Siskin in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

This colourful small finch passes through my Ulverston garden each year in early spring. They are usually seen for about a week sometime in March or the first days of April. When we first started seeing them many years ago they were attracted to peanuts in red mesh hangers. Now that we put out Niger seed, usually for the Goldfinches, the Siskin ignore the peanuts and go straight for the Niger. On the day I took this photo we had two on the Niger feeder while four others were content to “hoover” up the seed that had fallen on the ground beneath. Siskin are not noted for ground feeding so the Niger seed must be very attractive.

Readily recognised by the yellow wing bar on black wings this finch surprises you by its size, being little larger than a Blue Tit. Males are more brightly coloured with a characteristic black cap, while females are the paler and more heavily streaked of the two.

They were relatively scarce in Cumbria until the middle of the 20th century but, as elsewhere in the country, numbers increased dramatically once conifer plantations planted after the First World War started to mature. As natural seed sources became exhausted in spring they were tempted into gardens by the fashion of planting conifers as evergreens and discovered bird feeders in the process!

The main breeding strongholds are in the Grizedale, Whinlatter and Border forests. In winter they roam in flocks of up to 100 seeking out Pine and Spruce but moving out of the conifer forest once the supply of seed is depleted, when Alder and Birch are sought. There is a movement of British birds southwards in winter with birds from Scandinavia joining them. It is these birds that pass through gardens when returning north in March. Pairing occurs in the winter flocks and, once back in the breeding area, a nest is built high in a conifer hanging from an outer branch.


A small group twittering and piping as they breeze through riverside Alders, perhaps with a Redpoll or two, is a sight to be remembered. The bright yellow rump of the male is very striking.

Although there is still plenty of maturing conifer forest in the county the current plan is to replace it with native broad-leaved species as the timber is harvested. This may, in time, reduce the numbers of breeding Siskin.

The similar sized Lesser Redpoll also has a black bib but there the similarity ends. Small flocks of 10 to 30 are seen in the county during the winter. Although an irruptive species it does seem to have undergone a steep decline in numbers and it is now scarcer as a breeding bird than the Siskin. It’s preference for new growth in recently felled areas has hindered its progress and it has disappeared from many areas where it was once found – for example in the Furness peninsula. This is an attractive finch, especially a male with its scarlet cap and flushed chest …but they are not all as bright as the one in the photo! Females have no pink on the breast and juveniles have no coloured cap.

If you were playing bird bingo then the image below might represent “house full” – it also gives a comparison of size for three of our colourful finches, the Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Goldfinch!

Robins in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

ROBIN PLUMAGE & ROBIN FEEDING

Our garden seems to have been at the junction of three robin territories in recent years, which has provided the opportunity to get some close up photos of one brood of two juvenile robins as their plumage changed in the weeks after fledging. The sequence below taken in 2005 shows the gradual development of feathers to give the familiar robin plumage.

During this time, our particular favourite made several visits each day to collect a beakful of worms to take back to another brood. Four different individuals were taking mealworms from the hand at this stage, but the one feeding young always made sure it got priority! It would land on the conservatory window and tick, but if we took no notice she flew to the back door and landed on the door handle – so she became known to us as Dora! As soon as the young fledged, she disappeared (at the beginning of August) for a week, causing us some concern. When she reappeared for a couple of weeks she was obviously undergoing the summer moult and was without tail, but happily posed for a photo (see below). We didn’t see her again until, four months later during a spell of freezing weather, the same bird suddenly appeared at the back door (now looking very smart) and, without hesitation, began taking food from the hand and living up to her name by sitting on the door handle to gain our attention – clearly a bird with a good memory!

In June 2006 the same situation occurred with three birds feeding young from neighbouring territories. There was a definite pecking order, with the older bird dominant. The second in line would wait patiently and dash in as soon as the first flew off, otherwise it would be attacked. To make sure it got it’s fill it would quickly grab four or five mealworms, jumping into the dish if it wasn’t getting them fast enough by hand. The third, rather timid bird, would only take mealworms from a hand held on the wall, it wasn’t confident enough (or desperate enough) to fly straight on the hand.

Feeding robins in this way is very rewarding but we were always careful to limit quantities to treats so they had plenty of time to forage themselves. First thing in the morning (6 or 7 a.m. in summer!) was a popular time and we felt it gave them a start to the day before it warmed up. A moment of exhilaration came on July 12th when Dora and partner brought two recently fledged chicks to be fed at the back door.

As usual the Robins dispersed in October 2006 and we didn’t see our favourite bird again until February 6th 2007 when it buzzed me in the garden and flew to its perch on the fence by the back door. It promptly dropped straight onto my hand when I produced some mixed food, where it stayed for some time picking out all the pin oats! Quite a feat of memory.

June. “I’ll do anything to
feed my chicks”
August. “I just can’t find anything decent
to wear these days”
September. “Is my breakfast
ready yet?”
February: “It’s a bit parky today – any
mealworms going?”
February. “Come on, be quick,
it’s raining”
March. “Thank goodness you’ve still
got some left”
July. “Dare I?”
July. “Yes, it was worth it !”
Late July. “This moulting business is hard work”
August. “Please………”
June: “Can I squeeze another one in…?”

Reed Warblers in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

One of the delights of late April and early May is the return of the song of warblers as they arrive from Africa. Some like the Willow Warbler seem to be everywhere and may number in excess of a quarter of a million pairs in the county, others like Lesser Whitethroat and Reed and Grasshopper Warbler take some finding with only two or three hundred pairs likely to be present.

Reed Warbler
Reed Warbler

The scarcest in Cumbria, and one of the last to arrive, is the Reed Warbler. It is very much at its northern limit here but its numbers are mainly limited by the availability of suitable habitat – phragmites reed beds are not common and they tend to dry out and disappear over time.

Numbers have increased significantly over the last 30 years since the first colonisation of Siddick Pond on the west coast. Now it can be seen regularly at many lakeside margins where small areas of reed occur – for example at Bassenthwaite, Rydal, Grasmere, Cavendish Dock (Barrow), and Urswick tarn.

Sedge Warbler
Sedge Warbler

More likely to be heard than seen, the species announces its presence with its rhythmic song, more even and less raucous than that of the Sedge Warbler (which also occupies other habitats as well as reeds). While the latter often sings from the top of a bush in full view giving good views of its eyestripe and orange mouth (see right), male Reed Warblers tend to sing from the bottom of the reeds, only climbing to the top in calm bright weather to provide an opportunity to see them and snatch a photo.

If seen, the Reed Warbler is fairly non-descript in appearance, looking very much as you would expect a brown and white warbler to look. Males and females look similar. It can share the same habitat with Reed Buntings, although probably only one pair of the latter occupy the same area of reeds as six or more pairs of Reed Warblers. The female Reed Bunting has similar colouring but has a more stripey appearance and distinctive white moustache.

The Reed Warbler is one of the last migrants to arrive, usually in early May in Cumbria. The nest, attached at the base of some reeds, is a very deep cup, designed to keep the eggs safe when the reeds sway in windy weather. Where they occur, densities can be very high, with each male holding a territory of only a few square metres. Nearby Willow trees often provide a good supply of caterpillars for the young, which can be seen in June.

Reed Warblers return to Africa in a sereis of short hops which increase in length until the last large hop over the Sahara! In complete contrast the Sedge Warbler somehow builds up enough fat reserves to make the trip in one non-stop flight lasting a couple of days!

Willow Warbler
Willow Warbler

In contrast the Willow Warbler is the most abundant warbler by far, being found in almost every tetrad in the county except those on fells above about 300 metres. They are not fussy breeders and use almost any habitat that provides cover for the nest. As their characteristic song is often uttered from exposed branches they are also the easiest warbler to see.

The Common Chiffchaff is almost identical in appearance to the Willow Warbler but has a totally different song and is more choosey about its habitat, being absent from the hilly parts of the county. Some members of this species overwinter in Britain, but those that do migrate are reknowned for the ability to arrive back in the same tree from whence they left! With the Willow Warbler, it is usually one of the first migrants to arrive back, and I am disappointed if I don’t hear “chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff” at the end of the road before the end of March.

Next in abundance in the county is probably the Whitethroat. Numbers seem to have recovered well now, although periodic droughts in the winter quarters of West Africa take their toll. Any bit of scrub around the coastal plains of the county will probably hold several pairs of this species, which are usually easy to see once their presence is announced by the scratchy song.

Blackcap and Garden Warbler share very similar distributions and numbers in the county and, annoyingly, very similar songs. They can both be hard to spot, especially once the leaves are fully out as they tend to sing from less exposed branches, but if seen are quite distinctive of course.

The Wood Warbler is my favourite of the bunch and seems to be suffering something of a serious decline and is now quite hard to find – it therefore earns its OWN PAGE on the website!

Grasshopper Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler

Finally, the two that are almost as scarce as the Reed Warbler in the county are the Grasshopper Warbler and the Lesser Whitethroat. Both have similar distributions around the lowland coastal regions of the county but are never very common (a few hundred pairs at max.). Grasshopper Warbler is usually picked up by sounding like a very big grasshopper or the unwinding reel of a fishing line! However they are frustratingly difficult to pinpoint as a singing male turns its head from side to side to maximise its effectiveness (see photo). They prefer long matted vegetation, like marram grass. Good sites include Walney, Allonby/Maryport and Geltsdale. Lesser Whitethroat has quite different habitat requirements to Whitehroat, preferring hedgerow trees and bushes with patches of dense undergrowth nearby for nesting. This dapper bird lacks the rusty brown wings of its cousin and is usually first picked up by its rattling call. Askam/Hodbarrow on either side of the Duddon and North Plain Farm/Campfield Marsh on the Solway seem to be the current strongholds.

Kingfishers in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

It was probably a “once in a lifetime” experience when we looked out of the window at 8 a.m. one July morning in 2004 to see a Kingfisher sitting on the washing-line! Perhaps it was digesting a fish from a neighbour’s pond? Those who have lived in the neighbourhood for fifty or more years do tell of Kingfishers being seen along the nearby beck in the past, but this is the first time we have seen one in the Ulverston area. Given the time of the year, it would be nice to think that this was a juvenile being encouraged to disperse by its parents.

In early June 2005 an adult bird was seen carrying a fish upstream on the beck; it returned empty after a minute, so hopefully a nest was in the vicinity. The birds had returned by 21st April in 2006 and in most years since. It is likely that these birds spend the winter on the coast between Canal Foot and Bardsea, with occasional forays perhaps to Urswick and Mere Tarns where they are also sighted in winter.

Late Victorian writers do record that Kingfishers frequented the creeks of the local saltmarshes, but one suspects this is possibly an autumn occurrence as many move to the coast at that time. Indeed, Leighton Moss in autumn is one of the most likely places where Kingfishers may be seen, often resting on the posts outside the hides. I have been lucky enough to see one dive and retrieve a fish here. More usually one catches a fleeting glimpse or hears its piping call; occasionally one sits long enough for a photo (see right), when it is then possible to see the lower mandible – if it is orange, as here, the bird is a female.

Other strongholds in the county are on the rivers Crake and Leven near Haverthwaite, the river Eden, especially around Appleby, and the rivers of the Solway Basin. Records from the west coast of the county are surprisingly rare.

The Cumbrian population of Kingfishers is estimated at up to 200 birds (The Breeding Birds of Cumbria). After lean times, it seems that numbers are on the increase, especially after a series of mild winters and the improvement in the quality of many watercourses. They become less abundant towards the north in Britain, but they are certainly increasing their range in Scotland at the present time. Kingfishers are amber listed because of their unfavourable conservation status in Britain and Europe.

Kingfishers suffer severe mortality during harsh winters but they may have up to three broods in a season, and up to six chicks in a brood, so numbers can recover rapidly.

Ignoring the beak, Kingfishers are just a little bigger than a House Sparrow and smaller than a Starling and are most likely to be seen as a moving flash of turquoise following the line of a river or stream. Anyone lucky enough to see a fishing Kingfisher in late autumn as the low sun reflects from its plumage is in for a breath-taking sight. Despite their relatively small size, they fiercely defend their stretch of river at breeding times and can catch prey heavier than themselves.
Nesting takes place in a tunnel half a metre or more into the river bank. For the first two weeks the nestlings sit in a circle, with the one nearest the entrance receiving food before shuffling round to let the next one in – this behaviour is innate and is known as a Kingfisher carousel. Any bird trying to cheat gets rough treatment from the others! Later the arrangement changes to a “team photo” pattern with nestlings squatting at the front with a row of standing birds behind, each having to beg in the traditional manner when the adult brings in food.

Curiously, most of the world’s kingfisher species don’t catch fish, but eat grubs, insects and small lizards.

Eider Ducks in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

This heavy-weight of the duck world is a surprising resident of south Cumbria, the Walney area having the southernmost breeding colony in Britain. The Eider has arctic associations because of the superior insulating qualities of its down – 1.5kg in a sleeping bag is said to provide comfort for the occupant down to -35C.

The first nest was recorded on Walney in 1949 (but not on Foulney until 1962), with the number of nests increasing steadily to over 200 by the early 70’s, to over 500 by the early 80’s, and reaching a peak of about 1500 nests in the early 1990’s. Since then, numbers of nests have declined seriously to between 200 and 300 in recent years.

Colonies of Eider need high concentrations of shellfish (especially mussels) in accessible waters, which Morecambe Bay can provide. But breeding success seems to be due largely to the supply of food and the amount of protection from predators. In Iceland, where eiderdown is an economic crop, breeding sites are managed and in Greenland Eiders have taken to nesting near tethered husky dogs, which keep predators away. Surprisingly, it is the predatory gulls on Walney which provide the protection, the Eiders being robust enough to keep them away and smart enough to produce their off-spring a week or two before the gulls produce their voracious young. Such is the density on Walney, it is not unknown for Eider eggs to be found alongside gull eggs, being incubated by the gull!

February and early March are good times to see large rafts from the Morecambe Bay coast; these can cover vast areas of the sea. These spectacular sights can be seen off Baycliffe and Newbiggin as the tide falls, with numbers that can be as high as 1500 and 2000.

Courtship begins in March, which can sometimes be very vocal as many males woo one female with their far-carrying coo…ooo

The nest, usually built in the second half of April, is a shallow hollow made with grass or any material close by, which is then lined with down plucked from the duck’s breast. When away from the nest the female covers the eggs with the down to protect them from cold and dehydration and to provide camouflage. Despite this, females leave the nest less often than other wildfowl and are remarkably stubborn in remaining on the nest when approached.

By late May, eggs are starting to hatch and from mid to late June creches form off the west coast of Walney and in sheltered parts of the Bay, tended by the ducks. The drakes gather at this time in large flocks to moult, usually along the coast between Foulney Island and Baycliffe.

In recent years numbers nesting at other sites in Morecambe Bay have increased, with more birds being seen in the Leven estuary and especially on Chapel Island. Eiders are now a common sight for rail travellers across the Leven viaduct.

The recent decline in numbers in the area is thought to be due to falling stocks of mussels and particularly predation by foxes. Mussel stocks (and their age profile) vary from year to year, with Eiders preferring the younger mussels. Unregulated commercial harvesting is believed to have depleted the Morecambe Bay beds and attempts are now being made to establish a “Fisheries Order” for the Bay.

Prior to 1990 foxes were rarely seen on Walney, but they are now an established breeding species. Predation also occurs on Foulney, as it is visited by foxes from the surrounding area. In 2005 there were reports of a possible mink attack on Chapel island, claiming some nests.

Eiders are long-lived species and can withstand poor breeding years. If feeding conditions are poor it seems many do not attempt to breed, or fail to complete breeding. Spring estimates of the total number of Eiders on the north side of Morecambe Bay can be as high as 2000 in recent years (down from typical numbers of 4000). With only 300 or so breeding pairs now on Walney, it is clear that many are not breeding.

There is little apparent movement of Walney’s Eiders, although they may be joined in winter by others moving down from the north. Although this is the world’s most abundant sea duck, there can be few better places than Walney and the Furness coastline to provide such a superb opportunity to observe the behaviour of this species. The male’s expressive double-coo carries far and a group in full voice is a sound not to be forgotten.

Chats in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

One of my favourite places in Cumbria has to be Burney and Subberthwaite Common. On a clear day the views here are spectacular – from the Duddon Estuary and Black Combe round by the Stickle Pikes and Caw to the Coniston Fells, with the Scafells in the distance (see photo). The Common is rich in wildlife with over 11 species of dragonfly recorded here, all the British amphibians and numerous butterflies. It’s a place which teams with birdlife in the spring; the calls of cuckoos, ravens and buzzards echo across the wide open spaces, but it is the return of the songbirds that I await with interest each year. Migrant Wheatears and Whinchats return from Africa and Stonechats and Yellowhammers start to occupy territory. Redpoll occasionally turn up in the area of Burney Tarn.

Male Wheatears usually arrive towards the end of March, followed some days later by females. By mid-April they are joined by many pairs of Stonechat which have wintered elsewhere in Britain; in mild winters this species may breed here very early. Whinchats are later arrivals in early to mid-May. Each announces its presence with a flick of the tail and the characteristic hard chak or chat call.

The three species have experienced widely diifferent fortunes in recent years. Numbers of Stonechat have increased markedly as the species has survived more successfully in milder British winters. This has encoraged it to breed away from the coast in places like Subberthwaite. On Burney and Subberthwaite there are now literally dozens of breeding pairs. Wheatear numbers have held up well and the species is very common and widely distributed throughout the county. However, Whinchat numbers have fallen markedly – an observation supported by reports from throughout Cumbria. The Coniston Fells used to be a stronghold of the species but now they take some finding each spring. Observers are now asked to report all sightings of Whinchat.

The advantage of the open country chosen by these species for breeding is that it is easier to watch the behaviour of juvenile birds and compare their plumage with that of the adult than it is for many other species. By mid-May family parties of Stonechat and by mid-June Wheatear can be watched, the former as they move about in the gorse, but the latter more usually on the ground. Whinchat youngsters typically appear from late June and early July.

Juvenile Wheatears are much browner and less grey than the adults. Stonechat young have a brown slightly speckled appearance rather like that of a newly fledged robin, a close relative. They are often seen being watched over by Dad. Juvenile Whinchat show the most divergence in this group from the appearance of the adult. They have a much weaker white eyestripe but the plumage is an overall buff-yellow colour meaning that they do not obviously strike you as Whinchat on first seeing them.

As autumn approaches birds can be seen in juvenile plumage as migration gets under way. Walney Island is a good place to see them right through the autumn. Immature Stonechats are particularly attractive – the males don’t yet have that jet black head which masks the black eye.

Whinchat and Wheatear prepare to leave the country altogether, but the Stonechat is a partial migrant – some stay, some move south. This stategy seems to have served it well in recent years. Migration is risky, staying put is better if food is available and the weather mild. But staying put in Cumbria is to risk cold weather! However, in recent years there have been plenty about during the winter, throughout the Furness peninsula for example, although given the high rate of successful breeding many, especially young birds, must have left for warmer climes.

Bullfinch in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

  • The Bullfinch is not particularly common in Cumbria, although it is fairly widely distributed throughout the lowland areas. Nationally, it has suffered a serious decline in recent years and Bullfinches are now a cause of conservation concern; the main reasons are probably hedgerow loss and increasing numbers of Sparrowhawks.
  • For many years it was the enemy of fruit-growers in March as they turned to buds of fruit trees. In autumn, the seeds of Ash and Elm are important in their diet, but in spring, if the Ash and Elm crop had run out (Ash has good years and bad), Bullfinches would feed naturally on the buds of shrubs like Hawthorn and Sallow, but cultivated fruit trees make an excellent alternative when available.
  • In the sixteenth century, there was a bounty of a penny per bird and more recently in parts of Britain with orchards it was permitted to cull them under licence. This is no longer allowed; in any event the damage is rarely serious as recent research shows that particular varieties only are affected and more than half the buds would have to be taken to reduce the crop of fruit.
  • Bullfinches are rather shy birds and their presence is first given away by the contact call of a whistled note at steady intervals. Avoiding contact with people, they were once elusive in gardens. Hedgerow loss means that they have grown more accustomed in recent years to the availability of seeds at feeding stations, being especially fond of sunflower seed.
  • The strong muscular head and beak is ideal for feeding on hard seeds, but the rounded shape of the beak makes it difficult for them to pick seeds up from the floor. In late June 2005, a pair brought the juvenile, photographed below, to our bird feeders. The adults were a bit bemused, but the youngster happily tucked in. Having the dish on the feeder seems to help this species. In the succeeding days the adults quickly followed their off-spring’s example and made regular visits to feed, the male often keeping watch on top of the feeders.
  • A male Bullfinch in breeding condition is a sight to behold – vivid pink-vermilion underside contrasting with black and grey. The female is more subtly attractive (see photo above). With either sex, the use of binoculars should enable an easily missed feature of their plumage to be seen – the vivid deep pink feather where the black wing tertials meet the grey body (see arrow on photo).
  • Juveniles are well worth seeking out – late June/early July seems to be a good time. The juvenile doesn’t have the black cap and the wingbars are a delightful salmon pink rather than grey/white; the tertial pink is also just about visible on the juvenile photographed in my garden in 2005 (see below).

Birds in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

Typically 210-230 species of bird are recorded in Cumbria in any one year. Excluding occasional sightings of elusive species and scarce visitors, one might reasonably expect to see around 140 species without too much difficulty – the list below (arranged alphabetically) provides some guidance to less widespread species for those not familiar with birding in the county.Birds in Cumbria

HOT SPOTS – PEAK TIMES – GOOD BIRDING

  • Arctic Tern – breeding colony on Foulney Island, Apr. – July
  • Avocets – a few breeding pairs just over the county border at Silverdale, May – July.
  • Barnacle Goose – the Solway Marshes may hold 10000 – 20000, Oct. – March.
  • Bar-tailed Godwit – South Solway and Duddon Estuaries, July – March.
  • Black Grouse – North Pennines around Alston and Geltsdale/Hartside have lekking areas;
  • Black Guillemot – a few birds may breed at St. Bees Head, May – July
  • Brent Goose – around 50 overwinter in the Rampside/Foulney area of Furness, Oct. – March.
  • Common Gull – large roosts on Haweswater and Ullswater, Sept. – March.
  • Common Scoter – a flock of 200+ often found off Silecroft, Nov. – Feb.
  • Common Tern – breeding colonies at Hodbarrow and Rockcliffe, Apr. – July
  • Corn Bunting – may appear along the Solway coast, but sadly lost from around Carlisle and disappearing rapidly from the county; thrives in Lancashire! May?
  • Crossbill – occurs and breeds in conifers, mainly Border Uplands but also Grizedale Forest and north-west Lakes.
  • Dotterel – central Lakes fells on passage, late April – May; breeding now largely ceased.
  • Eider – resident and breeding in the Foulney/Walney area, all year.
  • Fulmar – breeding colony at St. Bees Head, April – July.
  • Gadwall – small numbers turn up in autumn on passage, particularly down the west of the county.
  • Gannet – quite large counts off Walney and Hodbarrow, June – September.
  • Goldeneye – Windermere holds significant numbers but also at Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite and coastal estuaries, Nov. – Mar.
  • Golden Eagle – one pair at Haweswater in summer.
  • Golden Plover – breeds in small numbers on northern Pennines (e.g. Geltsdale); large winter flocks move around fields on the Solway and in the Duddon/Walney area, but moving to the coast in hard weather, Sept. – March.
  • Goshawk – resident and breeding in the Border Forest; also foothills of south Lakes.
  • Grasshopper Warbler – summer visitor mostly to coast, but also Bassenthwaite/Derwentwater; rarely seen and best heard in early morning/late evening.
  • Great Black-backed Gull – breeding colony of 50 – 60 on South Walney, May – June.
  • Greenshank – passage birds at South Walney, Aug. – Oct.
  • Green Sandpiper – rare, but most likely from Solway and West Coast on autumn migration, July – August.
  • Grey Partridge – scattered distribution, mainly in north and west coast; parties sometimes seen at North & South Walney and Sandscale.
  • Grey Plover – winter on the Solway and in the Duddon, Walney, Rampside areas, Sept. – March.
  • Greylag Goose – many feral populations but upto 2000 wintering wild birds in the Eden Valley (e.g. Salkeld/Watersmeet), Oct. – March.
  • Guillemot – breeding colony at St. Bees Head, May – June.
  • Hawfinch – elusive but resident in the Rusland – Windermere – Sizergh triangle; also Woodwell, Silverdale.
  • Hen Harrier – much persecuted, breeds North Pennines, coastal in winter.
  • Honey Buzzard – recent addition to county breeding list; several pairs now likely in Lakeland in summer.
  • Kittiwake – breeds at St. Bees Head and gas platforms in Irish Sea!
  • Kingfisher – Eden Valley, Bassenthwaite and Ulverston hold breeding birds, April to July. Movement to coast in winter e.g. head of Morecambe Bay around Arnside and Silverdale.
  • Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – elusive, try Grizedale Forest.
  • Lesser Whitethroat – increasing summer visitor; prefers hedgerows and scrub of coastal lowlands e.g. Eskmeals, Hodbarrow and Furness Peninsula.
  • Little Egret – several birds have been wintering in the Walney area in recent years, often feeding in the pools at low water in the channel between the island and the mainland.
  • Little Grebe – good wintering numbers at Cavendish Dock and Hodbarrow, Nov.- Feb.; breeds mainly in South Lakes and Furness on lowland waters and a few sites in the north .
  • Little Tern – breeding colony at Hodbarrow, Apr. – July.
  • Mandarin – sightings of feral birds possible between Esthwaite Water and Windermere.
  • Manx Shearwater – good numbers off-shore from Walney to St. Bees Head, especially May – July.
  • Merlin – breeds on moorland in North Pennines and sparsely in north Lakes, winters on coastal marshes. Best chance of seeing them is Sept. – Oct. at Foulney/Walney and Solway marshes.
  • Mute Swan – large moulting flocks on Cavendish Dock and Longtown Pond worth seeing, July/August.
  • Nightjar – now a very rare summer visitor to county; mosses in south Cumbria.
  • Osprey – sightings possible central Lakes, breeding at Bassenthwaite, April – July.
  • Pink-footed Goose – 1000+ around the Duddon and more on the Solway around Campfield/Rockcliffe Marshes peaking in March as northwards migration occurs – Oct. – March.
  • Pintail – large numbers on the Kent Estuary, smaller numbers on the Leven and Duddon Estuaries, Oct. – Feb.
  • Puffin – a few birds breed at St. Bees Head, May – July
  • Purple Sandpiper – Workington Harbour, Parton beach and Biggar Bank, Walney, Nov. – March.
  • Quail – a few breeding pairs possible in summer on northern Coastal Plain, but numbers fluctuate.
  • Razorbill – breeding colony at St. Bees Head, May – July
  • Redstart – woodland between Kendal and Keswick and other wooded valleys are likely spots in summer; avoids lowlands and prefers wooded upland adjacent to farmland.
  • Red-throated Diver – frequently seen feeding off-shore from Walney/Foulney and in the Solway, Oct.- Feb.
  • Red-breasted Merganser – breeds inland but significant numbers all year at Cavendish Dock and Hodbarrow.
  • Reed Warbler – late arriving migrant and scarce breeder on suitable reedbeds e.g. Siddick Pond, Bassenthwaite, Rydal Water, Cavendish Dock and Urswick Tarn; April – Sept.
  • Rock Pipit – has bred on slag banks at Workington; feed on shore south to St. Bees, May – June. Numbers in winter increase as birds come in from Scandinavia and other areas like Walney,Foulney, and the Roa Island causeway become hotspots.
  • Ring Ouzel – although Cumbria (North Pennines and Lakes Fells) is a key breeding stronghold in Britain, numbers seem to be declining; April – August.
  • Ruff – mostly from Solway (sometimes overwintering) and, to a lesser extent Walney, on autumn migration, August – September.
  • Sanderling – wintering birds on Solway, Walney and Duddon Estuary shores; Oct. – Apr., peak in spring.
  • Sand Martin – breeding colonies at Walney and Bassenthwaite, May – July
  • Sandwich Tern – breeding colony at Hodbarrow, Apr. – July.
  • Scaup – the Solway is Britain’s premier wintering site for this species, Oct. – March.
  • Siskin – small numbers at garden bird feeders, especially March – April.
  • Snow Bunting – small flocks on Lake District peaks, Nov. – March.
  • Stonechat – numbers have built up after mild winters. Now abundant around the coast at St. Bees, North Walney and on lowland heaths in the south of the county.
  • Tree Pipit – summer visitor to scrub and new fell areas, but numbers seem to be declining – lovely call and gliding parachute flight, May to July.
  • Tree Sparrow – uncommon and now limited to farmland of coastal plains in Solway and Furness and Eden Valley. The Leece/Dendron/Gleaston area in the Furness Peninsula is a stronghold.
  • Turnstone – main wintering area South Walney, Roa Island and Biggar Bank, Aug. – April with peaks in autumn and spring.
  • Twite – breeds on Pennines; erratic but flocks of upto 200 regularly recorded on Walney and around Askam, Nov. – March
  • Water Rail – now very elusive in county; possible at North Walney, Bassenthwaite and Sunbiggin Tarn (but Leighton Moss estimated to have around 100 territorial males).
  • Whimbrel – passage migrant, especially in spring, Solway, Duddon and Morecambe Bay; late April – early May.
  • Whooper Swan – small flocks around Rockcliffe and Kirkbride on the Solway and the Langwathby area in the Eden valley, Nov. – March.
  • Wigeon – large numbers in Morecambe Bay, Sept. – March.
  • Willow Tit – much scarcer than Marsh Tit and confined to northern half of county, especially Solway marshes and Bassenthwaite/Derwentwater.
  • Woodcock – easily over-looked; strongholds in South Cumbria( roding birds possible in April Rusland, Grizedale, Brigsteer, and Angerton Moss), Bassenthwaite/Derwentwater and Geltsdale.
  • Wood Warbler – increasingly scarce summer visitor to woods of higher Eden valley, but strongest to west of a line from Cockermouth to Kendal e.g. usually breeds in Torver Common woodland and edges of Grizedale Forest, May – July.
  • Yellow Wagtail – now few breeding birds in county; Eden valley around Appleby and Kent valley in south now most likely spots in summer or Heversham Moss in the south.

Migrant Hawker in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

  • The Migrant Hawker is now commonly recorded within Cumbria, especially around the southern coastal areas, such as Walney, Askham and Aldingham, and on the Solway Plain.
  • It is an under-recorded species, as its resemblance to the widespread Common Hawker means that it is easily missed if not checked out carefully.
  • It emerges later than the Common Hawker, being on the wing from late July/early August into the autumn. An early August date suggests local breeding; September and October occurrences may be the result of immigrations.
  • On the wing, it gives the distinct impression of being smaller than the Common Hawker, with paler and smaller areas of blue (male) and yellow (female). At rest, it is rather more easily approached than the Common Hawker, which enables the diagnostic yellow triangle at the base of the abdomen (arrowed in photo) to be seen. Common Hawkers have a diagnostic yellow costa (leading edge to forewings), whereas it is brown in the Migrant Hawker.
  • Immature males have lovely pale lilac markings which later turn blue and are well worth looking out for in early August.
  • The Migrant Hawker is more likely to be found hawking along hedgerows and in sunny glades than the Common.
  • It breeds in ponds and gravel pits, but avoids the acidic moorland pools that provide much suitable habitat in the county for the Common Hawker. Unusually, the Migrant Hawker completes its lifecycle in one year, after overwintering as an egg. It therefore requires warm, sheltered and shallow pools that warm up quickly in spring to ensure rapid development of the larvae.
  • In the north of the county Migrant Hawker is more likely to be encountered as an immigrant later in the flight season.

Golden-Ringed in Cumbria

(April 25, 2019)

GOLDEN-RINGED DRAGONFLIES IN CUMBRIA

  • This is a Lake District speciality, being a species of small, deeply cut moorland streams; it may be encountered further down-stream as summer comes to an end.
  • It is our largest species and a very attractive one. With golden-yellow bands on a black body it looks handsome but close inspection of an example at rest will enable the wonderful green eyes to be seen. They are narrower than the eyes of hawker dragonflies and meet in a point on the top of the head.
  • They have a very purposeful flight, moving in one direction along a stretch of stream before turning round and going back over the same stretch. After a while they may disappear into the surrounding vegetation.
  • The larvae survive in a very harsh environment; slow flowing streams of summer may become very fast flowing and icy cold in winter. Consequently it may take the larvae several years to grow fully.
  • Females have unusually long ovi-positors so that eggs can be laid deep into the stream bed to stop them being washed away. Similarly, the larvae largely submerge themselves into the stream bed in order to get a grip and not be carried away. They generally wait for food to flow past them rather than go looking for it.