Friday, 30 March 2018

Siskin Summary

It has been a reasonable winter and early spring for Siskins in the garden and it isn't over yet. The first Siskins were seen on the feeders back in late November which is relatively early for my garden and, interestingly, both were adult males and both were already wearing rings. Counts stayed in single figures through December, January and the early part of February, although ringing showed there was a little bit of  turnover. Numbers increased in the second half of February and peaked in early March when up to 20 were counted but there was some turnover over the course of each day so the actual peak was probably closer to 30. Counts fluctuated markedly through the middle of March and continued fluctuating as numbers dropped off through the latter part of the month. That brings us right up to today when 5 were present.

Adult male Siskin ringed 28/03/2018
A total of 77 have been ringed and there has been 1 control and that had been ringed 4 days earlier at a site 6km away. Regular readers of the blog will know I have photographed several birds that were ringed prior to this winter and although I wasn't able read the full ring numbers I could read enough to be reasonably confident that they had been ringed in the garden. Frustratingly, they all managed to avoid being recaptured but a different returning bird was retrapped recently; S144917 had been ringed on 19/04/2016 and was retrapped a couple of days ago, on 28/03/2018.

Adult female Siskin S144917 was originally ringed in the garden on 19/04/2016 and retrapped there on 28/03/2018
I have had similar retraps in subsequent years before and they are interesting because Siskins are irruptive migrants. The proportion of the population that migrates and the distance they move varies from one year to the next in response to the availability of food. In some years, like autumn/winter 2014/15, they don't migrate and are able to stay on or very near their breeding areas because of an abundance of natural food. I didn't get any Siskins in my garden that winter or in the following spring, as was the experience of most ringers. The recapture of birds from one winter or spring to the next or after intervals of more than a year shows that some birds use traditional routes and traditional feeding sites, including well stocked gardens like mine, but only when they need to move that far.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Billinge: 26/03/2018

It was the first visit without a chill in the air and it even got warm enough to tempt a few bumble bees out but summer visitors were in short supply. I had expected a few Chiffchaffs to be back on territory and singing their hearts out but only one silent bird was present and that one may not have been noticed had it not been caught. Meadow Pipits were the most conspicuous migrant with at least 200 heading north over the course of the morning and another 30 or so were grounded. Some Woodpigeons were also moving north but that movement was partially masked by local birds moving between feeding areas. There was little else moving overhead with just a few Linnets, 2 Lesser Redpolls, a Siskin and a couple of alba Wagtails being noted.

While this was the first Chiffchaff to be ringed this spring the first one was seen at the site on the 24th.
Winter visitors provided some compensation for the lack of summer migrants with totals of 7 Redwing and 9 Brambling recorded. They also provided the ringing highlights as 4 of the Redwings and 2 of the Bramblings found their way into the nets. As I have mentioned before I don't usually catch any Redwings at this site in late winter or spring but the 4 caught brought the total for this year to 10, all of which have been caught in the last couple of weeks. The 2 Bramblings were even more unusual in that they were the first to be ringed at the site in spring.

Ringing another 4 Redwings certainly made up for the lack of Chiffchaffs.

Catching 2 Bramblings was an unexpected bonus, both were females and neither was carrying any fat so they may be around for a little while yet.

All in all it turned out to be good morning for late March with some really nice spring weather and a decent variety of birds too.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 26/03/2018 were: Goldcrest 2; Blue Tit 2 (1); Great Tit 2 (4) Chiffchaff 1; Long-tailed Tit (1); Blackbird 1; Redwing 4; Robin 1; Brambling 2; Chaffinch (1); Bullfinch 1 (1);  Lesser Redpoll 1. A total of 17 new birds and 8 retraps.

Friday, 23 March 2018


The British obsession with the weather has certainly been reinforced by the recent cold snaps and the meteorological tug of war that has been going on between winter and spring is not over yet. We certainly haven't seen much in the way of springlike weather so far this month and it has made for a stuttering start to the season for breeding birds and migrants alike. Undaunted by the weather I have been up to Billinge on each of the last 3 mornings (20th to 22nd) and while it felt far more like winter than spring there was just enough of interest to make each of the early starts worthwhile.

The 20th produced my first Wheatear and Stonechat of the spring with a second Stonechat joining the first later on in the morning. The nets only produced a handful of birds but a new Goldcrest will have been a migrant as they don't breed at the site and nearby breeders are already holding territory and singing with increasing frequency. An adult male Chaffinch with a long wing length of 93mm will also have been a migrant and should be heading back to Scandinavia fairly soon.

There were a few more species around on the 21st but it was one of those mornings where you have to work really hard to convince yourself that it was actually worth getting up before 5am. A solitary Brambling was an unconvincing highlight of the 42 species recorded, none of which were new for the year. Again the nets didn't produce much but another adult male Chaffinch of continental origin was caught, this one had a wing length of 94mm and was carrying quite a lot of fat, weighing in at 29.3g. That may not sound very heavy but it is when you compare it to a lean local male Chaffinch that was caught the same morning and only weighed 21.4g. It may have been an uninspiring morning in many respects but better that than staying in bed and wondering what could have been missed.

This Chaffinch was as fat as it looks.
The 22nd saw an improvement with a Jack Snipe being the standout highlight as it was a new species for the site. It was also another sign of migration albeit not the arriving Chiffchaff I had been expecting and hoping for. A Woodcock was seen and was likely to have been a passage migrant as I haven't seen any of the wintering birds recently. There was a bit more movement overhead with a few Meadow Pipits and Linnets heading north and a total of 17 Redwings heading south or south-east. Two Grey-lag Geese also made their way north in their typically noisy fashion but the pick of the visible migration was a female Merlin which sped north over the adjacent farmland and I considered myself lucky not to have missed it such was its rate of progress.

The nets weren't much busier than they had been on the previous two mornings but a Redwing was caught at first light and, interestingly, it only weighed 53.2g which is quite light and almost certainly a consequence of the recent severe weather. Two male Goldcrests were caught as they worked their way north through the bushes and it will be interesting to see how the Goldcrest population is judged to have have fared given the recent hard weather. If it turns out that they haven't done too badly it is probably because the cold snaps came at the end of the winter, when the days are much longer, which will have given them more time to find food. Yet another continental Chaffinch was caught, although at 90mm not quite as long-winged as the previous two, but judging by its weight and the fat deposits that could be seen under its skin it was obviously getting ready for a long journey.

Redwings had a really tough time during the recent cold spells and those that survived will have lost a lot of condition.

I don't catch many Goldcrests in spring but the fact that I have already caught a few suggests they may not have been hit as hard as they could have been had the cold snaps come earlier in the winter.
It may be the wrong type of spring at the moment, and it certainly doesn't look like it is going to get much better anytime soon, but I will keep plugging away to see what is moving despite the generally unfavourable weather patterns.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

A few firsts of sorts.

I have been up to Billinge quite a few times over the last couple of months but apart from seeing up to 6 Woodcock during the cold snap they have been largely uneventful affairs. I decided to pay another visit this morning as the forecast seemed favourable and I hoped few migrants would be on the move. Unfortuntely it was quite misty when I got to site but I decided to set 3 nets in the hope it would soon clear.

The mist didn't clear, if anything it became more of a fog, but I still managed to catch a few birds including a few that were the first to be ringed or retrapped at the site this year. I have never managed to catch Redwings at the site in late winter or spring so catching 5 this morning was a first in more ways than one. I occasionally see a few Redwings on passage in spring but they are never very numerous, like they are in autumn, and they are very difficult to catch as a result. A Lesser Redpoll was the first to be ringed this year but not only that it was the first to be seen at the site this year, making it a double first. It effectively marks the start of spring passage for that species although most usually move through in April. A retrap Goldcrest was also the first of its kind to be caught at the site this year and had been ringed on 23rd September last year. It may have wintered somewhere locally but it could be a migrant that had wintered further south and was on its way back north. Migrant Goldcrests usually start to move through the site from mid-March with passage continuing into April.

The Redwings were in reasonable condition although couple were on the light side and had little in the way of any fat. This is only to be expected as many would have struggled to find food during the recent cold weather.

This Song Thrush was caught with 2 of the Redwings and could be a migrant or a bird that was displaced by the cold weather rather than being one from the local breeding population.

The Lesser Redpoll had a mixture of amber and red coloured feathers in its poll as can be clearly seen in the close-up below. The poll is usually one colour or the other so I don't see birds like this very often.

The fog meant there was no vis mig to speak of but a Siskin was heard and a group of at least 7 Meadow Pipits went north just above tree top height and hinted at what might have been had the conditions been clearer. Unfortunately the fog didn't clear and after a couple of hours some unforecast showers arrived and forced and early end to the session.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 13/03/2018 were: Redwing 5; Song Thrush 1; Goldcrest (1); Long-tailed Tit 2 (5); Blue Tit (1), Lesser Redpoll 1.

Friday, 9 March 2018

8th March 2018 and it's snow joke.

A real dump of snow greeted me first thing this morning and it continued to snow for a good few hours. Some snow had been forecast but I had expected it to be wet sleety stuff and soon turn to rain but this was the real deal and covered everything in a good 3 to 4 inches of the white stuff before it finally stopped.

The view from the front door.

The view towards Orrell Water Park.
The snow clearly had an impact on the birds and the garden feeders were busier than they had been during the recent severe cold spell. We didn't get much snow then and many species, especially seed eaters, still had access to natural food sources and didn't seem pushed for food despite the very cold temperatures. This morning was a different story with the thick covering of snow limiting their feeding options and causing more birds to come to the feeders. 

Birds were queuing up to use the feeders and I have quite a few dotted around the garden.

The birds gather in the trees across the road from the garden before dropping down to feed.

Another group on its way in.

You could imagine this Goldfinch thinking 'Where did this lot come from'.

and this one was really shaking its head.

Some Goldfinches were clearly in pairs.

and another pair.
This male Chaffinch is in one of those 'what are you looking at' poses.

Looking at its tail shape this female Chaffinch is almost certainly an adult.

Female Chaffinch. I only included this photo because of the lump of snow on her head. The snow really did come down thick and fast.

It was nice to see a few more Greenfinches at the feeders but they are nowhere near as numerous as they used to be in the 'good old days', when Greenfinches were ten a penny.

Male Siskin

I was able to read part of the ring number on this female Siskin and it is not one that I have ringed. It will be really frustrating if I don't manage to catch her and establish where she has come from.
Three Pied Wagtails fed on the lawn below the feeders including this fine male. This bird has been a regular in the garden for much of this winter.

It won't be long before my Starling RAS starts. This adult male (A57) was originally ringed as a juvenile in June 2012.

Female Starling

Male Blackbird

Female Blackbird

Judging by the size of of its bib this Coal Tit is a male.

Woodpigeons haven't visited the garden much recently as they have been spending a lot of time feeding in a nearby field of oil seed rape.

The fat cakes have certainly helped this Goldcrest survive this winter.
Winter may not have released its grip just yet but give it another week and I should be writing posts about returning Chiffchaffs and other spring migrants. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Siskin surge

In my last post I commented on how the number of Siskins visiting the feeders in the garden had gone down as the cold weather moved in and that there had been a similar dip in the reporting rate on BirdTrack. Numbers remained low for the duration of he cold spell when a maximum of 4 visited the feeders but as soon as the thaw set in they started to go back up and at least 8 were present on Sunday (4th). Numbers have continued to increase and at least 20 were in the garden at one point today and 16 new birds were caught and ringed in a very short ringing session that lasted less than an hour. It will be interesting to see if this increase is also mirrored by the reporting rate in BirdTrack when it is next updated.

While photographing the Siskins I couldn't resist taking some photos of a Goldcrest and Wren that frequently feed on the fat cakes. They are not brilliant photos but they were the best I could get in the heavily overcast conditions and through double glazing.

Hopefully Siskin numbers will continue to increase but you never know and today could have been the peak. I will just have to wait and see but whichever way Siskin numbers go I will report it on the blog.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Not much to report from the cold weather.

The recent cold weather didn't result in any significant increase in birds visiting my garden and perhaps that is because we didn't get much snow in this area. Siskin, Long-tailed Tit and Starling actually visited less frequently and in smaller numbers than they had before the onset of the cold weather, which was a bit of a surprise. The smaller numbers of Siskin and Long-tailed Tit was mirrored by a dip in the BirdTrack reporting rate so it wasn't just a local phenomena as far as those species were concerned. On the other hand, the reporting rate for Starling increased on BirdTrack so my garden bucked the trend in that case. Garden birds just didn't seem to be pushed for food in this neck of the woods and the only unusual visitor I had in the garden was a Black-headed Gull that dropped in and took some bread from the lawn. It was a one legged individual and would have found feeding more difficult at the best of times so the fact that it risked landing in a small enclosed garden, crossed by telephone lines, during a severe cold spell is not as surprising as it otherwise might have been.

I have seen some effects of the cold weather when out an about including a few Woodcock in unexpected places, a sizeable flock of Redwing foraging in a woodland and a few displaced Meadow Pipits, but that is about it for me. Several checks of the Black-headed Gulls on Orrell Water Park have only produced one ringed bird that I have not encountered before and that bird was ringed as an adult near Hempsted in Gloucestershire on 13th  January 2007. The Scottish and 2 German ringed Black-headed Gulls have been seen from time to time and all 4 ringed Black-headed Gulls were photographed yesterday along with a ringed Coot that was originally ringed in south Wales. 

EL71428 first photographed on 28/02/2018 and again yesterday.

It rarely kept still so I had to take quite a few photographs before I managed to get the full ring number - EL71428

Scottish ringed Black-headed Gull EZ33149 has been a regular this winter.

German ringed Black-headed Gull DEH IA141745 almost has a full brown hood now.

 German ringed Black-headed Gull DEW 5437612 has barely started to get its brown hood.

Coot GR03863 was originally ringed at Comeston Lakes, near Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan on 23/12/2010 and has been recorded at Orrell Water Park on numerous occasions since.