Tuesday, 27 September 2011

...Summer at last?

I have seen a lot of unusual things on ringing sessions, but on Sunday morning, driving into Brook Vale I was greeted by a burning motorcycle. Very strange. I was half expecting to see some bums huddled round a drum keeping warm. Anyhow, Steve and Natasha were waiting for me, so we quickly got the nets up and turned the mp3 players on.

Following Saturdays slow morning, I wasn't expecting to catch a massive number of birds as it looked like the warblers were slowing down to a trickle. There had been a few light showers during the night, but there was little to no wind, so there had been a good chance of some late movement.

Early on, Blackcaps were the order of the hour, instantly responding to the mp3 player and bringing our annual total to 396, over three times the number that we ringed in 2010 - just four short of the 400-mark. This is a magnificent total and whilst we have targetted this species more this year, it matches the increasing national trend.

We managed another two Chiffchaff and also a Goldcrest, the latter seem to be starting to move through in increasing numbers now, this one was a young male.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

There wasn't a significant amount of visible migration, however a small flock of forty-odd Pink-footed Geese flew over as well as ~10 Wagtail and ~8 Meadow Pipit. Despite the fact that Rimrose (at the Brook Vale end) is only 1Km from the coast, there doesn't seem to be anywhere near the vis-mig that is reported at Seaforth.

Late on, a young male Bullfinch made an appearance amongst a handful of tits. We have caught very few tits in recent weeks despite ringing in areas where we would expect to catch reasonable numbers. Part of the reason for this might be an abundance of natural food at a time when we are yet to establish the feeding stations for the autumn/winter sessions.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

Goldcrest - 1
Chiffchaff - 2
Great Tit - 2
Robin - 1
Bullfinch - 1
Blue Tit - 1 (1)
Blackcap - 13 (1)
Blackbird - 3 (1)

TOTAL 24 (3)

This evening I took advantage of the good weather and headed down to Brook Vale with Tineke and Canela. We spent an hour or so on site, reinstalling the feeders and making a few repairs and by the time we left, we already had birds coming in to feed. There were a good number of birds around, with some vis-mig of Greenfinch, flying high towards Liverpool and at least three Bullfinch calling from the willows. There was the usual large number of Magpies, making a nuisance of themselves, feeding in the area that we cleared of willow earlier in the year.

As we were leaving the site, we took the opportunity to raid the apple trees to fill my the freezer for thrush food - later in the winter. Tineke thinks she is making apple cake....

A ray of sun....flower

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Tailing Off?

With a really positive overnight forecast, I met with Charlie at Fulwood this morning, putting up a near full complement of nets, even braving the depths of the reed bed to put a double up. Overnight there had been a calm southwesterly breeze and mixed cloud cover, I had been hopefull that this would have allowed some migrants to move in, but sadly the opposite was seemingly true and the migrants that we had, moved out. It seems I wasn't the only ringer disappointed this morning, as Fleetwood Birder reports something similar.

As expected, the majority of the Blackcap came in the first net round, as did the Robins, with the rest waiting until dawn had fully broken and things had started to warm up a bit. We managed the first titmice at Fulwood for quite a while and Charlie got to ring his first Bullfinch (not a dead vole inside a bird bag this time!).

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

I was suprised to catch a Whitethroat this late in September, let alone an adult that had originally been ringed as a breeding bird in early June. The bird was quite light for an adult at this time of year (adult birds generally migrate before the juveniles) weighing in at 13.1g and no visible fat reserves and only muscle score 2. This puzzled me slightly, but on closer inspection, the bird was carrying a head injury - not ringing related I must add! It seems that the bird had been victim to a predator at some point as you can see from the photo below. I have occasionally caught birds with similar healed wounds in perfect health on migration. The wound had healed and I would expect it was a couple of weeks old.

From behind

The healed wound

By 10am, things were really starting to slow down and a text from Paulo (who is ringing with Moxey at the moment) in Portugal didn't do much to lighten my disappointment:

...Prediction for today 300 birds. Last night 180. Do you want swallows or daurica. How many?...

This was later backed up by a text from Moxey:

...Just finished. 416 ringed including last night. 1 Norwegian Reed Warbler...

To conclude, Paulo was wrong in his prediction. Thats all I have to say.

Wren - 1
Chiffchaff - 1 (1)
Blackcap - 7
Robin - 3
Great Tit - 2
Blue Tit - 3
Chaffinch - 2
Bullfinch - 1
Whitethroat - (1)
Reed Warbler - 1
Reed Bunting - 3
Dunnock - 1 (1)
Blackbird - 3 (1)

TOTAL: 28 (4)

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Fracking Hell!

I normally keep my posts bird related, however:

Over the past couple of days, plans have come to light of a proposed gas extraction site at Banks near Southport, prompting concerns from environmentalists. Gas platforms have been a familiar site in Liverpool Bay in recent years, but this latest project isn't tapping into Natural Gas resources in the traditional sense.

A company called Cuadrilla Resources are behind the project and they estimate that there is over ten times the amount of gas trapped in rocks than is found under the North Sea. The gas is trapped in layers of shale below the water table and is extracted in a process known as 'fracking'. The process of fracking involves pumping a combination of water, sand and chemicals into the shale layer. This releases the gas which is then collected over a period of years.

Cuadrilla claim that the impact to the local environment will be minimal with above-ground infrastructure being of low impact so that disruption to the landscape will be kept to a minimum. The group are also keen to promote the local economic impact, with the creation of over 5000 jobs, with 1,700 of them here in Lancashire boasting average salaries of £55,000.

The project is not without controversy as campaign groups claim that the fracking process could lead to the destabilisation of the substrate with concerns linked to claims that fracking has caused mini-earthquakes. Aside from the geological impacts, there is the issue of carbon emissions. With plans to build upto 800 of these wells, it is hard to see where these plans fit into a program of less carbon-reliant energy generation.

Whilst these plans are still to be passed, I can't see many positives aside from the economics. With areas on the Fylde and South-west Lancs earmarked as potential sites, this touches close to home and as the planet further towards a population-driven climate-change catastrophe, I feel we should be investing in other energy forms, primarily nuclear or non-aquatic green sources.

You can find the original article from the BBC here.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Surge in Migrants

I arrived at Brook Vale at 5am on Sunday morning for a solo session with hopes that the weather would stay positive and I would be able to get a session in. Following the wash-out the previous day, which you can read about here, I wasn't really expecting large numbers of birds. I managed to get a total of eight nets up, short of the usual total, but I was on my own.

As expected, I had the usual dawn flury of Blackcap with Goldcrest, Sedge, Reed and Garden Warbler - by 7am, I already had twenty five birds ringed and I was expecting it to tail off. The second net round didn't yield many birds, a couple of Robins, a Song Thrush and a pair of Chiffchaffs. In the meantime, the weather had brightened considerably and there was no wind whatsoever - very unusual.
Juvenile Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Adult female Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) - primary moult

Heading over to the dell, there was another spike in Blackcaps, with another dozen in the net round, including a female Bullfinch - only the fifth ringed this year. Open reaching the final net, I was hoping for a tardy Whitethroat or two, no joy, instead I was rewarded with the first Spotted Flycatcher for Brook Vale. Brucey bonus! By the time I limped back to the ringing table, Eugene was passing on his rounds of the park and I was able to show him the striata that he had predicted earlier in the year. Should have put a fiver on that!

Juvenile Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

By the time the birds had dried up, the clouds were starting to form from the north, so I took down the nets, with two Blackcap being the last birds ringed in a session that featured very few resident birds and no retraps.

Visible migration included thirty five Swallows, six House Martin, fourteen Mistle Thrush and two Meadow Pipit, a Tree Pipit was also heard from outside the reserve.

Chiffchaff - 2
Goldcrest - 1
Wren - 1
Blackcap - 35
Spotted Flycatcher - 1
Garden Warbler - 4
Robin - 2
Reed Warbler - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Bullfinch - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Blackbird - 2
Jay - 1


Saturday, 17 September 2011

Between the Showers

As an Evertonian, I have developed an eternal sense of optimism, and coupled with the lousy weather forecasting in this fine country, this provides opportunities to get a ringing session squeezed in against the odds. This mornings forecast was one of showers and sunny spells, however upon arriving at Rimrose at 5:15am, it was pissing it down. At this point, it was very tempting to get back in the car and go back to bed, but when Moxey arrived fifteen minutes later, we decided to sit it out and wait to see what happened.

By 6am the rain had gone off, although I am still unsure why we needed to check this by standing out in the rain for fifteen minutes, and we decided to make a move. We stuck to three nets, all very close together in case of a change in the weather. Despite a brief shower, the rain stayed off until we decided to pack up at 8:45am when the birds had dried up. Once again, Blackcaps were the order of the day, now the most-ringed bird in 2011, followed by Swift, with a single Song Thrush, Blackbird, Chaffinch and two Dunnocks.

Following the success of Phil and Seumus up on the Fylde, I did hope for the opportunity to have a go for Meadow Pipits, however there was no visible migration, in fact, aside from the Blackcaps, a Kestrel and two passing Sparrowhawks, there was very little around. With that in mind, I have included some pictures from my recent trip to Portugal, to try and brighten things up a bit.

Blackcap - 13
Dunnock - 2
Chaffinch - 1
Song Thrush - 1
Blackbird - (1)

TOTAL: 17 (1)

WANTED - Dead or Alive

PFJ & PJF - Paulo's first Beeater

Nightjar (Caprimulgus europeaus)

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)

Little Bittern (Ixobrixus minutus)

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Fit for a King

On Saturday evening, me and Tineke joined Steve and Natasha at the new site at Kings Moss, near the village of Crank, to clear the net rides for a session on the Sunday morning. Steve has been visiting the site for a number of years and suggested it could be a good place to catch species such as Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and late summer warblers. Given that the first site visit from me was just before I headed to Portugal, we didn't have time to squeeze a session in during July and upon returning from Portugal, I wanted to focus on Rimrose, but this Sunday we had our first session.

Arriving early, we put up a line of three for Blackcap and the possibility of Garden Warbler and then a couple of nets around a small feeding station, although there doesn't seem to have been much activity yet. A further two nets were then placed in some more open goat willow. The weather conditions weren't exactly ideal, although the sky was overcast, there was a strong breeze but we were able to shelter our nets sufficiently to operate.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

The first net round was reasonable successful, with four Blackcaps responding to the mp3, a couple of Chiffchaff, a Willow Warbler and a Linnet. Whilst Natasha (the very helpful helper) set up the ringing table, I quickly wizzed around the nets for a second time, taking out a flock of Long-tailed Tits that flew in over my shoulder as well as a few more Blackcaps.

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)

Steve was made up. By the third net round the Blackcap count had reached ten, the Chiffchaff count to five but the bird of his day was still to come. I made the decision to close up once the wind got too strong and as I went to close the line, there was a male Yellowhammer waiting for me. Taking it back to Steve, he quickly realised that it wasn't a 'funny-looking Goldfinch' and with a massive smile, he promptly slapped a ring on it!

Adult male Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinela) - in heavy moult

Reed Bunting - 1
Linnet - 1
Goldfinch - 2
Blackcap - 10
Blue Tit - 5
Great Tit - 3
Coal Tit - 1
Yellowhammer - 1
Chaffinch - 2
Dunnock - 1
Robin - 2
Willow Warbler - 1
Chiffchaff - 5
Treecreeper - 1
L.T.Tit - 13
Blackbird - 2
Jay - 1


A pretty good result for the first session and with the autumn coming, there are high expectations of winter finches and thrush flocks.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

September so far...

Since returning from Portugal at the end of August, things have been pretty hectic here in North Liverpool with returning to work and trying to maximise ringing sessions on Rimrose. From the 1st to 4th of September, I ringed each day, being rained off at Fulwood on the third but still managing one hundred Blackcaps and the first Garden Warblers of the year. Sadly, the reed bed at Brook Vale was inaccessible due to a combination of flooding and the effect of strong winds on weak reeds, causing the reeds to flatten and effectively 'close' the reed bed.

The weather of the previous two weeks has been particularly poor. A mix of strong winds and heavy rain have made any mid-week sessions impossible for Moxey, with the exception of a short, realitively unsuccessful session in the woods at Ince.

Some of the highlights:

1st September - Fulwood

One of many Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

The Rimrose Crew: Charlie, Tineke & Moxey

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin)

Wren - 4
Chiffchaff - 2
Willow Warbler - 3
L.T.Tit - 2 (2)
Robin - 5
Blue Tit - 4
Whitethroat - 7
Dunnock - 3
Blackcap - 40 (1)
Garden Warbler - 2
Reed Bunting - 1
Great Tit - 2 (1)
Sedge Warbler - 2
Chaffinch - 1
Blackbird - 20 (1)
Woodpigeon - 1

TOTAL: 99 (5)

2nd September - Brook Vale

Female Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Wren - 5
Chiffchaff - 2
Willow Warbler - 1
Robin - 5
Blue Tit - 1
Whitethroat - 5
Dunnock - 1
Blackcap - 31 (5)
Garden Warbler - 2
Reed Warbler - 3
Blackbird - 4 (1)
Woodpigeon - 1
Sparrowhawk - 1

TOTAL: 62 (5)

3rd September - Fulwood (rain stopped play)

Moxey shelters from the rain

Wren - 1
Chiffchaff - 1
Whitethroat - 1
Dunnock - 1
Bullfinch - 2
Blackcap - 10
Song Thrush - 1
G.S.Woodpecker - 1
Blackbird - 5


4th September - Brook Vale

Chiffchaff - 6
Robin - 5
Blue Tit - (1)
Whitethroat - 3
Dunnock - 3
Blackcap - 19
Garden Warbler - 2
Reed Warbler - (1)
Sedge Warbler - 2
Song Thrush (1)
Blackbird - 4

TOTAL: 44 (3)

9th September - Ince Blundell

Coal Tit - 2
Robin - 1
Blackbird - 1
Blue Tit - 1
Dunnock - 1
Blackcap - 2
Great Tit - (2)

TOTAL: 8 (2)

10th September - Fulwood

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Chiffchaff - 3 (1)
L.T.Tit - 1
Goldcrest - 1
Blackcap - 25 (4)
Whitethroat - 1
Robin - 1
Chaffinch - 3
Dunnock - 2
Blue Tit - 2
Great Tit - 1
House Sparrow - 1
Blackbird - 2

TOTAL: 43 (5)

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Ringing Road Trip - Vale de Senhora da Povoa

Following the success of the morning in Atenor, we headed to the final site on our road trip, close to the historical town of Sabugal - Vale de Senhora da Povoa. This site was part of Miguel's survey area for the Atlas, located in between the Serra de Estrela and the Spanish border. The site is made up of parcels of agricultural land, mostly olive groves, maize fields and vineyards.

As we had arrived reasonably late in the day, we had to get the nets us up reasonably quickly before dark so four net locations were chosen, three lines of three and one of two. As with the previous days, we weren't using a massive numbers of nets, but with the potential of catching large numbers of birds, we didn't want to be caught short.

Somewhere, an asylum has lost two lunatics!

Second net round: Serins!

The ringing totals were mainly made up of the core species of the previous two sessions, Willow Warbler, Subalpine Warbler and Garden Warbler but with the land use, also came a decent catch of Serin - mainly caught in one line during the second net round. Also of interest was the catch of eleven Reed Warblers, once again, miles away from any reeds or wetland habitat. It was another big total so the ringing was very 'business-like' - to make sure the birds were processed as quickly as possible, while the next lot of birds were on their way back from the nets. The rest of the catch was made up of pretty standard stuff, a single Melodious Warbler being the last bird ringed on the day.

Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Adult male Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans)

And so the ringing road trip was complete......until the next one, now in just over two weeks time. Being a teacher, I will be unable to attend, however, Moxey will be there in my place to send updates!

30 August

Subalpine Warbler - 67
Garden Warbler - 36
Whitethroat - 9
Sardinian Warbler - 10
Blackcap - 3
Willow Warbler - 29
Serin - 35
Wren - 1
Short-toed Treecreeper - 1
Grasshopper Warbler - 2
Reed Warbler - 11
Robin - 4
Pied Flycatcher - 3
Chaffinch - 3
Redstart - 3
Cirl Bunting - 4
Blue Tit - 7
Great Tit - 2
Long-tailed Tit - 3
Blackbird - 8
Melodious Warbler - 1

TOTAL: 242

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Ringing Road Trip - Atenor

Following a morning of ringing that exceeded all expectations, we hit the road and, on the advice of António Monteiro, we headed for the praia fluvial (the river beach), the river in question being the Douro – wine country! After a brief swim, with Kingfisher, Common Sandpiper, Golden Eagle, Golden Oriole and Red-rumped Swallows for company, we settled down on the platform of an old train station to eat lunch. This nomadic ringing existence is certainly the life!

Taking a swim in the Douro

At lunch, Miguel does his funky chicken impression

We then headed further north into the National Park, to meet up with a friend of Paulo’s, Jose Jambas and his wife Barbara, in the small village of Atenor. After briefly meeting the family, we headed to the ringing site where, last year, Fred Lobo and Afonso Rocha completed a ringing session, catching good numbers of Subalpine Warblers, amongst others. The site looked more promising than Faia Brava (which had looked pretty quiet when we had arrived the previous day), with a small stream running through the site, with agricultural and grazing land adjacent. There were birds around from the outset and with the morning’s ringing still fresh in our mind, and text messages flying around the country boasting of successes, we were hopeful of a good catch once again. We put up a couple more nets than at Faia Brava, bringing the total to thirteen nets, mostly 15m, some of 12m, close to the stream and along hedgerows.

Once the nets were up, we headed into Mogadouro with Jambas, Barbara and little Francisco to sample some of the local produce, namely a ‘posta’ – a steak from a rare breed of cattle in the region. Jambas explained that eating this steak was a matter of conservation for the locals as without the demand from the local restaurants, the breed of cattle, which has no other value, would cease to exist. Despite Miguel’s best attempts, Tineke wouldn’t try the steak, however Miguel became preoccupied with the fact that Sporting lost at home to Maritimo – on Sundays have patience!

The next morning we woke bright and early to open the nets, returning briefly for breakfast but given that closest net was only ten metres from the campervan, we started the net rounds early, given that the nets were filling up fast! And so it began once again, the birds were coming in quicker than we could get them ringed, so Paulo resumed extraction duties, whilst myself, Miguel, Tineke and Jambas took care of the ringing sides of things.

Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla)

Paulo checks the nets

As with the previous day, Subalpine Warblers were the order of the day, although we were catching well for Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Whitethroat. A single Orphean Warbler, another adult, really captured the eye, such a spectacular bird! The number of Pied Flycatchers started to increase, although the main migration for this species in Portugal is only just beginning – the September sessions should through up more of these. With Beeater, Griffin Vulture and Golden Oriole overhead, it was difficult not to get distracted and run off with the binoculars!

Miguel pulls a bird

Juvenile Bonelli's Warbler (Phylloscopus bonelli)

A few Redstarts, Sardinian Warblers and Blackcaps made an appearance, but there was one bird that Miguel had been after all week, since Luís had caught one in Choupal, in Coimbra, the week before. It was Tineke that took it out of the bag, the grey head was a dead giveaway (for me, at least) and it was promptly passed over to Miguel, when he finally realised what it was, he was elated. Bonelli’s Warbler. Now that’s what I call a Brucey Bonus!

With the numbers of birds starting to tail off, the temperatures breaching 30 degrees, the nets were closed and taken down. With some birds left to ring, Barbara arrived from the village, a two minute drive, with the biggest ‘loaf’ of bread I have ever seen, so once the birds were finished, we toasted an outstanding session with a beer and fresh bread, whilst watching some of Jambas’ videos of Bonelli’s and Golden Eagle – truly spectacular footage!

Hard at work

Atenor has to be one of the most amazing ringing sites I have ever worked at, rivalling Riverside at the Pinery Provincial Park where I worked for two years whilst in Canada, the migratory potential is significant. As we departed, Jambas left us with a gift of soap – now whilst some might suggest he was hinting that I’m a scruff and need a wash, this wasn’t the case. Jambas and Barbara have a number of interests, including making soap from the milk of Donkeys. For more information on the soap (which is excellent by the way), visit the Tomelo website here.

29 August

Subalpine Warbler - 90
Garden Warbler - 30
Whitethroat - 20
Sardinian Warbler - 3
Orphean Warbler - 1
Blackcap - 12
Bonelli's Warbler - 1
Willow Warbler - 28
Serin - 3
Wren - 4
Short-toed Treecreeper - 1
Cetti's Warbler - 4
Grasshopper Warbler - 6
Reed Warbler - 9
Robin - 4
Pied Flycatcher - 5
Chaffinch - 7
Cirl Bunting - 3 (1)
Blue Tit - 15
Great Tit - 3
Blackbird - 3
Nightingale - 2
Melodious Warbler - 1
Redstart - 1
House Sparrow - 1
Kingfisher - 1

TOTAL : 262 (1)