Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Busy Weekend

Last Saturday, fresh from our Portugal trip, me and Moxey headed to the North West Ringers Conference organised by the North Lancs Ringing Group picking up Charlie and Chris Bridge along the way. The conference was excellent - a number of fantastic talks and a great opportunity to catch up with various scallywags from across the North West. A big well done must go to NWLRG for all their hard work.

 The Ringers Meeting

On Sunday, I picked up Chris and met Steve at Kings Moss for another session at the two feeding stations, we were later joined by Moxey. Despite the breeze, we persisted with the usual nets around the feeding stations and a line along the hedge in the field. The hedge line certainly paid off early on, picking up a couple of Yellowhammer and this, rather scabby Chaffinch that was, quite obviously, released unringed.

Scabby Chaffinch

Moxey joined us by 8:30 in time to watch the Buzzard find a new regular perch now that the big hay bail stack has been moved. There were no signs of the Barn Owl in the morning, but Alan assures us they are back in the box as the recently installed cameras inform!

Goldfinches were the order of the day early on, along with the usual titmice, but the breeze definately affected the catch rate. By 10am, we had closed the net line along the hedge, despite another Yellowhammer and one escapee. We have now reached double figures for Yellowhammer for the year and whilst that is only ten birds ringed, it is a massive improvement on the groups totals for recent years. Hopefully over the coming months and years, we will build up some decent totals of this species at this site to give Steve a little project to work on!
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

By midday, the breeze had got too strong for us to continue and the number of dog walkers that failed to obey the 'ALL DOGS MUST BE KEPT ON A LEAD' signs was really starting to get annoying. As Chris has just started working with us, and managed to rip the crotch of his jeans (a tribute to the fantastic work of Kevin Bloody Grundy and his world famous 'fannypants') we debated whether we should sacrifice Chris for the greater good. Luckily for Chris, and the mental stability of dogs everywhere, we left Chris to learning how to fat and muscle score Blue Tits!

L.T.Tit -   (1)
Dunnock -   4   (1)
Blue Tit -   10   (8)
Willow Tit -   (1)
Great Tit -   3   (3)
Robin -   2   (1)
Chaffinch -   7   (4)
Yellowhammer -   4
Goldfinch -   10   (3)
Greenfinch -   5
Blackbird -   1   (1)
Jay -   (1)

TOTAL:   46   (24)

Thursday, 23 February 2012

On Tour: Spinoletta's

Following a morning at Figueira da Foz, we went for a bite to eat and then on to Paul da Madriz to set the nets for a Water Pipit roost and the following mornings ringing session. Eventually joined by Miguel 'I-am-a-Facebook-stalker' Araújo we set two lines in what is considered to be the most treacherous marsh in the whole of the Iberian peninsula - I almost fell in about three times! We also put up Line 1 (for the morning) and a double at a new feeding station. The most amusing part of the afternoon, other than making fun of Miguel, was watching Luis climb a tree to inspect a nest, with me and Moxey watching only for a squirrel to shoot out of its drey just as Luis got close. Denied.

Line 3 - ready for Water Pipits

Following a brief adjournment to a café we returned to the marsh to open the nets and place the calls for the Water Pipits. It wasn't long before the Water Pipits started to respond to the roost calls, along with a small number of Swallows and a few Starlings. It was interesting to watch the response of the pipits, instead of coming straight into the calls, the birds were dropping into the reed bed within ten meters either side of the nets and then progressed through the reeds until they crossed the net ride, at which point they were caught.

We ended up with twenty-eight Water Pipits, a Reed Bunting and a Starling - a rare appearance in the nets at Madriz. So it was that there would be new species all around, the birds were then roosted over night to be ringed in the morning.

Moxey rings his first Portuguese Water Pipit

 Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)

Paulo Ferreira can't hide his excitement at ringing a Starling

Scouse meets Spinoletta

The morning session was slow....and cold. Madriz has it's own microclimate which means in winter, its bloody cold first thing in the morning! The challenging overnight temperatures and an apparent lack of natural food at this time of year for species such as Robin was clear, with the lowest weight of a Robin I have ever encountered at 11.4g. A bird would never survive in the UK at weights less than 15g and I don't hold out much hope for this individual.

The mornings ringing was slow, but once the temperatures started to rise, some of the birds started moving, with a couple of Chiffchaff and a few Blackcap making an appearance, along with another female Cetti's Warbler. By time it came to pack away, the temperature had risen to a balmy 15 degrees so we headed to Montemor-o-Velho for lunch and a few tasty Super Bocks!

The view of Line 2

Greenfinch -   1
Chiffchaff -   3
Water Pipit -   28
Starling -   1
Reed Bunting -   1
Cetti's Warbler -   (1)
Blue Tit -   (1)
Robin -   (1)
Great Tit -   (1)
Blackbird -   (1)
Blackcap -   2   (1)
Coal Tit -   1

TOTAL:   31   (6)

Another fantastic visit to Portugal completed, thanks to Paulo Tenriero, Tó Periera, Paulo Ferriera, Pedro Andrade and Luis Silva but most of all, Isabel Mendes for her fantastic cooking!!!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

On Tour: Figueira da Foz

Our second day in the Mondego took us to the mouth of the river and a new site in a long but narrow reed bed. Paulo and Luis first ringed in this area last September catching a decent number of birds on migration and I visited the site on my last visit to Portugal in October. This site will form one of the locations for migration monitoring over the coming years.

 A view along the reed bed

Towards the salinas

Given the time of year and the breeze, we did not have expectations of a large catch but Reed Bunting and Bluethroat were a possibility. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful with both of these species, however we did pick up eleven collybitas - all of these were checked for signs of suspended primary moult, indicative of an ibericus at this time of year. You can read more here.

Interestingly, all of the Cetti's were females but Paulo told us that it was not unusual at this time of year due to sexual site preferences. Amongst the rest was a single Sardinian Warbler, a single Robin and two Blue Tits....all typical reed bed passerines!

Following the ringing, we took a wander around the salinas observing a small flock of Sanderling, a number of Flamingos, two dozen Little Grebe and a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull. A number of Black Kites were wheeling over the salinas, early to leave and early to return it would seem!

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Adult Male Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala)

Chiffchaff -  11
Cetti's Warbler -   6
Robin -   1
Sardinian Warbler -   1
Blue Tit -   2


Friday, 17 February 2012

On Tour: Vale Soeiro

On Monday night we both arrived in Coimbra to stay with our good friend Paulo Tenreiro for a few days. On Tuesday morning we headed to a new site that PADA started ringing in November (shortly after I left from my autumn visit). The ringing session was part of a project investigating wintering birds, using standardised capture techniques and rotated through the different wintering ringing locations in a similar way to CES.

Early on, it was pretty cold, so once all the nets were up, we tucked into a hearty breakfast, the likes of which we don't see at Crosby Hall. This new site is mainly made up of a mixture of pines, although most of these are now dead as the result of a parasitic beetle, and olive trees.

Throughout the morning, there were a good number of Chaffinch and Serin calling from the surrounding area, as well as a few determined Firecrests that continued their high-pitched warblings, sadly none of these species were caught. Blackcap and Robin were the order of the day, making up the majority of the catch. In a few weeks, these birds will start to head North towards their breeding grounds, although some birds will be resident. This was evident in the number of birds carrying fat reserves, principally Blackcap.


By the end of the morning, we had managed to ring 39 birds, whilst these totals were less than half that of those caught further North, it was apparent that there was less opportunities for the birds to feed on the pollen of the acacias, as there were none in the vicinity. 

It was good to complete a ringing session with Paulo Ferreira once again, the first with him since August at Santo André. We were also joined by José, a new trainee of the group, attending only his second ringing session - one for the future. By the time we had packed up, the air temperature had risen into double figures and our fingers managed to thaw out!

Ringing team (from left): Scouse Ringer, José, Paulo T, Paulo F

Blackcap -   13   (16)
Robin -   22   (6)
Sardinian Warbler -   1
Song Thrush -   1 
Blackbird -   1  (1)
Short-toes Treecreeper -   (1)

TOTAL 39   (24)

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

On Tour: Veiga da S.Simao Day 2

On Monday, a much reduced team, in size and not quality (!), headed back to Veiga da S.Simao for a second day of ringing. Using the same nets as the day before as well as an additional 9m in a patch of gorse, we weren't expecting a large catch, due to the impact of the day before and the increased wind speed. As it happened, we were to be pleasantly surprised.

The first net round brought a decent return, mainly made up of Blackcap, the majority of which were covered in pollen from the acacia. With the volume of birds from the first net round and with Miguel and Vanessa still trainees, Moxey went around the nets with Pedro and Tó as we continued to ring the birds. The group returned shortly afterwards with only a few birds, including a second Dartford Warbler, and we expected that the numbers were due to slow down.

By the third net round, the air temperature had risen, and so it seemed had the birds. A Firecrest, the first for the site, was an unexpected bonus in the atricapilla line and on the same net round, we had a Siskin in the new net, now named spinus in it's honour. This made Miguel a very happy boy from Braga.

Miguel and his Estrelinha

Firecrest (Regulus igniacapilus)

Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

The catch rate remained steady for the rest of the morning, with plenty of Blackcap and Chiffchaff turning up, spread between the different net lines. During the morning there were a number of sightings, including Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, whilst White Stork were also observed (the northernmost nesting site of White Stork was across the road).

Some of the team (from left): Vanessa, Miguel, Scouse Ringer, Pedro.

As I have mentioned in this and the previous two posts, Blackcap were the order of the day for both sessions and we were slightly disappointed not to catch one with a foreign ring, although we did retrap some of our own birds from previous sessions. The results of these sessions, and the fact that most of the Blackcap were carrying between 2 and 4 in fat score, highlight the importance of sites such as Veiga da S.Simao and also the importance of their current food source - pollen. The accumulation of pollen around the beak looks comical at times, but also rather awkward for the birds, especially Chiffchaff.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Pollen accumulation

By the end of the session, we had managed to beat the total of the day before, a rather satisfying result before the drive/train down to Coimbra.

Blackcap -   54   (5)
Chiffchaff -   19   (2)
Dartford Warbler -   1
Sardinian Warbler -   1   (1)
Wren -   1   (1)
Blackbird -   1
Firecrest -    1
Siskin -   1
L.T.Tit -   2   (2)
Chaffinch -   1
Robin -   2   (1)
Cetti's Warbler -   2   (5)
House Sparrow -   1   (1)
Great Tit -   1
S.T.Treecreeper -   (2)

TOTAL:   88   (20)


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

On Tour: Veiga da S.Simao Day 1

On Saturday morning, me and Moxey headed off for another trip to Portugal following my successful visit last February.....April....July/August.....and (unsuccessfully), in October. The plan was to ring for a few days in the North, near the small city of Viana do Castelo and then head south for a few days to the Mondego Valley to ringing with Paulo.

Sunday morning saw us arrive at Veiga da S.Simao by 6:20 to get the nets up before dawn which was some time after 7am. We were joined by quite a crew of trainees from the PBG group of ringers, based in the Porto area, as well as the giant Miguel Capelo from Braga. Having not visited the site since July (although Tó completed the Atlas sessions in late August and September), we were expecting the site to be pretty wet, as was the case last year, however the lack of rain this winter in Portugal has meant that everywhere is pretty dry. In some the case of the city of Braganca in the North-east of Portugal, they are already having to take drinking water into the city in tankers because there are insufficient levels in the reservoirs. I digress.

 Morning at Veiga

It was pretty cold when we arrived, the in-car thermometer suggested that the temperature was just below zero, but it was the bare flesh of the hands on the metal poles that really made us cold. We started off with the three lines that have been consistent since the initial session in October 2010, named after the principle species they caught in the initial session or the chapel - atricapilla, collybita and igreja. We added a new net location, just one 15m part the way through the morning, after observing Blackcap and Chiffchaff movements amongst the acacia, so we named it 'Mimosa'.

 Linha Mimosa

With so many trainees in attendance, it was lucky that we had a successful session, last February's sessions hadn't been that fruitful, mainly yielding resident birds with only a few winter visitors. This year however, there was a bigger presence of migrant species, principally Blackcap and Chiffchaff, largely feeding on the pollen of the acacia.

 The Veiga Ringing Collective

We also had the unexpected company of a horse. Tó bonded particularly well with the horse, so he decided to call it Tony, after his favourite singer - Tony Carreira.

 Tó gets 'familiar'

Earlier in the morning, one of the trainees had seen a Dartford Warbler in the meadow, to which we were surprised but on the next net round we had this young male waiting for us in the collybita line, right next to a Sardinian Warbler. It was Tó's first and a new, unexpected species for the site.

 Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)

Tó - undatably the happiest Vianense

With such an abundance of pollen, most of the birds were covered in it, including this Blue Tit that looked more like a hybrid with a Penduline Tit given the discolouration caused by the pollen.

Blue Tit (Cyanastes caeruleus pollenensis)

By midday, the weather had warmed up, a beautiful clear sky was above us and we had plenty of assistance packing away - a rather satisfying morning!

Blackcap -   38   (2)
Chiffchaff -   18
Chaffinch -   2
Dartford Warbler -   1
Cetti's Warbler -   4   (2)
Robin -   5
Coal Tit -   1   (1)
Wren -   1   (1)
Sardinian Warbler -   1   (2)
Dunnock -  1   (1)
Blue Tit -   3
L.T.Tit -   2
Stonechat -  1
Greenfinch -   1
House Sparrow -   1
Blackbird -   1
Short-toed Treecreeper -   1

TOTAL :   81   (9)

Following a spot of lunch, we headed up to Caminha on the Minho river to take a look at Paul do Coura where we had a successful ringing session in July. Things were pretty quiet with the odd Fan-tailed Warbler, Reed Bunting and Water Rail in attendance.

One of July's lines - well made!

Monday, 6 February 2012

A Frosty Reception

On Sunday morning, myself and Moxey headed off to Kings Moss, realising it would be our best opportunity of catching any real numbers. Despite the forecast, the overnight temperatures dipped below zero and with the drizzle of the evening before, the driving conditions were trecherous. The frost produced these fantastic effects on the willow:

As it was just the two of us, we only put eight nets up, covering two of the feeding stations. Following Steves dedicated observations of the day before, we had been expecting finch flock to come in mid-morning. We were lucky with the wind, for the second session running, and we were able to put 30m of net along the hedge at the edge of the stubble field, bringing us two Redwing (first of the year), two Song Thrush (first of the year) and a single Yellowhammer. 
Redwing (Turdus illiacus)

As expected, the finch numbers started to pick up through the morning, mainly at the feeding station near the orchard. Two Yellowhammer early on, along with a Reed Bunting were caught amongst a couple of Chaffinches. The other feeding station was mainly producing the titmice with plenty of retraps.

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)
Other observations included a persistent male Sparrowhawk, Grey Partridge, Kestrel and a few Fieldfare. Steve popped along around eleven to help us pack away just as a new finch flock descended bringing a good catch of Goldfinch. I had to pack up at midday however, a site visit on Rimrose in preparation for the BOB Box installation.

By the time we departed, the thaw was almost complete, and I could feel my fingers again!

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Song Thrush -   2
Redwing -   2
Blackbird -   (1)
Yellowhammer -   3
Reed Bunting -   1
Chaffinch -   6   (1)
Goldfinch -   14
Greenfinch -   3
Blue Tit -   9   (17)
Great Tit -   3   (5)
Dunnock -   (2)
Bullfinch -   2
Willow Tit -   (1)

TOTAL:   45    (27)