Saturday, 27 March 2010

Rush Hour

It was busy with 'Johnny Come Lately' birders at Rossall Point this morning who obviously rolled out of their pits late and missed the morning rush hour from first light. Northwesterly winds are no good at Rossall, but in the spring even if the conditions aren't right, the first hour is always okay.

Eiders were moving around on the incoming tide and I counted 77 in total with more females scattered amongst them. Red-throated Divers motored into the bay in good numbers early on and then dwindled after the first hour. We had 31 head east, with only two or three turning round and heading back west. Perhaps they didn't fancy the prospect of an over land crossing.

I had my first Sandwich Terns of the spring, although they have been around for a few days, and I had a total of four birds. You can't beat that rasping call. Auks were in good numbers sallying back and forth. I only have twenty down in my notebook, but I guess there were probably three or four times as many as this. Some of the closer birds were identifiable and I had good views of four summer plumaged Razorbills on the sea.

There was an obvious movement of Gannets this morning and I had 41 in total. One group of eleven cut across the bay heading directly to the 'point' and passed incredibly close; we're talking nearly full frame binocular views here. Awesome! Six Red-breasted Mergansers and eleven Common Scoters headed west, and that was about if for sea passage.

Overhead vis was slow, as you would expect into a stiff northwesterly, but 41 Meadow Pipits still struggled through, including birds you could pick up in your scope out at sea crossing the 'bay'. A few Knot and Sanderling moved through, and the local Ringed Plovers were kept busy with 'aggression' display to passage birds!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Spring Moss

The Chiffchaffs arrived this week in the woodland behind my office at Myerscough College. There were none on Monday (22nd), but as soon as I got out of my car yesterday morning and today I could hear a 'Chiffie' singing from the woodland. It was quite pleasant to sit at my desk with the window open and listen to the song.

I made my weekly trip to Rawcliffe Moss this afternoon to drop some seed off in one of the feeding bins. I parked up at the track and had a walk up the '97' hedge, across the top fields, round the plantation and back to my car past Curlew Wood. Rewinding to when I first arrived this afternoon I had fifteen Corn Buntings in the hedge as I approached the barn and then I had another eight near the Tree Sparrow boxes, with a further three singing birds scattered around.

A Yellowhammer flew away from the tailing's calling and several Skylarks sang overhead as I walked round. Lapwings were displaying in all the pasture and stubble fields and I had two pairs of Grey Partridge. In the 'top' fields I had quite a large flock of Meadow Pipits for the moss that numbered 176, presumably grounded migrants that will be on their way tomorrow morning.

It was all calling birds in the plantation with Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, Long-tailed Tit and Redwing being heard and not seen. Back along the lane past Curlew Wood I had ten Tree Sparrows and fifteen Goldfinches in the hedgerows, and a Tawny Owl called from the woodland.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Dried Out Barn Owl

As a ringer you always look forward to that 'white window envelope' with a BTO stamp on it lying on your door mat when you come home from work. It usually means details of a recovery, or if you are lucky several recoveries! Yesterday was one of those days and I eagerly opened the envelope wondering what it would be.

I could see that it was a Barn Owl chick that had been ringed from a brood of two by Will on 19th August 2009 at a farm close to Nateby near Garstang. I looked to see where it had been found and it had been found on 5th February 2010 at a property near Bilsborrow, Preston. It wasn't freshly dead when found and the finding details said that it was found behind some straw bales with a possible broken leg and it was very dried out. It had moved a distance of 7 km in 170 days.

Not very exciting I hear you say and I would agree. Then I started to think about the finding circumstances, "...behind straw bales...", and the fact that the farm it was ringed on was a mixed farm and produced straw. The nest site of this particular pair was in a building and not in a box and I know for a fact that in previous years they have nested on top of the straw bales. My theory is that this Barn Owl chick fell down behind the straw bales close to the nest site and died. Some bales were bought by the people at Bilsborrow and low and behold when moving some of the bales they found the Barn Owl "very dried out".

It is often an issue with relatively sedentary species like Barn Owl as to whether some of the movements have been assisted in some way. The 'Migration Atlas' states "...some individuals killed on roads may be transported for some distance before falling from the vehicle with which they had collided. This often leads to an overestimation of the dispersal distances for such birds".

Of course I am only guessing as to what might have happened to this bird as the movement of 7 km is well within the median distance of natal dispersal of 12 km. We'll never know, but it's interesting to speculate. Below is a picture of a Barn Owl that Ian took in the Fleetwood area recently; thanks Ian.

Sunday, 21 March 2010


It took Ian and a while to realise what was going on this morning in connection with the lack of birds. We arrived at Rossall School at 0515 and quickly put up the four nets in anticipation of a good morning's ringing and some vis with hopefully a few summer migrants. It was fairly clear overhead and the wind was a light southwesterly, but where were all the birds?

The vis was fairly light with only 52 Meadow Pipits, eleven Alba Wags, two Goldfinches and three Siskins over. The first clue we had as to what was going on were the Whooper Swans heading north just over the sea wall which is probably about 350 metres from where we ring. We had 22 head north in two groups of five and seventeen. Now Whooper Swans heading north isn't unusual at this time of year, but they are usually heading further out and going straight across the 'bay'. It then dawned on us that it must be murky out at sea and the birds were hugging the coastline. This was confirmed when we left the 'obs' at 0800 and fog was everywhere other than at the 'obs'! Talk about patchy!

We only ringed three birds that included the above male Chaffinch plus a Dunnock and Wren. After we packed up I called in at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park and it was very foggy here. Driving past the water treatment plant I noticed a bird perched up at the very top of a Willow; I lifted my bins and there was a stonking male Wheatear, my first for the spring. I love it when Wheatears perch up in trees, it just looks so weird.

Out on the pools were twelve Coot, five Little Grebes and 21 Tufted Ducks. I did a circuit of the usual Wheatear areas but there were no others. Walking back towards my car I caught site of a raptor out of the corner of my eye that was heading fast to my left; it made a momentary diversion towards a singing Skylark and I thought "Merlin" and it was; a female that just powered its way south across the landfill site and out of view.

I am struggling to get out in the week and it might be Thursday before I do, but I am looking forward to seeing Jethro Tull for the umpteenth time at Manchester Apollo on Tuesday evening. "Sitting on a park bench..."

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Singing In The Rain

I don't why I have given today's blog the above title as there was definitely no singing as I trudged around Rossall School at 6.00 a.m.! perhaps I should have been singing Zep's 'Rain Song' out loud as I wandered around to cheer myself up!

Even though it wasn't fit for ringing I thought I had better go to the 'obs' mainly for continuity of coverage and in the hope that I might get a grounded Wheatear or two in the rain. I think the rain set in too early last night and certainly too early for any night migrants to set off and then get grounded because of the rain.

Walking round there were good numbers of Wrens singing and I had at least four singing males. Perhaps a hint that they might not have been too badly affected by the cold winter. We won't really know the true effect of the winter until the end of the breeding season.

The only sign of migration were the Meadow Pipits and Alba Wagtails that were heading north in low numbers despite the rain and low cloud. I had 26 Meadow Pipits and three Alba Wags go over. There was no chance of taking any pictures this morning so below is a picture of Meadow Pipit from a couple of weeks ago.

I did a full circuit of the obs and drew a blank other than a Fox close to the 'north' hedgerow. With soaking clothes and fogged up optics I decided to call in at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park and have a quick look on the pools and the grass airfield of the aero-modellers club that can attract good numbers of Wheatears and later in the spring chats.

I was fighting a losing battle trying to keep my optics clear of water so it was a brief visit and on the pools I had twelve Coots, female Goldeneye, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, two Little Grebes and thirteen Tufted Ducks. Despite the rain three Skylarks sang their hearts out that lifted my spirits somewhat.

Interestingly back at home a little later in the morning I had a flock of 25 Redwings drop out of the murk calling. They circled round and then headed north.

The forecast is looking better for tomorrow (although there is the chance of some early fog) and we might even get some ringing in.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Still Early

Craig, Ian and I made another valiant attempt at some pre-work ringing at Rossall School this morning. It was an early start with a 0530 meet at the 'obs'. The first job was to remove the sleeping policeman, literally, who was parked in front of the gate that gives us access to the site. He was slouched down in the drivers seat, fast asleep and oblivious to the world. It's good to know that the 'boys in blue' are patrolling the streets at night keeping us safe in our homes! Policeman out of the way we could get on with putting the nets up.

We had 6 oktas cloud cover with a 1 -2 west-southwesterly wind. It was fairly mild and we were hopeful of catching a few birds. And we did just that; catch a few birds! We ringed five and retrapped two as follows: Robin - 1/0, Goldfinch - 2/0, Greenfinch - 1/0, Dunnock - 0/1 and Wren - 0/1.

We had quite a few Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails interested in the playback lures but they wouldn't commit themselves and jump into the net. The Meadow Pipits perched on top of the poles, on the shelf string, on the fence post behind the net, virtually anywhere other than in the net.

The Barn Owl was present again this morning and flew in with its Larus escort as usual. Vis was improved from a few days ago and we had nine Pied Wagtails, fourteen Goldfinches, 53 Meadow Pipits, two Skylarks, four Reed Buntings, two Siskins and a Snipe heading north.

I note on Bardsey today that they had five Chiffchaffs, two Blackcaps and the first Manx Shearwater so things are looking up.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Sky Divers

As I pulled into the car park at Rossall Point at 0545 I thought we had made a mistake in not going ringing at Rossall School. However, within ten minutes the wind picked up and I was reassured that I had made the right call.

At first light it was clear and very cold with a 10 mph northwesterly wind and by 0620 there was complete cloud cover! Within half an hour of this it cleared again and this was the pattern with the weather all morning. The first birds of the morning were the Eiders that were moving around on the incoming tide and in total I had 55. A few Red-breasted Mergansers were about and twelve is the total in my notebook.

Up until December (2009) there had been good numbers of Common Scoters off Rossall, but since then numbers have declined and this morning all we had were 17 moving around in ones and twos.

The most interesting birds of the morning were the Red-throated Divers, or should I say 'sky divers', based on the height that some of them were flying. We had 31 'Red-throats' go east into Morecambe Bay and all of them would slowly climb as they were heading east. Several of the birds were so high that when you had them in the scope you couldn't see any sea at all! These birds would obviously be making an over-land crossing at some point, but where exactly I am not sure.

'Red-throat' courtesy of Simon Hawtin

We also had good numbers of Kittiwakes this morning, 119 in total, and again they were all heading east into the bay. Some of these birds were flying very high giving the impression that they too would be making an over-land crossing. Fascinating stuff.

In addition to the Kittiwakes there were also large numbers of Gulls and some of them were feeding in large numbers on the sea, presumably having found a shoal of fish. It could well have been this that attracted the thirteen adult Gannets we had, which is very early for these kind of numbers. A few Auks were on the move and we had ten in total.

Waders were conspicuous by there absence and there were very few being pushed up the shore on the incoming tide other than fifteen Sanderlings, a handful of Ringed Plovers and 68 Oystercatchers. There was a steady easterly passage of Curlews and we had 34 in total.

As ever with eyes focusing on the sea, ears were concentrating skywards listening out for diurnal migrants. On 'vis' we had Grey Wag, three Pied Wags, Reed Bunt, Linnet, 12 Meadow Pipits and seven Goldfinch all heading northeast. Nothing was grounded other than a male Stonechat and this could well be the local resident male.

At the moment the forecast is similar for tomorrow in terms of wind strength so I don't imagine we'll get any ringing in at the 'obs', it will be another morning on the sea off Rossall.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Last Bucket and The Horned Lark

I called at Rawcliffe Moss this afternoon to put a bucket of seed down and if there were no birds at the feeding station it would be the last bucket of seed for the winter. First stop was the barn to pick up the seed and nine Corn Buntings were feeding on the pile of tailing's next to the barn.

As I drove down towards the track I put two Red-legged Partridges up and I would put another two up later on as I walked round. As I headed off down the track I had a flock of 35 Lapwings fly over and two Buzzards thermalled close to the L Wood. I had another two Buzzards further off towards Rough Holme Farm and a handful more of displaying Lapwings dotted around the farm.

At the feeding station there were no birds at all, which was good, as it meant my reduction programme had worked and the birds had moved on. As I had carried a bucket of seed so far I put it down and at least the resident Dunnocks and Robins in the hedge would make use of it.

Walking around I noticed that there were good numbers of Brown Hare and I had seven in total on my walk. Three Roe Deer in the top fields allowed a close approach and I could see that there was a single stag and two doe's. On the way to the top fields I flushed four Grey Partridges (two pairs) in the 'big field' and two Curlews had dropped in to feed. I noticed a flock of 60 Curlews later on feeding on a farm to the west of where I was.

It was very quiet as I walked up to, through and round the plantation with only small numbers of Chaffinch and Goldfinch. I had a Long-tailed Tit in the plantation and two more towards Curlew Wood as well as four Wrens, demonstrating that at least some small birds had survived the hard winter.

In 1989 I spent nearly a year volunteering at Long Point Bird Observatory on Lake Erie in southern Ontario, Canada. I mention this because some pictures that my good friend Nigel sent me recently reminded me of this. We used to put ground traps down baited with seed to catch Sparrows and Grackles and they worked to great effect and the picture below is of a ground trap Nigel used recently to catch Shore (horned) Lark and Snow Bunting.

The pictures below show Horned Lark and Snow Buntings being ringed followed by some cracking shots of the Horned Lark in the hand. Awesome!

Thanks Nigel for some stunning shots of some stunning birds!

It looks too windy to get to the 'obs' tomorrow morning so it will be a mornings birding at Rossall Point for me. As always I'll let you know how I get on.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


I checked the forecast yesterday afternoon for today and gave Ian a ring to see if he fancied a session at Rossall School before work this morning and he was up for it. I sent a text round the group and Craig said he would join us as well. Yesterday when Ian walked round the 'obs' there were quite a few birds about. A number of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Dunnock and Robin in the hedges and about forty Meadow Pipits on the deck. It was forecast for fairly cloudy conditions over night with a 1 mph easterly wind.

We decided on an early start this morning as we could only manage a couple of hours before work, so we arrived at 0545. As we were putting the 'star' net up we had a Barn Owl go over us. Nice! As we put the other three nets up we could tell that there was very little about. There were a few more birds than last Sunday, but not as many as Ian had yesterday. It was also very clear and few birds were on the move. 'Typical' I thought!

Craig & Ian at the 'star' net

After an hour and a half we had ringed Blackbird, Dunnock and Meadow Pipit, and retrapped Wren and Robin. Anyway, we are not going to get too dispirited as it is only early March after all and what was encouraging is that we had a few Meadow Pipits interested in the tape even though we only recorded a handful going over. So hopefully when we have a few hundred going over later in March/early April we should catch quite well.

In addition to the Barn Owl the birding was quite slow as well. From a 'vis' perspective we had seven Goldfinch, 17 Meadow Pipits, two Reed Buntings and eleven Siskins go north. By weekend we should hopefully have the first Sand Martins and Wheatears going through, as there was a Wheatear on Bardsey Island yesterday, and that's not a million miles away. I can't wait!

'Stonking' male Blackbird

Sunday, 7 March 2010

What A Difference a Day Makes

One of the beauties of working a coastal site with a restricted amount of cover, as at Rossall School, is that it makes it a lot easier to work out what is going on in terms of migration. There is little overlap and confusion with the activities of breeding birds that can often cloud the issue.

It was a very different day to yesterday when Ian and I arrived at 0615 to put the nets up. It was clear with a temperature on my car thermometer of minus 4.5 degrees Celsius and the wind was a 1-2 east-southeasterly. It was very obvious that it was different to yesterday in terms of the lack of calls from the stunted hedges and our ringing totals, or should I say lack of ringing totals bore this out.

We ringed three birds that were two Long-tailed Tits (new ringing record for the site) and a Dunnock. Interestingly we only retrapped a single bird that was a Dunnock from 2009. So where had all the birds gone that we ringed yesterday? It was fairly obvious that they had cleared out under the clear skies.

There also weren't as many birds going over on 'vis' and the only records of note were a handful of Meadow Pipits, four Siskins, five Goldfinches and a Grey Wagtail heading north. So a very different day, not as much about, but very much as interesting!

In the afternoon Ian, Phil, Craig, Will and I met at Moss House Farm on Rawcliffe Moss to identify and cut a new net ride in the plantation in preparation for some ringing this spring and summer. Before we carried out the work Ian and I put a bucket of seed out at the feeding station and thirty Tree Sparrows, ten Yellowhammers and two Grey Partridges were still hanging on. Waiting for Craig to arrive five soaring Buzzards kept us occupied as they 'rode' the thermals to dizzying heights and drifted off.

On the way home Ian and I counted thirteen Goosanders and five Goldeneyes on the River Wyre. No birding for me until Wednesday I'm afraid as I have a late night tomorrow as I am off to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in Manchester and I'm looking forward to a bit of 'Freebird' and 'Sweet Home Alabama'!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

First One

This morning was our first ringing session at 'Rossall Bird Observatory', aka Rossall School! It was calm and mild as Craig, Ian and me arrived at 0615. Four nets were put up in anticipation and for an early March morning we didn't do too bad.

We ringed 21 birds and retrapped three as follows (new/retraps):

Dunnock - 6/1
Robin - 3/1
Blue Tit - 2/1
Meadow Pipit - 1/0
Blackbird - 1/0
Wren - 1/0
Greenfinch - 5/0
Song Thrush - 1/0

The Wren that we ringed was very confiding after we had ringed and attempted to release it. Occasionally birds will pause on your hand momentarily before flying off to get their bearings. This bird remained in my hand and started to have a good preen. It was lifting its wings and preening under-wing coverts, turning round and preening upper-tail coverts and then hopped up my arm, perched on my shoulder, looked round and flew off. Fabulous! Ian took some shots and if they're any good I'll post them on here later.



There were three migrant Stonechats (2 males and a female) around this morning and we attempt to catch them by using a play-back lure. The two males were very interested, but as soon as I saw one of them perched on top of a mist net pole I knew there was no hope of catching any of them! We observed some interesting behaviour by the two male Stonechats. Both males were catching large invertebrates (larvae?) and flying towards where the female was, presumably to present her with a gift to try and get her to pair up with 'him'.

Meadow Pipit

There were a few birds on 'vis' this morning with the following totals all going north:

Grey Wagtail - 1
Pied Wagtail - 3
Goldfinch - 7
Reed Bunting - 1
Tree Sparrow - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Siskin - 30
Meadow Pipit - 4

There was probably quite a few more than this, but when you're busy ringing it's hard to keep your eyes on the skies as well. An excellent mornings spring migration monitoring was finished off by some absolutely stonking views of a Barn Owl hunting along the ditches and the rough areas of grassland. It then drew the attention of some Herring Gulls and one individual gave it some stick for a good few minutes. It'll be interesting to see what we get tomorrow.


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Soaring Shreaks

I must admit I do like some of the local names given for birds and 'Shreak' is a local name for Buzzard in Gloucestershire. I think I mentioned in a previous post that I am starting to wind down the winter feeding at Rawcliffe Moss as the Tree Sparrows have started to disperse and I will shortly switch ringing operations to a coastal migration site.

When I called at the 'Moss' yesterday I just happened to look skywards, shortly after getting out of my car, at a passing aeroplane and noticed a buteo thermalling high in the sky. I got my bins on it and I could see that it was a Common Buzzard. As it was thermalling it was slowly drifting north on the light south-southwesterly wind. I then picked up another soaring Buzzard that was even higher, and again it was drifting north. Then right across my view at a similar altitude to the first bird another Buzzard flew purposefully west.

Buzzard courtesy of Simon Hawtin

Walking down to the feeding station the first birds I had were five Yellowhammers followed by 107 Tree Sparrows. A few Blackbirds fed on the apples I put out and about a dozen Chaffinches were with the Tree Sparrows.

Driving back up to the barn I noticed that a single Lapwing was prospecting the cereal field just to the north of the barn. On the way past the tree favoured by our resident Little Owl I stopped, as always, to have a look and it was perched out in the open in the glorious sunshine. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me to take a shot.

At the moment the forecast for weekend is looking like we might get out and perhaps do some ringing, but we'll have to wait and see.