Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Scouse Ringer no Verão: Veiga da S.Simão

My summer of ringing has begun as we arrived in Portugal on Sunday night. This year will see my ringing efforts focusing on the north of the country, mostly in coastal reed bed sites to monitor the migration of sub-Saharan passerines with both PADA grupo de anilhadores in the Mondego Valley and Grupo Viana do Castello (GCV) in the beautiful Minho region in the north.

We have six days of ringing planned in the Minho - three days at our, now established, site Veiga da S.Simão, across the river from the city of Viana do Castelo, and three days at Paul do Coura on the border with Spain.

The ringing sessions at Veiga have been relatively slow to start with only 51 birds ringed over the first two days, but these included Melodious Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Stonechat and Nightingale. The winter was quite dry in this area this year and as a result, the insect count is quite low and this could have had an impact on the number of breeding warblers as the numbers of Blackcap, Cetti's Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff are greatly down on last year.

Juvenile Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

 Nightingale: This bird was aged as a juvenile due to the buff tipping on the tertial feathers - this becomes less reliable later in the summer as the fringes of the feathers become more worn.

Tomorrow we have the first of two public ringing demonstrations for Ciencia Viva: Biologia no Verão where we will be joined by ten members of the public (and a few trainees) to explain what ringing is, how and why it is done and to discuss some of our findings. We will then repeat the three day cycle at Paul do Coura, a reed bed site, culminating in another Ciencia Viva session.

Juvenile Robin (Erithacus rubecula) with slight beak deformity
23 July

Blue Tit -   3
Stonechat -   1
Blackcap -   3   (2)
Robin -   4
Sardinian Warbler -   3   (2)
Cetti's Warbler -   1
Great Tit -   4   (1)
Greenfinch -   1
Short-toed Treecreeper -   1
Wren -   1
Blackbird -   8   (1)

TOTAL:    30   (6)

Waxbill (Estrilda astrild)
24 July

Melodious Warbler -   1
Robin -   3
Sardinian Warbler -   4
Chaffinch -   2
Blackcap -   1   (3)
Nightingale -   1
Reed Warbler -  1
Wren -   1
Waxbill -   2
Song Thrush -   2
Blackbird -   2
Great Tit -   1

TOTAL:   21   (3)

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Fault Bars

Last night, me and Moxey managed to get out to ring some Barn Owl chicks that we expected to be ready for ringing. The wet weather that we have had over the last three months - two records broken and one on the way - has made life difficult for all manner of birds, and Barn Owls have fallen victim to food shortages here in SW Lancs. As reported in earlier posts, we have experienced many cases of cannabalism and failed broods with the Barn Owls as the adults struggle to provide enough food to support their youngsters.

We are hoping that most of the earlier nests we have visited will have already re-attempted or will be in the process of doing so - we'll have to do the rounds in September when these young should be ready to ring should the weather not improve. Last night was our most successful night yet, with a total of five Barn Owls being ringed, one brood of two (previously three), a single bird and a brood of three of which only two could be ringed - the runt unlikely to survive.

Two Barn Owl (Tyto alba) and an old-school BTO sweater!

In a normal year, broods of three and four are the norm, with the occasional fives and a few sixes - with most broods being singles or just doubles, it shows how difficult this year has been.

This morning, I headed out to Brook Vale for the last session before I go away on Sunday. Moxey joined me later on and we had a relatively busy morning with decent numbers of resident birds being caught. We were disappointed that despite the netting effort in the reed bed, only six Reed Warbler were caught, with only one of them being caught in the reed bed. The four birds ringed were all juveniles with one of the retraps originally ringed two years ago. This led me to wonder whether the failed breeders have already left and if so, could we expect to be catching them in Portugal in the first two weeks of August?

Each of the Reed Warblers showed evidence of fault barring in the tail and, to a lesser extent, across the wings. Some of the fault barring was quite severe, although I didn't manage to take a photo. Fault bars are caused when the bird is in the nest and there is a shortage of food, as a result there is a discolouration and in some case, a weakness, in the feathers at that stage of growth because they are unable to develop as they would normally.

Moderate fault bar - Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

The tail is the main area where fault barring can be observed, but it can also be seen across the wing. It would seem that as the wings are more critical to flight and therefore survival compared to the tail, the growth of the primary and secondary feathers of the wings are prioritised which is why this phenomenon is more often observed in the tail than the wings.

Faint fault bar - Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

Wren -   3
Chiffchaff -   6
Robin -   2   (1)
Blackcap -   10   (3)
Dunnock -   4   (1)
Great Tit -   8   (2)
Blue Tit -   11   (3)
Chaffinch -   2   (1)
Reed Warbler -   4   (2)
Greenfinch -   4   (3)
Song Thrush -   (1)

TOTAL:   54   (18)

Todays ringing session takes us past the 3500 birds ringed mark - this can be quite deceptive however as we are down on many of our species totals due to the poor weather and breeding season. I head off to Portugal tomorrow for a summer of ringing in the reed beds of the Minho and Mondego Valley so things will be on hold for a while.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A trickle....

On Sunday morning I headed to Brook Vale with Tineke and we were later joined by Moxey. The wind had risen during the night so we weren't able to put up the full complement of nets and this included the reed bed, so our total catch was already expected to be lower from the outset.

With only our most sheltered nets up, we still managed to catch a few warblers. The early catch of four Blackcap, of which three were adults, shows that birds are already on the move although at this early stage, they are likely to be birds that have attempted to breed in the vicinity of the reserve if not on it. Another Linnet was added to the ringing totals, a fine-looking adult male.

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)

Despite the poor showing of juveniles for Blackcaps, the Wren, Chiffchaff, all Robins and two of the Whitethroat were juveniles. The juvenile Whitethroats were the first to be ringed at Brook Vale this year, a stark contrast to last year but this is the ongoing theme. In addition to the first juvenile Whitethroat, we also caught our first juvenile Reed Warbler of the year.

Juvenile Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

Our Acrocephalus totals have been significantly impacted this year and this can be put down to a number of factors. We haven't managed to complete as many ringing sessions in the reed beds on Rimrose this year as we did last year, this has largely been down to weather. Last year the reed bed at Brook Vale was burned on two occasions that left the regrowth too weak and immature to support nest-building and as a result, our ringing total was lower than would have been expected in a 'normal' year. This left Fulwood as our main source of Reed Warblers, providing four controls and later on, two recoveries, one Reed and one Sedge Warbler.

 Juvenile Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
Whilst the weather has impacted the number of ringing sessions that we have managed to complete, it has also affected the productivity of the nests and the subsequent nestling survival in the post-fledging period before the birds begin to migrate. Nest recording Reed Warblers on Rimrose Valley is not easy due to the geography of the reed bed, however, by this point last year, we had already ringed well into double figures of juvenile Reed Warblers.

Wren -   1
Chiffchaff -   1
Robin -   3   (1)
Reed Warbler -   2   (1)
Whitethroat -  3   (1)
Dunnock -   2
Linnet -   1
Blackcap -   4
Blue Tit -   (3)
Blackbird -   3   (1)

TOTAL:   20   (7)

Following the mornings ringing, I headed up to Southport and made a stop at RSPB Marshside. It's been a few months since I was last there and although I couldn't stick around long, I did take in the views of Shoveler, Godwits and a couple of Avocet.

 The view from Sandgrounders hide

Canela discussing the finer points of birdwatching!

I had been hoping to get out to Fulwood to complete a couple of early morning, pre-work sessions in the reeds, but Monday and Tuesday were a washout and tomorrow isn't forecast to be that much better...story of the summer!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Another Perspective

Having not completed any ringing sessions at Kings Moss sincethe beginning of May, it was high time to take a trip to Kings Moss to see how the breeding season has panned out up there. With ringing sessions on Rimrose Valley yielding very low percentages of juveniles, we expected to experience similarly grim results in todays session. All in all, we had a bit of a mixed bag, with some species doing considerably better than others.

Dan joined myself and Charlie today for his first ringing session and I don't think he was disappointed with a high proportion of the catch being made up of warblers. From the word 'go', my ears pricked up to a familar rattle coming from the direction of the cattle field - Grasshopper Warbler - as far as I am aware, this is the first record for the site but I'm not sure.

Once the nets were up, the birds started coming in relatively thick and fast with five Willow Warbler in one net in the first net round, I was immediately aware that every bird was an adult. As I've mentioned in a previous post recently, adult Willow Warblers only moult once they have finished their breeding efforts - this is because moulting is very energy expensive. Looking at the extent of the moult in these Willow Warblers, these birds finished breeding quite a while ago as their primary moult is almost complete.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochillus) in moult

In the species totals at the bottom of the post, I've included the percentages of the catch that were juveniles in order to demonstrate the productivity based on what we caught this morning. At this time of year, you would expect the majority of the catch to be made up of juveniles especially when most species are showing that they have finished breeding for this year. This is also an example of how simple ringing totals do not demonstrate the whole story. At a first glance, a catch of sixteen Willow Warblers in one morning would be very encouraging, however, when you consider that only 31% of the birds were juveniles and all the adults caught were in the later stages of primary moult, it highlights just how challenging the weather conditions have been this year for ground nesting birds.

By September, we will have completed our first 12 months ringing at Kings Moss and whilst ringing effort differs at different times of the year are starting to realise the potential that the site has for long-term monitoring. At Kings Moss we have breeding Yellowhammer, with at least four singing males heard in the area we were working today, decent numbers of Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap breeding and a small number of Treecreeper and Nuthatch. There were no Nuthatch evident today, however we did manage to catch a juvenile Treecreeper that Dan had earlier seen and identified in the vicinity of the nets.

 Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)

During the course of the ringing session, we also caught juveniles of Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Woodpigeon, Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Song Thrush. It's been a while since I've caught Bullfinch despite seeing a pair on Rimrose last week. This male really put a smile of Dan's face, the first that he has seen this close.

 Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) male

 Juvenile Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

Of the remainder, the two Blackcap retraps were birds caught last September on this first ringing session at the site. The three juvenile Whitethroat caught were the first juveniles we have caught of this species this year, although some were seen last weekend at Hightown. There was no sign of any Buzzards today which was unusually, but we were treated to cracking views of a juvenile Kestrel learning to hunt over the meadow. The Grasshopper Warbler was fairly mobile throughout the morning, but managed to evade our nets - a good record at the least!

Wren -   1
Treecreeper -   1
Chiffchaff -   8   (1)   44% juv
Willow Warbler -   16      31% juv
Blue Tit -   2
Great Tit -   1
Chaffinch -   (1)
Bullfinch -   2
Whitethroat -   9      33% juv
Blackcap -   12   (2)      50% juv
Goldfinch -   1
Robin -   4   (1)      80% juv
Song Thrush -   4
Blackbird -   1
Woodpigeon -   1

TOTAL: 63   (5)

Butterflies are making a regular appearance on this blog and that isn't going to change today. Here's todays offering:

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

Thursday, 12 July 2012

All quiet and news from others

Last night we got a call from one of the farmers that we work with to say that some of his Swallows were ready to ring, so me and Moxey headed out and added another seven Swallow pulli to this years total. Other than that, there hasn't been any other ringing opportunities this week as I've been quite busy with work.

This evening, I headed up to Kings Moss for this first time in a couple of weeks and things are looking pretty lush up on the hill. The wildflower meadow is in full bloom, although it appeared as though a lot of plants had been flattened due to the rain and areas were still pretty waterlogged, restricting growth. It was really encouraging to see a large number of bees moving across the field, no doubt many of them are residents in the local hives that Fir Tree Farm host.

Wildflower Meadow

Up on the plantation, I spent a bit of time clearing back the new growth in the net rides in the hope of getting a ringing session in before my trip to Portugal. There wasn't much calling except a couple of Chiffchaff and a single Yellowhammer. Walking off the plantation, I managed to get another picture of a Small Tortoiseshell, but I couldn't escape the fact this has been a very poor year for insects.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Elsewhere, local birder Graham Clarkson has launched his Birding and Beyond blog about his local birding adventures and potential birding trips, in collaboration with another local, Alan Bedford. Graham and Alan used to run a course at Edge Hill University for birders to gain experience and increase their knowledge. The course included a ringing demonstration from our group at Mere Sands and many fantastic field trips as well as some stimulating lectures. Graham and Alan have decided to continue this course in a slightly different format and you can find out more here.

Another local birder was in touch with me today, Pete Kinsella who birds Seaforth/Crosby Marina and Sefton coast, and managed to catch a glimpse of a Marsh Tit at Crosby Marina today. This is an interesting record following the bird that we caught earlier this year not far away, on Rimrose Valley, especially as the one sighted today was unringed. Thanks Pete!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A few Phyllies...

On Sunday, I headed to Hightown on my own - Moxey was otherwise engaged with family commitments. Arriving a bit later than I had anticipated, at 5:30, I quickly got seven nets set up having cleaned the rides up the night before. From the outset, there was a good number of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff calling in the willows but these weren't caught until much later in the ringing session. Earlier on, it was all about the Sylvias with decent numbers of Blackcap and Whitethroat caught - although no juvenile Whitethroat were caught, two were observed in the vicinity of a net with the parents.

When the Phylloscopus warblers did show up, there was a pretty even spread of juveniles and adults. Looking at the Willow Warblers, it is easy to tell the difference between adults and juveniles at this time of year. Juveniles have a much 'fresher' plumage, whilst the adults are much more faded, worn and have a generally 'washed out' appearance - this is because they have had their feathers longer.

 Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - juvenile

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) -adult

The Willow Warbler is one of the long-distance migrants that breed here in this country that do complete a moult before their migration. At this time of year, we can find the adults in active moult, like this one:

Willow Warbler in moult

By 9:30am, the birds had started to tail off, although this Woodpigeon did provide a little bit of late excitement.

Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)

Elsewhere, there were a few butterflies around including Meadow Brown and Small Tortoiseshell. There was a really good number of moths about, including this Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet on Meadowsweet.

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena lonicerae)

Wren - 4
Chiffchaff -   4   (1)
Willow Warbler -   5
Blackcap -   7
Whitethroat -   3   (1)
Blue Tit -   1
Great Tit -   3
Dunnock -   3   (1)
Robin -   3
Sedge Warbler -   1
Woodpigeon -   1

TOTAL:   37   (3)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Little Improvement

Fulwood was our chosen location this morning, it's been a while since we've had weather suitable to get out to this part of Rimrose and given todays forecast was for calm, bright weather we took our opportunity. We had been hoping for success of the magnitude of last weeks session at Brook Vale, providing some hope that some birds had managed to successfully raise their young. Unfortunately, the ringing session was one of a flurry, with fifteen of the birds ringed being caught in the first net round. There were some positives to take however, we managed to catch six Reed Warblers, of which three - caught together - were juveniles, the first we have caught this year.

 Juvenile Reed Warbler tail - demonstrating a clear 'growth bar' - this is caused when there is a shortage of food for a period whilst the bird is in the nest causing discolouration or feather weakness in the same place across the feathers.

The other avian interaction of note was a Parakeet mobbing a Lesser Black-backed Gull - making a hell of a racket! I'm no expert with parakeets, unlike the south of the country, we don't have any feral populations of parakeets in these parts and to be honest, I hope it stays that way! The bird has probably recently escaped from its owners and it will be interesting to see how long it sticks around for.

Some of the resident adult birds we are catching are now starting to show signs of their post-breeding moult, such as this Robin. Moult is an energy-expensive untertaking for any bird - for this reason, long-distance migrants such as the Acrocephalus warblers do not moult until they arrive in their wintering grounds.

Moulting Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

With such a bright and sunny morning, it wasn't surprising that butterflies and damselflies started to make an appearance. This spring hasn't only been challenging for birds, but for many insects as well with dragonflies, butterflies and damselflies well down on previous years.However, there were a few individuals on offer today, including Blue-tailed Damselfly, Large Skipper, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Green-veined White and a solitary Peacock.

Male Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

 Large Skipper (Ochlodes faunus)

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

The bramble is also now in full bloom, in spite of the weather, so by the time I return from Portugal at the end of August, there should be plenty of blackberries for the passage migrants such as Whitethroat and Blackcap.

Bramble in bloom.

All in all, this ringing session was a massive contast to the equivalent ringing session last year at the site, when 55 birds were ringed, including three juvenile Grasshopper Warblers and 28 Blackcaps - highlighting the massive difference in reproductive output from one year to the next.

Wren -   2   (3)
Blackcap -   5   (1)
Robin -   1   (1)
Reed Warbler -   6
Sedge Warbler -   1
Dunnock -   1
Whitethroat -   1
Blackbird -   1

TOTAL:   18   (5)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Splish, Splash, Splosh!

We've just come of the back of the wettest May on record and then the wettest June on record - the way things have started, we seem to be four days in to the wettest July on record. For example, here's the outlook for the next four days:

There isn't much to report, but in between the showers, we have managed to get out and ring some more pulli, including three Sedge Warbler and another four Kestrel.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Kestrel (Falco tinnuculus)

As you can see, the outlook for the next few days is pretty bleak - fingers crossed we can get out and get some mist netting done.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Birds and Butterflies

Yesterday, I was joined by Charlie to ring at Brook Vale. The forecast hadn't looked favourable until late on Friday night, so we were able to get there pre-dawn. This year we haven't managed as many ringing sessions as we would have liked on Rimrose due to the weather, which, in turn has reduced the productivity of our ringing sessions. Whilst this means that we haven't ringed as many birds, it quantifies the impact of the weather conditions on breeding birds.

The number of Blackcap ringed was of particular interest and at first glance, you would assume that the majority of the 'new' birds would be recently fledged juveniles, however, of the thirteen ringed, only six were juveniles. The rest were adult birds, this raises the question, to me at least - are these birds on the move? It is possible that these are birds that have failed in their breeding attempts locally or have already fledged young. With ringing efforts concentrated in one specific area, it is normal that once the adult (breeding) birds are ringed earlier in the season, it isn't until post-breeding dispersal that unringed adults would start to be caught.

Of the juvenile Blackcap, one individual had already started to moult in some of the black feathers that make up its black cap.

Juvenile male Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

The reed bed was pretty quiet, only one Reed and Sedge Warbler each and other than three Whitethroat (all adult) and three Chiffchaff (all juveniles), the rest of the birds were made up of resident species with a large proportion of juveniles.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Wren -    4   (2)
Chiffchaff -   3
Blue Tit -   6   (1)
Great Tit -   7
Robin -   3   (1)
Dunnock -   5   (3)
Blackcap -   13   (2)
Whitethroat -   3
Goldfinch -   3   (1)
Sedge Warbler -   1
Reed Warbler -   1
Chaffinch -   1
Greenfinch -   2
Song Thrush -   1
Blackbird -   2   (3)

TOTAL:   55   (13)

As we were packing away, I spent some time chasing butterflies:

Small White (Pieris rapae)

  Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

Later on in the afternoon, we were joined by a prospective trainee, Dan, and we visited three farms to ring some Swallows that were ready. In total, thirty-five Swallows were ringed - quite a productive afternoon and a good introduction for Dan.