Sunday, 29 November 2015

Waiting for Waxwings

Autumn migration more or less fizzled out at Billinge in the last week with a diminishing number of birds seen and ringed on the 3 visits I manged to fit in. The weather was reasonable on the 23rd and produced 27 new birds and 4 retraps with Goldcrests, Redwings, and Lesser Redpolls accounting for all but 2 of the birds caught. The weather was much less favourable on the 26th and only 10 birds were ringed but another 3 Redwing, 2 Goldcrest and 2 Lesser Redpoll were added to the autumn's excellent totals for those species. A similar weather hampered and shortened session the following day only saw 2 new Goldcrests and 1 new Blackbird find their way into the nets. Combined totals (retraps in brackets) for the week were: Redwing 11; Goldcrest 9; Lesser Redpoll 15 (3), Blackbird 2; Dunnock 1; Bullfinch 1; Goldfinch 1; Blue Tit (1). Highlights from the sightings were a Green Woodpecker (26th) and Water Rail and Woodcock (27th).

The first Redwing out of the net on the 23rd had a deformed bill with the lower mandible being overgrown. It had also lost the tip of the upper mandible and the deformity is presumably the result of an injury rather than disease.
It looked even stranger when the bill was closed.
One of the other Redwings caught on the 23rd stood out as being darker with more extensive markings below and was considered to be an Icelandic bird although the picture doesn't quite do it justice.
A Lesser Redpoll with an amber coloured poll. It has been a great autumn for Redpolls at Billinge although October was not the peak month like it usually is. A total of 290 have been ringed as follows: August 1, September 159; October 82; November 48.
So what am I going to do now? Well as the post title suggests one of the things I will be doing is monitoring the reports of Waxwings to assess the likelihood of birds finding their way to this part of the country. It doesn't look like there will be a massive influx this winter but there are certainly going to be more than were recorded in the last two winters. There have already been a a good scattering of sightings along the east coast from the Northern Isles down to Suffolk and a few birds have penetrated further west to the Outer Hebrides, Northern Ireland and Cumbria. Birds could continue to arrive through December and into the new year and there have been some encouraging reports from the near continent in recent days including a flock of around 1,000 feeding in the botanical gardens in Oslo (Oslo Birder blog link here). Oslo is only a little over 650 miles away so it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks. There seems to be the potential for a moderately good influx at least.

Many more Waxwings could arrive in the UK in the coming weeks and the patchy distribution of berries that are left could mean they move inland quite quickly.
Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Billinge 20th & 22 November 2015

The 20th was quite windy with occasional light showers skirting past the site but it didn't deter birds from moving as might have been expected. Birds heading south included at least 70 Redwings, 90 Fieldfares and 180 Woodpigeons. It was harder to gauge what finches were doing but a few Lesser Redpolls seemed to be moving through the site and a flock of 70 Goldfinch, that paused for a short time, may well have been late migrants. It was far from good mist-netting weather but the lie of the land and the denser patches of the now largely leafless bushes provided just enough shelter for the nets. I didn't expect to catch much given the conditions so I was more than happy with the 25 new birds that were caught by mid-morning, when it became too windy and I packed up. Ringing totals were: Redwing 11; Goldcrest 2; Lesser Redpoll 11; Chaffinch 1.

In stark contrast the calm and overcast conditions of this morning were perfect for ringing but the first couple of net rounds didn't produce a single bird. Things picked up a bit as the morning progressed but it was slow going to say the least. There were very few thrushes around and hardly any moving overhead with only 15 Redwings, 4 Fieldfare and 5 Blackbirds seen all morning. In fact there was very little of anything moving overhead, with only a Snipe being of note, and really did feel as if autumn was finally over. I kept the nets open until lunchtime because the weather remained calm and largely overcast but the final total of 20 new birds and 1 control was less than expected and hoped for. Ringing totals were: Blackbird 1; Goldcrest 6; Wren 1; Lesser Redpoll 11; Goldfinch 1; Blue Tit (1 control). The control Blue Tit was probably ringed at Kings Moss, a couple of km away, as the ring number is similar to others that have come from that site.

Adult male Lesser Redpoll. It was interesting that there were no retraps from previous visits which suggests they are still moving through in small numbers.

A few Goldcrest continue to pass through the site but all of today's birds appeared to be of UK origin. The UK birds being a bit darker than their continental counterparts.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The calm between the storms.

The forecast for this morning was for a welcome, if brief, lull in the run of wet and windy weather so I decided to take advantage of it to see what, if anything, was still moving through the ringing site at Billinge. A Redwing called overhead while I was loading the car in the darkness and another called when I was opening the gate to the site giving some early promise that the morning would produce a few birds.

I had four nets set up at first light and started catching Redwings soon after with 7 being caught in the first round. It was a stop start sort of morning with long periods without any birds moving overhead but just every now and again a flock of 50 or so Redwings or Fieldfares would come through. There were hardly any finches moving and the few that were seen seemed to be commuting between feeding sites rather than being migrants. This was disappointing as I had been hoping for a movement of Lesser Redpolls given that a good number (56) had been recorded going south at Winter Hill (a site not that far away) the previous day (per Andy Makin). 

I didn't see or hear any Goldcrests on my last visit (12th) and I had speculated that their migration had come to an end but I am glad to say I was wrong as the morning produced 7 new birds. Slight variation in colour of their plumage indicated that 3 were continental migrants while the remainder were more likely to be of UK origin. It is interesting that birds of both populations are still on the move and perhaps there are a few more that have yet to filter through from further north or east in the UK, as and when the weather allows.

The ringing totals for the morning were: Redwing 18; Fieldfare 1; Song Thrush 1; Goldcrest 7; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1 (1). Total: 29 new birds and 1 retrap. The 18 Redwings ringed took this autumn's total just into four figures and it now stands at 1003, not bad for a period of around 7 weeks.

Continental Song Thrush.
I have a bit of a thing for Song Thrushes as they are an under-recorded migrant away from the some of the main coastal watch points. I have ringed 77 at Billinge so far this autumn with a large proportion being of the greyer continental race.
The weather looks set to turn much colder at the weekend and into the early part of next week, both here in the UK and in much of northwest Europe, so we could see an upsurge in movement (thrushes and Skylarks in particular) on the back of that.


Friday, 13 November 2015

When they're gone they're gone.

With the unsettled weather set to continue for the foreseeable it was a case of try and do some ringing in less than ideal conditions to find out if any birds were still on the move at Billinge. The wind can be a bit lighter than forecast at dawn and the trees are still holding just enough leaves to provide some shelter, although they won’t be there for long at the rate they are dropping, so I set up for a brief session on Tuesday (10th) and again yesterday (12th).

Tuesday’s wind restricted session produced just five new birds – 3 Goldcrest, a Chiffchaff and a Chaffinch but at least it showed a few crests and the odd warbler were still moving despite the conditions. The wind was a bit lighter and allowed for a slightly longer ringing session yesterday and resulted in 12 birds being ringed – 1 Fieldfare, 3 Redwing, 4 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Wren, 1 Robin, 1 Blue Tit and 1 Yellowhammer. The lighter wind prompted a bit more movement overhead with around 900 Woodpigeon, 30 each of Fieldfare and Redwing and a few finches and Meadow Pipits heading south. In addition a flock of around 150 Starling headed north-west and another flock of 25 went south as did a few Jackdaws.

However, the most notable aspect of yesterday’s session was that it was the first since sometime way back in August without a single Goldcrest being seen or heard. The ringing site doesn’t hold any wintering or breeding Goldcrests so they only occur when juveniles start to disperse from the few nearby breeding sites or during spring and autumn migration. Yesterday's no show probably marks the end of autumn migration for Goldcrests in this area but what a fantastic autumn it has been. The Goldcrest totals for the site for the second half of the year are impressive for an inland location with not far short of 700 birds being handled. I will post more information on this autumn’s numbers along with details of the controls and any further recoveries in the next week or two as it merits a much closer look.

With autumn migration coming to an end and the wet and windy weather making fieldwork of any description very unpleasant it is probably time for me to think about finding my fat pants. I will probably pile on the pounds now despite my best intentions to do otherwise so a change of wardrobe will probably be required. My only hope of keeping to my summer weight is if we get a good influx of Waxwings, some wintering flocks of Redpolls and some half decent weather to keep me active.

While autumn migration is coming to an end it could continue for a while for a few species with Redpolls falling into this category. What are often termed as irruptive species like Redpolls and Waxwings are largely driven to move by the availability of a variable food supply rather than the changing seasons per se.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Early November ringing update

The weather has been less than ideal at Billinge so far this month with fog affecting the first few days followed by increasingly unsettled conditions with bands of showers or rain and a strengthening wind. I have been out whenever possible and ringed a good few Redwings and Goldcrests despite the weather but far fewer than would have been the case without the fog in particular.

The total of 205 birds ringed so far this month is made up as follows: Redwing 122; Fieldfare 8; Song Thrush 4; Blackbird 3; Wren 4; Robin 2; Goldcrest 47; Blackcap 2; Chiffchaff 1; Chaffinch 3; Goldfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 6; Reed Bunting 1. A good proportion of the Redwings were caught during the worst of the foggy conditions (1st to 3rd) and I was surprised that any thrushes pushed through at the site given the very poor visibility. The fog had a much bigger impact on Goldcrests and very few were ringed until visibility improved on the 4th when 20 were caught (19 new and only 1 retrap). Another 13 were ringed the following day but numbers then tailed off as the weather became increasingly wet and windy.

Any warblers caught at the site in November are noteworthy so a male Blackcap (1st), an adult Chiffchaff (3rd) and a female Blackcap (5th) deserve specific mention. Neither of the Blackcaps were carrying much fat so could well be arriving winter visitors and the Chiffchaff may also be a bird that will winter somewhere in the UK rather than migrating to warmer climes.

It looks like the unsettled weather is set to continue for the rest of the month so opportunities to get out could be at a premium to say the least; however, I still think there could be a few more birds to come down from further north and there is certainly only one way to find out. 

There were some big movements of Fieldfares during the first few days of November but only a few passed over Billinge because of the persistent fog that affected the area.
Redwing, a speciality of the Billinge site with close to a thousand ringed so far this autumn.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Returning Black-head

Not a post about unwanted skin blemishes but, yesterday, I was pleased to see that Black-headed Gull IA141745 had survived to return to Orrell Water Park for a fourth winter. This bird was originally ringed as an adult on 29/04/2012 at Bohmke und Werder, Mecklenburg - Vorpommern, Germany. As it was an adult when ringed there is no way of knowing just how old this bird actually is other to say that it must be at least 5 years old but it could be much older. The current longevity record for a Black-headed Gull from British ringing is 32 years, 4 months and 9 days (details from the 2014 BTO online ringing reports) so I could be recording this bird for a good few years to come, assuming both it and I have a good few years left in us.

Returning Black-headed Gull

An update on recent ringing activities will come in my next post.