Thursday, 23 June 2016

Down by the seaside.

Yesterday I had a ride over to Ainsdale beach, near Southport, with my son, Jack, and the dogs and although we had primarily gone there for a walk I had my camera gear with me, just in case we came across anything interesting. This is a very popular stretch of coast but there were very few people about, as is to be hoped during weekday working hours outside the school holidays. In fact we only saw about ten people in the four hours we were there and some of them were in the distance.

We walked south along the strandline for a mile or so before gradually working our way out towards the incoming tide. The dogs got a good run but they were brought under control well before we got near to any roosting or feeding birds to avoid causing any disturbance.

Good numbers of Cormorants were gathered at intervals along the beach.
The vast majority of the Cormorants were pale-bellied sub-adults.
The incoming tide pushed some waders towards us and they were soon left huddled on a small sand bar as the tide raced in and around them. The majority were Knot but there were smaller numbers of Oystercatchers and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits.
Surprisingly the longer legged Oystercatchers were the first to leave the rapidly shrinking sand bar.
The Knot pushed closer and closer together as the tide rose.
Eventually they had to move.

The Knot didn't go far and they landed closer to us so I grabbed a few shots in the hope of finding a colour-ringed or leg-flagged bird. On reviewing the photos at home I didn't manage to pick out any colour-marked birds.

It wasn't long before the tide moved them and us on again.

I estimated that there were about 400 Knot and no I haven't gone through them to check.
Having enjoyed the unexpected spectacle provided by the Knot we headed back up the beach to one of the higher strand lines before slowly making our way back north. We hadn't gone far when my eye was drawn to a photo opportunity provided by roosting gulls, Oystercatchers and Cormorants with Blackpool Tower and the 65m high 'Big One' roller coaster on the horizon behind them.

The roller coaster and tower are approximately 20km and 22km north from this part of Ainsdale beach.
There were about 100 Cormorants in this roost including a few that are just out of the frame. 
Still heading north we walked closer to the dune edge and associated marshy areas at the top of the beach. This is quite a good area for nesting Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings. It is also heavily walked which means the birds are used to seeing people and some of the Skylarks are particularly confiding.

I would like to claim that I intended to capture the flying bee in this photo but I obviously didn't. However, the Skylark is in there on purpose.
The Skylark was by a path and it allowed me to approach to within a few metres.
Squatting down changed the background to one of a hazy blue sky. The impressive hind claw can be clearly seen.
We moved on, leaving the Skylark to go about its business, and ventured further along the edge of the dunes. As we walked on a Little Egret flew south, to our left, along the top of the beach and a little while later a Grey Heron also flew south but this time to our right, over the edge of the dunes.

As big and as white as it is we nearly missed this Little Egret.

Grey Heron.
We ventured into the sand dunes for the final leg of the walk and the trail we followed was bordered with a good scattering of Pyramidal Orchids. Further along the trail our attention was drawn to the pink and white flowers of Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea that was growing up the side of one of the smaller dunes.

Pyramidal Orchid
Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea added a real splash of colour.
Almost back to the car park and the walk was rounded off with some feeding Jackdaws. That pale powder-blue eye on the lookout for any morsel of food.

Adult Jackdaw
All in all a good day and I am sure the dogs would say so too.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Chiffchaff to Norway and another closer to home

Recent recoveries included details of two Chiffchaffs that were ringed on Billinge Hill last autumn. Both were ringed as first-year birds and both were controlled (caught by other ringers) this spring, but in very different places. One was caught at Lista Bird Observatory in southern Norway while the other was caught just north of Liverpool.

JBX573         Chiffchaff
Ringed          29/08/2015     Billinge Hill, Merseyside.
Controlled     08/05/2016     Lista Fyr, Farsund, Vest-Agder, Norway.   773 km NE,  253 days.

It should be remembered that the line on the recovery maps simply joins the ringing and finding places and does not represent the route taken by the bird.

A check of the BTO Online Ringing Report (link here) for 2015 revealed there had only been a total of 7 BTO ringed Chiffchaffs found in Norway (includes all records received up to the end of April this year) although a total 26 Norwegian ringed birds have been found here. This shows that recoveries in Norway are particularly uncommon and this bird is potentially only the 8th British ringed Chiffchaff to be found there.

JBX773        Chiffchaff      
Ringed         17/09/2016     Billinge Hill, Merseyside.
Controlled    14/05/2016     Fulwood Marsh, Merseyside. 19 km W, 240 days.

The recovery of JBX773 fits in with the more usual pattern of recoveries for birds returning to the general area they came from. In fact this bird may have returned to the site or close to the site where it was originally bred. Many warblers disperse in random directions before migrating south in the autumn and this bird could have moved east to Billinge, where it was ringed, as part of its post juvenile dispersal last autumn.

256 first-year Chiffchaffs were ringed at Billinge last autumn. Peak migration was in September when 122 were ringed, including the bird in this photograph.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016


This post is an assortment of things that I have photographed over the last week along with a short summary of recent ringing activities.

Woodpigeons have caught my attention again but this time it was birds that were in the top of an Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) across the road from the garden. I had noticed birds spending a lot of time there and hadn't really thought much of it as seeing Woodpigeons in a tree is hardly unusual. However, when I got my bins on them and had a proper look I could see they were eating the leaves and that was a bit of a surprise, to me at least. I knew Woodpigeons were partial to the flowers of Ash but I didn't know they also ate the leaves and they have really thinned out the leaves in the top of this particular tree.

This bird is about to swallow a piece of a leaf and you can also see that some of the smaller branches have been stripped of many of their leaves.
In this image you can easily see some of the leaves that have been partially eaten against the birds upper breast..

Another leaf is about to be eaten.
I am not into flowers in a big way but the meadow areas at the Billinge ringing site have some of the most impressive areas of Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) that I have ever seen and they are at their best at the moment. A few orchids are also flowering and while I hadn't gone looking for nests I found a Meadow Pipits while photographing the flowers.

Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) 08/06/2016

Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) 08/06/2016

Marsh Orchid spp. 08/06/2016, probably Southern Marsh Orchid or Southern hybrid.

Meadow Pipit nest 08/06/2016
Back at home the moth trap hasn't produced anything out of the ordinary but variety and numbers are slowly improving.

Lime Hawkmoth 08/06/2016

Ruby Tiger 08/06/2016

Green Silver-lines and Miller 10/06/2016

Pebble Hook-tip 12/06/2016

Peach Blossom 12/06/2016

Scorched Wing 13/06/2016
On the ringing front a very short ringing session at Crawford on the 9th and another there on the 12th produced combined totals as follows (retraps in brackets): Tree Sparrow 20 (4); House Sparrow 2; Greenfinch 17 (2); Goldfinch 9 (2); Chaffinch 2; Robin 3; Dunnock 2; Whitethroat 1; Great Tit 5 (1).
Tree Sparrows seem to be having a good breeding season as I have now caught 33 at Crawford in the last 10 days with 30 being juveniles.

Juvenile Tree Sparrow
Adult male House Sparrow; an increasingly scarce sight these days.
Studies have shown that individuals with larger black bibs are more dominant.
Juvenile House Sparrow 12/06/2016.
While Tree Sparrows seem to be doing ok the same can't be said for House Sparrows. They have virtually disappeared from my garden.
Juvenile Greenfinch 12/06/2016.
The extensive areas of yellow on the tail and outer webs of the primaries mean this bird can be easily sexed as a male.
I am still catching quite a few new Starlings in the garden (mostly juveniles but a few new adults too) and I have now ringed 287 juveniles over the last 5 weeks. Numbers visiting the garden should tail off rapidly now, as birds disperse and form post breeding flocks, so I don't expect to ring many more this breeding season.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Crawford: 4th June 2016

I resumed baiting the farmland site at Crawford recently as it can attract good numbers of juvenile Tree Sparrows in the period just before the first crops of winter cereals start to ripen. It is also a good site for Goldfinches and catching adults at this time of year allows me to confirm their sex by the presence of a brood patch or a cloacal protuberance. Sexing Goldfinches from their plumage characters is a long standing interest of mine but I am also interested to see if there is much, if any, change in their appearance as birds age. This site gives me the best chance of retrapping known sex adults that I have photographed in previous breeding seasons.

Another reason I like baiting this site at this time of year is that I don't have to get up at daft o'clock to get a good catch so I only set the first alarm for 5am and eventually set off just after 6. The drive to the site is usually uneventful but I hadn't gone far before I encountered a Woodpigeon that was suicidal or playing a game of chicken very badly. I slowed right down and nearly had to stop such was its ambition to become another avian road casualty. It wasn't the only one and every few hundred metres there were Woodpigeons in the road, presumably all taking grit, and it wasn't long before I came across a freshly exploded Woodpigeon lying in a wide halo of body feathers. However the most unusual sighting along the route was Roe Deer as it was the first I had seen in that area. At least it showed some road sense and went back through the hedge on my approach.

On getting to the site I was greeted by the calls of Tree Sparrows and it didn't take long to set up a couple of nets in a line by the hedge and feeders. The first net round produced 7 Tree Sparrows, 2 Great Tits and a Chaffinch with only one of the Great Tits being a retrap. In between some of the quieter net rounds I checked out some of the adjacent fields and it was nice to have 3 Corn Buntings singing in the usual spots and the recent large influx if Diamond-back Moths was much in evidence with dozens being disturbed along every few metres of some of the field margins.

Diamond-back Moth

Reports from the south and east coast suggest that many millions of these tiny migratory moths have come into the country in the past few days with upper estimates in the low millions coming from the recording areas of just two two coastal observatories.

11 of the 13 Tree Sparrows caught were juveniles like this bird.
Adult Tree Sparrow
I packed up at at 10am having caught 29 new birds and 2 retraps. Species totals (retraps in brackets) were: Tree Sparrow 13, Greenfinch 6; Chaffinch 4; Goldfinch 2; Whitethroat 2; Robin 1; Great Tit 1 (2).

I was disappointed that I only caught 2 Goldfinches on this visit but every adult caught at this time of year adds to my collection of photographs of known sex birds and my understanding of the variation the sexes can display. As you can see the red on the face of this bird doesn't extend very far behind the eye but blowing back the feathers of the vent confirmed it was a male.
The lesser coverts of the same bird had narrow and well defined brown fringes which is typical of many males.