Thursday, 30 April 2015

Recent recoveries

The latest recoveries received included some interesting movements as follows:

Goldcrest HPV313 (orange line) was ringed at Billinge on 18/09/2014 and was one of 15 caught that day. It was controlled on 07/04/2015 near East Lamington, Morangie Forest, Highland, 483 km to the north, and is my furthest movement of a Goldcrest to date. It was one of 312 Goldcrests ringed at the site last autumn and is the first indication of their origins.

Robin Z273561 (red line) was ringed at Billinge on 10/09/2014 and was subsequently controlled in Newport, Telford and Wrekin, 85 km south, on 13/01/2015 and again on 22/01/2015. There was a good movement of Robins through Billinge last autumn, 74 were ringed with the majority moving through in September like this bird.

Goldfinch D308986 (black line) was a bird I controlled at Crawford on 21/04/2015 and mentioned in a previous post (link here). It had been ringed near Penallt, Monmouthshire on 22/02/2015 and had presumably wintered in that area. I had suspected the recent increase in the number of Goldfinches at Crawford was, in part, due to some birds returning north and this recovery confirms that for this bird at least. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Crawford 24th & 27th April 2015

Keeping the feeders going has paid off and resulted in a couple of interesting sessions over the past few days. The natural seed bank is at its lowest at this time of year and seed eating birds can still struggle to find enough food even though the weather is warming up. The number of Goldfinches using the feeders at this site is much greater now than it was earlier in the winter although this has not been reflected by the Goldfinches visiting the feeders in my garden. Lesser Redpolls only started coming to the feeders fairly recently and none had been caught before the 7 yesterday (27th). One of the Redpolls was a control (ringed elsewhere) but I suspect it was ringed at Kings Moss, just a couple of km away, as the ring number is similar to other birds that have come from that site. In addition there were 4 other controls, 2 Goldfinch and 2 Greenfinch, with these birds also likely to have been ringed at Kings Moss.

Ringing totals (retraps and controls in brackets) for 24th April 2015: Goldfinch 18 (3); Greenfinch 4 (1); Chaffinch (3); Yellowhammer (1); Coal Tit 1; Dunnock (1);  Blackbird (1); Blackcap 1; Jay 1. Total 35.

Ringing totals (retraps and controls in brackets) for 27th April 2015: Lesser Redpoll 6 (1); Goldfinch 7 (4); Greenfinch 4 (1); Chaffinch 3; Tree Sparrow 2; Dunnock 1. Total 29

Now the breeding season is getting underway the sex of some birds can be confirmed by checking for the presence of a brood patch and or the shape of the cloaca. In many species the female develops a large and distinctive brood patch with the cloaca not being very prominent and generally pointing back towards the tail while the male doesn't develop much of a brood patch, if any, and the cloaca is usually prominent (sometimes bulbous) and sits at a right angle to the body or points slightly forward. It was interesting that 2 of the 3 female Lesser Redpolls had brood patches as I initially thought they would all be birds that were still on passage rather than breeding somewhere nearby.

A well developed brood patch confirms this Lesser Redpoll is a female. A good blood supply to the bare skin keeps the eggs warm. The presence of a brood patch also indicates that the bird is probably breeding nearby and the condition of the brood patch suggests it already has a clutch of eggs.
A Lesser Redpoll with a protruding and slightly bulbous cloaca confirming it is a male.
Regular readers of this blog will know my interest in sexing Goldfinches from plumage features, that interest must be shared be a lot of people as my posts on this subject have and continue to attract the most page views by some margin. Not all Goldfinches are breeding yet but I checked each bird for a brood patch or cloacal protuberance to see if it confirmed the sex that was indicated by the plumage. This revealed a couple of interesting individuals that wouldn't have been easy to sex outside the breeding season although the majority were fairly straightforward.

Z414875 had a fairly extensive red mask for a female Goldfinch and no obvious white or grey nasal hairs. It is the sort of bird that is probably best left unsexed outside the breeding season. The lesser coverts were somewhat intermediate being less brown than some females and almost showing as much black as some less well marked males. Strong sunlight doesn't always help when looking at such features and doesn't help with the photography either. The sex was confirmed by the developing brood patch and shape of the cloaca. The bird is still in the process of losing feathers from the belly and lower breast so is only at the early stages of breeding.

Z414877 had a mask and lesser coverts that are not that dissimilar from the bird above although the black parts of the lesser coverts are much glossier and the brown fringes are more distinct. The thing that made me look twice at this bird was the short wing length of 76mm which is at the bottom end of the range for males and is fairly short for a female. It had a well developed cloacal protuberance which I didn't manage to photograph but confirmed it as a male. There is a difference in the intensity of the red of the mask but that can vary from orange-red to crimson in both sexes and shouldn't be used as a supporting criteria. Again this is a bird that may be better left unsexed outside the breeding season.

......and now for images of a couple of birds that show how different males and females can look and shouldn't pose a problem for sexing at any time of year.

Z414709 is a text book female with a restricted red mask and greyish nasal hairs. Unfortunately Goldfinches don't read text books and many females don't look like this. On the other hand the lesser coverts are broadly tipped brown and form a brown shoulder patch which is fairly common feature of female Goldfinches.

Z414876 is a well marked male with an extensive red mask and black nasal hairs. The lesser coverts are glossy black although it is not uncommon for them to have well defined narrow brown fringes. Note there are a couple of stray brown mantle feathers overlapping a few of the inner lesser coverts.

Among the other birds caught a Jay did what Jays do well and bit me. I got off fairly lightly at first but it flew back into one of the nets on release, despite having been let go in the opposite direction. On being taken out of a net for a second time it really let me have it.

About to take a good beak full.
I went back to check the feeders this evening and several were almost empty so I topped them all up and added another. With the feed going down so fast I will try and fit in another visit later in the week.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Spot the nest

I went for a walk around Abbey Lakes at Upholland this afternoon; lakes being a bit of a misnomer as there is only one small lake. Blackcaps were well represented with at least 5 singing males and a Common Sandpiper was a good record for this small site. I found a couple of nests without really trying including the one in the photographs below.

Spot the nest.
This should make it a lot easier. The female is sat on the nest.

and there she is.
It is not unusual for Mallards to nest in natural cavities in trees and I have even known them use a Kestrel nest box and a basket that had been put up for Long-eared Owls. This particular nest was 3 metres off the ground and may have been used by this female in previous years.

Tree nesting Mallard.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Crawford 21st April 2015

I went to Crawford this morning as the seed in the nyger feeders has being going down quite fast. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of Goldfinches using the feeders in the past couple of weeks which could be due to people stopping or reducing feeding in nearby gardens and or because some migrant Goldfinches have also found the feeders. I also wanted to see if anymore summer visitors had returned as there are usually 3 or 4 pairs of Whitethroats at the site and I still haven't seen one this spring.

I didn't get there too early and had a couple of nets up just after sunrise. There was no sight or sound from any Whitethroats and the pair of Willow Warblers that usually breed there were similarly conspicuous by their absence. The only warblers present were a couple of pairs of Chiffchaffs with one of the females busily nest building and a singing male Blackcap. A pair of Linnets were also back on territory and it wasn't long before I noticed that the female was carrying nest material to a small conifer.

The first bird caught was totally unexpected and came in the form of a cracking male Kestrel. It had a bulging crop and had obviously just eaten something, I then noticed the back end of a fresh Field Vole on the ground below the net. The Kestrel had presumably eaten the best bits of the vole (brains, heart, lungs and liver) while on the ground and then had flown into the net while carrying off the remaining part to be eaten elsewhere.

Male Kestrel
The remains of the Kestrel's breakfast.
Although there were plenty of Goldfinches around the catching rate was quite slow. This was largely due to the fine weather and the general lack of leaf cover which meant the sun made the nets more visible once it had risen above the hedges along the eastern edge of the field. I am not going to complain about such glorious weather though, especially as the final tally wasn't that bad for this time of year and included the aforementioned Kestrel and a control (ringed elsewhere) Goldfinch. It will be interesting to see where this Goldfinch was originally ringed as the number was from an unfamiliar sequence so I don't think it is a bird from a nearby site. I will send the details off later today and will post details of recovery report in due course.

Control Goldfinch D308986
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 21/04/2015: Kestrel 1; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 1; Blackbird 1; Robin (2); Dunnock (1); House Sparrow 1; Goldfinch 5 + 1 control.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

First juveniles of 2015

I looked out of the window early this morning and was greeted by two juvenile Woodpigeons that were sat in a tree in the garden. This is the third breeding season running that Woodpigeons have produced the first fledged juveniles I have recorded. They looked like they had been out of the nest for at least a week as their bills had already shrunk close to the adult shape.

Assuming they had left the nest around a week ago and allowing for a typical fledging period of 33-34 days and an incubation period of 17 days (BTO bird facts) the nest would have been built in early to mid February and the eggs laid in about the third week of that month. This is at the very early end of the species breeding season which more commonly starts in April. I have no idea where this pair nested although it was probably nearby but I am sure it was not in my garden.

I didn't get chance to take any photos this morning but one of them was back in the garden this afternoon and stayed around for a while, the other was sat in a tree just across the road. I didn't see the parents feed either of them while I was watching and the one I photographed did help itself to some emerging Rowan flowers. Later one of the juveniles followed an adult round the lawn and copied its feeding activity so they must be very close to being independent.

An early success for the 2015 breeding season.

Add your own caption. 'what are you looking at' is mine.

Eating an emerging Rowan flower.
Tree flowers are an important part of their diet at this time of year and the emerging flowers of Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) are frequently eaten. This is the first time I have seen Woodpigeon eating emerging Rowan flowers.

Feather management is really important for any bird from an early age.

A wing stretch to the right.

A wing stretch to the left.

.... and now both together. 

Proud parent.
This spring has been a strange stop start affair to say the least and despite a fairly mild winter seems to be quite late in terms of plant development. Trees are only coming into leaf quite slowly and are at a similar stage now to what they were in the very cold spring of 2013 which followed the extremely cold and snowy winter of 2012-13. I have come to this conclusion from comparing photographs of the same trees taken in different years (the Rowan in the photos above being an example) and this year is surprisingly late even though we have not had any prolonged spells of very cold weather. This is bound to have a knock on effect on insects and it will be interesting to see how this pans out over the breeding season. From what I have seen and read tits are nesting later this year than last and it remains to be seen if they have got their timing right.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Tree Pipits

My ringing site at Billinge proved to be a fantastic location for Tree Pipits last autumn (133+ recorded and 57 ringed) and it is now starting to look like it is a good site for the species in spring too. The first was a flyover recorded by CAD on the 12th and then I had another 2 yesterday. This morning I found a group of 3 feeding together before they left to the north and another 2 singles were heard and seen flying over a little while later giving a total of 5 for today.

I could have easily missed the 3 feeding birds if had I taken a slightly different route. In fact the way they were creeping through the grass it would have been very easy to walk past them had they not been right in front of me. They were surprisingly confiding and didn't move far when some dog walkers came past with a group of boisterous Labradors. The birds perched up in trees and preened in between bouts of feeding and one even uttered a bit of sub-song.

Note the short hind claws.

The short hind claws and pink legs also show well in this photo and the photo above.

Record shot of 3 Tree Pipits with a Meadow Pipit. Top 2 birds and the lower right bird are Tree Pipits, the lower left bird is a Meadow Pipit.
I did have a couple of nets up for a while this morning but only caught a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff and 2 Willow Warblers. Interestingly one of the Willow Warblers was another retrap that was originally ringed last year. Of the 6 Willow Warblers caught at the site this spring 4 have been returning birds from last year which is really good to see.

Willow Warbler

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Hare we go

There was no fog yesterday morning so I went up to Billinge to see what was about with see being the operative word. Visibility was excellent, the wind was light and birds were singing everywhere including a couple of Chiffchaffs that have been around for a few days. I put up a couple of nets in the hope of a ringing a few migrants although I didn't expect to catch much.

I hadn't been there long when a couple of phylloscs flitted through the bushes going north. Neither called or gave much of a view and I wouldn't like to say what they were and both missed the nets. A little while later I heard part of the song of a Willow Warbler and as the morning warmed the bird came into view and the full song soon followed. This bird was caught and it was already ringed with a number that I recognised. On checking my records it was a bird I had originally ringed as an adult in the same place on 25/07/14. So my first Willow Warbler of 2015 was a returning bird from 2014, not that unusual but it is always great to see birds return having survived the ordeals of migration to Africa.

Willow Warbler HLX365, a returning adult from 2014.
A short walk around part of the site revealed a second Willow Warbler and a friend (CAD) encountered another 2 on adjoining areas so a few must have dropped in overnight. Visible migration overhead was limited to a steady trickle of around 10 to 20 Meadow Pipits per hour and that was about it. Interestingly a few Lesser Redpolls were lured down to the nets even though there was no obvious finch movement and 7 were ringed.

Lesser Redpoll
Despite much watching of the sky for migrants I can't take credit for noticing a curcumzenithal arc that appeared directly above me. Fortunately a text from Chris (CAD) alerted me to it before it melted away.

Smile in the sky.
Not long after a sun dog appeared which is a related phenomena that also involves ice crystals in the atmosphere. Nice as such things are I would have preferred more visible migration to look at.

Sun Dog
Although there wasn't that much about it was an improvement and the arrival of Willow Warblers did make it feel like spring had really got going at last. So where is the Hare in all this? Well it worked its way down the hill towards me and seemed oblivious to my presence as they often can be if you spot them first and keep really still. I had seen another Hare in the same area when I first got there and this second individual seemed to be sniffing out scent marks left by the other.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 8th April 2014 were: Lesser Redpoll 7; Great Tit 4; Goldcrest 2; Willow Warbler (1).

Monday, 6 April 2015

5th April 2015

Although the weather has improved it has thrown another spanner in the works in the form of fog. I went to Crawford yesterday morning and it was grey to say the least. Summer visitors are still thin on the ground but I have been keeping the nyger feeders going there in the hope of a few Redpolls joining the Goldfinches so it was the best option for ringing some birds. I put a couple of nets up as the fog wasn't too thick and more importantly wasn't condensing on the vegetation so wouldn't be a problem on the nets; however the generally grey conditions still made them that bit more visible. A few Goldfinches and a couple of Lesser Redpolls came to the feeders but they all managed to avoid the nets. After a couple of hours and with the fog only lifting slowly I packed up having ringed just 3 birds - 2 Yellowhammers and 1 Dunnock.

A foggy view over the farmland at Crawford yesterday morning.
Male and female Yellowhammers. When you see a pair like this it is hard to believe that some can be difficult to sex.
Male and female Yellowhammers.
The sun came out in the afternoon so I went to have a look at a Nuthatch nest that my son had found the day before. The tree the birds are nesting in is close to a path so they are accustomed to people passing by and I thought that may give me a chance to get some photographs. I wasn't disappointed and the female returned to work on the nest with us standing about 12 metres away.

The birds have picked a natural cavity and at first glance didn't appear to have narrowed the entrance with mud as they usually do.
When the bird went inside I could see she had plastered it up with mud on the inside and had only left a small hole which she really had to squeeze through to get into the nest chamber. The birds wing stretched out over her back as she forced her way in.
Taking a peek while she adds a bit more mud to the already tight entrance to the nesting chamber. There is quite a wall of mud in there.
The bird then squeezed its way out shutting its eyes in the process.
Made it.