Friday, 25 December 2015

Bah Humbug

I had hoped to get a net up in the garden for a couple of hours this morning but the rain arrived earlier than forecast and continued throughout the day. Ringing a few birds on Christmas morning is part of my coping strategy for dealing with the festive hoo-ha and fills the gap between sticking the turkey in the oven and dealing with all the usual accompaniments and the arrival of relatives. After giving the turkey an initial blast on a high heat I turn the oven down and cook it slowly which usually gives me plenty of time to do some ringing.

I kept an eye on the garden hoping the rain would ease but it didn't slacken off sufficiently to even consider setting a net up. There was a reasonable amount of activity in the garden despite the wet and mild conditions with a small flock of Goldfinches coming and going and wasting sunflower hearts in ways only Goldfinches can. At one point a small flock of Starlings also dropped in but then, and out of nowhere, a cat appeared and caught one of the Starlings as it settled on one of the bird tables. I banged on the window to try and get the cat to release its grip but it ran off with its prize, clenched firmly in its jaws.

A few seconds later, and despite the commotion caused by the cat, I was surprised to see a juvenile male Sparrowhawk sat in a tree by some of the apples that I put. It sat there long enough for me to grab my camera and get a few ropy shots through the window before it moved further up the tree. It may have been eyeing up the Starlings or had been attracted by the commotion but there it was and on reviewing the photos on the back of the camera I could see that it was ringed!

Ringed juvenile male Sparrowhawk, what a teaser.
Where were you ringed???
Unfortunately the light levels were very low and the photos weren't good enough for me to get any of the numbers but I haven't ringed any Sparrowhawks in the garden this year so it must have come from elsewhere. It doesn't look like any of the juv male Sparrowhawks that I ringed at Billinge this autumn either as none of those had a plumage with so many pale spots. It has presumably come from further afield and wherever it has come from it would obviously be worth catching to find out.

If seeing this ringed Sparrowhawk wasn't frustrating enough I was part way through preparing all of the vegetables when I noticed there was a male Blackcap on one of the fat cakes. This was the first Blackcap of the winter and I had been wondering when and if any would turn up in the garden given the exceptionally mild conditions. Blackcaps are just about annual in the garden in winter with most sightings starting around the Christmas period and running into the first few months of the new year.

First Blackcap in the garden this winter.
Male Blackcap 25/12/2015, a nice Christmas present.
So I may not have been able to ring anything on Christmas Day 2015 but there were a couple of good sightings, although for a ringer it was a case of so near yet so far.

27/12/2015 update - I am still a miserable old sod but I caught and ringed the Blackcap this afternoon. It was surprisingly fat and weighed 20.1g mid afternoon.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A few more recoveries.

When I posted details of the Goldcrests that were controlled at Billinge this autumn (link here) I was still waiting for the ringing information of an individual with ring number HJV774. The recovery report for this bird finally came through yesterday and it had been ringed on the north east coast at Whitburn Country Park, Tyne & Wear on 14/10/2015 and was controlled at Billinge just six days later on 20/10/2015, a movement of 184 km SSW. This bird was part of the big influx of continental Goldcrests and it probably stayed in the vicinity of Whitburn for at least a day or two following its north sea crossing before moving on.

Goldcrest HJV774 photographed when controlled at Billinge on 20/10/2015.
Other recoveries received in recent weeks have also included a couple of the Lesser Redpolls ringed at Billinge this autumn.

Z854489 was ringed at Billinge on 29/09/2015 and was controlled at Hasfield HamGloucestershire on 15/10/2015, 177 km S. Duration 16 days. 

Z019619 was ringed at Billinge on 06/10/2015 and was controlled at Whixall & Fenn's MossesWrexham on 10/12/2015, 65 km S. Duration 4 days.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mild and Miserable

The only slightly redeeming feature of the current run of mild and miserable weather is that my heating bills are much lower than usual as a result. Opportunities to get out have been limited and when I have been out the birding has been uninspiring to say the least. The feeders in the garden are not attracting much either so on the odd occasion I have been able to put a net up in the garden it has only resulted in a handful of birds being caught.

I went to the farmland site at Crawford yesterday to see if anything was around and to start putting out some seed. This was my first visit in a good while so I didn't know what to expect but I decided to put up a couple of nets as the wind was fairly light. There were no berries on the hedges but I managed to lure in a couple of Fieldfares and caught one of them. I didn't see or hear a single Redwing in the 3 hours I was there and only saw 12 Fieldfares in total with 10 of those flying over after I had packed up. Other birds caught were a new and a retrap Goldcrest, 2 new and a retrap Great Tit, 2 new and a control Blue Tit. There were a couple of nice if not unusual sightings with around 1500 Pink-footed Geese flying between the fields nearby and a party of 6 Corn Buntings doing likewise. I still haven't managed to attract Corn Buntings to the feeding site and thankfully they still don't seem to fall victim to the hunger gap in the latter part of the winter but better my loss than theirs.

Yesterday's female Fieldfare.
The wind was still relatively light this morning so I decided to check out a site close to home to see if it was holding any Goldcrests. A couple of hours with an 18ft net and audio lures produced 4 Goldcrest, a Robin, a Coal Tit and a Willow Tit. The number of Goldcrests was pretty much as expected given that we haven't experienced any hard weather yet. The influx of continental Goldcrest doesn't appear to have left many extra birds wintering in this area so most seem to have moved further south. The Coal Tit was interesting in that it had a bluer mantle than any other I have handled locally although I don't think it was a continental bird; as in most things intermediates do occur but it was interesting nevertheless. The Willow Tit was not unusual for the site but was the first I have caught for a while. Their success in these parts seems to owe much to past land reclamation schemes and associated tree planting along with some natural greening of brownfield sites. It will be interesting to see if their populations hold as the trees on these sites mature.

This morning's Willow Tit.
Small catches are the norm at the moment and seem likely to stay that way for the remainder of the year. Hopefully things will brighten up and pick up in the new year.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Goldcrest Recoveries

It was a fantastic autumn for Goldcrests at Billinge and large numbers were ringed even before the big influx of continental birds that came in October. The ringing site itself doesn't hold any breeding pairs or wintering birds so all the Goldcrests caught are effectively passage migrants. A few pairs breed nearby and the first birds of the autumn were dispersing juveniles with 8 being ringed in July followed by another 16 in August. Autumn migration proper got underway in September and 258 were ringed that month. Numbers were boosted in October when some of the continental birds worked their way across the country from the east coast and the month ended with another 336 having been ringed. Reasonable numbers were still moving through in November but only 75 were caught as poor weather frequently hampered ringing.

In addition to the 693 birds ringed a total of 7 controls (birds ringed elsewhere) were caught and I have now received details for 6 of these birds. The first of the controls was a short distance movement of 3 km, a bird ringed at Kings Moss on 12/10/14 and controlled at Billinge on 07/09/15 and isn't mapped. The other controls had moved a good deal further as can be seen from their details and the map below. The two red pins mark the ringing sites of birds that are most likely to be from the British breeding population whilst the 3 yellow pins mark the ringing sites of continental birds that were caught during the large influx along the east coast. The black pin marks the ringing site at Billinge.

HKD161 ringed 05/04/15 Bardsey Island, Gwynedd - controlled Billinge 25/09/15
EBK202 ringed 11/10/13 Greystoke Forest, Cumbria - controlled Billinge 28/10/15
HVB825 ringed 16/10/15 Skelton Castle, Redcar & Cleveland - controlled Billinge 28/10/15
HHJ840 ringed 17/10/15 The Headland, Hartlepool - controlled Billinge 28/10/15
JDP045 ringed 11/10/15 Kilnsea, East Riding of Yorkshire - controlled Billinge 31/10/15

Control Goldcrest HHJ840 had been ringed 11 days earlier in Hartlepool.

It is early days yet but there have been two recoveries of Goldcrests that were ringed at Billinge this autumn and both were found freshly dead having flown into windows. JBX684 was ringed on 13/09/15 and was possibly still migrating when it was recovered in Long Itchington, Warwickshire on 19/10/15. 

The second recovery is of bird that was ringed quite recently and it was recovered surprisingly quickly. JJH263 was ringed at Billinge on 22/11/15 and was found dead at Lathom, Lancashire the following day having moved 11 km NW. This is a quick recovery and although it hadn't travelled far it shows that this bird still hadn't found a suitable unoccupied site where it could settle down for the winter. Goldcrests' food requirements of insects and insect eggs in particular means they can't winter at high density, even in good habitats, so this must play a big part in their movements and winter distribution. I did notice some noisy and aggressive behaviour between 3 Goldcrests near my garden recently. This appeared to be territorial in nature and such behaviour presumably plays a part in spreading birds out.

Details of the outstanding control and any further recoveries will be posted in due course..

Goldcrest HJV774 controlled at Billinge 20/10/15.
The ringing details of this bird have yet to be received but it certainly looks like a continental bird so it may also have been ringed on the east coast ??