Tuesday 25 September 2018

Billinge: 25th September 2018

The prospect of catching more Redpolls tempted me out again this morning and the usual 3 nets produced 34 birds in just over 3 hours but no Redpolls were ringed.

Highlights and observations of note were as follows:

  • A Willow Warbler was ringed and is a fairly late record but still well short of the latest for the site which was on 23/10/2014.
  • Goldcrests just managed to scrape into double figures for the first time this month with 10 ringed but it still looks like the UK population has taken a tumble as double figure totals should be the norm for much of September. Interestingly, 9 of the 10 Goldcrests were females.
  • This was the first session of the autumn without a Blackcap being ringed and none were seen or even heard.
  • Tits are starting to show signs of getting itchy feet with Coal Tits becoming much more vocal and flighty. While I sure some do move others may just go through the motions and turn back or only go a relatively short distance.
  • Great Tits also showed a sex bias today with the 7 ringed all being females.
  • There was next to no visible migration despite the clear conditions and fairly light breeze with only a handful of Meadow Pipits, a few Skylarks, 4 Reed Buntings, 2 Siskins and 3 Redpolls being noted.
Ringing totals for 25/09/2018 were: Coal Tit 3; Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 7; Willow Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 4; Goldcrest 10; Chaffinch 2; Yellowhammer 2; Reed Bunting 1.

Willow Warbler 25/09/2018

Monday 24 September 2018

A marked improvement in numbers.

Another day and another session in the top willows at Billinge but unlike yesterday there was a brisk pace to proceedings and there was a bit more in the way of variety too, although nothing unusual. Tits accounted for the bulk of the increase in numbers and made up almost half the final total of 63 birds but there were a few more warblers and crests too.

The highlight was the capture of the first Lesser Redpolls of the autumn with 7 ringed. This wasn't totally unexpected as I had seen 2 fly south yesterday which were the first recorded at the site this autumn. The only other captures of note were a Willow Tit and a Treecreeper and sightings included a Golden Plover south and 2 small skeins of Pink-footed Geese.

Lesser Redpoll 24/09/2018. All 7 ringed today were first-year birds.

I don't catch many Treecreepers as they don't venture into the scrubby habitat of the ringing site very often. This is a first-year bird that had recently completed its post juvenile moult so was particularly clean and bright.
Ringing totals for 24/09/2018 were: Coal Tit 2; Willow Tit 1; Blue Tit 10, Great Tit 8; Long-tailed Tit 8; Chiffchaff 9; Blackcap 5; Goldcrest 9; Treecreeper 1; Robin 1; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1; Lesser Redpoll 7. Total 63

Sunday 23 September 2018

Two good birds save the day.

The silence that greeted me at dawn this morning did not bode well for a ringing session in the top willows at Billinge and pointed to another poor showing by Goldcrests in particular. In previous autumns, when Goldcrests have passed through in large numbers, they have usually been the first species to call at daybreak and early net rounds nearly always produced the bulk of the birds. This morning the first Goldcrest wasn't heard until well after after sunrise and there wasn't much happening at the nets either.

To say it was quiet and slow going is an understatement and I thought I would end up cutting my losses by packing up early. However, the first Chiffchaff caught was really quite striking and wasn't your typical September green and mustard-yellow 'collybita'.  It was distinctly paler having much greyer tones to the upperparts, was much whiter underneath and the flanks were washed with pale brown and I immediately thought this must be a Scandinavian 'abietinus' Chiffchaff. It was certainly very different to any 'collybita' I have ever seen and I have ringed well over a thousand at Billinge and many more elsewhere.

A very grey and white looking Chiffchaff compared to your typical autumn 'collybita'. It was aged as a first-year from the shape and wear of the tail feathers.
A typical autumn 'collybita' photographed the same day in similar lighting conditions and also aged as a first-year.
The different races of Chiffchaffs present all manner of problems when it comes to identification as shown by the DNA analysis of birds caught in Holland that were identified as 'abietinus' on appearance and proved to be 'tristis' from their DNA. This and other studies have thrown the status of abietinus in western Europe into question and it now appears to be much rarer than its more easterly Siberian (tristis) counterpart. 

There are a couple of other factors that make today's bird even more interesting: one is the date, it is quite early for seeing a dodgy looking Chiffchaff which are usually associated with late autumn or winter; the other is lack of easterly winds so far this autumn which are generally needed to drift birds of such origin to the UK. Had I caught this bird in late October or early November I may have thought it to be a bird with more easterly credentials and possibly from the intergrade zone between abietinus and tristis. It has certainly got some of that look about it.

A collage of both birds. Whatever it is, and potentially proves to be in due course from its DNA, is going to be interesting.
Had I not caught that Chiffchaff I may have packed up by 9:00 but I decided to stick it out and I am glad I did as the second bird that helped 'save the day' was a 1cy female Redstart. This species is a regular but scarce passage migrant at the site and this one was only my second of the autumn and my latest by some margin. Redstarts are usually a bird of late August and early September at this site and my previous latest was caught on 14th September 2017 with all the others recorded between 23rd August and 7th September.

1cy female Redstart

The are not called Redstarts for nothing.
The final total of 30 new birds wasn't too bad but was below the average for the time of year, largely due to the continued lack of Goldcrests. Only 5 Goldcrests were caught compared to 25 on the same date in 2016 and 14 on the same date last year. One minor point of interest about today's Goldcrests is that they were all first-year females, not that anything significant should be read into that as the sex ratios usually even out over time. So while the catching rate was slow from start to finish a couple of interesting birds really did 'save the day' and made staying the course worthwhile.

Ringing totals for 23/09/2018 were: Coal Tit 1; Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 2;  Chiffchaff 6; Blackcap 2; Goldcrest 5; Wren 3; Robin 2; Redstart 1; Chaffinch 1; Linnet 1; Reed Bunting 2.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

No significant improvement.

It was another below par session at Billinge on the 17th and not helped by an unexpectedly foggy start. The bushes were extremely quiet from the off and the fog, which only lifted quite slowly, ensured there was little in the way of any visible migration until I was leaving. Only 1 Chiffchaff was caught which continues the very poor numbers for that species this autumn. It appears that Chiffchaffs returned in much lower numbers than usual (nationally) back in the spring and that is the primary cause of their poor showing this autumn. If that is the case there is unlikely to be any significant improvement in their numbers over the remainder of the autumn.

There was a slight improvement in the number of Goldcrests with a total of 6 ringed but that is still well below the average for the date compared with the previous 4 years. As with Chiffchaffs the cause goes back to much earlier in the year and a low breeding population rather than a particularly poor breeding season. Again there is little prospect of any significant improvement in their numbers through the remainder of September although with Goldcrests there is always the possibility of a influx of migrants from the continent if we get easterly winds (and they have to be the right easterly winds) in early October.

It looks like the exceptionally low numbers of Goldcrests (compared to the previous 4 years) will continue to be a feature of blog posts for the remainder of this month and probably all of next month.  The severe cold of late February and early March appears to be the culprit and seems to have had a much bigger impact on the British breeding population than I had hoped. I thought the impact may not have been too severe as it came quite late in the winter, when day length is longer and gives birds more time for feeding, but it is looking like that was a far too optimistic outlook for this species.

As previously mentioned 'viz' was almost none existent because of the fog and murk but a couple of dozen Meadow Pipits and a Grey Wagtail did push through along with 6 or so House Martins. However, things did start to brighten up towards the end of the session which prompted a few Swallows to start moving along with 3 Siskins.

Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) for 17/09/2018 were: Coal Tit (1); Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 3; Chiffchaff 1; Blackcap 4; Goldcrest 6; Chaffinch 1; Bullfinch 1(1); Yellowhammer 1; Reed Bunting 1.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Mainly negative news

Another 2 disappointing visits to the site at Billinge but at least the garden is producing better than expected results.

Billinge 12th September 2018
A total of 31 birds from 3 nests may not sound too bad but it was well below what I have come to expect from this site in mid-September. The big news was the continued lack of Goldcrests, only 1 caught and that was the only one seen or heard, and the low numbers of Chiffchaffs, 2 being a pitiful total for the date. Visible migration was almost none existent and the few Meadow Pipits that were moving were not even passing over at the rate of a trickle, more of an an intermittent drip. The only highlights were a late(ish) Willow Warbler and a similar late(ish) Whitethroat.
Ringing totals (retraps in brackets) were: Blue Tit 8 (1); Great Tit 4; Willow Warbler 1; Chiffchaff 2; Blackcap 2; Whitethroat 1; Goldcrest 1, Song Thrush 1, Robin 1, Meadow Pipit 4, Linnet 2, Goldfinch 2, Reed Bunting 1.

Willow Warbler 12/09/2018

Whitethroat 12/09/2018

Billinge 13th September 2018
If I thought the 12th was poor the 13th was even worse. Nothing was caught in the first hour and only 9 birds were caught after 3 hours so I cut my losses and packed up early. Goldcrests were absent again which continues to suggest there has been a crash in their population; I have only ringed 3 so far this September compared to 56 by the same date in 2014, 34 in 2015, 58 in 2016, and 90 in 2018. The lower than usual numbers of Chiffchaff also continued. Sightings of note were limited to a high flying Song Thrush that was heading south, a Siskin south and another or the same north later, and a grounded Wheatear.
Ringing totals were: Blue Tit 1; Great Tit 3; Chiffchaff 3; Blackcap 1; Reed Bunting 1.

Garden 1st to 14th September 2018
Back home Starlings are visiting the feeders in bigger numbers and more often than they usually do at this time of year. A total of 53 were ringed from the 1st to the 13th and I manged to ring another 8 on the 14th which is unprecedented for my garden. While I catch large numbers in May and June numbers usually fall off sharply in July and I don't normally catch any in August or September. This year numbers dropped off as usual through most of July but then they started to pick up again towards the end of that month and they have continued to increase since then. Now a mob of up to 30 Starlings visit the feeders periodically throughout the day and more than one mob may be involved.

A retrap Starling caught on the 13th was suffering from avian pox. It had at least 11 lesions of various sizes dotted about its body although most (6) were on its head. It was originally ringed on 20th May when it showed no sign of the disease. A set of images and details will be sent to the Garden Wildlife Health project via their website.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Billinge: 5th & 10th September 2018

September is a month when autumn migration is normally in full swing and even if one species doesn't deliver another usually does. However, this September is starting to look very different to those of the past 4 years at Billinge and although there is still time for things to change things don't look very promising at the moment.

5th September 2018
A morning that got off to a good start with a Song Thrush caught in the first net just as the last guy rope was being tied off. September sees British Song Thrushes starting to move and the first continental migrants arriving with this bird likely to be one of the former. After that it was generally a lacklustre session with the numbers bulked up by a few too many tits. If I had to pick a highlight it would be the capture of the first 4 Meadow Pipits of the autumn although 4 is a relatively poor total for this date in September. The biggest news, if you can call it that, was the near absence of Goldcrests with only 2 caught. Goldcrests usually start to move through the site in good numbers from the start of September so a total of 2 is well below the norm of the past 4 years.

Meadow Pipit 05/09/2018
Totals for 05/09/2018 were: Blue Tit 11; Great Tit 6;  Willow Warbler 2; Chiffchaff 6; Blackcap 4; Goldcrest 2; Song Thrush 1; Meadow Pipit 4; Chaffinch 1; Linnet 3.

10th September 2018
If the session on the 5th fell short of what I have come to expect from the site in September this one was even more disappointing. The near absence of Goldcrests of the 5th became a total absence with none being caught, seen or even heard. To give that some context last September saw 21 ringed on the 1st, 17 ringed on the 10th September and a total of 77 over the first 10 days. In 2016 it was a similar picture with 50 ringed over the first ten days of the month and no blank sessions. It is starting to look like Goldcrests were hit really hard by spell of severe cold weather back in March.
It is getting a bit late for Willow Warblers so the capture of 2 was noteworthy but the near absence of Chiffchaffs was far more unusual with none caught and only 2 heard all morning. Chiffchaffs numbers normally peak in September and a capture total in low double figures should have been on the cards. The quiet theme was also reflected in the visible migration with only a few Meadow Pipits moving. It was the quietest I have known the site to be in September by some margin and it is to be hoped the rest of the month doesn't carry on that way.

Totals for 10/09/2018 (retrap in brackets) were: Sparrowhawk 1; Blue Tit 4 (1); Willow Warbler 2; Blackcap 2; Dunnock 1; Meadow Pipit 7; Chaffinch 2.

One of the Blackcaps caught on the 10th was still largely in juvenile plumage which is suggestive of some very late breeding.

The last bird caught on the 10th was this juvenile female Sparrowhawk.

Monday 3 September 2018

Back to blogging

It has taken a while, and much longer than I would have liked, but I have finally got round to posting on the blog again. I am not one for mentioning much about my personal life but the ups and downs of life, with all their twists and turns, have taken up a lot of my time over the last few months and pushed the blog to the bottom of the things to do list. Principal amongst the lows was the failing health of my 97 year old mother and the difficulty of trying to meet her wish of staying in her own home. Eventually, caring for her there became impractical and we had to move her in with us until old age and age related heart failure finally got the better of her. That is more detail than I would normally give on such matters and was only one of the factors involved but I thought such a long absence from the blog merited some explanation.

So enough about that stuff, this blog is about birds and other wildlife and I have managed to fit in some ringing despite all the other things that have been going on. Back in late May I completed my Starling RAS project for this year and it was another successful season with a total of 168 different adults encountered (31 new birds and 137 colour-ringed birds re-sighted). Starlings appear to have had a good breeding season and I have ringed more juvenile Starlings in the garden than in any previous year with the total currently standing at 489 (it increased by 3 whilst writing this post). I don't usually catch many juvenile Starlings after the middle of June and, initially, that was the case again this year but numbers visiting the feeders started to pick up again in late July and small numbers have been making regular raids on the fat feeders since then. This has resulted in 85 being ringed since late July compared to only 25 over the same period last year.

Visits to other sites have been less frequent than in other years but I started to rectify that once we got into August. A visit to the site at Billinge on 30th August was the most productive of the recent sessions and is worthy of specific mention. I had been joined by Mark, who was over from America to visit family, and we set 3 nets in the top willows. Conditions were ideal for mist netting, being calm and largely overcast, and while ideal netting conditions don't always coincide with good numbers of migrants this was one day when they did. Blackcaps were the most numerous species and the total of 20 ringed was a new day record for the site. Twenty isn't a big catch by the standards of some sites but it is for the Billinge site which isn't blessed with much in the way of berries. The most unusual captures were a male Redstart, which Mark was especially pleased to see in the hand, and 2 Spotted Flycatchers which were caught just after he had to leave, well you can't win them all. A catch of 9 Willow Warblers was also a decent number for late August. A total of 60 birds were ringed which broke down as follows: Blue Tit 10; Great Tit 5; Chiffchaff 9; Willow Warbler 9; Blackcap 20; Robin 2; Spotted Flycatcher 2; Redstart 1; Goldfinch 1; Yellowhammer 1.

1cy male Redstart

1cy Spotted Flycatcher
I can't promise when the next post will be but hopefully there won't be anything like a gap of 3 months before the next one comes along. In fact it should be fairly soon as I hope to get out on Wednesday and failing that there are some interesting recoveries that I want to share.