Friday, 30 September 2016

Billinge: 30th September 2016

A relatively cool start with crisp clear skies gave this morning much more of a autumnal feel for a change. I didn't expect to catch much but the three nets produced a better than expected catch of 60 new birds and 2 retraps. Linnets topped the totals with 24 ringed from a flock of at least 100 that were feeding nearby and others that were moving south. There were fewer Goldcrest around than of late but this was partially offset by a good number of Chiffchaffs with the 11 ringed being an excellent total for the last day of September. The only disappointment was that only 1 Meadow Pipit found its way into the nets despite a steady stream of birds going south throughout the morning. Other bits of visible migration noted between net rounds included 50+ Skylarks, 9 Swallows, 8 Siskins, 1 Redpoll and 6 Reed Buntings.

1cy male Linnet
Ringing totals for 30/09/2016 were: Goldcrest 11 (1); Blue Tit 2 (1); Great Tit 5; Coal Tit 1; Chiffchaff 11; Blackcap 1; Dunnock 1; Meadow Pipit 1; Chaffinch 1; Linnet 24; Goldfinch 1; Reed Bunting 1. Total 60 new birds and 2 retraps.

A total of of 778 new birds of 30 species were ringed at the site during September with the top 5 being: Goldcrest 237; Chiffchaff 175; Blackcap 88; Linnet 32; Great Tit 30. It all starts again tomorrow, assuming the weather allows me to get out, and while Goldcrest is likely to remain in the top 5 for October Redwing should top the totals if the last 2 years are anything to go by. I caught the first Redwing of last year on 1st October but doubt that will be repeated this year; however, the weather for Sunday going into Monday is looking interesting and may just see the the first Redwings reaching this part of the country.

1cy female Reed Bunting.
Reed Buntings narrowly failed to make the top 5 in September with 29 ringed. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Yellow-browed Warbler - just the one.

What was looking like being a very disappointing ringing session, that didn't even include the customary decent haul of Goldcrests, ended in style with a Yellow-browed Warbler caught in the last net round this morning. It had been a relatively poor session and I had struggled to get past 20 birds so I started taking the nets down just before 11am. When I went to the last net to take it down there were 3 birds in it - a Treecreeper, a Chiffchaff and the aforementioned Y-b Warbler. There hadn't been any birds in that particular net on the previous two net rounds and not a sniff of a Yellow-browed Warbler up to that point.

Yellow-browed Warbler 22/09/16
Yellow-browed Warbler 22/09/16
Yellow-browed Warbler 22/09/16
Catching one is not the surprise it once was as this is the 3rd I have had at the site in the last 3 years but it is still a good record for the west side of the country, especially away from the coast. In fact this could be the first one on the west side of the country this autumn and if it doesn't turn out to be the first it will probably be equal first or in the first few. As parts of the east coast and places like Fair Isle have been awash with them in the last couple of days there are plenty more that could come this way over the next week or so.

Ringing totals for 22/09/2016 were: Goldcrest 6 (1); Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 2; Yellow-browed Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 3, Blackcap 2; Treecreeper 1; Robin (1); Dunnock 2; Meadow Pipit 4; Bullfinch 1; Yellowhammer 1; Reed Bunting 3. Total 27 new birds and 2 retraps.

I had much better sessions, in terms of numbers, earlier in the week with Goldcrests moving through the site in reasonable numbers. A catch of 52 birds on 20/09/16 included 22 new Goldcrests and the number of Goldcrests ringed this month, up to and including today's, now stands at 162. Add to that the the 10 ringed in July and 39 ringed in August and the total rises to 211 which is ahead of the number ringed up to this point last year. So I am still on track for another bumper Goldcrest autumn but I won't mind if there are 1 or 2 more Yellow-browed Warblers too.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Billinge: 15th & 18th September 2016

The 15th was one of those days were expectations were high but very murky conditions stifled overhead passage and kiboshed my hopes of a good catch of Meadow Pipits and Grey Wagtails. Visibility was poor and restricted to about 1 or 2 km for much of the morning and while you could call it misty the vegetation and nets remained bone dry because of the high temperature. Some birds were moving despite the conditions and a few Meadow Pipits shot through and the odd Siskin and Song Thrush was heard calling through the murk but there were big gaps with nothing moving overhead.

Fortunately there were a good few birds in the bushes and a total of 49 were caught. Chiffchaffs topped the totals once again with 15 new birds and 1 retrap but Goldcrests weren't far behind with 12 new birds and a control (a bird ringed elsewhere). It shouldn't take long to get the ringing details back for this bird and it will be interesting to find out when and where it was ringed as we are still in the early stages of autumn migration for this species.

Control Goldcrest.
Details of when and where it was ringed will be posted in due course.
The remainder of the catch didn't produce any surprises and the totals for the morning were: Goldcrest 12 (1); Blue Tit 1; Coal Tit 1; Chiffchaff 15 (1); Willow Warbler 1; Blackcap 6 (1); Robin 4; Dunnock 1; Bullfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1; Reed Bunting 3. Total 46 new birds, 2 retraps and 1 control.

The crown feathers of one of the Blackcaps was a mixture of brown and black with the individual feathers being a mixture of colours rather than some of the feathers being brown and others being black. A small proportion of male Blackcaps have some brown in the crown like this bird although the amount does vary.
I suppose you could call it a brown crown with black highlights or streaks.

September usually sees some good movements of Robins through the site but numbers have been much lower than usual so far this autumn. 
The 18th started off a bit misty but soon became depressingly foggy. The fog just wouldn't burn off and although it thinned from time to time it didn't finally clear until late in the morning when it was time to start packing up. The conditions severely limited movement overhead, as you would expect, although the occasional stratospheric Siskin was heard and the fog also made the nets more visible for much of the session.

One or two Song Thrushes were calling as I was setting up so it wasn't a surprise when one was in the net on the first round. However, it wasn't one of the locals and its colder and more olive upper parts pointed to it being of continental origin. The first migrant Song Thrushes usually arrive in early to mid September and more continental birds reach this part of the country than is often appreciated.

The catching rate was much slower than the final total of 40 new birds might suggest and there were several blank net rounds. Goldcrests topped the totals and the 18 ringed is the biggest catch of the autumn to date. It also brought the number ringed so far this month to 106. There were very few Chiffchaffs around compared to recent visits and only 4 were ringed but Blackcaps continue to move through the site in similar numbers with another 6 being caught.

Ringing totals for 18/09/16 were: Goldcrest 18; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1; Chiffchaff 4; Blackcap 6; Wren 1; Song Thrush 1; Robin 3; Chaffinch 5. Total 40 new birds.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Mainly Chiffchaffs & Goldcrests

A ringing session at Billinge this morning produced 46 new birds and just 3 retraps. Chiffchaffs made up nearly half the total with 20 ringed and 2 retraps and became the largest catch of the species so far this autumn, if only by a margin of 2. The retraps had been ringed as juveniles on 18th & 23rd July and today was the first time either had been re-encountered. The post juvenile moult of this species is very slow and it would be interesting to know how far juveniles wander during this period.

Goldcrests were the 2nd most numerous species with 11 ringed and included the first adult to be caught this autumn. The number of Goldcrests ringed this month now stands at 69 and the total ringed since mid July has reached 118 so it looks like we are still on for a bumper autumn for this species.

Adult female Goldcrest
It is getting late now for both Whitethroats and Willow Warblers so catching 2 of each is worthy of mention. One of the Willow Warblers was an adult that hadn't quite finished moulting its primaries and just had a small amount of sheath at the base of the 2nd primary. This feather was probably fully grown rather than still growing and remaining feather sheath, that was visible at base, just needed to be shed.

Whitethroat 14/09/16
There was a bit of movement overhead that included a trickle of Meadow Pipits, a few pulses of Swallows, at least 4 Grey Wagtails and a single Tree Pipit. Singles of Siskin were heard on 2 occasions as was a high flying Song Thrush and 3 or 4 alba Wagtails. There was certainly more to see and listen out for than of late giving it more of an autumnal feel even if the very high temperature suggested anything but.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 14/09/16 were: Goldcrest 11; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 1; Chiffchaff 20 (2); Willow Warbler 2; Blackcap 6; Whitethroat 2; Robin 1; Chaffinch 1; Reed Bunting 1 (1).

Waxing Gibbous Moon - 95.5% of full.
There was a cracking moon tonight and I am sure large numbers of night migrants were taking advantage of the clear conditions. It wasn't quite full with the full moon being due on the 16th. It will be interesting to see if there has been a clear out of birds at Billinge tomorrow and if they have been replaced by any new arrivals.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Billinge: 11th September 2016

The forecast was for clear blue skies and a light south to southeasterly breeze and given we are approaching mid September a fair amount of visible migration was expected. While the weather forecast was spot on the visible migration failed to materialise. There was no southerly passage of Meadow Pipits, just a bit of random movement of a few birds (all presumably locals), and there was a complete absence of Grey Wagtails heading south or otherwise. It has been a relatively poor autumn for visible migration at the site so far, both in terms of numbers and variety, but the brakes should come off fairly soon.

Fortunately there was a bit more activity in the bushes and the 3 nets produced the best catch of Chiffchaffs this autumn with 20 ringed. At the other end of the scale less expected captures were a Spotted Flycatcher (3rd of the autumn and only the 4th in the last 3 years) and a Nuthatch (also 3rd of the autumn but 4th of this year).

One of today's 20 Chiffchaffs
Spotted Flycatcher 11/09/16
Spotted Flycatcher 11/09/16
The 6 Blackcaps caught included one that was still in scruffy juvenile plumage and must have fledged fairly recently. The relatively poor summer weather appears to have caused more late breeding than is usual in some species of warbler and I have seen more examples of birds in juvenile plumage this September than I have noted before.

Recently fledged juvenile Blackcap.
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 11/09/16 were: Goldcrest 3; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 6; Coal Tit (1); Chiffchaff 20; Blackcap 6; Nuthatch 1; Spotted Flycatcher 1; Robin 1; Chaffinch 1; Greenfinch 1; Yellowhammer 3. Total 44 new birds and 1 retrap.

While I haven't posted anything on the blog since the 3rd I did manage to fit in quite a few sessions at Billinge in the meantime. Catches were much as expected with highlights being 4 Grey Wagtails (6th) and another 3 (7th) and single Tree Pipits (5th & 6th), although they were far from unusual for the time of year.

Grey Wagtail 06/09/16
Tree Pipit 06/09/16
This Tree Pipit had sheep's wool wrapped around the top of the foot. The wool was cut very carefully to prevent any further constriction and loss of circulation.
Combined ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for the period 4th to 10th September were: Jay 1; Goldcrest 25 (1); Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 3; Coal Tit 3; Long-tailed Tit 1 (4); Chiffchaff 31 (3); Willow Warbler 5; Blackcap 28 (1); Whitethroat 1; Blackbird 1; Robin 1; Dunnock 4; Grey Wagtail 7; Tree Pipit 2; Chaffinch 6; Bullfinch 5; Yellowhammer 5; Reed Bunting 5 (2). Total 136 new birds and 11 retraps.

Chiffchaff 05/09/16. Now and again a bird has a minute before flying off although most don't wait for the camera.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Billinge: 3rd September 2016

The weather forecast for this morning showed a band of rain moving in from the west and south west. The only question was the timing with one forecast showing the rain arriving at 09:00 and another showing it arriving a bit later, at 11:00. Either way there was an opportunity to get out for at least a couple of hours before any rain arrived. 

I set the 3 nets in the top willows before first light and in what were near perfect conditions. As the light levels rose it was clear that there were a few birds around with the calls of Chiffchaffs interspersed by the occasional tacking of Blackcaps. The first round produced 2 Chiffchaffs, 2 Blackcaps and a Bullfinch. One of the Blackcaps had the most striking appearance and had a series of pale bars across the wings and tail. These bars seemed to be caused by a lack of pigment in that part of the feathers and looked markedly different to typical fault bars. The feathers didn't look like they had any structural weakness as is usually the case with fault bars but the cause is still likely to be some form of nutritional deficiency when the bird was in the nest and the feathers were growing.

Not your typical fault bars.
Whatever the cause, it had a striking effect.
There didn't seem to be any Goldcrests around at first but it wasn't long before the first one was caught and by the end of the session a total of 11 had been ringed.  Most had completed their post juvenile moult, or very nearly so, but one was still largely in juvenile plumage. This 3J must have come from quite a late brood but then this species has a long breeding season and can still have young in the nest in early September.

This 3J Goldcrest is only just getting the first yellow and black feathers on its crown.
There were no surprises although Reed Buntings seemed to be around in better numbers than usual and this may reflect a good breeding season, locally at least. I haven't noted any passage of Reed Buntings yet but it won't be long now and usually starts about the same time as that of Meadow Pipits. The single Tree Pipit caught nicely brought the number ringed this autumn to 50 and hopefully won't be the last. It was also nice to catch a Whitethroat as I don't catch many in September; this bird also had a fault bar with the distal potion of the tail being much darker than the rest.

1cy Whitethroat. You can just see that the last quarter of the tail is darker than the rest.
I had to keep a wary eye on the weather and on the rainfall radar on my phone as the morning went and I could see the rain had reached Liverpool (about 20km away) by 08:30 so I took one of the nets down. The first few spots of rain arrived just after 09:00 and I had the other nets down soon after. The final total of 36 new birds and 3 retraps was quite good for what was a relatively short session.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 03/09/2016 were: Goldcrest 11; Coal Tit 1; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 2; Chiffchaff 9 (3); Blackcap 4; Whitethroat 1; Wren 1; Tree Pipit 1; Chaffinch 2; Bullfinch 1; Reed Bunting 2.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Billinge: 1st September 2016

The month got off to a good start with a total of 42 new birds ringed from 3 nets set in the top willows. The nets were up from 06:15 to 11:15 but most of the birds were caught by 09:00. Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs came to the fore and accounted for over half the birds caught with totals of 14 and 11 respectively.

In my last post I said that we could be heading for a bumper Goldcrest autumn and this catch would suggest it is still on the cards. This site is fantastic for Goldcrests and ringing has shown that far more move through in autumn than anyone had previously realised or even thought likely. A total of 312 were ringed in autumn 2014 and that increased to 702 last autumn with the help of the huge influx of continental birds that came in October.


Some of the Goldcrests caught this month will be of local origin but most will be from further north in England and from Scotland. While the continental birds can arrive in late September most big influxes don't usually happen before early October. 
It was good to see Chiffchaffs in better numbers after a below par showing through much of August. September is normally the best month for ringing this species and it will be interesting to see how it compares when we get to the end of it. We are well past the peak of Willow Warbler migration now and while the two that were caught are unlikely to be the last they could well be in the last dozen or so.

Chiiffchaff and Willow Warblers have been ringed in similar numbers over the previous 2 autumns but this year could see Willow Warblers come out on top by some margin.
The single Tree Pipit ringed was one of only two seen and again the peak movements for this species are behind us now but, like Willow Warblers, there could be a trickle for a little while yet. Meadow Pipit migration has not got going yet but it won't be long before it is in full swing, the local birds certainly seem to have itchy feet and the odd early migrant could be passing through. 

The rest of the catch was much pretty as expected for the date but the single juvenile Goldfinch was only a token representative for that species. There have been fewer Goldfinches around than is usual through August after the usual build up in numbers in July. It seems the birds have found better feeding opportunities elsewhere despite what appears, to me at least, as being the usual crop of knapweed and thistles across the site.

Ringing totals for 01/09/2016 were: Goldcrest 14; Coal Tit 2; Great Tit 2; Chiffchaff 11; Willow Warbler 2; Blackcap 2; Robin 2; Tree Pipit 1; Chaffinch 4; Goldfinch 1; Reed Bunting 1. Total 42.