Thursday 23 May 2013

Siskin recovery

A Siskin ringed in the garden was the pick of the latest batch of recoveries received from the BTO. It was ringed as an adult female on 23/02/13 and was subsequently caught by a ringer in Keith, Moray, Scotland on 13th April; a movement of 447km in 49 days.

I ringed 102 Siskins between 2nd February and 30th March which is the most I have ringed in the garden. There is a chance that we will find out a few more have been recovered in due course as ringers have been catching Siskins in exceptional numbers across the country this spring.

View D277622 Siskin in a larger map

Adult female Siskin photographed in the garden 14/02/13

Friday 17 May 2013

Back to black

On my way home from work I stopped off  to see how the Blackbird nest was doing that I mentioned in my last post. I was hardly dressed for the occasion but I thought I would give it a go. I managed to make my way down the bank and along the edge of the river to the nest without ruining my shoes so that was a good start. To my delight the Blackbird nest was still there and contained 4 healthy young; this was despite some recent heavy rain that could have caused a further bank collapse.

The young Blackbirds were the ideal size for ringing with their primary feathers just emerging from their sheaths. Based on the initial assessment they are now 7 days old but they won't fledge for another 7 days. It is a fairly exposed nest so they have done well to get to this stage. I will try and check on the nest again to see if they fledge successfully.

Feed me now.
During the visit a duck and drake Mandarin flew down the river which was nice to see. I haven't seen them on this stretch for a while so it is good to know they are still around.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Lazy Sunday

I had my first decent lie-in for months this morning and only got up at around 9am. After lounging about for a while I decided I should get out for a couple hours as it was forecast to rain in the afternoon. It was too late and too breezy to go to any of my usual ringing sites so I went to a very sheltered stretch of the river Douglas to see if there were any juvenile Dippers about.

I had just made my way down to the river when a Blackbird flew out of a steep section of bank. I thought the Blackbird may have been foraging but something made me have a closer look. On a earth ledge about three quarters up the bank there was a nest with 4 small young. The young were about 2 days old as they were still naked and blind. The outer part of the nest was largely constructed from small pieces of root which helped to camouflage the nest.

Spot the Blackbird nest
2 day old Blackbirds

Nest location. Did you spot it?
This bank is quite unstable and prone to collapse when the river levels are high but it looks like this section had collapsed not too long ago so hopefully there will be no further collapses for a while. I have found a few Blackbird nests on ledges in outbuildings but this is the first I have found in a river bank. I will check the nest in a few days to see how they are getting on.

I put a net across another section of the river while I checked out the areas up and down stream. I had seen Dippers carrying food a couple of weeks ago so I hoped the nesting attempt had been successful and the young had fledged by now. I didn't see any young Dippers or any adults carrying food but I did see a Grey Wagtail carrying food and a Mallard with some recently hatched ducklings. I was just about to pack up because the first few drops of rain had arrived when this Dipper turned up in the net. It was a new bird and its wing length showed it was a male.

male Dipper
The rain put a stop to any further survey work so I returned home having spent an interesting couple of hours on the river. I then spent the rest of the day as I started it and just lounged about. It is nice to slow life down and be really lazy now and again and that certainly sums up today.

Friday 10 May 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 39 - this could be it.

I managed a bit of a lie in yesterday morning but I was still up quite early as I can't seem to shake the habit. I didn't see any Waxwings before going to work so it looks like the last few have now gone. There were only three in the garden on Wednesday and they were last seen at 8pm. I managed to get a few photos in the evening as I suspected it could be the last time I would see them. The tree they were feeding in was shaded by the house but the trees in the background were lit by the setting sun which made for difficult lighting conditions.

The last 3 are in here. Photo taken 19:58hrs 08/05/13

One last bite.

"до свидания"

As alert as ever.
Now we seem to have reached the end I would like to thank those who have donated apples or money so I could see this through to its natural conclusion. At peak it was costing around £25 each day in apples and the support at that time made it more affordable so a big thank you to you all. It also means the data accumulated is all the more valuable as food supply has not been a limiting factor to the numbers recorded. The graph below shows how the number of Waxwings has declined from its peak as birds have left for their breeding grounds.

The decline in the number of Waxwings recorded.
This will not be the last Waxwing lyrical post but any future posts are likely to be few and far between. There will be a round-up of the ringing totals and all the controls in due course along with a review in pictures. At some point there could be some interesting recoveries to report and then there is the retrap data to look at especially the weight increases as the birds prepared to migrate.

Anyway I hope you have enjoyed these posts over the past 3 months.

Monday 6 May 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 38 - and then there were 9

I still haven't had the proper lie-in that I have been promising myself for the past 3 months but I should be able to any day now. I was up at daft o'clock again today to see how many Waxwings would arrive and as the post title has already indicated there were only 9. Just before sunrise has been the best time to count the Waxwings as they generally sit up in the trees before coming down to feed and that now means being up just after 5:00am. I have gone back to bed for an hour our two after counting them on a couple of occasions but those have been very rare exceptions.

It is clear from the weight data I have gathered when ringing the birds that reaching the right weight is key to the timing of their departure. That weight may vary slightly between individuals but they generally need to increase their body weight by about 40% from their lean winter weight before they are ready to go. That extra weight is predominantly fat but there will be an associated increase in muscle simply to carry all the extra weight.

This one is surely ready to go.
Today has been very warm and a complete contrast to when the first bird turned up on a snowy February morning. It was interesting to watch and photograph them in the fresh greenery of the trees now that they are finally coming into leaf. Waxwings can be very unobtrusive against the bark of the trees and in the dappled light under the canopy.

Waxwings are really quite well camouflaged against the bark of trees and a jumble of branches.

Zoom in and you can see how the body feathers matches the colour of the bark.
The mask, bib and under tail coverts help break up the bird's outline.
The following 3 photographs are included for the fresh greenery and glorious sunshine of today; not how you would normally expect to see Waxwings in this country.
I wish I had used a faster shutter speed and this had been sharp
...................and finally one bird actually waved me goodbye.
If you believe that you will believe anything but photoshop was not involved! Still a great photo whether today turns out to be the last day they are here or not. When I was taking the photographs someone passing by said 'hasn't the novelty worn off'. With Waxwings and photographs like these what do you think.

Friday 3 May 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 37 - fat but not enough

Well they are still here or 19 of them are to be more precise. They are getting the same care and attention as the first bird did and the hundreds since. I am going to see this through in the same way as I started with the last bird being valued as much as the first. I only need to put out 3kg of apples now but the birds have eaten well over a tonne of apples since the first bird turned up back in February or over 2,200lb if you prefer imperial.

The 19 present today.

A tonne of apples works out at around 7,000 apples so that means I have put out around 14,000 apple halves over the past 80 days. Quite a lot of those apples have been put in the trees using the extension ladder and I estimate that I have climbed over 3,000ft in the process. If you total up the number of Waxwings I have seen over the past 80 days it gives a total of 5951 bird days. These figures give an average of 168g of apple per day per bird over the period although I have yet to crunch the numbers in detail and there is some wastage to make an allowance for. The average consumption is likely to be just under 150g per bird each day over the time I have been feeding them.

A very green scene compared to a couple of weeks ago.
I put a couple of nets up this morning and caught 5 of the remaining Waxwings in one catch. They were all retraps although one of these retraps was a control (ringed elsewhere) that I had caught before. None of the birds caught today was particularly heavy so these birds may be around for a few days yet (famous last words). All but one bird had shown a weight gain but all were still under 70g so need to put on a bit more weight before migrating.

Looks quite plump but still needs to put on a few more grams.

A very pear shaped Waxwing, all the weight has gone south on this bird.
Sparrowhawks are still paying the birds quite a bit of attention and usually flush them several times a day but they have not been seen making a kill recently. I grabbed the photo below through the front window yesterday. Today the birds were also flushed by a stunning Hobby which wasn't interested in the Waxwings and was just passing through over the roof tops.

This bird attacked out of the sun early yesterday morning.
One of several failed attacks made yesterday.
A few Blackcaps are still taking advantage of the apples even though there are quite a few insects around now. The bird photographed today may still be on passage rather than being a local breeding bird. Its feeding behaviour was suggestive of it being a migrant and it looks quite fat too.

Male Blackcap.
After the Waxwing catch I went to my ringing site at Longshaw to try and catch up on some of the routine ringing I would normally do at this time of year. I was hoping for a few passage Redpolls and wasn't disappointed. I caught 10 including a control (a bird ringed elsewhere). These birds showed just about every variation in colour you can get in Lesser Redpolls.
The bird on the right is a warm brown colour typical of Lesser Redpolls but the bird on the left is a much colder grey colour with whiter wing bars more suggestive of Common (Mealy) Redpoll.


Wednesday 1 May 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 36 - 1st May 2013

My wish to see Waxwings in May came true this morning when 6 arrived at 05:40. I was more than happy with that number but more arrived over the next half hour or so and a maximum of 23 were counted a little while later. They spent more time feeding in the garden today than they have done of late although they still went elsewhere for a while around midday. They were back by mid-afternoon and stayed feeding on and off until 20:05.

The fine weather gave me plenty of opportunities to get a few more photographs although, with more leaves on the trees, getting a clear shot is becoming increasingly difficult. Blackcaps are still taking advantage of the apples too and at least 3 were feeding in the garden today.  I have now ringed 17 Blackcaps since 15th April and many more have passed through without being caught and ringed. Like the Waxwings this number of Blackcaps is totally unprecedented for the area.

The following selection of photos sums up the activity in and around the garden today. Hope you enjoy them.

Soaking up the rays and preening after the initial feed.

Feather management is really important and Waxwings spend a lot of time preening.
Very round and plump. This bird will be as fat as it looks.

This bird also looks very fat.
Getting stuck in.

One of the Blackcaps fattening up on apples today.
Not a local breeding bird judging by her weight.

Take off.