The Stonechats Are Back

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
I spent a very pleasurable afternoon on Friday on my mossland wintering bird survey site! By the end of the afternoon I had clear skies and there was just a hint of a crisp northerly wind.

Woodpigeons have been a feature of recent days with numbers moving in various locations in the UK, likely as a response to cold weather. I had a flock of 132 Friday afternoon with 13 of their Stock Dove cousins for company.

 There's a line of old Birch trees on this patch of mossalnd that I have become 
very attached to, as they are the only trees for miles around. I always look 
forward to renewing my acquaintance to see what lies within!

I haven't seen many wintering Thrushes for a week or so now on my travels, and Friday was no exception, but I did record four Song Thrushes and up to three Mistle Thrushes. Amongst the usual corvids found on farmland it's always a pleasure to record Ravens, and I had a single bird heading high north. Even though Ravens are increasing in numbers with perhaps less pressure from game keepers (although you wouldn't think so with illegal raptor persecution in the uplands), it's always great to see them as they were once scarce in lowland Lancs.

 Since I started this survey in September I have passed this patch of Broccoli 
in one of the fields and I have always thought that it looks like a piece of 
remnant rain forest in miniature!

Three raptor species made it on to the pages of my notebook; a female Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, and two Buzzards. One of the Buzzards was a leucistic bird and it gave me a bit of start, as for a split second I thought it was a pale morph Rough-legged, but I soon dispelled that thought almost as soon as it popped in to my head! In fact when I located my 'thinking cap' I remembered that I had seen this bird earlier in the winter.

There wasn't many farmland passerines about other than a flock of 24 Linnets, three Reed Buntings and a handful of Skylarks. But, the Stonechats had returned and I had another pair making it four birds. The first pair were back around the pond that I had recorded them at until some frosty weather had moved them on, and I found another pair feeding in a grassy margin alongside a ditch in another part of my survey area.

 Stonechat

Five Grey Partridges rounded off a pleasant afternoon; nothing unusual but just nice to be out even though it was work!

My Last Birding Session of 2017…

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
...and it was a quiet one! At first light the wind was southwesterly and force 8, so I headed to the tower to do a sea watch.

 The sea this morning

As I walked up to the tower some waders were roosting on the shingle ridge including 153 Oystercatchers, 15 Turnstones, 140 Sanderlings and 20 Ringed Plovers. Later I had a look on the marine lakes at high tide and 139 Turnstones and a Purple Sandpiper roosted on the island.

 Turnstone

Passage a sea was quiet but I did record 23 Kittiwakes, 29 Eiders, 28 Wigeon, six Teal, two Common Scoters and three Auk sp.

And that was it. As I said before a quiet one. I'll be back out in the morning for my first birding session of 2018, unless I have one real ale too many this evening!

I pulled a notebook off my shelf and on this day in 2006 I was out on Rawcliffe Moss feeding my farmland birds. I had some good counts including 33 Corn Buntings, 150 Tree Sparrows, 50 Chaffinches, two Yellowhammers, seven Linnets, 35 Skylarks and two Grey Partridges. In addition to this were 500 Pink-footed Geese, 60 Fieldfares, 14 Blackbirds and a Song Thrush. Sadly this particular feeding station is a thing of the past! 

Corn Bunting

Blowing The Cobwebs Away

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
I don't know what it was like in your neck of the woods, but the weekend immediately before Xmas, Xmas day and Boxing day were awful up here in Lancashire! I normally like to get out birding on Xmas day, to try and kid myself that a sense of normality prevails, but the weather put paid to that. So today was my first opportunity to get out, and I headed west Lancs way to do a winter bird survey for work.

 Tools of the trade.

I had virtual clear skies, but that north-northwest wind was a tad chilly! I didn't really record much but it was good to get out and blow the cobwebs away. I only had a few Pink-footed Geese this morning, but expected more, with just two parties of 200 and 5 respectively.

The most abundant species I recorded was Woodpigeon, Jackdaw and Black-headed Gull, with 193, 221 and 132 of each. I had a few Stock Doves with the Woodpigeons, somewhere in the region of 15, and the only raptor was a single Buzzard. A covey of twelve Partridges quickened the pulse until I got on them and saw that they were just Red-legged. A covey of twelve Greys would have been nice indeed.

 Stock Dove

I've no surveys tomorrow due to the weather where they are, so hopefully I'll get out birding locally.

Solstice Greetings

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
I just wanted to wish all my readers and their families Solstice Greetings! I hope you find peace and happiness in which ever way you celebrate mid-winter. I will raise a glass this evening to celebrate the return of the sun, and the start of the new year tomorrow!

Have a cool Yule! It won't be long before butterflies grace
us once again with their presence!

That Pond Again

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
I mentioned before that when carrying out bird surveys you kind of get used to the site and it almost becomes familiar, rather like a local patch, but not quite. But you do gain a certain interest. One of my wintering bird survey sites is some improved intensively grazed pasture with a section of intertidal river thrown in, and 'that pond'. I've blogged about 'that pond' before, and to refresh your memory it is a fairly uninteresting pond, in an uninteresting field!

I was here again yesterday and it was a dull drizzly sort of day, but the weather held up enough for me to do my survey. As I approached the pond I could hear Teal calling and when I looked I could count ten, and they were very visible due to a lack of marginal vegetation surrounding the pond. Looking closer I could see two other ducks and they were a pair of Shovelers. Nothing remarkable, but I almost had that feeling of a patch tick! Come March I will have finished the surveys and those feelings will have subsided and the site filed in my memory.

 Teal, but not on 'that pond'.

There did seem to be a few more thrushes around and a count up in my notes produced 13 Blackbirds, two Song Thrushes, 14 Fieldfares, 15 Redwings and two Mistle Thrushes.

I headed down to the river and in the hedgerow behind me a party of 15 Long-tailed Tits moved through and I couldn't believe how loud a Grey Heron's call was, as a bird called as it flew over the hedge next to my watch point. The tide was virtually in so all the waders had been pushed off, likewise the Little Egrets, but I did have a further 72 Teal. A Buzzard and a Goldcrest later, and I was back at my car.

The forecast for the next few days is a bit iffy, as per usual of late, so when and where I get out is up in the air at the moment!   

A Muted Morning On The Moss

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
The weekend's weather has been awful, cold and wet, or dreich as they say north of the border, so I am going to rewind to Friday gone for this blog post. I found myself surveying a stretch of Lancashire mossland and it was quiet, very quiet and I mean very quiet from a sound perspective. I was there at first light and it was cold and frosty. Very little was calling and it really made it feel like mid-winter. On the positive side the Solstice is only four days away and it's nearly all downhill from there!

 Sunrise over the moss

There's always lots of Woodpigeons on the moss taking advantage of the agricultural pickings and this morning I had a flock of 75 feeding alongside 14 Carrion Crows. See, I told you it was quiet!

 Carrion Crow

Raptors were thin on the ground and all I had was a single female Kestrel, that was hunting over quite a wide area, and a single Buzzard that lazily flapped away from me over some stubbles.

There was a little movement of geese from roosting areas on the estuary to feeding areas inland and I had 495 Pink-footed Geese heading inland (south), but also 18 Canada Geese heading in the opposite direction.

A few finches and buntings fed in weedy corners here and there, and I had 49 Chaffinches, six Reed Buntings, 23 Goldfinches and 41 Linnets. A party of eleven Long-tailed Tits moving noisily along a hedgerow were entertaining as always.

I had two surprises, one being a covey of eight Grey Partridges and the other a single Little Egret flying over me, over land-locked mossland! It was pleasing to see the Grey Partridges as they are sadly very scarce now.

It's a further week of wintering bird surveys for me, but if the weather plays ball (it won't now I have said that), I will have completed all the December surveys and should be able to spend some time on the patch after the 25th. Fingers crossed! 

No Two Days Are The Same

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
The past few days have been rather chilly here in Lancashire, as it has been throughout the rest of the UK. My Canadian family and friends would say "you call that cold"? And I suppose they're right, our cold snaps thankfully don't last too long.

Having said that it was still cold when I was out surveying on Monday, in fact I had clear skies and it was very frosty. There were a few birds on the short stretch of inter-tidal mud flats that I had to survey, and on the associated fields. Waders included 238 Curlews, 155 Lapwings, 28 Redshanks, three Snipe and eight Golden Plovers. There was less variety among the wildfowl and I recorded 118 Teal, nine Shelducks and five Mallards.

Little Egrets were ever-present, but I only had two, the same as the number of Grey Herons that I recorded. A brief bit of pandemonium set  in amongst the waders and wildfowl when an adult male Sparrowhawk shot along the edge of the saltmarsh before diving into a hedge!

The cold weather had brought in a few Thrushes and I had four Song Thrushes, 21 Blackbirds (13 males), six Mistle Thrushes and 47 Fieldfares. The only other raptor I had was a Kestrel, and conspicuous by their absence were Pink-footed Geese as I only had one fly over in three hours of observation!

Yesterday morning saw me joining Phil and Andy at their Linnet ringing site. We put the two single panel nets up in the wild bird seed crop and we managed to ring 13 out of what was probably a flock of 100 birds. Interestingly they haven't had a single recapture all winter even though they have ringed 250 birds so far this winter, and the flock size has never exceeded 250 birds! It just shows the incredible turnover of Linnets there must be at the site.

 Linnet

It's dreich outside as I type, but it's forecast to get colder and drier towards weekend again so hopefully I should be out on patch as well as surveying. Fingers crossed!

Cake, But No Hawfinch

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
Yesterday morning I dropped Gail off at a cake decorating workshop at the National Trust property Sizergh Castle in south Cumbria. Gail went Christmas cake decorating and I took myself off for a walk for a few hours. By the way Gail's cake looked fantastic and you can see a picture of it below. I can't wait to get stuck in to it with a bit of tangy cheese!

 Gail's professionally decorated cake; very proud of her!

It was a glorious crisp, frosty morning with clear skies. The views on my walk were superb with vistas out to the Howgills, Lakes and Morecambe Bay. Shortly after commencing my walk I walked through two large fields of unimproved grassland that were carpeted with ant hills, and sadly as you might expect they were an oasis in a Ryegrass desert! I made a note to myself to return in the summer and have a look at the profusion of wildflowers and butterflies, that I don't doubt will be there.

 Howgills

The Lakes

Ant hills (above & below)



As I walked across the car park a couple of Nuthatches called and I watched a male Bullfinch foraging in one of the trees. Bullfinches are scarce in the Fylde, so I always welcome the opportunity to connect with this gentlest of finches.

The two fields containing the ant hills also contained some Hawthorn scrub and thickets and I recorded one or two thrushes walking through these fields; 3 Song Thrushes, 3 Mistle Thrushes and 7 Redwings. I dropped down in to an area of woodland with some wide, recently cleared glades (management for Fritillary butterflies?) and I had a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a calling Marsh Tit. Again, Marsh Tits are scarce down in the Fylde, so it was good to see and hear. A single Buzzard later and I was back in the car park.

 Woodland path

Sadly I didn't observe any Hawfinches, but there's always another day. Today was about the walk and the views!

Stormcock

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
I was undertaking a winter bird survey on some moss land in west Lancs yesterday and even though it was a cold grey day, I did quite enjoy myself.

As my blog title suggests Mistle Thrushes were a feature of the morning and I recorded 6 of these large, vocal thrushes. In fact one bird was singing, defending a winter feeding territory, and their singing during inclement weather in the winter months earned them their name of Stormcock!

 Mistle Thrush

Other Thrushes that I encountered during my survey were 36 Redwings, five Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and 67 Fieldfares. The Fieldfares and Redwings were associating with some finches feeding in a large field, and the finches included eleven Linnets, a Corn Bunting, 60 Chaffinches and a Yellowhammer. There was probably more of each species, but it was difficult to see into the field properly.

There was little in the hedgerows, although a flock of ten Long-tailed Tits was nice, and raptors were represented by a single Buzzard and a male Kestrel. A number of Pink-footed Geese were flying to and from feeding areas and I had 540 fly over my watch point.

On this day in 1993 I was ringing at a winter roost site we had then, in the grounds of a stately home. My notebook tells me that we recorded at least 400 Chaffinches roosting and ringed 63 birds including 53 Chaffinches and three Song Thrushes. I wish we could go back to those days!

Another Week Gone!

Posted on - In Fleetwood Birder
Last weekend the weather was horrendous; cold northerly winds both days with wind driven showers all day long! I didn't venture out as I couldn't motivate myself because of the weather. And then during the week Murphy's law kicks in and the weather is rather cold, but pleasant, and my birding is all to do with work.

Five sites surveyed during the week and to give you an idea of the habitats I was in it was mossland/farmland 4, estuary 0! So a clear victory to mossland/farmland sites, so that will give you an idea of the species I recorded.

My week kicked off with a fairly pleasant visit to some estuarine and associated habitats on a fairly overcast day, with the ever present north-northwesterly wind. This was my fourth visit to this site and my transect goes past a pond in some improved pasture, grazed within an inch of it's life and I haven't recorded anything on this pond to date. However, this time as I approached it I could hear the tinkling call of Teal and to my delight and surprise 26 of these cracking little ducks were on the pond!

I recorded one or two raptors on my survey and first up was a Merlin that I only got on as it headed high to the west across the fields. A Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk were also recorded as were eight Buzzards!

Out on the estuary a flock of 150 Lapwings and 354 Curlews was noteworthy, and I never get tired of Little Egrets, so eight in my notebook was a bonus as far as I'm concerned.

The following day I was out at first light on some intensive agricultural mossland. Pink-footed Geese were moving from their roost to feeding areas and 356 gave me a fly-past against frosty blue skies. Just thinking about the ground frost a Bumblebee that flew past me was a complete surprise!

 Pink-footed Geese

I had 14 of the Pink-feet's northern cousins, Whooper Swans, again moving from roost sites to feeding areas and like yesterday a few Buzzards, but this time just three. However, one of the Buzzards gave me a start for a quick second as it was a leucistic bird, and I had one of those "what the f*ck was that" moments as I scanned past it with my bins!

The finch flock out on the stubbles had reduced to just 41 and 10 respectively of Linnet and Goldfinch, and there was no sign of the Stonechats; presumably moved on by the cold weather. A flock of 33 Skylarks and a female Sparrowhawk rounded off the morning.

Flooded farmland

My third survey in as many days was on some more agricultural mossland. A species that doesn't usually make it in to my notebook did this morning as on some stubbles was a flock of 101 Feral Pigeons and 20 Stock Doves. I had a few Thrushes on this morning in the form of six Mistle Thrushes, nine Blackbirds and twelve Fieldfares.

I then had a couple of days surveying within some improved pasture and hedgerows, and nothing really stands out to tell you about. The coming week is full of more survey work, but I am really desperate to get on the patch now! In fact I was sorting some mist nets out on my drive this afternoon, so let's hope I get chance to use them next weekend!