Friday, November 17, 2017

Mix And Match

Today’s forecast was a little over the top windy for ringing at our exposed sites so I indulged in a few hours birding, camera at the ready. It turned out to be a day of mixed fortunes with both sunny and cloudy periods, showers, and even a spot or two of sunshine. At the end, a few photos to share. 

The drive across Stalmine Moss found three Kestrels, a hunting pair and then at the junction of Lancaster road a third one in flight. I slowed to scan the fields where a Barn Owl might be seen but none emerged from the post dawn light, just three chattering Fieldfares. The thrushes carried on south but I would see a number of others soon. 

I stopped at Gulf Lane to count the Linnets and drop food. Still 130+ Linnets, plus a number of Tree Sparrows at the farm 50 yards away. We don’t include the sparrows in our counts as they do not visit our seed even though it is a very short flight for them. I guess there must be lots of natural around at the moment and no need for them to sign in to our free food bank. 

Further around Gulf Lane were another 40 or so Tree Sparrows. They fed in a roadside stubble field and when spooked by a passing vehicle flew up to a handy tree or hedgerow until the danger passed. 

Tree Sparrow

Following this very wet summer and autumn herds of Whooper Swans, small and large, are scattered across many areas of Pilling, Cockerham, Cockersands and Eagland at the moment. There are so many swans that if on a morning flight the lot were to try and feed in one field they might struggle to do so; even more when both Whoopers and the many dozens of Mute Swans seem not to mind sharing their largesse of abandoned crops. 

So it was that out on Moss Edge I watched a herd of 20 Mutes and 30 Whoopers as they fed untroubled in yet another morass of mud and corn stubble. I even managed to single out a family group for a picture. What fine animals they are and aren’t we so very honoured to welcome them to our local landscape each winter? Two Little Egrets fed in the adjacent grass and looked slightly out of place, somewhat exotic in comparison to the Icelandic swans.
Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

Little Egret

The hawthorn berry crop was poor this year. Following the October/November invasion of Fieldfares, Blackbirds and other thrushes this already low food resource is now almost gone. On Moss Edge the hawthorns are pretty much depleted and it was noticeable that a flock of approximately 130 Fieldfares searched both the ground and the hedgerows for something to eat. In normal years the hedgerows provide bird food for a few more weeks. 



I stopped at Conder Pool more out of habit than expectation. Old Faithful really struggles to provide any birds at the moment so I was not surprised with the regular counts of 190 Teal, 14 Wigeon and about 30 each of Lapwing, Redshank and Curlew. The customary 3 Little Grebe, 1 Goosander and 2 Little Egret. 

I found nothing of note on the circuit of Moss Lane/Jeremy Lane with none of the thrushes of late except for a Mistle Thrush into the light. 

Mistle Thrush
It was time for a coffee near the Lune. As luck would have it a flock of Linnets flew by and some landed on the nearby fence. Even better there was a single and perhaps one or two more Twite plus a curious Wren. 





The Twite Linaria flavirostris and the Linnet Linaria cannabina are similar in looks but are two separate and quite distinct species. The genus name Linaria is the Latin for a linen-weaver, from linum, "flax" and flavirostris means yellow-billed; cannabina comes from the Latin for hemp. 

The Linnet is a mostly farmland bird at all seasons of the year but one that can be found at higher elevation on moorland edge in the summer and autumn. In contrast the Twite sometimes known as “mountain linnet” favours treeless moorland for breeding and frequents lowland and mainly coastal haunts in winter only. It is in the winter when both species are more likely to seen using the same coastline areas in which to feed. 

Time passed quickly and my time was up. It had been a good morning with a rather nice mix of species.

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

More Linnets Please

Just yesterday I entered some recent counts of Linnets at Gulf Lane into the BTO’s Bird Track. The system flagged up that the counts were of an “unusually high number”. Well BTO it’s good to hear that, especially as discovering more about winter Linnets is the objective of our project here. 

BirdTrack - BTO

Throughout September and October spot counts here varied between 50 and 100 Linnets during a period of poor and mostly wet and windy weather. In the last week and into November and with more settled weather there have been nearer 200 birds at any one time. 

Wednesday 15th and at last a morning of less than 5 mph winds. I met Andy at 0715 and ten minutes later the single panel nets stood ready for the Linnets as they arrived from roosts ready for their first feed of the day. 

Parties arriving varied between 3 and 30 individuals until our best counts of the morning realised 135 Linnets at any one time, a reduction from the most recent count of 200 on 11th November. Past catches tend to equate to approximately 10% of the spot count, just as today with 13 caught. This brought our running total to 190 Linnets for this autumn period. 

Today’s catch comprised 1 adult male and 12 first winters, 4 female and 8 male. In addition we caught a single Wren. One of today’s Linnets came in at a healthy 85mm wing and 19 grams, another two at 84mm and 19.4 and 19 grams, leading us to again speculate that such individuals originate from Scotland. 


More time, more captures and more recaptures of Linnets ringed elsewhere may help us to prove the theory. All we need is more ringers catching and ringing spring, summer, autumn and winter Linnets.  

For the benefit of ourselves, the farmer and his Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme we record all bird species using the site on each and every visit. Today the list was restricted to Linnets, a Sparrowhawk and the aforementioned Wren. 

Fly overs today were Whooper Swan, Lapwing, Skylark, Kestrel, Buzzard, Meadow Pipit and Pink-footed Goose. Geese flew off the marsh and inland throughout our four hour stay. We were reliably informed that recent counts have been in the region of 40,000 Pink-footed Geese!

Pink-footed Geese

Seems like we have enough pinkies for a while. But if anyone would like to send more Linnets our way, we'll do our best to accommodate them.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bright And Breezy

The forecast said bright and breezy and it was spot-on for birding if not for ringing at our exposed sites. I travelled over the moss roads where I hoped for a Barn Owl or two; but no luck this morning, just a pair of Buzzards leaving their overnight roost.

At Gulf Lane the Linnet flock has increased to 200+ birds but no sign of the Stonechat from earlier in the week. With luck we’ll get a crack at catching more Linnets this coming week. Lapwings and Curlews filled the wet fields alongside the A588 with several hundred of each before I even reached Braides Farm.

Here at the farm were 500+ Lapwing and similar numbers of Curlew, and on the flood itself, 80+ Black-tailed Godwit. A mile away I stopped on the rise of Bank End Lane and viewed the fields below. Here were several hundreds more of both Lapwing and Curlew, dozens of Redshank, and once again a large number of Black-tailed Godwit, 130 or more.

The area around Chris the farmer’s midden/slurry pond is holding a good number of insects as well as small birds, mainly pipits and wagtails, but also a few Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings. After a while the count came to 120 Meadow Pipit, 8 Pied Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 4 Tree Sparrow, 2 Reed Bunting and a good number of Starlings.

Pied Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit
Pied Wagtail


There is a huge southerly migration of Meadow Pipits during August to October, a movement involving birds from Scotland, Scandinavia and Iceland, after which the UK wintering population is quite small. No one is quite sure of the origins of any wintering birds and their numbers can vary enormously according to the severity of the winter. While the weather is mild at the moment whereby there is plenty of insect food, cold and especially frosty weather will see the birds quickly depart south and west.

Meadow Pipit

Conder Pool is pretty much off the boil for now although the cold northerly appeared to have increased the Teal count to 230 together with the first Wigeon (15) for some weeks. Otherwise - approximately 30 each of Lapwing, 30 Redshank and Curlew, 3 Little Grebe, 2 Goosander, 2 Little Egret and 1 Kestrel. Two Ravens flew over heading inland and in a north easterly direction.

There is such a spectacle of noise and activity that it is hard not to drive up Moss Lane where the Whooper Swans have made their winter home. With 450+ Whoopers and a few dozen Mutes there’s enough action to satisfy most observers, the only problem being to isolate a single photo subject  or small group from the multitude packed into the field.

Whooper Swan
Just along Slack Lane there was quite a lot of activity around the now redundant set aside field and hedgerow with more Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Linnets, and even half-a-dozen Greenfinch. It’s not so many years ago that most birders, me included, didn’t bother to record the overly common Greenfinch in their notebooks. Look at it now – a sharp population decline, a now scarce sight and a rare visitor to many a garden.

Greenfinch - BTO


On the way back up Moss Lane and around Jeremy Lane were hundreds of very mobile Fieldfares. They tried to feed in the roadside hedgerows but fled as each vehicle whooshed by. My estimate of 3/400 is just that. There could have been lots more but they weren’t in the mood for stopping.



A successful morning then!  I really should get out more often.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Today’s The Day

One day a week for ringing. That’s all we get at the moment. One day without rain, wind or both. This week was Wednesday with a cold, clear and frosty start at Oakenclough where I met Andy at 0630. We were later joined by our old mate Will, now too busy with work to do a great deal of ringing. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. 

The morning followed a similar pattern to our latest visits here, a post-dawn burst of thrushes and then little else to keep feet and fingers warm. We are now past the peak of Redwing migration and while Fieldfares are often a week or two after the passage of Redwings, this autumn’s Fieldfare migration has seemed a little thin over here on the west coast. Blackbirds were more in evidence today with “continental” types caught, up to 20 seen in total, plus a single Song Thrush. Otherwise, and in the very clear skies there was a thin passage of Chaffinches overhead with at least two definite Bramblings, their nasal calls singling them out for special attention. 

The peak numbers came about 0715 with a largish mixed flock of about 200 Redwing/Fieldfare at 30/70% respectively and which hurried through towards the west before we had time to scrutinise the flock more closely. Afterwards any newly arrived thrushes consisted of small groups or even singles of Fieldfares, Redwings or Blackbirds. In all we caught 18 birds: 5 Blackbird, 2 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 4 Coal Tit, 3 Blue Tit, 2 Lesser Redpoll and 1 Goldcrest. 




Lesser Redpoll

The route back home took me across Pilling/Rawcliffe Moss where 8+ Buzzards circled above a wood, 40 Fieldfares along a hedgerow and a single hovering Kestrel close by. 

At Cockerham, Gulf Lane I stopped to count the Linnets and to leave their rape/millet mix which they are yet to exploit. Here were 145 Linnet, 4 Stock Dove and 1 Stonechat. 

With luck this will be our next day and location of ringing – next Monday looks OK at the moment but these pencilled in days have a habit of changing. If the Met Office can’t predict more than 24 hours ahead what chance do we have?

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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Saturday’s Schedule

Saturday began dull and cloudy but the forecast was pretty accurate. The sky brightened a little but not enough to get decent photographs. 

I set off in the direction of Cockerham where I stopped in the gateway of Braides Farm and looked on the flood about 300 yards away. The flood is distant but always worth a look with the risk that small birds go missing amongst the puddled, rough grass landscape. I counted 480 Curlew, 10 Black-tailed Godwit and a single Kestrel but I’m sure more bits and pieces were hidden. 

Conder Green proved productive. In the wader stakes I noted 15 Curlew, 15 Redshank, 14 Black-tailed Godwit, 5 Snipe, 4 Lapwing and the single and still wintering Common Sandpiper. The light was far from ideal and required ISO1000, a setting which proved barely enough. 


Common Sandpiper

Down on the mud was a single Grey Wagtail and also 4 Meadow Pipits. The incoming tide made it easier to count the Teal now flushed out of their hiding places in the marsh and I counted 170/180. There was a single Grey Heron, 2 Little Egrets, 3 Little Grebe and 9 Goosanders. The latter included 3 stunning looking males, even if they were on the far side of the pool. 

 Meadow Pipit

Little Egret


I drove around Jeremy Lane and up to Cockersands where I hoped to find and photograph Fieldfares, a species which in some winters appears in large numbers along the hawthorn hedges. But very few Fieldfares today with the best I saw about 50 very mobile birds in two flocks in roadside that flew quickly south and out of sight at the approach of vehicles. I had to make do with a House Sparrow dining on rather old blackberries. 

House Sparrow

Near to Cockersands I found 190 or more Whooper Swans, a number partly hidden as the field dropped down and away from view. As I watched a number of parties flew off noisily towards Cockerham but a hour or so later and when visiting Thursday’s location of almost 500 Whoopers at Cockerham I saw not a one. Clearly this winter’s swans will be very mobile with a selection of places in which to delight their admirers. 

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swan

I stopped at Gulf Lane and counted the Linnets at 130+.  Their natural food is still a plentiful mystery where they drop to the bottom of the vegetation, feed on or close to the ground and appear to ignore our line of rape seed.  Six Stock Doves dropped in to feed but they won’t stay around if the ringers or shooters appear and then open their car doors. 

More birds soon. It’s Saturday evening and I’m due a glass of plonk.

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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Linnets And Swan Lake

It had been more than six weeks ago on 23rd September that we managed a ringing session at Linnet Project 2017/18. Six weeks of wind and rain which limited our visits to spot count days only with not a single visit for ringing purposes during October. At this site we need a dry morning and ideally, a wind of 5mph or less. 

At last the forecast was tolerable for this morning so I met Andy at 0715 and we set a couple of single panels through what is left of the wildflower/bird seed field after its autumn battering.  At the moment the finch flock is Linnets only and numbers about 130 at any one time so we were not too disappointed with a catch of 14 Linnets - two adult males, and the remaining 12 made up of 7 first year males and 5 first year females. This bumped up the Linnet ringing total here to 177 during the autumn of 2017. 

Linnet - male

Linnet - female


During July to September the post-breeding finch flock here numbered up to 250 birds, 50% of which were Goldfinch targeting a large crop of sow thistle. The sow thistle has now gone and so have the Goldfinch. It was during this period that we ringed nine Goldfinches. One of these Goldfinches, S800188 ringed here on 26th August was found dead 40 kms away in Darwen, Blackburn on 29th October. The Goldfinch had collided with a glass window and picked up dead by the householder. Collisions with glass account for a large number of small bird deaths. 

Highlight of the morning’s birding was the many thousands of Pink-footed Geese leaving their salt marsh roost just hundreds of yards away and over the nearby sea bund. We made no attempt to count the often very distant geese but they were in tens of thousands. We also noted good numbers of Whooper Swans flying overhead and later spoke to a wildfowler who said that other shooters had reported approximately 700 Whoopers in recent days. 

After our ringing I drove around to where the swans had dropped, a corn field left unharvested after it flooded badly during recent rains, a field which now resembles a shallow lake. It was here I counted 470 Whooper Swans, 15 to 20 Mute Swans together with many hundreds of large gulls, Starlings and Jackdaws. There is another herd of swans along at Sand Villa and Braides Farm so the shooters’ count of 700 swans is more than feasible. 

Swan Lake - Cockerham

Whooper Swans
Whooper Swans

In the same area as the swans were 15+ Skylark, similar numbers of Tree Sparrows and a single Grey Wagtail. 


Tree Sparrow

Stay on board. There's more birding, ringing and photos to come soon on Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Eileen's Blog.

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