Monday 17 June 2013

Moth catches finally start to pick up.

I run a moth trap in the garden most days but it hasn't produced much to blog about as result of the long winter and cold spring. The numbers and variety of species caught has been very poor compared with previous seasons but this morning showed some overdue improvement in variety if not numbers.

On opening the trap the first moth seen on the top edge of the egg trays was a Scorched Wing. This is a local if well distributed species and one I rarely catch. Without looking through my records it is probably only the second or third record for the garden. They are incredible looking things with wood grain type markings and a purplish tinge to the inner trailing corners of the wings. The upturned abdomen means this individual is a male.

Scorched Wing
Scorched Wing, the upturned abdomen means this individual is a male.
The next egg tray moved revealed a White-pinion Spotted on the inner wall of the trap. This is a species that is fairly common in south-east England but is less frequent further north. It is one species that appears to be expanding its range and is also filling in gaps in its distribution in contrast to many other species. I have caught them in the garden occasionally in recent years but it is still relatively unusual and always noteworthy.

White-pinion Spotted
The remainder of the catch was routine fare for the time of year with a Green Silver-lines being the best of the rest. The final tally was 33 macro moths of 19 species which is still poor for the time of year. There were 3 Poplar Hawkmoths but that is not unusual and hawkmoths appear to have largely avoided the worst impact of the weather.

Green Silver-lines
In fact hawkmoths seem to be the stand out species of the late spring and have made up a higher proportion of the catch than they normally would to date. On the 15th June I caught 2 Poplar Hawkmoths and an Eyed Hawkmoth. Prior to that I have caught a few singles of Lime Hawkmoth and Poplar Hawkmoth.

A squadron of Hawkmoths caught 15/06/13.
Male and female Poplar Hawkmoths above and Eyed Hawkmoth below.

Eyed Hawkmoth 15/06/13.
All hawkmoths are usually easy to handle and are great for showing to people.

Lime Hawkmoth caught 02/06/13

Friday 14 June 2013

Waxwing lyrical part 40 - first foreign recovery

A recent batch of recoveries received from the BTO included details of our first foreign recovery of a Waxwing. It was ringed in the garden on 30/03/13 and was one of 19 new birds caught that morning. It was controlled by ringers in Pandrup in northern Denmark on 24/04/13; a movement of 883km in 25 days. It is likely that this bird continued to visit the garden for a while after it was ringed so the movement to Denmark was probably much quicker than the ringing and recovery dates suggest.

A quick check of the BTO online ringing reports revealed that there had only been 3 recoveries of British ringed Waxwings in Denmark up to the of 2012 so this is potentially only the 4th Waxwing recovery in that country. Interestingly there had only been one recovery of a Waxwing ringed in Denmark and found in Britain up to the end of 2012 and that bird had also been ringed in Pandrup where our bird was recovered.

View NV78923 Waxwing in a larger map

Amongst the other recoveries were several Waxwings that had been ringed elsewhere in the UK and controlled in the garden. Three of these had been ringed a short distance away on Merseyside and will be detailed in a future post. Two were colour-ringed birds from Aberdeen and both of these have featured in previous posts but another, NV64366, was also from Scotland and had been ringed at Fearnan, Loch Tay on 17/11/12 and was caught in the garden on 12/04/13; a movement of 350km SSE. This recovery is shown in the map below.

View NV64366 Waxwing in a larger map

So where are they now? Lots of people seem to think that Waxwings just come from Scandinavia and while some do most probably come from much further east in Russia and that is where the majority will be breeding now. The breeding range of Waxwings largely falls within the red line shown on the map below (source BWP).

Waxwing breeding distribution.
 This Waxwing was feeding in the garden just a few weeks ago and will
probably be breeding somewhere in Russia now.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Great Crested Grebe courtship behaviour - they start very young

I was out with the camera and dog this afternoon and sat down by the lake in the park on my way back. I had been watching the Canada Geese with their goslings when my attention was drawn to the Great Crested Grebe chicks. Two of the young were facing each other and mirroring each others movements in the head shaking and ritualised preening display. This went on for several minutes and it was clear they were practicing the courtship behaviour that they will need in later life.

Adult Great Crested Grebes are well known for their elaborate courtship behaviour that incudes head shaking, ritualised preening and a weed carrying display. I have done a bit of research and haven't come across any references to young Great Crested Grebes exhibiting this behaviour and at such an early age. At this stage I don't know if this is a unique observation but if it is not it is likely to be something that has been rarely observed or documented. I will do a bit more digging but if it is previously unrecorded behaviour you read it and saw it here first.

If this hasn't been recorded or photographed before I suppose I could have kept it under wraps and looked to get it published in some ornithological journal or magazine. This usually means a long delay which doesn't seem right in a digital age so here it is: observed today and published today.

Spot the displaying Great Crested Grebe chicks.

all images and text copyright P J Alker 08/06/13

Thursday 6 June 2013

Flaming June

Since my last post a singing bird has got my attention 'big time' as it is well outside its normal breeding range. I will check the site again tomorrow and post more details at an appropriate time. If I think it could be breeding you may have to wait a little while and no it wasn't a Waxwing. Early June is silly season in birding terms and can produce some very unusual records, although they are often one or two day wonders as this bird may prove to be.

I was home from work early this evening so I grabbed the camera and took the dog for a walk to take advantage of the glorious weather. I am lucky in where I live in that there is a park across the road and open countryside beyond. The Great Crested Grebes on the park's top lake have 4 well grown young and the adults are having no problem in supplying food.

Shaking off excess water after diving.

A little further on and just outside the park I came across my first dragonflies of the year in the form of a female and male Broad-bodied Chaser. I haven't seen any damselflies yet so I didn't expect to come across these beauties.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

Male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

Male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
Yes the dog did get a walk although he had to be patient now and again.

Sunday 2 June 2013

To Anglesey and back.

I spent the last week camping on Anglesey with my youngest son, Jack and Bryn the dog. It was more of a getaway than a birding or mothing trip but we do a bit of both pretty much wherever we go. The weather was not on our side as the cold spring continued to hold its grip for most of the week; the first few days were more like early March than late May.

I had taken an actinic moth trap with me but the first night drew a blank as it was so cold. The weather was even worse the next night with strong winds and heavy rain so I didn't even bother putting it out. Things only improved marginally from there with catches in low single figures. Only 10 moths were caught over 5 nights which is a dismal total for the location at this time of year and testimony to the protracted winter and cold spring. Best of the meagre pickings were a Water Carpet and a Puss Moth neither of which I catch at home.

Water Carpet (Lampropteryx suffumata)

Puss Moth (Cerura vinula), a rather worn and weather beaten individual.

What birding we did was secondary to walks around some of our favourite parts of the coast but then you can't do one without the other. A few migrants were still in evidence with 3 Greenland Wheatears present in one of our favourite bays. Amongst the waders groups of migrant Ringed Plovers stood out in particular. Generally though birds were perhaps thinner on the ground than might be expected especially in the case of some of the breeding species, if you exclude corvids that is. Lapwings were conspicuous by their absence from all the farmland areas we drove through and visited not least the farm we camped at.
female Wheatear and almost certainly of the Greenland race or 
at least as certain as you can be without catching and measuring it.

Same female as above.

Male Wheatear but a bit more tricky as to race and not an obvious
'Greenland' type but certainly still on migration.
Although there are more Dunlin in this shot groups of Ringed Plover were much in evidence.

Bryn has learned that he has to be patient when we are taking photos,
 some of the time at least.
On the plus side the increase in Little Egrets is hard to overlook and doesn't seem to have been dented by the recent hard winters. On one of our walks around Red Wharf Bay 5 were feeding on the falling tide including a colour ringed bird which was probably ringed at Bangor on the mainland. I have sent the details of the sighting off and will give an update on its life history in due course.

Little Egrets, colour ringed bird on right.
Colour ringed Little Egret.
On returning home yesterday I set the moth trap in the garden out of habit rather than expectation of a good catch. On checking it this morning there were only 3 moths but all 3 were new for the year - a Lime Hawk-moth, a Flame Shoulder and a Diamond-back Moth which is a migrant to the UK. The latter being the least expected given the cold weather and wind direction. The lack of moths and insects in general over the last few weeks is likely to have a profound effect on breeding birds that normally feed their young on insects and caterpillars in particular. The effects of the long winter and cold spring are likely to be felt and reported on for a long time yet.

Lime Hawk-moth (Mimas tiliae)

Flame Shoulder (Ochropleura plecta)
Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella)