Tuesday, 27 August 2013

26/08/13: the end of a busy bank holiday weekend

I went back to the reed bed site yesterday evening (25/08/13) with my son Jack and Bryn, the dog. The conditions were ideal with no wind to speak of and we soon had the nets up.  We were joined by John G and George P a little while later. I played a warbler/Long-tailed Tit mix on the MP3 lure at first and we soon caught a few Reed Warblers and Blackcaps along with a Chiffchaff. As soon as the first Swallows arrived we switched tracks on the MP3 players to Swallow and closed one of the nets.

The motley crew waiting for the Swallows 25/08/13
The number of Swallows built up as usual and by sunset there were at least 800 over the reed bed. The Hobby wasn't seen and the birds started to settle about half an hour sooner than they had the previous night. We controlled the catch by careful use of the MP3 lures and it wasn't long before we had caught 92 Swallows including a retrap from last year and another control.

I had set up an actinic moth trap in the reed bed which meant I had to go back this morning to check it. I was undecided as to whether I would go early and put some nets up but as it happened I did and it was well worth it. I had 4 nets up from just before sunrise and it soon became apparent that there were plenty of warblers about; the moth trap quickly becoming a secondary consideration. Most of the birds were caught in one of the nets with aid of the MP3 lures with warblers accounting for 51 of the 64 birds caught. A total of 21 Blackcaps were ringed which is an exceptional number for this site.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Buoyed up by the success of this morning I went back this evening to make the most of the fine weather and to try for a few more Swallows at the roost. This session produced another 79 new Swallows and 1 control. This brought the number of Swallows ringed this month and for the year to 1,061 and another 6 Swallows ringed elsewhere have been controlled.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis).
These often get caught in mist-nets when ringing in reed beds at this time of year.

Ringing totals for 26/08/13

Morning session
Blackcap 21
Blue Tit 7
Bullfinch 1
Chiffchaff 5
Reed Bunting 1 (1)
Reed Warbler 12 (1)
Sedge Warbler 6
Swallow 3
Whitethroat 5
Willow Warbler 1
Total 62 (+2)

Evening session
Swallow 79 (+1 control)
Total 79 (+1 control)

and here are a couple of moths from the day:

The Chevron (Eulithis testate)

Blood-vein  (Timandra comae)

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Old and young in the garden.

The garden moth trap hasn't produced much of interest this year and today was no exception. Two Old Lady and a Blood-vein were the pick of the routine fare. The Blood-vein didn't cooperate with my attempts to photograph it unlike the Old Lady moths. Old Lady is one of those stupid names that leaves you wondering why it was used to name a moth and what the correct plural form of the name should be. The moth was apparently given its common name in the 18th century when its drab appearance was likened to the attire of the old ladies of that time. As for the correct plural form I generally stick to Old Lady but adding the word moths after the name sometimes reads better.

Face of an Old Lady

Old Lady (Mormo Maura).
Both individuals were quite worn, living up to their name in more ways than one.
The garden feeders have been attracting an increasing number of juvenile Goldfinches recently so I decided to put a net up for a couple of hours while I did some chores around the house. This resulted in 25 birds being caught and ringed including 12 Goldfinches. Hopefully this flock of Goldfinches will continue to increase as it has done in previous autumns.

Juvenile Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Juvenile Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)
Totals for the garden were:
Goldfinch 12
Blue Tit 4
Dunnock 3
Chaffinch 1
House Sparrow 1
Coal Tit 1
Collared Dove 1
Greenfinch 1
Great Tit 1
Total 25

I plan to go back to the Swallow roost site this evening but may go a couple hours earlier to try and try and catch a few warblers before the roost forms. Hopefully the attention of the Hobby won't have put the Swallows off but I will keep you posted in due course.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

24/08/13 late night update

The wind dropped enough this evening to tempt me out to the Swallow roost. It was almost 8pm before the first birds started to arrive and they stayed much higher over the reed bed than normal. The reason for this soon became apparent when a Hobby appeared and put on quite a show as it chased them around. They eventually dropped in and another 83 new Swallows were caught making the ringing totals out of date already. A Swallow that had been ringed in the roost 2 weeks ago was retrapped showing that some birds hang around for a good while.

Ringing totals for 24/08/13
Swallow 83 (1)
Sand Martin 3
Reed Warbler 2
Total 88 (+1 retrap)

Ringing totals update

It has been months since I updated the ringing totals on the right but I have finally got round to doing it. We are making good progress with 2110 birds ringed to date and Swallows have really boosted the totals this month with 806 ringed in the last two and a half weeks. There have been more Sand Martins in the roost than we usually see on some nights and this has resulted in 71 being ringed so far. Reed Warbler totals have also picked up as the month has progressed after a slow start and a very disappointing June and July. We have ringed 176 Reed Warblers this year and 90 of those have been this month. The ringing total for August currently stands at 1056 which is just over half the total for the year and there is still a week of the month to go.

I hope to get out to the Swallow roost this evening but it is a little breezier than I would like at the moment. Hopefully the wind will drop but if it doesn't the forecast is looking good for the next couple of days.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Three men in a reedbed

Just a very quick update and sorry no pictures.
The result of this evening's ringing effort was:
Swallow 145 (+1)
Sand Martin 5
Reed Warbler 9 (+2)
Sedge Warbler 1
Willow Warbler 1
Reed Bunting 1
Total 162 (+3 retraps)

Thursday, 15 August 2013

And more Swallows

The Swallow roost at Scotman's Flash continues to be the focus of our attention. John G went yesterday evening and caught 56 Swallows and 3 Sand Martins. I couldn't go yesterday due to work commitments but managed to fit in a session this evening. The weather didn't look too promising at first and there was the odd spot of rain as I set up but smart phones, weather apps and rainfall radar make all the difference to the decision making process these days.

John had estimated around 450 birds in the roost last night but it was more like 1,500 birds tonight. The roost had attracted the attention of a male Sparrowhawk which made the birds reluctant to settle. The Sparrowhawk bounced out of the net on one occasion but didn't the second time. The final ringing total for this evening was Sparrowhawk 1, Reed Warbler 3, Sand Martin 1, Swallow 68 plus 2 controls (birds ringed elsewhere).

The forecast isn't too good for Thursday but Friday evening is looking promising.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

More moths, birds and bites

On Friday evening I went back to the reedbed site to put out the actinic moth trap for National Moth Night and to ring more Swallows at the roost. I had been on my own for the two previous Swallow roost sessions but this time I was joined by Mike C, a trainee ringer. We caught 73 Swallows which was a comfortable number to deal with and I limited the catch by careful use of the MP3 lures.
The next morning I was back there at daft o'clock to check the moth trap and to join John G for an early morning ringing session. The moth trap produced a smaller catch than I expected especially as I had placed it near a patch of Purple Loosestrife that was in full flower. However, the catch included a few reedbed / wetland specialists that I don't or rarely catch at home.
Brown-veined Wainscot (Archanara dissolute)
Wainscot Veneer aka Reed Veneer (Chilo phragmitella)
Silky Wainscot (Chilodes maritimus)
Typical form left and form 'wismariensis' right.
The final tally was 8 Brown-veined Wainscot, 1 Chilo Phragmitella, 5 Silky Wainscot, 3 Small China-mark, 2 Small Phoenix, 2 Dark-barred Twin-spot Carpet, 3 Oblique Carpet, 1 Pale Prominent, 1 Currant Pug and 1 as yet to be identified micro moth.
Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina).
This species has amazing camouflage and looks like a fragment of dead wood.
It is one species that appears to be expanding its range northwards.
Oblique Carpet (Orthonama vittata)
I had to photograph this species in a plastic pot hence the less than sharp photo.
We had 8 nets up and catching was what you might call slow but steady. The target species were Reed and Sedge Warblers and they made up just over half the catch. There doesn't seem to be any evidence of late nesting by Reed Warblers as often happens and no retrap adults were caught. Mixed flocks of tits and warblers, as would be expected at this time of year, were conspicuous by their absence. Catching tailed off by 9:30 am and we took the nets down shortly after as we planned to come back in the evening for another ringing session at the Swallow roost.
adult Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
juvenile Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Conditions were near perfect when we returned in the evening with generally overcast conditions and a very light breeze. John had got there ahead of me and had put up 3 nets. A few Swallows were already around so we set the MP3 players and waited for the rest to arrive. As the number of birds started to build up it as obvious that there were a lot more Sand Martins in the flock than there had been or we normally see. This increase in Sand Martins was reflected in the evening ringing total of 103 Swallows and 25 Sand Martins.

juvenile Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
One less than pleasant consequence of all the recent ringing activity has been the number of insect bites I have suffered despite the use of repellents. I don't mind a few mosquito bites and don't react adversely to them but some little biting black flies took a real liking to an area of skin near my right elbow. They left a number of painful lumps and the area became inflamed and hot to the touch for a few hours. Eventually I managed to get a photo of one of the little sods but have yet to identify it to a species but it is probably one of the Blackflies (Simuliidae).

Blackfly (simulium spp?)

Ringing totals for 10/08/13 with retraps in brackets.
Reed Warbler  19 (1)
Sedge Warbler  8 (1)
Reed Bunting  6
Willow Warbler  10
Chiffchaff  1
Whitethroat  1
Blackcap  3
Willow Tit  2
Wren  1
Blue Tit  (1)
Swallow  103
Sand Martin  25
Total  182

Friday, 9 August 2013

From Ironman to Ironbirds

I have been really busy at work since the trip to Anglesey and haven't had time to do much in the way of ringing or any blogging. I have put in a lot of hours at work and over last weekend in particular when Pennington Flash hosted the swim section and transition to bike for the UK Ironman triathlon. On Sunday my working day started at 03:10hrs and didn't end until after 22:00hrs. Ironman is an increasingly popular endurance event and I have nothing but admiration for those who take part. However, the endurance and distances of that event pale into insignificance when compared with those faced by our migrant birds.

The event starts with a 2.4 mile swim in Pennington Flash
The start of the 112 mile bike ride which is then followed by a 26.2 mile run.
Now that event is over I have managed to take a couple of days off work and it has given me the chance to get the ringing back on track. I went to Scotman's  Flash on Wednesday evening to see if there was a Swallow roost and caught 55 birds including 43 Swallows. I went back again last night and the roost was bigger with around a thousand Swallows present. The total for that late afternoon / evening ringing session was 92 birds and included another 74 Swallows.

Juvenile Swallow.
This young bird could travel well over 9,000km to winter in South Africa
It was quieter than might be expected on the warbler front with very few heard calling in the reeds or the scrub and only one Sedge Warbler was caught over the two sessions. It doesn't seem to have been a particularly productive breeding season at many of our sites despite the generally better weather of late. Reed Warblers seem to be doing much worse than last year and that wasn't a good year either.

The only Sedge Warbler caught.
Some Sedge Warblers may fly non stop from southern England to sub Saharan West Africa.
A distance of around 3,900km and a flight time of up to 3 to 4 days.
One of the juvenile Reed Warblers caught had quite severe fault barring in the wings and tail and some feathers on the rump had clearly broken off along fault lines. Fault bars are generally caused by a shortage of food when the young bird is growing its feathers in the nest and shortly after fledging. This leads to a band or bands of discolouration and weakness at intervals across the feathers and is usually most obvious in the tail.

Juvenile Reed Warbler with extensive fault barring.
Some feathers on the rump have broken off along a fault line.
One by-product of these ringing sessions was encountering quite a few Brown-veined Wainscot. This moth is a specialist of reedbeds and is most common in south-east England and only occurs locally north to Lancashire. A number of these moths were seen along the net rides and a few landed on the mist-nets. This species is generally regarded as nocturnal but one was seen and photographed feeding on Water Mint long before sunset. I may take an actinic trap back with me tonight to see what other reedbed specialists are on the wing especially as it is national moth night (8th to 10th).

Brown-veined Wainscot feeding on the nectar of Water Mint.
Combined ringing totals for 7th & 8th August
Swallow  117
Sand Martin   7
Reed Warbler  16 (+ 1 retrap and a control)
Sedge Warbler   1
Willow Warbler   2
Chiffchaff   1
Reed Bunting   2
Long-tailed Tit   1
Total   147 (+2)