Saturday, 31 October 2015

Red and Gold

The unsettled weather of the past few days has impeded both ringing and migration at Billinge but I have grabbed the very limited opportunities there have been and the birds have done the same. The 28th started off very wet but the worst of the rain cleared at dawn and birds started to move despite the very murky conditions, stiff breeze and occasional spots of rain. The morning's total of 51 birds was much better than expected with the invidual totals being: Redwing 21; Song Thrush 4; Goldcrests 22 (+1 retrap & 3 controls).

The 3 control Goldcrests came at the very end of the session and it was one of those occasions where carrying on after the catching rate had slowed right down really paid off. The ring numbers were from different sequences starting HHJ, EBK and HVB so it will be interesting to find out where they were ringed especially as two of the birds were clearly continental types so may have been ringed during the big influx along the east coast.

Control Goldcrest (HHJ sequence). Continental Goldcrests have a much greyer head and nape which contrasts sharply with the green of the mantle and also have much paler underparts. They also tend to be a bit longer winged but this individually had a very long wing for a Goldcrest of 58mm.
The forecast for this morning was for rain clearing about an hour before dawn so I was expecting a good movement of thrushes and more Goldcrests with birds taking advantage of the generally improving conditions and much lighter wind. I was set up for first light but it was after sunrise before things really got going and I was kept busy ringing until late morning. There was plenty of action overhead, not that I had much time to take note of numbers, with the best sighting being a small skein of grey geese that contained 5 Bean Geese and the remainder being Pink-feet.

Again Redwings and Goldcrests made up the bulk of the birds caught but 2 Blackcaps were a nice surprise if not totally unexpected. The first Blackcap was a female that was carrying quite a lot of fat and weighed 20.4g so was probably a departing summer visitor while the second bird was a male and only weighed 16.1g so could well be a freshly arrived winter visitor. A cracking 2CY male Sparrowhawk livened things up and made up for the disappointment of a big female having having escaped a little earlier in the session. Another control Goldcrest was caught and will add to the picture of Goldcrest movements through the site and in the country this autumn.

Male Blackcap

This is the 6th Sparrowhawk to be ringed at Billinge this month and the 11th of the autumn but many more have been seen with up to 5 being seen on several days in recent weeks.
What a stunner, male Sparrowhawks don't get much redder than this.
Ringing totals for 31/10/15 were: Sparrowhawk 1; Redwing 68; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 20 (+ 1 control); Blackcap 2; Chaffinch 1. Total 95 new birds and 1 control.

So another month has come to a close and what an incredible month it has been with 1576 birds having been ringed at Billinge.  Redwings have accounted for more than half that number with a total of 860 and Goldcrests have been well represented with 336 ringed. In fact October's totals for both Redwing and Goldcrest exceed their respective totals for the whole of last year and there is still quite a bit of life left in this autumn.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Redwings: coburni v iliacus 2015

I nearly didn't go out this morning because the wind was a little stronger than had been forecast and was near the limit for mist-netting at Billinge. After umming ahhing for bit I decided to give it a go, after all it is late October, the wind had turned south easterly again and you just never know what may turn up. I was reasonably sure there would be an increase in Redwings as there had been a small arrival on the east coast and on the northern isles the previous day including some Icelandic birds on Fair Isle and North Ronaldsay. As a general rule there is a passage of thrushes over Billinge 24 hours after arrivals on the east coast from Spurn northwards and this proved to be the case again this morning.

The first round of the nets produced 13 Redwings and 2 Goldcrest which I would have been happy with as a total for the morning given the conditions. The next round produced another 7 Redwings and 7 Goldcrests which indicated there had been an increase in Goldcrest numbers too. The catching rate then slowed as the cloud cover thinned and the sun tried to break through but there were a few birds in every net round up to 10:30 when I decided to pack up. The final total of 53 new birds exceeded my expectations by some margin and was made up of 28 Redwings, 1 Song Thrush, 21 Goldcrests, 2 Bullfinch and 1 Lesser Redpoll.

Bird of the day and the main reason for this post was a Redwing that I considered to be of the Icelandic race 'coburni'. When I saw it at the far end of 18m net I knew it was likely to be one, assuming I am correct of course. It was darker than any of the other Redwings, was more heavily marked, had striking undertail coverts and even felt bigger when extracted and was in the hand.

Icelandic Redwing (coburni) 27/10/15

Icelandic Redwing (coburni) 27/10/15
Many years ago I read a comment about the identification of Goshawks which said something along the lines of  'when you think you have seen a Goshawk you haven't because when you do see one you will know'. The same seems to apply to the identification of Icelandic Redwings, when you only think you may have caught one you almost certainly haven't but when you do catch one you will have no doubt. As well as looking good for 'coburni' it had a wing length to match and measured 128.5mm. Now I know that is only 0.5mm over the maximum for 'iliacus' and I would never claim one on the basis of that 0.5mm alone but I would have been equally happy with the identification had its wing length fallen well within the overlap between the races.

Now ideally this identification needs to be confirmed in some way and the bird left the odd stray body feather, as thrushes often do, which was collected up and saved for possible confirmation via DNA . Luckily I share this interest in the identification and occurrence of Icelandic Redwings with Martin Garner of Birding Frontiers and with Martin's help and contacts there may be the opportunity to see if the races can be separated via their DNA. If there is any progress with this I will post about it in due course but up until then you can either take my word for it or make your own mind up from the photographs.

RZ06779 is the 'coburni' Redwing and RZ06780 and  RZ06782 were the following 'iliacus' caught and ringed this morning. You may be wondering why I didn't use pictures of RZ06781 and the simple answer is because it was a Song Thrush, it was not that I was being selective in the 'iliacus' used for comparison. Note the leg and feet colour of the 3 birds, 'coburni' is dark chocolate brown while 'iliacus' is mainly pinkish straw although a few can be brownish but certainly not as dark as 'coburni'.

The two birds on the right show significant variation in the extent of the flank streaking of 'iliacus' and show why the differences are not always clear cut and easy to describe.

Same birds and the 'coburni' on the left should be jumping out now if it hasn't done before. If they all had undertail coverts like RZ06779 the job would be easy but unfortunately that may not always be the case. More photographs of other individuals are required.
Please don't get the idea that I think you can always separate the races from their overall appearance or on the basis of specific plumage features as I just don't have enough experience of 'coburni' to say that at this time. It may be possible but at this stage I just don't know for sure and that is why it interests me so much. There may be some overlap in appearance as there is with wing length and the danger with separating very similar races is in focusing on the differences between easily separated individuals whilst understating any similarities that may occur at the other end of the scale.

The final picture (for now) shows today's 'coburni' (left) with a bird that I commented on in a previous post because of its size but was happy with as an 'iliacus', You can see differences but it is far from easy and would be much more difficult at range in the field. I am still happy that the bird on the right is an 'iliacus' despite its size and fairly well marked breast.

Hopefully I will catch and photograph a few more Icelandic Redwings before the autumn is out but if you would like to see my previous post on this subject you can find it here.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Goldcrests back on top.

The changed to more unsettled weather this week has restricted the opportunities to get out but conditions were calm and dry enough to go to Billinge on Friday (23rd) and again this morning. There were relatively few thrushes about and the small numbers that were on the move mainly passed through in the first hour. While thrush numbers have dropped off Goldcrests continue to move through the site in reasonable numbers and they topped the ringing totals on both days with 17 ringed on Friday and another 14 this morning.

The 14 Goldcrests ringed this morning brings the total ringed at Billinge this autumn to a fairly impressive 538.
There were surprisingly few finches on the move although there were a few morsels of interest with a single Crossbill and 6 Bramblings on the 23rd and another 3 Bramblings this morning. Only a handful of Chaffinches were noted on both days but both Chaffinches caught this morning were long winged and almost certainly of continental origin. Warblers continue to put in an appearance, just, with a Chiffchaff making the ringing totals on Friday followed by a Blackcap this morning.

Both Chaffinches caught this morning were adults and this individual had a wing length of 95mm. The second Chaffinch caught had a wing length of 93mm.
Ringing totals for 23/10/15 were: Goldcrest 17; Chiffchaff 1, Wren 3; Song Thrush 3; Redwing 4; Blue Tit 1; Robin 1; Bullfinch 1. Total 31 new birds.

Ringing totals for 25/10/13 were: Goldcrest 14; Blackcap 1; Dunnock 1; Blackbird 3; Redwing 7; Lesser Redpoll 2; Chaffinch 2; Bullfinch 1. Total 31 new birds.

Earlier this week I received a recovery report for one of the Goldcrests ringed in September as detailed and mapped below. I am still waiting for the recovery reports of 2 control Goldcrests and having ringed so many this autumn I am sure there will also be a few more recoveries to come in due course. 

3M Godcrest JBX684
Ringed                               13/09/15  Billinge Hill, Billinge, Merseyside.
Found dead (hit window)      19/10/15  Long Itchington, Warwickshire. 163 km SSE.
                                                                                                            Duration 36 days.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

No prizes for guessing.

Yes it was more Redwings for me at Billinge this morning and to apply part of the marketing blurb of a well known larger it is probably the best site for ringing Redwings in the world, well perhaps not the world but it must be up there somewhere. It was a much smaller movement today with around 500 Redwings heading south from just before sunrise up to 9am when the movement fizzled out. A few other thrushes were noted with 45 Fieldfares moving south while a total of 11 Song Thrush and 5 Blackbirds were going in a variety of directions.

This Redwing was a bit darker than average with blackish spotting to the upper breast and blackish stripes to the sides of the throat. There is more variation in the strength of the markings than is often appreciated.
Goldcrests are still moving through in reasonable numbers and given the influxes on the east coast a few could be of Scandinavian origin. The control Goldcrest caught today had a British ring from the series starting HJV and details of where it was originally ringed will be posted in due course.

The control Goldcrest.
Warblers have been few and far between recently so it was nice to catch a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff today. They are unlikely to be the last of the year but they just might be.

We are at the stage where this Blackcap could either be an arriving winter visitor or a late departing summer visitor. It wasn't carrying much fat so if it is a departing summer migrant it won't be going very far in a hurry .
This was the first Chiffchaff to be seen at the site since 9th October.
Ringing totals (retraps & controls in brackets) for 20th October were: Redwing 55; Song Thrush 3; Blackbird 4 (1); Goldcrest 10 (1); Robin 1; Blackcap 1; Chiffchaff 1; Coal Tit 1. Total 76 new birds, 1 retrap and 1 control.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Yet more Redwings.

There was another large movement of Redwings over Billinge on the 17th with a conservative estimate of 5,000+ passing through during the morning. This movement continued for longer than on the previous big day with some 3 figure flocks still heading south at midday. I kept the nets open for longer as a result and ended up ringing 138 Redwings along with a few other bits and bobs. The 18th was much quieter with around 800 Redwings moving through in the first couple of hours but I still managed to catch an excellent total of 50 Redwings along with a few more bits and bobs.

Redwing - the bird of the month.
However, it was some of the bits and bobs that stole the show with 3 Sparrowhawks being caught over the two days making it a total of 4 for the week. On the 17th there was a handsome 2CY male and a cracking adult female (2CY+) and on the 18th another 1CY male, similar to the bird caught on the 15th.

This male Sparrowawk still had a few brown coverts so could be aged as a 2CY bird (Euring code 5)

Adult female Sparrowhawk. A bird in its third calendar year or older. 

Adult female Sparrowhawk 

I don't catch female Sparrowhawks very often and adults are rarer still.

A bit of a mean looking mother.

Today's 1CY male. Note how pale the eyes are compared with the older birds above.
Combined ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 17th & 18th October were: Sparrowhawk 3; Redwing 188; Song Thrush 2; Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 9 (1); Wren 1; Coal Tit 1; Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 1; Bullfinch 1; Chaffinch 3; Lesser Redpoll 5.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Thrush Fest part 2

The good numbers of thrushes that moved over Billinge on Monday and Tuesday paled into insignificance compared with the numbers on the move on Wednesday (14th). Inevitably I was too busy ringing to devote much time to estimating numbers but in the region of 3,000 to 5,000 Redwings were involved with the upper figure probably being nearer the mark. A friend who lives nearby counted over 2,000 from the fairly restricted view point of his garden and after missing some of the early flocks so the upper estimate of 5,000 could even have been on the low side. A few Blackbirds and Fieldfares were also seen or heard and around 30 Song Thrush were noted but others would have gone through amongst the hordes of Redwings.

Many of the Redwings moving over Billinge will winter much further south in France or Spain.
During the morning a total of 138 birds were ringed as follows: Redwing 114; Song Thrush 7, Fieldfare 1, Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 6; Lesser Redpoll 5; Great Tit 3; Coal Tit 1. With so many Redwings about I could have easily caught a lot more than I did but I had to limit the catch to numbers I could safely deal with on my own.

On Thursday (15th) I was out again as it seemed likely that there would be plenty more thrushes on the move. This time as was joined by David Norman of Merseyside Ringing Group and initially it looked like there would be similar numbers of Redwings for a second day. After a very busy start numbers tailed off quite quickly compared to the previous day with around 1,000 Redwings going through along with 100 or so Fieldfare, a few Blackbirds and another 20 or so Song Thrush.

The big Fieldfare movements have yet to come. 
The thrushes attracted the attention of a minimum of 3 Sparrowhawks
Despite there being fewer Redwings on the move we still ended up with excellent ringing total of 111 new birds, 3 retraps and 1 control. Ringing totals were: Redwing 82; Song Thrush 3; Fieldfare 2; Long-tailed Tit 11 (2); Goldcrest 6 (1); Blackcap 1; Coal Tit 1; Blue Tit (1); Great Tit 1; Treecreeper 1; Lesser Redpoll; 1; Bullfinch 1, Sparrowhawk 1. The control (bird ringed elsewhere) being the only Blue Tit caught.

With little change in the weather and the likelihood of more Redwings I was back out again this morning. It was a much quieter than the previous day but at least 500 Redwings went through during the morning. Other sightings included 3 Bramblings with a cracking adult male being caught and a single Crossbill was noted going northeast. Ringing totals for this morning were: Redwing 42; Song Thrush 5; Blackbird 2; Goldcrest 7; Blue Tit 1; Lesser Redpoll 3; Chaffinch 3, Brambling 1. A total of 64 new birds.

Most of the Song Thrushes that have been caught recently are greyer continental birds like this fine example.
They don't get much greyer than this and look very different to the British race clarkei

...and here is an example of the warmer buff and brown British race clarkei for comparison. 
Finding this adult male Brambling in a net today was a really nice surprise. Only 2 had been heard going over before this one was caught.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Thrush Fest

The last couple of mornings have seen good numbers of Redwings and a few other thrushes moving over Billinge with the pattern of movement being similar on both days. Flocks of Redwings in double figures started to appear just after first light and continued periodically until 10am when most movement ceased. I was too busy ringing to do any proper counts but minima of 400 Redwings, 20 Song Thrush and 10 Fieldfare were involved yesterday and minima of 500 Redwings and 25 Song Thrush today. A few high flying Blackbirds were also noted on both mornings but no more than a handful. Woodpigeon migration also started in earnest with hundreds going south on both mornings but there were surprisingly few finches around or on the move.

Although there were a few rather well marked and darkish Redwings I didn't think any were Icelandic birds of the race 'coburni'. However, I did have another Redwing with a wing length of 128mm making it two of that size for this autumn compared with none in my preceding 35 plus years of ringing. I still haven't found the tables showing the full breakdown of wing lengths for iliacus but of 7,364 birds measured in Finland only 0.5% had a wing length over 126mm and Svennson (1992) gives an upper limit of 124 mm and Glutz von Blotzheim & Bauer give an upper limit of 126 mm with variation in sample size probably being the main cause of this difference. Basically wing length isn't much help in identifying Icelandic birds unless you catch a bird with a wing length over 128 mm.

This is the second Redwing with a wing length of 128 mm caught this autumn.

One adult Redwing had orange-red fringes to most of the greater coverts and even had some orangey-red feathers near the thighs.

This same well marked adult Redwing.
Quite a few of the Redwings had ticks on their faces but this bird had a lot more passengers than most.
Whilst separating the races of Redwings is difficult the differences between the races of Song Thrush are much easier to see in most cases. The main British race clarkei is much more richly coloured being much more ocherous-brown above with little or no contast between the mantle,rump, wings and tail and has more buff on the underparts in contrast to the continental race philomelos which is whiter below and the upper parts are more of a greyish olive-brown which contrasts with the browner wings and tail. The pictures below illustrate the difference quite well. All 10 of the Song Thrush caught today were continental birds and only 1 of the 6 caught yesterday was of the British race.

Continental race Song Thrush showing the contrast between the rump and tail.
Song Thrushes: British race on the left and Continental race on the right.
Song Thrushes: British race on the left and Continental race on the right.
Song Thrushes: British race on the left and Continental race on the right.
The thrush fest of the last two mornings has left me itching to back out into the field and I will probably be out again in the morning. There is a bit of a joke there somewhere for those of you who are 'canny' enough to notice.

Combined ringing totals for 12th & 13th October were: Redwing 119; Song Thrush 16; Goldcrest 12; Robin 2; Coal Tit 1; Blue Tit 1; Bullfinch 1, Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1. Total 154 new birds.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Billinge: 5th-11th October

I haven't had any more Yellow-browed Warblers or dodgy Redpolls but it has been a very productive week. I have managed to get out on 5 mornings, including today, and it is fair to say that those early starts have taken their toll and I am feeling cream crackered as I write this. Highlights have included the continued passage of Goldcrests, some reasonable thrush movements and a few late-ish warblers.

The number of Goldcrests moving through this site continues to impress me with the 95 ringed this week bringing the total for the month to 162 and the total for the autumn to 447. Redwings and other thrushes started arriving early this autumn with the first big arrival on the east coast and northern isles happening on the 5th. It didn't take long for some of these birds to move across and down to the west side of the country and around 200 passed over the site on the 8th. Similarly there has been a good movement of Song Thrush in the last week with small numbers 'zipping' over the site each day. Song Thrush is often under-recorded as a passage migrant as they can be hard to pick out when mixed in with flocks of Redwings but at least 20 have passed through on each of the last 2 days. Warblers are thin on the ground now but there was a little flurry of Chiffchaffs in the week with 5 on the 8th being a good number for the date. Many of the Blackcaps caught in recent weeks have been carrying a lot of of fat and one of the birds ringed today was probably the heaviest bird I have handled this autumn and weighed 22.2 g which could give it the range to reach Spain or Portugal in a single flight.

(Retraps and controls in brackets)
One of the Redwings still had some spotty juvenile feathers on the flanks suggesting it was from a late brood. It also had some juvenile median coverts..

One of today's Song Thrushes
The fat 22.2 g Blackcap is just over 5g heavier than the average weight of 17g.

Blow back the feathers of the upper breast and you can see the pinky-yellow fat bulging from the normally concave tracheal pit.
Coal Tits are very much in the birding news with an irruption of birds currently underway in Britain and on the continent. A couple of high flying birds were recorded today in addition to the one that was ringed.

A bobby dazzler of an adult male Lesser Redpoll. He will be a stunner in spring when those pale fringes have worn off the red feathers.

Looking at the forecast I could be seeing the sun rise a few more times next week although I may not have the time to appreciate it.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

1st to 4th October highlights include a YBW.

The new month has got off to a flying start, no pun intended, and I have been able to get out each morning. The 1st was fine and clear but the 2nd and 3rd were badly affected by mist and fog and this morning was murky and overcast although it did clear towards lunchtime.

Suprisingly the largest ringing total of the 4 mornings came on the 3rd when 83 birds were processed despite the foggy conditions, including 33 Chaffinches and 20 Goldcrests. The Chaffinches were presumably grounded by the fog although a party of Crossbills was heard and suggested some birds were on the move despite the conditions.

Although large numbers of Chaffinches move over the site on some days in autumn I don't usually catch many so the 33 ringed on the 3rd is quite exceptional.
Goldcrests continue to move through the site in good numbers with 349 having been ringed so far this autumn. This Goldcrest was a fat 6.1g so will probably be on the move tonight.
Ringing highlights during the period included a Redwing on the 1st (first to be ringed this autumn), good numbers of Goldcrests each day, the aforementioned Chaffinches, more Lesser Redpolls, good numbers of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs for October (up here at least) and today's gem - a Yellow-browed Warbler.

The first Redwing ringed this autumn was caught on the 1st just before sunrise, the only Redwing seen that day.

Today's Redwing (one of seven seen) had a wing length of 128mm which is at the top end of the range for 'iliacus' with only a tiny proportion being that large. More to be added on this subject when I have time to look up the stats.

The late breeding season means there are a few more Blackcaps around than usual at this time of year. Most have been juveniles but there have been a couple of adults recently including this female. The late breeding season has had a similar affect on some other migrants including Chiffchaffs.
A 'Poll' to ponder on. A bit paler than your average Lesser and larger too with a wing of 75mm. There seem to be more dodgy (paler) Lessers around this autumn or is it just me.
An adult female Lesser Redpoll with an amber poll. Thinking about it I am fairly sure that all the Redpolls with amber coloured polls that I have caught and was able to sex have been females.
With so many Yellow-browed Warblers in the country it was perhaps almost inevitable that one would come my way sooner or later.
Such a smart bird deserves a second photo.
Combined ringing totals for 1st to 4th October (retraps/controls in brackets) were: Great Spotted Woodpecker 1; Dunnock 1; Robin 4 (2); Song Thrush 2; Redwing 2; Blackcap 7; Yellow-browed Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 14 (1); Goldcrest 67 (1); Long-tailed Tit 8 (1); Willow Tit (1); Coal Tit 1 (1), Great Tit 1 (1); Chaffinch 40; Greenfinch 1; Goldfinch 1; Siskin 2; Lesser Redpoll 31 (1); Yellowhammer 1. Total 185 new birds, 8 retraps and 1 control.