Sunday, 30 September 2012

4000th Bird Ringed

Yesterday, Charlie, Moxey, Daniel and myself headed up to Kings Moss for a session that seemed touch-and-go from the off. The wind was far too strong on the coast, so we headed for the relative shelter of Kings Moss, further inland and, given the wind direction, we were able to get up all of the usual nets.

I had managed to get up to Kings Moss last Wednesday night to set up the feeding station, getting absolutely soaked in the process. Given that this past week, we have seen two-three times the monthly rainfall for September, plenty of the local farmland (and some residential areas) have been pretty flooded. This has coincided with the arrival of large numbers of Pink-footed Geese over the last couple of weeks. In the Holiday Moss area, I estimated a flock of about 5000 but it was likely to have been more and they were a constant presence throughout the morning.

In terms of yesterdays ringing session, it was fairly quiet with very few migrants around. Most of the Blackcap appear to have left our area and Chiffchaff are become more thin on the ground. We did manage three Goldcrest although we were slightly disappointed by this as Moxey managed to ring eleven at Ince during a brief session in the week.

As the feeding stations are freshly set up, and with the abundance of natural food, there was not a huge amount of activity and the main Goldfinch flock seems to have fragmented and dispersed. Despite this, I expect the totals to pick up for the next session.

Wren -   (1)
Blackcap -   2
Goldfinch -   12
Chaffinch -   3
Goldcrest -   3
L.T.Tit -   2   (1)
Blue Tit -   7   (4)
Great Tit -   7   (1)
Robin -   2
Chiffchaff -   1
Greenfinch -   2

TOTAL:   41   (7)

I didn't get any pictures, so you'll have to make do with this one -

Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia)

Obviously it is not the bird from the Fair Isle, but from my time ringing in Canada a few years ago. My partner in grime/crime and plenty of other mischief from that time, Kevin 'Bloody' Grundy, has been updating his Pannyfants blog and is definately worth a read. Check it out here.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Dunes before the deluge!

On Sunday, me and Moxey met up for a session at Hightown. The forecast suggested we would have a four hour window before the wind would pick up with a chance of rain so we quickly set up our nets and waited for the birds to move in.

Following reports on various blogs of movements of Meadow Pipits along the coast, and given our proximity the beach, we had been hopeful that we could call a few in, but despite our best efforts we didn't catch any and we had very little response. We were more successful with passing finches however with good numbers of Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Greenfinches, some of which appeared to be passage birds.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Given the low numbers of Chiffchaff being caught on Rimrose, it was good to catch a total of eleven Chiffchaff although there were a high proportion of adults. We followed up Saturday's Goldcrest catch with another nine as birds passed through throughout the morning. A catch of eight Blackcaps was also a positive aspect considering the low numbers we have been catching elsewhere, especially in areas where we would expect food to be in higher abundance.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Chiffchaff -   11
Wren -   2   (1)
Goldcrest -   9
Blue Tit -   7
Great Tit -   8
Robin -   2
Chaffinch -  10   (1)
Goldfinch -   12
Blackcap -   8
Grrenfinch -   4
Blackbird -   2
G.S.Woodpecker -   (1)

TOTAL:   75   (3)

By late afternoon, the rain started, delivering a months worth of rain in just 24hrs. It is now Wednesday and it is still raining. It's not just the wet weather during the breeding season that our birds have had to contend with, it's the migration period too!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A Touch of Frost

The air temperature for Saturday's ringing session bottomed out at 0 degrees for me and Charlie yesterday with the first ground frost of the autumn at Brook Vale. A (rare) lack of cloud cover overnight caused the temperature drop to coldest it has been since early spring and as a result, the vegetation was relatively crunchy underfoot. With a cloudless sky, there was a good chance of some visible migration with hopes of Meadow Pipit and some finches but our attention was quickly turned to some rather severe squawking which turned out to be a Parakeet, probably the same one that we saw back in July.

It was a pretty quiet morning overall, although much improved from our last outing at Brook Vale when only fourteen birds were ringed. Most of the birds were caught at the feeding station where we managed to call in some passing Chaffinches and a single Meadow Pipit. Of the Blackcaps, one was a retrap from the 9th September and the other was from last autumn, a time when Blackcaps were much more abundant than they have been this autumn. Now that the feeding station has been up and running for a few weeks, we hope that the lure of the tasty sunflower seeds will serve to attract in some of the large numbers of finches that can sometimes be observed passing overhead at this time of year.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

Goldcrests are now starting move with three ringed and no others observed, but this total is pretty good for Brook Vale as it is not a site where we usually catch many. Robins also turned up in decent numbers, with a lack of retraps, there may have been some movement but whether this is a local movement remains to be seen.

The sunshine also brought some butterflies out to play with plenty of Speckled Wood, a few Peacock and a Comma feeding on the few flowers that remain.

 Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Goldcrest -   3
Willow Warbler -   1
Wren -   5
Dunnock -   1   (2)
Blackcap -   3   (2)
Great Tit -   1   (2)
Robin -   7
Meadow Pipit -   1
Blue Tit -   4
Chaffinch -   10
Greenfinch -   4
Blackbird -   1

TOTAL:   41   (6)

Following the session at Brook Vale, I was joined by Tineke and Canela and we headed to Crosby Hall to have a go for some Goldcrests. Moxey has been away in Portugal for the past couple of weeks, but since his return, he set the feeding station up at the plantation and so with four nets, we sat and enjoyed the sun between the net rounds. With commentary of a fantastic 3-0 Everton victory on the radio, Buzzard overhead and a Red Squirrel doing acrobatics with steadily worked our way through a sizeable tit catch.

The nets around the Yew's yielded a few Goldcrest and a Blackcap but remained relatively quiet. Two male Nuthatches at the feeding station were the pick of the bunch and the three Robin took the daily total to ten.

The most interesting bird of the day, for me at least, was a Great Tit with a rather fat tick that had bitten in to the back of the birds head. When we are ringing in Portugal, it is common for us to find birds with ticks on them, especially species like Tree Sparrow and Stonechat, but we are now seeing an increase in the number of birds that we are catching locally with ticks. At Crosby Hall, the park is often used for grazing cattle and this is likely to be the source of ticks that are finding their ways onto the birds.

Great Tit (Parus major) - this photo is of the back of the head, the feathers have been separated to demonstrate how the tick attaches itself to the skin.

Goldcrest -   5
Coal Tit -   2   (1)
Chaffinch -   3   (1)
Blue Tit -   16
Great Tit -   13
Dunnock -   1
Robin -   3
Blackcap -   1
Nuthatch -   2
Blackbird -   1

TOTAL: 47   (2)

Friday, 21 September 2012


Every now and then, something unusual turns up when you least expect it. On Wednesday, I got a cryptic text from The Mothership. This in itself is not unusual.

Mothership: "Found a dead bird outside the presbytery at St Helen's today, you'll never guess what it is!"

I love a challenge.

Scouse Ringer: "Parakeet" - this wasn't a bad shout, they've been turning up more frequently in our area recently.

Mothership: "Nope, smaller"

Scouse Ringer: "Wren"

Mothership: "Bigger"

Scouse Ringer: "Willow Warbler"

Mothership: "Nah, first letter is correct" (This could go on for ages).

Scouse Ringer: "Wryneck", "White-throated Sparrow" ('tis the season of yankee oddities), "Wh-Wh-Wh-Wh"......."Wheatear"

 The distinctive white rump of a Wheatear

 Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

And so it turned out that this Wheatear must have got a little off-course and ended up hitting a window, a trivial end for one of our long-distance migrants. The Church is only about one mile (as the Wheatear flies) from the coast, so it isn't as surprising as I first made out, but it does make you wonder how many other birds perish in this way and go unreported. When I was working at a bird observatory in Ontario, Canada, I recall an organisation called FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Project) that was working hard to get major corporations to turn lights off on their buildings at night during migration periods due to the large volumes of birds that collide with buildings as they are attracted to lights on migration. If you visit the site, keep an eye on the counter in the top right for the duration of your visit.....scary stuff! 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Finally, something to blog about!

This morning, I headed to Kings Moss with Tineke and Charlie having been forced inland due to the winds on the coast. Sticking to the usual nets, we were hopeful that some of the migrants would be driven inland taking shelter in the relative calm on the moss.

The Blackcap were all caught in the first net round, as were a number of Goldcrest which was promising. To date, we had only ringed five Goldcrest in total at Kings Moss, although we have only been ringing there for twelve months, and all of those had been caught on the same day. A total of seven Goldcrest were ringed this morning, all of which were carrying at least 2 ESF and most at 3 ESF.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

The first Yellowhammer to be ringed since May was caught in the second round, as was a late adult Whitethroat still undergoing its post-breeding moult. A couple of Chiffchaff and two juvenile Willow Warblers were also ringed before all fell quiet with the third net round yielding little.

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

The flock of 80+ Goldfinch that we had seen on site last week had increased and approximately 120 Goldfinch flew in at about nine thirty. As we monitored the nets, they were coming in to feed on the ragwort seed heads and upon checking the nets around feeding station one (yet to be set up for the autumn/winter feeding period) we had about forty juvenile Goldfinches in the net, significantly increasing our catch.

After the rush of Goldfinches, all fell quiet and but for a Reed Bunting and a Bullfinch, we started to pack up at about 11am. Considering the bleak outlook for the weekend, it was great that we managed to get a session and pick up some migrants in the process.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

L.T.Tit -   11
Chiffchaff -   4   (1)
Willow Warbler -   2
Goldcrest -   7
Blackcap -   5
Goldfinch -   40
Coal Tit -   2
Great Tit -   3
Whitethroat -   1
Bullfinch -   1
Reed Bunting -   1
Blue Tit -   3   (1)
Yellowhammer -   1
Chaffinch -   1   (1)
Robin -   1
Greenfinch -   1
Song Thrush -   (1)
Blackbird -   2   (1)

TOTAL:   86   (5)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Year To Date

Since returning from Portugal at the very end of August, things have been quite busy here. We have managed a total of five ringing sessions in between the first week of term and all the other domestic commitments. Moxey has since returned to Portugal for a ten day trip ringing in the interior of the country - some people have all the fun!

The recent sessions have been pretty poor with numbers of migrants captured significantly below last years totals. The disappointing start to September aside, I've managed to update our 'Top Ten' to the end of August and it makes interesting reading:

1. Swift (823)
2. House Martin (434)
3. Blue Tit (354)
4. Swallow (298)
5. Blackcap (189)
6. Goldfinch (161)
7. Chaffinch (160)
8. Greenfinch (144)
9. Great Tit (111)
10. Robin (101)

TOTAL: 3607

Despite that this year has been one of the worst breeding seasons that we have experienced, due largely to the fact that we have just had the wettest summer since records began, we are up on this period last year. This is largely down to the numbers of Swift and hirundines that we have managed to capture and we are now in the process of analysing a 15-year data set featuring over three thousand encounters.

Swift (Apus apus)

Over the next couple of weeks we will begin to assess the true extent of the impact of the weather as we continue to monitor migration through Rimrose Valley and some of our other sites. Catches on Rimrose have been about 25% of the totals of those at this time last year and the species affected the most are Blackcap, Whitethroat (only two captured in three ringing sessions), Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler. Although some of these birds will have already left our area, our capture rates are significantly down on last year and those that we are catching have low fat levels.

This is what ringing is all about and when we encounter challenging conditions as we have this year, our data provides an insight into the true effect that it has on bird populations.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A Bumper Clutch: Revisited

Towards the end of June when we were in the midst of checking our Barn Owl boxes, I blogged about one box that we found with a clutch of nine eggs (you can read about it here). We had checked the box early in the season, finding four eggs but when we returned there were nine. At the time, we hypothesised that the bird had abandoned the original clutch due to bad weather, returning to relay the second clutch of five.

The 'bumper' clutch

Given that me and Moxey have been out of the country for a considerable amount of time yesterday, while I was at work, Moxey took the opportunity to visit the box. The nest box in this farm is in a barn loft and as Moxey climbed the ladder into the loft, two full-grown birds were flying around the loft - he could see that at least one of the birds was unringed. We know that both of the adults that bred here this year were ringed locally and adults usually leave immediately via holes in the wall whilst these two birds flew around the loft for a minute before leaving. While all of this was happening, there was still hissing in the box and when Moxey checked, there were three full-grown birds with traces of down. These birds were ringed and returned to the box.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Given the relative disaster of this years breeding season for Barn Owls, this is a success story to be celebrated with what appears to be a total of five chicks raised to fledging.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Scouse Ringer no Verão: Minho Summary

Now back in the UK, I've got a brief summary of the last few days of my trip, returning to the Minho region to complete the final summer sessions at Veiga de S.Simão and Paul do Coura. Following ringing sessions at the end of July (which you read about here, here and here) we planned to complete a further two sessions at Coura and one in at VSS.

We used less nets during our retrun sessions at Paul do Coura, largely because we had a smaller team but also because there had been some rain in the region before we arrived that had flattened the reeds significantly. As expected, the sessions were typified by a main catch of Reed Warblers, but what was particularly exciting was the capture of two Bluethroat, both juvenile - one male, one female and one on each day. These were the first I had seen for a couple of years as they only start reaching Portugal towards the end of August.

We also caught good numbers of Willow Warbler, but I would have expected the numbers to be higher for the time of year and is no doubt linked to the weather conditions during the breeding season in Northern Europe. The Sedge Warblers were carrying all carrying significant fat deposits, however only a few of the Reed Warblers showed this advanced stage in their migration preparation. Of the three Reed Warblers captures during the first session, one was ringed in Spain - bearing the ICONA MADRID inscription. Given that Spain is only a couple of kilometers away, this isn't as exotic as you might expect.

 ICONA MADRID - Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

28 August - Paul do Coura

Reed Warbler -   19   (3)
Sedge Warbler -   3
Swallow -   2
Bluethroat -   1
Savi's Warbler -   1   (1)
Melodious Warbler -   1
Blackcap -   2
Reed Bunting -   1
Blue Tit -   2
Willow Warbler -   8
Wren -   1
Waxbill -   6
House Sparrow -   2

TOTAL:   49   (4)

 Juvenile Male Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)

Juvenile Female Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)

The buff 'rose thorns' on the greater coverts are indidicative of this wing belonging to a juvenile Bluethroat.

30 August - Paul do Coura
Reed Warbler -   10   (3)
Sedge Warbler 2
Willow Warbler -   11
Savi's Warbler -   1
Wren - 1   (1)
Waxbill - 4
Robin -   2
Bluethroat - 1
Blue Tit -   3
Garden Warbler -   1
Whitethroat - 1

TOTAL:   37   (4)
The species mix was much different at VSS given the difference in habitat - mixed willow/acacia and scrub. The Sylvia warblers were more prominent with Blackcap and Garden Warbler being caught, as well as two Whitethroat. The Garden Warbler passage was also starting to improve further south, a session at Madriz yielding 34 birds ringed and so I was slightly surprised we didn't catch more. It was also good to catch some Pied Flycatchers, another species that only starts to move through towards the end of August, all of the birds were juveniles.
The species diversity was good and despite the low numbers, we now have a snapshot of the number of birds that use the site on migration at the end of August. Hopefully GVC can complete a few sessions during September similar to last year during the Migration Atlas sessions.

Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)

29 August - Veiga de S. Simão

Blackcap -   6
Garden Warbler -   6
Whitethroat -   2
Sardinian Warbler -   2   (3)
Cetti's Warbler -   2
Pied Flycatcher -   6
Melodious Warbler -   1
Blue Tit -   3
Reed Warbler -   1
Robin -   1   (1)
Kingfisher -   1
Wren -   1
Willow Warbler -   6
Greenfinch -   2
Blackbird -   2

TOTAL: 42  (4)