Friday 24 July 2015

Crossbill !!

Highlight of a ringing session at Billinge this morning was a juvenile Common Crossbill. I have seen singles and small parties fly over the site on 3 occasions already this month, including a group of 3 going south yesterday, so today's bird wasn't totally unexpected. However, it was a delight to catch one rather than just getting the usual fleeting view of a calling bird or birds flying over. I have ringed Crossbills before but not for a good many years; however, it is the first I have caught locally and hopefully won't be the last.

Juvenile Common Crossbill
Now that is a bill.
It may not be a showy red male but it is still a cracking bird.
Fault barring was present in the wing and tail and can even be seen in the tips of the upper tail coverts. Fault bars are caused by food shortages when the bird is growing feathers and leads to bands of discolouration. A shortage of food will also be the cause of the movements of the Crossbills I have seen recently and I am sure there will be many more to come this autumn.
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for the morning were: Blackcap 11; Willow Warbler 6 (1); Robin 1; Blue Tit (2); Great Tit 1; Goldfinch 3; Chaffinch 1; Crossbill 1. 

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Billinge 22/07/15

The days may be getting shorter but dawn is still a bit too early for my liking. However, I managed to drag myself out of bed at 05:30, after snoozing the alarm a few times, and made my way up to Billinge. There wasn't a breath of wind and it was nice and overcast so I was able to put up 3 nets in the willows on the higher part of the site. This area can be really good for warblers at this time of year and is also favoured by flocks of Goldfinches now the Knapweed is going to seed.

The first couple of hours were really busy and as soon as I had ringed the birds from one net round it was time to go and check the nets again. Willow Warblers featured with 12 ringed and this brings the total ringed at the site over the past ten days to 30. Some of the Willow Warblers have completed their post juvenile moult and could be on their way south. Other signs of juvenile dispersal/early migration also came in the form of a Sedge Warbler and a Garden Warbler, neither of which breed at the site.

This Willow Warbler may reach the south coast by the end of the month.

Sedge Warblers are another early migrant.

If looks could kill. The Garden Warbler didn't want to pose for a nice photograph and just gave me dirty looks.
Goldfinches were ever present and a flock of up to 50 fed in the vicinity of the nets with other smaller parties and family groups coming and going. The morning turned out to be a bit of a finch-fest with 32 Goldfinches being caught along with a supporting cast of 9 Linnets and singles of Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Bullfinch.

26 of the Goldfinches caught were juveniles like this one. Goldfinches seem to have had a fairly good breeding season and this species clearly benefits from the proliferation of garden feeding.
There seem to be fewer Linnets about compared with the same time last year which is probably a result of increased failures among the early broods.
The lack of roving tit flocks continues and only one group of 6 Long-tailed Tits and 2 Blue Tits were seen all morning. Large and noisy tit flocks are usually a feature at this time of year but their low numbers or complete absence shows what a terrible breeding season they have had in this area.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Willow Warbler 12; Chiffchaff 5; Blackcap 8; Whitethroat 1; Sedge Warbler 1; Garden Warbler 1; Robin 1; Long-tailed Tit 1; Goldcrest 1; Goldfinch 31 (1); Linnet 9; Greenfinch 1; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1; Yellowhammer 1; Reed Bunting 1. Total 75 (1).

Unusual retrap

I have been neglecting the blog a bit recently but hopefully there will be regular updates now that autumn migration is gathering pace. I have been out and about whenever time and the weather have allowed and have caught 127 new birds and 18 retraps of 22 species since my last post. It is not a big total but its not bad considering the way the weather has been up here. The top five species ringed over the period (14th - 20th July) with retraps in brackets were: Swallow 24; Willow Warbler 18 (1); Chiffchaff; 18 (2); Goldfinch 11 (2); Tree Sparrow 9 (1).

The most unusual capture was an adult male Kestrel that was caught in a mist net at Crawford. I don't catch Kestrels very often and I have often gone years without catching one but this was even more unusual because it was a retrap. It was a bird that had been ringed at the same site a few weeks earlier, on 21/04/15. This year has been very poor for voles, their main food, so I can only assume this particular Kestrel has taken to feeding on small birds coming to the feeders at Crawford or the population of small mammals is doing better in the vicinity of the feeders because of the constant supply of seeds. Perhaps it is a combination of the two factors but it certainly is an unusual recapture.

Adult male Kestrel recaptured 20/07/15

Sunday 12 July 2015

This and that

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post so I thought I should cobble something together by way of a catch up. There hasn't been one stand out thing to write about but there have been some bits and bobs worth mentioning. On the birding front I have had Common Crossbills flying over Billinge and Crawford on a total of 4 occasions with most heading west. There have also been some unusually early flocks of Siskins moving south which are likely to be the forerunners or foreflyers of a large scale irruption this autumn. 

Sitka Spruce produced a bumper crop of seeds last year which meant few Crossbills, Siskins and Redpolls migrated in search of food and led to an almost complete absence of Siskins on garden feeders this spring. A bumper crop generally results in better survival and a good breeding season but is often followed by below average seed production and so provides the circumstances that can lead to large scale irruptions of the associated species.

It really looks like we are heading for one of those autumns/winters where the irruptive species come to the fore and steal the birding headlines. I don't think these irruptions will be confined to a few seed eating species either as I also think the conditions are developing for a good arrival of Waxwings. It may not be quite on the scale of the 2012/13 irruption but I certainly think it could be a good one. Why do I think it could be a Waxwing winter and the simple answer is the cold spring and its impact on pollinators and berry production across much of northern Europe. If the Rowan and Hawthorn in this area are anything to go by the berry crop could be down by at least 50% on last year if not more.

So there are some predictions or perhaps I should say educated guesses based on recent observations. Make of them what you will but right or wrong I will refer back to them later in the year when we know what has actually happened. I certainly think it is a year where some big irruptions are on the cards. One thing we don't have to wait for is to know that it has been an abysmal breeding season for many insectivorous species. I have never known so many warblers singing so late in the season such has been the level of nest failure so far and the woods and scrub near me are what you could call almost titless. 

So what have I been ringing? Well I am still catching Redpolls and Goldfinches coming to the feeders at Crawford although Tree Sparrows have dropped off now that winter cereals are starting to ripen. My last visit to Billinge on the evening of the 9th produced a few Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Linnets along with a fairly good catch of 21 Swallows that came to roost in the willows. As for the garden my local Starlings seem to have gone on their summer holidays and have largely vacated the area despite the constant supply of food. However I have caught a few Woodpigeons in the garden including two that needed fishing line removing from their feet. One of these Woodpigeons also happened to be an unusually dark individual.

Adult male Lesser Redpoll

A duskier than normal Woodpigeon and it does stand out as looking dark in the field.

This Woodpigeon was lucky to be caught and have the fishing line removed before any permanent damage was done.
Moth catches have remained below par to say the least and are a fraction of what they should be at this time of year. The only species that seem to be present in near normal numbers are Buff Ermine and perhaps Ghost Moth. Not much else I can say about the moths or lack of them other than it was nice to catch two Garden Tigers today. Garden Tiger is a declining species that is less than annual in the garden despite its name. However, Poplar, Elephant and Eyed Hawk moths are regular in the garden although they have generally emerged later and in smaller numbers this year.

Garden Tiger 12/07/15

Garden Tiger 12/07/15

Poplar Hawk Moth

Poplar Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk Moths

Eyed Hawk Moth
Finally, an odd looking Blackbird appeared in the garden earlier today. It looked like it was carrying something until I realised it had a huge growth in its bill. It turned out it was a bird that had been ringed in the garden on 9th May when it showed some signs of a problem with the upper mandible but nothing on the scale of its appearance today. I was surprised to see that it was still able to feed with such a large mass growing from the roof of the upper mandible but it managed to pick up some food from the bird table. However, the growth is clearly taking its toll on the bird's ability to preen and clearly limits its forward vision. It is a surprise it has managed to survive thus far and shows how resilient some birds can be.

No it isn't carrying anything it is a growth on the underside of the upper mandible.

The same bird when it it was ringed on 9th May