Friday, December 30, 2016

Last Post

Just one day to bird before the end of 2016, and I finished on a reasonable high. 

There seemed to be Lapwings everywhere I went this morning. In virtually every field I passed I heard the calls of Lapwings and saw their black and white patterns against the sky, or when I stopped to scan, found more hidden amongst the black peaty fields. 


It’s not too surprising as mid-winter is when widespread counts reveal the UK and Ireland winter population to be between 2 and 3 million individuals. That number includes a high proportion of birds from Scandinavia, Denmark, Holland and North Germany that join Lapwings from Northern Britain that move to more coastal and warmer locations.

If here in Lancashire we have one of our rare sustained spells of ice and snow many of these same Lapwings will move even further west over the Irish Sea to spend the winter in Ireland. But for now there are many, many thousands of Lapwings in this small part of Lancashire we call The Fylde, a coastal plain in west Lancashire, England. It is roughly a 13-mile (20-kilometre) square-shaped peninsula, bounded by Morecambe Bay to the north, the Ribble Estuary to the south, the Irish Sea to the west, and the Bowland Hills to the east. The eastern boundary is approximately the location of the M6 motorway. 

Fylde, Lancashire

Flat Fylde

My early route took me over Stalmine Moss, Union Lane, Lancaster Lane and then Skitham Lane towards Garstang and then the same in return mode. Stopping here and there I clocked up brief views of a Barn Owl which at least made me pause and look harder. It was then I started to count 1000+ Lapwings in many fields as well as to discover 60+ Fieldfare, 25+ Chaffinch, 2 Yellowhammer, 8 Stock Dove, 2 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Grey Heron and 1 Little Egret.

It’s a good bet there’s not been much traffic, motorised or pedestrian, if there are Pink-footed Geese in roadside fields. As usual and for weeks the geese have hid themselves away from the prying eyes of both shooters and birders so I was surprised to see 500/600 in the field closest to Lane Ends and the A588. Needless to say at the first sign of pedestrians and birders standing up beside their car, heads lifted and the geese stopped their feeding to go walkabout in the opposite direction. 

Pink-footed Geese

For goodness sake birders. The geese need to feed after spending the previous 14 hours of a dark and cold winter’s night out on the saltmarsh. These geese are shot at on a daily basis. They are extremely wary and will take flight at the first hint of trouble, more so if folk leave their car to clatter about with tripods and then stand in full view when they could just as well stay in the car and observe the geese from a wound down car window. It’s called “fieldcraft”.

After watching the geese move to a quieter spot I tackled the A588, Murder Mile, where good numbers of Lapwings fed in the roadside fields but where it’s too dangerous to stop a car at almost any time of the day. 

At Gulf Lane I counted 200 or more Linnets finding natural food while a single Stock Dove helped itself to our millet/niger mix. We’re adding rape seed any day now to hopefully make a difference to the Linnets’ feeding routine. 


At Braides Farm and hung over the gate was a Christmas gift, a meal of roast goose waiting for collection. "Pluck it yourself". there's no fast food in Pilling and Cockerham.

Pink-footed Goose

Also - 800 Lapwing, 400 Golden Plover, 80 Black-tailed Godwit, 40+ Redshank, 30 Wigeon, 15 Teal, and 9 Shoveler. 



The tide was in at Conder Green where the wintering Spotted Redshank “showed well” among 120 Teal, 30+ Redshank, 6 Curlew, 6 Little Grebe, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret and then 1 Jack Snipe which didn’t show at all well. 

Spotted Redshank

The “half-snipe” had been moved by the rising water and then flew across my line of vision, landed near a Redshank and tucked itself into a clump of marsh grass from where it failed to show again, despite me watching the exact spot for several minutes. That’s what Jack Snipe do best, squat down and stay dep in cover until something or someone disturbs them. Even then one will fly fly just a short distance before dropping back into vegetation. 

Snipe and Jack Snipe - Henrik Grönvold - wikimedia commons

This is the last post for 2016 from Another Bird Blog. Tomorrow Sue and I prepare for the invasion of New Year’s Day and a house full of eight adults and five grandchildren. If I survive there will be more news soon from Another Bird Blog. 

In the meantime here's wishing every one of my readers a Happy, Prosperous and Bird-Filled 2017.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mostly Linnets

A disappointing session of ringing this morning with just three new Linnets caught. All the more frustrating to watch the usual 250+ Linnets fly all around the area and then feed mostly away from our couple of single panel nets. The problem now is one of low winter vegetation and nets without background becoming more visible to overflying Linnets. Andy and I are now resigned to remaining winter catches of single figures but view the entire project as very worthwhile. 

Flocking in their winter habitat of flat, weedy fields or maritime marsh makes Linnets very difficult to catch. As such the data on wintering Linnets is under-represented in the national database of Linnets where 89% of the species’ recoveries are from the months April to October. 

Richard the farmer has told us of his plans to reseed the same plot this spring and to start an additional new plot about half-a-mile away. Both plots should hold plenty of Linnets by late summer of 2017. In view of this and also of the suspicion that many Linnets that visit us in autumn and winter may be much more than local birds, we hope to add value to our project by colour ringing the ones we catch. Broadcasting the project to bird watchers and the public in other parts of the UK will hopefully generate a number of sightings of our Linnets. 



We didn’t catch any obviously “different” Linnets this morning, but I did a little more research on the idea that some of our locally wintering Linnet flocks may be from Scotland while hiding a few of the seemingly forgotten Scottish race of Linnet, Linaria cannabina autochthona. The Latin autochthona means endemic/original. 

David Callaghan 2011 - "The autochthona is not recognised by all authorities, as this longer-winged and more slender-billed form is likely to be the end of a continent-wide cline. With a population of up to 90,000 pairs, it is most abundant in eastern Scotland, though this positioning also opens it to potential intergradation.” (with cannabina from the south or cannabina from Scandinavia). 

Scottish Birds 2003 - "Bannerman (1953) does add "perhaps also Ireland", remarking that Irish resident birds are variable though "mostly dark and match those from Scotland". Nevertheless, no comparative analysis of this observation seems to have been undertaken."  The BOU Records Committee (BOU 1971) sees "the subspecies as 'poorly distinguished', however, no real determination of subspecies has so far been made regarding the recent colonisation of the Outer Hebrides (Murray 2000). Whilst the race appears to be largely sedentary, we still have much to learn about the overall distribution and movements of autochthona.” 

Add to the above that in recent years the Linnet has recolonised Shetland (from Scotland or Scandinavia) and the mystery deepens. 

I found two pictures on the Internet, specimens only. Note the earlier scientific name of Acanthis now Linaria.

Linaria cannabina cannabina

Linaria cannabina autochthona 

We took a drive down to view Richard’s plot at Sand Villa for 2017 - looks promising.  When Andy drove off to continue his Christmas and New Year chores I took a look at Braides Farm. 

Combined approximate counts from Braides and Sand Villa: 600 Starling, 190 Curlew, 900 Lapwing, 300 Golden Plover, 60 Redshank, 170 Pink-footed Geese, 140 Wigeon, 30 Teal, 12 Shoveler, 6 Little Egret. 

Back home I counted 15-20 Goldfinch in the garden with 6 Blackbirds and the now almost resident but single Fieldfare. That reminds me, I must go and top up the feeders and then hit the shops to find some cheap apples to chuck out.

More soon from Another Bird Blog.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Agony Birding. A Christmas Story.

Barbara is heading our way for the weekend.  Looks like the only bird to see for a day or two will be the Christmas Turkey.

Storm Barbara

Meanwhile, I thought Agony Aunts were for the red tops and glossy magazines, not the birding press? Seems I’m mistaken as I found a snippet in this month’s copy of Birding Monthly under the column heading 'Ask Dorothy - Birding problems – Advice about ID, Photography, Birding Gear and Personal'. 

Suitably intrigued, I read more. It's an unhappy tale but a cheerful ending could be in sight.

“HELP! My partner’s lost his birding mojo.” 

"DEAR DOROTHY: I first met my partner 3 years ago on a cross country trip to Spurn to twitch a Red-flanked Bluetail. Frank was stood in a line-up of birders scanning for the bluetail. As people moved around chatting I found myself next to this good-looking guy who carried all the latest birding gear. He didn’t seem to notice little me even though I asked him lots of questions about birds, Spurn and Yorkshire in general. I quizzed him about his brand new top-of-the-range-optics and his life list, but at best I received a mumble or two in grudging recognition of my presence. I was impressed though when after a minute or two Frank latched onto the target bird as all the other dudes around just gossiped away. Eventually we grilled the bluetail together as he slowly loosened up enough to chat for a while. After what seemed an eternity he let me raise his monopod and then to test his Optigrand Super Zoom. That was a very impressive piece of kit, I can tell you. 

Well to cut a long story short Frank and I became best buddies, and pretty soon a pair of inseparable lovebirds. But now three years later and after many a shared tick and twitch all over the UK, Frank has mutated into a birder I don’t recognise. He no longer gazes at Birdforum, has cancelled his subscriptions to Rare Bird Alert and Birdwatch magazine, is reluctant to hit the road for new birds, and has even joined the RSPB.  Just last week I had a plane chartered to fly to Shetland for a First for Britain, a Greener-green Warbler (Phylloscopus borinus), but he said “No thanks chuck, I have a survey to complete, and then I need to enter my Birdtrack records on the PC”. The final straw came yesterday when he 'came out' as being a closet member of the BTO. 

What has happened to my Frank? Have I lost my birding soulmate? Is there life after twitching? 

Betty. Bootle, Merseyside". 


"DEAR BETTY: My heart goes out to you. Many of us steadfast twitchers are mortified when a valuable member of the birding community is lost to the questionable pursuits you describe. It sounds like your Frank is in danger of becoming something we call an “ornithologist”. It’s a nasty illness that affects the weak-willed and the delusional. Very often such people are loners and less well-adjusted to the social and communal aspects of birding.

Try dialogue and compassion. Be tolerant and persuade him of the errors of his ways through displaying how much you still care for him. Try showing him pictures and videos of all the good birds he’s missed lately: that should bring him to his senses. 

If all of that fails, and as a last resort, I recommend Surveygone™, available from your local chemist. It’s guaranteed to erase all anti-twitching thoughts and to end the compulsion for taking part in bird surveys. It's guaranteed to be successful 99.9 per cent of the time. Just put a few drops in his morning coffee for a week or so. He’ll be right as rain in no time and back to normal by Christmas. 


Best wishes and Good Luck. DOROTHY"

Betty and Frank, Birders 

So Dear Friends, you may think that birding is a fun, harmless pursuit, but there are hidden dangers. Birding can result in real tears, broken relationships, and having to seek professional advice from complete strangers. 

A Happy Christmas to all my readers but do take care out there in The World of Birds. It’s a dangerous place. 

Linking today to Anni's Birding.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

At the End of The Rainbow

It’s been a busy week with pre-Christmas tasks and events literally taking centre stage by way of preparation for the holiday and three grandkids’ seasonal plays to attend. Add to that mix the ever-present rain or the promise of, and I’ve struggled to find birding time. 

But I managed an hour or two this morning even though I still dodged the frequent showers. Along Burned House Lane my passing car disturbed a Buzzard from the roadside hedgerow leaving the raptor to drift off over the fields and quickly out of sight. 

I stopped at Lane Ends where with the tide well out in the distant channel there wasn’t too much at lurking at the end of the Pilling rainbow except huge banks of dark cloud following on. Ten or twelve Little Egrets can be seen here come rain or shine and everything else was a long way off although vocal by way of good numbers of Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese. 

Pilling and Cockerham Marsh

There was a steady procession of Pink-footed Geese heading off the roost towards both Knott End and Cockerham. I found lots on the deck later at the back of Braides Farm but so distant as to make detailed examination almost impossible. I counted more than 50 Whooper Swans flying from the marsh roost and then inland towards their daytime feeding spots. 

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans

Pink-footed Geese

I stopped at Gulf Lane to feed today’s 130+ Linnets with a millet/niger mix. Andy and I have been putting food out even though there’s not any evidence of the Linnets taking it in preference to the natural food on offer. We think most of the food is being taken by mammals but hope the Linnets find our food if and when cold days and nights arrive. At the moment it is just wet and windy with the prediction suggestive of no ringing opportunities for a week or more. 


At Braides Farm it’s 500 yards to the sea wall where there might be birds on the marsh but nowhere for a birder to stay out of sight on the flat lands of South Morecambe Bay. Better instead to look left from the gateway where at a distance of 400/550 yards a large flood holds a constantly changing spectacle of several thousand waders and wildfowl. 

Braides Farm

What a sight - approximates mostly: 600 Pink-footed Geese, 1500 Lapwing, 155 Redshank, 450 Golden Plover, 34 Black-tailed Godwit, 48 Teal, 70 Wigeon, 4 Shoveler, 190 Curlew, 350 Starling and 300 Black-headed Gull 

Lapwing and Redshank

A quick look at Conder Green produced 230 Teal, 18 Redshank, 4 Little Grebe, 2 Goosander, 2 Shelduck and 1 Grey Heron. Herons have been pretty scarce of late and if present always outnumbered by Little Egrets and now in recent times, almost outstripped by sightings of Great White Egrets. How the fortunes of species change! 

Back soon. Hopefully before Christmas.

Linking today Eileen's Saturday

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Scottish Mist

Next Wednesday is the shortest day of our gloomy northern winter. I for one can’t wait for that extra few minutes tacked onto each morning and every evening; and with a bit of luck we’ll have a few frosty, clear mornings to lift the shutters of winter. 

In the meantime a 0815 start was required on Saturday to meet Andy at the set-aside plot for a chance of catching more Linnets. There’d been up to 250 Linnets both flying around and dropping into the weedy field during the week when I stopped to take a look. With a prediction of 3mph together heavy cloud the conditions appeared ideal. The forecast proved accurate enough except that the dank overnight air and lack of wind had created a morning fog. The fog hung around all morning, turning once or twice into a mist when without much success the hidden sun tried to break through. 

In the circumstances we were pleased enough to catch eleven new Linnets and push our project total over 150 since early October. 


A couple of the male Linnets we caught were noticeably dark on the mantle & scapulars as well as being heavily streaked below. Both had wing lengths of 84mm, at the top end of the range for a male Linnet. As first winter birds retaining their juvenile wing we might reasonably expect the same birds to reach an adult measurement of 85/86mm by late summer of 2017. 

We considered that these individuals could be of the Scottish subspecies of Linnet, Linaria cannabina autochthona (Clancey 1946), as opposed to the Common Linnet Linaria cannabina cannabina of the British Isles and continental Europe. 

After a little search I found the below information in Scottish Birds 2003. 

“Although autochthona is believed to breed throughout most of Scotland, it grades into cannabina and no precise boundary can be drawn between the 2 races. There is only a solitary record of a Scottish bred Linnet = autochthona recorded away from Scotland. The bird, ringed as a chick near Sanquhar, Dumfries & Galloway on 18 June 1928 was recovered near Egremont, Cumbria, England on 8 November 1928.“ 

To that apparently single record we can add our own recent recovery of a chick ringed in Shetland on 14th June 2016 (presumably autochthona) recovered here at our Pilling site on 24th October 2016 and a distance of 674kms from Shetland.  This young male also measured up at 82mm.

Saturday was a terrible morning for photography in which to show how different these few males were, but needless to say we will be closely examining all Linnets in the coming weeks to try and ascertain if there are more Scottish Linnets wintering hereabouts. 

Birding in the gloom with visibility of around 50 yards meant our birding highlights were the immediacy of 250+ Linnet, 2 Little Egret, 2 Snipe, several Curlew , a few dozen Lapwings and a Sparrowhawk eyeing up the Linnets from on high. 


I know the picture above is not the finest but this was the best I could do on such a foul, misty morning. Never mind, there’s always another day on Another Bird Blog, so comeback soon for more bird news and views.

Linking today to  Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Where Did It Go?

It’s that time of year and an excuse to delve into the archives for a review of the year on Another Bird Blog. 

Today’s post is my entry in Jim Goldstein’s 10th annual best photos of the year blog project. It's at Take a look, and enter your own pictures. 

I am posting a picture for each month of 2016. As the blog sub-title suggests, and for new visitors to this blog, there are tales of bird ringing and bird watching together with a spot of bird photography. Don’t forget to click each pic for a bird close-up and slide show. 

In January and midwinter in the Northern Hemisphere most folk are a little bored of short, dark and dismal days that mostly coincide with days of wind and rain. The lack of sun makes us yearn for a little warmth and brightness as an antidote to days spent in layers of clothes and sitting next to radiators while surfing and blogging. 

In January Sue and I travelled via a four hour flight to Lanzarote for a dose of winter sun. The Trumpeter Finch, Bucanetes githagineus, is a small passerine bird that is relatively common but far from numerous in Lanzarote. The huge and brightly coloured parrot-like bill gives the bird a somewhat comical appearance.

Trumpeter Finch

Trumpeter Finches breed in the Canary Islands, across North Africa, and in the Middle East and into central Asia. There is a small European population in southern Spain where the species is essentially non-migratory with most birds largely resident. In the summer of 2005 there was a notable eruption of this species into north-western Europe, with several birds reaching as far as England, where it remains a very rare bird and subsequently one that does not appear on the list of many twitchers. 

February proved to be a good month for catching Siskins Spinus spinus, at our ringing site at Oaeknclough, near Garstang, Lancashire. The 60 ringed there during the month provided a couple of later recoveries in Scotland and close to where the Siskins would breed.


March at Oakenclogh continued the finch theme with good catches of Lesser Redpolls, Acanthis cabaret, a close relative of the Siskin. Both are members of the finch family, Fringillidae. There is evidence of Lesser Redpolls visiting garden feeders on a more regular basis, so much so that several used my own niger feeders for a week or more. 

 Lesser Redpoll

A male Reed Bunting is a handsome bird. Sparrow-sized but slim and with a long, deeply notched tail, the male has a black head, white collar and a drooping moustache. Females and winter males have a streaked head and don’t look nearly as striking as a male in April song. Here’s a male looking for a mate at Cockerham in April 2016. 

Reed Bunting

Most blog regulars will know of my addiction to May in Menorca, Spain. Every year I try to take pictures of Bee Eaters and rarely do I succeed except perhaps the in-flight picture from May 2016 is one of my better efforts. 

Bee Eater

During June and July I made trips up to the Bowland Hills about twenty miles from my usual birding patch . It’s where waders like Redshank, Oystercatcher and Snipe breed in the wet meadows. Without a hide, a wound down car window is almost as good. However, a certain degree of knowledge about a species’ habits, preferences and likely reactions is essential before embarking on a trip and expecting a result. 



August proved to be a mega month for picturing Barn Owls. I latched onto a pair with a regular hunting beat. Once again, knowledge of a species’ habits is essential, as is respect for UK law which protects Barn Owls from disturbance. I am reminded of the antics of a “togger” I watched this year who chased a Barn Owl across fields and prevented the owl from hunting as it should. My own picture below was obtained by waiting for an owl to appear and then let it do what comes naturally. 

 Barn Owl

“Togger” is urban slang for photographer; specifically, one who takes photographs out of a passion for photography and a desire for kudos from other toggers, rather than out of a passion for birds. Most birders I know substitute the letter “s” for “g” when discussing toggers and their antics. 

2016 began badly for Swallows. Poor weather on their journey north killed many off before they could arrive in Britain. Any that managed to set up breeding territories were slowed and frustrated by a cool, cold and wet spring. In most years I expect to take many pictures of Swallows; not in 2016. 

The weather improved during August and September allowing Swallows to catch up a little. Below is one that made it from the nest. Let’s all wish for a better 2017 for our struggling Swallows. 


September and it’s time for a non-birdy picture. “Thank goodness for that”, goes up the cry. The picture is from Skiathos, the other love of our life and another Mediterranean island that Sue and I visit each September. What could be better than relaxing in a beachside taverna with a cold beer while watching the famous blue and white Greek flag flutter in the warming sun? Thanks to the shenanigans of Germany and the European Union the proud Greek people continue to take a battering which they do not deserve. “Yammas” to each and every one of my Greek friends. 

Skiathos, Greece

October 8th promised to be just another average day of ringing up at Oakenclough for Andy and I. By midday we called a halt at 123 birds caught and both ringers cream-crackered after processing more than 30 birds every hour. Whoever said that ringing birds was easy work? The biggest surprise was that our catch included 61 Goldcrests. This included several greyish looking individuals which almost certainly originated from Fennoscandia a day or two earlier. 


A tiny bird that weighs not much more than 5gms would seem to be no candidate for long distance migration. However, ringing has shown regular movements from countries around the North Sea and Baltic into Britain for the winter. One has even reached us from Russia and several from Poland, though Norway, Sweden and Finland are their usual starting points. It seems amazing that any of them can survive two journeys as well as the cold weather but some clearly do, as several Goldcrests ringed in the UK in winter have been found back home in Scandinavia. 

Another Scandinavian visitor that brightens up our UK winters is the Fieldfare. It is a highly gregarious creature that arrives on our shores in sometimes huge numbers, this November being no exception. It seems a contradiction that the species is gregarious but also intensely shy, but that is the truth as anyone who has tried to photograph them will confirm. In November I caught up with Fieldfares in a row of hawthorns at Cockerham where I snapped the picture we all crave – a Fieldfare holding its prize of a bright red Christmas berry. 


December was almost a write off with many grey, dismal days and never ending rain. Andy and I had been busy at our Linnet project since early October at one small site at Pilling where to date and nearing the end of 2016, we have caught, ringed and fully processed 140 Linnets. The Linnet is a declining farmland bird whereby anything we can do to collect data on its current abundance is a positive contribution to conservation. 


Thanks for wading through this post. I hope that everyone that’s done so will return to Another Bird Blog soon and read more about my bird ringing, bird watching and bird photography. And finally, thanks to Jim Goldstein for hosting this get together of like-minded folk for yet another year.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Missing The Grey

At last a slightly better morning with a hint of sunshine. There was no rain but too breezy to plan a ringing session, so it was birding for me. 

With these 0800 late starts there’s always traffic about. Near Hambleton I spotted a Barn Owl sat on the roadside fence. But on a single track road where “white van man” was closing fast in the rear view mirror there was no option but to sail past the owl. I stopped at a pull off point 50 yards away just in time to see the owl fly over the tall hedge and off towards its daytime roost in a broken down old building. I consoled myself with the thought that the owl was so close to the road that had I stopped it would have flown off anyway. It’s the same location where I saw Barn Owls a number of times in the summer and autumn. 

Barn Owl

I stopped at Pilling to check on the Linnets where if the wind speed will drop we hope for a ringing session before weekend. There are still plenty of Linnets to go at with 200/240 flying around the plot this morning. Nearby a Buzzard sat atop a pole while taking a close interest in goings on below. 


Near the farm at the head of the lane there was a Kestrel, one of four I saw this morning at Stalmine, Pilling (2), and then Cockerham. I’m hoping that these possible incomers can replace the Kestrels we appeared to lose this year. Kestrels are partially migratory and dispersive whereby young ones move from their birth areas and in their second and subsequent years may breed many miles from their initial home. 


I stopped in the gateway of Braides Farm and scanned the distant flood and the many birds thereon. It’s worth spending an hour more here as there is a constant movement of wildfowl and waders arriving, leaving or simply flying around after being spooked for a not always obvious reason. This morning : 500+ Lapwing, 190 Curlew, 80 Black-tailed Godwit, 60 Redshank, 75 Teal, 24 Wigeon and 22 Shoveler. 

I spoke to a wildfowler coming off the marsh about the comings and goings of the geese and wildfowl. Like many wildfowlers he was very knowledgeable and he told me of his sighting of a Grey Phalarope as recently as 8th December. I had no reason to doubt his claim, especially when he described how he watched the bird from 10ft away. 

The Grey Phalarope is a truly pelagic species and it spends up to 11 months of the year at sea, only coming to land to nest. The migration route of Canadian and Greenland birds takes them past Britain and Ireland, but normally well out to sea. Here in North West England it is a rare passage migrant, usually after Atlantic depressions that bring strong westerly or north-westerly winds towards the western side of Britain. There are approximately 500 records of this species in the UK each year and when they turn up, they are invariably highly approachable. 

Grey Phalarope - Phalaropus lobatus-
Photo credit: Drbrown1970 via / CC BY-NC-SA

I made my way to Conder Green where my beginner’s mistake of not keeping an eye on recent tide levels meant that the creeks were full of water from the rising tide of the River Lune. 

Conder Green at high tide

So a somewhat different and reduced species count for here of 230 Teal, 45 Wigeon, 16 Snipe, 22 Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 4 Little Grebe, 2 Shelduck. Fifteen Whooper Swans flew to the outer marsh and 5 Fieldfare were feeding in the near hedgerow. 

Around the lanes of Jeremy and Moss I noted a hundred or more Fieldfares feeding in the wet fields and also noted that many hawthorns are quickly losing their berry crop. 

It’s about this time of year that Fieldfares turn from feeding on hedgerow berries to searching fields for earthworms. Or they may even appear in urban or suburban gardens, as one did this week in my own garden where it found the laden crab apple tree planted some 10 years ago and which until now has been mostly neglected by garden birds. 

Look in again soon. There might be pictures of that Fieldfare and if Andy I get to Pilling, a Linnet or two.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Harrier News

There’s recent news (November 2016) of the ongoing debate around the similarities and differences between the European Hen Harrier and the North American Harrier. Scientists have confirmed that the Eurasian Hen Harrier and the American Northern Harrier are in fact two distinct species. 

The study, published as the cover article in BioMed Central's Avian Research, led by the Earlham Institute and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, explores the phylogenetic relationship between two forms of Harriers (Circus cyaneus); the Eurasian Hen Harrier (C. c. cyaneus) and the American Northern Harrier (C. c. hudsonius) to distinguish their ancestry and evolution. Already accepted as different species by the British Ornithologists' Union, the American Ornithologists' Union and other avian taxonomic committees are yet to classify the bird of prey as separate species. 

American Northern Harrier - Shravans14, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wiki.

Hen Harrier - Richard Crossley (The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland)

As the most intensely persecuted bird of prey in the UK, Hen Harriers are under particular threat from being caught up in the crossfire of grouse hunts in upland moors where they feed on Red Grouse. After the number of breeding birds increased after the Second World War, the bird of prey is in trouble again. Ongoing illegal hunting and habitat disruption is forcing the species to edge of extinction in England. To understand the Hen Harrier species' genetic make-up is of extreme importance to its future and will help aid the national conservation efforts such as the RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE project. 

Lead-author and conservation genomics expert Dr Graham Etherington in the Di Palma Group at EI, said: "Molecular phylogenetics was applied to the Hen Harriers and the Northern Harriers to see if genetics could shed some light on whether the accepted morphological nuances between the species indeed represent a genuine distinction. From a conservation point, the work shows the European Hen Harrier is not the same as the American Northern Harrier and should receive appropriate recognition and protection. 

“Before the advent of sequencing technology, species were categorised by shared and divergent morphological features. However, new technology allows us to quantify the amount of genetic change between populations and identify divergent lineages." 

In his research, Dr Etherington collected tissue samples from museums around the world. Using both DNA sequencing and morphology, along with differences in plumage, breeding biology, vocalisation, habitat, distribution, dispersal and migration it was possible to show the differences between the two species. 

"These genetic indicators distinguish the Hen Harrier and its close relative the Northern Harrier, genetically as well as morphologically, suggesting geographical isolation is enough to form two distinct lineages," added Dr Etherington. 

Further evidence from another study which provided additional data for Dr Etherington's paper also found that Northern Harrier was, in fact, more closely related to the Cinereous Harrier of South America than the Hen Harrier of Eurasia providing further evidence that the forms represent two distinct species. 

Earlham Institute. "Genomics reveals Hen Harrier is two distinct species." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 November 2016.

Apologies for the lack of local news and views on Another Bird Blog this week. The weather has been most unkind with lots of rain, endless grey days and a lack of sunshine.  Things can only get better.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thrush And Goose

Lots of Fieldfares were on the move today. And later there was a bonus bird in the shape of a Greenland White-fronted Goose. 

I’d started off as usual with a drive north towards Pilling and Cockerham. The flood at Braides Farm was partly frozen where my distance-impaired counts still realised approximately 250 Lapwing, 140 Golden Plover, 180 Curlew, 40 Black-tailed Godwit, 20 Redshank and 40 Teal. There was a very tightly packed flock of about 400 gulls, mainly Black-headed, but also some Common. A black mass of birds was immediately recognisable as a post-roost huge flock of Starlings, and as they slowly dispersed left, right and centre in smaller feeding parties I counted 600+ and still some left on the ground. 

Starling, Golden Plover, Lapwing

There was very little doing at Conder Green where the recurrent high water level made for a poor show on the pool. Best I could manage here were 40+ Wigeon feeding across the bund at the back of the pool, a few dozen Teal, a couple of Little Grebe, several Curlew and the obligatory Little Egret. But, 200+Teal in the creeks and the wintering Spotted Redshank.

There had been a few Fieldfares flying over Conder Green but a drive along the lanes of Jeremy and Moss suggested something of a new influx, precipitated perhaps by the overnight drop in temperatures and the overnight frost. 

For readers who do not know our northern Fieldfare Turdus pilaris, it is a highly gregarious but intensely shy member of the thrush family of the Northern Hemisphere. It is very different from, but immediately separatedfrom our native UK thrushes by way of its mobile tendencies, loud ‘chacking’ call and flocking behaviour both when feeding and during its autumn migration from Scandinavia. 


It was hard to count the Fieldfares as flocks of them moved continually inland by following the hedgerows of Moss Lane and then across the A588 towards Thurnham Hall and beyond. There seemed to be few Redwings amongst the approximately 300 Fieldfare and of course the two species do not always coincide in the timing their migration. 


At Cockersands I located more than 20 Tree Sparrows, 30+ Goldfinch, 12 Collared Dove and a Pied Wagtail before I hit the road again and back towards Pilling in search of more. 

I checked out a potential new ringing site offered by a local farmer where I found 40+ Linnets in attendance but using a very narrow and extremely long strip of land which might rule it out as a workable project. Not to worry, it is a useful place to keep an eye on and I did see more Fieldfares in roadside hawthorns, plus a watchful Buzzard which scattered the Fieldfares as well as feeding Woodpigeons. The farmer tells me that Buzzards wiped out all his leverets this year, which if true doesn't help the raptor's already dented reputation in the tight-knit farming and shooting community. 


The many thousands of Pink-footed Geese have been incredibly difficult to pin down this autumn, due mostly to disturbance from autumnal farming activities, shooting pressures and disturbance from busy roads in sometimes semi-rural locations. Despite this continuous daily disruption the geese seem to find and use new and different fields in which to both feed and hide, bringing a truism to the old saying about the wisdom of undertaking a “wild goose chase”. 

At last near Lane Ends today I got sight and sound of the pinkies and with them was a single adult White-fronted Goose of the Greenland race – Anser alibfrons flavirostris, in the company of c500 Pink-footed Geese. The appearance of European or Russian White-fronted Goose of the race albifrons and Greenland White-fronted Goose of the race flavirostris differ in a number of ways. 

White-fronted Goose - Greenland race

The Greenland White-fronted Goose always appears darker than the European White-fronted Goose at rest and in flight. The belly-barring on adult birds is on average more extensive on flavirostris than on albifrons. The bill of adult Greenland White-fronts are orange-yellow at the base, but can be more pinkish-yellow on the outer-half, thus close in colour to European white-fronts on some individuals. 

I spent a while with the geese before brightly clad and slow moving cyclists caused the predictable flight to pastures new, all of the geese and yours truly back home for a warming coffee.

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

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