Thursday, 1 January 2015

Blackcap run around

I received a call from local birder, Andy Makin, earlier in the week regarding a female Blackcap that was feeding in his garden. It had been there a few days but he had only just noticed that it was ringed. He had managed to get a few photos which allowed him to read some of the inscription on the ring and he had phoned me to see if I could help him trace it. He read out a few numbers and the word 'museum' which didn't mean a lot on their own but when he said the word on the middle line was 'Paris' it took it to a whole new level of interest.

I was able to tell him that there should be 7 numbers on the ring and no letters in the combination but he still wasn't sure if he had the full number. As there are very few records of French ringed Blackcaps being found in the UK in winter I arranged to go and try and catch it to confirm the ring number. There is little doubt that the increase in wintering Blackcaps in the UK is due to milder winters and a wider range of foods being provided in gardens which has led to the improved survival of wintering birds. However there is some debate as to why this trait evolved in Blackcaps especially now that the recoveries of wintering birds are showing they originate from a fairly limited area of central Europe. More recoveries can only help to unravel this and one paper even commented on the lack of recoveries involving northwest France. If you wish to read some academic papers on the subject some interesting reading can be found in Ringing & Migration here,   The RING here  and  Ornis Fennica here.

So on the penultimate day of 2014 I went Andy's well fed garden and after a quick recce put up one net. The Blackcap had been seen feeding that morning and given the perfect weather conditions and good layout of the garden a quick capture seemed on the cards. The ringed Blackcap quickly returned to feed but came and went to a feeder on the wrong side of the net rather than its usual feeder. The net was repositioned to cover the bird's approach to this feeder but it went under, over or around unlike 4 Blue Tits, 2 Coal Tits, 3 Dunnocks, a Wren, 4 Blackbirds and a Collared Dove. Adjustments to feeders and the addition of a second small net didn't help either and in the end I just had to admit defeat.

Andy's Garden with net set up in the first location.
While I was failing to catch the Blackcap Andy showed me the photographs he had taken and I was able to confirm that he had captured most of the inscription with the only slight doubt being over the first number. As this first number is either a 1 or a 7 (part of it can be seen and 7 looks the more likely) it narrows the ring number down to only two possible combinations at most. It is very unlikely that both these combinations have been used on Blackcaps and females at that and even if they had the combination starting with 1 may have been used so long ago that it rules that possibility out as the bird was clearly a first year (judging by his images showing the tail). I was confident that Andy had captured enough of the inscription to establish the ringing details for this individual and I will be submitting the details via the BTO, with appropriate notes, on Andy's behalf. I will post details of the ringing location when we get them back in due course.

I had commented to Andy that I hadn't seen any Blackcaps in my garden so far this winter so I was more than a little surprised to see one in the garden this morning. I actually did a bit of a double take but a male Blackcap was one of the first birds I saw in 2015, if through rather bleary eyes. It was feeding on an apple only a few feet from the window as I supped my first cup off coffee of the year. If that didn't rub just a little bit of Blackcap salt in my failure to catch wounds the appearance of a female Blackcap a few minutes later certainly did. The weather was rather grim, heavily overcast and breezy with occasional rain so putting a net up was out of the question but If I had been able to they would have probably evaded me given my recent form. ):

One thing that was really interesting was seeing the male and female face up to each other and then have a bit of a mid-air battle. There are several apple halves around the garden and numerous fat cakes but there was clearly some territorial or food dominating behaviour being displayed. In many respects it was much like that seen in the garden Robins. 

Blackcap, almost the first bird I saw in my garden in 2015 and certainly the first my eyes actually focused on. You are taking the **** was my first thought. It is a rather grainy image because of the poor light even though it was taken later in the morning when the conditions had improved, slightly.
So my birding New Year started much as the last one ended with Blackcaps - frustratingly so near yet so far.

Now in a complete departure from this tale the following You Tube video is a recently rediscovered music track. I had tried to put a top 10 together recently but that quickly became a top 15 and then I gave up because I knew I had missed out loads of good tunes. If you were to ask me what my favourite bird is or top 10 birds are I would have a similar problem so there is a slight birding connection in that respect. 

Happy New Year

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