Wednesday 30 September 2015

Billinge 30/09/15

The last ringing session of the month was a modest affair and it was no surprise that Goldcrests and Lesser Redpolls made up the majority of the 29 birds ringed. As usual the Lesser Redpolls showed some variation in the ground colour of their plumage as shown below. Quite a few of the birds caught this month have been like the paler bird on the left so it is not a particularly unusual individual by any means.

These birds show some of the variation in ground colour of the birds caught today. Ideally they would have been photographed side by side but I don't have enough hands for that.
Although there have been a lot more Redpolls than usual this month the number moving through the site is likely to increase further during October. 
Visible migration was fairly low key with few birds on the move and no highlights, unlike yesterday when 7 Crossbills went east and the first 2 Redwings of the autumn were recorded. However, there were more Sparrowhawks around with a minimum of 3 females and 1 male seen and some of these are likely to have have been on the move.

Ringing totals for 30/09/15 were: Sparrowhawk 1; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 3; Goldcrest 12, Great Tit 1; Treecreeper 2; Lesser Redpoll 7. Total 29 new birds.

I don't catch Treecreepers very often but 4 have been caught in the last 2 days.
So September is over, well it will be in a few hours, and a total of 934 birds of 36 species were ringed at Billinge and I have shed a few pounds in the process. The top 5 species ringed during the month were:

Goldcrest            258
Lesser Redpoll   158
Chiffchaff           125
Goldfinch             60
Blackcap             56

..........................and it all starts again tomorrow.

Monday 28 September 2015

A bit of moon gazing and more Goldcrests

I got up at 4am this morning to take a peek at the lunar eclipse and having ticked it I went back to bed for another hour. When I got up again and started getting ready to go ringing the moon was still partially shaded by the earth so I grabbed a shot while I still had the opportunity. It made a pleasant change to have crystal clear skies over the UK for a celestial event and I am sure the internet is now awash with photographs of the eclipse in its various stages.

The latter stage of the eclipse at 05:30 this morning.
I was out at Billinge shortly after 6:00am and had 3 nets up before sunrise. The first net round only produced 1 Blackcap but after the sun came up I heard the the first Goldcrests and Chiffchaff call.

Goldcrests dominated the next few net rounds and by 9am 23 had been caught and ringed. There wasn't much in the way of visible migration overhead and the little there was mainly involved Lesser Redpolls, Siskins and Meadow Pipits. A couple of migrant Song Thrushes came over at great height and, for a moment, looked like they were going to drop in before they carried on, heading southwest. A few Chaffinches, hirundines and the odd alba wagtail were also on the move but there were frequent gaps with no birds of any description going over. The catching rate slowed as the morning went on but I was more than happy with the final total of 54 new birds and 2 retraps especially as it included 30 Goldcrests.

The 30 Goldcrests ringed today brings the total ringed at Billinge so far this month to 235.
Adult male Lesser Redpoll
Adult male lesser Redpoll (same bird as above).
This Lesser Redpoll is presumably from a very late brood as it hadn't completed its post juvenile moult.
One of today's 3 Siskins 
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 28/09/15 were: Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 6; Goldcrest 30; Blue Tit (1); Coal Tit 3 (1); Goldfinch 1; Siskin 3, Lesser Redpoll. Total 54 new birds and 2 retraps.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Firecrest and only a year late.

One scarce bird that I expected to find at Billinge last autumn was a Firecrest and I thought it was even more likely when it became apparent that large numbers of Goldcrests migrated through the site. Well I didn't see or hear one last autumn but one finally turned up today amongst another wave of Goldcrests, and a cracking male at that. With southeasterly winds forecast for the next few days there might be one or two more nice surprises like this with any luck.

Male Firecrest
A new species for the ringing site.
Another 22 Goldcrests were ringed today and only 1 was retrapped; a bird ringed 3 days ago. The lightest bird weighed 4.9g and the heaviest was 6.1g with the heavier birds being fat enough to undertake an overnight flight and migrate some distance. A weight of 5.0g is about average for a Goldcrest and most were above that so will be moving on pretty quickly, probably tonight.

Other birds caught were in line with recent visits although 4 Coal Tits perhaps hinted at some movement in that species. There was a bit more movement overhead today, although I didn't have time to do any counts, with a Tree Pipit being the highlight. 

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 26/09/15 were: Meadow Pipit 7; Robin 3; Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 8; Goldcrest 22 (1); Firecrest 1; Great Tit 2, Coal Tit 4; Goldfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 8. Total 58 new birds and 1 retrap.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Another wave of Crests.

Venus was shining brightly in a near cloudless sky as I set up at Billinge this morning and thankfully there wasn't even a hint of mist to mar visibility. There was a slightly stronger breeze than I had expected so I used a different net configuration to ensure they were in the most sheltered positions. The last of the nets was up a little before sunrise and the first Meadow Pipits were on the move at about the same time.

The first net round only produced 5 birds but things picked up rapidly after that and I was kept busy for the next 4 hours. I had only heard a couple of Goldcrest calling during that first net round but 26 (24 new & 2 retraps) subsequently found their way into the nets so there had clearly been another influx. The 24 ringed today brings the total for the month to 145 and there is still a week to go.

The Goldcrests moving through at the moment will all be of British origin.
More Lesser Redpolls were on the move and another 14 were ringed including the first adult of the autumn. The total ringed this month now stands at 105 and we are not even into the peak period yet so I am sure there will be a lot more to come. There was a steady movement of Meadow Pipits overhead but nothing like the numbers there should and only 4 were caught. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the 'vis mig' front was that only 1 Grey Wagtail went south all morning.

The first adult male of the autumn sporting a fine pink breast.
Chiffchaffs headed the warbler totals with 8 new, 1 retrap and 1 control (a bird ringed elsewhere). I thought I had possibly caught my last Willow Warbler on the 17th but another turned up today making it the new candidate for the last one of the year. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was the first to be ringed at the site this year and a feisty male Sparrowhawk did its best to get its claws into me as they usually do.

Control Chiffchaff EKX574. Where have you come from?
Will this be the last Willow Warbler of the year at Billinge?
Juvenile male Sparrowhawk.
If this bird survives a few years the eye will become bright orange.
Ringing totals (retraps/controls in brackets) for 23/09/15 were: Sparrowhawk 1; Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Meadow Pipit 4; Dunnock 3; Robin 1; Blackbird 1; Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 8 (2); Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 24 (2); Long-tailed Tit 1 (1); Great Tit 3; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 5; Linnet 1; Lesser Redpoll 14; Reed Bunting 1. Total 73 new birds, 4 retraps and 1 control.

Look into my eyes.
I know I have used that line before but I had to end the post with a head on picture of those hypnotic eyes.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

More F F Fog

The forecast for this morning looked quite promising with a band of showers predicted to move through in the early hours and followed by a relatively clear and dry dawn. I expected this to result in a good movement of diurnal migrants over Billinge; however, my optimism was soon dashed when a misty early start deteriorated into a very foggy dawn. At one point visibility was down to around 200 metres and every time it looked like the fog was starting to clear more fog would roll back in.

It seemed like plenty of birds were itching to move and every now and then a few Meadow Pipits dashed through and gave a taste of what could have been had the conditions been better. Grey Wagtails weren't daunted by the conditions either and a total of 7 went south before the fog eventually cleared at around 10am. Other birds with itchy feet included a few Skylarks, Chaffinches, Lesser Redpolls, Siskins and Reed Buntings.

It was good to catch another 2 Grey Wagtails but without the fog I would have probably caught 4 or 5.

Grey Wagtails are easy to age with first year birds usually having 1 or more unmoulted greater coverts. This bird  had only replaced 1 greater covert and this feather stands out as being darker and fresher looking than the 9 unmoulted feathers.

It is getting late for Whitethroats now and this one could end up being the latest record for the site this year
The most unexpected sighting of the morning came when 2 Egyptian Geese headed north just after 10am. They really took me by surprise when I first glimpsed them out of the corner of my eye and they even caused me to lift my bins faster than usual.

Ringing totals were better than I had expected given the foggy conditions but fell short of what I had hoped for in terms of numbers if not variety. The Woodpigeon was a nestling from a nest I have been watching for several weeks now. The nest is only 4ft off the ground in a hawthorn bush and is the lowest Woodpigeon nest I have ever found.

A well fed Woodpigeon nestling.
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 22/09/15 were: Woodpigeon 1; Meadow Pipit 2; Grey Wagtail 2; Dunnock 1; Wren 2;  Robin 1; Whitethroat 1; Chiffchaff 4 (1); Goldcrest 6 (2); Chaffinch 3, Goldfinch 1; Linnet 1, Lesser Redpoll 1; Reed Bunting 2. Total 28 new birds and 3 retraps.

Monday 21 September 2015

Low 'Vis' Weekend

The weather forecast for the weekend had been looking really good with a large ridge of high pressure positioned over the country and the prospects of clear blue skies. The conditions looked like they would be perfect for migrants to be on the move at Billinge and I was hopeful of getting my first good catch of Meadow Pipits of the autumn. I was really keen to make the most of the weather and was up early on Saturday and had 3 nets set by first light. It was a bit misty but I expected that to burn off quickly once the sun was up. Unfortunately the mist lingered and got worse with visibility restricted to around 2 miles for the first couple of hours or so.

The low visibility had its impact on diurnal migrants and only a few pipits, wagtails and finches pushed through. The bushes seemed to be fairly quiet but there was another little rush of Goldcrests first thing with all but 1 of the 14 ringed being caught in the first hour. One of the Goldcrests was unusual in that it had a slightly longer and down-curved bill that give it a striking appearance. A few Chiffchaffs moved through later in the morning when the mist had started to lift with one being a control and the 3 new Robins were all likely to be migrants. There were a few more Linnets around than of late with birds moving between nearby feeding areas and a few of these were intercepted towards the end of the session.

The bill of this Goldcrest was a bit longer and heavier looking than normal but it was the down curve that made it look really unusual.
Its unusual bill has a little bit of a Treecreeperesque look to it.

Control Chiffchaff HVR169.
Small numbers of migrant Robins have been a feature of recent visits. The site doesn't have many resident Robins and the few there are don't usually frequent the ringing areas so any new Robins that are caught are pretty much guaranteed to be migrants.
Ringing totals (retraps/controls in brackets) for 19/09/15 were: Meadow Pipit 2; Grey Wagtail 2; Robin 3; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 5 (2); Goldcrest 14; Chaffinch 1; Linnet 6; Lesser Redpoll 3 (2). Total 37 new birds, 3 retraps and 1 control.

There was meant to be a bit more of a breeze on Sunday and I hoped that would help keep the mist away but when I got up I could see it was foggy and not just misty. I thought twice about going out given the conditions as I knew the fog would make the nets much more visible. Anyway I decided to give it a go just in case the fog lifted when the sun came up.

I put up the usual nets and caught 2 Blackcaps and 2 Goldcrests in the half light but then the fog started to have more impact as the light levels rose. I didn't catch anything in the next net round and thought about packing up but I decided to give it just a bit longer on the off chance the fog would clear. At about the same time a flock of about 50 Linnets gathered in the trees near one of the nets so I decided to play a lure and they immediately came down to investigate. On checking the net I found I had caught 18 Linnets and while I think the fog made the lure more effective it also made the net much more visible so both helped and hindered the catch at the same time.

All bar one of the Linnets caught were first year birds like this bird. The partially concealed red feathers on the breast show this bird is a male. 

1CY Linnet.
By the end of the morning there was a flock of about 90 feeding in a nearby field. 
The conditions slowly improved as the morning wore on but it came too late to stimulate much in the way of movement. Matters weren't helped by lingering fog that affected some of the surrounding areas, especially towards the north and east of the site. The final total of 47 birds was very good given the conditions and was largely due to the 25 Linnets that were caught. 

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 20/09/15 were: Sparrowhawk 1; Robin 2 (1); Blackcap 3; Chiffchaff 3; Goldcrest 6; Blue Tit 1; Greenfinch 1; Linnet 25; Lesser Redpoll 3; Yellowhammer 1. Total 46 new birds and 1 retrap.

Juvenile female Sparrowhawk. Always a delight to catch and always a bit of a handful.

Sparrowhawks often manage to climb out of nets just when you are nearing them and females, being larger, usually find it easier to escape than males. Luckily this one didn't get away but it got very close to doing so.
Now look into my eyes, my eyes.

17/09/15: Wave of Crests

The 17th produced the best catch of Goldcrests of the autumn so far with 34 being caught in the first couple of hours. There were a few calling at first light but not enough to give me the impression that there had been a significant arrival overnight; however, 9 Goldrests in the first net round rapidly changed my view on that. Most moved through quite quickly and by 9:00am they had largely gone with only the odd one being seen or heard in the following couple of hours. The turnover of Goldcrests at Billinge, as revealed by ringing, is really quite impressive with the numbers recorded fluctuating markedly during the course of a day and from day to day.

Last year I ringed 312 over the autumn which was far more than I expected and this autumn seems to be following a similar pattern both in terms of timing and numbers. None of the other sites I have ringed at in the area have such large and concentrated numbers moving through in autumn and 34 would have been a good annual total for some of them.

This Goldcrest is from the previous day (16th) when 11 were caught and I had a bit more time to take photographs.
The 13 Chiffchaff ringed underlined that there had been a small fall overnight as did 4 new Robins. A Willow Warbler was noteworthy as it is getting late for that species now and it could be the last of the year. The 17th was also another Lesser Redpoll day with 13 ringed and only 1 retrap from the previous day. On the other hand Meadow Pipits were still well down on the numbers that should be around or passing through at this time of year and only 3 were caught. Interestingly one of the Meadow Pipits was a retrap and had been ringed as a juvenile on 4th August last year so had come from the small local breeding population. All in all a busy and interesting morning.

Ringing totals for 17/09/15 were: Meadow Pipit 2 (1); Robin 4; Blackcap 4 (1); Chiffchaff 13; Willow Warbler 1; Goldcrest 33 (1); Blue Tit 1 (1); Goldfinch 4; Lesser Redpoll 13 (1); Reed Bunting 1. Total 76 new birds and 5 retraps.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Lesser Redpolls get going

In previous posts I have mentioned that a big irruption of Redpolls is on the cards for this autumn and I have even gone as far as suggesting it could be a whopper. It is not rocket science and, without going into the whys and wherefores, the signs have been stacking up since last autumn. Well those signs are now being reflected in my catches and counts of Lesser Redpolls at Billinge.

If I had to think of a favourite bird Redpolls would be on the short list.
Wonderful little birds.
I only ringed 25 Lesser Redpolls at Billinge last autumn and just 2 of those were in September but I have caught 66 so far this month with 49 of them being in the last few days. If today's ringing total of 22 is anything to go by catches could reach mid to high double figures and some counts could get into low 3 figures by the time we get to the peak movements in October. Obviously I could be counting my Redpolls too soon and this bubble could burst but I don't think that is likely.

1CY Lesser Redpoll
All the birds caught to date have been first year birds and a few have still been in full juvenile plumage so must have come from quite late broods. Most adults will still be undertaking their full moult and will start to move later this month or next month, once their new flight feathers are fully grown. Only one of the birds caught so far was already ringed and interestingly it was a bird I had ringed as a recently fledged juvenile on 11th July, 3 km away at Crawford. However many of the birds moving through are likely to have originated from further north in England or Scotland and hopefully I will get a few controls to confirm that in due course.

A few are still in full juvenile plumage like this bird.
Others are part way through the partial post juvenile moult but most have already completed it.
So Redpolls are likely to feature in my posts for the next few weeks if not longer and especially if we also get a good influx of Common (Mealy) Redpolls in October and through into November.

Combined ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 13th to 16th September were: Meadow Pipit 3; Grey Wagtail 4; Dunnock 1; Robin 4; Song Thrush 1; Whitethroat 2; Blackcap 9; Chiffchaff 22 (7); Willow Warbler 2; Goldcrest 27; Willow Tit 1; Coal Tit 1; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 4; Chaffinch 8; Greenfinch 1; Goldfinch 35; Siskin 2; Lesser Redpoll 48 (1); Reed Bunting 2. Total 178 (8).

Saturday 12 September 2015

Billinge 10/09/15

Being up at 5 am has become the norm for me in recent weeks, so much so that I now wake up before the first alarm goes off. The 10th was no different and I was out and setting up at Billinge by first light under a crystal clear sky. Although the forthcoming sunrise was starting to brighten the sky to the east it was impossible not to notice and be impressed by the sight of the Crescent Moon with Venus close by. It was one of those sights that would have been worth getting up for in its own right although my photograph doesn't really do it justice. Had I taken the photo a little earlier Mars would have been just visible in the left of the image.

The Crescent Moon and Venus stood out as dawn broke on the 10th.
Anyway back to birds and the stand out species were ones that continue to be conspicuous by their near absence. Meadow Pipit passage is normally well underway by now and this species usually makes up a good proportion of the birds ringed and the majority of the birds passing overhead but yet again there was hardly a Meadow Pipit to be seen. The odd one that was seen or heard seemed to be from the small local breeding population rather than being birds on passage. This is being noted elsewhere across the country and it looks like Meadow Pipits have had a particularly unsuccessful breeding season overall. There is still a slim chance that breeding was just delayed by the cold spring and that the birds will move later as a result but as each day goes by this becomes an increasingly unlikely outcome. Similarly there hasn't been any movement of Reed Buntings as yet and a poor breeding season seems to be the most likely scenario there too. On the other hand Grey Wagtails may have had a reasonably productive summer as passage started more or less on time and small numbers are now passing through daily.

Grey Wagtail
I have said this before but Yellow-vented Wagtail would have been a more appropriate name for the species, not that I am suggesting a change in name now.
The most regular of the migrants passing overhead at the moment are Siskins and frustratingly they have generally been dots in the sky with none coming down to the trees and net level. Today that changed and first 2 were caught in the last couple of rounds of the nets. Hopefully, these will be the first of many and more will drop into the trees to feed in the coming weeks as the the alder cones start to ripen. It is certainly turning out to be an interesting autumn and I am sure there are going to be more ups and downs in terms of numbers of birds to come.
1CY male Siskin

Adult female Siskin
Ringing totals for 10th September (retraps in brackets) were: Grey Wagtail 2; Dunnock 2; Blackcap (1); Chiffchaff 5; Goldcrest 2; Long-tailed Tit (4); Blue Tit 3; Great Tit 2 (2); Chaffinch 4; Goldfinch 5, Siskin 2. Total 27 (7)

Monday 7 September 2015

Mostly Chiffies and Crests

I was back at Billinge this morning after being away for a few days helping out at the Spurn Migration Festival. The weather was ideal for ringing, being calm and mainly overcast, and I had 3 nets up well before sunrise. The bushes were quiet and seemed to be largely devoid of birds but the first few net rounds showed otherwise and were surprisingly productive with a good number of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests being caught, along with a few Willow Warblers for good measure. One of the Goldcrests was a control (a bird ringed elsewhere) and it will be interesting to see where it has come from in due course.

Chiffchaff. This is usually the most numerous warbler in September by some margin with peak numbers moving through in the second half of the month.

This is the control female Goldcrest, HKK205. The details have been submitted to the BTO and I should get the recovery report with details of the ringing location fairly quickly.

Six Willow Warblers is a good number for the date.
Migration overhead mainly involved Siskins going south with small parties being seen or heard fairly regularly throughout the morning. I can't be sure how many Siskins went through but it was certainly in the region of a 100 birds at the very least. The first Lesser Redpolls of the autumn were on the move with 15 recorded and it seems highly likely that a great many more will follow in the coming weeks. Meadow Pipits were conspicuous by their near absence with just the occasional bird being noted. Meadow Pipit passage is usually well underway by now but has barely started and this may be due to the birds having bred later as a result of the cold spring. Similarly, only 3 Grey Wagtails were recorded which is well short of the number expected by this date. Other birds on the move were one Tree Pipit and a few Swallows.

The cold spring and unsettled summer may have also resulted in a poor breeding season for Meadow Pipits.

It certainly looks like there is going to be a major irruptive movement of Redpolls this autumn. It has been on the cards for some time and judging by the early and large scale movement of Siskins it could be a whopper.
There were only one or two Blackcaps around but several Whitethroats were noted in favoured blackberry patches. The best bird of the morning, in terms of local scarcity, was a Green Woodpecker which was heard calling a couple of times.

Ringing totals (controls/retraps in brackets) were: Swallow 1; Meadow Pipit 2; Robin 1; Chiffchaff 16 (3); Willow Warbler 6; Goldcrest 9 (1); Long-tailed Tit 2 (2); Coal Tit 1; Great Tit 1; Chaffinch 2; Goldfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 8; Yellowhammer 1. Total 57.

The adult female Yellowhammer caught hadn't started moulting yet and may have only just finished breeding.