Tuesday, 14 January 2020

CHAFFINCH - Exceptionally large numbers overwintering in Dalton Crags with this year holding high Beech Mast yield

Some recent Blogs with quick links:- 

Crossbills (chicks in late December etc)

(Thanks to Tony for sharing)


Hutton Roof and especially Dalton Crags are nationally superb for Chaffinch numbers passing through on migration and not only that we have the added bonus of many continental and regional birds stopping off to overwinter in Dalton Crags itself.
Today (13th January 2020) I witnessed something special: Most winters I see a nice Chaffinch collective usually around the back of Plain Quarry in Dalton Crags, with numbers averaging around the 200 birds, usually you will also see Brambling amongst them.  But it was a lot different today with a colossal 2000 birds which could well have been on the way up to 3000 individuals.

I arrived at Plain Quarry at about 0910hrs and immediately noticed flying above me large parties of Chaffinch ranging from 30 to 100 birds and most of the parties averaged about 50-75 birds per party, the parties just kept on coming over heading from West to East and this went on for at least 20 minutes or so. I am sure the birds were just moving from one part of the Crags from points they will have been roosting to a few hundred yards further east of the Crags were I guess they chose for feeding.
I decided to walk in the direction they went and soon I found them with birds just everywhere flitting at all levels of the trees, I listened carefully but could not detect any Brambling amongst them, they all seem to be represented by the regular chup contact calls. I can’t say I have ever seen so many Chaffinch concentrated into a radius of only a few hundred yards. What had brought so many birds to this locality, was there good feed?

Yes the beech mast has had a phenomenal year and we have a considerable amount of beech trees in the Dalton Crag area, I am sure this will have led to this year’s Chaffinch explosion!

Like I said earlier this whole area is a great spot for passing Chaffinch on their autumn/winter migrations when in most years I will record between 11000 and 13000 birds passing directly through the area between the months of September to November, and that is only what I am managing to record over the 3 or 4 hours a day whilst I am present, but besides this they are going through all day long.  These counts are within a strict corridor of which I can observe, but they are also coming through further down in Burton In Kendal village almost following the motorway and again heading South, hundreds or should I say thousands will take on this particular passage as well as the one I check out.

I guess if I was to take a reasonable guess to how many birds goes through this are every year I would not be far out with an estimate of some 50000 to 75000 birds each Autumn.
Not that it’s necessary to compare and the data is far from incomplete on a national basis but in all the UK the only area that gets more Chaffinch than us is Hunstanton in Norfolk! (that’s per Trektellen records)
So is it any wonder we are getting all these fantastic birds. By the way I am seeing a regular Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard in attendance.

Just for the record on vismig: (Chaffinch passing over and observed from Vicarage Lane, Burton In Kendal)

2016 - 12507 Chaffinch
2017 - 11175    
2018 - 12347
2019 - 13146  

2020 - Ex roost counts from Plain Quarry Picnic Area....

13th Jan 2020  Approx 2000
15th Jan 2020  Approx 1091 (part count)
16th Jan 2020  Approx 1368 (part count)
17th Jan 2020  Approx 2100

A bonus has included: a party of 30 Siskin, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, 50 Redwing, 20 Fieldfare, 300 Woodpigeon and lots of tits, robins and wrens…..

15th January 2020 - Tried something different checking out another area of Dalton and it failed, so quickly got back to the car park but by then I had probably missed a lot of birds, but still had 1091 going W to E over the car park over a period of about 15 minutes. 

16th January 2020 - Again got there early at 0830 but it obviously was not early enough because on my arrival large 50 parties were going over and instead of the normal 0915hr start they for some reason had started very early (all good knowledge for tomorrow!!) but still OK with plenty of birds (1368).
Had my first Brambling calling and mixed in with the Chaffinch. Also Linnets x2, 50 Redwing, Song Thrush been singing over a week now. Also heard (but not seen) my first Pink Footed Geese skein presumed heading North. (They have been leaving Lincs and Norfolk for several days now - which is usual from about middle of January) Already today high volume counts from Spurn heading N. Also a 200 Linnet group overwintering in fields around Dalton hamlet (seen annual since growing of fodder beat/fat hen etc..)

17th January 2020 - (Plain Quarry, Dalton)

(2k Chaffs and a wonderin mind)

If you had paid a million pounds for that,

then you had not paid enough!
But today you could have had it all for free,
Natures gifts have no catch - (what a batch!)

Today I managed to count 2,100 Chaffinch from Plain Quarry car park which all flew across my path and continued to a area a few hundred yards east of my watchpoint. They kept to a single narrow corridor of some 20 yards wide and were probably about 100ft high. As usual they were in parties ranging from 10 birds up to 100 birds. The bulk of the activity seemed to start at 0915hrs and was over with by 0925hrs, although stragglers kept coming....

Gosh! it does not stop there! At about 0935hrs all the birds starting coming back on themselves but this time from the East to the West, I can only presume they were spooked by a possible dog walker... but they came through over a ten minute period in regular waves of 50 birds at a time with only a second or two before yet another party was following on. 

A few weeks ago I was watching a fantastic clip showing Chaffinch on migration through Falstebo and it showed continuous wave upon wave of large numbers going past... well my imagination for several minutes went to this and it really was something special on offer today, it seemed such a shame I was the only one here to witness this fantastic sight and wow! what a "lifting" feeling it gave you.

This year has been especially great with the fantastic 30-50k Redwing Roost down at Kemple End (Longridge Fell), or the special Starling murmurations over at Leighton Moss, but I must say this today and most recent mornings are something really really special..... (Beech Mast may you last before your passed)

17th January 2020  1530 onwards - Plain Quarry, all woodlands areas against Dalton Road side - checking for roost site, but definately none showing. Did see several Chaffinch which made out from there and headed NW as though to Dalton Storth area or maybe were they are currently cutting down the French beech trees, I will try and survey this area tomorrow evening to find out were the roost is. 

18th January 2020 - 0845hrs - Plain Quarry.  A beautiful bright morning with lots of frost on the car. Got there late just catching the last hundred or two, so obviously they had took advantage of the clear morning and gone earlier.  Still lots of stuff seen, but did some surveying of the beech mast in the nearby areas.  Ton's of it, lots of open seeds on the floor throughout the Crags.  Told some local Woodpigeons have been found dead (not through shooting) but with crops solid with beech mast which could have been responsidble for their deaths with toxins.

Also had 6 Pink Footed Geese very high and heading to South, also Fieldfare (6), Green Woodpecker (2), Redwing (50), Goldcrest (2), Bullfinch (2) Nuthatch (several), Song Thrush singing his little heart out! Siskin (15), Woodpigeon (200+) etc etc.

Will again late afternoon check out for Chaffinch roosting, its just a process of elimination, so we move over to area no.2 to see if I can get on them, report back later..... also preparing blog for Burton News submission

18th January 2020 - 1500hrs to 1630hrs - Dalton Storth  Checking skylines from Dalton Hamlet towards Dalton Storth Woods and also to the Burial Ground. Chaffinch seen negligible just a small mid party which went towards cutting at Nineteen Trees.  Did have a party of 30 Pink Footed Goose moving West/SW at 1540hrs, also 70 Linnet noted, 50 Redwing

19th January 2020 - 0805hrs to 0900hrs - Plain Quarry  Just a few hundred birds moving across, its now become obvious over the past two mornings that the high pressure has messed everything up and split the birds all over the place and subsequently until the high pressure leaves us its pointless doing any recording.  I will try and get back on it has soon as the highs retreat.

20th January 2020 - both am and pm - checking out at Plain Quarry, poor with numbers much reduced, did notice some birds coming from a Quarry Wood direction.  at 1500hrs went and checked all open area with views to Quarry Wood, Laurel Wood and Dalton Hall Park, but no evidence of any birds going to roost. 

21st January 2020 - 0800hrs to 0845hrs - Plain Quarry - A few hundred birds with one party of at least 300 but birds were seen coming from mainly from the East side which is unusual, so were on earth can they be roosting (its none of the woodland to the East within Dalton Crags! so can only presume maybe its further over. Also the numbers of birds since the high pressure arrived have drastically reduced in numbers, so whether some have moved on or not we will have to wait and see. 

22nd January 2020 - 0745hrs to 0815hrs - Plain Quarry - Went this morning hoping to do some filming of the Chaffinch with my friend Brian Gomm, unfortunately overnight the mist had closed in proper and the visibility was really poor prohibiting any filming. Try again another day...

I have just been reading about Chaffinch on the net, and it is reckoned they have various local accents like humans......

Other names are: Pink Twink, Chink, Chaffey and Pinkery.......

He utters his song 5 or 6 times a minute or up to 3000 times a day. 

Up to tens of thousands share the same roost site in Cyprus.....

Chaffinch roost in Hollies, evergreens including Rhodedendrums (Birds of Cheshire and the Wirrall)

23rd January 2020 - Fogged out