Thursday, 8 June 2017

Siskin Movements: Spring 2017

I haven't posted details of any recoveries for a while so I thought it was time to rectify that. I have received quite a few recovery reports for Siskins over the past few months so it made sense to start with that species. Details of 3 of the movements were posted earlier in the spring but as others started to come in I decided to wait and show them all together rather than post details when they were received. All of the movements involve birds that were ringed or controlled in my garden near Orrell, Greater Manchester (purple & white circle on map). 

It is interesting that there are no movements to or from SE England as large numbers of Siskins usually winter in that area. The two recoveries well south of my garden are both in Wales and this suggest that many of the bird that visit my garden winter there and perhaps further south in SW England.




D874496      first year female   Siskin
Ringed         18/03/2014   near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    14/02/2017   Witton-le Wear NR, Durham. 143 km NNE, duration 1064 days.

S192064       first-year male     Siskin
Ringed          11/04/2016   Peebles, Scottish Borders.
Controlled     07/03/2017   near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 293 km S, duration 330 days

S144873       first-year female  Siskin
Ringed          12/04/2016   near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     30/01/2017   Ffynnon Gro, Llanfynydd, Carmarthenshire. 201 km S, duration 293 days.

S411915       first-year female  Siskin
Ringed          24/02/2017    Sychdyn, Mold, Flintshire.
Controlled     24/03/2017    near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 47 km NE, duration 28 days.

S264860      first-year male     Siskin
Ringed         03/03/2017      Broken Cross, Nr Macclesfield, Cheshire.
Controlled    24/03/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 46 km NW, duration: 21 days.

S785508     first-year male     Siskin
Ringed         19/02/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    02/04/2017      Dalston, Carlisle, Cumbria. 148 km N, duration: 42 days.

S144876      adult female       Siskin
Ringed         12/04/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    02/04/2017       Cnoc, Argyll and Bute.  324 km NNW, duration: 355 days.

S144643     first-year male     Siskin
Ringed          07/03/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     21/02/2017       Townhill, Dunfermline, Fife. 289 km N, duration: 351 days.

S144511    adult male            Siskin
Ringed         18/02/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    18/04/2017       Millhousebridge, Dumfries and Galloway. 188 km NNW, duration: 425 days.

S144657    first-year male      Siskin
Ringed         08/03/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Found          26/03/2017       Pont-rhyd-y-groes, Ceredigion. 152 km SSW, duration 414 days. Dying, found sick,

S552459     adult female        Siskin
Ringed          22/01/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     23/03/2017      Glebe Farm, Salsburgh, North Lanarkshire. 268 km, duration: 60 days.




Friday, 2 June 2017

Starling RAS round-up

Sorry for doing another post about my Starling RAS project but it is virtually all I do in May on the birding front. It has been particularly busy this year with 193 different adult Starlings coming to the feeders in the garden between 21st April and 24th May. This is roughly double the number of adults recorded over the same period in the previous 2 years. This big increase has probably been caused by the dry spring which will have made it a lot more difficult for the adults to find enough soil invertebrates to feed to their young and made them more reliant on garden handouts.

A large proportion (118) had been ringed prior to the start of this year's RAS period with 99 having been ringed during the previous two breeding seasons or earlier. Looking at these known age adults 66% were at least 2 years old and 34% were ringed last year, as juveniles, so were breeding for the first time. This is a good sample size and is probably representative of the age structure of the population in this area. As the majority of adult Starlings are faithful to their breeding sites the age structure of the population is largely a function of the adult survival rate so the survival rate for adults in the population will be at least 66%. The actual survival rate is likely to be slightly higher as two adults, both at least 2 years old, have been recorded since the RAS period ended and a few others could have been missed or moved territory outside of the catchment area for my garden. The actual adult survival rate for my population is probably closer to 70%. This fits well with some other studies and shows the RAS project is producing good data for monitoring the annual survival rates of adults in this area.

It is harder to say how the breeding season has gone for Starlings for various reasons; not least because juveniles become very mobile and disperse over a wide area shortly after a fledging. I have ringed 266 juveniles this May compared to 215 in May last year and that is despite broods fledging around a week later this year. However, there is no indication there will be a doubling of the number of juveniles coming to the garden this year, as seen with adults, so productivity may actually be lower than last year as might be expected in a very dry spring when natural food is much harder to come by. The recent rain hasn't improved soil moisture levels all that much so I would also expect juvenile mortality to be higher than it would otherwise be if the spring rainfall had been nearer to average levels.

P45, just one the 266 juveniles ringed this May
My interest in Starlings doesn't end when my RAS period finishes and I will continue to ring and record sightings of colour-ringed birds over the course of the summer. Yesterday I caught a new adult that had already started to moult and is the earliest moulting adult I have ever recorded. It shouldn't really be a surprise that adults are starting to moult earlier as they moult soon after they have finished breeding and the breeding season is averaging earlier now than it used to. There is a chance it could be a failed or non breeder but even if that is the case it is still relatively early for it to be in moult and it is yet another a tiny piece of evidence that birds are responding to changes in our seasons and climate. If nothing else it is a reminder that it is never too early to start checking for moult these days.

Moulting adult Starling photographed 01/06/2017. Both wings were symmetrical.



Thursday, 18 May 2017

Awash with Starlings

I am surprised I have not had complaints from neighbours about the number of Starlings that are coming to the feeders as they have been making a right din and a fair amount of mess too. The begging and contact calls of many dozens of juveniles in and around the garden can be loud enough to wake all but the heaviest of sleepers and starts not long after sunrise, which is just after 5am at the moment. As for the mess it is not that bad unless your a stickler for a clean car and clean windows. On the plus side one of my neighbours certainly got great value for money out of his window cleaners yesterday.


Just a few of the adult and juvenile Starlings that were feeding in the garden yesterday morning.
To give you an update on the number of birds involved 163 different adults have been recorded in the garden since 21st April with that number being made up of 94 birds that were colour-ringed during or prior to the 2016 breeding season and the remaining 69 being ringed over the winter or during this breeding season. On top of that there are still a few unringed adults coming to the feeders so the total number of adults using the garden could be around the 180 mark. Judging by the re-sightings of colour-ringed birds many are visiting the garden on a regular or frequent basis and a total of 78 different colour-ringed adults were recorded in the garden on 15th May alone and I am sure I didn't manage to record them all, but it does give and indication of how busy the garden is.

Most if not all of the adult Starlings have fledged young now and a typical brood size seems to be at least 4, so given there are 80+ pairs using the garden they could be feeding over 320 juveniles and it certainly sounds like they are at times. The first juveniles were seen in the garden on the on the 11th but I didn't ring any until the 14th when 7 were caught. Since then the number of juveniles has rocketed, as is to be expected with a species that has a highly synchronised breeding season, and the number ringed over the last 5 days now stands at 99. As productivity appears to be as good as it was last year I am likely to ring another 200 juveniles over the next few weeks but only time and a lot of effort will tell.


The bird bath gets well used at this time of year and needs filling several times a day.


This adult seemed to want the bird bath to itself.

Young Starlings soon return to feeding in the trap after being ringed and as I colour-ring them all there is no need to trap them again.


This one was in a berberis right in front of a window and was picking midges off the leaves. This and all the photos above were taken through double glazing so aren't as crisp as I would like them to be.
Starlings will continue to take up most of my time until my RAS period ends on 24th May and then I will have a bit more time to get out and about.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Starling RAS update

The first juvenile Starling of the spring was seen in the garden today. This is a week later than last year and 11 days earlier than in 2015. Juveniles have usually been out of the nest a few days before they appear in the garden but the first date they are seen still gives an indication of variation in timing of the breeding season between years. Quite a few juveniles have fledged judging by the begging calls coming from the trees and roof tops round about so an increasing number will be following their parents into the garden in the coming days.


The first juvenile Starling in the garden was probably having its first bath when I noticed it.






I have ringed or recorded an additional 23 adult Starlings in the last 3 days including 10 that were ringed in previous years. This brings the total number of adults recorded since 21st April to 112 with 75 being birds that were ringed in previous years. I am on track for recording more adults this RAS season than in the previous 2 years and this may in part be due to the dry weather having a limiting effect on the availability of soil invertebrates. Adult Starlings are probably turning to garden handouts, like my fat cakes, more than they would if there had been more rain and soil invertebrates were easier to get at.


Not the sharpest of photos as it was taken through double glazing and not the cleanest either, but it does show just how stunningly colourful adult Starlings are.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Starling RAS half time scores

This year's Starling RAS has just passed the half way mark and 89 different adults have been recorded in the garden in the first 18 days. My RAS period is relatively short and runs from 21st April to 24th May but it still requires a plenty of commitment as I usually clock up at least 100 hours of effort over that period. Now if you don't know what a RAS project is you can find out more here and here but in simple terms it allows adult survival rates to be calculated from retrap or resighting data gathered over a number of years from a ringed population of breeding birds.

As I have been running a RAS project for a few years now the majority of Starlings that breed within foraging range of the garden are already ringed with both a BTO ring and a numbered colour ring so most of the effort involves recording colour-ringed birds when they come to feed. My Starlings are pretty well trained and come to a supply of home made fat cakes in a cage on a bird table and hung in a tree near a window. This means I get to do most of the observations from the comfort of an armchair and with a plentiful supply of coffee at hand. Any unringed birds are easily caught for ringing if they enter the cage to feed as the door on the cage is closed via a string that comes in through a window.


Ringed birds like this one (E11) happily feed in the cage as the door is only closed if an unringed bird enters. E11 was originally ringed as a juvenile last year. The fat cakes I make are an irresistible mix of beef dripping, dried mealworms and finely chopped peanuts.
Of the 89 adults recorded so far 65 were ringed in previous breeding seasons with 47 being at least 2 years old and the remaining 18 being ringed as juveniles last year. If those birds are representative of the local population as a whole it means 72.3% are experienced breeders and just 27.7% are breeding for the first time. There is still plenty of time for other colour-ringed birds to be recorded so it will be interesting to see what these figures look like at the end of the RAS period.


D25 has been resighted numerous times this season and was originally ringed as a breeding adult in 2016.
The primary aim of a RAS project is to establish the survival rates of adults but it has to run for at least 5 years before the data gets processed by the BTO and this is only my 3rd year of intensive study. However, the high proportion of colour-ringed birds recorded so far suggests it will produce some useful results in due course.


They really are a smart looking bird. In addition to providing fat cakes I occasionally throw bread, suet pellets and a few dried mealworms on the lawn.


I happened to photograph this Starling having a quick shake.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Cropper and Gropper

Just when I thought I would have more time to post on the blog my 96 year old mother has a fall while stepping up a kerb and comes an almighty cropper, as she would say. Old ladies tend not to bounce very well, and my mother was no exception, but at least she didn't break anything. She was very lucky to get away with a few grazes and some bruising but needs more help and support while she recovers and gets her mobility back. Suffice to say I have not had much time for ringing or posting on the blog and what spare time has been available has been devoted to recording colour-ringed Starlings in the garden for my RAS project.

Anyway I did manage to fit in a short ringing session at Billinge yesterday morning and while it only produced 3 birds it was good to be out. The highlight was a singing Grasshopper Warbler which was my first of the year. It was caught and ringed and resumed singing almost immediately on release. It may have been a passage migrant that was holding a temporary territory but there is just enough suitable habitat for the species to breed should it stay and attract a mate. It is certainly something I will be keeping an eye on when time allows.


Grasshopper Warbler 02/05/2017

Grasshopper Warbler 02/05/2017
The only other birds caught were 2 Willow Warblers, both females. One was a new bird but the other was a retrap that was originally ringed as a first-year bird in August 2015 and was also retrapped as a breeding adult in 2016. Whilst male Willow Warblers have been back on territory for a while now females are still arriving and the new bird was relatively light and showed no signs of being in breeding condition. The retrap was probably a recent arrival too as it was only in the very early stages of developing a brood patch. The only visible migration of note was a single fly-over Tree Pipit which was much less than expected but welcome nevertheless.

As things stand I am unlikely to be able to get out as much as I would like in the near future but a few recoveries have been coming in and there is also the Starling RAS to report on so I will have something to blog about fairly soon or at least when other commitments allow. As the saying goes, if it is not one thing, it's your mother.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Billinge: 9th to 23rd April 2017

Apologies for the lack of updates recently but other things have just got in the way. I put in quite a bit of effort at Billinge in the two weeks following my last post but the results were mixed to say the least. A couple of ringing sessions were reasonably productive while others saw only a handful of birds caught or drew a blank. The cumulative totals for the period were 59 new birds, 15 retraps and 4 controls, although 2 of the controls are likely to have been ringed at sites nearby.

Lesser Redpolls were the most numerous species with 37 new birds and 1 control being caught. The control Lesser Redpoll had been ringed at Clow Bridge in Lancashire last autumn, 41 km to the NE of Billinge. Willow Warbler was next in terms of numbers with 9 new birds and 6 retraps captured. It has been a good spring for Willow Warblers with 23 (15 new birds and 8 retraps from previous years) caught so far this month. Of these 21 were males and only 2 were females with the first male being caught on the 1st and the first female just over 3 weeks later, on the 23rd.

Other captures and sightings of note were as follows:

14th - 2 Siskins were ringed including a female with a wrinkled brood patch which indicates she had already made an early breeding attempt somewhere. I am not aware of any breeding sites near Billinge which makes this record all the more interesting. Is it a failed breeder on the move or could it be breeding nearby?

17th - A short, rain restricted ringing session didn't produce single bird but a late Fieldfare was seen flying east.

19th - A very quiet ringing session produced just 2 Lesser Redpolls but this was offset by a Woodlark seen flying north first thing followed by a couple of Tree Pipits later in the morning. Woodlark is a county rarity and this record, assuming it is accepted, will only be the 3rd record for the county.

23rd - The first Whitethroat of the spring was ringed and a female Blackcap was controlled. I have received the ringing details for the control Blackcap and it had been ringed at Stanford Reservoir in Northamptonshire, 162 km SE of Billinge, on 24th September last year.

The Whitethroat was carrying a passenger in the form of a tick under its left eye.

The control female Blackcap.
Hopefully I will be back to posting on the blog at least once a week from now on.