Sunday, 30 November 2008

Friday Afternoon and Freezing Fog, 28th & 29th November 2008

On Friday afternoon I finished early to go and feed at you know where; Rawcliffe Moss. Besides seed feed I have been putting apples down at the feeding station from my garden and these are now starting to pull a few thrushes in. There were 21 Blackbirds in the hedge next to the feeding station and I think it was a combination of the Hawthorn berries and the apples. A lot of the apples have been half eaten and by the marks it is possible to tell that they have been eaten by avian feeders rather than mammalian.

Tree Sparrow numbers remain similar and I counted 217 today. Yellowhammer and Corn Buntings are now joining them and there were 4 and 1 respectively.

Saturday morning dawned with freezing fog and I had arranged to meet Craig at Moss House Farm for a ringing session. We went in the hope that when the sun got up it would 'burn' the fog off. Unfortunately it just froze the nets and we packed up after a couple of hours. We managed to ring 18 birds including 10 Tree Sparrows, 4 Chaffinch, Robin, Blackbird and 2 Redwings. A picture of the Blackbird we ringed can be found below. It is a 1st winter bird based on the contrast between the new inner and old brown greater coverts.

As it was so foggy very few birds were recorded from a birding perspective. We could hear 'Pink-feet' calling but couldn't see them and it was very difficult to estimate the number of birds present at the feeding station, because again we couldn't see them!

At least we managed to get out and ring some more Tree Sparrows. At the end of the year I will report the ringing totals for the site here.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Lunchtime Feed, 25th November 2008

Roll on Spring. It's only November and I am already looking forward to Spring. I can't wait for those light early mornings when you can get out birding before work and I think what's also making me have this whinge is being gripped off by mate Ian this morning. I'm sat at my computer writing a report when my phone beeps with a text message; it's from Ian. "Black-throat feeding close in off the Coastguards". Bastard! An hour later my phone beeps; it's Ian, again. "Three Long-tailed Ducks west off the Point; 1 male and 2 female/immatures". Bastard, again!

I have to go to the farm at lunchtime to feed my Tree Sparrows so I try and console myself with "at least I'm getting out". Some poor birders will be indoors 9-5, Mon-Fri with their jobs, so I should look on the bright side.

The first bird that greets me as I drive past the barn is a male Sparrowhawk. By the way if you haven't seen it or read it there's a cracking article in this months BB on Sparrowhawks by Ian Newton. Thrush numbers, or more to the point Blackbird numbers, have dropped since Sunday. Although in the short walk round I had 19, which wasn't a bad count for here. Fieldfares and Redwings numbered only 3 and 5.

Perhaps the most notable and spectacular site of the morning were the large numbers of Woodpigeons. A large number were feeding to the west of the farm and then a second wave flew in from the east. In total I estimated 1,300 birds.

Tree Sparrow numbers were similar to recent days and I counted 209. Other related finch/bunting numbers included 6 Yellowhammers, 2 Reed Buntings and 4 Corn Buntings.

To brighten my page up I am going to include a photograph or two every time. This might be of something taken during a particular visit or something completely random and today is something completely random. Above is a picture of an adult Blue Tit. Now, the none ringers amongst you might say "how do you know its an adult". Well the answer is easy. If you look at the greater coverts you will see that they are all uniform blue showing no contrast in colouration or wear, which means that they have all been renewed at some point as part of a full moult meaning this bird is an adult. Told you it was easy!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Northern Invaders, 23rd November 2008

I paid a very quick visit to my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss this morning on the way to taking one of my lads back to uni in Leeds. The weather was attrocious but it was obvious that over night there had been an arrival of Thrushes, particularly Blackbirds. Later on last night it calmed and cleared, and Redwings were on the move. At first the calmness took me by surprise and I had a few hopes that I would get out ringing, but a quick check of the forecast put paid to any such thoughts.

Anyhow, as I drove down the track this morning in the rain I was pushing Blackbirds out all the time. And as I walked down the feeding track towards the feeding station I was again pushing Blackbirds, Redwings and Fieldfares out of the hedge. I estimated that there were 50 Blackbirds, 30 Fieldfares and 20 Redwings. Tree Sparrow numbers remained high at 250.

Gimme Shelter, 22nd November 2008

No I am not referring to the classic Stones song but the fact that on a northerly wind it is very difficult to get shelter at the Coastguard's Tower at Rossall Point. The Coastguards Tower faces due north and when you are watching birds off Rossall Point they are generally moving east or west. A mistake by visiting birders is that they record movement as north or south thinking that it it the same as elsewhere on the Fylde coast. Thankfully this morning there was a touch of easterly in the northerly and I could get a little shelter on the westerly side of the tower. This made the difference from being absolutely f*cking freezing to just absolutely freezing! And as that awful large supermarket chain would say "every little helps".

The first bird I had this morning as I staggered along the front to get in position to spend a few hours watching waves was a Rock Pipit that soon disappeared as the first of the 'bird scarers' appeared.

On the sea numbers of Eider had built up since I was here last and totalled 51. Seven Red-throated Divers headed in to the bay as did 11 Red-breasted Mergansers. I had a few Auk sp.'s heading into the bay and it was only a few as I had 5. Forty six Pink-footed Geese headed north towards Walney and on a few occasions a flock of 38 were attempting to land on the sea but thinking better of it.

There seemed to be a few more Great Black-backed Gulls around this morning or it might just have been the fact that I decided to count them and I had 14, mainly on the beach. In fact you will see below an awful attempt to photograph one.

As I was just stood in one location I didn't really get to grips with any waders other than 100 Sanderlings, 32 Oystercatchers and 12 Redshanks. As I was stood seawatching I caught a movement to my left and a male Stonechat was perched up on the dunes.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Invasion Of The Trogs, 21st November 2008

I finished work early this afternoon and called at my feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss to have an afternoon walk and to put some food down. As I walked down the hedge and track towards where I put the seed down I could see a flock of 70-80 Tree Sparrows flying from the hedge down to the track, and back when they were disturbed. However, long before I reached them I could hear a number of Tree Sparrows calling from within the hedge and I thought "there's a lot of Tree Sparrows here this afternoon". These birds then flew out of the hedge and as I approached the feeding station Tree Sparrows exploded out of the hedge in all directions. My conservative estimate was of 250 birds but I think there could possibly have been 50-100 more than this. It was certainly the peak count of the winter so far.

With the Tree Sparrows were 17 Chaffinch's and 6 Corn Buntings that split of from the Tree Sparrows and flew off northwest. There were a number of Blackbirds in the 'feeding station' hedge and on my complete walk round I had a total of 12.

As I started to walk up the '97' hedge I flushed a Buzzard that flew a short distance and perched in some willows giving me stonking views as we both remained still and watched each other! It then took off and I started to call to it and immediately it started circling round over me and coming lower and lower. It was then joined by a second bird and both of them circled round as I called to them before they realised I wasn't another Buzzard and started to move off. The original bird was still curious and moved only a short way and dropped into the stubble. I don't think it was convinced that there wasn't another Buzzard around! Further up the 'big field' I could see a different bird hanging in the wind in the distance.

Other than the Blackbirds I had no Thrushes other than 4 Song Thrush's in the hedge near Curlew Wood. Back at the car I saw a huge flock of birds get up way to the west and when I looked I could see that it was a huge flock of about 10,000 Starlings. I say about, because how can you accurately count birds in these sort of numbers. There must have been a raptor about because then a flock of around 300 lapwings got up as well. Birds conspicuous by their absence were 'Pink-feet' and Redwings and Fieldfares.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

More Tree Sparrows, 19th November 2008

First of all I just want to moan about the fact that work gets in the way of birding. Now I am not trying to say that in these days of 'credit crunch' (whatever that is!) that I would like to find myself unemployed with plenty of time on my hands, just...well I wish I had more time to get out birding. I think what I am saying is that I want my cake and..., you know what I am saying. The reason for this moan is that at the moment the only time I am finding for birding is a quick dash during the day to my feeding station to feed the ever increasing hordes of ravenous Tree Sparrows.

I had been working in the Out Rawcliffe area this morning so on the way back to my office I called in at my feeding station to put a bucket of seed down. The Tree Sparrows had definitely increased and the 239 I counted was the highest count for the winter so far. The forecast for the end of the week is for it to go northerly and get quite cold. Hopefully that will bring a few more birds into the feeding station so I will have to make sure that it is kept stocked up.

I trimmed a few sticking out hawthorn branches to prevent them snagging my nets next time I am out, said a prayer to the 'God of calm weather' and headed back to work. In my flying visit the only other thing I had of note were 2,450

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Tree Sparrows Just Get 'Cuter'!, 16th November 2008

We had another ringing session today at our feeding station on Rawcliffe Moss and the Tree Sparrows were definitely not playing ball! Numbers were similar to recent weeks and I counted 128 birds flying away from the feeding station after we had put the nets up. All we ringed were 2 Tree Sparrows and a single Chaffinch. The weather didn't help much either as it was a little breezy and from a northwesterly direction so we had to have the nets a fair way from the hedge to prevent them snagging on the Hawthorns. This meant they were a little more visible and probably had an adverse affect on the catch. Looking at the forecast for the next week we won't get there to ring anytime soon so hopefully the next time we put some nets up the Tree Sparrows will have forgotten what a mist net is!

Despite the lack of ringing this morning the birding was good and a number of birds seemed to be arriving from the north. In fact over the previous evening every time I went out to my garage to get a bottle of liquid refreshment from my beer fridge Redwings were on the move and so were a few Snipe. It's very difficult, if not impossible, to estimate numbers based on contact calls so all I do is when I hear a call I stand and wait for a minute and count the number of calls during a minute and record the time and number of calls per minute in my notebook. For example last night over my house in Thornton Cleveleys, Redwings were calling at a rate of 12 calls per minute at 1930, 1 call per minute at 2020 and 3 calls per minute at 2300. I think you get the idea. At least it gives some idea of the density of passage if nothing else.

Anyway, back to this morning. Thrushes were certainly on the move and as I put nets up in the dark Redwings were calling along with the odd Snipe. As dawned arrived we had 50 Redwings and 484 Fieldfare fly between south and west. A number of the Fieldfares were also flying high with Woodpigeons. Pink-footed Geese were also on the move this morning and continually moved south. Numbers totalled 3,219, but there were a lot more further west that were impossible to count because of the distance involved.

Whooper Swans were also a feature of the morning. We had a group of 7 and 9 go southwest and then we had a larger group of 23 go west. Raptors were represented by singles of Kestrel, Merlin and Buzzard. The Merlin was my first on the farm this autumn. In the past I have witnessed some fantastic 'dog-fights' here between Merlin and Skylark, including on one occasion when the Skylark dived into the woodland to try and escape the Merlin and the Merlin followed it in and shot out the other side minus the Skylark.

Driving off the farm Phil and I stopped at the south end to look at a flock of birds feeding in a potato field and then flying into the hedge. The loose flock included 12 House Sparrows, 10 Blackbirds, 40 Chaffinch, 5 Song Thrushes, 2 Corn Buntings and a resplendent male Brambling. Nice.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

A Pleasant Interlude, 14th November 2008

I had a meeting today at Seaforth NR and over lunchtime I had a quick hour look round with Andrew and Steve. The most impressive site were the flock of 18 Scaup close in on the nearest pool. They were a cracking mix of males, females, first winters etc and looked absolutely fantastic in the perfect light we had at the time. I only wish that I had my camera with me.

There were large numbers of wildfowl, particularly Teal, and my count of 300 would have been a huge under-estimate. Eight Goldeneyes and 10 Gadwall were nice as were the flock of 230 Redshank. Something was continually putting the wildfowl, waders and gulls up, but we couldn't detect what it was. As Steve said at the time if you can't see it, it is most likely a Sparrowhawk and I have to agree.

Just as we were about to return to the office to continue our meeting Andrew picked up a cracking adult Med Gull on the far pool. Not a bad way to while away an hour 'at work'!

You will see below a picture of a Great Horned Owl that my mate Nigel from Canada sent me. If you have read my blog before you will know that I do like to show some of Nigel's pictures from Canada because he does catch some impressive beasts!

You can see why it is called a Great 'Horned' owl in this shot.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Eating Me Out Of House And Home, 10th November 2008

I can't remember whether I have mentioned the feeders on my office window before or not. Anyway, my office is on the first floor and I look out on to some semi-natural ancient woodland with a bit of rhododendron under cover. I have two feeders on my office window; a seed feeder that I put sunflower hearts in and a peanut feeder. The sunflower feeder has two feeding ports and boy do they get used. At the moment, the Coal Tits mainly, are emptying this feeder in half a day! There is just constant traffic of Coal Tits to and from the feeder to the woodland. Other species using the feeders include Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Of the course the Nuthatch and Great Spot only use the peanut feeder.

I called at my feeding station today and put some food out. At first I thought there were no Tree Sparrows there, but the wind was quite strong and the birds were sitting tight in the hedge. They were difficult to count and I had a t least 120. A few Chaffinch, Reed Bunting and Great Tit were feeding there as well.

As I had just popped out from work I didn't really have time for a proper walk round but I did have 2 Buzzards, 16 Skylarks, 1,400 Starlings and 639 Pink-footed Geese.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Right Trousers and Back In The Land Of The Bird Scarers, 9th November 2008

I was at Rossall Point at first light this morning for the second outing of the autumn/winter in my fleece lined winter sea watching trousers and today they were very much the right trousers! The wind was SSW and at times probably gusting up to 45 mph, particularly when some squalls came through. High tide was at 0745 and for the first hour a good number of Common Scoters moved west out of the bay and totalled 159.

After the Common Scoter passage things quietened off a bit and I had 2 Great Crested Grebes, 2 Guillemots, 2 Eiders and single Auk sp. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flock of 30 Turnstone flying low over the shingle with a Golden Retriever running at full pelt in hot pursuit. It's at times like this when I wish I could magic up a .22 rifle to 'take care' of the bird scarer! As a consequence of the bird scarers wader numbers were low with 51 Oystercatchers, 18 Sanderlings, 3 Grey Plovers and 44 Turnstones.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Soggy Seed, 8th November 2008

I sometimes wonder whether I should have called this blog Rawcliffe Moss birder as most of my entries are from here at the moment! I was at Moss House Farm again this morning to 'top up' at the feeding station and I did manage to have a walk round in between the blustery showers. There was plenty of seed left at the feeding station but it was very soggy after all the rain and a fresh supply was required. I only counted 60 Tree Sparrows at the feeding station today, but when it is windy they are very difficult to count as they stick close to the hedge. Also, the time of day makes a difference, as I know that some of 'my' birds fly off northwest, presumably to another feeding station on Pilling Moss.

At first walking round, as it was so blustery, it was difficult to get an idea of exactly what was about, but with a bit of patience and perseverance birds appeared. At first I thought Thrush numbers were down but by carefully walking a number of hedgerows and wooded areas numbers increased and I ended up with 23 Redwings, 18 Blackbirds, 4 Song Thrush and 50 Fieldfares.

'Continental' type Blackbird

I don't know what possessed me to do this but I decided to count the Pheasants as I walked round the farm. Yes, I know, I can hear you all screaming "what on earth for"! Anyway, I did, and counted 41. What that means I am not sure! Other than there are one or two Pheasants around.

Back to proper birds and one of the main features of recent walks round the farm have been the number of Skylarks and Starlings and this morning was no exception. I counted 52 Skylarks feeding in stubble in different fields and 5,141 Starlings in different groups. Pink-footed Geese were very much in evidence, but the majority of the birds were getting up in the distance from Pilling Moss, and I counted 2,504.

I had two more Woodcock in the 'L' wood. The second bird that I flushed gave cracking views. It was very close when I flushed it and it had to really power vertically upwards to clear the bramble that it was feeding amongst and for a few seconds I could pick every feather detail out on the bird. As soon as it cleared the bramble it flew round and dropped down again. Superb!

Friday, 7 November 2008

'Cute' Tree Sparrows

I took the morning off work today to do some ringing at my feeding station on Moss House Farm. The forecast for this coming weekend wasn't good, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to ring some Tree Sparrows. I always forget how 'cute' Tree Sparrows are in both meanings of the word. There is the 'cuddly bunny' attractiveness of them but their most frustrating 'cute' side is their uncanny ability to avoid mist nets!

'Cute' Tree Sparrow

And this morning was to be no exception. Although there were 195 Tree Sparrows at the feeding station I only managed to catch 15 of them! In addition to the Tree Sparrows I ringed 3 Chaffinch, Robin, 4 Blue Tits, Reed Bunting and 5 Long-tailed Tits.

Aadult Blue Tit

The numbers of Buzzards, sorry Common Buzzards (don't get me started!), were far less today and all I had was a single bird along with two Kestrels. Thrush numbers were perhaps up a little from a few days ago and I had 37 Redwings and 25 Fieldfares. Finches and buntings included my first Brambling of the winter, 9 Yellowhammers and 23 Corn Buntings.

The prize for the most numerous species this morning would have to go to Starling as I had 15,399. One flock alone I estimated at 12,000 birds and to be honest with you it was very likely to be half as big again! Numbers of Pink-footed Geese couldn't compete with this and I had 3,723 during the morning. The only other wildfowl I had were 6 Whooper Swans.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Buteo Air Supremacy, 2nd November 2008

This morning at Moss House Farm the (Common) Buzzards were very much in evidence and at one point 4 were thermalling together over the 'L' wood. I have put 'Common' in brackets because these prefixes that we attach to a number of bird species now really annoy me. I can only assume that we are doing this for the benefit of the Americans who can't name their birds properly anyway. American Robin! What Robin, it's a turdus! So we now have 'common' this, 'northern' that and 'european' the other and it drives me mad! Mind you if someone from the BOU taxonomic committee is reading this they would probably tell me that this is based on a sound scientific basis!

Anyway enough ranting and back to the Buzzards, just plain old simple Buzzards and what a spectacle they were as they circled round and round gaining height. It was as if they were in some sort of gliding competition and were attempting to out soar each other. I called at the farm to feed and my mate Phil had got there just before me. Now I like bumping in to friends for a walk round and a natter, but it is the nattering that's the problem and it is down to me. I think because in my job I work alone all day in the main and when I am in the company of fellow humans I tend to talk too much and today was no exception. So that's why I prefer to bird alone so I am giving it 100% concentration. This morning walking round with Phil we probably didn't see as much as we should have because I was talking too much by telling Phil what a fantastic Northwest Ringers Conference he had missed the day before.

There weren't as many thrushes around this morning and we only had 33 Redwings knocking about and most of these we had flushed from some thick cover along a ditch on the edge of Curlew Wood. Numbers of 'Pink-feet' were around and we had 2,310 moving around.

In addition to the Buzzards the only other raptors we had were single Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. I don't know whether it is me or not, but I have seen a good number of Kestrels this year and not as many Sparrowhawks. Perhaps the Kestrels have had a good breeding season.

As usual the feeding station was dominated by Tree Sparrows and 140 were feeding on the seed along with a handful of Chaffinch and single Reed Bunting. Skylarks were still evidence in the stubble in the 'big' field and 16 were getting up and down from there.

The 'big' field

From the plantation we flushed a Woodcock from a clump of Alders and that was my first of the autumn. The only sighting of minor note was a flock of 300 Starling feeding in stubble. Numbers of Starlings have increased in recent days.