BIRDING THE LUNE ESTUARY THE FOREST OF BOWLAND AND BEYOND..................................................................................................................SUNRISE PETE WOODRUFF

Sunday, 28 February 2021


The 2021 spring passage of Stonechat is unprecedented, best described as phenomenal, and appears to be raging on.

To date I have records of 162 Stonechats, collected by 18 birders, predominantly on the Fylde coast with some interesting inland birds, at least at 25 locations. The ever reliable AC has himself found at least 63 individuals over the ten days since he first told me about his first two migrant Stonechats seen on 18 February at Knott End and Pilling. Thanks Andrew, this is much appreciated.

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On Friday I joined the band of folk taking their exercise allowance. I clambered the uphill track to search the top of Birk Bank to see if any Stonechats had arrived to take up breeding territories. It took 2 hours on Birk Bank to find my first male at the far end before I dropped down to go over Ottergear Bridge. It took me another two hours to find a pair of Stonechat, by which time I had almost reached the car park four hours after I had arrived there.

I suppose most people would find it hard to believe fours hours in Bowland would result in finding just 9 species of birds....but thats upland birding.

Twelve Goldfinch were in the trees at the car park, 4 Robin, also 3 Wren and 2 Mistle Thrush all heard singing, Buzzard and 8 Red Grouse. I caught sight of 2 Raven which soon disappeared from view behind a ridge. It was pure delight to hear the call and melancholy whistle of a Curlew, highlight of the day.  

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I'm looking forward to my first visit to Birk Bank bog this summer, to hopefully see amongst other odonata, the Keeled Skimmer here for my fifth successive year.

The header pik is of the stunning sunrise over Clougha on Tuesday morning at 8.10am, seen between the rooftops from our bedroom window. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Nest Box Revival!

I paid a visit to Bowland yesterday, after having been given the heads up on the relocation of the nest boxes brought down in storms and some land management.

There are no names mentioned in this post about the nest box scheme which is clearly not in the best interest of birds they are supposed to serve, and not likely to reap any rewards as far as increased breeding is concerned. 


As in this photograph, some boxes have been erected too close to the road, and in close proximity of all the summer picnickers, many of who like to let the kids play in the Marshaw Wyre, causing disturbance to not only the nest box birds, but also the Grey Wagtails, Dippers, and Common Sandpipers that breed annually up and down the stream here.

One nest box is accompanied by a rope swing that is in place on a branch, typical of the type of thing not in keeping with an area designated as an AONB.

This box is only one of the two still remaining in the small woodland by the west side of Tower Lodge, the other hanging off it's hinges.

Nest Box Revival....I don't think so, more like Nest Box Disaster.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

They're Off!

The spring passage of Stonechat appears to be underway, according to my records 2 weeks earlier than last year when I found six birds at Cockersand on 4 March 2020In the three days since 18 February, I have collected records of 32 Stonechats on the move, mostly Fylde coastal birds.

Many thanks to Dinesh Patel for the excellent header image of a female Stonechat at Cockersand on 17 February. A little gem, which prompts me to recall a mind-blowing event of 11 years ago....

The Stonechat is amongst one of the most complex of bird species, and although this amazing event has featured on B2B before, I'm once again airing the discovery and photographing of this bird by Brian Rafferty at Brockholes NR during the severe winter of 2010. This was the period around the time the Stonechats moved off Clougha Pike, hence deserting our recording areas stronghold after ten years plus of my monitoring this most enigmatic of chats. 

The more I view these photographs - and dozens of times I've done so - the more I find it difficult to comprehend I'm looking at a Stonechat staring into an ice hole on a lake.

These photograph's are unique records of the Stonechat waging war against the elements thrown at it as an act of sheer survival. The prey item was Common Backswimmer Nononecta glauca.

In the UK Stonechats have been observed hovering over water and picking unidentified prey items off the surface, on one occasion actually dropping into the water, but I reckon this particular image is the most spectacular and unique of all. Not the plumage colour, but otherwise like watching an Eider duck taking a dive for it's next mussel....Breathtaking stuff!

Stonechats are opportunist feeders and will exploit a wide range of invertebrate species. OK we don't really have to go to Israel for examples of this opportunism, but two males were observed there in December 1993 in the Neger Desert to prey on and eat a Scorpion estimated at 17mm not including the tail. Another example, is of an African Stonechat in Zimbabwe, seen to dive into the water and secure a 3cm Green-headed Bream which it took back to its perch and swallowed whole. 

On the subject of prey items, of interest, there is evidence of parent birds avoiding some insects with Ladybirds as a good example, a 3 hour observation revealed that none were brought to the young despite the availability of the prey in huge number.

Perhaps this isn't going to be the last time the Stonechat confounds us with it's complexities, but this is going to be a hard act to follow....So the next time you see a Stonechat, ponder this and be amazed.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Birds & Hymenoptera.

Made my first venture of the year on to Harrisend and Hawthornthwaite Fell this week. It was my first visit to both these fells which I made at the onset of the return of the beast from the east.

Add to the bleakness of the day, I got no returns for my search for Stonechats, drawing a blank at both venues, despite my finding possibly two pairs of Stonechat on my last visit in Nov/Dec last year.

Hawthornthwaite Fell. Pete Woodruff. Clik The Pik

On Hawthornthwaite, at least 12 Red Grouse, a Buzzard over, a Snipe flushed out of a ditch, and 2 Fieldfare seemed deserted in a nearby field. 

On Harrisend, 2 Red Grouse, 2 Reed Bunting, a Raven over, and a Brown Hare which I don't recall ever seeing before on Harrisend Fell.

Garden Birds.

Over 20 minutes, I watched 9 Blackbird leaving a blossom tree to go to roost. Five left the tree and flew in an easterly direction, and four northerly. Two Buzzard were soaring together, then drifting off directly over the house.

Five Years Ago.

Rooting through my records, I was chuffed to find this coming Thursday was the anniversary when I found a wintering Little Stint on the mudbank midway between the old iron railway and the Lune/Conder confluence on 18 January 2016. I remember the day well, when my good friend Stuart Piner later joined me to share and enjoy this smart little wader, on the same day a Spotted Redshank was on the Lune Estuary at Glasson, and a female Scaup on the canal basin....Nice!

Thanks to Antonio for the beautiful header image of a beautiful bird.

Bees, Wasps and Ants.

Tawny Mining-Bee. Pete Woodruff.

Though the subject is mostly outside my comfort zone. I well recall one encounter when I found some Tawny Mining-Bees emerging from a lawn in a garden whilst visiting a relative at a care home in Lancaster. These creatures create a distinctive 'soil volcano' (tumuli) around the nest hole, and it was a delight for me to witness the emergence of these little beauties.


Ben Hargreaves with Steve White (Editor), and all involved in this informative and beautifully illustrated book, should be congratulated for the huge effort involved in this publication. 

I would like to personally thank Dave Bickerton as the Honorary Secretary of L&CFS for being in touch with me, and for posting copies to members....A recommended read. 

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Part Time Birding.

It was a much better day than my last visit, in fact it was quite pleasant with some sun when I arrived at Cockersand on ThursdayI had Ian for company today, he had wanted some relief from the madness that is lockdown, and I needed no persuading to make the same escape with him. But no long distance traveling on a mission to see how many species we could count and record, just a pleasant wander around Cockersand....Part time birding! 

It was disappointing to see the fields in prime condition for waders but not the farmer. Save c.150 Lapwing in a field by Abbey Farm, they were void of birds escaping the tide. But a mini high tide roost on Plover Scar, comprised of a viewable c.180 Oystercatcher, 15 Turnstone, and a 'few' Dunlin of note. 

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Up to 35 Eider off Plover Scar, were nigh on impossible to count, up and down like yoyo's feeding. Hard to believe, but the Eider dives for Mussels to swallow whole, the shells are then crushed in the birds gizzard.

Bewick's Swans. Howard Stockdale.

Keeping to comfortable round figures, at least 500 Whooper Swan were in the Thurnham/Cockersand area, including 2 Bewick's Swan adult off Moss Lane in a quick scan.

Earlier in the afternoon on Conder Pool, 45 Teal, with 3 Goosander, 4 Little Grebe, and a Kingfisher seen briefly in flight.

Thanks to Howard for the excellent Jeremy Lane Bewick's Swan header and video.

Chat and Plover....I found a couple of interesting records this week.

On Colloway Marsh, 1,400 Golden Plover is the new peak count of wintering birds on the Lune Estuary. The other interest was of the inland record of a male Stonechat seen on Twistleton Scar. This location has an elevation of 332m at its lowest point, but the record read....'high up on Twistleton Scar above Ingleton', so no telling how 'high up', but another excellent high altitude wintering Stonechat for my records.  

From the B+W File....Not a bird in sight.

Follow Me. Pete Woodruff.    

Sunday, 31 January 2021

A Grand Day Out!

Quite the opposite to a grand day out to be honest, there was a cold SE wind and heavy rain all day, and it was only a bit of afternoon 'local exercise' anyway. But I was determined to make Tuesday the day I renewed my vow of allegiance to the Lune Estuary after a near 11 month absence.

With the conditions being as they were there was little birding done, not a day for standing around to count swans and see if there was any Bewick's amongst the Whooper's, and the walk along the headland was nothing to be called pleasant, but I managed the full circuit of Cockersand to reaffirm my love of the place, its birds and wildlife.

Calling in at Conder Green, I was disappointed that I couldn't find the enthusiasm to get wind blown and a soaking to do the circuit, but I reckon if I had have done, there was the chance of finding a wintering Common Sandpiper. It was pleasing to see 6 Little Grebe here, also a pair of Goosander to note, and 25 Wigeon were quietly grazing.

Snow Bunting Cockersand 17 October 2019. Pete Woodruff.

I was quite pleased to have caught up with a Snow Bunting some of which have been present at Cockersand a few weeks now. The swans were all over the place, with a total of 375 Whooper Swan seen in five fields including a group of around 120 on Jeremy Lane. Otherwise today, Cockersand was a mere ghost of its real self but never losses any of its affection for me.

Golden Plover.

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My video has probably been featured on B2B before, but it's a nice reminder of the therapeutic value of birds like these beautiful Golden Plover. 

In one of my posts at the beginning of December last year, I wrote....Until 1,000 had been reported at Cockersand yesterday Saturday 5 December, the Golden Plover had so far been absent in number from the Lune Estuary to date this winter, counts had only been at around 500. My last combined peak count was of c.3,350 Golden Plover at Glasson/Cockersand on 16 December 2019, probably representing the entire Lune Estuary population at the time. A notable comment on the LDBWS sightings page from one regular Lune Estuary birder last Sunday 29 October....'Didn't see a single Golden Plover'.

This winter the Golden Plover seems to be AWOL again from the Lune Estuary, the best count I could find was of 1,250 on the Lune Estuary at Glasson 20 December. With no figures to hand for 2020, these compare to a WeBS peak count of 3,712 in January 2019 which actually puts my claim of probably representing the entire estuary population on 16 December 2019 just 362 adrift.


Records of my count for January with no duplication, stands at 46 Stonechat at 24 locations, wintering mainly on the Fylde coast and surrounding area.

Martin Jump's header image of the Robin qualifies for the brilliant category in my book....Thanks Martin.

And finally....

Iceland Gulls! Pete Woodruff.

Marton Mere, Blackpool, many moons ago.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

Little Birding Moments.

Thanks to Howard for the excellent header image of the Brent Geese.

My birding moments started on Thursday with a wander through the park before the weather broke down and developed into our share of Storm Christoph. 

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The birds offer a little solace to anyone who wants to spend a few minutes with them at the feeders on Fenham Carr.

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The Nuthatch was the star of the show paying two visits as I watched for around 15 minutes, it was accompanied by at least 6 Long-tailed Tit, 6 Dunnock, 4 Robin, 3 Blackbird, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Blue Tit, and 2 Great Tit. Later, I came upon six thrushes in a fairly tight little group of 5 Blackbird and a Song Thrush, all flicking over leaves on frozen ground.

Walking home through the campus at Cumbria University, 12 Long-tailed Tit moving through the trees.

Little Garden Moments.   

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It might be a while before we see Goldfinch and Greenfinch feeding together again, especially the latter which is seen as a scarcity in our garden.

Common Sandpiper.

Following on from the notes I made about the 'missing' wintering Common Sandpiper at Conder Green not seen since 11 October 2019. 

To add to the three records of an individual seen in November /December 2020 all on the River Lune. There are two records of a bird seen 9 January off New Quay Road opposite Salt Ayre, and one flying downstream on the River Lune at Glasson 17 January. In my view, this is almost certainly the same bird doing the rounds - or more appropriately doing the River Lune - in all five reports of Common Sandpiper since 18 December 2020.

Brent Geese.

As regular visitors from Walney, where the last count was 380 on 30 December, some of these birds cross Morecambe Bay to visit Heysham again this winter.

Dark-bellied Brent Goose with Pale-bellied Brent Geese Heysham 23 January. Malcolm Downham.

The first of the winter, a Dark-bellied Brent was with a peak count of 51 Pale-bellied Brent at Heysham yesterday. Thanks to Malcolm for the image and details.

From the B+W File.

Red Deer. Pete Woodruff.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

The Chats Have It....Again!

Thanks to Martin Jump for the excellent and appropriate header image for this post about the Stonechat. It is the view looking NE from Hawthornthwaite Fell to the eastern edge below Ward's Stone, with Mallowdale Fell taking centre stage.

I was in touch with John Callion regarding the 'Ward's Stone Chat', to ask if he had any wintering records for Cumbria that might dispel my claim that this was the highest altitude bird in our area if not England. If John didn't have the answer to this question, nobody else would....

'Many of the Stonechats that breed in the high fells tend to nest in the steep angular valleys that,  after the autumn and the onset of the low arc of the sun, become sunless and unsuitable for survival during the winter.

There are however some of the wider and shallow valleys that offer 'full sun' during the winter and retain territorial birds; to my knowledge they include the upper Mosedale valley near Skiddaw House, and upper Borrowdale at Dock Tarn. Both of these sites are around 400m asl, so not as high as the one you have in Bowland. There may be others, perhaps higher, but l have no knowledge of them, so l think it's fairly safe for you to suggest your bird is likely to be the highest that we have information for?' John Callion.

Map Courtesy of Simon Hawtin

During the summer, keen fell runner Simon had seen two Stonechat (Green) in the same area as the January Ward's Stone bird (Red), one of which may well have been a female to the male, thereby making an excellent 420m wintering pair. Perhaps if Simon can find a pair in the shadow of Ward's Stone on Tarnbrook Fell during this winter, we can then put an end to conjecture.

Stonechat Male. D.G.M'cGrath

Since 1 January, to date I've noted 35 Stonechats, recorded at 18 locations and mainly found on the FBC website, including an excellent 6 Stonechat at Lytham Moss 3 January. You just don't usually see six Stonechat at any one time in winter, and certainly not lowland/coastal birds. Thanks to Dave for this little beauty he found at Marton Mere. 

Wood Mouse.

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I've previously paid little or no attention to the Wood Mouse - sometimes referred to as Long Tailed Field Mouse - and had no idea it was probably the most common mammal in the UK.

From the B+W File.

Brown Hare in the long grass at Cockersand....Well, being I took the photograph, where else!

Sunday, 10 January 2021

The Ward's Stone Chat.

Ward's Stone is the highest peak in the Forest of Bowland, the trig point stands at 560m. An interesting fact about Ward's Stone, is that another 50m would make it a mountain to join the only other two in Lancashire, Green Hill at 628m, and Cragareth at 627m.

Last Wednesday saw the report of a male Stonechat on Ward's Stone on 6 January.

But checking the grid reference given in the report, I found the sighting of the Stonechat had been at around 420m which gives the record to be on Tarnbrook Fell and not quite the high altitude record as at first thought. However, I have noted this to be the highest altitude of a wintering Stonechat recorded to date in England this winter....ever in my little black book.

I never went any higher than 400m during my years of observations of the Stonechat on Clougha Pike where I found Stonechat breeding at that altitude, but never recorded a wintering bird. 

Of note, the highest altitude record for breeding Stonechat in the UK stands at 590m in Cumbria in 1996....(J.Callion) Stonechats. A Guide to the Genus Saxicola. Christopher Helm 2002.


I was sorry to hear Peter Cook had died on 5 January. 

Unknown to me at the time, his love for the Stonechat started at an early age, he had developed an interest in birds at the age of 12. Peter was watching Stonechats, and found some nesting on Heysham Barrows, but went on to write in an article for the LDBWS Annual Report, that he was disappointed they were no longer a regular breeding bird in coastal areas in the area, including Heysham.

Peter took on the role of Secretary for the LDBWS in 2012, where he remained until his death. The Society and birders will miss his presence, and I would like to add my personal sadness at the news of Peter Cook's passing.

From the B+W File

I managed to stalk this Sparrowhawk down to 50m at Cockersand in September 2015.

Thanks to Ana Minguez for the delightful Penduline Tit header....Couldn't resist it.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Confined To Barracks!

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We had a Song Thrush yesterday, a mega in the garden with Nectar Points equal to a White's Thrush on the Scillies as far as I'm concerned, but....

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....it beat the snow which came down today.

I haven't been to Cockersand in a while now, but I met this disgruntled up and coming birder one day last autumn, he had a good old whinge about being told Cockersand was the best place to find a Yellow-browed Warbler and was a bit miffed he hadn't done after several days on the hunt, I could tell he wasn't happy....so I told him he'd been mislead and should make haste to the Heysham/Sunderland area where YBW finders abound!! 

A day without a smile is a day in your life wasted.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The First Bit!

Made my first venture out on Sunday, into the pandemic wracked world of 2021. A walk in pleasant sun along the promenade with KT, from Sandylands to Half Moon Bay and return, to have two enjoyable birding experiences along the way.

At least 2,000 Knot had assembled on the beach by the Sunny Slopes groyne.

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It was an absolute delight watching these birds, the pleasure only dampened by someone with a large black unleashed mutt, both charging across the beach to the groyne to disturb every bird in sight. What annoyed me most about this unacceptable behaviour, was the fact his attitude was that it was always his intention to set the mutt off ahead of him to put the birds to flight and ruin everyone's enjoyment of the spectacle being observed by a small group of people.


If you have already read this post, you will see that I have edited it to remove some unacceptable language used in my account of this appalling act of disturbance of birds in Morecambe Bay.  

But I found a little relaxation at Half Moon Bay, with a view of the Lakeland mountains across Morecambe Bay.

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On the return leg I found a Black-headed Gull in an inland field off the promenade. 

Black-headed Gull Heysham 3 January 2021. Pete Woodruff.

The bird was ringed A690 in Germany in March 2013, it had been previously seen six times at Heysham.

11.08.2018 GB - Lancashire, Heysham 54 2 N -2 55 E Farbring abgelesen Marsh, P.
31.12.2019 GB - Lancashire, Heysham 54 2 N -2 55 E Farbring abgelesen MCClelland, G.
29.01.2020 GB - Lancashire, Heysham 54 2 N -2 55 E Farbring abgelesen Downham, M.
05.02.2020 GB - Lancashire, Heysham 54 2 N -2 55 E Farbring abgelesen Downham, M.
12.02.2020 GB - Lancashire, Heysham 54 2 N -2 55 E Farbring abgelesen Downham, M.
12.11.2020 GB - Lancashire, Heysham 54 2 N -2 55 E Farbring abgelesen Downham, M.
03.01.2021 GB - Lancashire, Heysham 54 2 N -2 55 E Farbring abgelesen Woodruff, P.

I'm grateful for the help of Sönke Martens with historic details for this bird.