Sunday, 1 December 2019

Rig Recovery

I haven't had any overseas recoveries for a while but I received a recovery report the other day which was literally over the sea. The report was of a Redwing that had been found dead on an oil rig in the North Sea off Norway.



RY31120 Redwing
First Year      19/11/2018  Billinge Hill, Billinge, Merseyside.
Found dead  17/11/2019  Oil Rig Snorre B, Tampen, North Sea. 938km NNE

It wasn't freshly dead when found but is still likely to have reached the rig the same autumn as I wouldn't have thought a the body of a small thrush like a Redwing would last long on an exposed rig or remain unfound for very long either.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Late breeding

The breeding season is well and truly over for most birds in this part of the world but for at least one species it is not over yet. I was on the phone to my broadband provider at lunchtime today when I noticed a juvenile Woodpigeon on the privet hedge in the front garden and it appeared to be a young juvenile at that. The phone call quickly became the least of my concerns and I grabbed my camera and hastily took a few record shots through the window.

The original Boaty McBoatface.
Juvenile Woodpigeons have a wide almost boat shaped bill which helps them take pigeon milk, a crop secretion they are fed on, from their parents. 

You can see it had already replaced a few feathers on the head and the shoulder of its wings but that could have started immediately on fledging or even before it left the nest. Juveniles of some species start moulting before they leave the nest and this can be accelerated later in the season.
It quivered its wings from time to time which immediately suggested it was trying to solicit food from a parent and then I noticed an adult Woodpigeon a couple of metres away on the bird bath. The adult Woodpigeon then joined the juvenile and started to feed it. There is nothing subtle about an adult Woodpigeon feeding a juvenile and it often looks like a tussle and a trial of strength.





Get in there.



Woodpigeons have quite a long breeding season which can start as early as February and can extend into November and even December, although there can be some variation between years, regions and habitats. While this record of late breeding isn't without precedent for Woodpigeons it is certainly the latest I have recorded locally and for my garden in particular. Woodpigeons are one of the few species that are on the up and have benefitted from both garden feeding and some changes in agricultural practices.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Black-headed Gulls - old and new.



A few days ago (26/10/19) I went to feed the Black-headed Gulls at Orrell Water Park to check for ringed birds and one of the first to come to the bread had a metal ring on the right leg. I quickly identified it as the German ringed bird from the Hiddensee scheme that has wintered at the park each year since 2012. It has been recorded on over 90 occasions and is usually present from October to late February or early March. It appeared to be the only ringed gull present and I had almost run out of bread when a colour-ringed bird joined the 40 or so gulls present. It had a yellow colour-ring inscribed with the code T3WA on the right leg and a metal ring on the left. I hadn't seen this this particular individual before and had no idea where it had been ringed.

On getting home I checked the cr-birding website (link here) and quickly found that T3WA was a Polish ringed bird. I submitted details of the sighting on the Polish ringing scheme website and received details of where it was ringed the next day. It had been ringed on 17/06/2019 in central Poland at Skoki Duze, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, which is 1472km east of Orrell Water Park.

I didn't have my camera with me that first day but I have photographed both birds since.

DEH IA141745 photographed 27/10/2019
DEH IA141745 photographed 27/10/2019

T3WA photographed 30/10/2019

T3WA photographed 30/10/2019


Map to be added in due course.


Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Yellow-browed Warbler

I have not had time for blogging over the past few months but I have not totally given up on the idea of reviving it, yet. I hope to post some monthly summaries by way of a catch up sooner or later but in the meantime here is an image of a Yellow-browed Warbler that was ringed at Billinge yesterday (08/10/2019).

Yellow-browed Warbler 08/10/2019 © P J Alker
It is the 6th to be caught since ringing started at the site in 2014 and follows one that first year, another in 2015 and 3 in 2016. One was heard and seen briefly in 2017 but there were no records last year, although coverage in 2017 was less than in previous years. Yellow-browed Warblers may not be the rarity or scarcity they once were but they haven't lost any of their appeal or magic because of that.

It was a relatively quiet morning in all other respects with a totals of just 20 new birds and 1 retrap, although a first-year male Sparrowhawk did liven things up a bit and was the first to be ringed this autumn. 

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Sparrowhawk 1, Blue Tit 3, Coal Tit 2, Great Tit (1), Goldcrest 1, Long-tailed Tit 1, Yellow-browed Warbler 1, Blackbird 2, Redwing 5, Song Thrush 3, Bullfinch 1.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Billinge: 6th to 22nd April

I have been up to the ringing site at Billinge twelve times since 6th April but the catches have been quite small, hence the lack of blog posts about individual visits.  While the catches have been small they haven't been without interest and what you don't catch can be as important as what you do, or at least that is what I tell myself.

It looks like being another poor spring for Redpoll passage but that is hardly surprising as last autumn was very poor for Redpolls going south so a poor showing the following spring is no big surprise. Having said that you have to put the effort in to find out and I can certainly say I have put the effort in with only 18 Lesser Redpolls caught over twelve visits. One of the Redpolls caught on 10/04/2019 was a retrap that had been ringed at the site on 13/08/2017 as an adult female so perhaps a bird that breeds not too far away.

The most interesting Redpoll, for me at least, was a little adult male caught yesterday (21/04/2019). I say little as its wing length was 69mm which is fairly small or very small for a male of any race. We still don't know what to do with Redpoll species and races because they don't play by the rules as we would like to apply them. If my understanding is correct they should all be lumped at a genetic level, every last one of them, into one species because they are not distinct enough genetically despite their varying appearance. Arctic, Common, Lesser or whatever you want to call them they are all far more similar on the inside than they appear on the outside but that is what makes them even more fascinating. While they may be similar on the inside the difference on the outside largely determines where they will breed and that is why we like them so much.

A bit or quite a bit greyer than your typical Lesser and probably breeds well north of Billinge.

Broad white fringes to the greater coverts, tertials and inner webs of tail feathers.
A touch of tram lines up the mantle too.

Broad white fringes to the greater coverts and tertials.

Broad white fringes to inner webs of tail feathers.

Unstreaked under-tail coverts which is normally a feature of Arctic Redpolls.

Pure white, unstreaked, under-tail coverts, including the feather shafts. If you hadn't seen the rest of the bird you could be thinking Arctic Redpoll. I have seen Lesser types like this before so not as exceptional as it may appear.
The first Willow Warbler was noted on the 6th and it was good to find that 9 of the 20 that were caught between the 10th and 22nd were retraps. Of the retraps one was originally ringed in 2016 and eight were originally ringed in 2017. On the other hand Chiffchaffs have been thin on the ground this spring with only 3 caught but all were retraps - one from 2017 and two from 2018. Blackcaps have put in a pretty good showing so far with 12 caught - 10 new, 1 retrap and 1 control. The retrap was ringed as a first-year in August 2017 and the control was ringed 16 km away at Woolston Eyes in April 2018.

Unusual captures were a pair of Mistle Thrushes that found their way into one of the nets on the 16th and were a first to be ringed at the site. However, the highlight of the period, and what made the effort worthwhile, was the capture of six Tree Pipits with the first caught on the 13th.

Tree Pipit 19/04/2019

Tree Pipit 21/04/2019
The twelve visits yielded 54 new birds, 18 retraps and 1 control as follows (retraps in brackets): Lesser Redpoll 17 (1); Willow Warbler 11 (9); Chiffchaff  (3); Goldcrest 2 (1); Blackicap 10 (1) +1 control; Robin 3; Long-tailed Tit (1); Tree Pipit 6; Mistle Thrush 2; Bullfinch 1 (1); Dunnock 1; Yellowhammer 1; Willow Tit (1).

Monday, 15 April 2019

Rapid Goldfinch movement.

Earlier this month, in a blog post titled 'fatties', I mentioned catching some Goldfinches at Crawford that had significant fat deposits. I went on to say that they were migrants that would be heading much further north to breed and presumably to somewhere in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Since then I have caught other Goldfinches at Crawford with varying amounts of fat and I recently received a recovery report for one of them. Goldfinch ACF5670 was ringed at Crawford on 07/04/2019 at 09:20 and was subsequently caught by a ringer in Leswalt, Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway just 2 days later on 09/04/2019 at 14:00.

It was a small female that wasn't particularly fat and weighed 15.2g at the time it was ringed and subsequently weighed 13.9g when it was recaptured at Leswalt. The weight difference of 1.3g gives some indication of how much fat it used to make the journey. The straight line distance from Crawford to Leswalt is 219 km but most of that direct route is over the sea, as can be seen from the map. Goldfinches generally avoid making long sea crossings and migrate overland as much as possible so it is unlikely to have taken the shortest direct route. If this bird took an overland route to Leswalt it will have travelled around 300km and possibly quite a bit further than that if it followed the convoluted coast of Northwest England and Southwest Scotland, even with a bit of a shortcut across an estuary here and there. There is also the possibility that it took a relatively direct route via the Isle of Man and there have been some recoveries that make that a realistic option but it still involves quite long sea crossings. One thing is sure it is an interesting movement for its speed whatever route was actually taken.





Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) Ring no: ACF5670
First-year Female   07-04-2019  Crawford, near Up Holland, Lancashire, England
Caught by ringer    09-04-2019   Leswalt, Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
Duration: 2 days Distance: 219 km Direction: 317deg (NW)

Saturday, 13 April 2019

11/04/2018: Ivy berry Blackcaps and continental Song Thrush.

I went up to Billinge first thing but there wasn't much doing so I packed up early and went to Crawford to top up the feeders. As I had my ringing gear with me I decided to put a net up there for an hour and as things turned out I am certainly glad that I did. There weren't many birds coming to the feeders, at least not while I was there, but the ivy berries worked their magic and I caught 6 new Blackcaps, all males. These 6 Blackcaps came hot on the heels of 5 that were caught at the site on the 7th and made me wonder how many have taken advantage of this particular abundance of ivy berries so far this spring or will do so while the they last.

Some parts of the ivy have been stripped of their berries but there are plenty left.

 Today's 6 Blackcaps came hot on the heels of 5 caught at the site on the 7th. Everyone is familiar with concentrations of birds on berries in autumn but less so with returning birds in spring. 

While it was good to catch the Blackcaps the highlight, for me least, was catching 2 Song Thrush as one of them was a small and very grey individual of the continental race (T. p. philomelos).

Continental Song Thrushes don't get any greyer than this one.

I would put money on this bird originating from a long way east. Song Thrush of the British race (T. p. clarkei) are much browner and are generally bigger.

There wasn't a hint of warm brown anywhere in its plumage.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 11/04/ 2019 were: Blue Tit 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Blackcap 6; Blackbird (2); Song Thrush 2; Dunnock (1) ;Chaffinch (1).