Tuesday, 30 September 2014

First Redpolls and ageing Reed Buntings

I couldn't resist going out again this morning to take full advantage of this great run of weather. I expected it to be very similar to yesterday and in many respects it was with a similar amount of visible migration, a few tardy warblers and all the other usual suspects. However the first 2 Lesser Redpolls of the autumn were recorded and both were caught and ringed. Redpolls should become a feature of visible migration and catches over the next few weeks with numbers peaking around mid October.
Another fine ringing day with the sun peeping between the clouds shortly after sunrise at Billinge this morning

The first Lesser Redpoll of the autumn. Many more should pass through the site over the next few weeks.
Reed Buntings continue to move through the site and all those that have been caught for ringing have been first year birds up to the last couple of days. The first adult of the autumn, a female, was caught yesterday and was followed by an adult male today. At this time of year adults are identified by their fresh primaries whereas first year birds have worn and more abraded primary feathers. Also first year birds usually have more pointed and worn tail feathers but some replace a few of their tail feathers and a few birds may replace all of the tail.

All the primaries are fresh and glossy looking with no chips or frayed edges.

This adult has fairly pointed tail feathers but they are all fresh with very little wear.

All the primaries are fresh and glossy looking with no chips or frayed edges.

This adult has much more rounded tail feathers that are normally associated with an adult and again they are all fresh with virtually no sign of any wear.

The primaries of this first year bird are less glossy (look drier and slightly paler than the adults) with the tips and edges being moderately worn and chipped in places.

This first year bird hasn't replaced any tail feathers and all are quite pointed and worn.

The primaries of this first year bird are less glossy (look drier and slightly paler than the adults) with the tips and edges being moderately worn and chipped in places.

This first year bird has replaced all but one of the tail feathers with the new feathers being fresh and more rounded like those of an adult.

Wing tip detail of the four birds above for easier comparison of the differences in the wear between first year birds and adults in autumn.
While Reed Buntings are fairly easy to age at this time of year it becomes increasingly difficult as the seasons progress and becomes impossible in many cases by late winter and spring.

Ringing totals for 30/09/14
Goldfinch 9
Linnet 7
Lesser Redpoll 2
Chaffinch 1
Reed Bunting 2
Yellowhammer 1
Blackcap 4
Chiffchaff 4
Goldcrest 2
Great Tit 1
Total 33

Monday, 29 September 2014


Today was one of those days with far more potential than actual birds. Conditions were perfect for ringing at the Billinge site this morning but there weren't that many migrants around. This is because we are in that period following the mass exodus of summer visitors and early passage migrants and before the mass arrival of winter visitors and later passage migrants. Most of our summer visitors have gone and winter thrushes and finches haven't arrived in any number yet. In some years there isn't that much of a lull in between these two periods of migratory activity but looking at the forecast it could stay fairly quiet for the next week or so.

Warblers were very thin on the ground with the 4 Chiffchaff and 1 Blackcap ringed the only warblers recorded. Passage was very light with around 30 Meadow Pipits, 13 Swallows, 6 Reed Bunting, 5 Song Thrush and 4 Grey Wagtail heading south or south west. A high flying Jay went south east and followed a similar line to 3 seen yesterday and a Golden Plover was heard and sounded like it headed north west. 

A few Chiffchaff are still passing through.

Blackcap, the only one recorded today.

Another 2 Grey Wagtails were ringed this morning. This brings the total ringed at the site so far this autumn to 45. Not bad for a site with no flowing or standing water or any nearby for that matter.

Migrant Reed Buntings were passing through the site again today.
Around 14 Skylarks played in the sky above me for much of the morning. Play may not be the right term for their behaviour but they chased each other around in pairs or small groups for long periods and engaged in all manner of aerial display. Unfortunately they are not easy to catch but it is good that the site has a healthy population. Small flocks of Linnets, Goldfinches and Yellowhammers criss-crossed the site on feeding forays as usual and I boosted the morning's ringing totals by luring a few of the latter two species towards the end of the session.

Yellowhammers are quite common on the farmland immediately around the site and I have ringed 60 so far this autumn.

Ringing totals for 29/09/14
Goldfinch 13
Yellowhammer 12
Reed Bunting 4
Chiffchaff 4
Goldcrest 3
Blackcap 1
Robin 2
Grey Wagtail 2
Coal Tit 1
Total 42

A rainbow of sorts over the ringing site this morning.
An update on this rainbow can be found by clicking here.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Robin Day

After the overcast and murky conditions of the past few days it was good to see the sun rise at the Billinge site this morning. I had three nets up at first light and set MP3 lures playing Meadow Pipit and Grey Wagtail under one of them. I thought the clear conditions may see an increase in visible migration but it soon became apparent that there was very little on the move. Perhaps it was the near flat calm conditions that was responsible for the lack of movement but the sky was largely devoid of migrating birds and Meadow Pipits in particular.

The nets revealed that there were more birds in the bushes than I had initially thought. The first net round produced 3 Robin, 7 Goldcrest, a Chiffchaff and a Grasshopper Warbler. More Robins were caught in nearly every net round with most of them being caught in the same net. By the time I had packed up at 10:45 I had ringed 13 which is an exceptional number for the location. This brings the total ringed at the site over the past 4 weeks to 40 and there seems to be many more Robins moving this autumn than is usual. Most species have had an excellent breeding season this year and these Robins are likely to be displaced British birds that are moving to find a territory rather than continental migrants. It will be interesting to see how many more pass through the site over the rest of the autumn and of course it would be great if one is recovered or controlled elsewhere.

Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia)

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)
Ringing totals with retraps in brackets:
Robin 13
Goldcrest 19
Chiffchaff 12 (1)
Grasshopper Warbler 1
Blackcap 1
Grey Wagtail 1
Meadow Pipit 5
Yellowhammer 1
Chaffinch 1
Dunnock 1
Total 55 (+1 retrap)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Eastern delight.

It is always good to catch a Yellow-browed Warbler especially when it is almost on your doorstep. They say every picture paints a thousand words.............................................

...............................................................................................enough said.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

13th to 18th September

The current run of fine weather has allowed me to get out to Billinge each morning although the slightly stronger breeze and other commitments have restricted some visits. Getting out every day has allowed me to see how much migratory activity there has been from the fluctuation in the number of nocturnal migrants present and by watching migration in action with the passage of diurnal migrants flying overhead. Each day has produced something of interest and made getting up at 5:00 am or shortly after worthwhile.

The number of Grey Wagtails seen moving has reduced from last Friday's high of 34 with 12 on 13th, 5 on 14th, 10 on 15th and just 4 each on 16th, 17th and 18th. There has been a steady trickle of Meadow Pipits flying over each day involving around 200 at most although I haven't had time to do any proper counts. Reed Buntings have been on the move in small numbers with birds seen flying in from the north or north east and then seen leaving to the south. A Whinchat was noted on the 17th and was a first for the site this autumn but hopefully won't be the last. I hadn't seen or heard a Tree Pipit since the 12th so the one caught and ringed this morning (18th) was a pleasant surprise and could well be my last of the autumn. Similarly a Willow Warbler caught and ringed this morning was the first for 9 days.

It is not surprising that some none birdwatchers think Grey Wagtails are Yellow Wagatils. Perhaps they should have been called Grey-backed Wagtails or Yellow-vented Wagtails.

Meadow Pipit 16/09/14. There haven't been any really big movements over the site yet but there is still time. Passage should continue into October.

Tree Pipit 18/09/14. It is getting late for these now but there is still a chance of one or two more coming through before the end of the month.

Willow Warbler 18/09/14. Possibly the last one I will see this year.
A few Snipe and Song Thrush have also been on the move and a Hobby was seen 13th. Hirundines have been relatively scarce with only a few passing through but there was a notable rush of Swallows at one point on the 16th involving more than 60 birds in one loose flock. A Redwing heard calling at first light on the 17th was my first of the autumn and is quite early for this side of the country. Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Jays have been seen flying over at height on several mornings but directions have varied so local movements or dispersal can't be ruled out. It continues to look like being a bumper autumn for Goldcrests with another 14 ringed this morning to add to the 23 ringed in the past few days. This brings the number ringed so far this month to 87.

Male Goldcrest 15/09/14

Male Goldcrests are not all created equal. The orange crown feathers of the bird on the left are by far the richest I have ever seen.
However, the best and most unusual sighting of the past six days came in the form of a Great Crested Grebe seen flying very high to the east on the 16th. This is the first time I have ever seen a Great Crested Grebe flying over land and at such height. It is almost certainly the first record of the species at the site and is one that may never be repeated. It is not that Grebes don't fly over land very often, just that they mainly do so at night and are very rarely seen doing so as a result.

Combined Ringing Totals 13th to 18th September (retraps in brackets):
Grey Wagtail 13
Meadow Pipit 83
Tree Pipit 1
Goldcrest 37 (1)
Chiffchaff 14 (2)
Willow Warbler 1
Blackcap 10
Robin 1
Chaffinch 2
Goldfinch 3. 
Coal Tit 2 (1)
Reed Bunting 7
Total 174 (+4 retraps)

There was one other unusual thing that happened since my last post and it ranks as one of the more bizarre ringing related experiences. I was driving to the ringing site with my son, Jack, at about 05:40 on the 13th and we had just passed a drunken late night reveller who was walking home when I had to stop at some traffic lights. The dog was in the back of the car and suddenly started barking like mad which is not that unusual if he takes a real dislike to a pedestrian. The commotion increased and we looked round to find the reveller had opened the back door and was getting in the back of the car at the side of the dog, no wonder the dog was going mental. I yelled at him to get out and he responded by demanding a lift home. A bit of yelling a pushing later and the idiot was out. That was a new experience for me and I may just lock the car doors if passing drunken idiots in future.

Friday, 12 September 2014

A grey day in more ways than one.

This morning dawned very grey and it was really quite gloomy at the Billinge ringing site. Looking in all directions visibility was poor and didn't extend much beyond 2 or 3 miles shortly after sunrise, not that you could see the sun rise. In fact it looked like the site was surrounded by a bank of fog especially towards the south and west so I didn't expect much in the way of visible migration. It stayed grey and gloomy for most of the morning and only brightened up a bit when the breeze started to pick up.

I had set the usual nets up at first light and was playing Grey Wagtail on the MP3 player at one net and Goldcrest at another. It wasn't long before I heard a Grey Wagtail flying over from the north east and I was hopeful of catching it but on checking the net I was pleasantly surprised to find I had actually caught five. I extracted the birds and went on to the net with the Goldcrest lure and found I had also caught five Goldcrests; a great start to the morning.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). A stunning species and grey in name only.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). A cracking bird whichever way you look at them.
Grey Wagtails continued to feature until I packed up at 11am with a total of 15 ringed from at least 34 recorded. This is the largest Grey Wagtail movement I have ever recorded anywhere and is also the most I have ever ringed in one day but as this is my first autumn ringing at this site I don't know how unusual it will turn out to be. Having said that a friend who has watched the site for many years has never recorded anything close to that number flying over so it is likely to be an unprecedented day total. I suspect it may be a case of the MP3 lure causing some birds to be caught or call back that would otherwise have passed by unnoticed but like the record number of Tree Pipits seen and ringed last month, only time will tell.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). Another view showing more of the upperparts.

All the Grey Wagtails caught were first year birds and had some retained juvenile coverts.
This bird has 7 old outer greater coverts and 2 old tertials.

In this bird the outer 3 greater coverts are old juvenile feathers with the remaining greater coverts and tertials being new having been replaced in the post juvenile moult.
Grey Wagtails may have been on the move but Meadow Pipits certainly weren't, at least not in any number. One group of 9 went southwest mid-morning and a handful of presumably local birds were blogging about. Other birds on the move were two Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying very high to the north east about an hour apart, a single Tree Pipit headed south, a few Chaffinches also went south along with a few Swallows.

Ringing revealed there were more Goldcrests around than would have been recorded from the number heard calling with a total of 15 ringed. Warblers were very thin on the ground with 3 Chiffchaffs ringed and only 1 Blackcap heard tacking. This is in stark contrast to Tuesday (9th) when 10 Blackcaps, 9 Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler were caught. Ringing totals for the morning were - Grey Wagtail 15, Goldcrest 15, Chaffinch 6, Chiffchaff 3, Reed Bunting 3, Yellowhammer 2, Goldfinch 1.

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella). This adult male was just finishing its moult and was still replacing some of the feathers of the head.
Adult male Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), same bird as above. I have caught 18 this month so far but all the others have been juveniles.
Female Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniculs). Only 3 ringed today but small numbers have been moving through the site as indicated by the lack of any retraps.
The wind is remaining light tomorrow and there should be some cloud cover first thing so I will be out early again to see what the new day brings, hopefully it will include another good movement of Grey Wagtails.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Spurn Migration Festival 2014

I have just spent a long weekend at Spurn Bird Observatory helping out with the Migration Festival. This is the second year the event has been held and, like last year, my role was to give some of the bird ringing demonstrations. The weather was kind and provided a good selection of drift and passage migrants to the delight of the many people that attended. Guided walks, workshops, optics stands and entertaining and informative talks all helped make it a really good event. On top of that a good pub and a chance to catch up with old friends made it a great weekend. More information on Spurn Bird Observatory and the birds seen over the festival weekend can be found here and here.

Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria), a real crowd-pleaser.
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), a classic drift migrant at Spurn.
Adult male Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus).
 They don't get much better looking than this.

Adult male Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), same bird as above.
Mike Dilger, TV presenter and Patron of Spurn Bird Observatory, showed his naturalist's credentials with a really entertaining presentation.
It was not just the birds on show, the warm weather meant there were plenty of insects around like this Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum). 
Quite a few Reed Buntings (Emberiza schoeniculus) were on the move. The bird on the left had a plumage aberration that gave it very pale sandy wings although the rest of the plumage wasn't much paler than normal. Normal bird on right for comparison.
Another view of the 2 Reed Buntings with wings held open to show the marked difference in the colour of the wings.
Sunset over the Humber from the Crown and Anchor.
Andy Roadhouse enjoys a cigar and a pint outside the Crown and Anchor after a very busy and rewarding weekend.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

1st to 3rd September

Three very different and rewarding days but on the downside it looks like my Tree Pipit bubble has finally burst. The 1st started very wet but the rain was forecast to stop at around 09:30 so I decided to go out in the hope that it would dry up earlier than forecast. Unfortunately my optimism wasn't rewarded and I had to sit in the car and let the rain pass before setting up. However I can't complain as I was adequately compensated with an Osprey going south just as the cloud started to break up, a local patch tick for me. It was followed by a single Tree Pipit and a few Meadow Pipits but little else seemed to be moving with any purpose. The rain delayed ringing session produced 22 birds (retraps in brackets) - Chiffchaff 3, Blackcap 1, Garden Warbler 1, Goldcrest 1, Treecreeper 1, Robin 1, Coal Tit 3, Chaffinch 7, Long-tailed Tit 2 (2).

The 2nd was a glorious day with a very light easterly breeze and clear skies for much of the day. There was much more in the way of visible migration with quite a few Meadow Pipits going south along with a trickle of Swallows and House Martins. Only 7 Tree Pipits were recorded which was fewer than I had hoped given the conditions and strongly suggests that they had not been held up by the poor weather in the second half of August as I had thought could have been the case. A full morning's ringing produced 71 birds - Meadow Pipit 13, Tree Pipit 2, Whitethroat 3, Blackcap 6, Willow Warbler 5, Chiffchaff 5 (1), Goldcrest 4, Robin 4, Chaffinch 14 (3), Yellowhammer 8, Dunnock 2, Sparrowhawk 1. Other sightings of note were 3 Spotted Flycatchers, the first I have seen this year! and butterfly interest came in the form of a Clouded Yellow making its way north while numerous Red Admirals were going in the opposite direction.

Juvenile male Sparrowhawk. 

This Meadow Pipit stood out as being paler and appearing more washed out than the all the others.
The 3rd was largely overcast and the south easterly breeze was slightly stronger than forecast. It soon became apparent that there were a lot more Goldcrests around and moving through the site. Eleven were subsequently caught and ringed which is a good total this early in the autumn and suggests they have had a very good breeding season. There was very little in the way of visible migration; the few Meadow Pipits around didn't seem to be going anywhere and only 1 Tree Pipit was recorded. A single Snipe was also heard going over and was the first of the autumn. A total of 44 birds were caught as follows - Goldcrest 11, Chiffchaff 4, Willow Warbler 2, Blackcap 6, Tree Pipit 1, Robin 1, Bullfinch 5, Goldfinch 4, Chaffinch 4, Yellowhammer 4, Reed Bunting 1, Long-tailed Tit (1).

Goldcrest. Could this be a bumper autumn for this species?

All of the Yellowhammers ringed were juveniles like this bird and at various stages of the post juvenile moult.