Martin Garner wrote in his Birding Frontiers Challenge Series Winter 'It's like having the Arctic Wilderness arrive on your doorstep'. That's exactly how I feel about Snow Buntings. I've been lucky to see them on their breeding grounds in both Iceland and Svalbard this summer and here they are back again in East Lancashire for the winter. A couple of Snow Buntings had been seen on Pendle on Friday and I couldn't resist a (now only occasional) hike up the hill today. After some searching of their favourite haunts on the hill I heard one call over the big end, this was followed by a second a few moments later. Not long afterwards I was delighted to stumble on a small flock of eight birds feeding grass seeds along one of the paths above the Downham slope. They were typically very shy and difficult to approach, feeding on the icy cold north slope, which does not see the sun by this time in winter. Northerly winds recently have probably aided their return to Pendle after an almost blank winter last year with only a couple of birds and I found quite a few droppings here and there suggesting they have been around for a while already. As explained in Martin Garner's book, the Pendle birds identified to race so far have been nivalis and are therefore continental European breeding birds but, wherever they are from, Snow Buntings are very uncommon away from the coast making the small numbers we get on Pendle very special. Also on Pendle today were golden plover (8), plenty of Red Grouse calling now and a woodcock in the car headlights standing in the middle of the road below the big end before first light.
Viewing entries tagged
HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM PENDLE! I'd been hoping to do more hiking on Pendle but the wettest December on record meant there were no dry weekends when I could actually see the top through a veil of cloud. It really is grim in rain and not worth the effort. At last on a grey and frosty morning with a light dusting of snow on the hill it was good to get 2016 started. This is going to be a very significant year. I thought I would be first up this year but another figure in the distance was already closing in on the summit... John Metcalf of course and he'd already seen a Snow Bunting and some goldies before it was even properly light! An unkindness of at least 10 Common Ravens was playing in the wind on the edge of the Big End and a couple of Red Grouse flew up on my way to the summit. We searched a large area of the grassy slopes and hilltop all the the way to the scout cairn and back, checking the Snow Buntings' favourite areas. Golden Plovers were much in evidence today with many small groups all over the summit. It was difficult to estimate their numbers but we had at least 70 in the air together at one time. A large female sparrowhawk dashed across the hillside in search of a meal and two Snow Buntings flew over calling, ironically when we had stopped for a break at the stone shelter. There were a few more Red Grouse and a flock of around 35 Pink-footed Geese headed west (they are already on the move). On the way back towards the landslide trail another Snow Bunting flew over towards Ogden Clough but despite a lot of searching I couldn't find it again, maybe it didn't land? It is impossible to know whether birds here are simply passing by or just moving to another part of the hill. A good walk today, training for Ladakh next month.
It is always fun to list the first birds of the year and despite my efforts to get Snow Bunting as high up the list as possible I couldn't help seeing some birds in the dark on the way to the Barley Lane end. I wandered around East Lancs for the rest of the day and even managed to add a new bird to my ELOC recording area list, Jack Snipe, thanks to Mark Breaks. Not just one but two of them. Cheers Mark! We also had two sightings of Hen Harrier (both ringtails, conceivably the same bird) but obviously I can't say where. My total was a lot lower than the Breaks's 85 new ELOC New Year's Day record today but it was good to be out and about again.
ELOC year list: 1. Carrion Crow 2. Common Blackbird 3. European Robin 4. Common Pheasant 5. Common Starling 6. Blue Tit 7. Great Tit 8. Common Raven 9. Red Grouse 10. European Golden Plover 11. Snow Bunting 12. Eurasian Sparrowhawk 13. Pink-footed Goose 14. Common Magpie 15. European Goldfinch 16. Eurasian Siskin 17. Rook 18. Western Jackdaw 19. Peregrine Falcon 20. Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) 21. Black-headed Gull 22. Mallard 23. Mandarin 24. Eurasian Coot 25. Common Moorhen 26. Great Crested Grebe 27. Tufted Duck 28. Redwing 29. Goosander 30. Pied Wagtail 31. House Sparrow 32. Common Buzzard 33. Eurasian Wren 34. European Greenfinch 35. Great Black-backed Gull 36. Song Thrush 37. Common Kestrel 38. Hen Harrier 39. Herring Gull 40. Mistle Thrush 41. Chaffinch 42. Goldcrest 43. Coal Tit 44. Common Snipe 45. Jack Snipe 46. Stock Dove 47. Long-tailed Tit 48. Common Gull 49. Great Cormorant 50. Eurasian Wigeon 51. Northern Shoveler 52. Common Teal 53. Common Goldeneye 54. Common Pochard 55. Canada Goose 56. Greylag Goose 57. Barnacle Goose 58. Great Spotted Woodpecker 59. Grey Heron
TEN SNOW BUNTINGS WAS THE HIGHLIGHT of a hike up Pendle Hill today. An extensive search of the summit also produced 16 European Golden Plovers, 3 Common Snipe and a Red Grouse, not a bad midwinter walk up there. I remember seeing only Red Grouse on several occasions at this time of year. The Snow Buntings were of the nominate form nivalis so are probably from the continent rather than to the northwest of us. As usual they were flighty and generally unapproachable. Thanks to Neil Mitchell who had already tracked them down to one of their favourite spots. This was the first of many walks up Pendle over the next couple of months!