Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Mostly Woodies

A light easterly wind and generally clear skies led to a mass movement of Woodpigeons this morning. Around 7,000 went south over Billinge in the first few hours after sunrise and large movements were recorded at many other sites across the country. Some impressive numbers were recorded including 60,894 at Oxenhope, Bradford (W Yorks); 24,711 at Hale Head (Widnes, Halton); 18,450 at Berry Hill, Stoke-on-Trent (Staffs); 16,825 at Winter Hill, Bolton (Gtr Manc/Lancs). Details of these counts were taken from the Trektellen website (link here) which is a great resource for anyone interested in migration in Britain and Europe.

Just a small part of one of the larger flocks of Woodpigeon.
I had hoped the light easterly would produce an arrival of thrushes but only 28 Redwing, 2 Fieldfare, 2 Mistle Thrush and 3 Blackbirds were recorded. Only small numbers of finches and buntings were on the move with redpolls continuing to be in very short supply. The general glut of alder and birch seed seems to be responsible for the much reduced migratory activity in redpolls so far this autumn. On the plus side there appeared to have been a small arrival Goldcrests and another 15 new birds found their way into the nets and were ringed.

Ringing totals for 29th October: Goldcrest 15, Redwing 9, Meadow Pipit 3, Goldfinch 2, Lesser Redpoll 2, Yellowhammer 1. A control (ringed elsewhere) Reed Bunting was also caught and was one I already had details for. It was originally ringed as a juvenile at Scotmans Flash (6km to the east) on 30/07/13 and was also retrapped there (by me) on 15/04/14. 

Reed Bunting

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Late Willow Warbler

The light rain that had been forecast for this morning didn't look likely to amount to more than a few spit and spots so I went out early hoping to catch a few more thrushes. As I was putting the nets up I could hear the occasional 'tseep' of a Redwing passing overhead in the darkness along with the calls of Tawny Owls in the adjacent woodland.

As it came light there were a few Song Thrush and Redwing around but not as many as I had hoped for and I only caught 1 Redwing and 1 Song Thrush on the first net round. The presence of a female Sparrowhawk probably didn't help and it wasn't long before she found her way into one of the nets.

If looks could kill. Not the best pose but holding her cradled like a baby was the best way for me to get a photograph.
A little while later a few Goldcrests were calling as they moved through and as I approached the nets it looked like I had caught 4 of them. On getting a bit closer I could see one was actually a warbler and not a Goldcrest, and a Willow Warbler at that. Of all the warblers it could have been at this time of year Willow Warbler was just about the least expected. It was quite a pale bird with cold greyish tones and very little yellow and almost certainly belonged to the sub-species acredula. In fact given its appearance, the date and recent easterlies I would happily stick my neck out and say that it is an 'acredula' Willow Warbler.

'acredula' Willow Warbler 23/10/14.

The wing length of 62mm was indicative of it being a female and it was carrying a moderate amount of fat (score 3) and weighed 8.2g. At first glance I thought it was an adult that hadn't moulted because the primaries and tail were quite brown and similar in colour to those of adults in late summer just before they moult. However I quickly realised we are in late October and not late July and that if it was an unmoulted adult the primaries would be showing much more wear and abrasion by now, in fact they would look rather shattered. It was a first year bird (1Y) and the colour and wear of the wings and tail were consistent with that age given the late date.

T1, T2, T3 and T4 on the left side of the tail (right in picture) had been replaced.

1Y female Willow Warbler 23/10/14, the latest I have recorded locally by around 4 weeks.
There was very little in the way of visible migration and it didn't amount to much more than 16 Jackdaws, 28 Redwings, 3 Song Thrush, 6 Mistle Thrush, 3 Reed Buntings and 4 Yellowhammers although the Yellowhammers could have been local birds. A few finches were blogging about including 40+ Goldfinches, 7 Siskin and 5 Chaffinch but no Redpolls or Bramblings. As the morning progressed the number of birds caught tailed off fairly rapidly and the final ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were - Redwing 2, Song Thrush 2, Sparrowhawk 1, Goldcrest 12, Willow Warbler 1, and Coal Tit 1 (1).

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Redwings, Redwings and more Redwings.

Redwings continued to pour over Billinge following the first big arrival on the 14th (post here) and a total of around 4,500 birds were estimated to have moved through during the period 15th to 18th. The biggest movement was on the 15th when upwards of 1500 were recorded during the morning with most going south. Counts were hampered by fog on the 16th and mist the next day but the weather didn't stop the Redwings from moving through in force on both days. Passage was almost as strong on the 18th despite a stiff southwesterly with 600+ heading south.The total number of birds involved will have been far higher as counts or estimates were only made during morning ringing sessions and some birds continued to move through in the afternoons and overnight.

Redwing, the bird of the week.

One Redwing had an unusual tail that looked like it had been dipped in white paint.
Some Redwings were well marked like this bird.
In direct contrast very few Redwings were recorded this morning with around 50 going south in the 2 hours from first light. This limited movement seemed to have stopped by 9am when the westerly wind became even stronger. Anyway I can't complain as it has been an impressive and memorable movement of Redwings and the ringing totals aren't bad either.

While the Redwings stole the show there were some notable numbers of Pink-footed Geese crossing the site on feeding flights. Skeins numbering in the low hundreds were seen on several days and at least 700 moved back and forth for a time on the 17th. The 17th also saw the first 2 Fieldfares go south. Small numbers of Song Thrush were also noted amongst the Redwings with around 10 to 15 being the most seen on any one day and few Mistle Thrush were also recorded going southeast. The Stonechats have continued to favour the same area and at least 5 were still present this morning and feeding just as voraciously.

Pink-footed Geese

The largest group of skeins couldn't be captured in one photo but this shot gives a flavour of the numbers of geese involved.
Normal Song Thrush (continental bird)
Not so normal Song Thrush. The face looks a bit Mistle Thrush like. Is it just a pigment abnormality or could it be a possible hybrid. Size wise it was typical of Song Thrush so I presume the former.

The Stonechats spent a lot of time fly catching as some good sized flies were on offer.
....and here is one in action, homing in on one of those big flies.
Male Stonechat, they are stunning little birds.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Chat Snaps

I was leaving the Billinge ringing site after another productive ringing session this morning when I noticed a Stonechat by the track. I stopped the car to have a look at it and then quickly realised there were another 2 along the overgrown fence line. As I was watching them more Stonechats appeared from the other side of the bracken and brambles and I soon had 6 in front of me. I had checked that area earlier and hadn't seen any so it seems likely that these birds were migrating together and had dropped in at some point during the morning. I watched them for a while and they were feeding almost continuously; it was warm and sunny by then and they were fly catching a lot of the time but they also took insects from the ground. I phoned a local birder, Chris D, to let him know they were there as it is probably a record number for the site and then made my way home.

Chris text me in the afternoon to say they were still there and that he had counted 7 so I went back with the camera to see if I could get a few shots. When I arrived they were all in the same place and still feeding very actively. The following snaps are the best I could do.

Spot the Stonechats, There are 3 in this photograph
. A ringing update will follow in the next day or two.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

What a difference a day makes

The wait is over and the lads (aka Redwings) really arrived in force over Billinge this morning. Small flocks started to drop in or fly over from first light and numbers increased shortly after sunrise with flocks in the region of 15 to 75 birds being seen at regular intervals. One larger flock of around 120 birds was noted but most were in double figures. I had a couple of nets up from first light and started catching Redwings straight away, I was then kept busy ringing for the next couple of hours so I didn't have time to keep looking up and do any proper counts. However, I estimated that a minimum of 600 Redwings were involved but it could easily have been as many as a 1000.

One of the 'lads' from this morning
There were a few Song Thrushes and at least 1 Blackbird mixed in with the Redwings but no Fieldfares. A few finches were moving through and blogging about with the majority being Goldfinches and Chaffinches but a single Brambling was picked up on call. Some finches went through that were not identified as they didn't call, were too far away or there simply wasn't time to pick up my binoculars to check them out but that is just the way it goes during a busy ringing session. The bulk of the action was over by 10am by which time the wind was gusting too much to carry on ringing anyway so I packed up having ringed 52 birds. The ringing totals were: Redwing 45, Song Thrush 2, Blackbird 1, Goldcrest 3 and Chiffchaff 1.

The floodgates have really opened and birds are piling in across the country judging by some of the reports from coastal sites. With the easterly airflow continuing and wind easing a little before it turns southwesterly we could be in for an interesting few days.

There was no crock of gold at the end of this rainbow, just plenty of Redwings. The gold is likely to follow in the next few days as large numbers of Goldcrest have been arriving on the east coast this morning and some will make their way across the country.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Better late than never

There was a small arrival of Redwings at Billinge this morning along with a few Song Thrushes. It was fairly slow going but I had around 80 Redwings and 20 Song Thrush in the 4 hours up to 11am. These are the biggest counts of the autumn so far but I had hoped for and expected a lot more. The weather had looked good for a really big arrival of Redwings, especially as they are a little overdue, but the much anticipated mass arrival just didn't materialise. The weather is still quite mild in Scandinavia and further east into Russia so it seems they are under no great pressure to move despite the favourable easterly winds.

It was quite windy this morning but I managed to get a couple of nets up in one of the more sheltered spots. I didn't expect to catch much so I was happy catching 1 Redwing. I also caught 6 Goldcrests (5 new and 1 retrap). This takes the number of Goldcrest ringed at the site this autumn to 201. That may seem a good number but is nothing compared with the number ringed at Flasterbo (southern Sweden) a couple of days ago when a really impressive 1853 were ringed in one session. More information about Flasterbo can be found here, click of the ringing tab to view the daily ringing totals.

Better late than never. This Redwing is the first I have caught this autumn.

Looking good from every angle.

Hopefully I will get to ring quite a few more as the birds arrive over the next few weeks. Both tomorrow and Wednesday are still looking very promising for birds from the east so more could be on their way.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Fog and more fog

What had looked like being a very promising weekend was marred by fog yesterday morning and again today. Fog leaves very fine water droplets on mist-nets making them easier to see and even if the water droplets aren't too much of a problem the nets are just more visible in the grey conditions. On arrival at Billinge on both mornings the fog wasn't that thick at first so I set up a couple of nets but the density of the fog did vary a lot and localised clearances came and went. Conditions generally improved from mid morning on both days with the fog eventually clearing to leave gorgeous afternoons.

A few migrant Song Thrushes, Chaffinches, Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings were moving about despite the conditions, especially when the fog partially cleared. Some Goldcrests seemed to have been grounded overnight as none were seen or ringed yesterday and 11 were caught this morning. Similarly a Blackcap was probably new in overnight. A Stonechat that was present yesterday couldn't be relocated today so had presumably left in the clear conditions last night. Pink-footed Geese were moving in some number on both days but especially today. Those that could be seen were flying west although most were only heard through the murk.

Song Thrush.
Looking at the weather forecast more migrant Song Thrushes should be moving through in the nest few days and we should also see the first big arrivals of Redwings and Fieldfare.

All the Song Thrushes caught were continental birds being more olive on the back.
Male Chaffinch.

Male Reed Bunting

Female Blackcap,
Probably a late departing summer visitor rather than a newly arrived winter visitor.
The final ringing totals were quite good considering the conditions. There were a few blank rounds because the nets were very visible at times but overall it was worth sticking it out on both mornings.

Combined ringing totals for 11th and 12th October with retraps in brackets.
Chaffinch 39
Goldfinch 4
Linnet 2
Reed Bunting 3
Tree Sparrow 1
Song Thrush 6
Goldcrest 11
Blackcap 1
Meadow Pipit 1
Coal Tit 2
Long-tailed Tit 1 (3)
Willow Tit (1)
Total 71 (+4 retraps)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Circumzenithal Arc

I have been informed by a friend that the picture of an upside down rainbow I posted on 29th September and simply described as a rainbow of sorts is in fact known as a circumzenithal arc or Bravais' arc. A few searches on the internet also indicate it is quite rare to see one in the UK and the more defined they are the rarer they are.

Circumzenithal arc

Apparently the sky has to be clear of rain and low level clouds for this phenomenon to be seen. They are created by sunlight bouncing off ice crystals in thin wispy cirrus clouds at high altitude. The ice crystals have to be at a specific angle to the sun and the observer also has to be in the right spot to see the effect. Thanks to Chris for identifying this rainbow. More examples and information can be found here,  here and  here.    

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Gold Rush

Another glorious morning at Billinge produced a surprisingly good catch of Goldcrests considering I wasn't playing their song on any of the MP3 players. I had set 3 nets and was playing Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail and Redpoll but the first net round produced 12 Goldcrests and 2 Chiffchaffs and none of the target species. A few more Goldcrests were caught on subsequent net rounds but most were caught in that first round. The final Goldcrest tally was 18 new birds and just one retrap (ringed 28/09/14) making it the largest Goldcrest catch of the autumn to date.

The view to the north east this morning with Winter Hill in the distance.

The view to the south this morning with Fiddlers Ferry Power Station just showing through a sea of early morning fog that affected some very low lying areas.
There have been a number of waves of Goldcrests going through the site over the past few weeks with some of the others resulting in catches of 10 to 15 birds. The number ringed at the site so far this autumn now stands at a fairly impressive 174. All of these birds seem to move on very quickly as there have been very few retraps and on some days there is hardly a Goldcrest on the site. It will be interesting to see how many are recorded through the rest of the month, especially if there are some big arrivals on the east coast.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), the bird of the day.
Ringing totals for 02/10/13 with retraps in brackets:
Goldcrest 18 (1)
Chiffchaff 2
Robin 2
Coal Tit 1
Lesser Redpoll 1
Reed Bunting 1
Total 25 (+1 retrap)