Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 9 - Siidisaba

I took the day off work to try and catch some more Waxwings as up to 62 had been present yesterday. I was up early and was joined by John G as he had an hour or so to spare before going to work. We put up an 18ft net in the garden at first light and waited for the birds to arrive. A flock of 42 arrived at the usual time and sat preening in the trees along the road from the garden as they normally do before coming down to feed.

The Siskins started coming to the feeders and the Waxwings moved along the tree line closer to the garden. The Waxwings were just about to drop down when a male Sparrowhawk darted through the garden and flew into the net. This flushed all the birds including the Waxwings which were lost to view.

3CY male Sparrowhawk (Accipter nisus)
More than half an hour passed before any birds returned to the garden. Siskins were first along with a few tits but there was no sign of any of the Waxwings. Almost an hour passed before a smaller flock of around 20 Waxwings returned by which time the sun was up and starting to shine on the net. The street was also becoming busy with mums and children on the school run but a few birds came across and started to feed.

The rest of this smaller flock soon joined them and some worked their way down the tree to the apples by the net. John really needed to get off to work but it looked like we had a chance to catch a few before the sun became too much of a problem. The foreign ringed bird was one of the lower birds by the net but it would fly parallel to the net to and from its favoured apple. It was time for John to go when the first Waxwing flew into the net and it was quickly followed by another 4. One of these was the colour-ringed bird from Aberdeen.

A good reason to risk being late for work.
John had to go now but at least he had ringed 4 Waxwings this time. The sun was becoming more of a problem but a few clouds drifted across offering some hope of catching a few more. The Waxwings commuted between the apples in the garden and the trees across the road but it was clear they could see the net. The foreign ringed bird frequently made a show of itself by the net and had me on pins for much of the time - no all of the time to be honest.

A Waxwing would occasional get caught but most easily avoided the net. The few bits of cloud had burned off by this time so I decided to furl the net. Just before I went out two Waxwings flew into the garden from the trees across the road and went straight in the net. A quick check with the binoculars and I thought one of them was wearing an aluminium ring.

I went and extracted the birds and one was wearing an aluminium ring. It was the foreign ringed bird and better than expected with the address of Matsalu, Estonia stamped on the ring. I don't believe in fate but the ring number also made me smile as the first two letters were PA which are my initials. I furled the net as planned feeling satisfied and much more relaxed to say the least. Down right chuffed probably sums it up.

Estonian ringed Siidisaba (Bombycilla garrulus)

After processing the birds I checked the BTO online ringing reports to see how many Waxwing movements there had been between the UK and Estonia. To my surprise there had been none in either direction up the end of 2011 or to any of the other Baltic states for that matter. Waxwings are a rare breeding bird in Estonia so it is likely to have been ringed as a migrant last autumn as it was a first winter bird. It will be interesting to see when it was ringed in relation to the main arrivals on the east coast as it will give an indication of the speed of movement.

At least 20 Waxwings continued to feed in the garden for the rest of the day including the Estonian and colour-ringed bird. For some reason they seemed tamer than ever in the afternoon and weren't disturbed by my neighbour when he came out to tidy his front garden. I wondered if the apples ferment a little in their gut and make them more chilled out as the day goes on.

Estonian ringed Waxwing (Siidisaba) back feeding in the garden after being released.
I opened the net again at 15:30 as the net was starting to get shaded by the house and I managed to catch one more before they left for their roost at around 16:10.

Ringing totals with retraps / controls in brackets.
Waxwing 10 (2)
Siskin 2 (4)
Sparrowhawk 1
Total 13 (6)

I was up the ladder with a bag of apples as usual this evening in readiness for tomorrow but I doubt today will be bettered anytime soon.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Waxwings not waning

I woke up a little later than usual this morning and peered out of the window to be greeted by 50 Waxwings sitting in the top of a tree across the road from the garden. There had been at least 22 feeding in the garden yesterday so I had put out around 4kg of apples last night which I had hoped would be more than enough.
The birds soon started feeding in the garden but they were very flighty and frequently flushed as the street was quite busy. The colour-ringed bird from Aberdeen was in the fIock along with a few birds which were only wearing a metal ring. These were probably the birds I had ringed on Saturday.
Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) in the feeding tree. Just part of the flock.
I had to go to work but received an email from a friend who had counted 61 mid morning. I phoned home just before lunch to be told that most of the apples had been eaten. I asked that more were put out but feared it was already too late to keep that many birds around.
I bought another 8kg of apples and 'borrowed' a few more sprays of cotoneaster berries on my way home this evening. I have spent around 2 hours putting out apples and generally rearranging the garden tonight so there will be plenty of food waiting for the birds in the morning. I just hope they all come back.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 8 - the catch

I was up early this morning so I could get a net up in the garden just before first light. The weather was perfect with full cloud cover and no wind. I was hoping to catch some Waxwings but knew I was likely to get a good catch of Siskins whether the Waxwings turned up our not. I was joined by John G but he could only stay for an hour or so as he had to go to work.

With the net up we retired to the house for a coffee and waited for the birds to arrive. As the sky brightened the first Siskins started to gather in the tops of the trees across the road from the garden. The Waxwings usually appear about 10 minutes after the first Siskins but 20 minutes came and went and no Waxwings. Around 30 Siskins had gathered by now and had started to come down to the feeders. Birds soon started going into the net and we caught 14 Siskins within the first 20 minutes.

I had almost given up hope of the Waxwings arriving but then heard the distinctive trilling calls of a flock coming our way. There were about 24 in the flock and they landed in the trees opposite and eyed up the apples in the garden. They sat there for over 10 minutes but then flushed for some reason and moved to another tree much further away. Whatever had flushed them had also flushed more Siskins into the net so we went out and quickly extracted them.

A little while later the Waxwings flew across to the tree in the garden and worked there way down to feast on the apples. There was more activity in the street by this time and the birds flushed after only feeding for about 10 minutes. One Waxwing hit the net but bounced out. The Waxwings moved off at this point so it didn't look like I would catch any after all. More Siskins had been caught and we took the opportunity to extract them but John had to go off to work at this point. This catch brought the Siskin total to 19 and it was only 08:30.

I grabbed another coffee while keeping an eye on the net. It wasn't long before a few more birds were caught and this time there was a real garden rarity in the net, not a Waxwing but a Willow Tit. I decided to furl the net at this point and content myself with the good catch of Siskins. Net closed I walked round to the back of the house to ring the birds that I had just extracted only to see the flock of Waxwings coming back. I dashed back to the net and unfurled it with the Waxwings watching me from the trees across the road.

Garden ringing site
The Waxwings came into the garden almost immediately and started feeding. I ringed the 4 Siskins and Willow Tit that I had just caught while trying to keep an eye on the activity in the front garden. It wasn't long before the first Waxwing was in the net and then another two. The Waxwings carried on feeding for the next couple of hours and only moved to the trees across the road when I went round to take birds out of the net. By late morning I had caught 11 Waxwings. Unfortunately I didn't catch the foreign ringed bird but I can't complain.

adult female Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

First winter male Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)
Ringing totals for 23/02/13 with retraps in brackets.
Siskin 27 (9)
Waxwing 11
Starling 3
Goldfinch 1
Long-tailed Tit 1
Willow Tit 1
Total 44 (+9 retraps)

Whilst the ringing of 11 Waxwings was a first for the garden so was the single Willow Tit. The total of 36 Siskins caught is also a record catch for the garden and brings the total ringed so far this month to 64 which is more than I have ever ringed in the garden previously. The Fieldfare was in the garden too making it the longest staying individual by far. A record breaking day on many fronts.

Some of the Siskins are putting on a lot of fat to be ready for their spring migration. Weights ranged from a normal winter weight of 11.4g to a hefty 15.3g although they can get heavier than that. Most weighed just over 13g and were carrying moderate fat deposits.

This evening I topped up all the feeders, I also got the ladder out and put fresh apples in the tree in the garden and a few in the trees across the road. Hopefully the Waxwings and Siskins will be tempted to stay with us for some time yet.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 7

A few days of frustration on the Waxwing front for various reasons not least having to go to work so harder to keep tabs on things. There were 3 in the garden on the 19th and 20th but 11 the next morning (21st) and increasing to 22 in the afternoon.

On getting home from work much time has been spent up a ladder putting up apples and berries in the trees. The cotoneaster berries have been the result of guerrilla pruning and I stopped off on my way home tonight to collect some low hanging fruit as they say in management speak. Apples are a different matter and have cost me a few quid but who cares when Waxwings are a few feet from your window.

This morning I was up early to see how many would arrive but they didn't appear on time. I thought they had moved on but then 17 appeared briefly but soon flushed. A short time later 32 appeared and started to feed in earnest, the best count yet. The colour ringed Waxwing from Aberdeen was amongst them to indicate that the same birds are still hanging around.

Sorry for the poor photographs but taken through a window with a point and press.
The biggest frustration by far is that one bird is clearly wearing a foreign ring being pure aluminium and slightly larger than the rings we use in the UK. This bird has a habit of feeding on the apples closest to the window. That would be welcomed, usually, but I sent my telephoto lens off for repair earlier in the week. I now wish I had not sent it as I could have used it in manual and photographed the ring to get the number. It sits so close I can almost read it with binoculars.

Whilst today got off to a good start it was marred by someone who flushed all the birds whilst photographing them from the street mid morning. The intrusion was apparently too much and the birds didn't come back. I am happy to share but some push things too far. I would suggest they get their own chuffing apples and work at it and pay for it like I do.

Tomorrow is a new day and just could be a new story. It won't be for the want of trying as the ladder has been out again tonight along with apples, branches of berries and cable ties.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Recent recoveries

We recently received a batch of recoveries from the BTO. Highlight for me was a Greenfinch from Dumfries & Galloway that was controlled at Longshaw. It would be interesting to know if this bird made a sea crossing, possibly via the Isle of Man, or took the longer route around the coast. It is a while since we had such a long distance movement from a Greenfinch.

Other recoveries mapped are a Brambling from north east England, a Swallow to Spain and a Reed Warbler to Kent. The movement of a Coot has been included because of the birds age rather than the distance travelled. This Coot was ringed as an adult at Pennington Flash on 13/10/03 and found in poor condition at Chester Zoo on 24/11/12 making this bird at least 10 years old given its age at the time of ringing.

View Autumn 2013 finch movements in a larger map

View X924508 Swallow in a larger map

View X927797 Reed Warbler in a larger map

View GH49661 Coot in a larger map

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Quick update

I was back in work on Tuesday so don't have much to report but family members have been keeping an eye on things in the garden. The Waxwings are still visiting or at least 3 were all day yesterday and up to 5 today. A female Blackcap was seen this afternoon which is the first for a good while and probably the 5th Blackcap in the garden so far this winter.

I found a berry laden cotoneaster on my way home tonight so I stopped to prune off some branches to add to the apples I have been providing. Earlier this evening I spent half an hour or so up a ladder in the dark tying the berries to the tree and impaling apples on small branches in the front garden. I got some very strange looks from passersby while making this Waxwing fruit cocktail.

Over 20 Siskins were in the garden before I went to work this morning and I noticed one was ringed on the left leg so will have been ringed elsewhere as I always ring birds on the right leg. I hope it hangs around until weekend so I get a chance to try and catch it and find out where it was ringed.

I noticed the first few sprays of Blackthorn flowers today, presumably stimulated by the glorious sunny weather yesterday. Yesterday's sunshine also produced a stunning sunset over Pennington Flash which I just managed to catch the tail end of.

Pennington Flash 19th February 2013.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 6

I have just received news of the ringing location of the colour ringed Waxwing that featured in yesterday's post. The bird returned again today and I also managed to read the BTO metal ring number. There were 15 birds in the flock and they fed on the apples for an hour from midday. The colour ringed bird had been ringed in Bridge of Don near Aberdeen on 01/12/12, a movement of 403km.

View Waxwing NW65022 in a larger map

Show off. A cracking bird and a good movement.


If  you see a colour-ringed Waxwing contact Grampian Ringing Group.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 5

OK the titles of recent posts may be getting a little boring and repetitive but the prospect of Waxwings in the garden certainly isn't. The forecast was for a lovely sunny day today which isn't good for ringing in the garden as there is very little shade. Sunshine makes nets stand out and birds can easily see them in these conditions. However, I decided to put a net up for an hour or so from first light to try and catch a few more Siskins before the sunshine became a problem.

Sunshine makes mist nets really stand out.
I was entering a few records on Bird Track while keeping an eye on the net when I suddenly noticed Waxwings dropping into the apple filled tree in front of the window. The laptop was thrown to one side and I grabbed my binoculars. A quick count revealed there were 16 and they included a colour ringed bird and another with just a metal ring. All the birds were actively feeding and it seemed that the best apple was the one another bird was eating as the birds constantly swapped places. This made getting the colour ring combination quite difficult as the birds frequently moved or obscured each other.

I eventually noted the combination and then set about trying to get a few photographs. I didn't dare open a window as the birds were so close. Another problem was the window faces east so all the birds were back lit by the rising sun and there was some glare on the double glazing to contend with. I managed to get a few record shots including the colour ringed bird but I didn't manage to get any photos of the bird with just a metal ring.

Colour-ringed Waxwing metal/red right, red/red /lime green left in the garden today.
It will be interesting to see where this bird had been ringed and if there have been
 any previous sightings since then. Details will be given in a future post.
The birds fed for half an hour before departing; presumably flushed by some activity on the street or in a neighbours garden. I thought they would come back as there were plenty of apples but unfortunately they didn't. At least 16 birds know there is food in the garden now so hopefully they will return on a more regular basis as other food sources are depleted. The supply of apples isn't going to run out in my garden while there are Waxwings around and apples in the shops.

I have emailed Grampian Ringing Group with details of the colour ringed bird as it could be one they have ringed in the Aberdeen area.
As for today's ringing the totals were:
Siskin 4
Blackbird 2 (2)
Robin 1
Blue Tit 2
Long-tailed Tit 2 (1)
Totals 11 (3)
(retraps in brackets)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 4

The much anticipated and hoped for Waxwing flock did not materialise yesterday. Three did not become nine or any other number as none visited the garden and it was well watched all day. To add to my disappointment the auto focus and image stabilisation had packed in on my zoom lens too.

This morning the wind was very light so I decided to put up an 18ft net in the garden to try and catch some of the many Siskins that have been visiting the feeders. There have been around 20 to 30 Siskins coming to the garden for the past couple of weeks which is exceptional compared with recent winters. Some of the Siskins are particularly fond of the fat cakes that I make from a mixture of finely chopped peanuts and dripping.

P J Alker
Siskins (Carduelis spinus)
As I was putting the net up I heard the distinctive call of a Waxwing and a single bird landed in a tree above me. The bird watched me as I finished off putting up the net and then it started to feed on the apples as soon as I went back in the house. It was the same adult female that first visited the garden on Wednesday 13th Feb and is identifiable by some missing feathers on the right side of the neck.

Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)
Waxwings are a gregarious species in winter so it is interesting that this bird returned alone after a day's absence. It obviously found an alternative food supply yesterday along with the two birds that accompanied it on Thursday so why did it come back alone today? Anyway I am glad that it did and it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming days.

Back to the ringing and a good number of Siskins were caught with 12 new birds and 2 retraps. This brings the total ringed to 28 in just over a week.

Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
Garden ringing totals 16/02/13 with retraps in brackets.
Siskin 12 (2)
Goldfinch 3
Long-tailed Tit 3 (1)
Robin 1
Wren 1
Totals 20 (3)

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 3

I got up at around 07:30 to an almost bird free garden. All the snow had been cleared by overnight rain and it wasn't particularly cold. After about half an hour I had almost given up hope of the Waxwing returning, alone or with any mates. Siskins and Goldfinches started to arrive along with the Fieldfare and a few other bits and bobs. Then to my delight a Waxwing appeared and started feeding on one of the many apples. It was the same bird as yesterday having a few feathers missing from the right side of its neck. That was pleasing enough but she had brought some more of her kind and another two were sat higher up in the same tree. Presumably there is a communal roost somewhere and the two new birds followed her to the garden.

The two new birds didn't seem as keen on apples at first but they soon got the hang of twisting off pieces and settled down to feed. One of the new birds was an adult and the other a first winter bird. They were flushed by a neighbours cat after half an hour or so, much to my annoyance. That particular cooking fat is a real nuisance in the garden at times.

Spot the Waxwing, yes there is one. This is the scene of all the action. A relatively small front garden by a fairly busy road. The pale patches on the lawn are all the sunflower hearts the Siskins and Goldfinches discard. They are real messy feeders.
The original bird came back on its own after a while so I thought the other two hadn't really taken to apples after all. I needn't have worried though and all 3 birds returned to feed twice during the afternoon. It will be interesting to see how many Waxwings, if any, return in the morning. The wind is forecast to be quite light so I may put a net up if it is still enough. The garden was buzzing with Siskins and Goldfinches again so I could be spoilt for choice.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 2

The much hoped for Waxwings did not return to the garden on Monday or Tuesday but the garden still held plenty of birds. A mixed flock of at least 50 Siskins and Goldfinches were getting through much of the contents of 5 feeders each day. The Fieldfare continued to hog the apples and keep the Blackbird at bay although it would tolerate them to a degree if they fed on the ground.

I am off work for a few days now but started the morning in a bit of a panic because I thought I had lost my phone when out at a meeting last night. After ringing round and searching high and low I phoned the phone company to get it blocked but shortly after, to my relief and embarrassment, it was found under the couch. Panic over I settled down with a coffee to watch the birds in the garden. It had been snowing for a couple of hours and the garden was alive with birds. The Goldfinches and Siskins were joined by a Brambling, a very rare visitor to the garden. House Sparrows, Chaffinches, Starlings, four species of tit, Robins and Dunnocks etc. Generally what you would call buzzing.

Just a few of the Siskins and a Goldfinch at two of the feeders.
After another coffee I noticed the Fieldfare feeding on apple halves in the tree a few feet from the window. I then glanced up and realised there was Waxwing feeding on an apple just above it. I grabbed the camera and took some record shots through the window. It was quite dull as it was still snowing so the shutter speeds were quite low but one or two of the results weren't too bad.

Record shot of the Fieldfare and Waxwing taken through the double glazing.

Another photo taken through the double glazing. The bird was aged and sexed as an adult female based on the number of red waxy tips and the white edges to all the inner webs of the primary tips
I watched it feeding for a while. The Fieldfare made a brief challenge but the Waxwing held its ground. The two birds then seemed to have the measure of each other and happily fed in fairly close proximity at times. After a while I went upstairs and half lowered the blinds, I then opened the window, slowly and carefully. The Waxwing wasn't bothered by this and continued to feed about 20ft from the open window and my camera. The light remained fairly poor and the snow turned to fine hail, then sleet then rain. I got a bit shutter happy anyway and fired off loads of shots, a few of which are presented below.

adult female Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

adult female Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

adult female Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

adult female Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

adult female Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

adult female Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus). The diffuse edge to the bib is another character of females.
The bird stayed feeding in the garden until dusk. Hopefully she will be back tomorrow and will bring a few friends. There are a lot more apples waiting for them if she does.