Friday, 29 April 2011

What wedding?

In the spirit of National Identity, I chose to go ringing this morning instead of wasting hours of my life watching two irrelevant individuals getting married. The only Royal Family that I am a fan of, it that of Duke Ellington and Count Bassie.

Having only got to bed at 3am, due to the phenomenal bottle neck caused by Ryanair's flight scheduling and an inadequate provision of immigration officials, it took us ages to get through an get our bags. So getting up at 5:30am this morning didn't leave me with very much sleep under my belt (hence being half an hour late). I met Steve at Fulwood and we put the usual nets up, as well as trying a few new locations, targetting singing male warblers.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

We managed to catch our first two Reed Warblers of the year as well as two Sedge Warblers, the firsts for the site. Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were also firsts as ringing only commenced here in October. All of the reed bed species had additional biometrics taken, to be sent to Miguel as additional data for his PhD. By 10am there was too much public activity so we decided to call it a day with the last bird being a Greenfinch.

Whitethroat - 1
Blackcap - 5
Dunnock - 1
Sedge Warbler - 2
Reed Warbler - 2
Greenfinch - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Blackbird - 3 (1)
Willow Warbler - 1
Chiffchaff - 2
Wren - 1
Woodpigeon - 1

TOTAL: 21 (1)

Following the ringing session, me and Steve headed to Brook Vale to repair a hole in the fence that had been caused by a fallen tree in October. It was a particularly difficult job, but we fixed it in the end.

The reed growth from the first burn is coming along nicely, now at about 70cm, whilst the second burn is only just starting to come through. Of great interest was the fact that reeds around the feeding station held three singing Reed Warblers and there was also Whitethroat and Blackcap in full voice.

The growth from the first burn in the foreground, the second burn in the background

I'm heading to Ince tomorrow with Moxey with the possibility of Garden Warbler before an afternoon appointment with a man, a needle and some ink.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Return to Madriz

This morning we returned to Paul do Madriz with Paulo, Miguel, Joanna, Paulo Ferreira and a colleague of Paulo - Joao. We operated three lines, two in the reeds and one in the scrub. One of the objectives of the session was to catch any ongoing migrant reed bed species for Miguel, as well as any breeding birds. We made double figures of Reed Warblers which allowed us to take more blood samples.

Extracting a Blackcap

Taking Blood Samples:

First, the area around the joint is swabbed with a very small amount of ethanol, this has a dual purpose of sterilising the area and separating the feathers for easier access.

Then a hypodermic needle is used to penetrate the vein over the joint:

The blood coagulates very quickly, so the blood to be sampled is removed by using a capiliary tube:

One the sample is collected, a cotton wool swap, light pressure and the rapid coagulation of the blood causes the hole to scab. The bird is then released.

Due to the coagulation of the blood, the sample needs to be tested quickly, so tests for haemoglobin levels, triglycerides and blood glucose are taken:

We were joined today by Joao, a colleague of Paulo at ICNB and he is currently working on a short film on the work of ICNB employees in the Mondego Valley. So, with HD video camerman in tow, most of our ringing session was filmed, although my poor Portuguese and mirror-shattering looks mean I am unlikely to make the final version. Miguel on the other hand.....

Both myself and Tineke have had an excellent stay here in Portugal, with great friends and great places. We love coming here and I am lucky to have the opportunities that I do, being involved with a number of different long and short-term projects.

And now back to Liverpool and a ringing session at Fulwood in the morning.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Paul do Taipal

Another bright and early start this morning - my alarm went off a 4:10 am! We headed to Taipal where Miguel, Luis and Joanna were already putting up Line 4&5 and so we put Lines 1&2 up (we'd been delayed unexpectedly!). The lines were up and open by 6am and so we headed for some breakfast!

The first net round saw the arrival of Sergio Marques, I haven't seen Sergio since the Ciencia Viva session at Fermentelos the summer before last. On the first net round, a few Reed Warblers and a couple of Sedge Warblers were extracted, as well as this Little Bittern.

2.c.y Male Little Bittern (Ixobrixus minutus)

Showing the contrast across the wing

Blood Samples were taken from all Sedge, Reed and Savi's Warblers as part of Miguels PhD project looking at migration in reed bed warblers. It was a good opportunity for me to brush up on my technique as it has been a few years since I took blood samples, and then it was only on Blackbirds and Waders, so I was able to work with something smaller. Miguel was taking three measurements from the blood samples on site - haemoglobin, triglycerides and glucose. He will take these measurements during three periods - initial migration North, the breeding season and the migration Southwards.

Miguel taking a small blood sample from a Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Again, as with the rest of the week, there were not many birds caught, but plans were made for a potential 1km net line to be used in July. Once again, as usual when I am in Portugal, I had a great time with a great bunch of people, even if they do know how to 'spoil' a photo of a Little Bittern!!!

The Taipal Five - coming to a reed bed near you!

In the morning we will ring in the reed bed at Paulo do Madriz with the aim of collecting more blood samples for Miguel. In the afternoon, now with sufficient fat scores, from the fantastic Portuguese food, I will begin my northwards migration and a planned ringing session on Friday morning.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Salreu CES & Geocaching

This morning we headed back to Salreu to complete the CES session for this period. Besides myself and Tineke, we met up with Camilo, Edna and Julio Neto. Expectations for big catches are not high at this time of year, most birds have established breeding territories and most have either started or about to start raising young. There are several species that we have caught so far this trip, that have had a brood already - Serin and Long-tailed Tit.

Female Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus lusitanica)

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava iberiae)

Savi's Warbler (Locustella luscinioides)

There was not a huge variety in the birds that we did catch today, so some bird watching was in order. A Melodious Warbler has been in full mimicking song for most of the morning, introducing elements of Swallow and Blackcap into its song, I can only assume the rest was based on birds from the wintering grounds. We quickly tracked down the polyglotta and also had multiple Black Kite, Purple Heron (there are three colonies on the Ria that Camilo is monitoring) as well as the usual Marsh Harrier and White Stork.

On the penultimate net round, this little beauty was extracted from the mist net, I am not sure what the species is, but I will try and find out fom Julio.

Paulo recently introduced me to the activity of Geocaching and since I have found my first two cache's. Today, me and Tineke took a walk from Paulo's house in Brasfemes into the hills to find a cache that he had put in place himself at a local waterfall. All you need is a to register online and a GPS receiver and off you go...

The Cache

I'm not sure what the plan is for tomorrow, but we return on Thursday night, just as the weather starts to get really good here and predictably worse at home. Booo.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Santa Olaia and a trip into the mountains

This morning me and Paulo picked Miguel 'The Chatterbox' Araújo up at 5am and headed to Santa Olaia for another ringing session. The two previous sessions that I have completed here yielded Firecrest and a Belgian Song Thrush amongst others, so there was a lot to live up to! We just put the lower line up this morning, because the wind was too strong to put the nets on the hill up.

We caught a good selection of birds, including Serin and Kingfisher as well as retrapping a number of Blackbirds and catching a three new birds. After a bit of piss-taking when Miguel let a bird escape from his little girl hands, my 'punishment' was to process all of the Blackbirds - no problem!

2.c.y. Male Serin (Serinus serinus)

Female Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

We finished having ringed a family party of Long-tailed Tits, with four juveniles caught - we processed these quickly to reunite them with their parents. We also caught Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler and Cetti's Warbler.

This afternoon, I borrowed Paulo's car and took his daughters, Ana and Daniella, along with my trusty steed, Tineke, into the mountains to the east of Coimbra so that the girls could do some horse riding.

While Ana and Daniella were complete novices, they had a short lesson on the basics and then a good walk up the mountain. They really seemed to enjoy themselves, so we headed for ice cream by the river, while Tineke, slightly more experienced, went out for a 'hack'. All the talk of 'tack' and 'hack' got me thirsty, so I took my binoculars in search of Dipper. No joy with the Dipper, but there were plenty of Cetti's Warblers and Blackcaps as I used my rather poor Portuguese to discuss the virtues of Geocaching - but more of that in a later post.

Tineke and Domino

Tomorrow morning we are heading back to Salreu to complete the CES session with Julio, more to come...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Paul do Madriz

Yesterday afternoon, we headed from Aveiro to Coimbra to spend some time with Paulo Tenreiro in the Mondego Valley. This morning we headed to Paul do Madriz but on arrival at the site, the rain was too heavy to open the nets straight away, half an hour later however, the rain had subsided and we put up the two lines. Todays ringing session was part of the Constant Effort Scheme and so the nets were checked every hour, on the hour until about 11:15 when the nets were taken down.

Constant Effort Line

For part of the morning, we had a police escort to the nets as two members of the GNR responsible for policing wildlife crime joined us to see what ringing was all about. There were not a huge number of birds caught, as expected, with most birds being in breeding territories, or already tending to their young.

We caught a good selection of birds, with Garden Warbler and Serin being particular highlights. Tineke ringed her first two Serin, an adult female and a bird of the year. We also caught a couple of Reed Warbler, as well as plenty of Cetti's and Blackcap retraps from previous sessions.

Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin)

Serin (Serinus serinus)

Back home, Moxey had a ringing session this morning on Formby Moss with Steve and managed to catch Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Blackcap and Goldfinch amongst the others. This is a new site, although I believe that the group has ringed there before.

In other news, check out this article by Steven Menzie on Martin Garners website Birding Frontiers, you may recognise a photo of mine.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Aveiro & Salreu

Yesterday we headed to Aveiro, a small city south of Porto, to meet up with Julio Neto, get to know the city and see some more of the Ria de Aveiro. The Ria is a massive lagoon that is open to the sea and fed by freshwater from a number of tributaries and with a number of industries found in the area, it is suprisingly quiet. The Ria provides extensive areas for a number of traditional farming methods, those of salt, proving habitats for feeding/roosting waders and rice fields.

I have visited Salreu a number of times in the past, but not in the last two years. I was previously here to visit the Purple Heron colony when Rui Brito was completing his Masters and also, with Rui, for a field trip of the first international congress of pirilampos (fireflies). It was excellent to get back there and to be shown around once again, this time by Julio Neto who has worked, or is working, with a variety of reed bed birds including Savi's, Aquatic and Great Reed Warbler as well as Reed Bunting.

Arriving in the afternoon, we spent some time visiting the city, dubbed the 'Venice of Portugal' due to the canals through the city. We also headed out to Costa Nova at the entrance to the Ria to drink a beer and do some seawatching (in that order). We had Kentish, Ringed Plover and Sanderling on the tideline and saw a single Balearic Shearwater as well as a Gannet. The skies were pretty moody, as you can see.

We then headed further inland to take a look at some roosting waders on the salt pans. We had decent flocks of Dunlin with mixed Kentish and Ringed Plover and single Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. A flock of twenty or so Little Terns added some vocalisation to the experience close to a flock of Black-tailed Godwits.

This morning we headed to Salreu to ring in the reeds. The catch rate was slow and we were dogged by a constant light rain, but this eventually cleared up and we started to catch a few more birds. Marsh Harriers were constantly patrolling the reeds and Purple Herons went over in ones and two's. We caught a good range of species, including two Yellow Wagtails, Sedge Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Reed Warbler, Savi's Warbler and Reed Bunting.

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus)

Julio is currently studying the Reed Bunting and specifically the race that breeds in Portugal, Emberiza schoeniclus lusitanica. This species is believed to be quite threatened and at the moment Julio is collecting biometric data, specifically regarding bill depth, width and length as well as the length of individual primaries. This data will be compared with data from British populations (I'll collect data on any Reed Buntings that I catch, to assist the study) as well as populations from Spain - the Witherby race.

This is the lusitanica race - note the heavier and more curved bill

Following the ringing session, we headed around Salreu and did some birdwatching. We had plenty of Yellow Wagtail, singing Nightingale and six Whimbrel whilst a Black Kite sheltered from the rain in some trees.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Rather Moist

Things haven´t gone according to plan since we arrived here on Sunday evening. Things have been rather wet and windy at times and so we have not been able to progress with our plans as we had hoped. We managed to squeeze in a ringing session this morning at Veiga da S.Simão near Viana do Castelo with Tó. Arriving on site at 5:30am, we put up the Igreja, Atricapilla and Collybita lines (named after previous successes).

Ringing was reasonably slow and certain species were suprisingly absent. We had expected to catch Reed Warbler, Stonechat, Iberian Chiffchaff and Chaffinch amongst others, but none were caught, although Chaffinches were calling a lot.

Blackbird - 2
Blackcap - (2)
Sardinian Warbler - (2)
Dunnock - 2 (2)
Robin - (1)
Great Tit - 1
Short-toed Treecreeper - 1
Cetti´s Warbler - 1
Jay - 1

Hopefully tomorrow we will head further south to Aveiro, but the weather looks grim until the weekend.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Blackcaps and a Wheatear

This morning I met Moxey at The Woodhams, bright and early, to see if there were any more migrants moving through, or if, indeed, the Blackcaps that we were catching were passing through. Right from the moment I stepped out the car, there were at least three Blackcaps singing, so the prospects looked good.

We used six nets today, with the locations pretty much as they were last week and within the first half an hour, we had already caught three female Blackcap in the same net - suggesting that birds were still passing through. The first net round also yielded three Wren and one was to follow later in the morning, has there been some movement of Wrens?

With upto ten Wheatears in the ploughed field that I tried during the week, we set eight spring traps out in the hope of picking up a few Oenanthe. Things were looking promising until two tractors turned up and we had to leg it over quick-snap to pick up the traps - the field wasn't due to get ploughed again until next week. Two of the traps had been set off with one still holding a Wheatear. The bird was of the leucorhoa (Greenland) race, based on its winglength.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa)


Good numbers of Willow Warblers were heard in Little Crosby yesterday, posted on the Anotherplace blog, as well as a Cuckoo, however neither were heard today. We did however, catch another three Chiffchaff and finished on ten new Blackcaps with two retraps from last week.

Blackcap - 10 (2)
Chiffchaff - 3
Wren - 4
Blue Tit - 1 (1)
Great Tit - (3)
L.T.Tit - (3)
Wheatear - 1
Blackbird - 2 (1)
Dunnock - 2 (2)
Robin - 1 (3)
Chaffinch - 3

TOTAL: 27 (15)

Also seen this morning was a stonking Yellow Wagtail, next to St Mary's Rugby Club with Reed Bunting, Skylarks and Corn Buntings also vocal.

Tomorrow I will head to Crosby Hall to see if there are any further Blackcaps moving through as today's results suggest that most of the birds we caught last week have moved on. In the afternoon, I will take a flight to Porto, for ten days in Portugal.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Brook Vale Burns (Again)

Today Moxey headed to Ince Blundell with Steve and Natasha, weather conditions were favourable and during the morning, they experimented with different net locations. A new 'secret location', yielded six Blackcaps in one net round, adding to our increasing total of Blackcaps. By this time last year, we had only ringed six Blackcaps, mainly at the Woodhams and Crosby Hall, so far this year, we have ringed thirty eight!

Moxey's excitement for ringing Jays was indulged, with two new birds being caught amongst the few tits that were on territory.

Jay - 2
Blackcap - 7
Robin - 1
Wren - 1
Goldcrest - 1 (1)
Blackbird - 3
Blue Tit - 3 (2)
Great Tit - 1 (2)

TOTAL: 19 (5)

I raced home from work this afternoon, having just finished for my Easter break, picked up the ringing gear, Tineke and Canela and headed down to Brook Vale to see what else had arrived. I was optimistic of Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers that seem to be appearing all over the place now and it wasn't long before optimism was replaced with a series of expletives.

I hadn't been into Brook Vale since last Friday and I had been worried over the weekend that the combination of the good weather and the school holidays in Sefton, might lead to a return of the arsonists that torched the reed bed a month ago. My fears were manifest when we put the line up. The remainder of the reed bed that hadn't burned was now devastated at the very time that the warblers returning to breed are due to arrive.

New growth from the previous burn in the foreground, with the more recent burn in the distance

The view from outside the fence - the probable source of the fire.

The ringing was slow, and rather uneventful. There were at least six singing Blackcap, however only one juvenile female was caught.

Great Tit - (2)
Reed Bunting - (1)
Wren - (1)
Chaffinch - 1
Goldfinch - 1
Blackcap - 1
Blackbird - 1
Robin - 1

TOTAL: 5 (4)

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The week so far...

On Monday, Moxey headed into Ince Blundell to see what migrants had arrived or were passing through, following the weekends success with Blackcaps in particular. Moving around the woods with a number of nets, some success was had:

Goldcrest - (1)
Blackcap - 3
Blackbird - 1
Chiffchaff - 1
Blue Tit - (1)
Great Tit - (1)

TOTAL: 5 (3)

I also had some success in the park next to my house on Monday using spring traps, with two Robins ringed. Whilst walking Canela, I have been keeping my eye on a number of nests but unfortunately it looks like the Mistles will be ready next week - when I am in Portugal.

On Tuesday I headed to Hightown fields, near The Woodhams, as Moxey had seen eight Wheatear in a recently ploughed field. We had permission and set eight spring traps. As we retreated, we were able to count at least thirteen Wheatears, including two of the leucorhoa (Greenland) race. Stonkers!

Unfortunately we were unsuccessful on Tuesday, as we were on Wednesday when we headed down to Hall Road but couldn´t find any Wheatears.

This evening, myself and Tineke headed to Fulwood for the first ringing session of 2011 at the site. The last birds ringed at Fulwood in 2010 were Reed Bunting and that is how we started with 2011. Luckily, Fulwood has seemed to escape the arsonists that have hit Brook Vale recently, destroying 2/3´s of the reed bed and it is likely that this is where we will pick up the majority of the Acrocephalus warblers this summer.

For such a short session, it was encouraging to catch our first Blackcaps and Chiffchaff for the site, although these were always birds we were going to catch at some point. We finished with:

Reed Bunting - 2
Chiffchaff - 2
Blackcap - 2
Chaffinch - 1


Moxey had the net up in the garden during the afternoon, catching a number of Greenfinch and Blackbirds, both female Blackbirds had brood patches.

Greenfinch - 4
House Sparrow - 1
Blackbird - (3)

TOTAL: 5 (3)

Tomorrow I plan to ring at Brook Vale after school, whilst Moxey will be heading into Ince Blundell once more with Natasha the Ninja!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

More Blackcaps

Another bright and sunny morning here in North Liverpool; no sign of the usual April showers! Moxey joined us once all the nets were up (seeing a pattern?) and we already had three Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff in the bag. There were Blackcaps singing all through the plantation and into the Church Wood, so we experimented with moving nets around a bit and it certainly paid off!

Early on we caught the first Willow Warbler for the site as others were singing amongst the Chiffchaffs. The feeders produced very little, most birds are now on territory and some are already incubating. Dunnock and Long-tailed Tit were caught with brood patches, one 'lotti' was even carrying a developing egg.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

As we changed locations of nets, we picked up more Blackcaps as well as a pair of Goldcrest that had been heard singing all morning. Buzzards were heard overhead as well Sparrowhawk on more than one occasion. Encouragingly, we also ringed two Wren, a species that we haven't seen much of in recent weeks.

Blackcap - 13
Chiffchaff - 2
Willow Warbler - 1
Wren - 2
Robin - 1
Treecreeper - (1)
Goldcrest - 2
Greenfinch - 2 (1)
Great Tit - 1 (2)
L.T.Tit - (5)
Blue Tit - 1 (4)
Dunnock - 1 (2)
Chaffinch - 1 (3)

TOTAL: 27 (20)

There are a number of plans in the pipeline this week for the evenings. I am hoping to attempt to make a roost catch or two of White Wagtail, spring trapping for Wheatear as well as a session in Brook Vale. Moxey also plans to head into Ince Blundell tomorrow to check out the Blackcaps and Chiffchaff as well as doing some net finding.

I bloody love spring!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Spring is well and truly sprung!

On Friday, Moxey had some success in the garden in between the chores of being a house husband (funny isn't it?). He managed to catch the first Starlings of the year as well as retrapping a Goldfinch ringed at Crosby Hall in January.

House Sparrow - 1
Goldfinch - 1 (1)
Starling - 2

TOTAL: 4 (1)

While Moxey was taking it easy at home, me and Tineke headed to Brook Vale to see if we could pick up any migrants, returning or newcomers. With four nets, we managed a small catch in the warm evening sun, a great way to end a pretty hectic week at work.

Reed Bunting - 2 (2)
Chiffchaff - 1
Wren - 2 (1)
Blue Tit - (1)
L.T.Tit - (1)

TOTAL: 3 (5)

New growth

Male Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

This morning, me and Tineke met up with Charlie at The Woodhams, full of optimism. As we were putting up the nets, there were Blackcaps singing everywhere with Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler also singing. Even before the first nets were up, we had caught two Chiffchaff including a retrap from last week.

With Moxeys arrival around 8am, we put a couple more nets up that brought in good numbers of Blackcap. Last year we only ringed four Blackcap at The Woodhams in April, we almost managed to triple that today. Most of the Blackcaps were still carrying fat, suggesting they had just arrived, or still had further to go on the northward migration.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

For the first time this year, I broke out the spring traps. I had intended to put some out in the fields to try and catch Wheatear, but there weren't any about so instead, I used a couple of them to good effect in the woods catching Robins. These spring traps were bought from Steve Huddleston, you can see more of his traps for sale HERE.

Spring trap with a Robin

As the morning progressed, the wind started to get up and the Blackcaps, still singing, started to slow down. The Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers were still giving it beans though and the penultimate net round brought these two:

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) and Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

As we were taking the nets down, we caught our second Blue Tit of the day, not such a big deal really, but on inspection, it was carrying ring L300592, not one of ours! If this is yours, get in touch.

Goldfinch - 2
Blue Tit - (2)
Great Tit - (3)
L.T.Tit - 1 (1)
Coal Tit - (1)
Blackbird - 2 (1)
Blackcap - 11
Willow Warbler - 1
Chiffchaff - 5 (1)
Chaffinch - 1 (1)
G.S.Woodpecker - 2
Wren - 1
Robin - 3

TOTAL: 29 (10)

Next Sunday, I will be heading off to Portugal once more for some further ringing sessions in the North of the country. This week, my friend Paulo Tenreiro has been busy ringing at his reed bed sites in the Mondego Valley. He has caught three Reed Warbler bearing BTO rings:
  • P524484
  • B971897
  • K840985
If you have ringed these birds, let me know so that I can pass the details on to Paulo.

Over and out.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Fan Mail

Following my recent ringing demonstration at Crosby Hall for the pupils of St Mary's Primary School, I was thrilled to receive a package in the mail full of thank-you letters from the students. Some of them were so good, I thought I would share a selection with you. Click on the images to enlarge.

In other news, tonight I am giving a talk to the Liverpool Ornithologists Club about ringing birds in Portugal. If anyone is interested in booking my services, I offer talks on Canada and Portugal for a small fee, click here for more information - we also sell bird bags that have been flying off the 'shelves' lately!