Friday, 27 February 2015

More recoveries and a Waxwing update

Notification came through of some additional recoveries and the following are some of the more interesting (to me at least). I should say all recoveries are of value and provide useful information but it is always good to share details of long distance movements or birds that have lived to a good age.

Magpie ET04848 was ringed as a first year bird at Pennington Flash, near Leigh on 28/09/2002 and was found dead in Leigh on 18/01/2015. It was reported as being a road casualty which is quite unusual for an adult of this species. Magpies are clever birds and take advantage of road kill as food but experienced birds don't usually get hit by cars themselves. It will have been around twelve and a half years old when it died which is not a bad age for a Magpie and it must have dodged plenty of cars during its life.

Chiffchaff CDJ970 was ringed as a first year bird at Longshaw, near Orrell on 02/10/2011 and was controlled at Etang-de-Moisan, MessangesLandes, France on 14/10/2014 some 1084km south. At just over 3 years old it is doing quite well for a Chiffchaff and it would be fantastic if it turns up in a net again in the spring. A map of this recovery can be viewed here.

Lesser Redpoll Z019197 was ringed as a 1Y male at Sctotmans Flash, near Wigan on 24/04/2014 and was controlled at EdgehillsGloucestershire on 28/12/2014; a distance of 188km south. There wasn't much southward passage of Redpolls last autumn but this one bucked that trend. A map of this recovery can be viewed here.

Black-headed Gull ES50278 was ringed as a chick at Pennington Flash, near Leigh on 04/06/2000 and was found dead in BallyforanRoscommon, Ireland on 22/02/2015; a distance of 379 km W. At around fourteen and half it had also lived to a good age.

Black-headed Gull ST252229 was ringed a a chick at Rovaniemi, LappiLappi, Finland on 17/06/2013 and was controlled (ring read and photographed in the field) at Orrell Water Park, near Orrell on 05/01/2014 12/01/2014 and 20/01/2014. A map showing both Black-headed Gull movements can be viewed here.

Blackcap 7085090 was ringed as a first year female at Dunes du Fort Vert, MarckPas-de-Calais, France on 03/10/2013 and was controlled (ring number read from photographs by Andy Makin) in a garden at Hindley Green, near Wigan on 29/12/2014; a movement of 420km NW. This was the bird that I failed to catch and mentioned in a post at the time. It had been seen in the garden for several days prior to the ring number being read but didn't stay into the new year. A map of this recovery can be viewed here.

As for the Waxwing it is still following its daily routine and feeds on the apples in the garden for much of the day. If you don't already know I have created a page for it that can be accessed via the 'Waxwing 2015' tab just under the header near the top of this page. The aim is to update the Waxwing page daily with a few pictures or some video taken that day.

Waxwing 27/02/2015

Monday, 23 February 2015

Recent recoveries

It has been a while since I posted details of any recoveries but the three I received today are of particular interest. All three birds were ringed on Billinge Hill and were subsequently recovered abroad.

Redwing RS60485 was ringed on 17/10/14 during the first big wave of arrivals last autumn and was recovered (shot) in FiteroNavarra, northern Spain 44 days later on 30/11/2014, 1272 km S . All the Redwings that moved over Billinge in the autumn carried on south and were not just arriving to winter in the UK as this recovery shows.

Blackcap Z219583 was ringed on 23/07/2014 and had probably hatched locally as it was still in juvenile plumage when ringed. It was controlled (recaptured by ringers) in Fonte da BenemolaFaro, Portugal on 01/11/2014 and was sexed as a male when recaught. A movement of 1856 km SSW in 98 days.

Chiffchaff HNN757 was ringed on 31/08/2014 and was controlled (recaptured by ringers) in Trunvel, TreogatFinistère, France on 13th October 2014, a distance of 635 km SSW in 43 days. This bird was probably still on passage when recaptured in France and may have continued further south to winter in Spain or Portugal.


The Waxwing is still visiting the garden and I have created a separate page to display the most recent photographs. This page can be accessed via the 'Waxwing 2015' tab under the header and the blog posts like this one are now on the 'Home' page. I will try and update the Waxwing page each day but she may still feature in the regular posts from time to time, assuming she stays for a while yet.

Waxwing 23/02/15

Friday, 20 February 2015

Waxwing lyrical part 44 - Same Waxwing but some other stuff too.

The Waxwing is still here and reports to 'Rare Bird Alert' show how low their numbers are this winter with only 50 reported in the UK for the period 11th - 17th February (link here). Although it has been here for two weeks now a few birders and photographers are still coming to have a look and others have come back for a second or third time. The bird has become a bit of a local celebrity and many local people glance up at the tree to see if it is there when passing on foot or slow to have a look if driving past.

Waxwing in the rain 19/02/15

Blackcap and Waxwing 19/02/15. The Blackcap has been around since New Years Day but only visits the garden occasionally.

Male Blackcap 19/02/15
Waxwing 20/02/15.

I haven't just been watching the Waxwing, although it is hard not to at times, and I have done some ringing at Crawford. The ringing sessions were only short but were fairly productive.

Ringing totals for 17/02/15 (control in brackets) were: Blackbird 3; Goldfinch 6; Tree Sparrow 1; Yellowhammer 2 (1); Greenfinch 2; Dunnock 2. Total 16 new birds and 1 control (ringed elsewhere).

Ringing totals for 20/02/15 (controls/retraps in brackets) were: Goldfinch 4; Reed Bunting 3; Tree Sparrow 3; Blue Tit 3; Greenfinch 1; Yellowhammer 1; Song Thrush 1; Long-tailed Tit (2). Total 16 new birds, 1 retrap and 1 control (ringed elsewhere).

Tree Sparrow 17/02/15

Female Yellowhammer 17/02/15.

Male Reed Bunting 20/02/15.

Male Goldfinch 20/02/15. This bird had some orange feathers in its mask.

Long-tailed Tit 20/02/15

Long-tailed Tit 20/02/15

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Waxwing lyrical part 43 - Ruby Wax

Well the Waxwing is still here and attracting a steady stream of admirers which is hardly surprising with so few in the country. There was a bit more in the way of sunshine on Sunday and a lot more today so I couldn't resist taking even more photographs. Most of them get deleted as it can be difficult to get results I am happy with and that show different aspects of behaviour. I don't always like taking photos in strong sunlight but it certainly does help bring out the colour of the Waxwing's ruby red eye.

Get the light right and that ruby red eye really stands out.
A close up showing the feeding action. The bird seems to favour apples in certain positions that allow it to take a really firm bite and remove a piece with a snipping and pulling or twisting action that involves using the whole of the body. 
The bird's forehead is almost permanently wet with apple juice and bits of apple pulp get stuck on the bill. Wiping the bill on a twig deals with apple pulp on the sides of the bill but does not always clear any that has found its way onto the culmen.
If bill wiping doesn't remove all of the pulp a quick shake of the head throws off the rest.
All the stuff on the branch to the left of the apple is Waxwing poo. Waxwings eat a lot and poo a lot. When feeding continuously it can defecate as frequently as every one to two minutes. Yes I have timed it.
This photograph shows the Waxwing blinking by drawing the nictitating membrane across the eye. This membrane or third eyelid is much more transparent in Waxwings and is not as obvious as it can be in some other species. The transparency of the membrane in Waxwings is presumably an adaptation to help maintain vision and so make it less vulnerable to predation. You can see the forehead is wet from apple juice so it must get quite a lot in its eyes too and therefore it needs to blink frequently when feeding. From what I have seen they appear to blink with every peck but you would need a slow motion camera to confirm that.
Time for a scratch
The nictitating membrane is covering the eye as it scratches. I couldn't tell if it held the membrane across its eye for the duration of its scratching or if it involved a series of blinks.
When alarmed it tries to make itself inconspicuous by elongating and narrowing itself. Basically it tries to make itself look like a twig and part of the tree. The body feathers of a Waxwing closely resemble the bark of trees such as Rowan as can be seen in all of these photographs. 
Still very alert and with a very erect posture.
Blue Tits like a bit of apple too and you get a closer view of that Waxwing apple poo. 

..........and what other photographs can you take when you have a Waxwing in your garden.

and finally.................

The dog is jealous of all the attention the Waxwing gets and consoles himself with his sheep.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Waxwing lyrical part 42 - Billie no mates.

Is there only one?  Is it on its own? Why is it on its own? Isn't it unusual for it to be on its own? - these questions and variations of them have been asked frequently by visiting birders over the last week. It may be on its own in terms of other Waxwings but it has been attracting a good number of birders and photographers since I put the news out last Monday. There has been a steady trickle of birders through the week and around 100 people in total have been to see it today.

Luckily my neighbours don't mind and most visiting birders have shown due consideration. The main issue is parking and a few haven't heeded or perhaps been aware of the requests to use the nearby car park and have parked in the street. This causes far more problems than they seem to realise and the situation becomes compounded when passing traffic slows to see what all the fuss is about. If you happen to be reading this and are thinking about visiting then please use the nearby car park, it is only 50 metres away, and do not park in the street. My garden is near a junction that is difficult enough to see out of without parked cars and pavements full of birders.

The only other issue is photographers being just a bit too keen to get a good photo. I am sorry the house is in the background and twigs may be in the way but please don't be tempted to creep up the garden path or walk up the drive at the side of the garden; it does get noticed as some were informed today. I am expecting it to be even busier tomorrow as so many people still seem to be slaves to routine, sporting fixtures and the Saturday shop. You are all welcome and I hope the bird shows for you but please don't push it when it comes to taking photographs. If you do you may just appear on this blog as we (me and the family) spend as much time people watching as we do watching the bird. We don't mind being in the proverbial Goldfish bowl but we do get to look out from it.

Anyway back to the bird and she has shown quite well today (holding back from calling her Billie and saying she sounds wrong too). There was a period from late morning through early afternoon when she, it, Billie was much more mobile and spent a lot of time fly-catching. That behaviour is worth seeing in itself and is far more entertaining than just watching it eat apples. You have a chance of seeing the bird anytime between about 07:30 and 16:00 based on today's performance.

I do like apples and recognisable twigs in my photos as I want to show that it is in my garden and not just a portrait of a Waxwing that could have been taken anywhere.

.............and here is a bit of video on You Tube

Monday, 9 February 2015

Waxwing lyrical part 41 - returning bird confirmed !!!

There were no sightings of the Waxwing yesterday and none this first thing this morning but when I came home from Preston this afternoon she was sat feeding on an apple only a few feet from one of the upstairs windows. I ran inside and grabbed the camera, which I had left by the window, and started rattling off some shots. The bird was too close to the window to risk opening it and she clearly knew I was there even though the blinds were left two thirds closed. There was no ring on the left leg and her right leg was obscured and if she was a returning bird that is the leg she would most likely have a ring on. Happily I didn't have to wait long before I got a glimpse of the right leg and I could see she was ringed. I already suspected she was returning bird from 2013 but now I had to prove it by getting the ring number with photographs or by catching her.

Waxwings have fairly short legs and they can be difficult to see and especially when you really want to see them.

Go on show us your right leg.

Eventually she turned round and I could see a ring on the right leg.
Every timed she moved in the process of feeding and showed her ringed leg I hit the shutter button and took a burst of shots. The light levels were very poor and I was only getting fairy low slow shutter speeds of around 200th of a second much of the time which is a bit slow for hand holding a big lens and getting reasonably sharp shots of a moving subject. However I reviewed some of the photos on the back of the camera and could see I was able to read part of the ring number on some of them. Now I had to hope the ring would move around on her leg as she moved so I could read the full sequence of two letters and five numbers.

After taking around 180 photos in about 30 minutes I had the full combination of BV05864 and recognised it as being a sequence I had used. I looked up the details and found it was a bird I had ringed in the garden on 23/02/13 as a first winter female. I had also retrapped her on 28/03/13 so she was a bird that had stayed for a while and probably much longer than that as some birds stayed into May 2013.

Just a few of the photographs used to confirm the ring number.
If you have read my previous post (link here) you already know I thought it was more than just a bit of a coincidence that this bird found the apple halves in the garden (especially as there were only 3 for it to find). It made sense to me that a returning bird would go to areas it had frequented previously especially if there had been a very reliable food source and more than a ton of apples over 3 months must count as that. Returning to such areas also increases the chance of a bird finding others of its kind if such behaviour is an inherent trait.

I think Waxwings probably develop 'the knowledge' of finding their way around a bit like London cab drivers but on more of a continental scale and learning to find food sources rather than addresses. Their irruptive wanderings are probably less random than they often appear to be and the regularity of there occurrence in places like Aberdeen possibly goes some way in showing that. The return of this bird almost has similarities to a matriarch Elephant falling back on previous experience and leading the heard to a distant but reliable watering hole in a drought year.

That analogy to an Elephant may not be stretching things as much as you may think. The main differences, apart from size. feathers, wings, ears etc. etc., is Waxwings obviously have much shorter life spans and they may not be forced to undertake a long distance irruptive movement more than once in their lifetime so the opportunity to display such behaviour (knowledge) may not occur very often. Big Waxwing irruptions can be around 10 years apart and the average lifespan of a Waxwing is probably much less than that. Another complication is that movements may involve birds from different parts of their breeding range in different irruption years. Also the berry crop here can vary in irruption years too and even good berry crops may only last a few weeks. Basically the variables for a Waxwing are far greater than for the Elephant in a drought situation but the ability to learn and remember to enhance survival are fundamentally the same. You also have to add to that the fact that Waxwings aren't that well studied and relatively few are ringed and perhaps more importantly attracting them with supplies of apples over a long period is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Bottom line I think this is a fantastic occurrence and especially in a winter when there are so few in the country. It is clearly not here by chance and although there are risks with drawing any conclusions from single examples I am more than willing to stick my neck out with this one.

On the look out for danger above. Single birds have to spend more time looking out for predators compared to birds in a flock.


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Waxwing - you are winding me up.

I went to Crawford to check the feeders on Friday afternoon (6th Feb) and there were loads of birds around. A mixed flock of over 50 Tree Sparrows, Yellowhammers and Greenfinches came up from the remnants of the seed on the ground and there were plenty more in the surrounding hedges along with some Chaffinches and Goldfinches. All the feeders were empty or very nearly so making it a timely visit.

I had been planning the next ringing session at Crawford for today but the forecast was for a foggy morning so I opted for yesterday instead. I arrived just after dawn and got the nets up quite quickly. A pre-dawn start isn't required as the birds don't usually start arriving in any number until after sunrise which suits me now that the days are getting longer.

A Blackbird, a Robin, a Yellowhammer and 2 Goldfinch were caught straight away and the next round was even better with 15 bird caught including 4 Tree Sparrows. A very productive ringing session looked to be on the cards when I received two calls from home to tell me there was a Waxwing feeding on one of the apple halves in the garden. At first I thought it was a wind-up as there have been very few in the country this winter but I was was reassured it was there, it was real and feeding quite contentedly.

I just didn't know what to do, should I stay or should I go (now there is a good song). I wasn't sure if I was in the right place at the wrong time or the other way around. Now it isn't as if I haven't seen Waxwings in the garden before and long time readers of this blog will know I had up to 220 feeding in the garden back in spring of 2013 but the allure of Waxwings is such that it doesn't really matter how many you have seen. That attraction is all the greater when it is a Waxwing in your own garden, you haven't seen one for nearly 2 years and it is only the second winter period you have ever had them in your garden. I had to weigh this up against what looked like being my best catch of sparrows, buntings and finches at Crawford this winter including the possibility of catching some much sought after Corn Buntings. What to do????

I decided that I just had to go home just in case the Waxwing didn't linger and even though I knew that my son had already taken some photos of it. There are still plenty of berries around (Cotoneaster, white Rowans and some Hawthorn) so it is not as if there aren't plenty of alternative feeding opportunities available to it. In fact it seemed strange that it found the apples in my garden at all given the other brightly coloured and more abundant options available in the area. Because of this I had asked my son to try and get some photographs of its legs to see if it was ringed as I thought there was a chance that it could be a returning bird from 2013.

It took me a bit longer to get the nets down than I would have liked because I had caught more birds. When I had finally packed up the ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Blackbird 1; Song Thrush 1; Robin 2; Blue Tit 6 (1); Tree Sparrow 6; Chaffinch 1; Greenfinch 5; Goldfinch 2 (1); Yellowhammer 2; Reed Bunting 1. Total 27 new birds and 2 retraps,

I got home at about 10:30 to be told the Waxwing had been last seen about 15 minutes previously. I had a quick look at the photos my son had taken and could see it was an adult female which meant there was still a chance that it could be a returning bird but unfortunately he hadn't been able to get an image showing both legs so I couldn't tell if it was ringed or not. The pictures weren't great as some had been taken through the window and in some the bird was also back-lit but they were more than good enough as record shots.

The white fringes of the primaries extend right around the tip indicating it is an adult. 

The diffuse border of the black bib where it meets the breast and relatively narrow yellow tip to the tail are indicative of  it being a female

Unfortunately the bird's legs are obscured in each photo.
I positioned myself at the window and waited and waited. At around 11am it reappeared in the trees just across the road from the garden and it sat there for at least five minutes before flying off when some Goldfinches, that had joined it, suddenly flushed. It returned again an hour later and sat looking down at the garden for around 10 minutes but didn't come down to feed. Other birds were quite jittery at this time so there could have been a cat or a Sparrowhawk lurking somewhere. I continued to looked out for it for the rest of the day but it didn't return. During the afternoon someone was flying a drone on the park just across the road and that may not have helped.

This was my first view of the bird. It sat in a tree opposite the garden for around 5 minutes.

It returned about an hour later but again just sat watching the garden.

Who is looking at who. I can see drones becoming a bit of a nuisance and another source of disturbance to wildlife in some circumstances and if not used with due consideration.
A summary of the legal requirements for flying drones can be found here.
Although I got to see the Waxwing I didn't get to see it as close as I would have liked and, more frustratingly, I wasn't able to confirm if it was wearing a ring or not. It is too early to start Waxwing lyrical again but there is still a chance it may return. Interestingly, in 2013 the first Waxwings appeared in the garden on 10th February (post here) so the timing is remarkably similar. Also the first to start feeding in the garden was an adult female (post here) and she didn't return for a couple of days after her initial visit. Make of that what you will but it is just a bit too much of a coincidence for me. As for what I missed ringing at Crawford by packing up early, well that is anybody's guess but there should be more good days to come there.

I woke up this morning to find the fog had formed as forecast. It wasn't very dense but was thick enough to make mist-nets just a bit too visible to be effective. I kept an eye on the garden all morning but there was no sign of the Waxwing. By lunchtime the fog had thinned so I put an 18ft net up by the feeders while I did some jobs in the garage. I haven't done any mist-netting in the garden for a good while and there were plenty of Goldfinches about. I soon started catching and I caught so well that I didn't get much work done. The ringing totals for the afternoon (retraps in brackets) were: Goldfinch 36 (5), Blackbird 2, Blue Tit 1 (1), Song Thrush 1, Starling (1). Totals 39 new birds and 8 retraps. One of the retrap Goldfinches had been ringed in December 2011 and the retrap Blue Tit had been ringed in September 2011. No sight or sound of the Waxwing all afternoon but I will continue to keep looking and listening.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Ticking over

It was a sub-zero start at Crawford this morning and the near calm conditions were ideal for mist-netting. The feeders have been emptying quite quickly and the loose feed has been going equally fast so a busy ringing session was anticipated. I erected a couple of nets by the feeders at first light and waited for the birds to arrive.

The first round of the nets was very disappointing with just 2 Chaffinches and a 6 Long-tailed Tits being caught and it didn't really get much better after that. The variety improved as the morning went on but it only ticked over in terms of numbers.

On the plus, if frustrating, side a flock of 31 Corn Buntings flew over uttering their liquid ticking calls and part of this flock landed in the hedge near one of the nets with the others landing in a tree nearby. I haven't seen any Corn Buntings down on the feed yet but perhaps it is only a matter of time. It is the prospect of catching some Corn Buntings that tempted me to start feeding this site in the first place and their appearance today will ensure the feeding continues.

The best bird caught was this Mistle Thrush. Although I see them in the vicinity of my ringing sites they rarely turn up in nets. It has been around 10 years since I last caught a full grown Mistle Thrush.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Long-tailed Tit 7, Blue Tit 2 (3), Great Tit 2 (2), Dunnock (1), Robin 1 (1), Greenfinch 7 (1), Goldfinch 4 (1), Chaffinch 3, Tree Sparrow 1, House Sparrow 1, Yellowhammer 1, Blackbird 2 (1), Mistle Thrush 1. Total 32 new birds and 11 retraps.