Friday, 25 December 2015

Bah Humbug

I had hoped to get a net up in the garden for a couple of hours this morning but the rain arrived earlier than forecast and continued throughout the day. Ringing a few birds on Christmas morning is part of my coping strategy for dealing with the festive hoo-ha and fills the gap between sticking the turkey in the oven and dealing with all the usual accompaniments and the arrival of relatives. After giving the turkey an initial blast on a high heat I turn the oven down and cook it slowly which usually gives me plenty of time to do some ringing.

I kept an eye on the garden hoping the rain would ease but it didn't slacken off sufficiently to even consider setting a net up. There was a reasonable amount of activity in the garden despite the wet and mild conditions with a small flock of Goldfinches coming and going and wasting sunflower hearts in ways only Goldfinches can. At one point a small flock of Starlings also dropped in but then, and out of nowhere, a cat appeared and caught one of the Starlings as it settled on one of the bird tables. I banged on the window to try and get the cat to release its grip but it ran off with its prize, clenched firmly in its jaws.

A few seconds later, and despite the commotion caused by the cat, I was surprised to see a juvenile male Sparrowhawk sat in a tree by some of the apples that I put. It sat there long enough for me to grab my camera and get a few ropy shots through the window before it moved further up the tree. It may have been eyeing up the Starlings or had been attracted by the commotion but there it was and on reviewing the photos on the back of the camera I could see that it was ringed!

Ringed juvenile male Sparrowhawk, what a teaser.
Where were you ringed???
Unfortunately the light levels were very low and the photos weren't good enough for me to get any of the numbers but I haven't ringed any Sparrowhawks in the garden this year so it must have come from elsewhere. It doesn't look like any of the juv male Sparrowhawks that I ringed at Billinge this autumn either as none of those had a plumage with so many pale spots. It has presumably come from further afield and wherever it has come from it would obviously be worth catching to find out.

If seeing this ringed Sparrowhawk wasn't frustrating enough I was part way through preparing all of the vegetables when I noticed there was a male Blackcap on one of the fat cakes. This was the first Blackcap of the winter and I had been wondering when and if any would turn up in the garden given the exceptionally mild conditions. Blackcaps are just about annual in the garden in winter with most sightings starting around the Christmas period and running into the first few months of the new year.

First Blackcap in the garden this winter.
Male Blackcap 25/12/2015, a nice Christmas present.
So I may not have been able to ring anything on Christmas Day 2015 but there were a couple of good sightings, although for a ringer it was a case of so near yet so far.

27/12/2015 update - I am still a miserable old sod but I caught and ringed the Blackcap this afternoon. It was surprisingly fat and weighed 20.1g mid afternoon.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A few more recoveries.

When I posted details of the Goldcrests that were controlled at Billinge this autumn (link here) I was still waiting for the ringing information of an individual with ring number HJV774. The recovery report for this bird finally came through yesterday and it had been ringed on the north east coast at Whitburn Country Park, Tyne & Wear on 14/10/2015 and was controlled at Billinge just six days later on 20/10/2015, a movement of 184 km SSW. This bird was part of the big influx of continental Goldcrests and it probably stayed in the vicinity of Whitburn for at least a day or two following its north sea crossing before moving on.

Goldcrest HJV774 photographed when controlled at Billinge on 20/10/2015.
Other recoveries received in recent weeks have also included a couple of the Lesser Redpolls ringed at Billinge this autumn.

Z854489 was ringed at Billinge on 29/09/2015 and was controlled at Hasfield HamGloucestershire on 15/10/2015, 177 km S. Duration 16 days. 

Z019619 was ringed at Billinge on 06/10/2015 and was controlled at Whixall & Fenn's MossesWrexham on 10/12/2015, 65 km S. Duration 4 days.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mild and Miserable

The only slightly redeeming feature of the current run of mild and miserable weather is that my heating bills are much lower than usual as a result. Opportunities to get out have been limited and when I have been out the birding has been uninspiring to say the least. The feeders in the garden are not attracting much either so on the odd occasion I have been able to put a net up in the garden it has only resulted in a handful of birds being caught.

I went to the farmland site at Crawford yesterday to see if anything was around and to start putting out some seed. This was my first visit in a good while so I didn't know what to expect but I decided to put up a couple of nets as the wind was fairly light. There were no berries on the hedges but I managed to lure in a couple of Fieldfares and caught one of them. I didn't see or hear a single Redwing in the 3 hours I was there and only saw 12 Fieldfares in total with 10 of those flying over after I had packed up. Other birds caught were a new and a retrap Goldcrest, 2 new and a retrap Great Tit, 2 new and a control Blue Tit. There were a couple of nice if not unusual sightings with around 1500 Pink-footed Geese flying between the fields nearby and a party of 6 Corn Buntings doing likewise. I still haven't managed to attract Corn Buntings to the feeding site and thankfully they still don't seem to fall victim to the hunger gap in the latter part of the winter but better my loss than theirs.

Yesterday's female Fieldfare.
The wind was still relatively light this morning so I decided to check out a site close to home to see if it was holding any Goldcrests. A couple of hours with an 18ft net and audio lures produced 4 Goldcrest, a Robin, a Coal Tit and a Willow Tit. The number of Goldcrests was pretty much as expected given that we haven't experienced any hard weather yet. The influx of continental Goldcrest doesn't appear to have left many extra birds wintering in this area so most seem to have moved further south. The Coal Tit was interesting in that it had a bluer mantle than any other I have handled locally although I don't think it was a continental bird; as in most things intermediates do occur but it was interesting nevertheless. The Willow Tit was not unusual for the site but was the first I have caught for a while. Their success in these parts seems to owe much to past land reclamation schemes and associated tree planting along with some natural greening of brownfield sites. It will be interesting to see if their populations hold as the trees on these sites mature.

This morning's Willow Tit.
Small catches are the norm at the moment and seem likely to stay that way for the remainder of the year. Hopefully things will brighten up and pick up in the new year.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Goldcrest Recoveries

It was a fantastic autumn for Goldcrests at Billinge and large numbers were ringed even before the big influx of continental birds that came in October. The ringing site itself doesn't hold any breeding pairs or wintering birds so all the Goldcrests caught are effectively passage migrants. A few pairs breed nearby and the first birds of the autumn were dispersing juveniles with 8 being ringed in July followed by another 16 in August. Autumn migration proper got underway in September and 258 were ringed that month. Numbers were boosted in October when some of the continental birds worked their way across the country from the east coast and the month ended with another 336 having been ringed. Reasonable numbers were still moving through in November but only 75 were caught as poor weather frequently hampered ringing.

In addition to the 693 birds ringed a total of 7 controls (birds ringed elsewhere) were caught and I have now received details for 6 of these birds. The first of the controls was a short distance movement of 3 km, a bird ringed at Kings Moss on 12/10/14 and controlled at Billinge on 07/09/15 and isn't mapped. The other controls had moved a good deal further as can be seen from their details and the map below. The two red pins mark the ringing sites of birds that are most likely to be from the British breeding population whilst the 3 yellow pins mark the ringing sites of continental birds that were caught during the large influx along the east coast. The black pin marks the ringing site at Billinge.

HKD161 ringed 05/04/15 Bardsey Island, Gwynedd - controlled Billinge 25/09/15
EBK202 ringed 11/10/13 Greystoke Forest, Cumbria - controlled Billinge 28/10/15
HVB825 ringed 16/10/15 Skelton Castle, Redcar & Cleveland - controlled Billinge 28/10/15
HHJ840 ringed 17/10/15 The Headland, Hartlepool - controlled Billinge 28/10/15
JDP045 ringed 11/10/15 Kilnsea, East Riding of Yorkshire - controlled Billinge 31/10/15

Control Goldcrest HHJ840 had been ringed 11 days earlier in Hartlepool.

It is early days yet but there have been two recoveries of Goldcrests that were ringed at Billinge this autumn and both were found freshly dead having flown into windows. JBX684 was ringed on 13/09/15 and was possibly still migrating when it was recovered in Long Itchington, Warwickshire on 19/10/15. 

The second recovery is of bird that was ringed quite recently and it was recovered surprisingly quickly. JJH263 was ringed at Billinge on 22/11/15 and was found dead at Lathom, Lancashire the following day having moved 11 km NW. This is a quick recovery and although it hadn't travelled far it shows that this bird still hadn't found a suitable unoccupied site where it could settle down for the winter. Goldcrests' food requirements of insects and insect eggs in particular means they can't winter at high density, even in good habitats, so this must play a big part in their movements and winter distribution. I did notice some noisy and aggressive behaviour between 3 Goldcrests near my garden recently. This appeared to be territorial in nature and such behaviour presumably plays a part in spreading birds out.

Details of the outstanding control and any further recoveries will be posted in due course..

Goldcrest HJV774 controlled at Billinge 20/10/15.
The ringing details of this bird have yet to be received but it certainly looks like a continental bird so it may also have been ringed on the east coast ??

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Waiting for Waxwings

Autumn migration more or less fizzled out at Billinge in the last week with a diminishing number of birds seen and ringed on the 3 visits I manged to fit in. The weather was reasonable on the 23rd and produced 27 new birds and 4 retraps with Goldcrests, Redwings, and Lesser Redpolls accounting for all but 2 of the birds caught. The weather was much less favourable on the 26th and only 10 birds were ringed but another 3 Redwing, 2 Goldcrest and 2 Lesser Redpoll were added to the autumn's excellent totals for those species. A similar weather hampered and shortened session the following day only saw 2 new Goldcrests and 1 new Blackbird find their way into the nets. Combined totals (retraps in brackets) for the week were: Redwing 11; Goldcrest 9; Lesser Redpoll 15 (3), Blackbird 2; Dunnock 1; Bullfinch 1; Goldfinch 1; Blue Tit (1). Highlights from the sightings were a Green Woodpecker (26th) and Water Rail and Woodcock (27th).

The first Redwing out of the net on the 23rd had a deformed bill with the lower mandible being overgrown. It had also lost the tip of the upper mandible and the deformity is presumably the result of an injury rather than disease.
It looked even stranger when the bill was closed.
One of the other Redwings caught on the 23rd stood out as being darker with more extensive markings below and was considered to be an Icelandic bird although the picture doesn't quite do it justice.
A Lesser Redpoll with an amber coloured poll. It has been a great autumn for Redpolls at Billinge although October was not the peak month like it usually is. A total of 290 have been ringed as follows: August 1, September 159; October 82; November 48.
So what am I going to do now? Well as the post title suggests one of the things I will be doing is monitoring the reports of Waxwings to assess the likelihood of birds finding their way to this part of the country. It doesn't look like there will be a massive influx this winter but there are certainly going to be more than were recorded in the last two winters. There have already been a a good scattering of sightings along the east coast from the Northern Isles down to Suffolk and a few birds have penetrated further west to the Outer Hebrides, Northern Ireland and Cumbria. Birds could continue to arrive through December and into the new year and there have been some encouraging reports from the near continent in recent days including a flock of around 1,000 feeding in the botanical gardens in Oslo (Oslo Birder blog link here). Oslo is only a little over 650 miles away so it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks. There seems to be the potential for a moderately good influx at least.

Many more Waxwings could arrive in the UK in the coming weeks and the patchy distribution of berries that are left could mean they move inland quite quickly.
Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Billinge 20th & 22 November 2015

The 20th was quite windy with occasional light showers skirting past the site but it didn't deter birds from moving as might have been expected. Birds heading south included at least 70 Redwings, 90 Fieldfares and 180 Woodpigeons. It was harder to gauge what finches were doing but a few Lesser Redpolls seemed to be moving through the site and a flock of 70 Goldfinch, that paused for a short time, may well have been late migrants. It was far from good mist-netting weather but the lie of the land and the denser patches of the now largely leafless bushes provided just enough shelter for the nets. I didn't expect to catch much given the conditions so I was more than happy with the 25 new birds that were caught by mid-morning, when it became too windy and I packed up. Ringing totals were: Redwing 11; Goldcrest 2; Lesser Redpoll 11; Chaffinch 1.

In stark contrast the calm and overcast conditions of this morning were perfect for ringing but the first couple of net rounds didn't produce a single bird. Things picked up a bit as the morning progressed but it was slow going to say the least. There were very few thrushes around and hardly any moving overhead with only 15 Redwings, 4 Fieldfare and 5 Blackbirds seen all morning. In fact there was very little of anything moving overhead, with only a Snipe being of note, and really did feel as if autumn was finally over. I kept the nets open until lunchtime because the weather remained calm and largely overcast but the final total of 20 new birds and 1 control was less than expected and hoped for. Ringing totals were: Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 6; Wren 1; Lesser Redpoll 11; Goldfinch 1; Blue Tit (1 control). The control Blue Tit was probably ringed at Kings Moss, a couple of km away, as the ring number is similar to others that have come from that site.

Adult male Lesser Redpoll. It was interesting that there were no retraps from previous visits which suggests they are still moving through in small numbers.

A few Goldcrest continue to pass through the site but all of today's birds appeared to be of UK origin. The UK birds being a bit darker than their continental counterparts.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The calm between the storms.

The forecast for this morning was for a welcome, if brief, lull in the run of wet and windy weather so I decided to take advantage of it to see what, if anything, was still moving through the ringing site at Billinge. A Redwing called overhead while I was loading the car in the darkness and another called when I was opening the gate to the site giving some early promise that the morning would produce a few birds.

I had four nets set up at first light and started catching Redwings soon after with 7 being caught in the first round. It was a stop start sort of morning with long periods without any birds moving overhead but just every now and again a flock of 50 or so Redwings or Fieldfares would come through. There were hardly any finches moving and the few that were seen seemed to be commuting between feeding sites rather than being migrants. This was disappointing as I had been hoping for a movement of Lesser Redpolls given that a good number (56) had been recorded going south at Winter Hill (a site not that far away) the previous day (per Andy Makin). 

I didn't see or hear any Goldcrests on my last visit (12th) and I had speculated that their migration had come to an end but I am glad to say I was wrong as the morning produced 7 new birds. Slight variation in colour of their plumage indicated that 3 were continental migrants while the remainder were more likely to be of UK origin. It is interesting that birds of both populations are still on the move and perhaps there are a few more that have yet to filter through from further north or east in the UK, as and when the weather allows.

The ringing totals for the morning were: Redwing 18; Fieldfare 1; Song Thrush 1; Goldcrest 7; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1 (1). Total: 29 new birds and 1 retrap. The 18 Redwings ringed took this autumn's total just into four figures and it now stands at 1003, not bad for a period of around 7 weeks.

Continental Song Thrush.
I have a bit of a thing for Song Thrushes as they are an under-recorded migrant away from the some of the main coastal watch points. I have ringed 77 at Billinge so far this autumn with a large proportion being of the greyer continental race.
The weather looks set to turn much colder at the weekend and into the early part of next week, both here in the UK and in much of northwest Europe, so we could see an upsurge in movement (thrushes and Skylarks in particular) on the back of that.


Friday, 13 November 2015

When they're gone they're gone.

With the unsettled weather set to continue for the foreseeable it was a case of try and do some ringing in less than ideal conditions to find out if any birds were still on the move at Billinge. The wind can be a bit lighter than forecast at dawn and the trees are still holding just enough leaves to provide some shelter, although they won’t be there for long at the rate they are dropping, so I set up for a brief session on Tuesday (10th) and again yesterday (12th).

Tuesday’s wind restricted session produced just five new birds – 3 Goldcrest, a Chiffchaff and a Chaffinch but at least it showed a few crests and the odd warbler were still moving despite the conditions. The wind was a bit lighter and allowed for a slightly longer ringing session yesterday and resulted in 12 birds being ringed – 1 Fieldfare, 3 Redwing, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Wren, 1 Robin, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Yellowhammer. The lighter wind prompted a bit more movement overhead with around 900 Woodpigeon, 30 each of Fieldfare and Redwing and a few finches and Meadow Pipits heading south. In addition a flock of around 150 Starling headed north-west and another flock of 25 went south as did a few Jackdaws.

However, the most notable aspect of yesterday’s session was that it was the first since sometime way back in August without a single Goldcrest being seen or heard. The ringing site doesn’t hold any wintering or breeding Goldcrests so they only occur when juveniles start to disperse from the few nearby breeding sites or during spring and autumn migration. Yesterday's no show probably marks the end of autumn migration for Goldcrests in this area but what a fantastic autumn it has been. The Goldcrest totals for the site for the second half of the year are impressive for an inland location with not far short of 700 birds being handled. I will post more information on this autumn’s numbers along with details of the controls and any further recoveries in the next week or two as it merits a much closer look.

With autumn migration coming to an end and the wet and windy weather making fieldwork of any description very unpleasant it is probably time for me to think about finding my fat pants. I will probably pile on the pounds now despite my best intentions to do otherwise so a change of wardrobe will probably be required. My only hope of keeping to my summer weight is if we get a good influx of Waxwings, some wintering flocks of Redpolls and some half decent weather to keep me active.

While autumn migration is coming to an end it could continue for a while for a few species with Redpolls falling into this category. What are often termed as irruptive species like Redpolls and Waxwings are largely driven to move by the availability of a variable food supply rather than the changing seasons per se.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Early November ringing update

The weather has been less than ideal at Billinge so far this month with fog affecting the first few days followed by increasingly unsettled conditions with bands of showers or rain and a strengthening wind. I have been out whenever possible and ringed a good few Redwings and Goldcrests despite the weather but far fewer than would have been the case without the fog in particular.

The total of 205 birds ringed so far this month is made up as follows: Redwing 122; Fieldfare 8; Song Thrush 4; Blackbird 3; Wren 4; Robin 2; Goldcrest 47; Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch 3; Goldfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 6; Reed Bunting 1. A good proportion of the Redwings were caught during the worst of the foggy conditions (1st to 3rd) and I was surprised that any thrushes pushed through at the site given the very poor visibility. The fog had a much bigger impact on Goldcrests and very few were ringed until visibility improved on the 4th when 20 were caught (19 new and only 1 retrap). Another 13 were ringed the following day but numbers then tailed off as the weather became increasingly wet and windy.

Any warblers caught at the site in November are noteworthy so a male Blackcap (1st), an adult Chiffchaff (3rd) and a female Blackcap (5th) deserve specific mention. Neither of the Blackcaps were carrying much fat so could well be arriving winter visitors and the Chiffchaff may also be a bird that will winter somewhere in the UK rather than migrating to warmer climes.

It looks like the unsettled weather is set to continue for the rest of the month so opportunities to get out could be at a premium to say the least; however, I still think there could be a few more birds to come down from further north and there is certainly only one way to find out. 

There were some big movements of Fieldfares during the first few days of November but only a few passed over Billinge because of the persistent fog that affected the area.
Redwing, a speciality of the Billinge site with close to a thousand ringed so far this autumn.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Returning Black-head

Not a post about unwanted skin blemishes but, yesterday, I was pleased to see that Black-headed Gull IA141745 had survived to return to Orrell Water Park for a fourth winter. This bird was originally ringed as an adult on 29/04/2012 at Bohmke und Werder, Mecklenburg - Vorpommern, Germany. As it was an adult when ringed there is no way of knowing just how old this bird actually is other to say that it must be at least 5 years old but it could be much older. The current longevity record for a Black-headed Gull from British ringing is 32 years, 4 months and 9 days (details from the 2014 BTO online ringing reports) so I could be recording this bird for a good few years to come, assuming both it and I have a good few years left in us.

Returning Black-headed Gull

An update on recent ringing activities will come in my next post.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Red and Gold

The unsettled weather of the past few days has impeded both ringing and migration at Billinge but I have grabbed the very limited opportunities there have been and the birds have done the same. The 28th started off very wet but the worst of the rain cleared at dawn and birds started to move despite the very murky conditions, stiff breeze and occasional spots of rain. The morning's total of 51 birds was much better than expected with the invidual totals being: Redwing 21; Song Thrush 4; Goldcrests 22 (+1 retrap & 3 controls).

The 3 control Goldcrests came at the very end of the session and it was one of those occasions where carrying on after the catching rate had slowed right down really paid off. The ring numbers were from different sequences starting HHJ, EBK and HVB so it will be interesting to find out where they were ringed especially as two of the birds were clearly continental types so may have been ringed during the big influx along the east coast.

Control Goldcrest (HHJ sequence). Continental Goldcrests have a much greyer head and nape which contrasts sharply with the green of the mantle and also have much paler underparts. They also tend to be a bit longer winged but this individually had a very long wing for a Goldcrest of 58mm.
The forecast for this morning was for rain clearing about an hour before dawn so I was expecting a good movement of thrushes and more Goldcrests with birds taking advantage of the generally improving conditions and much lighter wind. I was set up for first light but it was after sunrise before things really got going and I was kept busy ringing until late morning. There was plenty of action overhead, not that I had much time to take note of numbers, with the best sighting being a small skein of grey geese that contained 5 Bean Geese and the remainder being Pink-feet.

Again Redwings and Goldcrests made up the bulk of the birds caught but 2 Blackcaps were a nice surprise if not totally unexpected. The first Blackcap was a female that was carrying quite a lot of fat and weighed 20.4g so was probably a departing summer visitor while the second bird was a male and only weighed 16.1g so could well be a freshly arrived winter visitor. A cracking 2CY male Sparrowhawk livened things up and made up for the disappointment of a big female having having escaped a little earlier in the session. Another control Goldcrest was caught and will add to the picture of Goldcrest movements through the site and in the country this autumn.

Male Blackcap

This is the 6th Sparrowhawk to be ringed at Billinge this month and the 11th of the autumn but many more have been seen with up to 5 being seen on several days in recent weeks.
What a stunner, male Sparrowhawks don't get much redder than this.
Ringing totals for 31/10/15 were: Sparrowhawk 1; Redwing 68; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 20 (+ 1 control); Blackcap 2; Chaffinch 1. Total 95 new birds and 1 control.

So another month has come to a close and what an incredible month it has been with 1576 birds having been ringed at Billinge.  Redwings have accounted for more than half that number with a total of 860 and Goldcrests have been well represented with 336 ringed. In fact October's totals for both Redwing and Goldcrest exceed their respective totals for the whole of last year and there is still quite a bit of life left in this autumn.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Redwings: coburni v iliacus 2015

I nearly didn't go out this morning because the wind was a little stronger than had been forecast and was near the limit for mist-netting at Billinge. After umming ahhing for bit I decided to give it a go, after all it is late October, the wind had turned south easterly again and you just never know what may turn up. I was reasonably sure there would be an increase in Redwings as there had been a small arrival on the east coast and on the northern isles the previous day including some Icelandic birds on Fair Isle and North Ronaldsay. As a general rule there is a passage of thrushes over Billinge 24 hours after arrivals on the east coast from Spurn northwards and this proved to be the case again this morning.

The first round of the nets produced 13 Redwings and 2 Goldcrest which I would have been happy with as a total for the morning given the conditions. The next round produced another 7 Redwings and 7 Goldcrests which indicated there had been an increase in Goldcrest numbers too. The catching rate then slowed as the cloud cover thinned and the sun tried to break through but there were a few birds in every net round up to 10:30 when I decided to pack up. The final total of 53 new birds exceeded my expectations by some margin and was made up of 28 Redwings, 1 Song Thrush, 21 Goldcrests, 2 Bullfinch and 1 Lesser Redpoll.

Bird of the day and the main reason for this post was a Redwing that I considered to be of the Icelandic race 'coburni'. When I saw it at the far end of 18m net I knew it was likely to be one, assuming I am correct of course. It was darker than any of the other Redwings, was more heavily marked, had striking undertail coverts and even felt bigger when extracted and was in the hand.

Icelandic Redwing (coburni) 27/10/15

Icelandic Redwing (coburni) 27/10/15
Many years ago I read a comment about the identification of Goshawks which said something along the lines of  'when you think you have seen a Goshawk you haven't because when you do see one you will know'. The same seems to apply to the identification of Icelandic Redwings, when you only think you may have caught one you almost certainly haven't but when you do catch one you will have no doubt. As well as looking good for 'coburni' it had a wing length to match and measured 128.5mm. Now I know that is only 0.5mm over the maximum for 'iliacus' and I would never claim one on the basis of that 0.5mm alone but I would have been equally happy with the identification had its wing length fallen well within the overlap between the races.

Now ideally this identification needs to be confirmed in some way and the bird left the odd stray body feather, as thrushes often do, which was collected up and saved for possible confirmation via DNA . Luckily I share this interest in the identification and occurrence of Icelandic Redwings with Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers and with Martin's help and contacts there may be the opportunity to see if the races can be separated via their DNA. If there is any progress with this I will post about it in due course but up until then you can either take my word for it or make your own mind up from the photographs.

RZ06779 is the 'coburni' Redwing and RZ06780 and  RZ06782 were the following 'iliacus' caught and ringed this morning. You may be wondering why I didn't use pictures of RZ06781 and the simple answer is because it was a Song Thrush, it was not that I was being selective in the 'iliacus' used for comparison. Note the leg and feet colour of the 3 birds, 'coburni' is dark chocolate brown while 'iliacus' is mainly pinkish straw although a few can be brownish but certainly not as dark as 'coburni'.

The two birds on the right show significant variation in the extent of the flank streaking of 'iliacus' and show why the differences are not always clear cut and easy to describe.

Same birds and the 'coburni' on the left should be jumping out now if it hasn't done before. If they all had undertail coverts like RZ06779 the job would be easy but unfortunately that may not always be the case. More photographs of other individuals are required.
Please don't get the idea that I think you can always separate the races from their overall appearance or on the basis of specific plumage features as I just don't have enough experience of 'coburni' to say that at this time. It may be possible but at this stage I just don't know for sure and that is why it interests me so much. There may be some overlap in appearance as there is with wing length and the danger with separating very similar races is in focusing on the differences between easily separated individuals whilst understating any similarities that may occur at the other end of the scale.

The final picture (for now) shows today's 'coburni' (left) with a bird that I commented on in a previous post because of its size but was happy with as an 'iliacus', You can see differences but it is far from easy and would be much more difficult at range in the field. I am still happy that the bird on the right is an 'iliacus' despite its size and fairly well marked breast.

Hopefully I will catch and photograph a few more Icelandic Redwings before the autumn is out but if you would like to see my previous post on this subject you can find it here.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Goldcrests back on top.

The changed to more unsettled weather this week has restricted the opportunities to get out but conditions were calm and dry enough to go to Billinge on Friday (23rd) and again this morning. There were relatively few thrushes about and the small numbers that were on the move mainly passed through in the first hour. While thrush numbers have dropped off Goldcrests continue to move through the site in reasonable numbers and they topped the ringing totals on both days with 17 ringed on Friday and another 14 this morning.

The 14 Goldcrests ringed this morning brings the total ringed at Billinge this autumn to a fairly impressive 538.
There were surprisingly few finches on the move although there were a few morsels of interest with a single Crossbill and 6 Bramblings on the 23rd and another 3 Bramblings this morning. Only a handful of Chaffinches were noted on both days but both Chaffinches caught this morning were long winged and almost certainly of continental origin. Warblers continue to put in an appearance, just, with a Chiffchaff making the ringing totals on Friday followed by a Blackcap this morning.

Both Chaffinches caught this morning were adults and this individual had a wing length of 95mm. The second Chaffinch caught had a wing length of 93mm.
Ringing totals for 23/10/15 were: Goldcrest 17; Chiffchaff 1, Wren 3; Song Thrush 3; Redwing 4; Blue Tit 1; Robin 1; Bullfinch 1. Total 31 new birds.

Ringing totals for 25/10/13 were: Goldcrest 14; Blackcap 1; Dunnock 1; Blackbird 3; Redwing 7; Lesser Redpoll 2; Chaffinch 2; Bullfinch 1. Total 31 new birds.

Earlier this week I received a recovery report for one of the Goldcrests ringed in September as detailed and mapped below. I am still waiting for the recovery reports of 2 control Goldcrests and having ringed so many this autumn I am sure there will also be a few more recoveries to come in due course. 

3M Godcrest JBX684
Ringed                               13/09/15  Billinge Hill, Billinge, Merseyside.
Found dead (hit window)      19/10/15  Long Itchington, Warwickshire. 163 km SSE.
                                                                                                            Duration 36 days.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

No prizes for guessing.

Yes it was more Redwings for me at Billinge this morning and to apply part of the marketing blurb of a well known larger it is probably the best site for ringing Redwings in the world, well perhaps not the world but it must be up there somewhere. It was a much smaller movement today with around 500 Redwings heading south from just before sunrise up to 9am when the movement fizzled out. A few other thrushes were noted with 45 Fieldfares moving south while a total of 11 Song Thrush and 5 Blackbirds were going in a variety of directions.

This Redwing was a bit darker than average with blackish spotting to the upper breast and blackish stripes to the sides of the throat. There is more variation in the strength of the markings than is often appreciated.
Goldcrests are still moving through in reasonable numbers and given the influxes on the east coast a few could be of Scandinavian origin. The control Goldcrest caught today had a British ring from the series starting HJV and details of where it was originally ringed will be posted in due course.

The control Goldcrest.
Warblers have been few and far between recently so it was nice to catch a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff today. They are unlikely to be the last of the year but they just might be.

We are at the stage where this Blackcap could either be an arriving winter visitor or a late departing summer visitor. It wasn't carrying much fat so if it is a departing summer migrant it won't be going very far in a hurry .
This was the first Chiffchaff to be seen at the site since 9th October.
Ringing totals (retraps & controls in brackets) for 20th October were: Redwing 55; Song Thrush 3; Blackbird 4 (1); Goldcrest 10 (1); Robin 1; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 1; Coal Tit 1. Total 76 new birds, 1 retrap and 1 control.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Yet more Redwings.

There was another large movement of Redwings over Billinge on the 17th with a conservative estimate of 5,000+ passing through during the morning. This movement continued for longer than on the previous big day with some 3 figure flocks still heading south at midday. I kept the nets open for longer as a result and ended up ringing 138 Redwings along with a few other bits and bobs. The 18th was much quieter with around 800 Redwings moving through in the first couple of hours but I still managed to catch an excellent total of 50 Redwings along with a few more bits and bobs.

Redwing - the bird of the month.
However, it was some of the bits and bobs that stole the show with 3 Sparrowhawks being caught over the two days making it a total of 4 for the week. On the 17th there was a handsome 2CY male and a cracking adult female (2CY+) and on the 18th another 1CY male, similar to the bird caught on the 15th.

This male Sparrowawk still had a few brown coverts so could be aged as a 2CY bird (Euring code 5)

Adult female Sparrowhawk. A bird in its third calendar year or older. 

Adult female Sparrowhawk 

I don't catch female Sparrowhawks very often and adults are rarer still.

A bit of a mean looking mother.

Today's 1CY male. Note how pale the eyes are compared with the older birds above.
Combined ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 17th & 18th October were: Sparrowhawk 3; Redwing 188; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 9 (1); Wren 1; Coal Tit 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1; Bullfinch 1; Chaffinch 3; Lesser Redpoll 5.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Thrush Fest part 2

The good numbers of thrushes that moved over Billinge on Monday and Tuesday paled into insignificance compared with the numbers on the move on Wednesday (14th). Inevitably I was too busy ringing to devote much time to estimating numbers but in the region of 3,000 to 5,000 Redwings were involved with the upper figure probably being nearer the mark. A friend who lives nearby counted over 2,000 from the fairly restricted view point of his garden and after missing some of the early flocks so the upper estimate of 5,000 could even have been on the low side. A few Blackbirds and Fieldfares were also seen or heard and around 30 Song Thrush were noted but others would have gone through amongst the hordes of Redwings.

Many of the Redwings moving over Billinge will winter much further south in France or Spain.
During the morning a total of 138 birds were ringed as follows: Redwing 114; Song Thrush 7, Fieldfare 1, Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 6; Lesser Redpoll 5; Great Tit 3; Coal Tit 1. With so many Redwings about I could have easily caught a lot more than I did but I had to limit the catch to numbers I could safely deal with on my own.

On Thursday (15th) I was out again as it seemed likely that there would be plenty more thrushes on the move. This time as was joined by David Norman of Merseyside Ringing Group and initially it looked like there would be similar numbers of Redwings for a second day. After a very busy start numbers tailed off quite quickly compared to the previous day with around 1,000 Redwings going through along with 100 or so Fieldfare, a few Blackbirds and another 20 or so Song Thrush.

The big Fieldfare movements have yet to come. 
The thrushes attracted the attention of a minimum of 3 Sparrowhawks
Despite there being fewer Redwings on the move we still ended up with excellent ringing total of 111 new birds, 3 retraps and 1 control. Ringing totals were: Redwing 82; Song Thrush 3; Fieldfare 2; Long-tailed Tit 11 (2); Goldcrest 6 (1); Blackcap 1; Coal Tit 1; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 1; Treecreeper 1; Lesser Redpoll; 1; Bullfinch 1, Sparrowhawk 1. The control (bird ringed elsewhere) being the only Blue Tit caught.

With little change in the weather and the likelihood of more Redwings I was back out again this morning. It was a much quieter than the previous day but at least 500 Redwings went through during the morning. Other sightings included 3 Bramblings with a cracking adult male being caught and a single Crossbill was noted going northeast. Ringing totals for this morning were: Redwing 42; Song Thrush 5; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 7; Blue Tit 1; Lesser Redpoll 3; Chaffinch 3, Brambling 1. A total of 64 new birds.

Most of the Song Thrushes that have been caught recently are greyer continental birds like this fine example.
They don't get much greyer than this and look very different to the British race clarkei

...and here is an example of the warmer buff and brown British race clarkei for comparison. 
Finding this adult male Brambling in a net today was a really nice surprise. Only 2 had been heard going over before this one was caught.