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.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

One, two, Tree Pipits

Whilst today's forecast of wall to wall sunshine and a light southerly breeze wasn't going to be ideal for mist-netting it did bring the prospect of a fresh wave of early spring migrants. I went up to Billinge at first light and set three nets and was then joined by Mark McD who had asked to see some ringing. Mark has lived in America for many years but was brought up in Billinge and is over visiting family. He only started birding seriously after moving to the States so has quite a few gaps in his British List and he had seen I was reporting some of the species he wanted to connect with on the blog.

As it turned out he wasn't disappointed as 6 Lesser Redpolls, a lifer for Mark, were caught on the first net round and included 2 cracking adult males. There didn't appear to be a great deal moving overhead apart from a few Redpolls but the faint calls of stratospheric Siskins suggested there was more going on than was apparent. That was confirmed when a Tree Pipit turned up in one of the nets, another lifer for Mark. and the first one I have ever caught at the site in spring. I see and catch a good number of Tree Pipits in the autumn, predominately first year birds, but they are much less numerous and frequent in spring, as is to be expected.


Tree Pipit, a lifer for Mark, my first of the spring and the first ringed at the site in spring.
Mark had to go at 09:30 but we came across a Blackcap in full song at the SE corner of the site as he was leaving. This was the first singing Blackcap of the spring for both of us and almost certainly fresh in. Signs of migration didn't end there as another Tree Pipit was caught in the next net round. Just seeing a Tree Pipit this early would have been reward in itself but catching two was tremendous, like the weather. 


Tree Pipit number 2


Those tell tale pink legs and short hind claw.

This bird may have just arrived and still has some way to go but it could be on its way back to Africa in as little as four months time.
I wasn't going to go out again in the morning as I was going to overindulge tonight but I am hitting the Earl Grey instead and will be out again at dawn.

Ringing totals for 08/04/17 were: Great Tit 1; Willow Warbler 2; Tree Pipit 2; Lesser Redpoll 10. 15 new birds and no retraps.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Another Mealy

I made the effort to get up to Billinge at first light this morning and set 3 nets but my optimism didn't look like it was going to be rewarded with only 7 birds being caught in the first couple of hours. I had hoped some Redpolls would be on the move but there was nothing moving overhead and not a great deal moving through the bushes either. Things hadn't improved much by 09:30 so I started to think about packing up but then 3 Redpolls went north and rekindled my optimism. Better still the next check of the nets produced a nice Mealy Redpoll so any thought of packing up was put firmly on hold.


Mealy Redpoll 06/04/17


Mealy Redpoll 06/04/17


Mealy Redpoll 06/04/17
The remainder of the morning saw further improvement with a little trickle of Redpolls heading north and a better catching rate. While I didn't catch any more Mealies a total of 7 Lesser Redpolls were caught including one that had been ringed elsewhere. With a bit of luck I should get confirmation of where this bird was ringed back from the BTO tomorrow, although I do have good reason to believe it was originally ringed in East Sussex.


The control Lesser Redpoll was a cracking male. Details of where it was ringed will be posted in due course.
Chiffchaff numbers had increased since my last visit and all 5 that were caught were retraps from previous years (1 from 2015 and 4 from 2016). One of them had a cracking pollen horn. This bird must have spent a lot of time with its face in flowers, feeding on insects and probably drinking nectar, whilst fattening up for the return journey.


JTA492 Chiffchaff had the best pollen horn I have seen so far this spring


JTA492 Chiffchaff
The final tally of 18 new birds and 19 retraps was well worth the effort and made up for the slow start. Ringing totals (retraps or controls in brackets) were: Woodpigeon 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1 (3); Coal Tit (1); Long-tailed Tit (3); Chiffchaff (5); Willow Warbler 2 (1); Robin (2); Chaffinch 2 (2); Lesser Redpoll 6 (1); Mealy Redpoll 1; Goldfinch 3; Yellowhammer (1).

07/04/16 update

The recovery report for the control Lesser Redpoll arrived today as predicted and it was originally ringed as a first-year at Icklesham in East Sussex in October 2011. This makes it just under 6 years old which is a good age for a Lesser Redpoll. The current longevity record in the BTO online report for 2015 is not much older at just over 6 years between time of ringing and recovery and that bird would have been around six and a half when recaptured. Full details and a recovery map will be posted in due course.

Monday, 3 April 2017

1st to 3rd April highlights

1st April
A day of showers but a brief ringing session at Billinge during a dry interlude produced my first Willow Warbler of the year, a new Blackbird and a retrap Great Tit. At least 2 other Willow Warblers were recorded at the site along with a singing Blackcap (per CAD). On returning home I was greeted by another Willow Warbler that was singing in the gardens behind the house.

Willow Warbler 01/04/2017

2nd April
Totals for a longer ringing session at Billinge (using just 2 nets) were: 1 Common (Mealy) Redpoll, 3 Lesser Redpolls, a retrap Chiffchaff (originally ringed as a juvenile 24/07/16) and a retrap Willow Warbler (originally ringed as a first-year 23/07/16). There was very little in the way of visible migration but 3 Crossbills and a Sand Martin went north. A Wheatear was also seen leaving the site and heading off north.

Not the frostiest Mealy Redpoll but a Mealy nevertheless.

Mealy Redpoll (left) and Lesser Redpoll (right).
Back home a Red-green Carpet, 2 Caloptilia stigmatella and a Caloptilia elongella were the pick of the moth catch.

Red-green Carpet

Caloptilia stigmatella. Micros are not my forte but some are fairly easy to identify.

Caloptilia elongella. This species can be difficult to separate from Caloptilia betulicola but I am fairly confident this one is elongella.
3rd April
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for another session at Billinge were: Willow Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1 (1); Blackcap 1; Lesser Redpoll 2. The retrap Chiffchaff was originally ringed as a first-year on 20/09/16. There was virtually no movement overhead despite the seemingly perfect conditions and just 1 Siskin and 2 Meadow Pipits were recorded going north during 4 hours of observation.

Female Blackcap. The feathers around the base of the bill were matted with pollen residue, a sure sign of a recently arrived migrant. 
Chiffchaff

The new Chiffchaff had relatively pale legs rather than the text book dark brown or blackish legs.

Back home the moth trap held a surprise in the form of a Water Carpet; a new species for the garden. Having run a moth trap in the garden for many years the catching of a new species has become an increasingly rare and sometimes less than annual event.

Water Carpet: a first for the garden!!!

All in all an interesting few days and a good start to the month.

Unusual Hebrew Character

The Hebrew Character (a moth for those that don't know) is named after the black, roughly saddle shaped mark in the middle of its forewing. There is some variation in this marking and there may also be some variation in the general ground colour of the forewing but the Hebrew Characters I usually catch in the garden are what you might describe as much of a muchness.

When I checked the moth trap on the morning of 31st March there was a reasonable catch that included a Red-green Carpet, a Small Quaker, an Early Grey, 8 Common Quaker, a handful of Clouded Drab and a similar number of Hebrew Character. When I am recording the contents the trap the common species like Hebrew Character don't usually get much of a second look but on this occasion one of them really stood out as looking very different.


Unusual looking Hebrew Character.

All the same but different. I hate to think of how many Hebrew Characters I have seen over the years (probably in the low thousands by now) but the unusual looking specimen in the middle was a first for me.
When faced with what appears to be an unusual variant in moths there is sometimes the possibility that it isn't a variant and it turns out to be a different species or if it is a variant that it is a distinct, named subspecies or named form. That isn't the case with this unusual individual and it appears to be a very rare form or aberration that hasn't been named.

There is an image of a similar looking individual on the UK Moths website (link here) which is simply described as an 'unusual form' but that is the only reference to anything similar I can find.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Lesser Redpoll recoveries

A couple of recovery reports for Lesser Redpolls came through today. The first shown is particularly interesting as it involved a bird that was ringed as a juvenile in Pembrokeshire back in August 2013 so is likely to have hatched in that part of the world. It was recaptured by a ringer in East Sussex in October 2013 and not heard of again until it turned up in a net at Billinge last Saturday.




Y415223                     Lesser Redpoll
Ringed as a juvenile   10/08/2013  Ty Rhyg, Rosebush, Pembrokeshire.
Caught by ringer         29/10/2013  Litlington, East Sussex.      368 km ESE
Caught by ringer         25/03/2017  Billinge Hill, Merseyside.     227 km NE (from Ty Rhyg)




The second recovery involved a bird ringed at Billinge during the big irruption of autumn 2015, so is likely to have originated from further north in England or Scotland, and was caught by a ringer in Suffolk earlier this month.

Z854359                      Lesser Redpoll
Ringed as a 1Y male   23/09/2015  Billinge Hill, Merseyside.
Caught by ringer          14/03/2017  Culford School, Suffolk.     264 km ESE,



A recovery report for a Siskin and a Robin were in the same batch but they, along with a couple of controls that are in the pipeline, will be the subject of another post.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Mirror mirror on the car: part 3

The Dunnock was full of the joys of spring again this morning and doing his best to impress. I couldn't see if he was showing off to a female as he was on the far side of the car, near the hedge, and only visiting the wing mirror on that side of the car. I can only presume a female was skulking around there, somewhere.

As he was putting on a regular performance at the same wing mirror I decided to try and get some video. He was sat by the window of the drivers door when I went to the car and only flew off when I opened the passenger door to set up the camera. It only took a couple of minutes to get set up and the Dunnock returned to the wing mirror and started performing almost as soon as I went back in the house. I went out and repositioned the camera a couple of times and the bird returned almost immediately each time. Three of the best clips have been edited together and can be seen in the video below. Unfortunately the camera didn't pick up any sound through the closed window.


The car wing mirrors seem to be a big part of his courtship behaviour now so I am not going to cover them or close them in just yet but I will keep an eye on the situation. It will be interesting to see if his behaviour continues as we get further into the breeding season and if it brings him any success with the ladies.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Mirror mirror on the car: part 2

The Dunnock was at it again this morning but it soon became apparent it wasn't a simple case of a bird attacking its own reflection in a mirror, far from it. Dunnocks have complex mating systems and may be monogamous (pairs), or engage in polyandry (two or three males with one female), polygyny (one male with two females), polygyandry (two or three males sharing two three or four females). The behaviour of this particular bird appears to add another variation to those mating systems.



When I saw it by one of the car wing mirrors again this morning it would have been easy to assume that it was simply treating its own reflection as an intruder, which is what I had thought the other day. The difference today was that I noticed there was another bird nearby, presumably a female. I watched for a while, taking photos as I did so, and realised it was seeking out and displaying to its reflection but only on the side of the car that could be seen by the female.


A grotty photo but then it was another miserable wet morning and it was taken through double glazing and two windows of a car. The other Dunnock was in the hedge which can be seen in the background.
As the presumed female Dunnock moved round the car so did the displaying male, seeking out its reflection as it did so. The wing flicking the bird engaged in was akin to that of displaying male trying to drive out an intruder but also that of a male in one of the complex mating systems involving more than one male. It didn't just use the mirrors and displayed to other reflective surfaces too.







Now this may seem far fetched but this bird seemed to be trying to impress the female by displaying to its own reflection in the absence of another male or males.

King of the car.







To try and confirm what was going on I covered the wing mirror on the far side of the car.



When the female Dunnock went to the far side of the car the male Dunnock went to the far mirror even though it was covered. This suggests its behaviour wasn't a simple reaction to the accidental encounter of its reflection. This bird seemed to have learned where it could encounter its reflection in relation to the position of the female and went there in order to impress the female.


What no mirror.
The fact that the male Dunnock went and sat in front of the covered mirror when the female was on that side of the car shows it was actively seeking out its own reflection and where, in the male Dunnock's mind, it would find a potential intruder/second male (in the form of its reflection) to react to and so impress the female. Now the thought of that is really interesting. This male Dunnock is effectively using the reflective surfaces of the car to display against in order to impress a female. Perhaps some male Dunnocks put on a better display if they perceive they are in a complex mating system rather than a simple monogomous relationship. How the female perceived this is anybody's guess, especially as she wouldn't have been able to see the reflections.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Mirror mirror on the car....

.....who's the most dominant Dunnock by far. It was a wet and miserable for much of this morning but that didn't put a damper on the antics of one of the garden Dunnocks. I glanced out of the kitchen window while making a brew and noticed one was attacking its reflection in the car wing mirror. I ran for the camera but when I got back to the window it wasn't there and I thought that was that but, luckily, it came back after a few minutes and I managed to get a few shots.


Looking out for trouble prior to an attack.












The garden Dunnocks have been frisky for a while now and can often be seen going around in twos and threes and displaying by waving their wings at each other or chasing each other around but I have never seen one attacking its reflection before. Given the angle of the wing mirrors it is hard to understand how it got into a position to see its reflection in the first place and what made it more interesting was that it also went round to the other side of the car and attacked its reflection in the other wing mirror too. It only stopped this behaviour when another Dunnock appeared and it chased after that bird. I will keep a look out from time to time over the next few days to see if it engages in this behaviour again and if it does I will have to get into the habit of closing in the wing mirrors.