Friday, 28 December 2012

Rain rain go away...............

I am getting really hacked off with all the rain now. I haven’t been flooded like some unfortunate folk so I shouldn’t complain but enough is enough. I seem to have spent more time drying my gear out rather than being out in the field over the last couple of weeks.

I managed to get out ringing yesterday afternoon and again this morning but both sessions were curtailed by the wet stuff. If I ever win the lottery I will move or build a covered ringing site or both. Well there is always dreaming but an open sided barn type construction with clear polycarbonate roof sheeting should work or is that the rain fever starting to manifest itself.

Mobile phone weather apps are really useful and the nets are furled in good time but I have got wet packing up and walking home or loading the car on the last two outings.

I had to top up the feeders at Haigh yesterday and decided to put up a two nets for a couple of hours or so. Totals of 26 new birds and 21 retraps were recorded before the rain intervened and included 5 new Bramblings with Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blackbird and Goldfinch making up much of the remainder of new birds.

This morning I went to the baited site at Longshaw and put up a 60ft and 40ft net. Plenty of birds arrived shortly after first light but many are ringed and clearly know how to avoid the nets. However, I still caught 23 new birds and 10 retraps along with 2 controls before the forecast rain arrived. This included another 7 new Bramblings and brought the total ringed since early November to 175. The two controls were a Greenfinch and a Long-tailed Tit that, judging by their ring numbers, will have been ringed 3 kilometres away at Kings Moss on the other side of Billinge Hill.
Adult male Brambling caught today. How far has this one travelled?
There may be some sunshine Saturday afternoon but otherwise the weather looks fairly grim; time to get out the multivitamins, hit the sunbeds or leave the country.

Home grown Willow Tit retrapped today but still a cracker.
Ringing totals for 26th and 27th December (retraps in brackets)
Blackbird 4
Blue Tit 1 (6)
Brambling 12 (3)
Chaffinch 14 (1)
Bullfinch – (1)
Coal Tit 1
Goldfinch 2
Great Tit 2 (6)
Greenfinch 10 (7 +1 control)
Willow Tit - (1)
Great-spotted Woodpecker – (1)
Robin 2 (2)
Long-tailed Tit 1 (3 + 1 control)
Totals: 49 new birds, 31 retraps and 2 controls

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A 7 bird roast

I was up well before first light to put the turkey in the oven as it would take around four and half hours to cook and would need resting for at least two hours on top of that. It was calm, quite mild and very overcast as dawn broke so I decided to put a net up in the garden given I was going to be tied to the kitchen for a good while.

The feeders were very quiet but I still managed to catch 5 new Goldfinches and 2 new Starlings. There wasn’t any sign of the Blackcap today but the mild conditions could have contributed to that or it may have simply sneaked in and out when I wasn’t looking which was most of the time.
One of the 7 birds ringed, Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Another of the 7 birds ringed, Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Some light rain eventually developed and caused me to take the net down around midday. Seven new birds isn’t a bad total for the garden and the 5 new Goldfinches brought the total ringed in the garden to 142 with 140 having been ringed since early September. This is my best ever total for Goldfinches ringed in the garden. The turkey didn’t turn out too bad either.
The only bird roasted, Turkey (Bogus standardus) but it was covered in bacon and stuffed with onion, lemon, apple and orange. The onions were then used with the meat juices to make the gravy and so on......
I will need to top up the feeders at Haigh tomorrow and may put up one or two nets if the weather allows. Hopefully there will be a chance for a few more Bramblings before the year is out.

Monday, 24 December 2012

That time of year

Merry Christmas or should I say a soggy Christmas with even more rain or showers forecast for the next ten days, yes ten days. Not a single dry day in the forecast and precious little sunshine but I will try and grab every opportunity to go out birding or ringing that I can.

Anyway I would like to wish anyone who follows or stumbles across this blog a very merry Christmas (not that I am a God botherer) and more importantly better weather for the 2013; whatever that means for you in the blogosphere.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A dry day for a change

Weather wise it has been another miserable week. Yesterday was a complete washout so a dry day with sunshine was very welcome to say the least. It was too windy for any mist-netting but it was just nice to see some blue sky for a change.

Blue sky and some Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)
I was having a cup of coffee when I noticed a male Blackcap on one of the fat feeders in the front garden. I assumed it was the bird I had ringed 10 days ago but when I got my bins on it I could see it wasn’t ringed. Blackcaps can be quite acrobatic on feeders and this bird was no exception.
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
A few coffees later I walked over the road to Orrell Water Park to check out the Black-headed Gulls for rings. About 100 gulls were present but only one was wearing a ring and that was the German ringed bird that I have photographed several times since late October.

German ringed Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
I can't resist taking the odd flight shot.
I needed to do some Christmas errands in the afternoon and also top up the feeders at Haigh so I decided to call in at Three Sisters on route to check out the Black-headed Gulls there. There were about 120 gulls on the small lake and I soon spotted a bird with a metal ring when I started to feed them. I would have got the number quite quickly but for other people feeding the birds in the water rather than on the bank. Anyway around 50 shots and a loaf later I had the full number and address photographed. It was a Swedish ringed bird.
Swedish ringed Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Swedish ringed Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus). It is not always easy to get shots all round the ring especially on a windy day when birds birds face the wind most of the time,

Sunday, 16 December 2012

'Net shy' finches rule the day

I met up with John G at 7:00am this morning and we walked up to the ringing site at Longshaw. We had 3 nets up by first light and waited for the first birds to arrive. I had put out an MP3 lure playing Grey Wagtail as one had flown over at dawn on each of the last few ringing sessions. Like clockwork one came over, it dropped down to the lure and was caught.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
A few Blackbirds were attracted to the apples I had put out during the week and several were amongst the first birds to be caught. Plenty of Bramblings and Chaffinches started to arrive but seemed reluctant to settle. Conditions were perfect at first but some mist and fog started to develop which didn’t help but it was obvious that the birds had the situation sussed anyway. Looking at the birds that perched in the tops of the willows it was obvious that a good proportion were already ringed.

It is not unusual for some birds to learn to avoid mist nets and to become ‘net shy’, especially where there’s a fairly static population and a regular ringing routine using the same net rides. It can be counteracted to some degree by leaving bigger intervals between ringing sessions, changing net positions and times of visits and I will be doing this over the coming weeks now that catching rates have fallen off.

Whilst we didn’t get the numbers we had hoped for we did get some variety with the aforementioned Grey Wagtail, a Reed Bunting and a very benign Jay that didn’t take any chunks out of us like they usually do. A few finches did get caught towards the end of the session including 4 new Bramblings and a control Greenfinch (ringed elsewhere) ring number starting TT09___.

male Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Jay (Garrulus glandarius), a relatively benign individual but if looks could kill......

Ringing totals with retraps in brackets.
Blackbird 6 (1)
Grey Wagtail 1
Jay 1
Reed Bunting 1
Chaffinch 5 (1)
Brambling 4 (1)
Great Tit 2 - (1)
Greenfinch 1 (1 control)
Blue Tit (4)
Dunnock – (3)
Robin – (1)
Total 21 new birds, 12 retraps and 1 control.

I ventured onto Orrell Water Park in the afternoon to check out the gulls. There were plenty of Black-headed Gulls but only one ringed bird and that was the German ringed bird that I have recorded several times now.
On thin ice, Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus).

Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) in action.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

House Sparrow Headlines

I went to the feeding station at Haigh this morning despite the dodgy forecast. The wind was light enough but there was a chance of some slow moving showers. As it happened the showers were light, very brief and infrequent. It was very mild compared to earlier in the week and there were fewer birds about as a result. At least 100 Chaffinches and Brambling had been present when I topped the feeders up midweek.
Catching was fairly steady but it was obvious that quite a few birds knew the score and how to avoid getting caught. Chaffinches and Bramblings still topped the totals but a House Sparrow was the star bird and the first I have caught at this site or seen there for that matter.

male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) a new species for the site.

This particular Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) brought the number
 ringed this winter to 150 but the total now stands at 153.

male Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), a long winged continental type bird.
Ringing totals with retraps in brackets.
Chaffinch 10 (3)
Brambling 9 (3)
Greenfinch 7 (2)
Goldfinch 3
Blackbird 2
Blue Tit 2 (9)
Great Tit 1 (2)
House Sparrow 1
Coal Tit – (3)
Long-tailed Tit – (2)
Bullfinch – (1)
Total 35 new birds and 25 recaptures.

Longshaw tomorrow.............

Thursday, 13 December 2012

A quickie before work

I am sure the title of this post is likely to attract some views and I am sure some of those viewers will be very disappointed and rightly so. With sunrise at around 08:20 there isn’t much time to fit in a ringing session before taking my son to college in time for a 09:15 start and getting to work. However, flat calm conditions and plenty of birds visiting the garden due to the cold conditions tempted me to put up an 18ft net for half an hour or so.
I put the net up in a different alignment to the usual setup as it was more likely to intercept the Blackcap that has been feeding in the garden as mentioned in my last post. The net hadn’t been up for more than a few minutes when a Blackcap type bird bounced but I didn’t get good enough views to be sure in the half light. First birds caught were a retrap Blue Tit and most surprising of all a Pied Wagtail, another bird that featured in my previous post.

male Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii)
The Blackcap wasn’t put off even if it had bounced and was soon back feeding on my mix of beef dripping and chopped peanuts along with the plums I had secured in the same shrubs in place of the usual half apples. I then saw it fly towards the net and u-turn at the last second, I say last second when last few millimetres would be far more precise. A Blackbird and a few retrap tits then blundered into the net. Having processed those birds it was time to take the net down when I found a male Chaffinch and a Blackcap had been caught. An excellent end to the quickie and sorry to those who were expecting something completely different but then you deserve it.

male Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Ringing totals, retraps in (brackets)
Pied Wagtail 1
Blackbird 1
Chaffinch 1
Blackcap 1
Coal Tit – (2)
Blue Tit – (1)
Great Tit – (1)
Total 4 + (4 retraps).

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Getting in the good books

The strong and gusty winds ruled out any mist-netting today so I decided to do a few chores around the garden. I have been neglecting my domestic duties due to ringing and it was an opportunity to do a bit of catching up. I decided to tackle the back of the house first but I still managed to get in a bit of garden birding in between bouts of clearing leaves, cleaning drains and doing some pruning.

Amongst the regular garden visitors were around 50 Goldfinches that made frequent visits to the feeders in the front garden. A Pied Wagtail fed on crumbs that had fallen from the fat cakes and a male Blackcap made fleeting visits to feed on the fat cakes in between visits by groups of squabbling Starlings.
Two of the six feeders in the front garden. These need topping up at least every other day.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), they often fluff their flank feathers over their wings.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

male Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii)

male Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

male Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) looking very big footed in this pose.

On the next dry and windy day I will have to tackle the front garden or tidy out the garage. A ringer’s work is never done or likely to be weather permitting.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

A day of two halves

I went to Longshaw with John G this morning hoping for another good catch of Bramblings and Chaffinches. I had been keeping the site well fed all week and the weather forecast was good for this morning at least. We had 3 nets up by first light but when the first birds started to arrive it was quite clear they were fewer in number compared to the last few weeks.

Catching rates were slow and were not helped by frost forming on the nets. This turned them white for a while until the sun rose above the tree line. We packed up at around 11am having only caught 23 new birds and 12 retraps, around a third of last week’s total. Only 2 new Bramblings were caught along with 12 new Chaffinches.

Longshaw ringing totals, recaptures in brackets.
Chaffinch 12 (1)
Brambling 2
Greenfinch 2
Blue Tit 2 (5)
Great Tit 2 (1)
Blackbird 2 (2)
Dunnock 1 (1)
Robin 0 (2)
Total 23 new birds and 12 retraps

I decided to go to Haigh this afternoon as the wind was still very light and the forecast was for much stronger winds tomorrow. John had better things to do so I went alone and had two nets set up by 12:50 which is usually a quiet time of day in ringing terms. There were plenty of birds about and the ringing totals didn’t disappoint in sharp contrast to Longshaw this morning. A total 21 Bramblings were caught including 2 retraps. Interestingly one of these ‘retrap’ Bramblings had actually been ringed at Longshaw on 18/11/12; a movement of 9km northeast.
A net full of Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla)
Short distance movements such as this are interesting in their own right. I have been feeding both sites equally well and there are other feeding stations closer to this bird’s ringing site including Kings Moss on the other side of Billinge Hill used by Pete Fearon (blog here). It makes sense for wintering birds to familiarise themselves with food availability over a fairly wide area. This will enhance their chances of survival should any one food supply become exhausted as would happen with natural food sources. It will be interesting to see if there is more interchange between sites over the winter.

One thing that has surprised me is how well we have done for Bramblings relative to other feeding stations in the northwest. The ringing total now stands at 144 Bramblings for this winter but, clearly, the birds are still moving around and numbers at other sites are likely to increase as the winter progresses.

A single Siskin was caught and was the first for the winter at this site; it was an adult male and a little gem. It had found the nyger feeders and it is hoped many more will follow before the winter is out. The ringing totals were excellent for an afternoon but could have been even higher as the session was curtailed at around15:30 when drizzle arrived.

male Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
Haigh ringing totals, recaptures in brackets.
Brambling 19 (2)
Chaffinch 10 (2)
Greenfinch 13 (5)
Goldfinch 2
Siskin 1
Bullfinch – (1)
Blue Tit 5 (4)
Great Tit 1 (3)
Lotti – (2)
Coal Tit – (1)
Blackbird 1
Total 52 new birds and 20 retraps.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Recent Recoveries

We have not received any recoveries for a while but a batch was received today. Most of the recoveries involved local or short distance movements of Swallows and Goldfinches but the pick of the bunch were a Chiffchaff from Longshaw (08/09/12) which was controlled at Farlington Marsh, Portsmouth (07/10/12) and an Oystercatcher ringed as a chick near Warrington (31/05/08) and controlled at Newport, Pembrokeshire (14/10/12).

All the movements involved birds that had been caught elsewhere by other ringers or were birds we had caught that had been ringed elsewhere and a few were birds that had moved between our ringing sites.

Chiffchaff EJB152

View EJB152 Chiffchaff in a larger map

Oystercatcher FB00332

View FB00332 Oystercatcher in a larger map

Sunday, 2 December 2012

TELX returns to winter at OWP

I got home from work this afternoon and had time to check out the Black-headed Gulls at Orrell Water Park. Both lakes had largely frozen over and I knew it would be easier to check them for rings when they were standing on the ice. About 80 Black-headed Gulls were gathered on the ice when I arrived but a few others were on a small area of open water. On the first scan I only noticed one with a metal ring and this was the German ringed bird that I have recorded several times already this winter.

German ringed Black-headed Gull. We are awaiting the ringing details of this bird.
 On a subsequent scan I noticed a bird with a white darvic ring inscribed TELX. I photographed this bird several times last winter and subsequently found out that it had been ringed as a chick at Przykona Reservoir near Radyczyny in Poland on 11th June 2011 (see map below). It hadn’t been recorded anywhere else when I first reported it last year. It will be interesting to find out if it has been recorded elsewhere since last winter.

TELX Black-headed Gull photographed at Orrell Water Park 02/12/12

TELX Black-headed Gull photographed at Orrell Water Park 02/12/12
TELX Black-headed Gull photographed at Orrell Water Park 02/01/12 when first sighted
The map below shows the ringing and sighting locations. The distance between them is 897 miles.

View Black-headed Gull TELX in a larger map

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Spot on weather forecast

This post could have had various titles -. ‘More of the same’, ‘Bramblings feature again’, or ‘Told you I would bore you with Bramblings’ but the spot on weather forecast won it by a mile. Tomorrow is the better day of the weekend but I have to work so I wanted to fit in a session at Haigh this morning if possible.
The forecast was for a band of rain coming through overnight and clearing early morning. I have been let down by forecasts on many an occasion so I wasn’t overly optimistic. I got up at 6am and it was raining quite hard. A check of the rainfall radar via the internet showed a band of rain straddling the area with a clearance coming in from the northwest. I set off for Haigh at 6:40am while it was still raining. The rain stopped as I arrived but there were some ominous clouds about as the sky brightened. I put up 2 nets by 7:30 by which time there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The sky remained crystal clear as forecast for the remainder of the day so the forecast was spot on after all.

I was keen to fit in a ringing session at Haigh because Brambling invasions don’t come around that often and the cost of baiting sites is not insignificant. When I started ringing many years ago my trainer used all manner of waste grain and some of it was very rough by today’s standards to say the least; black sunflower was not in our vocabulary back then. These days you seem to have to use high quality feed to get any results. This seems to be a bit of a contradiction with a more sterile agriculture and declining bird populations but is certainly my experience. Even peanuts are not the Greenfinch magnet they once were.

What does this tell us; well bird populations have certainly declined but the remainder will always aggregate around the best food available so it is easy to be deluded to thinking everything is ok. If you are feeding the best, and that is what we tend to do these days, you may not notice fewer birds at your feeders even though many populations are declining. We use constant effort sites to help monitor bird population trends in summer but I am not aware of anyone who has done any constant feeding experiments to measure change in feeding habits and preferences. Sales of niger seed, sunflower hearts, and black sunflower seed have never been higher and were unheard of not that many years ago or am I that old.

At the end of the day a sack of waste grain will not produce the same results as it did as little as 30 years ago and mainly because bird populations have declined that much. Peanuts are not the Greenfinch magnet they once were because Greenfinches have declined significantly whilst artificial food availability has increased so the remainder can afford to be more choosey or that is my theory.

Today’s ringing totals at Haigh were (retraps in brackets):
Blackbird 3
Blue 6 (2)
Brambling 15 (3)
Chaffinch 10 (2)
Coal Tit 0 (2)
Dunnock 1
Goldcrest 1
Greenfinch 14 (3)
Great Tit 5 (2)
Great-spotted Woodpecker 1
Robin 2 (1)
Totals 58 (+15)

Bramblings topped the totals again which indicates there are a lot in the country along with a shortage of natural food sources such as beech mast. We ringed none with a similar feeding regime in the previous winter period which says a lot.