Saturday, 23 January 2016

23rd January 2016

I went to Crawford this morning and set 3 nets near the feeders but there was little doing. I stuck it out for a couple of hours but only caught 11 birds. There were a few small groups of Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Tree Sparrows around but most were likely to be birds that had been ringed on previous visits as they seemed to know the score and avoided the nets. Birds just don't seem to be pushed for food this winter and baited sites such as the one at Crawford are not getting the build up in numbers or the turnover in birds that is usual in a more 'normal' winter. This seems to be the situation elsewhere judging by the reports I have read on some other blogs. Ringings totals (retraps in brackets) were: Blackbird 3 (1); Robin 2 (1); Long-tailed Tit 1; Great Tit 1; Chaffinch 1; Goldfinch 1.

As I got home earlier than planned I decided to take a walk around the water park across the road from my home to see what was about. I started by the car park and checked out the Black-headed Gulls and soon found the regular wintering German ringed bird. This was the only ringed gull I could find among the 95 or so that were there although some stayed on the water and couldn't be checked. A few Coots also came for food including a ringed bird that turned out to one that had been ringed at Comeston Lakes, near Penarth, south of Cardiff (244km south) on 23rd December 2010. This Coot probably came from Orrell or somewhere else in the northwest originally and was forced to move south during the exceptionally cold weather that affected much of the country in December of that year.

The regular German ringed Black-headed Gull

This Coot is now regular in winter at Orrell Water Park and may breed at the site too. It has been recorded at the park several times over the past 3 winters and is one of the dominant birds. Note the intensity of the leg colour which tends to increase with age.
I headed up to the feeding station in the reserve area next and while there were a reasonable number of birds at the feeders it was nowhere near as busy as it can be in a more typical winter. However there were at least 15 Chaffinches and 7 Greenfinches along with 2 cracking male Bramblings. This feeding station has always been good for Bramblings, especially in the second half of the winter, and usually gets 1 or 2 even in years when there are very few in the country.

Both of these male Bramblings looked like they were adults.
I had mainly gone up to the reserve to try and get some better photos of the Water Rail but it wasn't cooperating. I looked for it for some time but I couldn't find it so I settled for photographing a very confiding and pristine adult male Blackbird. The sheen of the bird's plumage was brought out by the wintry sunlight that was filtered through a veil of high cloud. Unfortunately these conditions didn't last long and the cloud subsequently thickened and darkened.

A really smart looking Blackbird showing its plumage at its best.

I carried on looking for the Water Rail even though the light was deteriorating and noticed something pale hanging from the dead remains of some Greater Willowherb. I checked it out through the camera and realised it was a Redpoll, hanging belly up, and it was tearing open the dead pods to get at the seeds. I quickly rattled off a few shots but then it was spooked by a Sparrowhawk that flushed everything nearby. It looked a bit on the pale side but that may just have been an effect of the light and although I suspect it was just a Lesser I settled for recording it as a 'Redpoll'. Unfortunately I couldn't relocate it but it is one to look out for on another day and with a bit of luck it will find the feeders in my garden.

I have seen Redpolls eating willowherb seeds before but it was interesting that this bird chose to do so even though the nearby alders still have a very good crop of seeds in their cones. 
I decided to give up on the Water Rail and set off for home but as I was leaving I spotted it through some partially flattened reeds. It was too gloomy and too far away to try and get a photo so I have broken my usual rule with photographs and used one taken 3 days ago when it was a bit more cooperative and the light was better. 

Water Rail photographed 20/01/16
The weather is going to be unsettled and fairly mild for the next week to ten days so it won't be good for ringing or photography but I will try and make the best of it and find something to blog about.

Monday, 18 January 2016

17/01/16: Water Rail and BLB Blackcap steal the show.

I woke to find there was a decent covering of snow so I decided to have a walk around the park across the road from my home before everybody and their dogs decided to do so. I headed up to the small reserve area to see if the Water Rail would put in an appearance before the site got too busy but as a made my way there it was clear that many dog walkers were already out and about.

The wintry scene that greeted me as I made my way through the park.
There was no sign of the Water Rail at first but Robins were following me around hoping I had some food in my pocket. I have loads of photos of Robins but it is hard to resist taking more when they pose in the snow, so now I have even more.

The feeding station was attracting quite a few birds as you would expect and my eyes were drawn to two Starlings that were feeding from a fat filled coconut. Both were birds I had colour-ringed in my garden last year as part of my RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) project.

B80 was ringed in the garden on 26/05/15 and was a breeding adult male when ringed. The base of its bill has already turned blue even though the breeding season is some way off.
It didn't look like the Water Rail would show for me but then I noticed it lurking under some overhanging branches. Eventually it moved into a more open area and I manged to get a few shots.

The Moorhen looked the more nervous of the two as it made its way past. 

A Grey Wagtail was feeding in the same area but the light levels were too low to get any really good shots.

Bathing and feather maintenance is important whatever the weather.
After bathing it was time for a good scratch and a preen.
On getting home I grabbed a coffee and was watching the birds in the garden when I noticed a ringed male Blackcap on one of the fat cakes. I assumed it was the male I had ringed in late December even though I hadn't seen it for a couple of weeks. I decided to try and grab a few photos of it to see if I could read the ring number and luckily I managed to get a few good shots quite quickly. On reviewing them on the back of the camera I could see the ring number was above the address rather than below it which meant it must be a foreign ring !!!! (the address would be above the number if it were a British ring of that size). Obviously it wasn't the bird I had ringed in December as I had initially thought and I was so glad that I had decided to photograph it. 

Where are you from.

It also fed on the ground below one of the feeders but this was too far away to get good images of the ring even when it was showing the ringed leg.

Although the ring is upside down you can make out a 2 and a 9. I rotated the image to make it easier to read.

The ringed leg of the Blackcap was often obscured while it was feeding and after a short bouts of feeding it would disappear for a while making the task far from easy. I thought about putting a net up to try and catch it but decided against it as there was a bit of a breeze and with so much snow on the bushes and on the ground the net would have been easier for the bird to see. The camera seemed the best option in the circumstances and while I was waiting for the Blackcap to feed I photographed a few of the other birds that were visiting the garden.

Male Starling
2CY male Blackbird
Male Siskin.
The odd Siskin has been visiting the garden in the last week but there were several today. Hopefully they will be daily visitors from now on and numbers will build up as we move towards the spring.
Long-tailed Tits
This Grey Wagtail is a regular visitor to the garden and feeds on scraps that have fallen from the feeders.
A few hundred photographs and a few hours later I still wasn't sure if I had managed to get the full number or the address on the ring. I loaded all of the images onto my computer and sifted through them. It was impossible to make out the numbers on the ring in most of the images but with a lot of cropping and a bit of manipulation there was just enough detail in some of them to make out all of the numbers and a few of the letters of the address. I was confident I had the full number but I couldn't quite make out the address which is just as important when it comes to tracing a ring. However, when I looked at images of foreign rings on the web and compared them with mine I soon became certain that it was a Belgian ring and the letters I could read were from the middle part of the word 'Brussels'.

The 2 was the give away that the numbers were above the address and those letters on the lower line of the address appear to be part of the word 'Brussels'.
Cropping and manipulation of this image revealed the last two numbers - 8 and 6.
I went through the images several times and manipulated the usable ones in different ways and I am now happy it does say Brussels and it is a Belgian ring. I will be submitting the details to the BTO in the next few days and I will post details of when and exactly where the bird was ringed in due course.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Crawford: 11th January 2016

Scraping frost from the car was a bit of a novelty this morning as it was only the third or fourth time I have needed to this winter. Having defrosted the car I headed off to Crawford a little later than planned but that was largely due to my reluctance to get up and need for large quantities of caffeine rather than the time taken up by clearing the thin layer of frost from the windscreen.

I had three nets set up at the feeders by 08:30 which was early enough as it was still ahead of the main arrival of birds. A good number of finches and a few Tree Sparrows started to arrive after I had set up and the first round of the nets produced 17 birds. The change to more normal temperatures seemed to have sharpened their appetites and by late morning a total of 46 birds had been caught.

Goldfinch was still the dominant species but there was a noticeable, if slight, increase in the number of Tree Sparrows and Greenfinches coming to the feeders and this was reflected in the numbers caught. On the other hand Chaffinches continue to be in relatively short supply and only one Yellowhammer was seen coming to the seed all morning. There are still plenty of stubble fields around and Chaffinches and Yellowhammers are presumably taking advantage of them, not that I have seen many doing so. It may take a covering of snow or the action of the plough before more need to take advantage of my seed offerings, although I suspect there are simply fewer around following last year's poor breeding season.

Adult male Goldfinch.
Adult male Greenfinch.
Tree Sparrow
Adult female Yellowhammer.
This was the only Yellowhammer seen at the feed this morning and turned out to be a retrap when caught. It was originally ringed at the same site on 17th February last year.
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 11/01/16 were: Woodpigeon 1; Blackbird 3 (1); Robin (1), Dunnock (1); Blue Tit 1 (1); Great Tit 1; Goldfinch 16 (6); Greenfinch 4 (1), Chaffinch 3 (1); Tree Sparrow 4; Yellowhammer (1). 

When I got home I heard the sad news that David Bowie had died and while I couldn't class myself as a huge fan he has produced some great music. Like many people of my age his music has punctuated a large part of my early life so here is one of my favourite tracks by way of a small tribute -

Friday, 1 January 2016

0 to 40 in around 4 hours,

The arrival of the New Year means the ringing totals start again at zero so I was pleased to be able to get out to Crawford this morning for my first ringing session of 2016. I have been feeding the site for about 3 weeks now but the dreadful weather of late has limited opportunities to do any ringing there or anywhere else for that matter. The forecast on the run up to this morning had been for a frosty start with only a light south easterly breeze but it changed and the breeze was light to moderate at first and increased as the morning went on. The stronger breeze caused the nets to billow and ripple more than I would have liked but this was partially offset by full cloud cover which developed just as it came light. The cold temperature coupled with stronger breeze also made it feel very raw especially when compared with the comparatively balmy conditions of December; I was certainly left feeling a layer of clothing short.

I had 3 nets set up just after 8:00am, a 14 m and 18 m in a line by the eastern hedge and a 6 m set in the side of a large willow, with a new Blackbird being caught before I had finished setting up. This was quickly followed by a new Fieldfare, a new Chaffinch, 2 new Goldfinches and 2 retrap Robins in the first full round. The number of finches present increased with the light levels until there was a mixed flock of about 60 visiting the feeders; Goldfinches being the dominant species by far.

Adult female Fieldfare. 
Greenfinches were poorly represented (maximum of 12) and their decline, largely due to trichomonosis, doesn't seem to have bottomed out yet. This begs the question how low will they go as it wasn't that many years ago when they were the dominant species at nearly every feeding station and in every garden that provided peanuts and or sunflower seeds in some form. During the winter of 1996-97 I ringed 711 Greenfinches at a feeding station not that far from Crawford and rarely used more than one 18m net, such was their abundance at that time. The UK population of Greenfinches has declined by millions and while it may not have been the largest decline in percentage terms it probably has been one of the largest in terms of overall numbers. Yesterday's common or even 'pest' species can easily become tomorrow's Dodo or Passenger Pigeon and we should never loose sight of that.

Enough of the depressing stuff and it was a fairly productive morning despite the paucity of Greenfinches. By the time I packed up, late morning, I had caught 40 new birds and only six retraps with most being caught in the 6 m net. Goldfinches easily took top slot with a very respectable 30 new birds and 3 retraps (originally ringed 15/06/14, 27/04/15 & 18/12/15) making up the bulk of the totals. Had it been calmer I would have probably caught even more but it doesn't seem to take much of a breeze to make the nets by the eastern hedge more obvious and easy for the birds to avoid. Ringing totals for the morning (retraps in brackets) were: Blackbird 2; Fieldfare 1; Robin (2); Blue Tit 1 (1); Chaffinch 3; Greenfinch 3; Goldfinch 30 (3). Total 40 new birds and 6 retraps.

Male Goldfinch
(I doubt anyone would disagree with the sex of this bird)
Female Goldfinch
(oh yes it is as we are in pantomime season)
Male Goldfinch
(I doubt anyone would disagree with the sex of this bird either)
Male Goldfinch
(A mix of red, orange and paler feathers but a male nevertheless)
Male Goldfinch
(and oh yes it is even though the extent of the red is similar to the female 3 images above)
Female Goldfinch
This first winter female had a wing length of just over 80 mm (not quite 80.5) so beware if you sex some of your Goldfinches on size or use size to sway you. 
All of the Goldfinches were aged quite easily but sexing was a different matter and a few needed a bit more consideration than others. I was unsure of the sex of four birds although I suspect all of these were females and I provisionally sexed them as such. The most interesting Goldfinch was a very obvious female with a wing length of just over 80 mm, as it emphasised that size has very limited use when sexing this species (I checked the wing length more than once if you are wondering). I used to be confident that birds with a wing length of 80 mm or more were male and while that may be correct most of the time it is not 100% accurate as this bird shows.

The most numerous species seen during the morning was Pink-footed Goose with at least 800 feeding in and moving between the fields adjacent to the ringing site. The largest flock gathered in a harvested potato field just across the road from the ringing site. Geese that feed in this area seem to be fairly accustomed to people using the footpaths on the adjacent roads and well walked public footpaths and will tolerate a fairly close approach. A large flight of geese is a birding spectacle that is hard to beat and just seeing these geese would have been a great start to the New Year on its own.

Happy New Year