Tuesday, 13 March 2018

A few firsts of sorts.

I have been up to Billinge quite a few times over the last couple of months but apart from seeing up to 6 Woodcock during the cold snap they have been largely uneventful affairs. I decided to pay another visit this morning as the forecast seemed favourable and I hoped few migrants would be on the move. Unfortuntely it was quite misty when I got to site but I decided to set 3 nets in the hope it would soon clear.

The mist didn't clear, if anything it became more of a fog, but I still managed to catch a few birds including a few that were the first to be ringed or retrapped at the site this year. I have never managed to catch Redwings at the site in late winter or spring so catching 5 this morning was a first in more ways than one. I occasionally see a few Redwings on passage in spring but they are never very numerous, like they are in autumn, and they are very difficult to catch as a result. A Lesser Redpoll was the first to be ringed this year but not only that it was the first to be seen at the site this year, making it a double first. It effectively marks the start of spring passage for that species although most usually move through in April. A retrap Goldcrest was also the first of its kind to be caught at the site this year and had been ringed on 23rd September last year. It may have wintered somewhere locally but it could be a migrant that had wintered further south and was on its way back north. Migrant Goldcrests usually start to move through the site from mid-March with passage continuing into April.

The Redwings were in reasonable condition although couple were on the light side and had little in the way of any fat. This is only to be expected as many would have struggled to find food during the recent cold weather.

This Song Thrush was caught with 2 of the Redwings and could be a migrant or a bird that was displaced by the cold weather rather than being one from the local breeding population.

The Lesser Redpoll had a mixture of amber and red coloured feathers in its poll as can be clearly seen in the close-up below. The poll is usually one colour or the other so I don't see birds like this very often.

The fog meant there was no vis mig to speak of but a Siskin was heard and a group of at least 7 Meadow Pipits went north just above tree top height and hinted at what might have been had the conditions been clearer. Unfortunately the fog didn't clear and after a couple of hours some unforecast showers arrived and forced and early end to the session.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 13/03/2018 were: Redwing 5; Song Thrush 1; Goldcrest (1); Long-tailed Tit 2 (5); Blue Tit (1), Lesser Redpoll 1.

Friday, 9 March 2018

8th March 2018 and it's snow joke.

A real dump of snow greeted me first thing this morning and it continued to snow for a good few hours. Some snow had been forecast but I had expected it to be wet sleety stuff and soon turn to rain but this was the real deal and covered everything in a good 3 to 4 inches of the white stuff before it finally stopped.

The view from the front door.

The view towards Orrell Water Park.
The snow clearly had an impact on the birds and the garden feeders were busier than they had been during the recent severe cold spell. We didn't get much snow then and many species, especially seed eaters, still had access to natural food sources and didn't seem pushed for food despite the very cold temperatures. This morning was a different story with the thick covering of snow limiting their feeding options and causing more birds to come to the feeders. 

Birds were queuing up to use the feeders and I have quite a few dotted around the garden.

The birds gather in the trees across the road from the garden before dropping down to feed.

Another group on its way in.

You could imagine this Goldfinch thinking 'Where did this lot come from'.

and this one was really shaking its head.

Some Goldfinches were clearly in pairs.

and another pair.
This male Chaffinch is in one of those 'what are you looking at' poses.

Looking at its tail shape this female Chaffinch is almost certainly an adult.

Female Chaffinch. I only included this photo because of the lump of snow on her head. The snow really did come down thick and fast.

It was nice to see a few more Greenfinches at the feeders but they are nowhere near as numerous as they used to be in the 'good old days', when Greenfinches were ten a penny.

Male Siskin

I was able to read part of the ring number on this female Siskin and it is not one that I have ringed. It will be really frustrating if I don't manage to catch her and establish where she has come from.
Three Pied Wagtails fed on the lawn below the feeders including this fine male. This bird has been a regular in the garden for much of this winter.

It won't be long before my Starling RAS starts. This adult male (A57) was originally ringed as a juvenile in June 2012.

Female Starling

Male Blackbird

Female Blackbird

Judging by the size of of its bib this Coal Tit is a male.

Woodpigeons haven't visited the garden much recently as they have been spending a lot of time feeding in a nearby field of oil seed rape.

The fat cakes have certainly helped this Goldcrest survive this winter.
Winter may not have released its grip just yet but give it another week and I should be writing posts about returning Chiffchaffs and other spring migrants. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Siskin surge

In my last post I commented on how the number of Siskins visiting the feeders in the garden had gone down as the cold weather moved in and that there had been a similar dip in the reporting rate on BirdTrack. Numbers remained low for the duration of he cold spell when a maximum of 4 visited the feeders but as soon as the thaw set in they started to go back up and at least 8 were present on Sunday (4th). Numbers have continued to increase and at least 20 were in the garden at one point today and 16 new birds were caught and ringed in a very short ringing session that lasted less than an hour. It will be interesting to see if this increase is also mirrored by the reporting rate in BirdTrack when it is next updated.

While photographing the Siskins I couldn't resist taking some photos of a Goldcrest and Wren that frequently feed on the fat cakes. They are not brilliant photos but they were the best I could get in the heavily overcast conditions and through double glazing.

Hopefully Siskin numbers will continue to increase but you never know and today could have been the peak. I will just have to wait and see but whichever way Siskin numbers go I will report it on the blog.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Not much to report from the cold weather.

The recent cold weather didn't result in any significant increase in birds visiting my garden and perhaps that is because we didn't get much snow in this area. Siskin, Long-tailed Tit and Starling actually visited less frequently and in smaller numbers than they had before the onset of the cold weather, which was a bit of a surprise. The smaller numbers of Siskin and Long-tailed Tit was mirrored by a dip in the BirdTrack reporting rate so it wasn't just a local phenomena as far as those species were concerned. On the other hand, the reporting rate for Starling increased on BirdTrack so my garden bucked the trend in that case. Garden birds just didn't seem to be pushed for food in this neck of the woods and the only unusual visitor I had in the garden was a Black-headed Gull that dropped in and took some bread from the lawn. It was a one legged individual and would have found feeding more difficult at the best of times so the fact that it risked landing in a small enclosed garden, crossed by telephone lines, during a severe cold spell is not as surprising as it otherwise might have been.

I have seen some effects of the cold weather when out an about including a few Woodcock in unexpected places, a sizeable flock of Redwing foraging in a woodland and a few displaced Meadow Pipits, but that is about it for me. Several checks of the Black-headed Gulls on Orrell Water Park have only produced one ringed bird that I have not encountered before and that bird was ringed as an adult near Hempsted in Gloucestershire on 13th  January 2007. The Scottish and 2 German ringed Black-headed Gulls have been seen from time to time and all 4 ringed Black-headed Gulls were photographed yesterday along with a ringed Coot that was originally ringed in south Wales. 

EL71428 first photographed on 28/02/2018 and again yesterday.

It rarely kept still so I had to take quite a few photographs before I managed to get the full ring number - EL71428

Scottish ringed Black-headed Gull EZ33149 has been a regular this winter.

German ringed Black-headed Gull DEH IA141745 almost has a full brown hood now.

 German ringed Black-headed Gull DEW 5437612 has barely started to get its brown hood.

Coot GR03863 was originally ringed at Comeston Lakes, near Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan on 23/12/2010 and has been recorded at Orrell Water Park on numerous occasions since. 

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Sinensis Cormorant 27/02/2018

There was a good covering of snow first thing this morning so I decided to go out and enjoy it by giving the dogs an early walk. I took my usual route through Orrell Water Park and was surprised to find the lakes largely free of ice, especially as the forecast had predicted the overnight temperature to fall well below freezing. Anyway the local waterfowl weren't complaining and they had been joined by a couple of Cormorants, one of which was a cracking example of the subspecies sinensis.

While I have seen plenty of sinensis at other sites over the years this is the first one I have knowingly encountered at Orrell Water Park, so it was a patch tick of sorts. The lakes at the park are quite small and cormorants don't drop in that often or stay for very long and when they do it is usually only single birds, so seeing two together and having the opportunity to have a good look at them is quite unusual. I didn't have my camera with me while I was out with the dogs but luckily they stayed around long enough for me to get a few record shots afterwards.

A nice comparison shot of a carbo left and the sinensis right.

While there is a striking difference in extent of the white head plumes of these two birds it is the angle of the gular patch that is a more reliable feature for separating sinensis from carbo. The angle ranges between 38° and 72° in carbo and between 66° and 111° in sinensis (Newson et al). The angle on the white headed bird is clearly more than 90° and confirms it as a sinensis. It is also smaller than the carbo, having a noticeably smaller head and bill and more slender neck, which is typical of sinensis.

It is a smart looking bird.

It looks like it will get cold enough to freeze the lakes over in the coming days and with the whole of the country and much of Europe in the grip of this cold spell it could be an interesting few days. I will certainly be doing my bit to monitor its effects on the birds and other wildlife around here.

Newson, S., Hughes, B., Russell, I., Ekins, G. and Sellers, R. (2004) Sub-specific differentiation and distribution of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo in Europe. Ardea 92, 3–9

Friday, 23 February 2018

Curly claws, pigeon porn and other garden goings on.

I was photographing birds in the garden yesterday afternoon when I noticed a Goldfinch that was sat belly down on a branch. It had its back to me but its abnormal posture clearly indicated that something was wrong. At first I thought it was a sickly individual, perhaps suffering from trichomonosis, but then I realised it had abnormally long claws and couldn't grip the branch normally.

I eventually managed to get some photos of it face on and apart from its feet it appears to be in good condition.

I have occasionally come across birds with overgrown bills but it is more unusual to see birds with hugely overgrown claws. It obviously had some form of skin condition affecting its feet, possibly knemidocoptic mange, and this has presumably led to the overgrowth of the claws. It was able to use the feeders that have perches but the state of its feet must impede it when more acrobatic feeding methods are required. Diseases that affect birds feet are becoming an increasing health issue for birds that are attracted to garden and other feeding stations with Chaffinches being the most affected species.

As for the pigeon porn, it was, as you may have guessed, just a pair of Woodpigeons mating. It is quite early for them to be breeding but then a pair of Woodpigeons usually manages to rear an early brood near the garden. I have seen recently fledged young in early to mid April in previous years and allowing for a nestling period of about 33 days and and incubation period of 17 days that gives a first egg date in mid to late February, so this pair is continuing that early breeding trend.

Mating Woodpigeons. Spring was certainly in the air for this pair.
The last week has seen a increase in the number of Siskins visiting the garden feeders, not a big increase but a noticeable one nevertheless. I still haven't seen more than 10 at the feeders at any one time but the varying proportions of males and females along with ringed and unringed birds shows there is quite a bit of turnover during the course of a day. In addition, recent ringing activity has produced 16 new birds and photography has shown that some of the savvy returning ringed birds are still present and avoiding recapture. However, the most obvious sign of the higher numbers has been the increase in the volume of chatter coming from the birds when they sit in the tops of the trees between bouts of feeding.

Almost two thirds of the Siskins caught this winter have been adults which suggests they didn't have a particularly good breeding season last year.

Although I wasn't able to get the full ring number this bird is almost certainly one that was ringed in the garden last winter or early spring.
Long-tailed Tits are still regular visitors but the flocks have largely split into pairs now. With some very cold temperatures forecast for the next week it will be interesting to see if any of the flocks reform temporarily or if they remain in pairs.

I managed to read just enough of this bird's ring number to be able to say that this one was ringed during the winter of 2014/15.
Robins don't feature in the blog very often but an unringed bird appeared to be a newcomer to the garden and was doing its best to assert its place in the pecking order. There was a lot more in the way of chasing than I have seen of late and it seemed to have claimed top slot by the end of yesterday. Its reign may only be temporary though as there is likely to be a lot more competition and far more aggression between the local Robins as we move into the spring.

Cock Robin 22/02/17.
Goldcrests have been regulars at the feeders this winter and, even though there is usually only one bird in attendance, ringing has shown that four birds have acquired the habit of feeding on the fat cakes and fragments of sunflower hearts.

Lastly, a Wren has also taken to feeding on the fat cakes and is a frequent visitor to the fat cake in the bird table trap. It is free to come and go as often as it likes as the trap has a manually operated door that is left open and is only used very selectively.

For the record all of the photos were taken through double glazing which does have an effect on image quality, well that is my excuse. I have come to the conclusion that it is better to make that compromise on image quality rather than risk missing out on photo opportunities and adding to global warming by leaving the windows wide open for hours at a time. That's all for now and I hope you found something of interest.