Monday, 30 May 2011

200th Swift Ringed

Yesterday morning we braved another session at the sewage farm after we decided to give it a go in the blustery wind. I arrived before Moxey as I live closer, then gave the call and he joined me twenty minutes later by which point I had already caught ten birds. The wind made it really difficult to get any response from the net when we 'flicked' so birds that would have been easily caught in calm conditions were missed or bounced out of a billowing pocket. Despite this, we still managed to catch a total of 54 Swift before the weather brightened up and the Swifts moved higher.

We have now ringed over 200 Swifts for the year, but as I have posted previously, the numbers we have ringed this year are much lower than normal, despite having more man-hours at the works. Weather conditions have been the major factor with the wind making catching difficult, but with a high retrap rate, there seems to be bigger issues with the population.

House Martin - 7
Swift - 43 (11)

TOTAL: 50 (11)

By mid-afternoon, I was on my way south, heading to Dorset for a few days to stay with Tineke's Dad. This morning we headed for a walk at Wareham Forest, proper Nightjar territory, seeing Woodlark and an unexpected Spotted Flycatcher, there were plenty of Goldcrest and Chiffchaff singing from the pines, but no Dartford Warbler. I will head off the Arne in the morning to try and get Dartford Warbler and some other goodies, afterall, we're practically in France!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Bumper day at Brook Vale: Juveniles take flight.

Another 3:30 start this morning, at Brook Vale this time, with Tineke, Charlie and Paul Baker, a newcomer to our ringing sessions. We split into two teams, me and Paul put up six nets in an overgrown area outside the reserve and the others put up the usual nets within the reserve.

There was a breeze right from the off and showers were forecast, so we were prepared to rush out and close the nets, should the skies relinquish their load. Before we had finished putting up all the nets, we had started catching what turned out to be, all the Robins we would catch. A total of eight juvenile Robins in one net round set the tone for the day - young birds.

The new nets in the dell were productive early on, picking up Song Thrushes and the first of the Whitethroats and Blackcap. Interestingly we started to retrap some Blackcap that had been ringed last year, some in the summer, some in the autumn. The dell is dominated by Elder, Hawthorne and Willow, with big banks of bramble and nettles (making for uncomfortable net rounds!) giving protection and excellent feeding grounds. This area seems to support a significant number of breeding Whitethroat, Blackcap and Linnet.

Male Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)

By the second net round, we really started to get stuck into the juveniles, with a family party of Long-tailed Tits making their way around the reserve.

Adult (left) and juvenile (right) Long-tailed Tit

By the third net round, we had caught our fourth Reed Warbler of the morning, all of which were retraps. This brings a total of five Reed Warblers caught at Brook Vale so far this year. Given the state of the reedbed only six weeks ago, this is incredible and I can only admit to underestimating the tenacity of these birds. Of the five caught so far, four were retraps from the previous year and it is likely that these birds, being more experienced than birds hatched last year, arrived earlier to the breeding ground. When less experienced newcomers arrived, the more experienced birds had already established territory thus reducing the intake into the Brook Vale population. It is to be expected that if the whole reed bed was available and in 'good health', then there would be more unringed birds present.

As we completed the last two net rounds, between squally showers, we caught the first juvenile Blackcaps, a family party and also the first Whitethroats. This is pretty early for Whitethroat by my estimations.

Juvenile Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Juvenile Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

We packed up by 10:30, ready to head directly to the sewage farm. By the end of Paul's first session with us, I think he was pretty knackered but it turned out to be a good session as he spends some time in Liverpool.

Brook Vale:

Wren - 1
Willow Warbler - 1
L.T.Tit - 6 (4)
Chiffchaff - (1)
Robin - 8 (1)
Dunnock - 3 (4)
Goldfinch - 2
Linnet - 4
Whitethroat - 11
Blackcap - 10 (5)
Blue Tit - 2 (2)
Reed Warbler - (4)
Greenfinch - 4 (1)
Song Thrush - 4
Blackbird - 8 (2)

TOTAL: 64 (25)

A third day on the run at the sewage farm (Moxey on Thursday, Me on Friday and Saturday) and if it wasn't for the wind, we would have been catching 100+ birds a day. This period of sustained wind has made flicking very difficult, not to mention taxing on the back and upper arms!

We have now exceed the 100 House Martins ringed and we stand at 160 Swift ringed. This is well short of where we were at this stage last year, but talking to the engineers at the plant and through our own observations, numbers are definately down this year. Me and Moxey are going to take a look at the data in some detail over the next few weeks and try and produce a year-on-year comparison.

Swift (Apus apus)

And so, 14 hours after I originally left the house, I got home from a mammoth day of ringing. Hopefully the weather will die down by the time I get back from Dorset on Thursday.

Sewage Farm:

Swift - 30 (9)
House Martin - 15 (1)
Swallow - 1

TOTAL: 46 (1)

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


This evening we met up with Moxey, Steve and Natasha to check some nest boxes for Kestrels and Jackdaws. In the past two years, Jackdaws have started to occupy some of our farmland nestboxes, displacing both Barn Owl and Kestrels. Last year however, there was a small 'fightback' from Team Barn Owl, with some boxes being reclaimed.

Following the snowfall of December 2010, the BTO reported a large number of Barn Owl being found dead. The snow cover will have made hunting particularly difficult and so many birds will have starved with prey being so inaccessible. At one farm, we found a Barn Owl dead, it was ringed, but I haven't had a chance to get the details.

Barn Owl fatality

The first farm that we visited had Kestrel in occupancy, the adult was lifted off the nest to reveal only two chicks, both too small to ring, so a repeat visit will be necessary.

Female Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

We moved on to find some more boxes that were occupied by Jackdaws:

Natasha and Steve with their first Jackdaw

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

Of the four Kestrel nests we visited, only one had chicks and three only had eggs. Kestrels are usually some of the first chicks that we ring in our boxes, aside from Tawny Owls. It's unusual that so many of the nests are at such an early stage as we have usually ringed most of our Kestrels by the last week of May.

We also ringed our first Stock Doves of the year with another nest that will be ready in a week or two.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

We also managed to check two Barn Owl boxes, both of which had young, but are at least two weeks away from being old enough to ring.

Jackdaw - 6
Stock Dove - 2
Kestrel - 1


Monday, 23 May 2011

Blown into a blast from the past...

Whilst the wind continues to howl at the front door, there isn't much birding to be done and so once again, I will riffle through the archives to look back on my two years in Canada and some of the spring plumages of the New World Warblers. I hope you forgive me.

Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca)

Northern Parula (Parula americana)

Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea)

Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla)

Bay-breated Warbler (Dendroica castanea)

Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata)

Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens)

Cape May Warbler (Dendroica tigrina)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla)

It looks like it will be windy for most of the week, with warm temperatures, so Swifting looks to be off for the moment.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A whole gropper love!

This morning me and Tineke met up with Steve at 3:30am at Fulwood for another session by the canal, but also putting up a couple of nets in other areas. As we arrived, the reed bed was alive with the warblings of the Reed Warbler and the sound of Reed Buntings. There has been an increase in the number of Reed Warblers in the last two days, so it is possible that there has been a recent influx of late arrivals.

Once all of the standard nets were up, we were able to turn our attention to targetting individual birds using my new double panels that recently arrived from Ecotone in Poland (excellent by the way!). I heard Grasshopper Warbler reeling, for the first time this year, further suggesting there have been a few newcomers in the last couple of days. It didn't take long for the Gropper to find its way into the net, followed by a cracking male Whitethroat.

Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia)

Steve rings a Grasshopper Warbler

Around 8am, the wind started to get up and at that time, me and Steve started moving some a net around in the reed bed, bringing in some Reed Warblers. With the Sedge Warbler that we caught earlier, I was able to take all the measurements required for Miguels PhD. Moxey arrived by this point, in time to see only the second Bullfinch of the year come from a single net in the piggeries.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Measuring the 8th primary

Late on, we added a couple more Whitethroats, Chiffchaff and a recently fledged Linnet just as Neil arrived. By 10am the wind had got too strong to proceed any further, so with a respectable total ringed, we decided to pack up. Me and Moxey had hoped to push on to the sewage farm, however, the temperature had risen to 15 degrees and the wind was far too strong to consider trying to flick.

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

Linnet - 1
Wren - 1 (1)
Chiffchaff - 2
Whitethroat - 5 (1)
Blackcap - 3
Grasshopper Warbler - 1
Reed Warbler - 2
Sedge Warbler - 1
Greenfinch - 3 (1)
Great Tit - 6 (1)
Blue Tit - 2
Bullfinch - 1
Blackbird - 4 (4)
Dunnock - 8
Robin - 1 (1)
Goldfinch - 1
L.T.Tit - 2

TOTAL: 44 (9)

Friday, 20 May 2011

Going solo for Swifts

We got a spot of 'weather' when I was on my way home, so a quick call to Moxey, a quick pick up of rings from Moxey in a supermarket carpark and then to the sewage farm. The 'weather' wasn't due to last, so I had to make hay, so to speak.

When I arrived at the filter beds, there weren't very many birds around and I was doubting whether I would have much success. But a couple of minutes later and the first 'strike' and I had two of these:

Swift (Apus apus)

The Swifts were replaced by hirundines once the drizzle kicked in, leaving a pretty damp Scouse Ringer and an increasing number of birds to be ringed. By the time the rain stopped, the Sun was already out and the birds started to move on.

Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Swift - 6 (1)
House Martin - 16 (5)
Swallow - 6

TOTAL: 28 (6)

Not bad for an hours work.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Returning Reed Warblers

This evening I headed down to Brook Vale with a few nets to see what was around. The site is looking pretty lush and green now, with no sign of the scars left by the two fires, the have grown up nicely, especially in the first burn area. With such damage to the reed bed, ut was really encouraging to hear at least three Reed Warblers singing at different points around the feeding station area. The usual Chiffchaff was in full song, with a backing track of Blackcap and Wren.

The path down to the feeding station - now cleared of all the debris from the management of the willow.

I wasn't expecting to catch a large number of birds, but the session was a good indicator of how the reserve is doing generally. I caught the first juvenile Robin and Dunnock of the year as well as catching one Reed Warbler, originally ringed last summer, with a brood patch.

Juvenile Robin

Juvenile Dunnock

A single male Whitethroat was caught in a double panel net that I was using for the first time, as was the single male Blackcap - a good start! All four Reed Warblers were caught in the feeding station line, with three of them being ringed at Brook Vale last summer - great to see so many of the birds making it back safely!


Measuring the tarsus of a Reed Warbler

Male Blackcap

Late on, upto twenty Swifts were feeding over the Sycamores until a Sparrowhawk put in an appearance and they drifted off towards Litherland.

Reed Warbler - 1 (3)
Dunnock - 3 (1)
Robin - 1
Wren - 1
Chiffchaff - 1 (1)
Blackcap - 1
Whitethroat - 1
Blackbird - 1

TOTAL: 10 (5)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

100th Swift ringed

I got a text of Moxey today, about the time when I had three year 7's almost throwing up because I was disecting a heart and lungs. Maybe the fact that I told them that they belonged to a student that was off school (with a broken leg) or that the last time I disected a heart, it started beating had something to do with it?

I digress. Moxey had packed up after a few hours as the weather had cleared up and the birds had gained altitude, so unfortunately, there would be no after-school Swifting for me. Despite the strong winds though, he did manage to ring the 100th Swift for the year, as well as significantly adding to the House Martin total. By the time I left school at 4pm, the temperature had risen to 19 degrees, far too warm for catching Swifts.

Swift - 8 (1)
House Martin - 19 (1)
Swallow - 2

TOTAL: 29 (2)

It was too windy here in North Liverpool to do any ringing on Rimrose this evening, but I hope to head out tomorrow after I get out of school, maybe to Brook Vale to see if any Reed Warblers are breeding and maybe to pick up some of the breeding Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat of the migrants.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Too warm

Today Moxey headed to the sewage farm in the morning as the weather was dull and overcast with occasional showers, however, the temperature was just that little bit too warm for the Swifts, House Martins and Swallows to be at a catchable height. I kept in touch during the day, monitoring the weather forecasts from the laptop and as soon as the bell went, I was out the door. Unfortunately, Moxey had long been home without catching a single bird. The forecast for the next few days looks bright and breezy, but there is a possibility we'll have some 'weather' towards the weekend.

With no sewage farm action, I headed down the canal to the reed bed at Fulwood with two single shelves. I spent most of the time watching the Reed Buntings feeding on the rushes, looking absolutely stunning in their breeding plumage. It was the first time that I had actually ventured into the this section of reed bed, having walked around it many times. I caught two Reed Warbler in one of the nets, the other remained empty. Both Reed Warblers had additional measurements taken, to contribute to Miguels PhD data set, but I will post more about that later.
Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

Walking back along the canal, there were numerous Whitethroat carrying nesting material as well as Blackcap singing from the plantations. Three Sparrowhawk were seen at different times and a Buzzard was heard.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, 16 May 2011

More Swifts!

As I was finishing off with Year 10 this afternoon, I got a text from Moxey (yep, that's right, he's learnt how to text and he's actually quite good at it!). Moxey had arrived at the sewage farm and, despite the wind, he was catching, so I should get there as soon as I could.

I had a short meeting after school, so I raced out as soon as the meeting was over and made my way through the rush hour traffic to the sewage farm. When I arrived, Moxey had a bunch of Swifts and hirundines waiting for me to ring as he continued flicking. Most people would be made up with the generosity of a man who allows you to ring all the Swifts that he has caught as he continues to catch more. Well, this has been a shrewd move by Moxey.

As the photo shows, Swifts have very sharp claws, two facing two, as you would expect given that the only times they land, they are hanging onto buildings or cliffs. In the photo, you can see the claws nicely digging in behind the nail and there was a certain amount of my blood shed removing the claws.....and that wasn't even a vicious one! So my fingers are currently wearing the holes caused by catching decent numbers of Swifts, so Moxey's 'generosity' doesn't seem so selfless now does it?

Swifts and House Martins are also covered in hippoboscid parasites. These insects feed on the blood of the birds and are transmitted between individuals in the nest. It is pretty common for these parasites to find their way onto our bodies too, although they are harmless to humans. For example, taking a shower last night, I noticed one crawling up the wall. I'm just waiting for that moment when I'm in the middle of a lesson....' class, can you calculate the Lincoln's Index for this set of results please' ..... 'Sir?'......'Put your hand down Adam and get your calculator out'.....'But Sir?'.......'What?'.......'What's that crawling up your face?'..........

House Martin - 17
Swallow - 6
Swift - 28 (4)

TOTAL: 51 (4)

We are still a long way off last years total for Swift, however the first part of this week could be productive if the wind dies down and no doubt I will be hoofing it to the sewage farm after work a few more times!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

More Moisture, More Swifts!

I had hoped to head out and get a few hours in with Tineke and Neil at Fulwood this morning, but when I woke at 4am, it was far too windy to consider mist netting in such an open habitat, so I headed back to bed to wait and see whether a trip to the sewage farm was on.

By 10am, the conditions started to look more favourable, although the wind was much stronger than we would have liked. Moxey was otherwise engaged for the morning, so I had to fly solo for the first two hours.

Moxey - one bad mother flicker!

'Flicking' is Moxey's speciality and I getting pretty good at it now too. Flicking is best done with an 18m net and it is secured at one end by two guy ropes, as normal. The other end of the net is attached to one pole at the opposite end and it is at this end, that the flicking is done. I should note that you wouldn't want to use a net that you wouldn't want to pick up a few holes. The net has to be laid on the ground once you have successfuly caught a bird (or two) and so is prone to snagging on grass or concrete. Moxey has a couple of old nets that are perfect for this, although slightly worse for wear.

The first two hours yielded the majority of the Swifts, with very few hirundines staying in the net due to the wind. Intermittent drizzle brought some of the hirundines lower, and Swallows were more abundant that House Martins.

Swift (Apus apus)

With Moxey's arrival, also came the more persistent drizzle, resulting in two, pretty moist, scousers! The Swifts largely moved off and the catch was now dominated by House Martins and Swallows, thanks to two 'static' nets, although the majority of birds were flicked. We caught a number of birds that had been ringed previously, including an old House Martin, but the bird of the day was a control House Martin - L568965 - if this is your bird, get in touch and let us know!

House Martin (Delichon urbicum)

By 4pm, the wind had increased significantly and it was impossible to flick. The wind had probably reduced our success rate to 50% (birds hitting the net and staying in) and one could only speculate how many birds we could have caught in calm conditions.

Scouse Ringer's Fashion Tip: Blue latex gloves are going to be really popular this summer, if you don't have a pair, you should certainly get one! Aside from the fact, they are a Health and Safety requirement this year, as are the steel toed boots and hi-vis jackets! However, latex doesn't stand up to Swift's 'talons' very well.....neither do fingers in fact!

House Martin - 23 (2)
Swift - 57 (8)
Swallow - 33
Starling - 1

TOTAL: 114 (10)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

In a word: Wind

If today could be summarised in just one word, it would be windy! At 4am I awoke to a call from Steve checking the weather here on Merseyside and after checking out the window and double checking online, we called off a trip to Fulwood and I went back to bed with toes crossed that the wind would die down and I could meet Moxey at the sewage farm.

Further disappointment ensued when the weather conditions were bright and windy by 8am, so instead, I headed down to Rimrose Valley with Tineke and Canela. It was reasonably sheltered down by the side of the canal, but still to windy to consider putting any nets up, instead, I turned my attention to scoping possible net locations for tomorrow morning if the weather conditions were more favourable.

There were five family parties of Coot and two of Mallard on the section of canal that we walked, with two Grey Heron stalking the margins. In the Hawthorne along the side of the canal there is a sizeable number of House Sparrow, Greenfinch and Whitethroat breeding so maybe in the next week or so, we can net this section.

Family of Coot (Fulica atra)

After dropping Tineke and Canela off, I headed to met Moxey to go an ring a brood of Chaffinches that a farmer had called about a few days earlier. When we arrived the nest was empty, so it seems that the eggs must have hatched earlier than the farmer had thought.

Spot the nest

We then headed to Ince Blundell with one net to see if the Garden Warblers were breeding his year. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, but we did manage to ring two Blackcap, a male and female, as well as check on a number of nest boxes inhabited by Great Tits.

From Ince, we went to watch Uncle Peter's Stoke City play in the FA Cup final and then I went to pick Tineke up and we headed to Fulwood as the wind had died down. Using one 9m net and a single panel, we had some success in the scrub.

Male Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Dunnock - pleased to see me?

Blackcap - 4 (1)
Chiffchaff - (1)
Great Tit - 1
Dunnock - 1

TOTAL: 6 (2)

The forecast for tomorrow is likely to change in the five hours before I am due to get up, so we'll have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.

Friday, 13 May 2011

And we're off!

So we have finally caught our first House Martin, Swallow and Swifts of the year today at the sewage farm. A weather front came in that hit me on the Wirral, before it made it over to Liverpool, and dumped a fair amount of the wet stuff on a Scouse Ringer and Moxey!

First things first, I had to have my H&S induction, but as we are tucked away in between the filter beds, we are largely out of harms way. We do however, have to wear these pretty blue latex gloves but they don't tend to last long when you're handling Swifts. After the first three birds, I had lost a thumb and two fingers of my first pair of gloves!

Swift (Apus apus)

The wind was the major problem, making it quite difficult to flick, with a good number of birds being successfully flicked, but then blown out by the wind. This wasn't so much of a problem with the Swifts as it was with the hirundines, as they fly slower and are not as heavy.

Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Once the rain got to heavy, we headed for the shelter of the car to process the birds much to the bemusement of the staff that had been watching us for the previous twenty minutes from the dry confines of their van. One of the Swifts and the House Martin retrap were from last year, with one of the Swifts being older, just awaiting confirmation from Moxey.

Fuzzy feet and a friend!

Swift - 8 (2)
House Martin - 13 (1)
Swallow - 13

TOTAL: 34 (3)

The forecast for tomorrow looks favourable for another wet and breezy day at the sewage farm, so hopefully we can add to the total.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Moody Skies

This evening, after a particularly turbulent day in my lab (three lessons of Year 7 really does take it out of you), it was a much needed release to go for a wander on Rimrose Valley. With Canela taking Tineke for a walk, I was able to concentrate on the birds and scope out new ringing spots.

We started off by the canal, taking in a family party of Coot, a posse of non-breeding male Mallard, dipping Swallows and the occasional Swift. I was also able to help Tineke learn some of the bird calls and she's coming on well, picking up the tones of Blue Tit in the song of the Sedge Warbler and the musical warblings of the Blackcap.

Reed and Sedge Warblers were calling from the far margins of the canal, with Whitethroats every twenty or thirty meters darting from one side of the canal to the other.

Scouse Ringers Top Tip: Whilst birdwatching by the side of the canal, remain aware of passing cyclists - do not assume they will see you (or you might end up in the canal)!

Breaking off from the canal, we headed onto the country park and the wild grassland was alive with all forms of insect life, including plenty of damselflies and bees. The lupin is growing well through the bramble, also attracting plenty of insect life with the occasional explosion of Whitethroat or Wren shooting out of the grasses.

We completed a circuit of the reed bed, identifying different territories of breeding Reed Bunting, Sedge and Reed Warbler with loads of Whitethroats stationed around the margins. Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were vocal from the larger patches of Willows, as were the usual Blackbirds and Robins. There wasn't as much Blackcap vocalisation as there had been on Saturday, but this was more likely due to the time of day.

I am hoping for the opportunity to get out again this weekend and start working our way around the site further, with repeat visits at the same locations in July to catch the fledglings.

In other news, Moxey finally got to the sewage farm today although not on a ringing mission. Moxey had his health and safety induction with the site manager today, I've got to have mine at the! Whilst Moxey was on site, there was Whitethroat and Blackcap singing in the scrub, but talking to staff, the maximum number of Swifts on any one occasion was twenty. It looks like there is a combination of factors in effect at the moment, late arrivals and non-favourable weather conditions. We'll wait and see what happens over the next week or so.