Thursday 31 October 2013

30/10/13 Dark Sword-grass surprise

It has been a poor year for migrants moths and is getting quite late in the season so it was nice to find a Dark Sword-grass in the moth trap this morning. It is a regular migrant and can be abundant in some years but is most commonly recorded in the south and at coastal sites. I usually catch at least one or two each year and thought I was going to have my first blank year until this one turned up.

Dark Sword-grass
Dark Sword-grass drinking
I put it on a leaf to photograph it at one point and it immediately rolled out its long proboscis and started to drink some water that was trapped on the leaf. The proboscis was quite long; around half the length of the moths body but there are moths with much longer tongues than that. There is a species of hawk moth in Madagascar that feeds on nectar from orchids and has a proboscis more than 3 times the length of its body. Xanthopan morgani is a large hawk moth with a 16cm wingspan and has a proboscis more than 20cm long which it uses to probe the long nectary of the orchids. More information on  Xanthopan morgana can be found here.

The trap didn't contain much else just a Spruce Carpet, a Blair's Shoulder-knot and 2 Epiphyas postvittana.

Spruce Carpet

Sunday 27 October 2013

27/10/13 - Calm before the storm

I have been a bit preoccupied in one way or another over the last couple of weeks and hence the lack of posts. However, I haven't been totally idle but most of my ringing has been focused on the Goldfinches in the garden; more of that later. Other birding has been very limited and has been largely confined to birds seen in the course of doing other things. You can take me out of good habitat but you can't take the habit out of me, I will watch birds anywhere I can.

Anyway, yesterday I went to Martin Mere for a change of scenery and while I didn't see anything unexpected it didn't disappoint. Ruff weaved their way through loafing Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Shelduck and Mallard. A Marsh Harrier put in regular appearances as it quartered the area. Whooper Swans may have had a good breeding season given the number of juveniles in the family parties seen. Last but not least there were the Pink-feet, lots and lots of Pink-feet. There is something magical about large flocks of birds especially when they number in the thousands.

Ruff 26/10/13

Ruff 26/10/13

A record shot of Marsh Harrier 26/10/13

Pink-footed Geese

lots of Pink-footed Geese
This morning the change in the hour caught me out and I was up earlier than planned. The weather equally caught me out as there was no rain and very little wind in the shelter of the garden. I decided to take advantage of these unexpected conditions and put the usual 20ft net up. A couple of hours later I had caught 20 birds including 13 new Goldfinches. This brings the total number of Goldfinches ringed in the garden this autumn to 234.

While this is a good number it is the plumage variations of the sexes and ages that really interests me.  The more I look the more problematic this species seems to be especially in terms of sexing. Ageing is relatively easy at this time of year but gets more difficult towards the spring. I now make a point of taking photographs of many of the birds I catch including the face, back of head, wing coverts and tail. What this will lead to I am not sure yet but I confidently sex fewer birds than I used to.

D725947 Goldfinch. This bird was just completing its primary moult and in conjunction with the adult tail shape made ageing straightforward. As for its sex most of the characters lean towards female except for red extending well behind the eye. This is one of those ambiguous birds but on balance I would expect it to prove to be a female if retrapped during the breeding season. Trouble is most of us don't conveniently retrap such birds during the breeding season to be able to confirm their sex.

D725377 juvenile Goldfinch. A probable male even though the red feathers of the face are still growing. Black nasal hairs, neatly fringed black lesser coverts and broad, pure black stripe to rear of crown are generally male features. The 2 old greater coverts and pointed shape of the tail being obvious juvenile features. This bird has 3 white sub-terminal patches on the tail. This has been put forward as an adult feature in some published work and a feature of males in a more recent paper. I think it will prove to be a predominantly male feature but not exclusively so and have other photos that I think will prove that. I now don't think there is one plumage feature or a combination of features that will ever allow the sexing of all Goldfinches. Easy ones will always be easy but there will always be a significant proportion of ambiguous individuals that should be left unsexed.
The much forecast storm doesn't seem to be heading our way now with no rain and hardly a leaf moving on the trees as I type. It looks like it will track across the south of the country and it remains to be seen if it will live up to any of the hype it has been given over the past few days. If we don't get the wind and rain perhaps I will kick up a little storm of my own with my views on ageing and sexing Goldfinches.

I nearly forgot to mention that I nipped on to Orrell Water Park this afternoon to check through the Black-headed Gulls. The only ringed bird amongst the 75 or so present was the German ringed bird that I recorded 14 times last winter. Interestingly the first record last year was also on the 27th of October! The previously published recovery details can be found by clicking here.

IA141745 Black-headed Gull Orrell Water Park 27/10/13

Saturday 12 October 2013

Saturday 12/10/13

Redwings were dropping into the garden and taking a few Rowan berries from the trees early doors. None of the flocks stayed long and it was difficult to gauge numbers but many hundreds moved through or passed overhead during the day.

The wind was quite gusty but kept falling light in the relative shelter of the garden and I erected an 18ft net towards midday. A few hours later I had caught 42 birds including 33 new Goldfinches which was far more than expected.

The plumage characteristics of the Goldfinches caught provided some interest and I photographed quite a few to show the variation between adults and juveniles and between males and females. I was prompted to do this having seen a new Goldfinch ageing and sexing guide recently published on the BTO website and I felt I could contribute some additional material and knowledge.

I won't bore you with the feather by feather detail but my initial comments have been emailed to those involved with this new initiative. Some Goldfinches can be difficult to age and a fair proportion can be even trickier to sex with any certainty.

Juvenile Goldfinch with white sub-terminal patches to outer 3 tail feathers.
Some ageing guides say that birds with 3 white sub-terminal patches are
adult but this is not the case. I have caught quite a number of juveniles with
tails like the one above over the years including several today.

Juvenile Goldfinch with white sub-terminal patches to outer 3 tail feathers.

I also retrapped an adult Goldcrest in the garden which was unusual in the extreme. This was the first known age adult I have ever caught in getting on for 40 years of ringing. The tail shape wasn't quite as rounded as expected or as illustrated in the Svennson guide and goes to show how difficult it can be to age this species. I have caught a few Goldcrests with adult type tails over the years but this was the first with the age being confirmed by the ringing details.

Adult male Goldcrest.
Adult male Goldcrest tail.
Ringed as a juvenile male 27/09/12 and retrapped today.

In the late afternoon I wandered up to Longshaw and put a net up there for a couple of hours to see what was about. I only caught 8 birds with a Blackcap being the best of the bunch.

Ringing totals for 12/10/13 with retraps in brackets:
Goldfinch 33 (3)
Chaffinch 5
House Sparrow 1
Linnet 1
Great Tit 1
Blue Tit 1
Collared Dove 1
Dunnock 1
Goldcrest 1 (1)
Blackcap 1
Total 46 (4)

Monday 7 October 2013

Monday 07/10/13

I took the day off work as I had to take the dog to the vets before he chewed one of his legs off. He had developed a skin complaint on one of his back legs and it wasn’t improving on its own or with any of our remedies. I also needed to sort out a few other things that can only be done and chased up in the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday world.

On the plus side the moth trap finally turned up a decent migrant moth in the form of a Vestal. It was only the fourth I have ever caught in the garden but my joy was short lived when my attempt to photograph it failed miserably. I have photographed them before but as I won’t use old photographs in my blog you will have to click here if you want to know what they look like.

This evening I wandered up to Longshaw to see how many Linnets were roosting in the willows. There is a roost there every autumn and that is what first drew me to the site but numbers vary year to year depending on the crops planted in the area. As things turned out there weren’t many Linnets in the roost but I still caught a few bird including 4 Linnets.

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
The one and only Chiffchaff caught was interesting in that the end of its tail had broken off. I have mentioned fault barring in previous posts and that this can lead to feathers breaking along the line of weakness and here was potentially a good example. The impact on the bird will vary with the location of the break but will never be good even in a minor example like this one. The broken feathers will not be replaced until the next moult which could be 6 or 12 months away depending on the species involved. 
Chiffchaff tail 07/10/13.

The weather is likely to take a turn for the worse towards the end of the week so I am not sure when I will post again. It could be good for Little Auks if the northerlies are strong enough on the coast and probably some winter thrushes by the end of the week too.

Saturday 5 October 2013

A mixed bag

I went to the ringing site at Longshaw this morning as I thought there could be a bit of finch passage and there should be a few Chiffchaffs and crests around. I wanted to be set up by first light but was late as usual and 2 Lesser Redpolls flew over just as I finished putting up a 60ft net. The plan was to lure birds to the net by playing songs from 3 MP3 players and I started off playing Redpoll, a warbler / Long-tailed Tit mix and Linnet.

Willow Tit

female Goldcrest

Feathers blown back to reveal the orange crown of a male Goldcrest

A few birds were attracted almost immediately with 2 Chiffchaffs and singles of Linnet, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Willow Tit being caught. Overhead there was a steady trickle of Meadow Pipits heading south along with a few Skylarks. A few Chaffinches were also on the move and 5 Swallows were noted but there was very little else. Ringing tailed off mid-morning but final tally of 26 new birds a 1 retrap wasn't bad considering only 1 net was used.

Ringing totals for Longshaw 05/10/13 (retraps in brackets)
Chiffhaff 6
Goldcrest 4
Wren 1
Blackcap 1
Robin 1
Dunnock 1
Blue Tit 6
Great Tit 2
Willow Tit 1
Coal Tit 1
Long-tailed Tit (1)
Lesser Redpoll 1
Linnet 1
Total 26 (+1)

On getting home I checked the moth trap. There hasn't been much of interest for a while but with some good migrant moths turning up at coastal sites there is always a chance. There were a few migrants in the trap but nothing special, just 2 Silver Ys', a Diamond-backed Moth and a very worn Rush Veneer. A very fresh Red-green Carpet brightened things up but then I noticed a moth called 'The Streak' on the side of the trap. This is not a migrant or rare moth but is one I rarely catch and is only the second I have seen. It has a widespread but patchy distribution as the larval food plant is broom.

Red-green Carpet

The Streak
As the wind was still light I put a net up in the garden in the afternoon. Goldfinches are still eating me out of house and home so I expected to add a few more to the total. A couple of hours later another 16 new Goldfinches had been ringed. Most were juveniles in various stages of the partial post juvenile moult but one had almost undergone a complete moult having replaced its tail and most of its flight feathers. This bird was presumably from an early brood. Such an extensive moult is very rare in juvenile Goldfinches from the UK and is more typical of birds from southern Europe.

Note the new glossy black primaries contrasting with browner and slightly
worn outer 2 juvenile primaries. If this had been an adult that had
 suspended its moult the unmoulted feathers would be much more obvious
 and would be heavily worn and bleached.

Juv Goldfinch detailed in the text and photo above.
Note the rounded adult type tail feathers.
Ringing totals for the garden 05/10/13 (retraps in brackets)
Goldfinch 16 (1)
Chaffinch 2
Greenfinch 2
Blue Tit 1
Great Tit 1
Dunnock 1
House Sparrow (1)
Total 23 (+2)

Wednesday 2 October 2013

More Goldies and Golden Oldies

The south easterly airflow has been bringing a variety of scarcities and rarities to coastal sites around the country for about week now so my birding efforts will seem pretty mundane by comparison. Work and the legacy of the burglary have limited my ringing to an evening visit to the site at Longshaw and a couple of sessions in the garden.

The evening visit to Longshaw on 24/09/13 looked like being a complete waste of time with the bushes being largely devoid of birds. As a last gasp I played Swallow on the MP3 player and managed to attract around 30 Swallows of which 10 found their way into the net. These are likely to be the last Swallows I will ring this autumn as most will have left the country by now.

A short ringing session in the garden on 28/09/13 was far more productive with 30 birds caught including 23 new Goldfinches. Another ringing session in the garden this morning (02/10/13) resulted in 41 birds being caught including 25 new Goldfinches and a rarity in the form of a House Sparrow. These catches have taken the total number of Goldies ringed in the garden to 132 in just under 3 weeks.

This was one of only two adult Goldfinches caught today and was just finishing its moult.

This House Sparrow had one white primary but more significantly was only
 the third to be caught in the garden this year. Their decline seems to be
continuing at quite a pace.
You may be wondering if the Golden Oldies in the post title refers to retrap Goldfinches that have reached a significant age, well it isn't as adult Goldies and retraps have been few and far between. No, last night I went watching Fleetwood Mac playing in Manchester and what a treat it was. The performance was great and in birding terms it was a tick that was equivalent to a BBRC rarity and a good one at that.