Thursday, 19 October 2017

That's more like it.

Things have been relatively quiet at Billinge since my last post but that changed this morning with the biggest movement of Redwings of the autumn so far. I was kept busy ringing and didn't have time to look up very often so the 1500+ I managed to record was probably less than half the number that actually went through. There weren't many other thrushes with them and only half a dozen Song Thrush were noted along with a couple of small groups of Fieldfares; Blackbirds were surprisingly scarce and no migrants were seen or heard.

There were a good number of Goldcrests around with 22 being caught but they were eclipsed by a Firecrest, which is even rarer than Yellow-browed Warbler at the site. I have ringed over 2,200 Goldcrests in the past 4 years but Firecrests have remained stubbornly scarce and today's is only the 3rd record. When I first realised the site was so good for migrating Goldcrests I thought there was a chance that one or two Firecrests would occasionally tag along with them but that hasn't proven to be the case.

1cy male Firecrest 19/10/17
Other birds around included: a Hawfinch seen flying south by CAD; 2 or possibly just 1 rapidly moving Yellow-browed Warbler that was heard briefly by myself and shortly after by CAD on the other side of the site but didn't hang around long enough for either of us to get any views; 4 Bramblings seen by CAD were the first of the autumn; 2 Swallows, also seen by CAD, are obviously quite late for that species.

Ringing totals for 19/10/17 were: Goldcrest 22; Firecrest 1; Great Tit 1; Blackcap 1; Song Thrush 2; Redwing 53; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 5; Goldfinch 1. A total of 87 new birds.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

9th October: thrushed with success.

I had high hopes for this morning as large numbers of thrushes (especially Redwings) arrived along parts of the east coast yesterday and decent movements were also recorded at some of the Pennine vis mig sites. Good numbers are often recorded at Billinge the day after such arrivals and movements so the prospects for this morning looked good. I was so eager to find out I got up when the first alarm went off, was out of the house at 05:30 and had set 4 nets at Billinge by 06:30.

A few Redwings and Song Thrushes were heard calling as dawn approached but not as many as expected and a Song Thrush was the only bird caught prior to sunrise. However, a few small flocks of Redwings and one or two Song Thrushes started to arrive shortly after sunrise and the flocks of Redwings generally got larger as the morning went on. Birds were coming and going in various directions but the majority seemed to appear from the east or south east and while some flocks continued west or northwest others turned and headed south. Around 650 Redwings must have moved through over the course of the morning but it's always hard to keep track of numbers when you are busy ringing. The number of Song Thrush on the move was even harder to gauge and the 12 that were recorded is likely to be well short of the true figure, especially as that number includes 7 that were ringed. As for other thrushes there were a few more Blackbirds around and 4 Fieldfare seen heading northwest late in the morning was a bit of a surprise as it is relatively early date for that species.

Song Thrush

When there are plenty of thrushes around they usually attract a few predators and today was no exception. A juv male Sparrowhawk was seen several times before it eventually found its way into one of the nets. A little while later a juv female Sparrowhawk was caught which is a bit more unusual as females often manage to climb out of nets due to their much larger size.

1cy male Sparrowhawk

1cy female Sparrowhawk. If looks could kill this one's would.
There weren't many finches moving and only 1 Lesser Redpoll was caught. Surprisingly, it was another that didn't have a red coloured poll, the amber poll on this individual being a bit brighter than the one shown in my last post.

Lesser Redpoll
The morning may have started slowly but Redwings eventually came through in good numbers and accounted for 38 of the 65 birds ringed. Ringing totals for 09/10/17 were: Sparrowhawk 2; Goldcrest 9; Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 1; Chiffchaff 1; Blackbird 3; Song Thrush 7; Redwing 38; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1.

Other sightings of note included: 320 Pink-footed Geese heading east; 4 Ravens (2 pairs) heading south; 2 Swallows (1 south and the other hanging around feeding); 3 Crossbills heading NNE.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Fat crests and a pink lady.

The 3rd and 4th may have been a bit windy but I managed to find enough shelter in some of the net rides on the east side of the site at Billinge. These net rides were sheltered from the worst of the stiff westerlies by higher ground, including the hill summit, and tree/shrub cover provided the additional shelter required. Unsettled conditions can produce interesting birding with some birds being held up or forced down by the weather and others battling through and the only way to find out is to get out there. 

The first bird caught on both days was a Song Thrush and the greyer tones and slightly smaller size of both suggested they were of continental origin. There were a decent number of Goldcrests present and 19 were ringed over the two sessions. Many of the Goldcrests were carrying quite a bit of fat with 8 weighing 5.8g or more and the two heaviest birds weighed in at 6.3g. Birds in this weight range are carrying more than enough fat to fly to southern England in a single non stop night flight and some may even go on to winter in France. Interestingly, a recovery report showing a movement of one of this autumn's Goldcrests came through just the other day, it was ringed on 2nd September and found dead 18 days later in Hampshire, 267km SSE of Billinge. Full details of this and some other recoveries will be posted in due course.

A Stonechat that suddenly appeared on a fence line on the 3rd was the first of the autumn but it didn't linger and quickly moved on. There was a bit of movement overhead despite the strength of the wind and showed how strong the urge to migrate can be. Meadow Pipits and Chaffinches were the most numerous species on the move but a few Lesser Redpolls were also heading south and 4 were caught. One of the Lesser Redpolls had a bit of a pink flush to some of the breast feathers and it almost had me thinking it was a male for a second, but on further examination it was obviously an adult and didn't have any pink in the cheeks or on the rump, concealed or otherwise, which ruled out the possibility of it being a male.

It isn't always appreciated that adult female Lesser Redpolls can have pink feathers on the breast and or rump in addition to those that are more commonly present on the cheeks. However, the pink, when present, is never quite as strong or as extensive as it is in adult males and is usually only noticeable at very close range (generally arms length or less). It is all too easy to rely on the sexing criteria that are given in Svennson and forget some of the other literature that has been produced and younger ringers may not even be aware of some of it. A very useful paper on the subject was published back in 1981, link here: M. Boddy (1981) Ageing and sexing British lesser redpolls, Ringing &Migration, 3:4, 193-202, DOI: 10.1080/03078698.1981.9673780 

Adult female Lesser Redpoll. The pink centres to some of the breast feathers aren't as obvious in the photograph as they appeared in the hand but you can still see they are there.

A side view of the same adult female Lesser Redpoll. 
One of the other Redpolls that was caught was interesting for not having a red poll. There was a slight amber cast to some of the feathers of the fore-crown but it was only very slight. This pigment variation is fairly uncommon but individuals like this do crop up from time to time although the poll is usually a bit more yellow or amber than it was in this case. While this is a first year bird it is trait that I have seen in adults too and I suspect it is more common in females, although it obviously makes sexing birds very difficult outside the breeding season.

Lessser Redpoll without a red poll 03/10/17

The amber coloured cast to the poll is there but it was very slight and barely noticeable in this individual.
One thing that has been a feature of late September and now early October has been a general lack of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. There seems to have been a slightly earlier and more complete departure of these two species, and Blackcaps in particular, with fewer late birds coming through or lingering compared to the last couple of autumns. The more unsettled weather and lack of easterly winds have almost certainly played a part so it will be interesting to see if this trend continues through the remainder of the autumn.

So an interesting couple of mornings and well worth the effort even though the combined total was a relatively modest 46 birds. Species totals (retraps in brackets) for 3rd & 4th October were: Goldcrest 19; Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 2 (1); Coal Tit 3; Chiffchaff (1); Song Thrush 2; Robin 1; Dunnock 2 (1); Chaffinch 6; Lesser Redpoll 4; Reed Bunting 1.

Monday, 2 October 2017

German ringed Black-headed Gulls

I walked across the road to Orrell Water Park this afternoon to see if the regular German ringed Black-headed Gull had returned for a 6th winter. There were about 50 Black-headed Gulls waiting on the edge of the lake by the car park so I threw them some bread to bring them closer and I soon spotted one with a ring. I managed to get some photographs of it in the melee of feeding gulls and on checking them on the back of the camera I could see it was regular wintering bird that has been recorded more than 60 times over the last 5 winters.

IA141745    Black-headed Gull (ringed as an adult male)
Ringed              29/04/2012  Bohmke und Werder, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
Photographed   02/10/2017 Orrell Water Park, Orrell, Greater Manchester. 1102 km W.
I soon noticed there was another ringed Black-headed Gull but it kept weaving between the other gulls and was a bit more difficult to photograph. I must have taken around 100 photographs before I thought I had secured the full ring number and address on the ring. On returning home I reviewed the photos on the laptop and was able to work out the full ring number and it was a German ring from the Heligoland ringing scheme (ring address Helgoland, Germania).

I have submitted the details of the ring number to BTO and hopefully I will get the ringing information back fairly quickly but it can take several months when a foreign ringing scheme is involved. When I do get the details back I will post them on the blog.

September Ringing Totals

I have been quite active over the last couple of weeks but not had time to blog about any of the ringing sessions for one reason or another. There were no major surprises and Goldcrests dominated most of the Billinge catches as usual, although a Spotted Flycatcher caught on the 23rd was both unexpected and a late(ish) record.

Looking at the month as a whole the total of 777 new birds ringed at Billinge is only 1 short of the total achieved last year and was much better than expected given the weather. Goldcrest took top slot with 269 being 32 up on last September's total while 2nd placed Chiffchaff was 32 down with a total of 143. Blackcap numbers were well down with 40 ringed compared to 88 last year but on the other hand 2 Spotted Flycatchers and 4 Redstarts continued the autumns's exceptional run of records for those species. It was a disappointing month for controls with a single Goldcrest being the only bird caught that had been ringed elsewhere (ringing details have yet to be received).


Great Spotted Woodpecker


Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit

Willow Tit

Long-tailed Tit
Willow Warbler




Song Thrush
Spotted Flycatcher



Grey Wagtail

Tree Pipit

Meadow Pipit



Lesser Redpoll



Reed Bunting


I also ringed 138 birds in my garden during the month with 91 Goldfinches claiming top slot there. 

Monday, 18 September 2017

Goldcrests on a high.

When I checked the weather forecast on Saturday night the weather for Sunday morning was due to be dry and if any showers developed they would only be from late morning onwards, but when I got up at 5am it was chucking it down. A check of the Met Office rainfall radar revealed a narrow band of showers tracking across the country from Newcastle area on the NE coast and running southwestwards towards Liverpool and north Wales, taking them over my home and the ringing site at Billinge in the process. There were gaps between the showers so I decided to head up to the ringing site as it looked like there may be a dry slot just after sunrise. Before smart phones and mobile Internet I would have gone back to bed but having the ability to check almost real time rainfall radar has changed things and makes it possible to take advantage of opportunities that would have been missed in years gone by.

I set 3 nets in the top willows and while I thought I would only get a dry hour or so, at most, the showers that were heading in my direction largely skirted the site and the session remained dry, apart from the odd very light sprinkle. Technology and an old fashioned eye on the sky really paid off and the session ended with a total of 57 new birds and 3 retraps. Goldcrests led the way with a total of 34 being the highest of the autumn so far. The species is what you might call a bread and butter bird at the site in autumn and while catches of 10 to 20 are not unusual in September and October catches of 30+ are much less common. Today's catch of 34 brings the number of Goldcrests ringed this September to 148 and we are only just over half way through the month.

1cy male Goldcrest

1cy male Goldcrest
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 17/09/17 were: Goldcrest 34; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 2; Chiffchaff 8 (1); Blackcap 6;  Long-tailed Tit (1);Wren 1; Blackbird 1 (1); Robin 1; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1;Reed Bunting 1.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

More Goldcrests on the move.

There was a brief lull in the unsettled weather this morning so I headed up to Billinge to make the most of the calmer conditions. I set 3 nets in the top willows but used a different net configuration to the one I have been using recently as the breeze was due to strengthen from mid morning. It would have been a fairly quiet session but there was a rush of birds about an hour after sunrise that boosted the totals and accounted for nearly half of the 50 birds that were caught over the course of the morning.

The catch was dominated by Goldcrests (19) and Chiffchaffs (14) as is often the case at this time of year and one of the Goldcrest, a 1cy female, was a control (a bird ringed elsewhere). I suspect this Goldcrest may have been ringed on Walney Island (68km NNW of Billinge) as the ring number was fairly close to one I have had from there before, although that is only an educated guess at this stage and I will only know its origin for certain when the recovery report comes through. The best of the rest were a Grey Wagtail, the first Willow Tit for a while and 2 Yellowhammers.

Control 1cy female Goldcrest HDB637

1cy Willow Tit
There were a few more Meadow Pipits moving overhead than there have been so far this autumn but it was still not much more than a trickle and petered out as the breeze picked up. A few Reed Buntings were also on the move early on and was the first obvious movement of that species this autumn and resulted in 3 being caught. However, it very much had the feel that the weather was holding up diurnal migrants and more would have been moving had the conditions been clearer and the breeze hadn't increased so much.

Ringing totals (retraps/controls in brackets) for 10/09/17 were: Goldcrest 17(2); Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1; Willow Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 1; Chiffchaff 13(1); Willow Warbler 2; Blackcap 1; Wren 1; Grey Wagtail 1; Chaffinch 1; Greenfinch 2; Yellowhammer 2; Reed Bunting 3.