Sunday, 31 May 2015

Rapid Recoveries

No this is not news of birds being recovered shortly after ringing but it is about speed in the turnaround of recovery reports from the new BTO ringing application. Ringing details for the controls that I submitted, with other data, on Wednesday evening landed back in my inbox on Friday, just 2 days later. I expected a longer wait but I was wrong and the new system is really starting to show its capabilities now. When the online version is up and running it should be even quicker and I could be posting details of some controls on the day they are caught. This new system may have taken longer to introduce than originally planned but it certainly looks like that wait has been worthwhile.

Lesser Redpoll Y781820 (purple line and markers) was ringed on 02/02/14 in Wilmslow, Cheshire and was controlled at Crawford on 27/05/15. A movement of 41 km NW. It may not be a long distance or quick movement but the speed of the new system means I can post the recovery details just 3 days after the bird was controlled and submitted.

Lesser Redpoll  D717537 (red line and markers) was ringed on 03/04/14 in Llanfyllin, Powys and was controlled at Crawford on 13/05/15 and 27/05/15. A movement of 89 km NNE. A similar rapid turnaround of ringing details for this control.

Blackbird CT82386 (blue line and markers) was ringed as a juvenile male in my garden in Orrell on 23/07/14 and was controlled in Darnall, South Yorkshire on 12/04/15. British bred Blackbirds are fairly sedentary in the main so this is quite a good movement especially as it involved a crossing of the Pennines.

The Goldfinch D954944 pictured in my last post and controlled at Crawford on 27/05/15 had been ringed at a Kings Moss on 09/11/14, just 2 km away, so isn't mapped. Interestingly it wasn't sexed when originally ringed so it may not have finished moulting its head feathers at that time and those unusual lesser coverts may have also contributed to the bird being left unsexed. In addition there wouldn't have been the opportunity to confirm the sex of the bird through examination of the cloaca in November so erring on the side of caution was probably the best decision at that time. I only mention this as sexing Goldfinches is one of my pet subjects and it must be of interest to many other people judging by the page views of my previous post on the subject (main link here).  Page views of that post still run into the many hundreds each week and seem destined to keep it at the top of the most popular post list.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Crawford 27/05/15

Lesser Redpolls are still taking full advantage of the nyger feeders at Crawford and the feeders have needed topping-up every 3 or 4 days as a result. The weather was ideal for mist-netting this morning so I decided to fit in a short visit to see how many Redpolls were about. I expected most to be retraps but the morning got off to a great start with a control (a bird ringed elsewhere) and a new bird. Both were cracking males but one was much darker than the other and they show the variation that Lesser Redpolls can display. The paler example is the sort of bird that is sometimes mistaken for Common Redpoll in the field, especially when seen alone or in the company of darker individuals. Spring Lessers seem to be the most problematic with some seemingly becoming darker with wear and others becoming paler. They really were as different as they look in the photographs below and the paler bird stood out in the field too.

Control Lesser Redpoll Y781820
Lesser Redpoll Z414896
Examples of other types of colour variation were displayed by a couple of birds caught subsequently with one of these birds having a yellowish poll and another having a mixture of red and yellow. Both of these birds were retraps and had been ringed earlier this month.

Redpolls occasionally exhibit Xanthochromism whereby the red pigment in the plumage is replaced by yellow.  The cause is usually genetic but some forms of  Xanthochromism can be caused by diet. In my experience it seems to be more common in female Redpolls than males and the best examples I have seen have been adult females like this bird.

There is only a bit of yellow in the otherwise red 'poll' of this bird but it shows they can have both colours and not just one or the other.
The bird with the little bit of yellow in the crown was much more noteworthy for another reason as it also had a deformed bill. This bird was originally ringed and photographed on 1st May and I nearly posted pictures of it then. I don't know if this deformity is genetic, a result of trauma or disease but it was odd looking to say the least. Only the upper mandible was affected and an overgrowth, mainly on one side, formed a tube like nostril. The bird didn't seem hampered by the condition and was a good weight. The bird also had a brood patch that indicated she was an actively breeding female.

Lesser Redpoll with deformed bill, photographed 27/05/15
Lesser Redpoll with deformed bill, photographed 01/05/15
Lesser Redpoll with deformed bill, photographed 01/05/15
Although there were plenty of Goldfinches around very few came to the feeders but luckily one that did and was caught had been ringed elsewhere (a control). It also had interesting lesser coverts in that they were broadly tipped golden-yellow. Most male Goldfinches have lesser coverts that are all black or black with well defined brown fringes. However, a few can have more broadly tipped lesser coverts and those do are usually tipped golden-yellow rather than brown and this bird is a good example of that uncommon variation. There seems to be some form of exception to every rule when it comes to sexing Goldfinches from plumage features but then it wouldn't be interesting if it was easy and straightforward. The sex of this bird was confirmed by examination of the shape of the cloaca.

Male Goldfinch D954944 showing broadly tipped golden-yellow lesser coverts.
 Male Goldfinch D954944
A juvenile Tree Sparrow was also caught and this seems to be quite early judging by reports from nest recorders. The late spring means most Tree Sparrows are still on eggs or are feeding nestlings.

Juvenile Tree Sparrow.
Ringing totals (retraps/controls in brackets) at Crawford were: Lesser Redpoll 2 (9); Goldfinch (1); Tree Sparrow 2; Dunnock 1. All the ringing data has been sent to the BTO so I should be able to post details of where the controls came from in a week or two based on recent turnaround times.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Become a birdwatcher for £15.49

I am still not getting out much and have become stir crazy or perhaps I should say Starling crazy as a result. This self imposed incarceration is down to my attempts to catch all the adult Starlings that visit the garden. Recapturing some of the birds that were ringed in previous years has proved to be quite difficult and some individuals have taken many hours to catch. Each bird is caught individually in a manually operated cage trap and I have to watch all the birds that go in the trap to feed to see if they are birds I need to catch for the study. Birds I have already colour-ringed happily come back to feed in the trap and I may have to watch dozens come and go, several times in some cases, before I see one that I need to catch. I have now caught 128 different adults and this probably represents about 95% of the Starlings that breed within feeding range of the garden. With a week of the study period to go I may be able to push that percentage even higher.

The first juvenile Starling followed its parents into the garden a couple of days ago and the numbers have grown since then. I have only ringed 9 of the juveniles so far as I am still concentrating on the adults but I expect to ring up to 200 juvs over the next month or so.
So what do I do while waiting for Starlings to enter a trap; well the answer is all manner of useful and not so useful things that don't take me too far from the window. Today I found myself thumbing through a product brochure that had been posted through the door. To my amusement I found becoming a birdwatcher only costs £15.49.

Another advert that caught my eye was for toast tongs. Apparently they have a little magnetic bit for handy storage and I am sure we all know a place that we would like to stick such an item.

The advert that gave me the biggest smile was for coal paint, yes coal paint as in paint for coal. If your imitation nutty slack is not black enough then this is the product for you. I would love to meet the person who has dull and faded coals that are in need of a lick of coal paint. I bet they have toast tongs stored in a very handy location and also became a birdwatcher for £15.49.

Back to more usual blog content and I haven't mentioned moths recently and that is because the moth trap has hardly caught a thing for a while now. It has been one of the worst springs for moths that I can remember and this must be having a knock on effect on some species of birds as there will be fewer caterpillars around as a result. There were only 3 moths in the trap this morning which was really poor given the date. There were 2 Poplar Hawk Moths and a Bright-line Brown-eye, both species being firsts for the year.

Poplar Hawk Moths 24/05/15

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Mostly Starlings.

Starlings are still taking up much of my time and will until at least the end of the month. Today I caught the 100th different adult Starling in the garden since the study period started on 14th April. One hundred birds may not sound that many but it has taken a great deal of effort and patience to catch that many. Interestingly, 41 of these birds have been retraps from previous years which is a great start for the project.

One of the retrap Starlings caught and colour ringed earlier today. This bird was originally ringed as a breeding adult in May last year. Retrapping or re-sighting birds from year to year is what this type of study is all about.
The next batch of fat cakes in the making. Beef dripping, finely chopped peanuts and meal worms. Yum, yum for many species and Starlings in particular.
The first young Starlings were out of the nest today but they didn't venture far from the nest site. It won't be long before they start following their parents and really make their presence felt with their incessant begging calls and squabbling. 

Away from the garden I have been keeping the nyger feeders going at Crawford and had a few short ringing sessions there. Lesser Redpolls are still making use of the feeders but the number of Goldfinches has dropped off markedly. My last visit, on the 13th, only produced 4 Lesser Redpoll and 1 Goldfinch but it was still worthwhile as one of the Lesser Redpolls was a control.

Control (ringed elsewhere) Lesser Redpoll had a ring sequence starting with D717.
I recently received details of another Lesser Redpoll (Y382442) that I controlled at Crawford on 1st May. This bird had been ringed 26 km away at Bidston, Wirral on 22nd April 2013 so it will be interesting to see where the latest control has come from.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Staring at Starlings

An increasing amount of my time is being taken up by my Starling RAS project and as it is based on birds that visit the garden it is keeping me at home. My core study period is fairly short and runs from mid April to the end of May which is the main incubation and nestling period for Starlings in this area. The population is at its most static at this time as breeding pairs are tied to their respective nest sites and this limits their foraging range. This is one of the main requirements for this type of study and more information on RAS projects can be found here.

Adult Starling probing the lawn for invertebrates such as leatherjackets. They probe the ground with an open bill which they snap shut if prey is detected.
An adult was first seen carrying food back to a nest site on 27th April so those chicks will be just over half grown now. The eggs of many other pairs have hatched since and most adults are now busily collecting food for their rapidly growing chicks. The first young should fledge by the middle of this month with the majority fledging over the following 2 to 3 weeks. Adults are fairly easy to catch when they are feeding young and I attract them into the garden with fat cakes made from beef dripping, finely chopped peanuts and meal worms. Since the middle of April I have caught 44 adult Starlings and 23 of those had been ringed in previous years with the oldest birds having been ringed in 2011.

They really are good looking birds.
All the study birds are now being ringed with an individually numbered colour ring in addition to the usual numbered BTO metal ring. This allows birds to be identified as individuals by observing them with binoculars or a telescope and means they won't need to be caught again for the purposes of the study. However it does mean I will be spending a lot of time staring at the Starlngs in the garden each breeding season for years to come.