Friday, 12 January 2018

Still here, and ageing.

Apologies for the lack of posts in recent weeks but there has been a lot going on on the domestic and family front to say the least. Added to that the birding has been fairly quiet around here so there hasn't been a huge amount of interest to blog about anyway. For what it is worth here is a summary of what I have been doing on the avian front over the last few weeks.

A total of 121 birds were ringed during December and another 68 were retrapped or resighted with much of that total coming from birds ringed in the garden. Goldfinches topped the totals with 36 ringed and Starling topped the retraps / resightings with 39 records, mainly resightings of colour-ringed birds. The only unusual ringing activity involved Siskins with a total of 7 ringed (6 in the garden and 1 at Billinge) which is an exceptional number for December.

Interestingly, the first Siskin was seen on the feeders in garden on 20th November and it was already ringed. A few days later 2 were coming to the feeders, both of which were wearing rings and both were adults so there is a chance they were returnees rather than birds that had been ringed elsewhere. I expected to catch one or both of theses birds as they continued to visit fairly regularly so it was a bit of a surprise when I caught 3 new birds in early December. A few Siskins continued to visit the feeders on a daily basis throughout December and at least 8 individuals were involved. In previous winters it has been mid to late January before they start coming to the garden on a regular basis so to have them start two months early is really unusual for here. This change doesn't seem to have been caused by any sort of food shortage as there are still plenty seeds in the alder cones. In fact Goldfinches were more hit and miss in the garden during December and this has continued on into January as they are spending quite a lot of time feeding in alders. This shows there is still an abundance of alder seeds to be had in the local area and it is probably also true of the wider countryside.

I have almost finished submitting my 2017 ringing data to the BTO and just need to do some final checks. Provisional totals for 2017 ended up at 4183 new birds and there were another 958 recaptures or resightings. The top 5 species ringed accounted for more than half the total as detailed below (again provisional totals for now):

Species        New Birds         Retraps/resightings
Goldcrest         669                            30
Starling            621                          567
Redwing          425                              0
Goldfinch         366                            41
Chiffchaff         295                            30

I have also been checking through the gulls and waterfowl that come to bread at Orrell Water Park (as usual) and have photographed the ring numbers of 3 Black-headed Gulls (2 from Germany and 1 from Scotland), a ringed Coot (from south Wales) and a Canada Goose (from Cheshire). All could be considered regulars to a greater or lesser degree as they were all recorded more than once during December and one of the German gulls, the Coot and Canada Goose have been recorded in previous winters.

EZ33149 was ringed as a chick at Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire on 20/06/2017 which is 222 km NNW of Orrell Water Park.

Sometimes I only need to take a few photos to get the full ring number but in many cases I have to take dozens to be sure. While these are crops most of my photos of ringed birds are just of their legs rather that the whole bird.

Best foot forward. This is the German ringed bird from the Helgoland scheme. It has been recorded 11 times so far this winter but I still haven't received the ringing details so don't know when or where in Germany it was ringed.

I am spoiled for choice when it comes to photos of this bird, or at least its legs. IA141745 has been recorded 15 times so far this winter and over 70 times since the first sighting in October 2012. It was originally ringed as an adult in Bohmke und Werder, Mecklenburg - Vorpommern, Germany on 29/04/2012 and is pretty much a fixture at the park between October and February.

GR03863 is what you could call an old(ish) Coot as it was originally ringed as a first-year on 23/12/10 so is a little over 7 years old. It is well short of the UK longevity record for the species which currently stands at just over 15 years but it is probably older than your average Coot. It was ringed 236 km south at Comeston Lakes, near Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan during a spell of very cold weather but has been recorded up here 17 times since, most recently on 27/12/2017, so was probably a cold weather refugee when ringed.

The New Year hasn't seen much in the way of change as yet. Both German ringed Black-headed Gulls were photographed on the 1st and both have been recorded since. A few Siskins continue to visit the feeders in the garden on a daily basis and another 2 have been ringed. I have also resighted 25 different colour-ringed Starlings at the feeders and caught and colour-ringed another 2.

7 of the 8 Siskins ringed this winter have been adults. This adult male was caught on 10/01/2018. All the wing feathers including the coverts were relatively fresh, the colours were intense so there was no sign of any moult limits

The tail was equally unworn and again the colours were intense but the shape of the tail feathers was at the more pointed end of the range for adults. Adults with a relatively pointed tail like this can catch out the inexperienced and unwary but close examination reveals a neat pale fringe to the edges of all tail feathers and no signs of wear. In this shot you can just see that the primary tips are similarly fresh looking so no doubt it is an adult.

N34 is a female and was originally ringed as a juvenile on 18th May last year.
One notable absentee from the garden this winter has been Blackcap. I usually get one or two over the course of a winter and the first sighting usually comes before the end of December so to not have seen one by now is bucking the trend of the last few years. While Blackcaps have been absent I have got 2 Goldcrests feeding on the fat balls and fat cakes. This is relatively new behaviour for Goldcrests in my garden and although I have seen it before it is unlikely to become common and widespread, as happened with Long-tailed Tits some years back, as they are not very social in winter or long lived so the opportunities for such behaviour to spread in the population are not there.

Not the best photo but it is what you might call a decent record shot. The tail shape is in the intermediate range but it could be an adult and is possibly an individual that came to the feeders last winter. In addition to feeding on the fat balls and fat cakes direct it also picks up tiny fragments that have fallen on to the wire mesh and branches below or on fragments that have been wiped on the wire mesh and branches by other birds when cleaning their bills.
Another even more notable absentee from the garden, and one that is getting increasingly easy to forget, has been the humble House Sparrow. I haven't seen one at the feeders this year and only saw one during the whole of December, which is a really sorry state of affairs. If records from my garden and the local area are anything to go by they are still in marked decline around here.

So that brings things up to date, more or less, and with a bit of luck it won't be the best part of 4 weeks before my next post.


  1. Happy to see fresh post in your blog !

    Best wishes from Bulgaria

    1. Thank you Nikola and best wishes from the UK.