Friday 22 April 2016

Siskin and Chiffchaff recoveries and a Starling update.

Recent recoveries included the one and only Siskin controlled in the garden and it had been ringed near Loch Lomond last summer. It was aged as a first year bird when ringed so may have been reared in that part of Scotland.

Y281983 Siskin
Ringed        19/06/2015  Cnoc, Argyll & Bute.
Controlled   09/04/2016  near Orrell, Greater Manchester, 324 km south, duration 295 days.

I did manage to catch a few more Siskins in the garden on the 19th (7 new and 2 retrap) and they included the heaviest I have ever caught, weighing in at whopping 18.1g. There were at least 3 visiting the feeders yesterday but none were seen today so it looks like they have all finally headed back to the breeding grounds.

I also received details of a Chiffchaff that had been ringed on Billinge Hill last autumn and was controlled at the new bird observatory on Alderney, Channel Islands earlier this spring (link here).

JDH878  Chiffchaff
Ringed         03/10/2015  Billinge Hill, Merseyside.
Controlled    30/03/2016  Essex farm, Alderney, Channel Islands, 423 km south, duration 179 days.

My suspicions about the local Starlings were correct and quite a few pairs are feeding young now. More than 24 different adults have been recorded collecting food in the garden in the past couple of days so it is not just a case of the odd advanced pair. Last spring was quite cold and it was the beginning of May before this level of activity had been reached so this year's milder conditions have brought the breeding season forward by a good 10 days compared to last year. It will be interesting to see if Starlings have got off to a similar early start in other parts of the country.

Monday 18 April 2016

From Siskins to Starlings

Up to a dozen Siskins are still visiting the feeders each day or perhaps I should say the peak daily count is currently 12 and has been for a few days. I don't usually get Siskins in the garden this late and for the counts to still be in low double figures makes it even more exceptional. What the daily counts don't show is the turnover and I have ringed 116 so far this month compared with 84 in March (when the peak daily counts were often much higher), 77 in February and only 6 in January. Another 23 Siskins (22 retraps and 1 control) that were ringed prior to April have been recaptured making it a total of 139 different individuals that have been handled so far this month.

Many of the Siskins ringed this month have been carrying a lot of fat and this male certainly looks plump to say the least.
I was lucky enough to get a nice sequence of shots of a different male going from an alert posture through a very upright alert posture and then back to relaxed.
The total for the year now stands at 283 and is the most I have ringed in the garden by some margin but it is a little disappointing that I have only had one control as other ringers seem to do far better in that regard, judging by various reports and blogs I have read that is. Anyway one control is better than none and hopefully it will prove to be an interesting movement.

While I have had no problem attracting Siskins to the garden the same can't be said for Redpolls. I did have 3 visiting the feeders for about a week at the end of January and I hoped that numbers would build up but there has only been the odd one since then. Why I don't do better for Redpolls is hard to understand, especially given their increasing use of garden feeders, but it continues to be one species that is still fairly uncommon in my garden.

This Redpoll was in the garden today but why don't I get more?
One species that I didn't expect to feature on the blog for a while was Blackcap but a tired and hungry looking individual found the apples today. It was quite fluffed up and didn't look in good condition when I first saw it which suggests it may have had a rough journey and exhausted its fat reserves. It certainly took a liking to the apples and fed on them regularly throughout the day and was still feeding right up to dusk.

More and more Starlings are visiting the fat cakes and I suspect some are already feeding young which is about ten days earlier than last year. I have started recording all the colour ringed birds for my RAS (retrapping adults for survival) project although the main period of the study only starts later this week and runs through to 24th of May.

Adult female Starling.
B28 is an adult male that was colour-ringed for the study last May.
I colour-ringed 123 adult Starlings in the garden during the 5 week RAS period last year and the aim is to re-sight as many as possible during the same period this year to establish the survival rate. I also need to catch and colour-ring any new (unringed) breeding adults so I have a busy few weeks coming up.

Sunday 17 April 2016

Great Crested Grebe follow-up

It is about a month since I blogged about the Great Crested Grebes having hatched at least one chick at Orrell Water Park (link to that post here). At that time I could only see one chick poking its head out from between the wings of one of the parents but I thought there could others that were hidden. The parent carrying the young tended to stay partially concealed under overhanging branches for much of the first couple of weeks, or at least when I went to look, which made it difficult to see if there was more than one chick but as time went on it became clear they were only feeding one.

For one reason or another (mainly ringing Siskins and other birds) I haven't photographed the progress of this breeding attempt as often as I would have liked but I finally got round to taking a few photographs yesterday. The photos are not as good as I would have liked as the birds were either too far away or in badly lit situations but they will have to do for now.

One adult bathes and they all get a shower. 

This chick is about 5 weeks old now but it still has quite a bit of growing to do. It could be another 6 weeks before it is looking after itself.

Feeding time.
It will be interesting to see if this pair has another breeding attempt and if they do will they start before this chick is fully independent?

Saturday 9 April 2016

8th April 2016: Siskin Surge

Well I didn't have long to wait to find out which way Siskin numbers were going to go as I caught 41 in the garden today, so the simple answer is up and significantly so. I actually went to Billinge first thing this morning and put a few nets up there but I only caught 6 birds as there was nothing moving, apart from 1 Swallow north (I had been hoping for some Redpoll passage), so I packed up early and a good job too. I got home just before 10am and set the usual 6m net in the garden with the first Siskins being caught as soon as I stepped away from the net. I furled the net just before noon having caught total of 21 new and 2 retrap Siskins which is an excellent total for the garden.

I opened the net again for an hour late in the afternoon and caught another 14 new birds and 4 retraps bringing the day total to 35 new birds and 6 retraps which is a record Siskin catch for the garden. There was a broad mix of weights with some fairly light birds that were carrying very little fat but at the other end of the scale there were some whoppers including one at 17.2g which is the heaviest I have caught this spring and 5.5g heavier than today's lightest bird.

Another fine adult male Siskin
I also received two recovery reports for Siskins from the BTO during the afternoon. Unfortunately both birds had collided with windows but then the finding details provide useful information on the hazards birds face in addition to the information on movements.

Siskin S144588               28/02/2016 Orrell, Greater Manchester

Freshly dead (hit glass)   05/04/2016 Lochearnhead, Stirling, Perthshire, 334km NNW, duration 37 days

Siskin S144699               13/03/2016  Orrell, Greater Manchester

Freshly dead (hit glass)   29.03/2016 Morpeth, Northumberland, 195km NNE, duration 16 days

Recovery map to be added here in due course.

While this morning's visit to Billnge didn't produce many birds it wasn't without interest. I did catch my first 2 Willow Warblers of the year with one of them being a retrap from last year. A new adult Willow Tit was worth the visit on its own, such is the scarcity of the species these days, and a standardised set of photographs and extra measurements were taken as I usually do for this species. The other birds caught were a 2 new Chiffchaff and a new Linnet so not a bad little catch really and a good start to what turned out to be a brilliant day.

Willow Warbler 08/04/2016

Willow Tit 08/04/2016

Female Linnet 08/04/2016

9th April 2016: Siskin Update
I didn't think I would be able to open the net in the garden as it was too sunny but increasing cloud cover provided two brief opportunities in the afternoon (there was a useless sunny slot in between that caused me to furl the net for a couple of hours). There were plenty of Siskins around and another 23 were caught (20 new birds, 2 retraps and a control). The retraps didn't include any of the birds ringed yesterday and one had been ringed in the garden on 29/03/16 and the other 2km away at Billinge Hill on 13/09/15. The latter being quite surprising as it is the second Billinge bird to turn up in the garden this month from only 19 ringed there last autumn. The control was a male and the ring was from a fairly old sequence (Y281---) so it will be interesting to see when and where it was ringed.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Bulging Siskins.

The drop in Siskin numbers that I commented on at the end of my last post was short lived and the number visiting the feeders in the garden went back up to around 15 on 2nd April and numbers have remained there or thereabouts since. I managed to get a net up for a short time on the 3rd and 4th and again late this afternoon which resulted in a combined total of 35 different individuals being caught (29 new birds and 6 retraps). This shows there are more around than counts alone would indicate and or that there is plenty of turnover due to birds migrating through the area.

A fairly average looking male Siskin for comparison with the bird below (both caught today).
This is a particularly bright and intensely coloured individual.
The retraps were interesting in that only one had been ringed relatively recently and that bird had been ringed on 23rd March. The other retraps involved 3 that were ringed in February (11th & 24th x 2) and another from early March (5th) but most surprising of all was a bird that had been ringed on Billinge Hill on 9th October last year, a distance of around 2km from the garden, and it was thought to have been migrating south at the time. Did this bird stay and winter in the region or is it returning north along a similar migration route to the one it used to go south in the autumn?

The retraps from February and early March are intriguing as their weights haven't changed all that much and the little change there has been can be attributed to normal diurnal variation rather than any pre-migratory fattening. Age doesn't seem to be a factor as one of these long stayers is an adult male so perhaps they are just going to be late migrants that will fatten up in due course.

Despite some retraps showing little or no weight gain the proportion of heavy birds in catches has been increasing with 8 of the 9 birds caught this afternoon having substantial fat deposits and a weight range of 15.1g to 16.3g. These very heavy birds are likely to be going back to breeding grounds on the continent rather than in Scotland. The lighter bird from today was one of the retraps referred to above and weighed 13.1g at 18:30 compared to 11.9g at 07:30 when ringed on 5th March. This change of 1.2g fits in with normal diurnal weight changes and had it been caught at the same time on both days it may well have weighed the same, or very nearly so.

 Fat Female Siskin
The lump is the birds crop full of seeds but it is also covered in a layer of fat which extended across the back of the neck.

Blowing back the feathers on the throat reveals the tracheal pit bulging with fat (appears pinky-orange compared to the deep red of the breast muscle).

Blowing back the feathers of the belly also reveals a thick bulging layer of fat.
These heavy birds aren't going to stay around for much longer so it will be interesting to see what happens over the rest of this week. Will numbers finally dwindle or will other birds replace those that leave?

Saturday 2 April 2016

Blackcap departs and Bramblings move through.

Regular readers of this blog may have become a little bored with posts featuring the birds in my garden and the Belgian-ringed Blackcap in particular. For me it was a case of the longer it stayed the more interesting it became and I was particularly keen to establish a last date for it as that would almost certainly be the date it set off on migration back to its breeding grounds. I can now report that it was last seen in the garden on 31st March and I am as confident as I can be that it has migrated rather than having disappeared for some other reason, such as being predated by a local cat or Sparrowhawk. This is a later date than I had expected but it should still get back to central Europe just ahead of the bulk of Blackcaps that winter around the Mediterranean basin and so have a better chance of securing and holding a prime territory.

Belgian-ringed Blackcap 31/03/2016
Belgian-ringed Blackcap 31/03/2016
Belgian-ringed Blackcap 31/03/2016
I still haven't received the details of when and where this bird was ringed so there will be another post when those details finally come through.
The 31st saw quite a bit of migration and it was good for those arriving as well as leaving. There was a noticeable increase in Chiffchaffs round and about and I even had one filter through the garden. There seemed to be a lot of Siskins on the move but the most unusual visitor to the feeders were 2 male Bramblings. I rarely get Bramblings in the garden and this is the first time I have seen more than one. Unfortunately they didn't stay for very long and I didn't manage to get any good photos of them.

A hastily taken and rather poor photo of one of the Bramblings. The other male appeared to be an adult and was almost in full breeding dress. This is a young bird and still has extensive fringes to the feathers of the head and mantle that have yet to wear off to reveal the glossy inky black of the male breeding plumage.

There were at least a dozen Siskins at the feeders early on the morning of the 31st but some seemed to be drawn away by others going north overhead as the morning progressed. There has certainly been a drop in numbers since then.