Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Even the birds were on strike!

Being a teacher, this morning I made the (very) difficult decision to go on strike in protest at changes that the ConDem government have made to teachers pensions. This however, is a bird blog, so to avoid alienating my audience, this is all I will say on the matter.

So this morning I met Charlie, later joined by Moxey, for a session at Ince Blundell. I would have preferred to ring at Brook Vale this morning, the feeders are getting emptied every other day so I had hoped to get a session in and see what is using the feeders. Recent visits have also highlighted a decent number of Water Rails in the reed bed - so hopefully I will be able to get some traps out to see if we can pick any up. Back to Ince, the shelter afforded by the woodland gave us more optimism for a more productive session but for a while, it looked like the public sector workers were not the only ones on strike!

After a slow start, yielding a large percentage of retraps, we started to pick up the Goldcrests, including one that was ringed at Crosby Hall last month.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Given the time of year, I would have expected to find more thrushes in the woods, yet during the whole ringing session, I only saw one Song Thrush, two Blackbirds and heard a single Mistle Thrush. This was in addition to a lack of Chaffinches - on paper, Ince Blundell is a the ideal woodland site for Chaffinches, but of the four caught, two were retraps - both ringed by Ian in nearby Thornton. Whilst this might sound like a ringer 'complaining' about low ringing totals, it does provide interesting conversation during the ringing sessions and begs the question, 'where are the birds?'.

Once Moxey had arrived, we put up an extra 15m net and had instant success as it brought in a first-year male Blackcap, four new Goldcrest and a retrap Treecreeper - justifying the long walk down 'the bottom'.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)

By 1am we had wrapped the session up and after the slow start, we had caught a satisfying seventy five birds, going some way to making up for the damp squib (David Cameron please take note of the real meaning of the term - ooops, sorry!) that was last weekend.

Goldcrest - 8 (5)
Treecreeper - (1)
L.T.Tit - 1 (3)
Coal Tit - (2)
Blue Tit - 8 (15)
Great Tit - 7 (15)
Chaffinch - 2 (2)
Blackcap - 1
Dunnock - 1
Robin - 2 (2)

TOTAL: 30 (45)

The weather doesn't look great for the foreseeable and we are still without any real cold weather.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Brambling about the best...

Me and Moxey headed to Crosby Hall on Sunday morning, a morning that could only be described as grey! It was a reasonably calm start to the morning, with all the nets up by 8am we were hoping for a good catch following Saturdays relative success.

The early activity was from the Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrest with very little action at the feeding station, most likely as a result of the shoot the day before. By 9am, things started to pick up a bit with the second Brambling of the winter, a first-year female, that was followed by a couple of Chaffinches.

Brambling (Fringilla montefringilla)

Current indications from our ringing totals suggest that it hasn't been a great year for Great Tits, whereas Blue Tits have done better, although maybe not as well as in previous years. Yesterday we only managed six Great Tit, three of which were ringed this year, and three at least one calendar year ago.

We were joined briefly by Matthew and Olivia before it was time to pack up and they were thrilled to handle Nuthatch, Greenfinch and Blue Tits. I always enjoy showing the birds to the youngsters (it makes a change to the ageing trainees!).

L.T.Tit - 9
Goldcrest - 3 (2)
Blue Tit - 8 (5)
Coal Tit - (2)
Great Tit - (6)
Brambling - 1
Chaffinch - 2
Robin - 1 (1)
Greenfinch - 4
Nuthatch - 1
Blackbird - (1)
G.S.Woodpecker - (1)

TOTAL: 29 (18)

In other news, Ian caught retrapped a Chaffinch in his garden on Saturday, it was originally ringed by Moxey at Ince Blundell on 19th January 2003 as an adult male, meaning that this bird is in its tenth calendar year! Pretty decent!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

...more 'crests...

I met up with Charlie at Ince Blundell this morning, joined by Moxey (once all the nets had been put up I might add!). A mild and bright start made for a pleasant session, with two nets at the feeding station and four others dotted around the woods in the Rhodies. Charlie was back with us after two weeks off, the new Grandchild has arrived and he has officially been released to resume trainee duties!

The first net round yielded approximately half of the birds for the session, including a female Blackcap, bringing our annual total to 423 and the first of fourteen new Goldcrest. Ince has a lot of Rhododendron coverage which provides shelter and feeding opportunities for a number of species, but as has been the pattern over the last few weeks, the thrushes were absent. Having perused many of the ringing blogs during the week, those that I had missed, Moxey was sure to fill me in on, there seems to be a lack of thrushes in the country at the moment. I can only assume that the mild weather, both in Scandanavia and here at home, is what is keeping the thrushes away. Checking the Twitter feeds, there are very few sightings of Waxwings being reported so far, leaving us wondering whether we will have a Waxwing Winter like last year.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

As titmice dominated the catch, the Goldcrests made a refreshing alternative, building on the recent good numbers of this species. I am still hoping for a Firecrest or two, but unfortunately they still evade us despite being heard close to our ringing sites by local birdwatchers. The Yew stands provide excellent cover and feeding for Goldcrest, so a single nine meter net and an mp3 player quickly brings them in, usually followed by a couple of Long-tailed Tits.

Harem of Ladybird

By 11:30, the catch began to slow down and the shoot grew closer, leading a rather ropey moment when a wounded Pheasant hurtled towards my face as I was taking down a net...most would argue that the addition of a Pheasant to my face would be an improvement...others might not notice. Ultimately, I ducked and the Pheasant was lost in a dense cluster of rhodies.....

Charlie rings his first Jay

Goldcrest - 14 (1)
Wren - 1 (1)
L.T.Tit - 6 (3)
Blue Tit - 15 (15)
Great Tit - 9 (20)
Coal Tit - 2 (4)
Robin - 2
Chaffinch - 3
Blackcap - 1
Blackbird - 1 (1)
Jay - 1

TOTAL: 55 (45)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

...all quiet...

Earlier last week, I blogged about a quiet weekend with sessions at Crosby Hall and Brook Vale yielding less than fifty birds ringed in total, this weekend wasn't much better. With such mild weather, there has been little influx of winter migrants let alone any decent numbers of winter finches and the feeding stations are reasonably quiet. However, there seems to be some hope on the horizon, a midweek Facebook message from Julio Neto, who is currently working in Sweden, informed me that the conditions there are also very mild and there is a decent number of birds that remain. Hopefully they will find their way here soon.

For the past six months I have been taking additional biometric measurements on Reed Buntings for some work that Julio is doing with one of his PhD students. The measurements include measuring the length of each primary, the length, width and height of the bill, the tail and the tarsus as well as photographing the bird in profile. I don't really want to say too much before the work is completed, but this weekend was the last opportunity for collecting this data and with that in mind, Saturday saw us at Fulwood and today we visited Kings Moss with Reed Bunting the target species.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

It was a quiet start at Fulwood and despite using mp3 playback, the only response from the thrushes was a single Redwing that managed to get out of the net before Moxey could get to it. With a total lack of thrushes, the mp3 was switched to a variety of finch species but there was little response with such few birds around. It was down to the reed bed to provide the Reed Buntings and four new birds were caught, as well as a retrap of a bird originally ringed in July.

L.T.Tit - (4)
Wren - 2
Goldcrest - (1)
Chaffinch - 1
Greenfinch - 1
Blackbird - 1
Reed Bunting - 4 (1)
Great Tit - 1
Blue Tit - 7 (3)

TOTAL: 17 (9)

This mornings session at Kings Moss looked in jepardy upon our arrival as the wind was much stronger inland than it had been in Crosby where we were coming from. However, we stuck with it and managed to find shelter in the woodland with all but one of the usual nets being put up. There was only one Redwing caught of the small flock of 19 that were present this morning and unusually, an absence of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Early on, the majority of the activity at the feeding stations was dominated by titmice and as the morning progressed, the Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Bullfinch started to appear to boost our finch total. We also managed to catch three Reed Bunting which gave me an opportunity to take some final measurements before sending data off to Julio tonight. A small amount of excitement was had when I arrived at the pond, with a female Sparrowhawk flapping around in the net, but I barely got off the mark and it was already out of the net.....typical!

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Redwing - 1
L.T.Tit - 11 (4)
Willow Tit - (3)
Coal Tit - (1)
Blue Tit - 12 (3)
Great Tit - 3 (3)
Bullfinch - 3
Chaffinch - 5
Greenfinch - 7
Reed Bunting - 3
Dunnock - 1

TOTAL: 46 (14)

Steve and the guys at Fir Tree Farm have done an excellent job at Kings Moss so far, a site full of promise. It will be interesting to see how the site catches through the winter.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Slowing down

Following a reasonable end to the month of October, with a flurry of Reed Bunting and Redpoll at Fulwood, the first Brambling of the winter at Crosby Hall and a good yield of Goldcrest all round, the first week of November has been something of a disappointment.

Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)

First-year male Brambling (Fringilla montefringilla)

Migration seems to have all but ceased, with no real thrush numbers present at any of our sites, particularly Rimrose Valley that yielded the majority of last winters catch. There is also very little finch activity at any of our feeding stations with the titmice also demonstrating a concerted lack of interest.

However, Goldcrest have been an ever-present over the last few weeks and I really can't complain that one of my favourite birds has been the most-ringed in recent weeks. Interestingly, the majority of the Goldcrest have appeared to be migrants, with only one retrap from the previous week at Crosby Hall, the individual in question had a much lower body mass, was not carrying fat and had a muscle score of 2. The nine individuals ringed on Saturday all had a body mass >5.0g and a minimum of fat score 2, suggesting that they were passing through. No Firecrest though, that would have made my week!

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Crosby Hall

Goldcrest - 9 (1)
Blue Tit - 1 (1)
Great Tit - 4 (2)
Coal Tit - 1
Robin - 2
Chaffinch - 5 (1)
Song Thrush - 1
Blackbird - 3
Nuthatch - (1)

TOTAL: 26 (6)

Whilst the weather has been pretty mild recently, a late Red Admiral on Saturday and flowering blackberries are slightly surreal for early November. Despite the mild daytime temperatures, the signs of winter approach were evident on Sunday morning with the first significant frost of the winter.

Following a top up of the feeders on Saturday lunchtime, the signs looked good at Brook Vale for a session on Sunday morning, Chaffinch, Bullfinch and Greenfinches occupying the feeding station. However, Sunday turned out to be a pretty dismal session, the highlights of which were a single Goldcrest and two passing Whooper Swans.


Brook Vale

Goldcrest - 1
Blue Tit - 4 (2)
Great Tit - 1 (2)
Robin - 1 (1)
Dunnock - 1
Blackbird - 2
Greenfinch - 2

TOTAL: 12 (5)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Top Ten at Ten

As we have now come to the end of the tenth month of 2011, I think it is worth taking a look at ringing totals that myself and Moxey have achieved so far this year. Last week we exceeded our 2010 ringing total, and this is reflected in the increase in certain species, Blackcap in particular. The species with higher totals (so far) than 2010 are in bold.

1. Blackcap (422)
2. Blue Tit (417)
3. Swift (308)
4. Great Tit (242)
5. House Martin (201)
6. Blackbird (194)
7. Chaffinch (168)
8. Robin (126)
9. L.T.Tit (119)
10. Greenfinch (116)

Blackcap - most ringed so far!

This year we have also caught a number of species that we hadn't caught in 2010, these are:

1. Lesser Redpoll (Woodhams, Brook Vale, Fulwood & Kings Moss)
2. Buzzard
3. Yellowhammer (Kings Moss)
4. Spotted Flycatcher (Brook Vale)
5. Grasshopper Warbler (Fulwood)
6. Meadow Pipit (Brook Vale)
7. Willow Tit (Kings Moss)
8. Tree Sparrow (Crosby)

With two months until the end of the year, we are hoping to ring close to 5000 birds this year, but a lot will depend on the weather and the arrival the rest of the winter migrants.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Moxey on Tour: Taipal

The 28th was spent travelling back to Brasfemes so there was no ringing. It was early to bed as an early start was called for. We left about 5am and got the constant effort line up at Taipal before dawn. This is a reedbed site in the Mondego valley near Montemor-o-Velho and it is a place that I always look forward to go to when i visit Paulo. The nets erected it was off for breakfast in Montemor.`

The weather forecast predicted temperatures of 34C but it was rather cool at first. It was another beautiful sunny day with no clouds. The wind was almost non-existent and I just wish we could have these conditions here on Merseyside when we are operating at our sites.

The first net round produced a Little Bittern- a rather stroppy species which is not averse to having a go at you after you have released it on the ground. It was nice to ring one. Over the years I have caught quite a lot of Little Bitterns at Sto. Andre. However recently they have been caught infrequently by us and we have had on sightings of them in some years. The conditions at Taipal are more favourable for them and I usually see them on every visit.

It was an excellent mornings ringing with a total of 43 birds ringed. As one would expect in this habitat Reed Warblers were a substantial part of the catch. There were still a few Bluethroats and Willow Warblers about but nowhere near the numbers of the previous weekend at Salreu. As the morning progressed the temperature rose to the predicted 34C and the catch rate slowed right down.

Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
Little Bittern - 1
Blackbird - 1
Pied Flycatcher - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Willow Warbler - 5
Bluethroat - 3
Whitethroat - 1
Cetti’s Warbler - 6
Reed Warbler - 23
Blue Tit - 1


Sadly I had to leave. I had had a great week with Paulo and Luis on the road. In total we ringed 870 birds and I had met up with old friends and made some new ones. My special thanks to Paulo, Isobel, Ana and Daniela for as ever making me so welcome in their home. They are very special people and I look forward to the day we can welcome them into our home.

Paulo put me on the 3pm train in Coimbra and with the instructions of my son Thomas, an ex Porto resident, I managed to navigate the Metro in Porto to the airport to catch the flight back to Liverpool where the temperature was not very different to that of Coimbra.