Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Linnet Tales

Start time 0615. At last, a 4mph negligible wind and no rain. I met Andy at Pilling and we set a couple of single panel nets in time for Linnets to arrive from their overnight haunts and head for the seed plot. 

Within 15 minutes we had our first catch. We went on to a total of 43 new Linnets with zero recaptures from previous occasions. Of the 43 ringed we had 5 adult males and 38 juvenile/first years, broken down further to 20 males and 18 females. This brought our overall total to 129 Linnets ringed in August, an excellent start to Project Linnet 2017/18. 

Our maximum count of the flocks and smaller groups in attendance today was of approximately 200 Linnets at about 0930. The flock is almost entirely Linnets with just a handful of Goldfinches tagging along. 


Readers of a certain age will certainly remember a ditty featuring the Linnet and made famous by Cockney (London) music-hall in the early part of the 20th Century. “My old man said "Foller the van, and don't dilly dally on the way", the story of a couple doing a “moonlight flit” from their house in the dark of the night to avoid paying rent owed to the landlord. Anyone who knows the song will remember how the wife continues the story in the Cockney dialect -“Orf went the van wiv me 'ome packed in it, I followed on wiv me old cock linnet. 

The “old cock linnet” was the family pet – a linnet, a finch highly prized for its rich musical song a century and more ago. Around that period it has been estimated that 50% of households in Britain kept a cage bird. Linnets were the most popular of all because they were very numerous and huge numbers were taken from the wild to satisfy the whims of the time. 

Cock Linnet

Cock Linnet - August 2017

From “Every Woman's Encyclopaedia” circa 1910 -1912. 

 Every Woman's Encyclopaedia 1910-192

“There are five other members of the family of the Fringillinae which well deserve notice, as they are very suitable for pets. They are the linnet, siskin, redpoll, twite, and crossbill. 

The linnet claims the first place in popularity, and is one of the best of our British songsters. Its notes are very sweet and soft, although on this point individual birds vary, some being far better songsters than others. Old birds have a much fuller and better song than young birds, and are thus sought after by those who know of this characteristic. 

The cock linnet varies considerably at different periods of his life in the colours of his plumage, a fact which has led to the belief that there are several varieties of linnets, whilst, in reality, this variation in the colour of the plumage depends on the age of the bird. 

For instance, birds of a year old are called grey linnets, the feathers on the head and breast being edged with grey. Adult birds in the spring assume what is termed the breeding plumage, when the feathers on the head and breast become bright red, and the whole plumage brighter and more intense in colour. These birds are known as rose linnets. This red colouring quite disappears from birds in captivity. 

During the autumn and winter months the plumage of the adult birds becomes a rich brown, and they are then known as brown linnets. 

The plumage of the female bird does not vary, and is very similar to that of a young male bird. It is of a sombre colour, with less white on the wings and tail, and never possesses any crimson plumage on head and breast. 

The linnet is naturally a shy bird, but in confinement becomes quite tame and makes a very pleasing and interesting pet. In their wild state linnets become gregarious in winter, and may often be seen in the open country feeding on the seeds of wild mustard, sharlock, and other plants.” 

Stand by soon for more Linnet tales, old and new from Another Bird Blog.

Linking this post to  Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Times

Saturday was rubbish for birding so I odd-jobbed, blogged and saved my energy for Sunday. I didn’t get many photos this morning but right at the end is a video that everyone will like. 

Braides Farm was first stop this morning where a roadside Buzzard flew off as soon as the car slowed. Our resident Buzzards don’t like being looked at, even less being pictured on bird blogs. Many of our native farmers and country folk have very established opinions about birds with “hook bills” and there’s not much doubt that the local Buzzard population suffers as a result. Hence the aversion to man. 

There’s been a large influx of Continental Starlings this week with substantial flocks noticeable. So much so that at Braides/Sand Villa I counted a minimum flock of 1000+ swirling around the cow sheds and the open fields. 


Of course the large autumn and winter flocks that visit the UK do not represent the overall status of the Starling. The following paragraph from the BTO  (British Trust For Ornithology) website may surprise anyone who thinks Starlings are abundant. 

“The abundance of breeding Starlings in the UK has fallen rapidly, particularly since the early 1980s, especially in woodland, and continues to be strongly downward. The map of change in relative density between 1994-96 and 2007-09 indicates that decrease has been widespread across England and eastern Scotland but that some increase occurred in Northern Ireland, western Scotland and Cumbria. Recent data suggest a populations decrease in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the trends were initially upward. The species' UK conservation listing has been upgraded from amber to red as the decline has become more severe. Widespread declines in northern Europe during the 1990s outweighed increases in the south, and the European status of this species is no longer considered 'secure' (BirdLife International 2004). There has been widespread moderate decline across Europe since 1980” 

Starling abundance in England - BTO

The Kingfisher was about at Conder Green. It flew around the pool a few times and eventually landed on the sluice wall but didn’t stay more than a few seconds. 



 Other fishermen around this morning were 4 Cormorant, 2 Little Grebe and 3 Little Egret. 


The pool water is way down at the moment and it appears that the level is being managed via the sluice for some reason, perhaps to encourage wading birds. If so, it hasn’t worked just yet with my counts remarkably similar to recent ones - 140 Lapwing, 14 Curlew, 32 Redshanks, 6 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Snipe and 1 Common Sandpiper.  Pied Wagtails seem to like the margins with a count of 18 today. 

The female Tufted Duck still has four youngsters. At one point I watched her angrily chase off a Cormorant that came too close to the island where the youngsters were hiding up. I noted a few passerines today in the shape and sound of 10 Goldfinch, 8 Linnet, 4 Reed Bunting and 1 Willow Warbler. 

A “quickie” at Bank End revealed a flight of 19 Black-tailed Godwit dropping into the wet fields, an overhead Jay, plus a Grey Heron and 20+ Sand Martin on the quarry pool. On the marsh and living up to its name, a Marsh Harrier and lots of Pied Wagtails.

Black-tailed Godwits

I stopped off at Gulf Lane and the 120 strong Linnet flock. More than 50 fed quietly in our net ride until I walked in to leave more seed for them. There’s lots of natural seed now but the Linnets obviously like the rape seed too. Looking ahead, Tuesday and/or Wednesday may be OK for a ringing session on the tail end of Hurricane Gert.

On the way home I stopped off to see another Marsh Harrier, 2 Kestrels and a single Buzzard, this time over farmland.

Meanwhile as a change from gulls that steal ice creams, here’s a video of a town in Alaska with Bald Eagles that like to play Bingo. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday 17th August

The forecast was OK for later in the day but no good for early birders like me. Rain spotted the windscreen as I stopped off at Lane Ends, Pilling, hoping for another look at the Marsh Harrier that us three ringers saw on Tuesday, possibly the same harrier one that’s been around for a week or two. 

Lots of local farmers have all seen the mystery bird but can’t put a name to the thing that’s “not a Buzzard and much bigger”. Our local farmers aren’t too good at bird ID but they are red hot at counting sheep & cattle or making a bob or two. 

Anyway I didn’t see a harrier but I did see and hear more than 25 Little Egrets leaving the island roost and 70 or more Greylags coming off the marsh and flying south. A couple of Willow Warblers tuned up ready for the day ahead, not singing but contact calling. 

I called next at Gulf Lane where I stayed for a while to count the Linnet flock. Three days ago they numbered about 50, but today there was an increase with 140+ Linnets, 8/10 Goldfinch and 4 Tree Sparrows. What a shame that once again there was sufficient breeze to put paid to any hopes of a ringing session. The Linnets are really homing in on the natural food now but it’s hard to see what they eat when they drop deep into the cover and feed either very low or actually on the ground. Linnets eat a whole variety of mainly “milky” seeds, too many to list, but many from the cabbage family. The list of their food items takes up almost a full column of The Birds of The Western Palearctic.


The local Kestrel was about. It sits atop a roof or a roadside post from where it keeps an eye on the field and the feeding Linnets. Although Kestrels eat mainly mammals they are very opportunist and on a couple of occasions last year we encouraged a Kestrel to spend less time watching our ringing of Linnets. 


I made my way to Conder Green where Sand Martins and Swallows fed over the pool and along the hedgerows. I counted 50+ Sand Martins and 10+ Swallows. The Kingfisher put in another fly-by appearance as it headed off towards the road bridge and the quiet upstream of the River Conder. The tide ran into the creek and brought 4 Goosander, 4 Teal and 5 Little Egret alongside the road. Goosanders are such handsome birds but as a species targeted by anglers, they are very wary of anyone pointing a lens in their direction. 


There’s not much variety in the waders for now with 30 Redshank, 3 Oystercatcher, 2 Curlew and 1 Common Sandpiper. A good count of Lapwing though as more than 200 put on the occasional flying display as they spooked from their island retreat. A Sparrowhawk spooked the Lapwings once but of the other half a dozen “dreads” I saw nothing to cause the panic. An overhead Raven seemed to have no effect on the Lapwings but then a Raven is probably a threat to Lapwing chicks only and not to adults. 


A female Tufted Duck still has four youngsters in tow while Little Grebes were back down to two. Otherwise small birds were few and far between except for a flock of 40 Linnets, 6 Goldfinch, 2 Pied Wagtail and 1 Willow Warbler in quiet sub-song. 

Stop Hare Coursing

That’s it for now. Back tomorrow hopefully.  

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog and Eileen's Saturday.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yes or No. Touch and Go.

Text messages flew back and forth at 5am this morning. There’d been rain most of the night with a forecast that was a little “iffy”, especially so for a site on the edge of the Bowland fells. There seemed just a small window of opportunity for a ringing session. 

“Let’s go for it” was the final message, so I met up with Andy at 0615 at Oakenclough. The morning remained grey with the camera set at ISO1600 but in between an odd light shower or two we managed a respectable 33 birds. 

Our total included one or two warblers and our second Tree Pipit of the week. 34 birds - 11 Goldfinch, 7 Goldcrest, 6 Coal Tit, 3 Robin, 2 Willow Warbler, 1 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Chiffchaff and 1 Tree Pipit. 

Tree Pipit

Goldfinches were around in some numbers today. As noted earlier in the week, there are Goldfinch flocks beginning to appear in a number of localities. 



One of our two new Willow Warblers was a tiny individual. The juvenile female had a wing length of 60mm and a weight of 7gms, much on the lower limits of Willow Warbler size and more equivalent to the biometrics of a Chiffchaff. 

Willow Warbler

At 1030 we packed in when a strengthening wind brought a heavy shower. 

Other birds noted this morning – 1 Jay, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 10 Swallow, 30+ Goldfinch. 

Finally, and having the delight of seeing magnificent Marsh Harriers in action this week I was appalled to see the video below. There truly are some disgusting individuals at large in the British countryside.

Please watch it and if you feel as aggrieved as I do, write to your Member of Parliament about what is happening to raptors in upland Britain.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday. Take a look.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday’s Plan

They do say the British weather is unpredictable. Well not this year because there’s a definite pattern emerging in this the worst one for many a year. There’s a day of dry, then the next day of rain, and then a mixed up day when there’s sun for half of the daylight hours and rain during the remainder. Mostly it has been breezy or windy come rain or shine. 

So in a strange way, it is possible to plan birding, ringing and a spot of photography by looking out for the good days, ignoring the rest and planning accordingly. Luckily Sunday’s forecast of wall-to-wall sunshine looked to be one of the better days so I set off early with camera and bins at the ready. 

The regular as clockwork Kingfisher opened the account at Conder Green. The bird wasn’t for hanging around though and after it quickly flew off I soon saw it again going in the opposite direction. This time it carried a small item of prey. Kingfishers can have more than one brood of chicks. 

I turned my attention to the water where 10 Little Grebe ducked and dived for the same thing the Kingfisher wanted. Four Cormorant were after bigger stuff to eat but they quickly come and go from the estuary 100 yards away where they find the bigger prey. The grebe count should double before the year is out on this a very regular winter gathering place. Meanwhile a Tufted Duck still chaperones 4 growing youngsters - quite an improvement on recent years of zero success. 


 Little Grebe
I saw my first Snipe of the autumn with 2 in the creeks and a single on the island. Redshank numbers are on the increase with 65 today, a single Greenshank, a couple of Curlews and 4 Common Sandpiper. Most of the Curlews and Lapwings are on the estuary and inland fields, exampled by a later count of 270 Lapwings in a single field on Pilling moss. 

Apart from the above the pool and margins are very quiet with 4 Little Egret, 6 Pied Wagtail and 3 Stock Dove to add to the above. I found a good flock of circa 50 Goldfinch along the hedgerow where a couple of Whitethroat can still be heard churring. I did a circuit of Jeremy Lane to get a male Sparrowhawk, a few Swallows, a good flock of juv Starlings, a very tatty Kestrel and a very obliging Wheatear.  Don't forget to "click the pic".

Don’t you just love ‘em when they perform so well? 







Juvenile Starlings are comical this time of year in their mix of adult and baby feathers. They behave in a rather strange way as if they are partly lost, looking around for where to go and what to do without a guiding adult. Then all of a sudden they spook for no reason and off they go in a blur of noise. 


I stopped off at the moss where for the third time this week I saw a Marsh Harrier; a little distant as usual. Also, the aforementioned 270 Lapwings, 2 Buzzard and 12 Pied Wagtail. 

So what's in store next week on Another Bird Blog?  Well Monday is baby sitting. After that it's anyones guess but I dare say there will be birding or ringing soon, so stay tuned.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Gulf News

We get the impression that Linnets are not early risers. It can be half an hour after dawn before Linnets arrive in small parties at our Gulf Lane ringing site. Of course we don’t know where they all spend the night but it looks like there is no large roost, at least not at this time of year. As the autumn and winter progress, things may well change. 

This morning I arranged to meet Andy and Bryan at 0600. Within five minutes the first Linnets began to arrive in parties of from 5 to 15 birds. Comings and goings continued until 11.30 when we called it a morning by which time we had ringed 37 Linnet arriving to feed in the wildflower and bird seed crop. 

Early Start

Ringing Linnets provides information essential to their conservation. Ringing allows us to investigate the cause of changes in the population of Linnets. For their population to be stable and to preferably increase from current lows, the production of new breeding adults, which is dependent on breeding success and survival of immature birds, must balance or outweigh losses due to mortality. For effective conservation we need to know why the Linnet population is changing. Marking birds as individuals is the only way that survival rates can be estimated and therefore is an essential part of bird conservation. This is especially so for a Red Listed species like Linnet. 


We processed 37 Linnets in 5 hours. A breakdown of the individuals showed 5 adults (3 female, 2 male) and 32 juvenile/first years (19 male and 13 female). Added to the 49 ringed on Saturday last that is 86 Linnets ringed this week, a figure which rather begs the question of how many Linnets pass through this site in the course of a day or week? 

“Processing” each Linnet involves a number of steps where we collect information. As experienced bird ringers we each have a long-standing principle of processing a bird as quickly as possible. This is based upon the premise that the bird’s welfare always comes first. In the course of each ringing session we collect basic data that combined with past, present and future data sets are used further along the line for analysis and scientific research. 

Ringing station

1) Firstly of course, and as obvious as that may sound, we identify the bird as to its species and note this on the working field sheet for later input to a computer system. A week or two later the same information is transferred to the central BTO database that holds records of all birds ringed in Britain. 


2) Once identified the bird is fitted with the correct ring size, in this case a Linnet requires an “A” size, and the letter/number combination fitted is noted on the work sheet. 


3) We measure the wing length according to whether the ringer is left or right handed. Wing length is very often a clue as to the sex of the bird being processed. In many species, especially passerines, the wing length of a male is greater than that of a female. Where both sexes are alike e.g. Meadow Pipit, the wing length can help decide the sex of the bird, but this is never the deciding factor of ageing. 

The wing length of a Linnet is within a quite tight range whereby it is the plumage differences throughout the year that determine a Linnet’s sex. In the case of Linnet, the wing length helps only to confirm the sex i.e. males are bigger than females. For the coming winter our own thoughts are that some of our winter Linnets may originate from Scotland and be recognisable as the forgotten Scottish race Linaria cannabina autochthona by their longer wings. 


4) We sex each Linnet according to well established criteria, mainly the amount of white in the 7th to 9th primary feather. In the spring and summer this process is made easier by the striking difference in male and female body plumage. The sex is noted on the field sheet next to the age. 

Female Linnet
5) We check each Linnet and determine the amount if any of moult. If moult is present we note it on the working field sheet. Moult is a useful indicator of the health of a bird and its whereabouts in the yearly cycle of plumage change. Adult Linnets have a complete but staged moult of all their body and flight feathers during July to September. First year Linnets undergo a partial moult July to September. Of the five adult Linnets today, all were in active moult, a couple of them more advanced than others. Spotting the marked difference between old feathers and new feathers was very easy. 

Adult Linnet moult

Adult Linnet moult

5) We weigh each Linnet to the nearest tenth of a gram. Weight can give an indication of the health of the bird. We combine the weight with an examination of whether or not the bird has visible fat and if so how much; the combination of the two may lead to the conclusion that the bird is storing fat in readiness for migration or during a cold spell. If fat is present we “score” it on the working field sheet alongside the weight. Normally, Linnets appear to carry little fat. 

6) We note the time of weighing. A bird’s weight can change during the day so it is important to combine information about the weight with the actual time of day. 

7) The bird is released. The whole process has taken a couple of minutes in which to collect a set of valuable information. 

Bryan and Andy 

Ringers' Manual
Ringing kept us pretty busy but we also managed to see other species this morning. In particular we noted 1 Marsh Harrier, 2 Kestrel, 2 Pied Wagtail, 6 Goldfinch, 3 Tree Sparrow and 2 Skylark. 

  Gatekeeper - Thanks Bryan

Stand by for more news, views and pictures soon on Another Bird Blog.

Linking this post to Ann's Birding Blog.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

It’s A Start

I set off early to meet Andy at Oakenclough where we planned maintenance of net rides and bamboo poles in preparation for our autumn and winter ringing on site. We leave the 12ft poles there in all weathers so as to minimise lugging them around each time we visit. Insulation tape stops water seeping into the bamboo and also helps the net loops slide up and down. 


Although all seemed quiet we decided to put a couple of nets up as we repaired the poles one-by-one. To be truthful we didn’t expect much of a catch so were pleasantly surprised with the outcome. 

After four hours we called it a day with a catch of 29 birds of 11 species. This included one Willow Warbler recapture from April 2017, a resident male. Our totals: 8 Willow Warbler, 6 Goldcrest, 3 Chiffchaff, 3 Robin, 2 Great Tit, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Goldfinch, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Sedge Warbler, 1 Tree Pipit and 1 Redstart. 

Ageing autumn Willow Warblers in the field is well-nigh impossible but much easier in the hand. The potential problem is that adults go through a complete autumn moult while juveniles undertake a partial moult, so that by late summer/early August individual birds of different ages appear the same. In the hand, in general but not absolutely, adults have whiter bellies than first year birds but this on its own and because of the separate moult strategies and species’ races variation, is not enough to separate the two age groups. Reliable ageing of this species also involves checking the wear and shape of both tail feathers and flight feathers and then comparing the ground colour and the gloss of the same feather tracts. 

Willow Warbler - adult

Willow Warbler- juvenile/first year

Oakenclough is a strictly woodland site where we expect to catch woodland species. Imagine our surprise then to catch a Sedge Warbler, the first ever here. When we thought about it more, the emergent vegetation that lines the margins of a nearby reservoir fits the bill of a Sedge Warbler’s preferred reed scrub habitat, but we don’t expect to catch another.

Sedge Warbler

The Sedge Warbler had classic fault bars across the tail. Fault bars are translucent cross stripes where during the growth of the feather a disturbance has taken place, under stressful and adverse environmental conditions, usually hunger and/or bad weather,

Fault Bars - Sedge Warbler

We don’t catch many Redstarts, here or anywhere so were pleasantly surprised to find we had a juvenile/first year male. 



Our catch of Goldcrest included three juveniles/first year birds from on-site or very close-by. 


We caught a single Tree Pipit, a species which bred here until about the early 1980s when habitat changes and range retraction led to quite marked losses in breeding numbers. 

Tree Pipit
The graph below shows the population changes of Tree Pipit found by combined results from Common Bird Census and Breeding Bird Survey 1966 -2009, BTO. 

Tree Pipit - BTO

Species noted but not caught today included Swallow, Pied Wagtail, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Redpoll and Kestrel.

Well, what do you know? two o' clock and it's raining again. At  least we made a start on our Oakenclough year.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday and Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

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