Monday, 31 October 2016

The end of another month.

Autumn migration has stuttered along over the last week with quite good numbers moving on some days and very little on others. The last couple of days has seen a modest amount of movement at Billinge and the catches were similarly modest. Yesterday's ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Sparrowhawk 1; Goldcrest 19; Blue Tit (1); Redwing 4; Chaffinch 1, Lesser Redpoll 1. Today's totals were: Goldcrest 11; Blue Tit 1; Great Tit (1); Blackcap 1; Fieldfare 1; Redwing 8.

Yesterday's 1cy female Sparrowhawk was the 7th Sparrowhawk to be ringed at the site this month.

Today's female Blackcap was carrying a lot of fat and likely to be a late departing summer visitor rather than a recently arrived winter visitor.
I know I have shown images of these grey headed continental Goldcrests before but this female, caught today, also had a long wing for a female of 56mm. 
Adult female Fieldfare. Not an easy bird to catch when on passage but always worth the effort.
Ringing totals for the month have been excellent with 1,419 birds ringed although that is a little short of the number reached in October 2015. Redwing accounted for just over half the total with 739 ringed and Goldcrest came in second with an equally impressive 377.

Top 5 for the month at Billinge were:
Redwing 739
Goldcrest 377
Song Thrush 59
Lesser Redpoll 36
Chiffchaff 28

Top 5 for the year to date at Billinge are:
Redwing 739
Goldcrest 666
Willow Warbler 367
Chiffchaff 340
Blackcap 219

What will November bring?

Monday, 24 October 2016

Billinge: 20th to 24th October

Migration has slowed at Billinge in the last couple of days but I have still managed to ring 250 birds since my post of the 19th. Redwings and Goldcrests have continued to dominate the catches with 123 Redwings and 64 Goldcrests ringed over the last 5 days. Warblers have been thin on the ground as you would expect with just 1 Chiffchaff and 4 Blackcaps ringed and there has been no sign of any more Yellow-browed Warblers or anything scarcer.

The last few days has seen a bit of a purple patch for Sparrowhawks with 3 ringed - a first year female (21st), a first year male (23rd) and a cracking adult male today - bringing the number ringed this month to 6. On the other hand it has been a relatively poor autumn for Fieldfares, in terms of numbers ringed that is, and one caught on the 20th was the first of the autumn despite hundreds passing over.  It has to be said that they are far more difficult to catch than Redwings so the 6 that found their way into the nets this morning was a relatively good catch and a welcome improvement.

Adult male Sparrowhawk

The number of Lesser Redpolls recorded has remained disappointingly low with none moving after the 21st, when 7 were ringed. There have been a few blogging around and feeding in the alders since then but they are more likely to be birds that will stay and winter in the local area rather than being migrants.

This adult male Lesser Redpoll was a little bit paler than usual but there is no question that it is a Lesser.

A cracking adult male Lesser Redpoll
Combined ringing totals for the period 20th to 24th October were: Sparrowhawk 3; Goldcrest 64 (2); Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 4; Chiffchaff 1; Blackcap 4, Wren 5; Blackbird 7; Fieldfare 7; Song Thrush 12; Redwing 123; Robin 4; Chaffinch 2; Bullfinch 2; Lesser Redpoll 8. Total 250 new birds and 2 retraps.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Fat Yellow-browed

With the showery conditions of the last few days moving away there was an opportunity to get out to Billinge this morning. The session was brief as I had other commitments from 09:30 but it still gave me a couple of hours of ringing in largely clear conditions with a only light NNW breeze. There weren't many thrushes moving with most of the 15 Redwing and 4 Song Thrush caught being birds that had probably roosted nearby, and what movement there was mainly involved Woodpigeons with around 500 heading south although at least 80 U-turned and came back north.

With the influx of Yellow-browed Warblers seemingly well past its peak the chances of catching another seemed to have diminished significantly, although I was still hopeful. Well that bit of wishful thinking turned into reality when one was captured, along with a Goldcrest and a Coal Tit, on the penultimate net round. On extraction it felt quite chunky and when it was processed it weighed 8.4g and had a fat score of 5 which suggests it had been feeding up for quite a few days, and presumably somewhere nearby. When I got home and put the details into the IPMR ringing database it flagged up the weight as being outside the expected upper limit of 8.0g, although that limit will probably have been based on data gathered prior to the big influxes of the past few years. The other Yellow-broweds caught at Billinge this autumn weighed 6.6g and 6.1g so this latest bird was carrying at least 2g of fat which could give it a significant flight range for the next stage of its journey, perhaps as much as 1,000 km or more. Its next stop could easily be somewhere in southern France, a favourable wind and fair weather permitting.

The wing and tail length of today's Yellow-browed Warbler indicated that it was a male.
With the wind set to turn easterly again from Friday I will continue to allow myself a bit of wishful thinking and perhaps another Yellow-browed or something a bit scarcer may just come my way. 

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 19/19/2016 were: Goldcrest 7; Coal Tit 2;  Yellow-browed Warbler 1; Blackbird; 1 Song Thrush 4; Redwing 15; Bullfinch (1); Lesser Redpoll 1.

Monday, 17 October 2016

10th to 16th October 2016: the Redwing fest continues

I managed to get out to Billinge every day last week although the last two sessions were very short due to the arrival of rain. A total of 384 birds were caught and these were made up of 372 new birds, 10 retraps, 1 control and an escapee.

Lets start with the escapee and when I saw it in the net, at a distance, I thought I had caught something unusual and in a roundabout way I had. At first I though it was a Lesser Redpoll with an aberrant plumage and then I saw the 'closed ring' and realised it was an escaped cage bird. On closer examination I began to suspect it was a cross between a Lesser Redpoll and Twite and when I got home a search of images on the internet seemed to confirm that. One site was quite disparaging of this particular hybrid saying there is little point in crossing these brown based birds other than achieving a hybrid or words to that effect. I thought it actually looked quite smart but as the saying goes there's no accounting for taste.

Escaped Redpoll x Twite hybrid (or at least that is what I think it is) caught 10/10/2016 

Escaped Redpoll x Twite hybrid caught 10/10/2016.
While on the subject of Redpolls there have been very few Lessers moving at Billinge this autumn with only 4 caught in September and 26 since. Interestingly the majority of these birds have been adults and that was particularly true of last week with 7 of the 9 ringed being aged as such. Low numbers and a predominance of adults suggests that Lesser Redpolls have had a poor breeding season rather than it just being a case of them staying close to their breeding grounds, as in autumn 2014. It will, however, be interesting to see what happens over the rest of the autumn and what ringers report from other parts of the country. Although Lesser Redpolls don't seem to be moving much it does look like there is the start of a major influx of Common (Mealy) Redpolls on the east coast and hopefully some will work their way across to this side of the country over the next month or so, I certainly hope so.

Redwings moved through in good numbers on the 10th, 12th and 13th and those dates produced 169 of the 228 that were ringed over the course of the week. Redwings now top the ringing totals for the month and the year with 553 ringed since 3rd October. I have probably got enough photos to show the variation in the appearance of the coverts and the shape of the tail feathers and will put a post together on ageing them fairly soon. There is certainly more variation in the appearance of the greater coverts than the well known ageing guides describe or show and hopefully the photos will help to fill that gap. The images below are examples of the photos that will be used, one is a first year bird and the other is an adult (or at least I think so) but which is which and what did their tail feathers look like? I am not going to give the answers now so if you really want to know you will have to keep an eye on the blog.

RZ37553 Redwing

RZ37674 Redwing
Whenever there are good movements of Redwings there are usually at least 2 or 3 Sparrowhawks around trying to intercept them. Apart from one ringed on the 6th they have either missed the nets or have got out before I could get to them but that changed on the 12th with a 2nd year male in one net round and followed by a first year female in the next; so a bit like buses none for ages then two in quick succession.

2cy male Sparrowhawk 12/10/2016
1cy female Sparrowhawk 12/10/2016
Goldcrests moved through in moderate numbers with 88 caught over the week; this total was made up of 84 new birds, 3 retraps and a control. The number ringed at the site over the late summer/autumn period currently stands at a fairly impressive 518 and there should be plenty more to come over the remainder of the autumn. There were a few paler and brighter continental type birds and one of these was a control so it may have been ringed on the east coast. In fact the ring number was from a similar sequence to one of last year's controls and that bird had been ringed in Hartlepool, but I will have to wait for the recovery report from the BTO before I know for sure.

Control Goldcrest
One of the other 'continental' Goldcrests caught during the week.
This bird is even greyer around the head and nape.
Ringing totals (retraps & controls in brackets) for the period 10th to 16th October were: Sparrowhawk 2; ; Goldcrest 84 (4); Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 5; Coal Tit 9;  Long-tailed Tit (6); Chiffchaff 3; Blackcap 2; Blackbird 4; Song Thrush 13; Redwing 228; Robin 5 (1); Dunnock 2; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 2; Lesser Redpoll 9; Goldfinch 1.

Another 13 Song Thrush were caught during the week including 6 on the 10th.
All were of the greyer continental race T. P. philomelos like this bird.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

More Redwings and Goldcrests plus another Yellow-browed

A fantastic bird filled weekend at Billinge with 113 birds caught yesterday and another 120 today (including 1 control). Both ringing sessions were a bit longer than usual as birds continued to move throughout the morning. Redwings comfortably topped the totals on both days with 78 ringed yesterday and another 74 today. I had no time to count the flocks passing overhead but a very rough estimate of 1,000+ for yesterday and 900+ today were based on quick glances while ringing.

Redwings are fairly easy to age in the main but some are more of a challenge and a few seem to be down right confusing. This is because there is more variation in the salient features (greater coverts, tertials and tail) than the standard guides show and that is where some of the confusion lies, or at least I think so. I probably get to see more of this variation than most ringers so I have been taking photographs of their wings and tails, when there has been time, and will put together a post on the subject when I have gathered enough suitable material. So no images of Redwings today but plenty showing their wings and tails to come.

Goldcrest was the next most numerous species in the nets with 21 caught yesterday and another 28 today. One of today's birds was a control and had been ringed at Oxmoor, near Runcorn, about 17km south of Billinge, when on passage last October. The first obviously 'continental' Goldcrest was caught yesterday followed by two more today. Some 'continental' Goldcrests really stand out and are noticeably paler and brighter than our own birds. They are much greyer around the head and have a brighter green mantle and make our birds look a bit grubby by comparison. Good examples like the one in the image below are thought to originate from quite a long way east. A bit more reading on this can be found by clicking here.

'Continental' Goldcrest 09/10/2016. Well marked birds like this are thought to have a more easterly origin.

The 'continental' Goldcrest on the left is clearly that bit brighter and is much greyer around the head and neck. Also the mantle is greener and brighter. Generally a cleaner looking bird.
It was nice to catch another Yellow-browed Warbler today but hardly surprising given there are so many in the country at present. If anything it is more of a surprise that I haven't seen or caught more, especially now many are working their way west and south through the country. Anyway still a great bird and a delight, hopefully more will come my way in the coming weeks.

Today's Yellow-browed Warbler was a female based on wing and tail measurements, as was the previous bird.
So a great end to a great week and the prospect of more good days to come.

Ringing totals for 08/10/2016 were: Goldcrest 21; Blue Tit 3, Great Tit 2; Coal Tit 1; Chiffchaff 1; Blackcap 1; Blackbird 2; Song Thrush 2; Redwing 78; Chaffinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1. Total 113 new birds.

Ringing totals (control in brackets) for 09/10/2016 were: Goldcrest 27 (1); Blue Tit 2; Great Tit 3; Coal Tit 1; Yellow-browed Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 1; Blackcap 1; Song Thrush 2; Redwing 74; Robin 1; Chaffinch 3; Bullfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 1; Siskin 1. Total 119 new birds and 1 control.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Billinge: 3rd to 7th October 2016

The ringing site at Billinge came into its own this week with the first significant arrival of Redwings on the 3rd. The site is a magnet for these birds as they move across and down through the country with birds usually arriving from the north or east or somewhere in that quarter and then heading off south. Estimates and partial counts (I was busy ringing) of Redwings moving overhead were 700+ 3rd, 600+ 4th, 120+ 5th, 400+ 6th and 200+ today. These numbers are fairly small by Billinge standards but then it is early days and the really big arrivals of migrant thrushes are yet to come. The 173 ringed over the period is a great start and certainly kept me on my toes.

Good numbers of Song Thrushes have been associated with the movements of Redwings with up to 20 recorded but the true number could have been higher on some days (again I was busy ringing). Most of the birds caught have been greyer continental birds, as is the norm at this time of year, and like the Redwings most are heading to wintering grounds much further south in France or Iberia.

Continental Song Thrush
Other thrush interest came in the form of a few Blackbirds that included 2 likely continental birds on the 6th (both had long wing lengths). Single Ring Ouzels were also noted yesterday (6th) and again today. Today also saw the first 2 Fieldfares of the autumn heading south.

Goldcrests continue to move through the site in reasonable numbers and in distinct waves judging by the number ringed over the five days. There is no indication of any influx of continental Goldcrests as yet so these movements involve birds originating from the local area or further north in the UK. The 20 Goldcrest ringed today brought the total ringed so far this month to 100 which is a fantastic total with most of the month still to go.

Ringing totals 3rd to 7th October 2016
I don't catch many Jays but one of yesterday's was one on the most vicious I have ever handled; it took lumps out of me. The other was a little less bitey but till made its presence felt in terms of pounds per square inch with its bill.

A very bitey Jay

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Big day for our smallest bird.

After failing to get out yesterday morning (what a mistake that was as it produced the best vis mig of the autumn) I was glad to be back at Billinge today. A Goldcrest was calling as I was setting up the first net in the half light and several were calling by the time I had set up the second, so I was hopeful of a good catch. I got the 3rd and final net up as quick as I could and then went straight back to check the first two nets and found that only 5 Goldcrests had been caught.

Male Goldcrest

a closer look at that crown.
The first catch is often the best when there is a big movement of Goldcrests so I was a little disappointed that I hadn't caught more and there didn't seem to be a great many more around. While the bushes seemed to have gone quiet each successive net round produced more new Goldcrests and this continued until I packed up, just after midday. Goldcrests are usually quite conspicuous and vocal when there are a good number moving through the site but that wasn't the case today. The final total of 43 Goldcrests was a bit of a surprise and is easily the largest day total for the site - ringed or seen. 

This bird looks a bit scruffy around the head because it hasn't quite finished its post-juvenile moult.

It seems there has been quite a bit of late breeding in Goldcrests and other species this year resulting in more late moulting juveniles than I usually see. 
The nets also produced a few other bits and bobs with the 11 Chiffchaff being worthy of specific mention as it is a good number for the date, in this area at least. It also became the site's highest October day ringing total for the species. Normally catching tails off mid to late morning but not so today with birds caught in every net round and most of the Chiffchaffs being caught in the second half of the morning.

This pristine looking Chiffchaff has finished its post-juvenile moult but some of the others were in the latter stages and still had some growing body feathers or remnants of sheath.
There wasn't a huge amount of visible migration but there was a steady movement for most of the morning, mainly involving Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Siskins, Skylarks and a few Swallows. Two Song Thrushes went west, very high, and 2 similarly high flying Redwings went north. Later in the morning another 3 Redwings were seen leaving the site and also headed north.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 02/10/16 were: Goldcrest 43; Blue Tit 1; Coal Tit 2 (1); Long-tailed Tit 6 (1);  Chiffchaff 11; Blackcap 2; Robin 1; Dunnock 1; Chaffinch 2; Lesser Redpoll 1; Goldfinch 1. Total 71 new birds and 2 retraps.

While this adult female Blackcap is a likely to be a departing summer visitor it won't be long before their winter visiting counterparts start to arrive.