Tuesday 31 December 2013

Last throw of the dice.

The weather was miserable this morning so I used the time to input the last of the year's ringing data on the computer. After lunch the weather picked up a bit so I took the dogs for their last walk of 2013. There wasn't much bird life to be seen on the nearby farmland not that the dogs were bothered about that. Having said that I did think I heard a distant Waxwing at one point but I dismissed it as wishful thinking. However, I bumped into a friend after and he had seen 5 Waxwings not far away a few days previously so I may not have been hearing things after all. I have been putting a few apples out in the garden on the off chance so I am prepared; not that a repeat of last winter is likely as there are so few in the country.
The wind had dropped off almost completely by the time I got home which wasn't forecast so I put a net up in the garden for the remaining twenty minutes or so of good daylight in 2013. This resulted in a catch of 2 new Siskins and 3 retrap Goldfinches with one of the Goldfinches being a retrap from last year. Only 2 new birds but they were only the 2nd and 3rd Siskin to be ringed in the garden this winter.
Adult male Siskin and the 1020th bird ringed in the garden in 2013. 
Tail of known adult Goldfinch D130175 and last bird caught in the garden in 2013.
At some point I will post some of my findings on ageing and sexing these birds.
This small catch brought the total number of birds ringed in the garden in 2013 to 1021. This is by far the highest total ever for the garden. Now there are probably quite a few gardens in the country that can boast larger ringing totals than that but then mine won't take a net larger than 18ft long in any direction so it is a great total given its size.
Ringing totals for my garden in 2013:
Sparrowhawk 1
Woodpigeon 1
Collared Dove 7
Waxwing 256
Wren 3
Dunnock 11
Robin 6
Blackbird 15
Fieldfare 2
Blackcap 18
Goldcrest 3
Long-tailed Tit 7
Willow Tit 1
Coal Tit 10
Blue Tit 31
Great Tit 14
Starling 43
House Sparrow 5
Chaffinch 12
Greenfinch 44
Goldfinch 416
Siskin 105
Total 1021

The one species total that you should pick out of all these is that of House Sparrow as they make up just under 0.5% of the birds caught in the garden with a meagre total of just 5. Now how sad is that. It just shows how much they have declined and are struggling. Lets hope all our wildlife fares better in 2014.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Angry birds part 1

Well another Christmas is out of the way although we are not quite out of the silly hat and fancy dress season yet. The dogs have enjoyed plenty of tasty scraps but may have had mixed feelings about wearing scarves and antlers. I did manage to fit in a couple of very brief ringing sessions in the garden on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and caught 10 new birds and 7 retraps, most of which were Goldfinches.

Yes, his favourite toy is a pink sheep.

It has been too windy or showery to consider any ringing since but I have pointed a camera at the feeders now and again. Results have been mixed but interesting nevertheless. I now know I want to buy a new camera as I am fed up with struggling in low light and missing interesting shots or getting poor results. The best photo opportunities always seem to turn up when the light is not on your side so an upgrade in that department is required. I am not bothered about any other bells or whistles just some improved low light capability.

What has this to do with angry birds you may be thinking and Goldfinches is the answer. I don't know why but they seem to squabble over one particular feeder in particular and even when other feeders are available. I haven't captured this as I would like as the action is so fast but some of the following shots give you a flavour. It is largely a case of point, press and hope.

Other feeders were available and underused but this one is favourite.
They squabble over it when it is full and not just when it is half empty.

Goldfinch kiss.

Other feeders were available !!!
A by-product of watching the feeders has been seeing the Blackbirds get hooked on sunflower hearts. Up to nine now feed on the fallout from the feeders on the lawn and one has even taken to eating sunflower hearts from one of the feeders direct.

Blackbird feeding on sunflower hearts.
I am not sure if I will be able to get any more ringing in before the New Year but I will give it a go if I get half a chance.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

24/12/13: hanging and holding.

It is not uncommon to see a Blue Tit, Great Tit or Coal Tit holding a seed or a nut under a foot or sometimes with both feet while it pecks at it and eats it. They generally carry the food item to a suitable branch that allows them to perch and hold onto the food item securely. Today I photographed an interesting variation on this food holding but this time it was a Long-tailed Tit.

A small flock of Long-tailed Tits came to the feeders and while some clung onto the wire mesh and pecked at the sunflower hearts in the usual manner another was hanging from a twig nearby. When I got the camera on the bird I realised it was only hanging from the twig by one foot and was holding a sunflower heart in the other. It then fed on the sunflower heart much in the way you or I would eat a chocolate bar; using its foot like a hand. It hung there for around 20 seconds until it finished off the seed. While it is not uncommon to see Long-tailed Tits hanging upside down to feed I have never seen one holding food in this way. It showed a great deal of dexterity and repositioned the seed in its foot as it ate it. I love capturing interesting behaviour like this and especially when it is something I have never seen before.

Long-tailed Tit taking a bite from a seed it is holding in its foot.
I put together a little video of the best shots.

24/12/13 Feeding Goldfinches benefit a Goldcrest

I can't wait for the weather to improve so I can get a net up in the garden and do some ringing. The garden has been buzzing with birds and today has been no exception with at least 40 Goldfinches coming to the feeders. Looking at the weather forecast the first ringing opportunity may be in the morning and that would be a really good Christmas present for me, I just hope the wind drops off enough.


I have 10 feeders in the garden and 8 of these are filled with sunflower hearts. Whilst watching the Goldfinches I noticed a Goldcrest  kept coming to feed in the branches just below them.  It seemed to be picking up tiny fragments of sunflower hearts that the Goldfinches dropped and had landed on the branches below. At one point it even took fragments from one of the feeders. I am fairly confident that this was what it was feeding on as I didn't see it feeding in any of the branches above the feeders. Also the Goldcrest only appeared each time there was a large group of Goldfinches feeding.

A flock of Long-tailed Tits has also taken to feeding on the sunflower hearts from time to time and will be the subject of a separate post. There was only one Siskin at the feeders today and that was a cracking male. A few Starlings also came to feed on the fat cakes and one showed its best side for the camera.

A stunning male Starling showing how colourful they really are.

Thursday 12 December 2013

The long and short of it

Fellow ringer and Coot enthusiast, Kane Brides, phoned me to let me know that the Coot I photographed yesterday had been ringed at Cosmeston Lakes, near Cardiff. He wasn't sure if it was one that had previously been sighted in our area or a different bird. A check of the BTO Online Ringing Reports showed it to be the same bird and that it had been sighted at Worthington Lakes in February 2012.

View GR03863 Coot in a larger map

Recovery information for Coot GR03863 or Cwtiar in Welsh
Ringed   23/12/10 Cosmeston Lakes, near Penarth, Glamorgan.
Sighted  03/02/12 Worthington Lakes, Standish, Wigan, Greater Manchester 244 km N.
Sighted  11/12/13 Orrell Water Park, Orrell, Wigan, Greater Manchester 237km N of Comeston Lakes and 9km SSE of Worthington Lakes. The distances moved being the long and short of the post title if you hadn't worked it out already.

You can also view a different version of the map by clicking here. I have been messing around with google maps and can't decide if I like the lite version.

A well travelled Coot but probably a northerner at heart.
This bird may have originated from northwest England and moved down to Cosmeston Lakes as a result of cold weather. December 2010 was exceptionally cold and was the coldest December in over 100 years. It would have caused many water birds like Coots to move to find areas of open water. The fact that it has been recorded in the Wigan area in two winters since goes some way to support this theory.

Coot movements are complicated to say the least and they move around far more often than most people realise. Most birders haven't even seen a Coot fly other than perhaps a short low flight across part of a lake. That is because Coot movements happen under the cover of darkness and simply don't get noticed unless they are heard calling in flight. I am lucky enough to live near a couple of small lakes and it is not uncommon for me to hear them flying overhead along with the responses from the Coots on the water. This two way communication is clearly important and may help birds find good feeding areas or avoid conflict. It is certainly an area that deserves further study.

11/12/13 - an interesting sequence and day ????

I am not a believer in auspicious numbers or days and any of that hokum or at least I try not to but then culture, superstitions and incredibly daft ideas can run deep. It is an unfortunate consequence of the human condition that many millions if not billions of people believe in all manner of superstitions and worse still the medicinal value of all kinds of animal parts and products.

Such beliefs are likely to cause numerous extinctions in my lifetime and already cause all manner of extreme cruelty on a daily basis. We really need to get our act together and start to tackle this whilst we can still do some good. Most of the planet is still only the odd spear chuck or two from the stone age with such beliefs which is really sad given the modern day culture and finance that drives the trade. A consecutive day, week, year date will not come round for another 90 years with 01/02/03 (2103) being the next, hopefully the world will come to its senses before then but I doubt it.

Anyway back to today, 11/12/13, and interesting sequences. I walked across to the water park to check out the Black-headed Gulls for rings.  I hadn't seen any ringed birds for a few weeks and the German ringed bird in particular. Today the German (DEH) ringed bird IA141745 was one of the first to come to bread and was quickly identified. I checked through the other 70 or so Black-headed Gulls gathered but none were ringed.

Having got IA141745 in the bag or the camera to be more precise I headed back to home when I noticed a ringed Coot. I took a few photos to confirm its identity assuming it would turn out to be a bird I had ringed at the same site. A quick review of the photos soon revealed the ring number as GR03863 and I quickly realised it was a control (a bird ringed elsewhere). This was the last thing I expected and I nearly hadn't bothered taking any photographs of it as I thought it would be a retrap. The outcome of an auspicious day if you think that way but pure chance if you don't. All I know is I may get the odd control now and again but I still haven't won the lottery and I know which numbers I would like to 'come up', just once will do.

At least no animals were harmed or suffered in the production of this post !!!! A stupid story for a Black-headed Gull that I have recorded numerous times and a control Coot but then it is all about the sequence of numbers. I will let you know where this Coot has come from in due course but a little bird tells me that it hasn't been ringed locally and could have travelled some distance.

Sunday 8 December 2013

08/12/13 - end of a quiet week

Not much to report as the post title would suggest. I haven't had time to get out and do any birding or ringing away from the garden, however, the garden remains busy with birds and Goldfinches in particular. Groups of up to 30 are still visiting the feeders but they are starting to feed more in alder trees now that the cones have fully ripened and started to open. The Goldfinches have been joined occasionally by one or two Siskins including a fine male today.

Unprecedented numbers of Goldfinches have visited the garden this
autumn with 359 ringed to date.

Adult male Siskin, hopefully many more will come to the feeders over the winter.
I have managed to fit in a bit of ringing during the week; just 2 very short mist netting sessions and occasional use of a cage trap for Starlings. Two of the Goldfinches caught were controls (ringed elsewhere) and both of these had been ringed Kings Moss a few kilometres away.
 A stunning adult male Starling.
Ringing totals for the week were:
Goldfinch 10 (+1 retrap & 2 controls)
Starling 12
Blackbird 1
Long-tailed Tit 1
Blue Tit 1
Total 25 (+1 retrap & 2 controls)

Food fight