Friday, 1 January 2016

0 to 40 in around 4 hours,

The arrival of the New Year means the ringing totals start again at zero so I was pleased to be able to get out to Crawford this morning for my first ringing session of 2016. I have been feeding the site for about 3 weeks now but the dreadful weather of late has limited opportunities to do any ringing there or anywhere else for that matter. The forecast on the run up to this morning had been for a frosty start with only a light south easterly breeze but it changed and the breeze was light to moderate at first and increased as the morning went on. The stronger breeze caused the nets to billow and ripple more than I would have liked but this was partially offset by full cloud cover which developed just as it came light. The cold temperature coupled with stronger breeze also made it feel very raw especially when compared with the comparatively balmy conditions of December; I was certainly left feeling a layer of clothing short.

I had 3 nets set up just after 8:00am, a 14 m and 18 m in a line by the eastern hedge and a 6 m set in the side of a large willow, with a new Blackbird being caught before I had finished setting up. This was quickly followed by a new Fieldfare, a new Chaffinch, 2 new Goldfinches and 2 retrap Robins in the first full round. The number of finches present increased with the light levels until there was a mixed flock of about 60 visiting the feeders; Goldfinches being the dominant species by far.

Adult female Fieldfare. 
Greenfinches were poorly represented (maximum of 12) and their decline, largely due to trichomonosis, doesn't seem to have bottomed out yet. This begs the question how low will they go as it wasn't that many years ago when they were the dominant species at nearly every feeding station and in every garden that provided peanuts and or sunflower seeds in some form. During the winter of 1996-97 I ringed 711 Greenfinches at a feeding station not that far from Crawford and rarely used more than one 18m net, such was their abundance at that time. The UK population of Greenfinches has declined by millions and while it may not have been the largest decline in percentage terms it probably has been one of the largest in terms of overall numbers. Yesterday's common or even 'pest' species can easily become tomorrow's Dodo or Passenger Pigeon and we should never loose sight of that.

Enough of the depressing stuff and it was a fairly productive morning despite the paucity of Greenfinches. By the time I packed up, late morning, I had caught 40 new birds and only six retraps with most being caught in the 6 m net. Goldfinches easily took top slot with a very respectable 30 new birds and 3 retraps (originally ringed 15/06/14, 27/04/15 & 18/12/15) making up the bulk of the totals. Had it been calmer I would have probably caught even more but it doesn't seem to take much of a breeze to make the nets by the eastern hedge more obvious and easy for the birds to avoid. Ringing totals for the morning (retraps in brackets) were: Blackbird 2; Fieldfare 1; Robin (2); Blue Tit 1 (1); Chaffinch 3; Greenfinch 3; Goldfinch 30 (3). Total 40 new birds and 6 retraps.

Male Goldfinch
(I doubt anyone would disagree with the sex of this bird)
Female Goldfinch
(oh yes it is as we are in pantomime season)
Male Goldfinch
(I doubt anyone would disagree with the sex of this bird either)
Male Goldfinch
(A mix of red, orange and paler feathers but a male nevertheless)
Male Goldfinch
(and oh yes it is even though the extent of the red is similar to the female 3 images above)
Female Goldfinch
This first winter female had a wing length of just over 80 mm (not quite 80.5) so beware if you sex some of your Goldfinches on size or use size to sway you. 
All of the Goldfinches were aged quite easily but sexing was a different matter and a few needed a bit more consideration than others. I was unsure of the sex of four birds although I suspect all of these were females and I provisionally sexed them as such. The most interesting Goldfinch was a very obvious female with a wing length of just over 80 mm, as it emphasised that size has very limited use when sexing this species (I checked the wing length more than once if you are wondering). I used to be confident that birds with a wing length of 80 mm or more were male and while that may be correct most of the time it is not 100% accurate as this bird shows.

The most numerous species seen during the morning was Pink-footed Goose with at least 800 feeding in and moving between the fields adjacent to the ringing site. The largest flock gathered in a harvested potato field just across the road from the ringing site. Geese that feed in this area seem to be fairly accustomed to people using the footpaths on the adjacent roads and well walked public footpaths and will tolerate a fairly close approach. A large flight of geese is a birding spectacle that is hard to beat and just seeing these geese would have been a great start to the New Year on its own.

Happy New Year

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