Sunday, 29 May 2016

Starling cam.

Although my Starling RAS period has come to an end I am still in Starling mode and catching lots of juveniles. I have caught 104 since my last blog post and the total number of juveniles ringed currently stands at 208. This is an excellent total for so early in the season and especially when compared with last year which only saw 32 juveniles ringed by the same date and a grand total of 162 ringed by late June. On the face of it Starlings have not only bred a good two weeks earlier this year but it looks like they have been more successful too.

While catching Starlings over the past few days I have been playing with a small action camera rather than the usual dslr and long lens. The following videos are the best of my initial attempts and were set up to show the antics of the birds but they also show the camera's potential for reading the numbers on the colour-rings. Now I know what it is capable of I will certainly be using it to record the numbers on the colour-ringed adults next year.

Bathing often seems to be infectious in gregarious species like Starlings; once one starts others soon join in. There is a bit of a lull in the action in the middle of the video but it picks up again towards the end.

The meal worm rich fat cakes are a highly prized food source and the birds are currently eating their way through about 2 kg of home made fat cakes each week.

The final video is with the camera set up in the trap that I use to catch all of my Starlings for ringing. The camera isn't set up in a very good position (it was my very first attempt) but it shows how freely birds come and go after some initial wariness of the camera and curiosity in seeing their refection on the plastic housing. There are three funnel entrances in addition to the entrance in view so that is why more birds leave than can be seen entering.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Starling RAS 2016

Over the past few weeks most of my ringing effort has been directed at my Starling RAS which runs from 21st April to 24th May each year. A total of 129 different adult Starlings were recorded in the garden during that 5 week period last year and all of those birds were colour-ringed. Fewer adults have been recorded this year with a total of 85 individuals recorded to date but that number could still increase as there are a few days of this year's RAS period to go.

Adult male Starling
Although the number of adults is down on last year's total, 62 of the 85 were resightings or recaptures of birds ringed prior to the start of this year's RAS period and only 23 were new birds. More importantly 47 were birds from last year's RAS period which gives a provisional re-encounter rate of just over 36%. This is very good re-encounter rate for a RAS project of this type and means the project is on track to provide high quality data on adult survival when analysed in more detail by the BTO.

The local Coal Tits have no problem dining with Starlings.
The most striking feature of this year is that Starlings have bred a good two weeks earlier than they did last year (in this area at least). This can be illustrated by the occurrence and ringing of juveniles in the garden with the first juvenile ringed on 7th May this year compared to 22nd May last year. In addition 105 juveniles have been ringed up to and including today and I didn't reach that number until 4th June last year with a similar amount of effort, so it certainly isn't a case of a few pairs nesting early.

Juvenile Starling coming out of the trap that it was caught in just a day or two before. I catch Starlings using a very simple cage trap, operated by a pull cord, and this allows me to be highly selective. Once Starlings have been colour-ringed there is no need to recapture them so they are free to take advantage of the food in the trap as often as they like and a great many do. This has the advantage of attracting unringed birds into the trap which I usually manage to catch without retrapping any previously ringed birds.

I also have a fat block feeder near the trap that is specifically positioned to make it easy to read the numbers on the colour-rings. Birds happily move between this feeder and the food on offer in the trap.

Juveniles are not intimidated by the adults and have no problem competing for food.

The abundance and availability of soil invertebrates, especially leather jackets, is one of the factors that could influence the number and frequency of adults visiting the garden. Observations at a nearby playing field suggests there is more natural food available this spring and that may be one of the reasons behind the smaller number of adults recorded in the garden this year. It is also likely to be a factor in this year's earlier nesting.

Starlings feeding on the nearby college sports pitches.

Another factor affecting the number of adults is likely to be the ongoing loss of nest sites due to property improvements. The replacement of old wooden soffits and facias and or the pointing up of gable end ridge tiles potentially results in the loss of up to 4 nest sites on a single property. A few houses are 'improved' in that way around here every year so the population seems set to decline irrespective of other factors unless more people can be persuaded to put up Starling nest boxes to compensate for such losses.

More information on RAS projects can be found  here,  here  and  here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Recent recoveries including that BLB Blackcap

Regular readers of this blog will have seen numerous posts that included photographs of a Belgium-ringed Blackcap that spent the second half of the winter in the garden. Well it has taken a bit longer than I expected but the ringing details finally arrived today. It was ringed near Herne, Brabant, Belgium on 20/09/2014. It was first seen and photographed in the garden on 17/01/2016 and was recorded nearly every day to the last sighting on 31/03/2016.

BLB 13882986 Blackcap photographed 22/03/2016
BLB 13882986          3M Blackcap
Ringed                       20/09/2014  Herne, Brabant, Belgium.
Controlled (sighting)  17/01/2016  near Orrell, Greater Manchester. 555 km NW, duration 509 days.
Also recorded nearly every day to 31/03/2016.

Another recovery involved a Siskin that was ringed on Billinge Hill last autumn and was controlled near Loch Lomond, Scotland in April. Interestingly this bird was recaptured at the same site as a Siskin that I controlled in the garden and detailed in a previous post (link here).

Z019649     3F Siskin
Ringed        09/10/2015    Billinge Hill, Merseyside.
Controlled   22/04/2016    Cnoc, Argyll & Bute. 326 km NNW, duration 196 days.

Details were also received of a Goldfinch that was ringed in the garden last autumn and recaptured in SW Scotland earlier this spring.

Z019660     3J  Goldfinch
Ringed        10/10/2015  near Orrell, Greater Manchester.
Controlled   14/04/2016  Leswalt, Dumfiers & Galloway. 220 km NW, 187 days.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Rapid recovery report and an early juv Starling

I received a recovery report for a Lesser Redpoll this afternoon, which is not that surprising given how many I ringed last autumn, but what was surprising is that it was controlled at 06:55 this morning and the details were emailed to me just over six hours later, now that is a rapid turnaround for a recovery report. Hats off to the ringer who controlled it and to the BTO for the quick work.

Another more interesting point is that it is still so far south given the date. This bird was migrating south when caught at Billinge last autumn so is likely to head back this way at some point and it may have been on passage when controlled in Devon this morning. Coincidentally I was out at Billinge this morning and did have 3 Lesser Redpolls going north. I only caught one of them but it was a fat bird and weighed 14.4g so is likely to be heading up to Scotland to breed. There hasn't been a particular good passage of Redpolls at Billinge this spring which is a bit of a surprise given how many went south last autumn. Perhaps there are quite a few that have still to make their way back north?

Z854373      Lesser Redpoll
Ringed        23/09/2015  Billinge Hill, Merseyside.
Controlled   04/05/2016  Buttercombe Barton, Devon. 280 km SSW. Duration: 224 days

Another bit of news from today is that I saw my first juvenile Starling in the garden this evening. I knew they were breeding earlier compared with last year but I have never seen a fledged juvenile so early in May before. It will be interesting to see how many young each pair have once more start to follow their parents into the garden.

It took me by surprise and didn't stay long and that is my excuse for only getting a rubbish photo.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Anglesey 23rd - 30th April 2016

A week long break on Anglesey coincided with an unkind jet stream that resulted in a blast of cold arctic air. Fortunately the worst of the heavy and occasionally wintry showers missed us and the chill from moderate to strong north-westerly wind was partially offset by plenty of glorious sunshine. It wasn't a birding trip as such but I still got quite a few hours in, especially first thing in the morning, and you always have to carry bins or camera with you, don't you.

The breakwater at Holyhead certainly served its purpose in the face of a strong north-westerly.
The sea didn't seem to be particularly rough so it would be interesting to see what it is like during a big storm.
This is one of two Black Guillemots that were taking advantage of calmer conditions behind the breakwater
An Oystercatcher viewed from the living room window. This was one of a pair holding territory by the cottage that we stayed in, near Church Bay.
There were good numbers of Whimbrel around. Up to 39 commuted between the fields and the shore near the cottage.
Up to 70 did the same just a couple of kilometers down the coast .
There was a good scattering of Rock Pipits as you would expect.
Back near the cottage a pair of Stonechats were busily feeding young in the nest.
There were a few Wheatears passing through (mostly large Greenland birds).

Another Wheatear gets a bit of shelter from that cold north-westerly wind.
The barbed wire fence makes this photo for me.
While your not guaranteed to get good weather on Anglesey you would be unlucky not to see Choughs along any suitable stretch of coast.

This pair frequented the cliffs and clifftop pasture close to the cottage and coastal footpath. The male displays with quivering outstretched wings to a rather disinterested looking female.
She continued to feed and he continued to work those wings as they made their way along the bank. This was followed by a bit of an aerial display.
So the island wasn't lifting with migrants, as it could have been in late April, but it was still a good a week and a change of scenery that has set me up for several weeks of watching Starlings for my RAS project. In fact I started as soon as I got home and logged sightings of 34 colour-ringed Starlings coming to the fat cakes; I also caught and colour-ringed another three.