsewhere.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog.

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