Monday, 31 March 2014

A fine end to the month.

The baited site at Longshaw is still attracting up to a dozen Bramblings so I decided to try an early morning ringing session this morning. I was joined by Wayne and we had a couple of nets up just before sunrise. As we waited for the Bramblings to arrive I picked out a few short bursts of Willow Warbler song in the dawn chorus; this was the first of the year for both of us and my earliest record for this site. It went into full song as the morning warmed up but unfortunately it didn't find its way into a net.

The first Bramblings arrived a little later than expected and a group of 7 circled overhead before dropping in. One or two others may have joined them but it was hard to say as there was quite a bit of coming and going over the course of the morning. We caught 4 of them, 2 males and 2 females, which isn't many but it was still a good result as there weren't many to try for. It is getting quite late for Bramblings and these birds could head off for their breeding grounds any day now so this may have been our last chance to ring some this spring and was a fine way to end the month.

We packed up at 10am having ringed 4 Bramblings, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinch, 1 Chiffchaff and retrapping 1 Blue Tit and 1 Robin.

The garden feeders are still attracting quite a few Siskins although there appears to have been a drop off in numbers today. I have ringed another 38 in the week since my last post taking the total ringed to 173 in the past 6 weeks and there still hasn't been 1 control among them. This is quite unusual as a lot of Siskins are ringed each year and they have quite a good recovery rate for such a small bird as a result.

Speaking of ringing recoveries we recently received details from the BTO of a few birds that we have controlled. A Goldfinch I controlled in the garden on 10/02/14 had been ringed near Heysham Harbour on 20/11/11.

View V900497 Goldfinch in a larger map

A Lesser Redpoll controlled at Longshaw on 3rd May last year had been ringed on 28th April in Herefordshire. A movement of 152km in only 5 days. This bird probably wintered much further south than the ringing site and probably went on to breed much further north of Longshaw.

View D045900 Lesser Redpoll in a larger map

A ringed Black-headed Gull that I photographed at Three Sisters, Ashton-in-Makerfield in January this year had been ringed as a chick at Rye Meads in Hertfordshire on 24/06/12.

View EY07864 Black-headed Gull in a larger map

A Sedge Warbler controlled at Scotman's Flash on 02/05/13 had been ringed 69 km further north on South Walney on 28/04/13, only 4 days previously. This is an example of a bird overshooting its intended destination and making a corrective movement.

View Y863746 Sedge Warbler in a larger map

Another Sedge Warbler controlled at Scotman's Flash on 22/05/13 had been ringed on 26/07/12 at Icklesham in East Sussex on its southward migration. Sedge Warblers start their southward migration quite early in autumn and a large proportion leave the country in late July and early August. Sedge Warblers haven't arrived here yet this spring but many will be leaving again in as little as 4 months time as this recovery shows.

View Y911130 Sedge Warbler in a larger map

Monday, 24 March 2014

24th March 2014 and another early start.

I can't wait for British summer time to start this weekend as it means dawn won't feel so early for a couple of weeks. I was up at five this morning but it isn't getting any easier even though I have been up at about that time most days over the past couple of weeks. I like being out and about early it is just a shame I don't find it easy to get up that early, not easy at all.

The original plan for the morning was to go to the baited site at Longshaw as there are few Bramblings feeding there but I decided to have brief session in the garden first. I was joined by Wayne and we caught 10 Siskins and a Goldfinch in two rounds of the net in a little over half an hour. This brings the number of Siskins ringed in the garden to 135 in just under 5 weeks and surprisingly there hasn't been a single control (bird ringed elsewhere) amongst them. The one Goldfinch caught was interesting in that it was a very obvious and small female and had 3 white tail spots. If you have read my previous posts on Goldfinches you will know what I am on about and why that interests me.

D873360 Goldfinch an obvious female with a wing length of 74mm.
D873360 Goldfinch tail showing 3 white sub-terminal tail patches..
After the brief session in the garden we went to Longshaw to find at least 7 or 8 Bramblings on the feeders. We soon had two nets up but it wasn't long before the sun was up above the trees and shining on the nets making them easy for the birds to see. We packed up after only an hour but we did manage to catch 12 birds in the short time before the sun became too much of a problem. These included a Brambling and Wayne's first Great Spotted Woodpecker.

In the afternoon I decided to make the most of the glorious sunshine and went for a walk around the Wigan Flashes with the camera and the dog. It was a very pleasant walk but fairly quiet on the birding front as you would expect at that time time of day and in those conditions. As I walked up to Pearson's Flash I came across a Chiffchaff feeding in a willow at the edge of the water. It didn't call and was feeding intently so I suspect it was a newly arrived migrant. In mainly took small insects from within the willow but it also made fairly regular fly-catching forays over the water. I spent ages trying to photograph it but it wasn't easy as it was so active and very fast.

When I finally gave up trying to photograph the Chiffchaff I decided to head for home but I didn't get far before my attention was drawn to the calls of a couple of Long-tailed Tits in trees just off the footpath. I quickly realised they were nest building and luckily the nest site wasn't too obscured so I was able to get a few photos without leaving the path. The nest was about half complete and a little bit behind two other Long-tailed Tit nests I have found recently but not by much. It is remarkable how synchronised their nesting attempts seem to be over quite a wide area but then they need to be to make their breeding strategy work. Hopefully the weather will stay kind and they will have a much better breeding season than they did last year with the late and very cold spring.

Luckily it is going to rain overnight and into the morning so I will be able to have a bit of a lie in tomorrow but it looks like I will be back to a 5 am start on Wednesday.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Bits and bobs

There have been a few bits and bobs of interest so far this week. On Monday an early morning visit to Amberswood Common with John G and Wayne produced several Crossbills that were picked up from their calls as they passed overhead. There were a minimum of 3 birds involved but we couldn't get an accurate count through the tree cover, although I suspect there were actually 4 or 5. I had only remarked that the site looked good for Crossbills a few days earlier but finding them so soon after was still a surprise as none had been reported in the area. A Common (Mealy) Redpoll was also seen the same morning along with 6 of the Lesser variety.

The highlights of a short visit to Scotman's Flash yesterday were my first Sand Martins of the year with 4 flying south and another Common Redpoll that was seen in the company of 2 Lesser Redpolls. Chiffchaffs have been turning up here and there all week and one ringed yesterday had 'pollen horns' which is a clear sign of the bird having recently arrived from warmer climes.

A Chiffchaff with 'pollen horns'.

Pollen horns are a sticky residue that mat the feathers around the bill and result from the bird feeding on insects in flowers and possibly from drinking nectar too.
This morning I was joined by Wayne for a very brief Siskin ringing session in the garden and then we went to survey an area for Willow Tits not far from home and adjacent to the M6. We located one pair and Wayne soon found the partially excavated nest hole. This particular site looks good for at least 2 pairs but only time and much field work will tell. While checking out this area we picked out the flight calls of yet more Crossbills and this time we could see it was a party of 5 flying north. There doesn't seem to have been any other reports of Crossbills in the area or region so the two sightings this week don't appear to have been part of a wider movement. Crossbills breed very early so both of these sightings are likely to have been wandering family parties; if that is the case it would be really interesting to know where they had bred.

The moth trap has been producing routine fare all week but on checking it today there was a new species for the garden in the form of a Grey Shoulder-knot. This species is more common in southern England but is much scarcer and more sparsely distributed in the north west.

Grey Shoulder-knot (Lithophane ornitopus), a first for the garden. 
Moth trap totals this morning were:
Grey Shoulder-knot 1
Satellite 1
Twin-spotted Quaker 1
Oak Beauty 1
Early Grey 2
Dotted Border 2
Clouded Drab 5
Hebrew Character 8
Common Quaker 16

The Satellite (Eupsilia transversa)

Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria)

Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)

Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)

Twin-spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda)
Some colder nights are forecast so moth catches are likely to drop off for a while but the birding should get even more interesting as spring migration 'hots up'.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

11th to 15th March 2014

It has been a funny old week and it has not finished yet. It started off calm with glorious sunshine, then the fog came and stayed for the best part of a couple of days and today has been largely overcast and quite windy. Most of the garden Siskins took advantage of the fine weather and moved on with only 3 present by Tuesday but since then numbers have started to build up again. Up to 17 were on the feeders at any one time today but the total number using the garden could have been 2 or 3 times that number. Goldfinch numbers are also picking up with 9 being the highest count today but again many more are probably visiting the garden over the course of a day.
Numbers are building up again at the garden feeders.
Jump before you are pushed.
Just liked this one for some reason.
3 is not a crowd in this case.
Yesterday afternoon a fine male Lesser Redpoll appeared at the garden feeders and fed on both nyger seed and sunflower hearts. This is a species I had wanted to attract into the garden but despite much watching it didn't reappear today for the camera. It is early yet for Redpolls to be moving so there is still plenty of time to attract others and with a bit of luck it will be a small flock rather than a singleton. More Redpolls (all Lessers) have found one of my other feeding stations a few miles away and I caught 7 there in a brief session on a fog affected Friday morning ably assisted by Wayne, a very keen trainee ringer. Wayne's enthusiasm got me out a bit more than I otherwise would this week and we managed to catch 39 new birds and 8 retraps in the 3 sessions since Tuesday.

Migration wise a few Chiffchaffs have turned up here and there and Meadow Pipits are clearly on the move, most noticeably yesterday, with small flocks pushing through even in the foggy conditions. Siskins, Linnets and Goldfinches are also starting to trickle through. I haven't heard a Blackcap or seen a hirundine yet but they can't be far away now. Redwings have been a bit more obvious in the past few days as they head back towards their breeding grounds. There have been other signs too and spring is clearly on the March.

Magpie migration watch. They went that way.

Ringing totals 11th to 15th March with retraps in brackets
Dunnock 2
Goldfinch 3
Blue Tit 4 (2)
Reed Bunting 1
Lesser Redpoll 10
Great Tit 8 (4)
Long-tailed Tit 6
Goldcrest 1
Willow Tit 2
Coal Tit 2
Chaffinch 1
Robin 1
Total 39 (+8 retraps)

Monday, 10 March 2014

Spring fever

Today was always going to be too nice to do anything other than get out and make the most of it. I have never known a more eagerly awaited spring but it is hardly surprising after the miserable, wet and windy winter we have endured. Spring fever is evident in many birding blogs and websites and I am showing some symptoms too. In my case a sure sign of spring fever or should I say migration fever is a willingness to be up before first light several mornings on the trot but then it isn't often that good birding and good weather coincide in the UK.

This morning I went to the baited site at Longshaw with Wayne (WP), a trainee ringer. There had been a good number of Chaffinches and a few Bramblings present when I had topped up the feeders yesterday afternoon so I hoped to catch a few this morning. We put up the usual nets and waited for the birds to arrive whilst listening to the background chorus of Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Robin, Wren and Treecreeper to name a few. The first round of the nets only produced a Dunnock and a Chaffinch and the second, third, fourth and fifth rounds weren't any better. There were a few finches around and we had a group of 7 Bramblings circle the area but they were reluctant to come down for some reason. Although the ringing was slow there were a few birds on the move including 2 Grey Wagtails, 4 alba Wagtails, 2 Lesser Redpolls, 4 Linnets and Skylark. A Chiffchaff was almost certainly new in and sang occasionally and up to 4 Buzzards circled overhead.

We had only caught 8 birds by 11:20 and I began to think we should have packed up earlier when we suddenly started to catch a few finches and Wayne got his first Brambling, a fine male. This first Brambling was soon followed by another 4, all equally fine males, along with a good backing cast of Chaffinches and Greenfinches. We ended up with a total of 34 birds, 26 of which were caught in an hour and a half around midday when catching normally tails off! This is the second time this has happened at this site recently so I am going to try an afternoon session next time to see how we get on.

male Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
None of the Bramblings were carrying much in the way of fat so they may be around for a week or two yet.
Ringing totals for 10/03/14 with retraps in brackets -
Brambling 5
Chaffinch 14
Greenfinch 5
Bullfinch 1
Wren 1
Goldcrest 1
Dunnock 1 (1)
Long-tailed Tit (1)
Robin (1)
Great Tit (2)
Blue Tit (1)
Total 28 (+ 6 retraps)

Spring fever takes many forms and it also caused me to put the moth trap on last night for the first time this year. There was a very modest catch of 3 Common Quakers, a Clouded Drab, a Hebrew Character and an Oak Beauty but a good start to the season nevertheless. Hopefully this year will be a much better year for migrant moths, it certainly couldn't be any worse than last year turned out to be. I will run the trap most nights now until early November or perhaps a bit later depending on how the year goes.

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Ringing round-up

I have managed to fit in quite a bit of ringing in the last week although most of it has been in the garden. Siskins have continued to visit the feeders in good numbers with around 10 to 15 present at any one time. However there is clearly quite a bit of turnover and I have ringed another 49 in the last week and only retrapped 7. This brings the total ringed in the garden this year to 101 with all of them being caught in the last 3 weeks. It will be interesting to see if numbers remain the same or if they start to drop off with fine weather forecast for much of next week. Hopefully a few of these bird will get recovered on or near their breeding grounds in due course.

I had hoped that the Siskins and Goldfinches would attract some Redpolls into the garden but it hasn't happened yet. While they haven't found the garden they have found the nyger seed at one of my other baited sites with 8 being ringed there this morning. Now they have found this food supply I should be able to attract quite a few more over the next few weeks and with spring passage about to start this should include some birds that have wintered further south and are on their way back north.
One of the Lesser Redpolls caught and ringed this morning. 
Ringing totals for week ending 09/03/2014 with retraps in brackets-
Siskin 49 (7)
Lesser Redpoll 12
Chaffinch 5
Goldfinch 3
Bullfinch 1
Reed Bunting 1 (3)
Song Thrush 1
Blackbird 2 (1)
Dunnock (2)
Wren 1
Goldcrest 1
Treecreeper 1
Long-tailed Tit 2 (1)
Great Tit 3 (3)
Blue Tit 2 (5)
Coal Tit 1 (1)
Total 85 (+23 retraps)

Lesser Redpoll ringed 09/03/2014

Lesser Redpoll ringed 09/03/2014. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

flammea, was good to see ya.

The baited site at Longshaw was the venue for this morning's ringing session. The forecast was for a pleasant spring day with little or no breeze and that's just what we got. Having said that it was rather chilly to start with and for much of the morning for that matter. Two 60ft nets were deployed as usual and I played a Redpoll lure under one of them. The use of the MP3 lure was more speculative than anything as there have been no Redpolls in the immediate area and spring passage doesn't usually get underway until mid-March or later.

The catching rate was surprisingly slow to start with and only improved a bit as the morning went on. This is the opposite of how a ringing session usually goes but at least it did pick up just enough to stop me from packing up early. Things started to improve when I heard a Redpoll call back to the MP3 lure. I only thought a single bird was involved but when I went to the net I was greeted by a fine Common Redpoll and 2 Lesser Redpolls in the middle of the net. This is the first Common or Mealy Redpoll, as I prefer to call them, that I have caught in quite a long time. In fact the last time I caught one, Mealy and Lesser Redpolls weren't treated as separate species so I could almost say I ringed a new species today.

Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea01/03/14.

Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) and Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret01/03/14.
The other star bird of the morning was a rather handsome Willow Tit. We are lucky in that there still seems to be a stable population in this area although they are fairly thinly scattered even in their favoured habitats. The finally tally for the morning was a satisfactory 22 new birds and 10 retraps. Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were - Chaffinch 10 (1), Greenfinch 4, Lesser Redpoll 2, Common Redpoll 1, Dunnock 2 (1), Robin (2), Song Thrush 1, Blue Tit 1 (3), Great Tit (2), Willow Tit 1 and Long-tailed Tit (1).

Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) 01/03/14.
On getting home there was still very little in the way of any breeze and it had become quite overcast so I decided to put a net up in the garden to catch a few more Siskins.  My approach to catching Siskins in the garden is to only do very short ringing sessions of about an hour every 2 or 3 days if the weather allows and with the way the weather has been that has not been easy to achieve. This afternoon's total was 9 new Siskins and 2 retraps along with a new Greenfinch. One of the retrap Siskins had increased its weight by 1.8g in a week and the other by 1.1g in 3 days, not a bad increase for a bird that usually weights around 11 or 12g. I have now caught 50 different Siskins in the garden in the past week with 49 being new birds and 1 a retrap from last spring. Hopefully there will be a lot more Siskins to come this month and through into early April and with a bit of luck a some more Redpolls too.

Siskin (Carduelis spinus) 01/03/14.

Siskin (Carduelis spinus01/03/14.
One of 50 caught in the garden in the past 7 days.