Saturday, 19 August 2017

Billinge 13th & 16th August: mixed weather and mixed results.

Decent weather has been at a premium this August so it has been a case of trying to get out ringing whenever conditions and circumstances allow. The 13th provided one of those opportunities and produced a catch of 50 new birds with Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs making up half the total. Willow Warblers topped the totals with 18 ringed, their highest total of the month, but the juvenile:adult ratio remained quite low at 2.6:1 (13 juveniles to 5 adults). At the other end of the scale only 1 Tree Pipit was ringed which was very disappointing as we are approaching peak passage for that species and only 4 were seen all morning, on the other hand the capture of a Spotted Flycatcher was a very nice surprise as they are a very scarce passage migrant these days and it's even rarer for one to find its way into a net.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher 13/08/17 - the only record of the autumn so far.
Ringing totals for 13/08/17 were: Goldcrest 2; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 1; Chiffchaff 7; Willow Warbler 18; Blackcap 3; Whitethroat 1; Blackbird 1; Spotted Flycatcher 1; Robin 1; Tree Pipit 1; Chaffinch 3; Bullfinch 3; Lesser Redpoll 1.

The 16th turned out to be a fairly quiet day with many birds having departed since my previous visit and precious little coming through to replace them. Only 25 birds were ringed which is below the average for mid-August. There was a bit of movement overhead with a party of 5 Snipe flying high to the north (the first record of the autumn) and a total of 9 Tree Pipits flying south (the second highest total recorded this autumn) being the best of what little there was. Warblers were in short supply and only 5 Willow Warblers were ringed which suggests they have passed their peak. The proportion of juvenile Willow Warblers continues to be unusually low with just 3 of the 5 ringed being youngsters. Two of the Chiffchaffs ringed were interesting in that they had completed their post juvenile moult and this should signal an increase in the numbers migrating through the site from now on.

Chiffchaffs can start migrating in earnest once they have completed their pj moult.
Ringing totals for 16/08/17 were: Goldcrest 2; Blue Tit 2; Chiffchaff 5; Willow Warbler 5; Blackcap 2; Whitethroat 2; Tree Pipit 4; Chaffinch 2; Linnet 1.

Tree Pipit - one of four ringed on the 16th.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Billinge 10th August 2017 - more on Willow Warblers

Well, buy me a flat cap and call me Victor because I am bringing up the subject of Willow Warblers and age ratios again. Another ringing session at Billinge on the 10th resulted in a catch of 42 birds that included 11 Willow Warblers, 7 of which were adults. I didn't know what to expect given the complete absence of juvenile Willow Warblers in the previous day's catch but I didn't think adults would outnumber juveniles by almost 2:1. It increasingly looks like Willow Warblers have had a very poor breeding season and I can't see the situation improving unless there have been a lot of successful late broods and those juveniles have yet to come through.

Eye colour can be used to help age Willow Warblers in autumn. Adults have a brown eye approaching chestnut colour like the bird on the right whilst the eye colour of juveniles is much duller and greyer like the bird on the left. I have not used this feature prior to this autumn but it appears to be very reliable from what I have seen so far and is well worth using in conjunction with the usual plumage features. It wasn't easy to photograph but is fairly easy to see in the hand with the naked eye, although some may find use of a low magnification hand lens helpful.
Willow Warblers are generally single brooded and although they are amongst the first of the summer visitors to arrive they have a pretty tight schedule as autumn migration peaks towards the middle of August and the adults also have to fit in a complete moult. The schedule is so tight adult Willow Warblers may start to moult before they have completed breeding, they also moult quite quickly and they often start migrating before the moult is complete. That tight schedule limits the opportunity for late broods (be they second broods or repeat nesting attempts following earlier failures) which means the chances of there being a surge in juvenile numbers from them is really quite low.

While there is evidence that climate change is causing some summer visitors to arrive a little earlier and depart a bit later than they used to it doesn't mean the duration of stay of individuals is getting significantly longer nor does it mean the timing of migration has changed significantly for the bulk of the population. Willow Warblers that arrive a little earlier may simply be amongst the first to leave and those that stay later are more likely to be juveniles and they may also be compromising their survival chances by a later departure. It certainly doesn't look like climate change is extending the breeding season for Willow Warblers or likely to lead to an increased occurence of second or late broods.

Whilst climate change may be extending the spring and autumn periods the major impact on Willow Warbler productivity is caused by the weather during the breeding season, and the levels of rainfall in particular. It is not just the amount of rainfall that matters but also its intensity that can make all the difference when it comes to breeding outcomes and more intense rain is one of the consequences of a warming climate. Met Office statistics show June 2017 has been amongst the wettest on record, with the UK as a whole having 50% more rainfall than average. Whilst North Merseyside wasn't one of the worst affected areas in terms of increased rainfall it did experience some intense downpours that could have led to increased nest failures and increased mortality of recently fledged young. Parts of northern England and southern Scotland have received more than twice the normal June rainfall and that could have had an even bigger impact on productivity in those regions. 

Juvenile Willow Warbler 10/08/17.
This recently fledged juvenile had only just started its post-juvenile moult and must have come from a late nesting attempt. Their fluffy juvenile plumage probably doesn't provide much protection from prolonged or intense periods of rain.
So it seems to have been a wash out for Willow Warblers this year and while there may be some regional differences I suspect the overall picture will show productivity is below average and well below that of last year. The higher number of adults caught in July may have been due to a high incidence of failure late in the nestling stage as that wouldn't have left enough time for those adults to make another breeding attempt. Such failed breeders may have started migrating a little earlier as a result.

Other ringing highlights from the 10th were: a young male Sparrowhawk, the first of the autumn; another 5 new Goldcrests bringing their August total to 14 and autumn total to 33 which is well up on last year; 2 Tree Pipits from at least 12 seen which is the first double figure movement of the autumn and fairly typical for the date.

This young male Sparrowhawk had the odd remnant of down on the tips of  some of the feathers of the mantle.

I love Tree Pipits.
Ringing totals for 10/08/17 were: Sparrowhawk 1; Goldcrest 5 (1); Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit 4; Chiffchaff 3; Willow Warbler 11; Blackcap 1; Whitethroat 2; Wren 1; Song Thrush 1; Tree Pipit 2; Goldfinch 1; Yellowhammer 1; Reed Bunting (1).

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

'I don't believe it!'

I had a Victor Meldrew moment this morning, in fact I had several of them. The weather forecast for this morning wasn't brilliant but the rain cleared about a hour after sunrise and I ventured up to Billinge despite the stiff northerly breeze. I mainly wanted to see if any Tree Pipits would start to move after the rain had gone through but also took opportunity to put up a couple of nets in the sheltered rides of the NE corner of the site while I was there.

There didn't appear to be any Tree Pipits moving or much else for that matter and there wasn't much moving around in the bushes either. It was a surprise, therefore, to find a Tree Pipit in one of the nets on the second net round but that wasn't one of the 'I don't believe it' moments. The second net round also produced a single Willow Warbler and interestingly it was a new adult. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been catching more adults than usual this autumn so catching another adult wasn't a huge surprise. When the next Willow Warbler also turned out to be a new adult I simply thought it was just one of those things that can happen by chance and that I would catch some juveniles in subsequent net rounds.

The catching rate was very slow but when the 3rd Willow Warbler of the morning also turned out to be a new adult I did start to think 'I don't believe it' and I may even have said it out loud. The next net round produced yet another adult Willow Warbler and another 'I don't believe it', this time the bird was a retrap that was last caught in April of this year. At that point I still thought I was likely to catch at least a couple of juveniles before I packed up because a catch that only included adults seemed so unlikely as to be unthinkable. When the penultimate net round produced another new adult, the 5th of the morning, it produced another 'I don't believe it' from me. The final net round drew a blank so it was a case of 5 adults out of 5 and not a juvenile in sight!.

I know its not a big sample but to catch 5 Willow Warblers on 9th August and for all of them to be adults is exceptional to say the least. It certainly underscores how unusual the juvenile:adult ratio has been at the site this autumn and I am sure it is a subject I will come back to again at some point.

Adult Willow Warbler 09/08/17. Four of the five had completed their full moult and the one that was still in moult had nearly finished.
Ringing totals for 09/08/17 were: Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 4 (1); Blackcap 2; Tree Pipit 1.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Billinge 6th & 7th August: First Tree Pipits

It is that time of year when I expect to get my first Tree Pipits of the autumn and I wasn't disappointed with 1 ringed yesterday and another 3 today. None of them announced their presence by calling before they were caught and I didn't see any of them drop in as I usually do when passing birds are attracted to the audio lures. A total of 3 were seen yesterday but the 3 ringed today were the only ones recorded. Over the last 3 years the first autumn sighting has been between the 1st and 7th of August so yesterday's birds were pretty much bang on time.

Tree Pipit 06/08/17
Other highlights from the 2 sessions were the capture of 4 Garden Warblers and 5 Whitethroats; the latter qualifying a highlight because I only managed to ring 1 Whitethroat in the whole of July. Another 6 juvenile Goldcrest supports my previous comments about the species having a productive breeding season. Goldcrests have a long breeding season and many pairs are probably still churning out more young so it may turn out to be another bumper year.

Garden Warbler 06/08/17
Ringing totals for 05/08/217 were: Goldcrest 3; Blue Tit 18; Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 1; Chiffchaff 3; Willow Warbler 17(4); Blackcap 3; Garden Warbler 3; Whitethroat 2; Wren 1; Blackbird 1; Tree Pipit 1; Chaffinch 2; Bullfinch 1. Total 58 new birds and 4 retraps.

Ringing totals for 06/08/17 were: Goldcrest 3; Blue Tit 3; Chiffchaff 2, Willow Warbler 8 (2); Garden Warbler 1; Whitethroat 3; Wren 1; Song Thrush 2; Robin 1; Tree Pipit 3; Bullfinch (1); Goldfinch 1. Total 28 new birds and 3 retraps.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Billinge 28th to 31st July 2017: More adult Willow Warblers

The weather hasn't been particularly favourable but I managed to get out on the last 4 days of July. I went up to Billinge and set 3 nets in on each occasion although I had to change the net positions on some days to get adequate shelter from the breeze. The 29th provided the best conditions but the sessions on the other days were restricted by light showers and or a strengthening breeze.

I made the effort because I was curious to see how many juvenile and adult Willow Warblers I would catch and if the proportion of juveniles would increase. A total of 100 birds (92 new & 8 retraps) were caught over the four sessions and almost half  (43 new & 4 retraps) were Willow Warblers. Interestingly, the proportion of adult Willow Warblers remained relatively high with 11 out of the 47 being adults, although one had been encountered earlier in the month.

Adult Willow Warbler showing quite an extensive pure white belly.
 The total number of individual Willow Warblers handled in July ended up at 104 and of these 77 were juveniles and 27 were adults which gives a simple ratio 2.85:1. While this is the lowest ratio of juveniles to adults encountered in any July the total number of juveniles handled this July is similar to 2014 & 2015 as can be seen from the table below. 2016 seems to have been an exceptional year for juveniles as a similar pattern was found when I looked at the July totals for Chiffchaff  (2014/42, 2015/45, 2016/73, 2017/40) and Blackcap (2014/35, 2015/42, 2016/65, 2017/41). So the number of juvenile Willow Warblers encountered this July has ended up in what might be considered the 'normal' range for the site.

July Willow Warblers
Ratio (rounded off)

A ratio of just under 3:1 is much closer to the actual productivity of Willow Warblers but that is not what I am used to seeing at this site, hence my interest being sparked by the high number of adults encountered this year. There did seem to be more adults around in the spring so better over-winter survival resulting in a higher breeding population may have played a part, although it appears to be too much of a increase to account for it all. If a much higher breeding population was part or all of the cause then it still suggests productivity is low this year as more pairs would be expected to produce more offspring unless productivity has been negatively affected in some way. There is also the possibility that some of the adults were migrants rather than local birds as some were nearing the end of their moult and many adults will start migrating just before the innermost secondaries are fully grown. Either way I have caught a lot more adults this July than usual and multiple factors may be involved. As I said in my previous post it will be interesting to see how the 2017 CES results and other surveys compare.

Adult Willow Warbler showing more extensive yellow across the belly and a relatively pointed tail. This bird didn't shout adult and is the sort of bird that can trip you up if you're not careful and rely too heavily on a particular feature such as the colour of the underparts. Careful examination revealed it was still in active wing moult, but only just, as can be seen in the image below. 

Primary moult was just about complete but the big give away was the inner 2 secondaries that stand out as being that bit shorter than the longest tertial. Examination from underneath showed the inner 3 had some feather sheath at their bases. It is always worth giving those inner secondaries a look as the moult usually finishes with the innermost secondary rather than the outer primaries. 
I don't operate a standardised mist-netting regime so that has to be borne in mind when looking at the figures, ringing effort, however, was reasonably consistent so I still thought the figures were worth sharing. Willow Warblers are declining across the UK with the exception of Scotland and I am lucky to have a site that still has quite a good breeding population and also attracts good numbers of passage migrants (especially for an inland site). In 2016 a total of 367 Willow Warblers were ringed at the site which, like the 2016 July totals, was significantly up on the previous 2 years (2015/256 & 2014/240) so it will be interesting to see what the total looks like at the end of this year.

Highlights amongst the other birds caught included the first Garden Warbler of the autumn. A Whitethroat was also a first for the autumn but an unusually late one at that, I don't catch many Whitethroats at the site but I've usually caught a few juveniles well before the end of the month. Goldcrest on the other hand appear to be having a good year with another 10 bringing the total for July to 19. This compares favourably with the July totals for previous years - 10 in 2016, 8 in 2015 and only 3 in 2014.

Combined ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 28th to 31st July 2017 were: Goldcrest 10; Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 4; Chiffchaff 4(2); Willow Warbler 43(4); Blackcap 7(1); Garden Warbler 1, Whitethroat 1; Treecreeper 1; Wren 4; Song Thrush 1; Robin 2, Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 2; Linnet 5; Goldfinch 2 (2); Reed Bunting.

Garden Warbler. A scarce passage migrant at the site with most records coming in late July and early August.

Whitethroat.  A few pairs breed at the site so I usually catch a few juveniles in July but not this year.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

25th July 2017: What's happened to Willow Warblers

Another ringing session in the top willows at Billinge failed to produce the sorts of numbers expected for this site in late July. It was made even more disappointing by the fact that it was my earliest start of the autumn (I got up at 04:30) and the conditions were perfect for mist-netting all morning.

The calm and overcast conditions were perfect for mist-netting. Looking in this direction on a clear day I can normally see the major landmarks of Liverpool and the Welsh mountains beyond.
There were a few more Willow Warblers around with a total of 17 (12 new & 5 retraps) being an improvement on the previous visit but almost half (8) were adults which is really unusual. To put that into context I haven't caught anywhere near that many adults in a single July session before, and in 2016 only caught 7 adults in the whole of the month.

Adult Willow Warbler
You can't read too much into a single session so I looked at the ratio of juveniles to adults caught each July over the last 3 years. This is a better guide to productivity than overall numbers as it removes any effect caused by variation in ringing effort between years. The results showed that juveniles have outnumbered adults by a least 5:1 in each of the last 3 years, and in July 2016 the ratio was just shy of 17:1. The average of the ratios for the last 3 years being just over 10:1.

Willow Warblers: juvenile left and and adult right. The juvenile shows the typical lemon yellow washed underparts whereas the adult is much whiter although this adult has more extensive white underparts than many.
Looking at the figures for this July the ratio of juveniles to adults currently stands at just under 2.5:1 which is quite worrying and suggests productivity is well down compared to previous years. There is not much of July left so even if the weather allows me to get out again before the end of the month I would have to catch 43 juveniles and no adults just to bring the ratio up to 5:1 and there seems to be little likelihood of that happening. To bring the ratio near to the average of the last 3 years I would have to catch 133 juveniles and no adults and there is simply no prospect of that. It certainly looks like Willow Warblers have had a very poor breeding season, locally at least. I say locally as most of the birds caught in July will be local breeders and their offspring. 

The prospects for this breeding season had looked quite good at one stage with with migrants, like Willow Warblers, arriving quite early and in good numbers. There is no doubt the weather over the spring and summer has been mixed but it generally seemed to be more favourable for breeding birds than the last couple of years and certainly no worse. To find that Willow Warbler productivity appears to be so low this year is totally unexpected and hard to explain. It will be interesting to see the results of CES and other BTO surveys when they come out later in the year to see how they compare.

Willow Warblers have shown marked differences in regional trends in recent years with the species showing large declines in the south and holding their own or doing better further north. Next month should see a lot of migrant Willow Warblers move through the site and their numbers may give an indication as to how the species has fared in more northerly areas of England and Scotland. Lets hope they have done better further north.

The final capture total of 40 birds (33 new and 7 retraps) was less than expected and continues to suggest that quite a few species have had a poor breeding season locally. Ringing totals for 25/07/2016 (retraps in brackets) were: Goldcrest 2; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 1; Willow Tit (1); Chichchaff 5 (1); Willow Warbler 12 (5); Blackcap 2; Wren 1; Robin 1; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1; Goldfinch 1; Reed Bunting 1.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Billinge: 22nd 2017 July

I had high high hopes for this session in the top willows by my optimism and early start wasn't rewarded. Equivalent sessions in previous years have produced good numbers of phylloscs and out of habitat migrants such as Sedge and Reed Warblers but that wasn't repeated today. The weather probably played a part as overnight rain probably put the dampers on any migration and the site was still shrouded in hill fog/low cloud when I arrived, although it soon lifted.

It turned out to be one of those days that was noteworthy for the birds that were absent or only present in low numbers and chief amongst those was Chiffchaff with only 1 recorded all morning, and that one only turned shortly before I packed up. There were fewer Blackcaps around than usual and although Willow Warblers crept into double figures a total in the high teens would have been nearer the norm. Once again, tits were few and far between and there was certainly no sign of any mixed tit/warbler flock formation. I didn't even hear any Long-tailed Tits nearby or in the distance. The only species that seemed to be present in higher numbers than usual was Wren with 5 ringed. I think Wrens should be renamed fidget spinners as this aptly describes their behaviour in a mist-net.

The final total of 32 new birds and 4 retraps wasn't bad but was lower than expected for late July. Totals for 22/07/17 (retraps in brackets) were: Great Tit 2; Willow Tit (1); Blue Tit 2; Chiffchaff 1; Willow Warbler 11 (1); Blackcap 3 (1); Treecreeper 1; Wren 5;  Robin 1; Bullfinch 3 (1); Goldfinch 2; Reed Bunting 1.

Adult Willow Warbler (all the photos below are of the same bird).
Three of the Willow Warblers were adults and two of them had almost completed their full moult.
Once the moult is completed, in probably just a few days for this individual, they start migrating back to Africa. They often start to put on fat just prior to the completion of the moult so they are ready to go with little or no delay.
Once the moult is completed Willow Warblers can only be aged by the colour of the underparts and shape and wear of the tail feathers. Adults have a white belly whereas juveniles are usually completely yellow or yellowish underneath.

Adult tail. Generally broader and less pointed and also showing less wear than the juvenile tail. The tail feathers are usually glossier too as they are newer than those of most juveniles which often look a tad browner.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Billinge: 17th & 18th July 2017

17th July
I am not getting any better at the early morning lark and only got to site at 7am. The weather was glorious and it was very warm from the off. I quickly set 3 nets in the top willows but there was distinct lack of warblers calling in the bushes which suggested there were fewer around compared to my last visit. On the other hand there had been a marked increase in the number of Goldfinches with at least 60 feeding on the knapweed in the vicinity of the net rides.

A total of 46 new birds were caught with all but one being juveniles. The single adult was a moulting female Willow Warbler. The ringing totals confirmed that there were fewer warblers around but this was offset by a good catch of Goldfinches. The biggest surprise was a near total absence of tits, not that I am complaining, with only 2 caught and hardly any others seen or heard.

Juvenile Goldfinch

One of the juvenile Goldfinches had white sub-terminal patches on the three outer tail feathers. These patches were once thought to have some age related significance and while the number of patches Goldfinches have varies between 1 and 3 the presence of 3 was considered to be something that was only found in some adults. Juveniles like the bird above clearly show that can't be the case and serve as a useful reminder. A more recent study suggested birds with 3 patches were always males and while males may have more and or bigger patches on average there is more overlap than that study found and I have caught females with 3. I am sure these tail patches have an important role as birds spread their tail and show them off when they do the clockwork like pivoting display but they are not the help we would like them to be when it comes to ageing and sexing Goldfinches in the hand.
Totals for 17/07/17 were: Goldcrest 1; Great Tit 1; Coal Tit 1; Chiffchaff 6; Willow Warbler 7; Blackcap 6; Wren 3;  Greenfinch 1; Goldfinch 20.

18th July
With thundery and then showery conditions forecast from mid-week I decided to fit in another visit and try the rides in the NE corner of the site. It was another very warm morning and the biting insects were really on form but it turned out to be very quiet on the bird front. The catching rate was really slow and I packed up at 10am, following 2 blank net rounds, and having only caught a total of 14 new birds in the earlier rounds.

Again there were hardly any tits around and warblers were also very thin on the ground for this part of the site. Tits are supposed to have had a reasonable breeding season but I haven't seen or heard any sizeable tit flocks as yet but that doesn't mean they are not out there, somewhere. It was just one of those mornings that produced a below par catch, as happens now again, and it will be a while before we really know what sort of breeding season it has been overall.

One of the Dunnocks was a recently fledged juvenile.

The flight feathers were not fully grown but it could fly quite well and was caught in the top panel of a mist net.

It will still be dependant on its parents for food so it was released very close to where it was caught.
Overhead there was no movement to speak of but a single Yellow Wagtail, a scarce bird in this area these days, went south as did a Siskin.

Ringing totals for 18/07/17 were: Goldcrest 3; Blue Tit 1; Chiffchaff 2; Willow Warbler 1; Blackcap 1; Wren 2;  Dunnock 2; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

12th July 2017 - A bunch of Blackcaps

I only managed a 06:30 start at in the top willows at Billinge but I don't think I missed much as a result, at least I hope not. I set three 18m nets under clear blue skies and with only a light breeze blowing from the NE. The catching rate was better than expected for this early in the month and suggests it has been a fairly productive breeding season, especially when compared with the last couple of years. I packed up at 11:00 as the sun was shining on all the nets by then, making them much more visible, and before it got too hot.

The final total of 44 new birds and 2 retraps was mainly comprised of juveniles and included 32 warblers, 17 of which were Blackcaps. The two retraps were an adult male Blackcap that was originally ringed as a juvenile in July 2015 and a juvenile Blackcap that was ringed just over a week ago. The Blackcaps were mainly feeding on raspberries that grow wild near one of the net rides and most of them were caught in that particular net. This raspberry patch usually attracts and holds a good number of locally bred juveniles in July although 17 is more than I usually catch in one session.

Juvenile Blackcap

Juvenile Willow Tit.
Late June and July is the peak period for juvenile dispersal in this species and this is the 3rd to be ringed at the site in the last week.

Juvenile Treecreeper
July is also a time when the young of woodland species disperse and can be encountered well away from their usual habitat. 
There was some interest overhead with the highlight being a Crossbill that called loudly as it flew SW. A Siskin was also heard but not seen and a few Swallows seemed to be heading south. I wasn't in the best place to observe the Swallow movement but small groups appeared to motoring south from time to time; they certainly weren't the feeding flights of the local breeders.

Ringing totals for 12/07/17 (retraps in brackets) were: Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 2; Willow Tit 1; Goldcrest 1; Chiffchaff 5; Willow Warbler 10; Blackcap 15 (2); Treecreeper 1; Wren 1; Goldfinch 6.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Bilinge 9th July 2017 - more Swallows

I had planned an early morning ringing session in the top willows but I just couldn't motivate myself when the alarm went off, despite the weather conditions being near perfect. I decided some extra sleep was the order of the day; a decision that was made much easier because I knew I had the option of going up in the evening instead. I suppose I could, and perhaps should, have done both but I will save that kind of effort for later in the season.

I went to site at 7pm and quickly set 2 nets in the willows. I could hear a few warblers calling in the bushes as I was setting up but one thing that was absent was any sizeable tit flocks, not that I am complaining, although I did hear some Long-tailed Tits in the distance later on. There were quite few Swallows hawking insects overhead so I was hopeful that some would come into roost again and thankfully they did.

Part of the Swallow catch. I don't know why this site usually gets an early Swallow roost but it does, although numbers and duration of occupancy of the roost have varied from year to year. However, its future may be limited by the growth of the trees as the birds seem to prefer to roost in willows that average about 1.5 to 2 metres tall and some are more than twice that height now.

Juvenile Swallow

Adult male Swallow showing a fine pair of tail streamers.
The total of 41 new birds and 1 retrap was a good result with the majority of the catch being made up of Swallows and warblers. The individual totals (retraps in brackets) were: Blue Tit 1; Willow Tit 1; Swallow 23; Chiffchaff 4; Willow Warbler 3 (1); Blackcap 5; Blackbird 1; Goldfinch 2, Reed Bunting 1.

Observations of note were a Noctule Bat, surprisingly the first I have seen over the site, and as I was leaving I could hear a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the territory in NE corner.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Billinge: 4th & 7th July 2017

4th July
This was a dual purpose evening visit to do a bit of ringing and work on clearing some of the summer's growth from one of the net rides in the top willows. I didn't get to site as early as I had originally planned so I only put up one 18m net rather than two as intended but that didn't matter as there was plenty of pruning to do.

The single net produced a trickle of birds which left me enough time to get another net ride cleared and ready for the rest of the autumn. As sunset approached I started to think about packing up but then some Swallows appeared so I stayed until they came into roost and I ended up catching 25 of them. The final ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Blue Tit 1; Swallow 25; Chiffchaff 2 (1); Willow Warbler 4 (2); Blackcap 2; Goldfinch 1. Total 35 new birds and 3 retraps.

7th July
I only got up after the 3rd alarm and some snoozing so not the early start that I had intended. I set 3 nets in the NE corner of the site and was set up by 06:40. Two Grasshopper Warblers were reeling nearby with one being in the same area as a bird recorded in early May but the other was singing in a less expected location and was reeling in the adjacent field of barley.

The catching rate was slow to start with but improved as the morning went on, although it didn't get busy. Highlights were 2 juvenile and an adult Grasshopper Warbler with the adult being a retrap male that was originally ringed on 2nd May this year. This strongly suggest they have bred successfully and constitutes the first breeding record for the site, although a bird held a territory last year and may have bred. The rest of the catch was fairly typical for this part of the site at this time of year and included the first juvenile Goldcrests and a juvenile Willow Tit.

Juvenile Grasshopper Warbler

Juvenile Grasshopper Warbler,

The two juvenile Grasshopper Warblers showed some of the variation in colour this species can display with one having mainly white underparts and the other having buff coloured underparts.

Juvenile Goldcrests always look scruffy as they go through their post-juvenile moult

This bird was just starting to show orange feathers (encased in sheath) growing in the crown which meant it could be sexed as a male. 

Juvenile Willow Tit.
Another feature of the site at this time of year are frequent encounters horse-flies and clegs and I donated far too much blood to their kind during the session. Luckily I haven't had any adverse reactions but these insects will continue to be a pain in the neck or other parts of the body during visits over the next few weeks.

There was a little bit of movement overhead with 1 Siskin heading south and 3 singles heading north and a Grey Wagtail heading south was particularly early for that species to be on the move.

Ringing totals for the 7th were: Goldcrest 2; Blue Tit 5; Great Tit 4; Coal Tit 1; Willow Tit 1; Chiffchaff 7; Willow Warbler 2; Blackcap 1; Grashopper Warbler 2 (1); Wren 1; Robin 1; Bullfinch (1). Total 27 new birds and 2 retraps.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Long time no blogging

Where did June go; it doesn't seem like the best part of a month has gone by since my last post but it has. I've not done much ringing this June compared to previous years but I haven't been idle either, far from it. I have had quite a lot of commitments over the last few weeks and I also decided to get stuck into some jobs around the house and garden and get them out of the way before autumn migration really gets going later this month. Having said that I still managed to ring 162 birds in June but 122 of those were Starlings in the garden.

It is fair to say this has been my best year for Starlings by some margin with 140 adults and 383 juveniles ringed in the garden up to the end of June. In addition there have been 436 resightings/recaptures involving 141 different individuals. Most of these resightings were of birds that were ringed or colour-ringed in previous years with the oldest individuals having been ringed as adults in 2011. The current longevity record for a Starling is 17 years, 7 months and 25 days so my project will have to run for a long time yet for me to see anything approaching that record, although reaching 6 or 7 years is still a very good age for a Starling.

I have been up to Billinge a few times recently to maintain the net rides in preparation for the autumn and I did put up a couple of nets on the evening of 26th June in two of the newly cleared rides. This short session produced 26 new birds and 1 retrap as follows - Willow Warbler 11, Chiffchaff 5 (1), Linnet 4, Great Tit 1, Blue Tit 1, Swallow 4. The 4 Swallows were interesting as they were all adult males that came in to roost in the willows. This site has held an early roost since I first started monitoring there in 2014 and a high proportion of adults has usually been a feature of the early catches.

That pretty much sums up how June went for me but now we are in July and autumn migration is starting to get underway there should be a lot more to blog about. With a bit of luck you should start to see a return to more regular updates from now on.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Siskin Movements: Spring 2017

I haven't posted details of any recoveries for a while so I thought it was time to rectify that. I have received quite a few recovery reports for Siskins over the past few months so it made sense to start with that species. Details of 3 of the movements were posted earlier in the spring but as others started to come in I decided to wait and show them all together rather than post details when they were received. All of the movements involve birds that were ringed or controlled in my garden near Orrell, Greater Manchester (purple & white circle on map). 

It is interesting that there are no movements to or from SE England as large numbers of Siskins usually winter in that area. The two recoveries well south of my garden are both in Wales and this suggest that many of the bird that visit my garden winter there and perhaps further south in SW England.

D874496      first year female   Siskin
Ringed         18/03/2014   near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    14/02/2017   Witton-le Wear NR, Durham. 143 km NNE, duration 1064 days.

S192064       first-year male     Siskin
Ringed          11/04/2016   Peebles, Scottish Borders.
Controlled     07/03/2017   near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 293 km S, duration 330 days

S144873       first-year female  Siskin
Ringed          12/04/2016   near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     30/01/2017   Ffynnon Gro, Llanfynydd, Carmarthenshire. 201 km S, duration 293 days.

S411915       first-year female  Siskin
Ringed          24/02/2017    Sychdyn, Mold, Flintshire.
Controlled     24/03/2017    near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 47 km NE, duration 28 days.

S264860      first-year male     Siskin
Ringed         03/03/2017      Broken Cross, Nr Macclesfield, Cheshire.
Controlled    24/03/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 46 km NW, duration: 21 days.

S785508     first-year male     Siskin
Ringed         19/02/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    02/04/2017      Dalston, Carlisle, Cumbria. 148 km N, duration: 42 days.

S144876      adult female       Siskin
Ringed         12/04/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    02/04/2017       Cnoc, Argyll and Bute.  324 km NNW, duration: 355 days.

S144643     first-year male     Siskin
Ringed          07/03/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     21/02/2017       Townhill, Dunfermline, Fife. 289 km N, duration: 351 days.

S144511    adult male            Siskin
Ringed         18/02/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled    18/04/2017       Millhousebridge, Dumfries and Galloway. 188 km NNW, duration: 425 days.

S144657    first-year male      Siskin
Ringed         08/03/2016       near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Found          26/03/2017       Pont-rhyd-y-groes, Ceredigion. 152 km SSW, duration 414 days. Dying, found sick,

S552459     adult female        Siskin
Ringed          22/01/2017      near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled     23/03/2017      Glebe Farm, Salsburgh, North Lanarkshire. 268 km, duration: 60 days.