In Only Seven Days…

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
...is a brilliant song by Queen, but it also only a short period of time when your blog can become out of date! In the past seven days I have been busy with lots of things 'birdie' but haven't seemed to have the time to update my blog!

Last weekend I had a look on the farm fields on the coast hoping for an early Wheatear, but that wasn't to be. In fact grounded migrants were a bit thin on the ground and all I could muster was a male and two female Stonechats and a single Goldcrest. I suppose I would class the Meadow Pipits that had gathered on the fields as grounded migrants too, as they were certainly migrants and weren't going anywhere at present; in total I had 66!

Vis was virtually non-existent as well with just two Alba Wags north. It was murky out at sea and as a result was very quiet other than the 25 Whooper Swans that I picked up on the sea. They rested there for a while before taking off and heading north.

 Whooper Swans (honest) above & below



The only raptors I had was the male Kestrel from the resident pair and an adult male Sparrowhawk that shot through.

Earlier in the week Gail and I headed to the Hodder Valley to make sure that our boxes were 'ship shape' for the coming breeding season. A few numbers needed re-painting and one or two boxes needed replacing, but over all they were in fine fettle! On the way home we noted a few fields that had been recently been spread with slurry with large numbers of newly arrived, pristine, Lesser Black-backed Gulls. At this time of year they look absolutely fantastic!

This past weekend we found ourselves in Dunfermline for the joint British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Scottish Ornithologists Club (SOC) Scottish Birdwatchers' conference, and what a cracking conference it was!

The conference was opened by Norman Elkins of 'Weather and Bird Behavior' fame, who talked about the new Fife atlas and picked out a number of winners and losers since the last atlas to highlight population changes within Fife. This was followed by a presentation by Allan Perkins called 'Developing conservation solutions for Scotland's Corn Buntings', and the conservation solutions proposed could be applied to Corn Bunting populations anywhere in the UK. I was particularly surprised at how much the Corn Buntings in the Outer Hebrides are struggling and it really is the eleventh hour to prevent them from becoming extinct here.

Gavin Siriwardena from the BTO was up next with 'Farmland birds - problem solved after 15 years of agri-environment?'. I was particularly interested in Gavin's presentation as I have a keen interest in farmland birds and professionally have put together a good number of agri-environment scheme agreements. The positive and negative association with scheme options and population declines and increases of farmland birds was both uplifting and vexing at the same time!

I'd heard of Professor Will Cresswell, but had never seen one of his talks before and it was brilliant. He reminded me of a young Professor Ian Newton in as much as he is a boffin, but managed to present scientific information in an easily understandable way. His research into african-palearctic migrants was fascinating.

David Steel, formerly head ranger at the Farne Islands, but now warden on the Isle of May gave a highly entertaining and informative talk on the Tern populations on the May, and what he is doing to increase their breeding population there. Considering he had the 'grave yard' slot straight after lunch he captivated the audience.

Owen Selly from the RSPB talked about White-tailed Eagles in eastern Scotland, and what amazed me was the distances these birds travelled. Several birds from the eastern Scotland population flew over to Mull in the winter and associated with Eagles there before returning in the spring!

John Calladine from BTO Scotland gave a presentation on the results of the 2007-11 Atlas from a Scottish perspective and looked at what could be done with the data to provide sound conservation science. To finish we were treated to some stunning photography from Fife birder John Anderson. His shots of a North American Mink attacking a juvenile Gannet had everybody on the edge of their seats! What a way to end what was a brilliant conference and I'm already looking forward to the next one.

We have recently been notified that the ringing suspension that was affecting us because of a 10 km surveillance zone around an avian influenza outbreak has now been lifted! So I just need some decent weather to get out ringing again!

Yesterday

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
It was a tad cool on the coast yesterday as there was some northerly in the westerly, and with full cloud cover no sun to warm things up! It was also murky out at sea and as a result the sea passage was even slower than the day before, and the vis was nearly non-existent!

The sea produced six Common Scoters, eleven Eiders, a Red-throated Diver, seven Shelducks, a Great Crested Grebe, three Red-breasted Mergansers and two Cormorants.

Grounded migrants were restricted to three males and a female Stonechat, but it won't be long until the first Sand Martins, Wheatears and Chiffchaffs appear! Roosting waders included twenty Sanderlings, eleven Oystercatchers, eight Ringed Plovers and three Turnstones (all the Turnstones were at the Marine Lakes).

 Stonechat

sanderlings

The near non-existent vis was just a single Alba Wagtail, a Meadow Pipit and a Grey Wagtail; early days yet!

I then had a look at the Marine Lakes and counted 148 Turnstones, including at least four of our leg-flagged birds that I managed to read. The beauty of the Marine Lakes for the Turnstones is that they can continue to feed over the high tide if they wish to do so, but if there is too much disturbance they will roost on the island.

 Turnstone

It's deepest, darkest Merseyside for me this afternoon for my last winter bird survey, so more on that tomorrow.

It’s All In The Flex!

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
It was a beautiful spring-like day yesterday when I headed to the Point for a sea watch. I had 3 oktas hazy cloud cover with a 5 mph westerly wind. High tide was about an hour before I got there and the tide was just starting to turn.

Spring seawatching is one of my favourite disciplines within the broader umbrella of birding, and I particularly like the spring Red-throated Diver passage when birds are travelling in to the bay at height to cross over land to the North Sea! There was some diver passage this morning with five 'Red-throats' in and two out, but none of the birds moving in to the bay were high. Some of the divers were close in and I always enjoy watching them 'motor' along with that long neck of theirs flexing up and down; superb!

The supporting cast on the sea included twelve Eiders, 28 Common Scoters, a Shelduck, a Great Crested Grebe, 20 Whooper Swans heading northeast, four Cormorants and two Red-breasted Mergansers.

Vis is starting to trickle through now and this morning I had three Meadow Pipits, a Skylark, a Carrion Crow and a Siskin head east. Grounded migrants were just represented by two male and three female Stonechats, and the males looked particularly resplendent in their black and burned orange attire!

 Stonechat

It was soon time for me to head home and chain myself to the desk, but some early morning birding before work doesn't half set you up for the rest of the day!

Linnet

Chiffie

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
It was a glorious spring-like day today with lots of warm sunshine. I went to the water treatment works to top my feeders up and the first bird I had was a fly-catching Chiffchaff! It is likely that it is an over-winterer as we've had Common Chiffchaff and Siberian Chiffchaff wintering close by. Nevertheless it made it seem even more spring-like!

The feeders were empty so they are obviously busy at the moment. We still have ringing suspended because of the avian influenza outbreak and I hope it gets lifted soon because March can be quite busy ringing wise at the Obs!

The willows where moments before a flycatching Chiffie delivered 
it's sorties from!

It’s Starting To Get Early

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
My latest survey in deepest, darkest Merseyside required a 4:00 am alarm call to enable me to get on site one hour before sunrise and I thought to myself "it's starting to get early"! On the morning in question I had three oktas cloud cover with a 10 - 15 mph south-southwesterly wind.

It was probably one of my quietest surveys to date at this site and there wasn't really any highlights. Of moderate interest I recorded four Song Thrushes, 21 Goldfinches, a Kestrel, eleven Chaffinches, nine Lapwings, ten Skylarks, three Goldcrests, two drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a female Sparrowhawk, eleven Blue Tits, eleven Blackbirds, 226 Black-headed Gulls and 19 Carrion Crows.

I tell a lie there was a highlight, well for me anyway, and that was three Red Squirrels! Always a pleasure to see!

Garden Mega!

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
This is just a really quick post to say that I had a 'mega' in the garden this morning in the form of a Tree Sparrow, yes a Tree Sparrow! I can hear you all saying that they're not that rare and that you get them in your garden all the time, but round here they are scarce!

The nearest population is some miles away, so I can only assume that this bird was a migrant. Every spring we get a few birds moving over the coast on vis. This 'smart dressed individual' was associating with the House Sparrows, but wasn't a full member of their gang as it was always on the edge of the group.

Funnily enough my sister-in-law, Kim, was visiting last Saturday and over breakfast she said to me "is that a Tree Sparrow"? Now I have to admit that I didn't look up and said "no it'll be a House Sparrow". Whoops! So, who knows it might have been around since weekend!

Tyto

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
I recently completed one of my wintering bird surveys in Merseyside and it was probably the quietest of the winter so far. The weather was fairly good with four oktas cloud cover and a 10 mph southwesterly wind, so it was probably just the time of year influencing the results.

Of interest I had 34 Goldfinches, a Kestrel, 14 Linnets, ten Long-tailed Tits, five Buzzards, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two Stock Doves, five Song Thrushes, seven Lapwings (including a displaying bird), two Barn Owls, two Goldcrests, a calling Tawny Owl, 48 Woodpigeons, 32 Carrion Crows, eleven Robins and 14 Blue Tits.

The Barn Owls were of most interest as I had expected to record Barn Owl at the site but hadn't all winter until this survey, when I had two. One bird came flying towards me and then dropped on to a vole quite close to me! I managed to get a shot of it, but the light was pretty poor, so it wasn't as good as expected considering how close it was!

 Barn Owl (above & below)



I am still busy operating my feeding station but can't do any ringing there yet because of the avian influenza outbreak, but I am hopeful that the suspension will be lifted as soon as this week; fingers crossed!

White Winger

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
High tide was in the early hours yesterday morning so I decided to have a look at the river at first light. As I set off along the edge of the saltmarsh I had 7 oktas cloud cover with a 10 mph southerly wind. A number of 'Pink-feet' were leaving their riparian roost, 174, and I also had 280 go over high north; some early vis.

As I walked, or should I say slid, along the muddy path a flock of 19 Twite flew over my head calling away, and I soon reached my watch point over the river. There were large Gulls coming and going to bathe and their numbers were quite spectacular, in fact my counts didn't represent the true numbers. I counted 990 Herring Gulls, 17 Great Black-backed Gulls, 32 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (starting to move through now and looking immaculate in breeding plumage) and 115 Black-headed Gulls. In reality there is probably 3,000 large Gulls at the site at the moment.

After some time going through the Gulls I picked out the 2CY Glaucous Gull that has been around for a number of weeks. I'm not a huge Gull fan, but even I can appreciate this giant white winger! There wasn't much wildfowl on this stretch of the river, but a flock of 110 Lapwings was nice. Walking back across the saltmarsh I added Rock Pipit and a male Reed Bunting.

I had a look on the pools next and there was two Shovelers (male & female), seven Tufted Ducks, six Mallards, 38 Coots and a Great Crested Grebe. I had a wander in to the reeds to check out some of our net rides in preparation for the lifting of the suspension of ringing within the 10 km surveillance zone for the relatively local avian influenza outbreak. All looked well and in fact I got to some net rides that we haven't managed to get to for two years due to high water levels, so that shows what a dry winter it's been.

All I had in the reeds was another Reed Bunting plus a Snipe and a singing Cetti's Warbler. So all in all a pleasant couple of hours! 

Above The Wenning

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
I was up above the Wenning earlier this week measuring various habitat features.It wasn't a bad morning with 3 oktas cloud cover and a warm southerly breeze.

I walked from the huge old barn which has been sympathetically restored to be still used for agriculture. This is great as a lot of these old barns don't fit in with modern farming practises and are either converted to housing or left to fall down. The barn has also been restored with the colony of House Sparrows that occupy it in mind and lots of holes, nooks and crannies have been left in the external skin of the building for the Spadgers! The twenty or so knocking around the barn seemed happy!

I headed up to the Iron Age hill fort and with such warm weather lots of Buzzards were on the wing and in total on my walk I counted seven. Song Thrushes were singing and I had a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the woodland. A singing Skylark and three Brown Hares added to the mix.

 Measuring wheel parked on the hill fort!
 
In one field I had a feeding flock of 24 Redwings and 57 Fieldfares which was nice. Along the track at different positions I had two Stoats pop out of the hedge to investigate what the noise was coming from my measuring wheel, but sadly they vanished before I could get a photograph. Three Siskins overhead and a Little Egret down by the river and that was me finished for the day. Not bad for some non-birding work!

Herdies But Not In The Hills

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
Valentine's Day found me continuing with my wintering bird survey in deepest, darkest Merseyside. It was dark when I set out and pretty cold in the 10 mph southeasterly wind. Close to where I am surveying is an area of dunes that are grazed in the winter with some Herdwick sheep, which I think are amongst the bonniest of our native sheep breeds.

 Herdwicks

Nothing stood out during the survey, and as usual a good range of species were recorded including two Sparrowhawks (an immature male and a female), two Song Thrushes (merrily singing away), 1672 Pink-footed Geese, three Goldcrests, 13 Chaffinches, five Long-tailed Tits, three Coal Tits, seven Stock Doves, five Buzzards, 24 Goldfinches, 16 Curlews, a Grey Wagtail, 43 Carrion Crows, 136 Black-headed Gulls and eleven Blackbirds.

All my birding seems to be birding for work at the moment, but I mustn't complain as at least I am getting out! Hopefully I'll be on the patch this coming weekend. I do apologise for saying that as the weather will be awful this weekend now!