Saturday, 17 December 2016

From Red to Wax, wing that is.

I went up to Billinge this morning with a view to catching a few more Redwings. It was a little bit misty in places on the drive up but nice and clear when I got to site. I quickly set 3 nets just before first light and heard the odd Redwing going over in the darkness while doing so. Fog started to roll in as the sky started to brighten to the east but, luckily, it didn't get too dense and the sky directly above the site remained visible to some degree for most of the time I was there. There was a nice flurry of activity for the first hour or so during which 11 Redwings and 2 Fieldfare were caught. Not big numbers but very good for the site this late in the year and considering the conditions.

Both Fieldfare were first year birds with one being a male (image above) and the other a female. They showed some of the plumage differences between the sexes really well as can be in the collage below.

The male on the left has broader dark centres to the crown feathers and much darker centres to the feathers of the mantle. The differences aren't always as obvious as they are in these two birds. There is also a difference in the colour of the tail feathers with males having black or blackish tail feathers whereas in females they are more of a dark brown to blackish-brown colour.

I know I have shown loads of photos of Redwings but there is always room for one more.
Things went very quiet after the initial flurry of activity so I took the opportunity to have a quick walk around the site before the next net round was due. There was very little to be seen or heard but on the way back I thought I could hear Waxwings calling and as I got nearer 12 Waxwings flew from the direction of the nets and over my head. On checking the nets only 2 birds had been caught with one being a Redwing but the other was a Waxwing, the first I have caught this winter.

1CY female Waxwing. The bird was fitted with a coded colour-ring in addition to the usual BTO ring which will increase the chance of finding out about its movements.
Only one ringed but hopefully there will be more as the winter progresses.
There are no berries on any of the trees at the site other than those I sometimes place (speculatively) in one the bushes along one of the net rides when I have nets up. I hadn't put many berries out this morning as the supplies in my freezer have nearly run out but it certainly proved to be worthwhile, this time at least. Trying to catch Waxwings this way is a bit of long shot, even with the added assistance of an audio lure, but as Billinge is such a good site for migrants it was always going to be worth giving it a try, especially in a good Waxwing winter like this one. The fog closed in shortly after the Waxwing was caught so I decided to pack up having ringed 12 Redwings, 2 Fieldfare and 1 Waxwing.

With good numbers of Waxwings in the country and a few starting to be seen locally I am often asked if I have started to put apples out in the garden or if I have had any Waxwings back. The truth is I have been putting a few apples out in the garden since early October as I do every year as part of my routine winter feeding and they are not just there in the hope of attracting Waxwings. If I am lucky enough to get any Waxwings in the garden again this winter I wouldn't expect it to happen before February or March, when berries usually start to get in short supply.

When I got home today one of the first birds I saw in the garden was a male Blackcap feeding on one of the apples and that is one of the species I always put them out for in winter. This particular Blackcap has been visiting the apples and fat feeders for the last three days and is easily recognised as it is re-growing most of its tail. The garden was really buzzing with birds with Brambling being the most unusual visitor. 

This Blackcap is the second I have seen in the garden this winter with the first being a female that was only seen on one day.

Bramblings are usually a garden rarity but a female I ringed nearly a month ago has been coming to the feeders regularly and this new female appeared today.

Goldfinches are by far the commonest bird with up to 60 coming to the feeders on any one day and its anyone's guess what the turnover of birds is during the course of a day.

I don't usually get many Starlings in the first half of the winter but good numbers have been coming to the fat cakes over the last 6 weeks or so.

All in all a really good day with a nice selection of species.

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