Thursday, 31 May 2012

Sizzlin' under the Sun

I'm a little behind with the whole blogging thing at the moment - it's a busy time of year at school and with the birds, so I struggle to find time to sleep, let alone get onto the computer. On Sunday I headed to Brook Vale, and the question on my mind was whether the catch total would exceed the temperature in degrees celcius, but then I was on my own...so I was kept pretty busy regardless of the catch rate.

Netting in the usual places, I managed to put two lines up in the reed bed, the first real attempt in the reeds at Brook Vale this year, largely due to high water level and a lack of time. Early on, it was Robins that made up the running, with five 3J's and an adult, as well as the usual appearances from Blackcap and Whitethroat. By 8am, when Steve finally arrived, the temperature had already made it into the twenties and the reed bed finally woke up. Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler started to turn up in relatively quick succession, finally getting our scirpaceus totals rolling for the year. With half term approaching, I will be spending a bit more time in the reed beds looking for nests and monitoring our Reed Warblers and, as with last year, collecting biometric data for Miguel and his PhD.

Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

L.T.Tit -   4
Wren -   3   (1)
Blackcap -   4   (3)
Robin -   6
Dunnock -   (1)
Reed Warbler -   7   (3)
Sedge Warbler -   1
Whitethroat -   2   (2)
Blue Tit -   1   (1)
Goldfinch -   2
Greenfinch -   2
Blackbird -   2   (1)

TOTAL:   34   (12)

A brief session before tutoring on Tuesday at Fulwood brought a single Reed Warbler and one nest located but there wasn't much time for anything else. Last night me and Moxey headed out, once again, to check a few nest boxes and catch up with a few pulli that we owe a visit to.

First stop was Hightown Fields to check on a few Lapwing that Moxey had spotted the day before, and the first birds of the day were not from nest boxes at all, a total of five Lapwing being ringed.
Following the Lapwing, we headed to a couple of farms where we could expect Jackdaw (invaders and usurpers of both Kestrel and Barn Owl) and we ringed two large young.

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

The Kestrels of the evening were not in a box either, nesting on a ledge of hay in the corner of a barn. Three well-grown young were ringed and as we were leaving, the female flew in with what looked like avian prey. A brief stop in Halsall and another brood of Blue Tit were also ringed in the Tree Sparrow boxes.


Lapwing -   5
Jackdaw -   2
Kestrel -   3
Blue Tit -   7

TOTAL:   17

Monday, 28 May 2012

...under the blue skies of Rimrose...

On Saturday morning I met Charlie at Fulwood for a session in a slightly different area of the site and we were welcomed by balmy 3:30am temperatures of thirteen degrees! Due to the breeze, we stuck to the shelter of the scrub, foregoing any mist netting in the reed bed.

As is usually the case at this time of year, the majority of the catch comes in the first two hours of dawn, which suits us quite well given the public nature of the site. A couple of Song Thrush, a Linnet and the first Great Tits in (what seems like) ages were amongst the adult birds we caught early on, with 3J's (birds hatched this year in juvenile plumage) being caught in the form of Greenfinch, Dunnock and Robin. It was this weekend last year that we started to catch 3J Whitethroat and Blackcap at Brook Vale at the other end of Rimrose Valley but everything seems much later this year, both in terms of arrivals and in breeding. We are yet to catch a Whitethroat with a brood patch, although Blackcap have been caught with brood patch code 3 in the past three weeks.

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

 Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)

With the temperatures rising, the wind also began to get a little too strong, so by 9am we were packing up, but not before we had our first dragonfly of the year, this female Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa). Apologies for the poor-quality image.



L.T.Tit -   1
Chiffchaff -   (1)
Wren -   1   (2)
Robin -   1   (2)
Dunnock -   2   (2)
Blackcap -   10   (3)
Whitethroat -   8
Great Tit -   3   (1)
Linnet -   1
Chaffinch -   1
Blue Tit -   (2)
Greenfinch -   2
Song Thrush -   2   (1)
Blackbird -   1

TOTAL:   33   (14)

Later in the afternoon, I headed up to meet Steve and ring a brood of five Kestrel that we knew would be ready. All birds were a healthy size and at a similar stage in growth - no doubt this spell of settled weather has aided feeding success for the parents, much to the benefit of the youngsters. 


 Steve ringing a Kestrel

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Keeping Busy

This week, Liverpool has, like the majority of the country, been basking in glorious sunshine. This has been coupled with an influx of rather disorientated lobsters and semi-naked men within the city much to the amusement of some. Wednesday however, was a dull affair with the region shrouded in a cool mist and so we headed out to check a few boxes with relative success.

Heading out onto the mosses, we had one farm that had two Tree Sparrow boxes with five young ready to ring and these were promptly ringed but the Blue Tit and Goldfinch nests were still on eggs so we'll have to come back for them next time. At the same farm, we also have Kestrel breeding and a quick inspection of the nest revealed four youngsters ready for ringing.

Kestrel (Falco tinnuculus)


Heading on to another farm, a brood of five Jackdaw were ringed, the first of the year and continuing the trend of Jackdaws 'taking over' established Barn Owl boxes. The other box on site had Kestrel with eggs, so we will return in two weeks or so.

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

The final stop of the evening in Halsall was to catch up with a couple of broods of Blue Tit that were ready, one of eleven and one of five. There are another two nest boxes to check here, so we'll complete that visit next week as well.

The Sun was back out on Thursday unlike me. I spent the afternoon/evening planning a Level 2 Horticulture course that I will be delivering to KS4 students from the end of June. The evening was finished by playing Dr Frankenstein at the school Arts Festival.

On Friday, I headed out to a new site that I was asked to survey for Barn Owls, with the aim of confirming that they are breeding on the site. Upon inspection of the box (I forgot my torch so I had to do it by hand) revealed not one, but two adults in the box as well as three chicks. The chicks were too small to ring, but both adults were ringed much to the delight of the landowner. It's always exciting to add new sites to our Barn Owl nestbox scheme and this site looks pretty special with a wide variety of birds found on site.

Barn Owl (Tito alba)

We then headed on to check a few more farms, Tawny Owl still on eggs, Kestrel with day-old chicks and unhatched eggs, another Kestrel nest with six eggs and a Barn Owl box with two adults, both ringed and confirmed as a couple for at least the last three years.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

...and a little bit of that!

Following on from the weekends shenanigans of nest box checking, I picked Chris up after work and we headed out to another farm that we will be working with, monitoring nest boxes. After some early confusion in locating the first stand of boxes, via a golf course, we found the boxes and got on with our job of numbering and checking occupancy.

Box checking

Out of the eighty boxes we checked, about seven were occupied, not surprising given that this is the first year that the boxes have been up. Encouragingly, one of the boxes was occupied with Tree Sparrow and four chicks were ringed and hopefully this will be the start of a colony. The rest of the boxes were occupied by Blue Tit, fourteen of which were ringed from two nests, with the remainder having small young or eggs. Chris will return at the weekend to ring the rest of the young that should be ready by then.

Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)

Another bonus of working on this farm is the abundance of Yellowhammer, estimated at six pairs. It will be interesting to see whether decent flocks can be built up with a regime of winter feeding...it's something to keep Chris busy with!

Elsewhere, Moxey headed out with the Mothership to check some local farmland for Lapwing chicks having success with three chicks ringed. We missed out on Lapwing last year because we had a lot of other things on at the time, luckily this year Moxey has managed to spend a bit more time monitoring the farmland.

This evening I had a couple of hours between finishing work and heading to a tutoring session with a student so I headed down to Fulwood with a couple of double panel nets. Despite netting in the margin of the reedbed, I managed two Sedge Warbler and, unusually, a female Blackcap. The reed bed was relatively quiet but Sedge song definately triumphed over Reed - I'm not sure that we have as many Reed Warbler at Fulwood this year, time will tell.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A little bit of this...

It has been a very busy weekend here in Liverpool to say the least! With Charlie away on a BTO Nest Recording course, Steve celebrating his wedding anniversary and Tineke in work, it was left to me to head out to do a bit of mist-netting this morning. I've had my eye on a bit of overgrown 'wasteland' for quite a while now and I popped down for a brief session this morning. It proved quite fruitful, with juveniles of Dunnock, Greenfinch and Long-tailed Tit all fledged and being caught.

Juvenile Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Juvenile Dunnock (Prunella modularis)

Yesterday evening I had managed to get out to Rimrose to check out the remaining nest boxes, only one was occupied in the Fulwood sector, a further eight Blue Tit pulli ringed.

A Scouse Ringer ringing, for a change!

L.T.Tit -   4
Blue Tit -   8
Blackcap -   (1)
Whitethroat -   2
Chaffinch -  1
Goldfinch -   2
Dunnock -   2
Robin -   1
Greenfinch -   7
Song Thrush -   2

TOTAL:   37   (1)

The ringing totals for the weekend stood at a modest thirty-seven birds, however the whole weekend was spent surveying nests and getting little jobs done at our different sites. Some of those nests were of small species, such as tits and Tree Sparrows but some were for larger species like these Kestrels:

Kestrel pulli (Falco tinnuculus)

The Kestrel were too small to ring, they will probably be ready in a week or so, depending on the weather and subsequent food availability.

Mid-afternoon I joined Chris Bridge at Gorse Hill Nature Reserve near Ormskirk as he was halfway through checking the nest boxes on site. Lots of the boxes were occupied and birds were ringed including Coal, Blue and Great Tit, with many boxes to return to as the adults were on eggs or the young were too small. Chris has recently joined our group and these were his first birds on 'our' rings, so welcome Chris and long may it continue.

Chris getting started

Thursday, 17 May 2012

More Pulli

This evening I headed back out to Halsall because some of the nest boxes should have been ready. Only one brood was ready to ring, the birds hadn't grown as quickly as expected,this could be due, in part, to the weather conditions since the weekend. There were a good number of Swift and House Martin hawking over the canal, with Reed Bunting, Reed and Sedge Warbler singing from the margins. The hawthorn hedge was buzzing with Chaffinch and Whitethroat activity, back at the car a Kestrel flew over towards the church.

Blue Tit (Cyanastes caeruleus)

A quick check of a Kestrel box on the way home showed that it was occupied so we will get back and check that in a few weeks time.  There are still plenty of tit and sparrow boxes to get back out to, some with small young and some still on eggs, so we'll be back out next week and probably the week after to get them done.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Young 'uns

On Sunday, I met Steve and Natasha at Ince Blundell for a session in the woods. During a short session, we managed to catch a few more Blackcap and retrap a number of birds ringed during this and the previous winter, including Treecreeper and Nuthatch. The Blackcap survey walk revealed a total of fourteen singing males within the wood, this is the first full survey that we have done at Ince Blundell and we aim to continue this in further years.

Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)

Natasha's eagle eyes lead us to a Coal Tit nest and her nimble frame, using Steve as a step ladder led us to ring nine out of a brood of ten.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Following the checking of 200 Tree Sparrow boxes the previous day, me and Moxey headed out towards Halsall to check a further sixty at a farm that has recently entered higher level stewardship. Out of a total of sixty boxes, only four were occupied and each of these were Blue Tits. Two of the broods will be ready at the end of the week, two boxes contained eggs and a further Blackbird nest was located in the process of laying.

We then headed out onto the moss to check some boxes at another farm that we do some work with, two boxes occupied with very young sparrows and a further brood of tits. We'll check these later in the week when the young should be old enough to be ringed.

Brood of young Blue Tit

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Birds, Butterflies & Brook Vale

Myself and Charlie headed in to Brook Vale this morning, starting (un)bright and very early, we put the usual nets up but due to the wind, we restricted our nets in the reed bed. We weren't quite as successful as the previous week, but the lack of retraps of species such as Whitethroat and Blackcap suggests that there is ongoing movement.

We also caught our first two juvenile Dunnocks of the spring, retrapped a Sedge and Reed Warbler originally ringed in 2011 and ringed our first Long-tailed Tits since March.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

The reed bed at Brook Vale is starting to bustle with life but unlike most years, it is the Sedge Warbler that is the more abundant Acrocephalus warbler so far. In the whole of 2011, only seven Sedge Warblers were ringed at Brook Vale - in the last two ringings sessions we have ringed six! In contrast, of 24 adult birds ringed before August in 2011, we have only caught two this year, one of which was originally ringed in 2011. This time last year, we were catching decent numbers of Reed Warbler each ringing session and this year seems to have brought about a bit of a slump.

Urban Oasis: The reed bed at Brook Vale

The highlight of this mornings session for me, was the butterflies. There were plenty of Peacock, Speckled Wood and the occasional Red Admiral but the highlights were excellent views of  Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines), Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) and Comma (Polygonia c-album).

 Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus)

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

L.T.Tit -   2
Wren -   (1)
Chiffchaff -   (1)
Dunnock -   2   (1)
Robin -   1
Great Tit -   (1)
Blue Tit -   (1)
Sedge Warbler -   2   (1)
Reed Warbler -   (2)
Whitethroat -   6
Blackcap -   8
Reed Bunting -   1
Linnet -   1
Greenfinch -   1
Blackbird -   2
Jay -   1


TOTAL:   27   (8)


Following the session at Brook Vale, me and Moxey headed out towards Rainford to check a new farm that we are working with for the first time. Situated to close to Kings Moss, this farm has almost 200 nest boxes for Tree Sparrows and we have taken on the role of monitoring the boxes. I had headed up there with Charlie on Thursday evening to check some of the boxes, but almost all were unoccupied except for a few boxes with Blue or Great Tit. Today, we checked the remainder of the boxes, but unfortunately, there were no occupants of the Tree Sparrow flavour.

Following the monitoring session, we headed slightly closer to home to ring a brood of Tawny Owl chicks, two in total, one of which made quite a mess of the palm of my hand, much to the amusement of the farmer!

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Returnees on Rimrose

On Sunday I headed to Brook Vale, starting slightly earlier than usual due to the fact that I was on my own. It took me a little while to get the nets up, but I managed the usual nets including a line in the reed bed. I arrived at 4am and there were already at least three Sedge Warbler and two Reed Warbler singing from the reeds and by the time dawn broke, the scratchy retort of the Whitethroats revealed that at least four singing males had moved in over the previous days.

Returning Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

Moxey had arrived by 7am, in time for the mini-rush of Linnet and Sedge Warblers, one of which turned up in a net surrounded by bramble and elder - not your expected Sedge Warbler habitat! One of the Sedge Warbler was ringed the previous year as were the two Whitethroat retraps - interestingly, the two Blackcap retraps were birds from the previous week - does this mean that birds were still moving through?

Returning Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

With a slight breeze, the sun shining, it was a really pleasant morning. A couple of the regular dog walkers stopped to ask on the progress of the road development and whether any of the bat boxes were occupied. Unfortunately I couldn't answer their questions, hopefully we will get someone out to check the bat boxes under licence in the near future.

Steve popped down by 9:30 - after all the hard work had been done, but in time to ring the second Reed Warbler of the year. During the morning we did manage to get a few jobs done in the reed bed so all of the net lines are now open ready for the arrival of the rest of the Acro's.

First juvenile Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

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

TOTAL: 43   (16)

As we were packing up the car, we got a phone call from one of our farmers who had a Sparrowhawk that had flown into an outbuilding. We promptly relocated to ring this second calendar-year, apparently non-breeding female. A stunning bird and an awesome predator.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Back to Fulwood

Moxey managed to make it out to the sewage farm on Friday but despite the two-hundred plus numbers of Swift and similar of Swallow, the birds were flying too high to be caught by conventional or un-conventional methods. Settling for a couple of static nets between the filter beds, ten birds were caught and ringed, including the first Swallow and Magpie of the year.

Swallow -   4
Starling -   4
Magpie -   1
Dunnock -   1

TOTAL:   10

Yesterday, me, Moxey and Charlie headed to Fulwood for the first session of the spring. I wasn't sure that we would be able to get all the intended nets up given the rainfall last week and the water levels in the reed bed are still quite high. I feel ropey steps and some mincing around from Charlie and we got one line into the reeds however the other two net locations are 'burn affected' so we wont be able to operate them for a little while.

The reeds were not that productive, catching only three birds during the session, the first Reed and Sedge Warblers of the year and a single Reed  Bunting. There was a decent number of Acrocephalus singing in the reeds and over the next few weeks, Charlie will start to monitor nests and hopefully we will ring the chicks.

 Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

 Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

Elsewhere, the number of Whitethroat seems to have increased in the last day or two, but it seems apparent that the numbers of Blackcap singing aren't as high as they were yesterday - reflected in the ringing totals. The only Willow Warbler of the session was a retrap from last year, as was the only retrap Whitethroat. As an ecologist, by academic qualification, it would be poor form to develop an emotional attachment to a single bird. As a ringer however, it brings a great sense of satisfaction to recapture birds ringed in previous years knowing that they have travelled thousands of kilometers in search of a suitable habitat to winter (or summer). Whether that is considered an 'emotional attachment' or not, I am definately guilty of admiring these migrants.

Peacock (Inachis io)

Later on in the session, and one of the last birds to be ringed during the day, Charlie got to ring his very first House Sparrow. The House Sparrow is not of conservation concern on a global level, but in the UK the bird is red-listed. Given the proximity of the piggeries to a housing estate, it is surprising that we don't catch more at this site.

 Charlie (This is his excited face. Honest.)


Wren -   (1)
Willow Warbler -   (1)
Chiffchaff -   4
Dunnock -   1   (2)
Blackcap -   4   (1)
Reed Bunting -   1
Reed Warbler -   1
Sedge Warbler -   1
Whitethroat -   1   (1)
Robin -   1   (2)
Linnet -   1
Blue Tit -   (2)
House Sparrow -   1
Grrenfinch -   2
Song Thrush -   1   (1)
Blackbird -   1   (2)

TOTAL:   20   (13)

Later on, I headed into Crosby Hall to try to estimate the numbers of breeding Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. Whilst I completed the survey, with the assistance of Tineke and Canela, I put a couple of nets up and added to the days Blackcap total, retrapping two from last year as well as a Willow Warbler from last year. Whilst I'm sure there are still a significant number of Blackcap still on the move, some birds are already settled on territories and breeding is well underway. One of the females caught demonstrated how birds lose feathers on their bellies and increase capillary blood flow to this area, known as the brood patch.

Brood patch on a Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

From yesterdays survey, there appears to be a minimum of ten breeding pairs of Goldcrest in the Little Crosby section of the estate, ten to twelve breeding pairs of Blackcap, four Chiffchaff and a single pair of Willow Warbler. These estimates are based on singing males and observations so I will complete the survey again in two weeks time to try to build up a more accurate picture.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Reelin' on Rimrose

I headed down to Fulwood this evening to prepare the net rides in preparation for a ringing session this weekend. A leisurely walk down the canal led to a near-altercation with a hooligan firing a wrist-mounted catapult, I think a combination of shears, binoculars and most importantly, a beard, put him off terrorising the Coot any further. As I walked further on, there were two Coot still on eggs in the margins of the canal, whilst two broods have already hatched, along with a brood of Moorhen.

 Spot the Coot

Arriving at the pigeries, I quickly got about the job of trimming back any overhanging elder and brambles. The job didn't take long and the five net rides were quickly opened up and I could get down to doing some birding. A quick walk around the reed bed revealed that there had been a more recent burn at the Pendle estate end where we sometimes net in the reeds. The regrowth is already well underway and the area affected isn't too large and so far, the impact of arson hasn't been as high as it has in the past.

On the Crosby side of the reed bed, there was a Grasshopper Warbler reeling away as well as a total of five singing Reed Warbler and two Sedge Warbler. Most Hawthorns had a Whitethroat perched up top singing away and the copses yielded the majority of the Blackcap. The Valley is positively buzzing right now and well worth a look if you are in the area.



Elsewhere, Moxey headed out to Hightown to check out the fields for Wheatear moving through. During the course of the afternoon, there were peaks and troughs in terms of the numbers of birds around with most birds moving off pretty sharpish. Two birds were trapped although one escaped leaving just one Wheatear ringed.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Communists are coming!

With a decent day of weather today, I was straight on the blower to Moxey after work to see if he fancied heading down to Hightown Fields to see what was around in terms of migrants. Reports on a number of local bird blogs had reported a decent movement of Wheatear and Willow Warblers earlier in the week, but it was the Whitethroat that were most apparent upon our arrival. Their scratchy tones were calling from a number of directions with at least four singing males in the vicinity.

We put up an additional net to those we have used in previous sessions, this paid off, picking up an early Chiffchaff. There were a few Blackcap around, but none were caught and most surprisingly, it wasn;t until we were packing away that we caught a Willow Warbler. Despite a number of males singing away, it would appear that as of yet, they are not seriously defending any territory, suggesting that in the main, the females are yet to arrive.

In total, we managed to capture two Whitethroat, our first of the year, a male and a female. This is our second Sylvia species of the year and one that we expect to catch many more of as part of our increased efforts on Rimrose.

Male Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

 Female (top), Male (bottom) Whitethroat

During the session we saw a number of hirundines with plenty of Swallow, a few House Martin and a single Sand Martin but most importantly, three Swifts! Hopefully over the next week or so, we'll get the opportunity to get stuck in at the Sewage Farm!

Whitethroat -   2
Willow Warbler -   1
Chiffchaff -   2
Blue Tit -   1
Reed Bunting -   (1)
Robin -   1   (1)

TOTAL:   7   (2)