Monday, 31 December 2012

A Quiet And Murky End To The Year

It wasn't half murky out in the Bay this morning and consequently few birds were recorded by yours truly as he stared through his scope! The wind was a blustery west-southwesterly with intermittent rain showers. A few waders were on the beach staying ahead of the incoming tide and these included 67 Sanderlings, eight Grey Plovers, 209 Oystercatchers, 19 Turnstones and 46 Ringed Plovers.

Passage at sea was limited to just a single male Red-breasted Merganser, two Common Scoters, a Kittiwake, five Teal and 27 Wigeon. Not a diver or an auk in sight! I fed the Turnstones and recorded four leg-flagged birds before calling it a day.

If you haven't already got Mark Avery's excellent book 'Fighting for Birds' I can heartily recommend it. I didn't quite read it in one sitting as Chris Packham says he did in the foreword but it was hard to put down once I started reading it. Mark has a huge passion for birds and their conservation and this comes through clearly in this book. The chapter entitled 'the raptor haters' is truly enthralling, if at times depressing, but the book is also full of humour and above all hope. If Father Christmas didn't bring you a copy, spend some of your Christmas money on it, you won't be disappointed!

 See you all in 2013!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

More Of The Same

It was the same 'pack drill' today to that of recent days with a dawn start at the Point. The wind was a blustery WSW with full cloud cover. High tide wasn't until 1215, so I knew what I would see would be limited as I only had a couple of hours and by this time the tide wouldn't have really started to run in.

In the end I only watched for an hour and a half and recorded three Red-breasted Mergansers, a Little Gull, three Eiders, a Kittiwake, 340 Knot, 170 Sanderlings, three Red-throated Divers and 37 Ringed Plovers. As I was leaving Ian was arriving, so for a fuller report of what was on the sea have a look at Fleetwood Bird Observatory later.

I headed to the Turnstone feeding station and fed the 'Terry's' and 35 were instantly on the food. None of these had leg flags on and only two were metal ringed, presumably retrap birds from last winter. Turnstones number about 150 at the feeding station and we have flagged 31 so far. If this wintering population was static without birds moving in or out of the population you would expect to see 20% of the birds feeding at any one time to have flags on them. In the case of this morning this would have been seven birds, but as I say none of them were flagged indicating the turn over of birds even during the winter.

I then headed to my farmland bird feeding station but the weather had deteriorated further and it wasn't fit to have a walk round so all I had were a Reed Bunting, a Buzzard, 19 Chaffinches and 84 Tree Sparrows.

The forecast is similar for tomorrow with 25-30 mph SSW winds and light rain towards lunchtime. I am not sure what I will do as yet, but I will be out doing something!

Friday, 28 December 2012

From Coast To Moss Via The Terry's

First light saw me back at the Point sheltering behind the tower waiting for it to get light! It was a darker morning this morning and what was birding light yesterday wasn't today! I had full cloud cover with a 15 mph SSE wind.

As yesterday the first birds noted were the roosting Oystercatchers in the half-light and 410 were on the beach before being pushed off by the in-coming tide. Sanderlings numbered 250 and Ringed Plovers 17.

Passage on the sea was lighter than yesterday, presumably because of the murkier conditions, and I had 18 Common Scoters, 63 Cormorants, 13 Teal, three Eiders, 43 Wigeon, two Red-breasted Mergansers, a Red-throated Diver, two male Goldeneyes, five Mallards and three Auk sp.

I couldn't stay as long as I had two feeding stations to get to. First of all I fed the Terry's (Turnstones) and I counted 94 and there were several of our leg-flagged birds amongst them. As I was feeding the Terry's 19 Whooper Swans flew east.

 This Carrion Crow was stealing the Terry's food

I then headed to my feeding station on the Moss where I had a paltry (compared to recent weeks) flock of only 604 Woodpigeons, 15 Chaffinch, 240 Pink-footed Geese, 98 Tree Sparrows, two Grey Partridges, four Reed Buntings, six Redwings, five Fieldfares, a Buzzard and a Song Thrush.

Our planned Turnstone catch is off tomorrow because of the weather, so if it isn't too wet i.e. zero visibility, it will be more seawatching for me.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

High Flying Divers and Low Flying Geese

The above isn't strictly true as some of the divers off the Point this morning were flying low and some of the Geese were high, but generally it was the main feature of this morning's seawatching. At first light I had complete cloud cover with a 10 mph westerly wind, which swung to an ENE from 0935 and cleared all the murk from the bay in the process.

Off the Point a shingle island has developed over recent years that only gets covered by the higher high tides and this morning was a morning when it would get covered. It would seem that the Oystercatchers knew this as there were 452 roosting on the beach as I walked towards my seawatching location along with a nice small flock of eight Grey Plovers.

Other waders roosted and fed as the tide came in and dropped including 222 Sanderlings, 77 Turnstones (not a flagged bird amongst them) and 20 Ringed Plovers.

It was fairly slow on the sea at first but when the murk cleared things seemed to pick up. Sightings included 30 Red-breasted Mergansers, 30 Common Scoters, 28 Auk sp., 17 Wigeon, a Teal, two Great Crested Grebes, three Shelducks, a Razorbill and three male Eiders.

The most interesting feature was the westerly passage of Divers and northerly movement of Pink-footed Geese. In total I had 42 Red-throated Divers head out of the bay (west) and three in (east). A great number of these birds were well above the horizon, reminiscent of the spring passage in to the Bay, but heading in the opposite direction. In total we had 1,480 Pink-footed Geese heading north across the bay, but from a westerly direction. These birds seemed to perhaps have been coming across Liverpool Bay from the south and then as they were getting towards the Furness Peninsula starting to track east. I am intrigued to know where they might have been heading and why!

After three and half hours of Diver watching I headed to the Turnstone feeding station to see if I could re-sight any leg flagged birds and in total I had six. Fingers crossed we should hopefully catch and mark some more birds at weekend.

Turnstones at the feeding station (above) and bathing in a puddle (below)

 I have also been to my farmland bird feeding station a couple of times over the Christmas period and had 1,200 Woodpigeons, seven Fieldfares, 92 Tree Sparrows and 19 Chaffinch. The forecast doesn't look good for any mist netting anytime soon, and particularly not tomorrow, so it will probably be some more seawatching for me.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Winter Wildfowl

It was blowy this morning so I decided to head to the Point to spend a couple of hours seawatching. The wind was a 20-25 mph southwesterly wind and unusually for this direction it was awkward getting some shelter behind the Coastguard's Tower. After a bit of toing and froing I found a spot that was reasonably sheltered and was joined by Ian.

During the next hour and three quarters we recorded five Red-throated Divers, two Red-breasted Mergansers, a Little Gull, 38 Teal, six Kittiwakes, four Pintails, seven Wigeon and 200 Sanderlings. The visibility at the crucial distance was very poor and as the tide dropped the birds slowed up.

I then had a look at the Marine Lakes to see if I could re-sight any of our leg-flagged Turnstones and recorded eight birds with leg flags on and two just with metal rings. These are likely to be a couple of our birds from last winter.

Black-headed Gulls & Turnstones

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Light Returns

As it is the winter solstice today I would like to wish all my readers a Happy Winter Solstice!

After today the days lengthen and we can look forward to Spring! I think perhaps I'm getting a bit carried away there.

I haven't a great deal to report since the start of our Turnstone project last Sunday. I have of course been at my feeding station every other day and the highlights this week were 20 Corn Buntings, 44 Chaffinches, 4,245 Woodpigeons, 100 Tree Sparrows, 5 Fieldfares, 2 Redwings and a thousand Starlings.

Below is a picture of the feeding station taken just before the Solstice in 2010. What a difference to today!

Sunday, 16 December 2012


This morning Graham, Huw, Ian, Phil and I had our first catch of Turnstones at the feeding station. As I have mentioned before we are fitting leg flags to these birds in an attempt to:

- generate some information on wintering sites and distribution of wintering Turnstones in the northwest of
   England or further afield
- attempt to find out what the turnover of the birds wintering at the site is; where are they coming from to
   roost/forage at the site
- measure winter site fidelity and implications of disturbance if they show high winter site fidelity
- generate re-sightings to look at migration routes
- try to ascertain whether there are any relationships between wintering areas and breeding areas
- possibly measure phenology if we can catch them over a number years

We had a successful morning and caught 31 Turnstones, including a retrap from this site from January 2012. All were fitted with leg flags, so we need to put some time in trying to re-locate them and generate some re-sightings.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Mud Glorious Mud

After I fed the Turnstones I headed to the estuary to have a look on the mud flats and saltmarsh and as I walked down the 'Hawthorn tunnel' towards the estuary I was putting up good numbers of Thrushes. It was hard to count them accurately but there was at least 53 Redwings, 25 Blackbirds, 87 Fieldfares and three Song Thrushes.

 Mud, glorious mud!

As I walked past the pools a Water Rail called and I was then out on the saltmarsh. I walked to the edge of the saltmarsh to a promontory where I could see up and down the river. The numbers of waders and wildfowl had dropped compared to recent weeks, perhaps due to the hard weather, but I still managed to have 31 Wigeon, 204 Teal, 40 Dunlin, 47 Lapwings, 20 Black-tailed Godwits and 600 Pink-footed Geese.

Walking back across the saltmarsh I had six Rock Pipits and heading back down the 'Hawthorn tunnel' I had ten Goldfinch, ten Long-tailed Tits and a male Sparrowhawk.

 The 'hawthorn tunnel'

I headed to the marine lakes to see how many Turnstones were coming and there were about 130, but not of all of them were on our food. Out on the lakes were four Tufted Ducks, a female Scaup, three Goldeneyes and four Red-breasted Mergansers

Now you see me.......... you don't


 Turnstones at the feeding station

Friday, 14 December 2012

Wot No Sanderling or Turnstones

I apologise if you were expecting to hear about some wader ringing this week, but for various reasons both planned ringing sessions were called off. First up were the Turnstones on Wednesday. When Ian, Peter and I arrived at the ringing site at 7.30 a.m. we were greeted with a hoar frost that was a centimetre deep and this included a covering on the beach! There was absolutely no way that we would catch and ring Turnstones in these conditions.

The plan was to cannon net roosting Sanderlings on Friday but the forecast for Friday was awful; wet and windy, and as I type this it is Friday and it is wet and windy! We brought the cannon netting session forward to Thursday, but when Ian reccied the site on Wednesday there were only 30 Sanderlings roosting due to disturbance on the beach by contractors operating tracked vehicles.

So what do I have to report? Not a lot really and no photographs either. I have of course been to my feeding station several times during the week and had Reed Bunting, Jay, Brambling, 1,000 Woodpigeons, 125 Tree Sparrows, three Redwings, ten Fieldfares and 32 Chaffinches.

Hopefully I'll have some bird news over weekend.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Weekend Round-up

My birding weekend started at my feeding station on Friday and finished at my feeding station today, with birding at the obs in between.

It was late afternoon on Friday when I called to drop several sacks of seed off into my seed bin at the feeding station and also to feed. I'd had to drive through a couple of floods to get there and the land surrounding the track where I feed was under water. See the pictures below of the views towards the wintry fells with the flooded field alongside the track where I feed.

 A dusting of snow on the fells

The flooded field alongside the track where I feed

As it was late most of the birds had left to roost although I did have nine Fieldfares, 26 Tree Sparrows and six Long-tailed Tits.

Yesterday I spent the morning birding at the southern end of the obs. At first light I had clear skies with a light WSW wind and a hard frost. I had a look on the flood but that was frozen, but there was still a couple of Redshanks and six Oystercatchers hanging around trying to work out why they couldn't feed!

The highlight of the morning were the two Short-eared Owls. I actually made two visits to the obs today as I came back later in the morning to show Gail the Short-eared Owls as she absolutely loves Owls. Just as the sun was rising above the eastern horizon I had one bird perched on a fence post. I tried to take a couple of shots but you will see below that they were grainy due to the low light levels. I also took a few shots of the 'Shorties' silhouetted against the sky and these work better!

 Short-eared Owl (above and below)

When Gail and I returned we quickly got on one bird that had just made a kill and we could see it flying away from us carrying a vole. It started to gain height and the second Shortie came up underneath it, flipped upside down and tried to take the vole off the first bird. The first bird wasn't having any of it and it started to gain height quite rapidly. We watched this bird and it kept reaching down to its feet with its bill, presumably to kill the vole. I had a look in BWP and this was indeed what our bird was doing. This is something I haven't seen before, but then again I haven't spent hundreds of hours observing the feeding behaviour of Short-eared Owls!

Pink-footed Geese kept arriving and dropping on to the farm fields to the east and in total I had 954. I tried to have a look through them later, but unfortunately they were feeding a long way from the road and were obscured by hedges.

I had a quick look on the sea but it was very quiet other than three Eiders and five Cormorants. There was a heat haze making viewing extremely difficult.

This morning I was back at my feeding station and what a different  morning it was at is was raining with a 25 mph westerly wind. I didn't spend any more time than was necessary to drop some food off and had 250 Pink-footed Geese, a Jay, a Brambling, a Goldcrest, 125 Tree Sparrows and 17 Chaffinch in the process.

The focus for this coming week is waders with hopefully a catch of Turnstones mid-week that will be fitted with leg flags and then cannon netting some Sanderlings at the end of the week with Morecambe Bay Wader Ringing Group. Oh and I'll have to fit some work in as well!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Slowing Down

The title isn't a reference to my lack of physical capabilities brought on by middle age, but to the fact that in November our (Fylde Ringing Group) ringing totals slowed down and we only ringed 168 birds during the month. This was down to the appalling weather that we had with wet and windy conditions precluding any decent amount of time for ringing.

Over on the right I have updated the totals for the year and we now stand at 3,536 birds ringed of 66 species. The only addition to the species list in November was a Woodcock that Ian caught by hand after it was trying to push itself through a fence!

 The very Woodcock held by 'yours truly'

As usual I have listed below the top ten 'movers and shakers' for November.

1. Greenfinch - 360 (same position)
2. Chaffinch - 334 (same position)
3. Swallow - 317 (same position)
4. Tree Sparrow - 266 (same position)
5. Blue Tit - 259 (up from 6th)
6. Goldfinch - 253 (down from 5th)
7. Lesser Redpoll - 144 (same position)
8. Great Tit - 143 (same position)
9. Blackbird - 127 (up from 10th)
10. Meadow Pipit - 112 (down from 9th)

I suspect that there will be very little change in December as well. There is a chance that Chaffinch could overtake Greenfinch and possibly Blue Tit & Goldfinch could overtake Tree Sparrow. Other than that I think the positions will remain static.

As I stated previously we only managed to ring 168 birds in November and below I have listed the top 5 totals for the month:

1. Blue Tit - 25
2. Long-tailed Tit - 23
3. Blackbird - 22
4. Chaffinch - 16
5. Goldfinch - 15

Lat Sunday (2nd) Huw, Nigel and I managed to get out ringing at my feeding station. It was a cracking morning weather wise with flat calm conditions and a ground frost. There was 6 oktas cloud cover, so the mist nets were pretty invisible too. We only managed to ring 13 birds as follows (recaptures in brackets):

Tree Sparrow - 5
Chaffinch - 3
Blue Tit - 3 (11)
Blackbird - 2 (1)
Great Tit - (4)
Robin - (1)
Coal Tit - (1)

To save you doing the maths I'll tell you that we recaptured 18 birds and this is typical of what you see at a feeding station when it is reasonably cold.

As we were putting the nets up a Barn Owl floated across the stubble field and later in the morning two Jays and eight Whooper Swans would fly over the same stubble field. We had two Siskins go south and other than that my note book is blank.