Friday, 28 December 2012

When skies are grey...

...there isn't much to be done! Things have been so wet and miserable, I haven't even had a chance to get out and take part in the BTO Winter Thrush Survey so far this week. There hasn't been a day without steady rain and a degree of wind meaning that most of my efforts have remained indoors aside from feeding up the feeding sites at Brook Vale and Kings Moss.

Whilst making the last two visits at Kings Moss, the numbers of winter finches has been starting to build up with Yellowhammers becoming more apparent and Brambling always present. The majority of the birds, now frequenting the ground seed in the set-aside, were Greenfinch and Chaffinch, although there were a fair few Goldfinch about on the Christmas visit.

At Brook Vale, things were much quieter and much wetter. The channels on the reserve were full to the brim and the water level in the reed bed was as high as I have seen it. There were at least eight Water Rail present when I visited this morning although I presume there were many more. Aside from a flock of fourteen Goldfinches, it was pretty quiet.

I had two significant surprises over the Christmas break, first was the Ring-necked Parakeet that flew over Moxey's house on Christmas Day. The second, was a new addition to the Scouse Ringer household and completely least on my part it Darwin - Tineke's gift to me.

Darwin - the minature pinscher

I'm now off to spend a few days in Holland and I wont return until the New Year and reminiscent of last year, December has been a wet and largely ineffective month for ringing. I'll have an annual review as well as my top three birds of the year when I return!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Tuwitt in Two's!

We haven't managed to get out as much as we had wanted over the last couple of days. The weather has been pretty poor here in SW Lancs, lots of drizzle and a fair bit of wind which has prevented us from getting out to Kings Moss but we have managed to squeeze in a roost session at a (kind of) new site.

We now have permission to ring at an old wood near Scarisbrick that the group used to ring at years ago. A change of ownership and access from the public amongst other things meant that the site fell by the wayside a little, but on Sunday afternoon me and Moxey headed out there to see whether it would live up to the reputation it had gained those years ago. This site had a reputation for big roosts of Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Redwing, so we were hopefull of a good catch. For the purpose of this blog I will keep the name of the site private and refer to it as Scarisbrick.

We had visited the site about two weeks ago to have a scout around and find some suitable sites for net lines so on arrival we had a good idea what we were going to do. We set two lines, one of four nets and one of three, totalling 96m of nets. Both of the net lines were situated on old paths, one within a dense stand of rhodies and one in separating a stand of rhodies and a stand of pines.

The first couple of net rounds were pretty quiet, there was very little noise in the woodland and so I gave Moxey a bit of a hard time. Patience he said. A small flock of Long-tailed Tits, a few Coal Tits and three Goldcrest was about all we had until 3pm. Then it began. The Chaffinches came - cue a smile from Moxey. Due to the volume of birds we caught in a short time, we split up and I headed back to the van to ring the birds so they could be released before dark while Moxey went to empty the final line.

When I joined Moxey to take the nets down, it was fair to say that he had his hands full. Amongst a few Blackbirds, he'd managed to extract two Tawny Owls. Most of the adult Tawny Owls I encounter are usually heading at me talons first when I am at the top of a ladder - when you are as ugly as me, it's not that much of a concern although I wear goggles all the same. Anyhow, we successfully negotiated the 'weapons of death' to ring these two beauties!

'Weapons of Death'

Tawny Owls (Strix aluco)

Brambling -   1
Chaffinch -   38
L.T.Tit -   14
Goldcrest -   3
Treecreeper -   1
Blue Tit -   5
Robin -   2
Coal Tit -   4
Great Tit -   1
Blackbird -   6
Tawny Owl -   2

TOTAL:   77

It would appear that it is Christmas, so I wish you all a very Hippy Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Not Much Happening

With a combination of unfavourable weather and prior engagements, we haven't been able to get out as much as we would have hoped in the last ten days or so, resulting in just two ringing sessions being completed. Moxey has managed a recent session at Crosby Hall and catching well for thrushes but with little success for finches.

On Saturday both me and Moxey found ourselves in the Midlands to watch the Everton vs Stoke match, but normal service was resumed on Sunday when I managed to get a session in at Brook Vale. It was a relatively quiet morning with very little activity around the feeding station - the majority of birds caught being either Blue or Great Tits.

There had been reports of a flock of flighty Waxwings turning up at Seaforth train station, just around the corner, but I had a school event to prepare for on the Monday morning so I was unable to get out to see them.

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)

Redwing (Turdus illiacus)

Goldcrest -   1
Blue Tit -   12   (3)
Dunnock -   (3)
Great Tit -   4   (4)
Goldfinch -   1
Linnet -   1
Song Thrush -   1
Redwing -   1
G.S. Woodpecker -   1

TOTAL:   23   (10)

The feeding station at Kings Moss has been visited at least every third day, usually every other day and things are moving well. The woodland is still very wet with all the rain that we have been experiencing recently, all of the pools are full to the top and there is now a constant stream flowing from down the hill. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Mooooooving on!

This morning I headed to Kings Moss with Tineke, Moxey and Canela. The feeding stations have been getting emptied every other day in the last few weeks so it seemed as though the numbers had been building up. It was pretty frosty first thing, so when a shelf string 'pinged', it was left to my numbed fingers do put the net back together again - not a great start.

Tineke doesn't always look her best in the mornings.

We put a few extra nets up today as I've been feeding an area in the set-aside of one of the fields that had built up decent numbers of Reed Bunting and Chaffinch, however the birds didn't seem that interested in the offerings on the field. In fact, there wasn't a huge amount of activity in comparison to recent sessions, although we did hear the first Grey Partridge since the spring which was quite positive.

The first net round yielded a total of five Brambling (Moxey accidentally let one go - although he will claim that we later recaught the bird!), amongst the majority of the days Chaffinches and a single Goldcrest from the pines. Over the course of the morning, we caught steadily and the catch featured a lot of retraps from recent weeks. One of the encouraging captures was a Willow Tit originally ringed in October last year that hadn't been caught since February, as well as the juvenile caught last week.

Great-spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocops major) - first for Kings Moss

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

There was a flock of sixty-ish Linnets feeding on the summer's wildflower field towards the end of the morning that were in constant avoidance of the Kestrel that seemed intent on spooking them. A further two Brambling boosted the catch to six and a single Reed Bunting made up the ninety-plus catch. There was no sign of the Tree Pipit from last week or any Redpoll and only one Bullfinch was heard.

 Female (top) and male (below) Brambling (Fringilla montefringilla)

Juvenile male Brambling - clearly aged as a first-year by the retained three outer greater coverts.

L.T.Tit - 3   (5)
Goldcrest -   1
Blue Tit -   3   (10)
Great Tit -   1   (11)
Coal Tit -   (1)
Willow Tit -   (2)
Chaffinch -   10
Goldfinch -   10
Brambling -   6
Robin -   1   (1)
Dunnock -   (2)
Reed Bunting -   1
Greenfinch -   11   (9)
Blackbird -   4   (1)
G.S.Woodpecker -   1

TOTAL:   52   (42)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


Sunday morning started much the same as Saturday - the overnight drizzle subsiding by the time me and Moxey met pre-dawn at Brook Vale. Once the nets were up, Moxey had to get off as he had a few jobs to do, so it was just me and Canela.

Things were pretty quiet to start with, a small flock of Linnet and three Brambling overhead being the only real interesting observations. The feeding station yielded the majority of the birds, with small numbers of Greenfinch and Chaffinch coming in to feed although the Brambling evaded the temptations of the free food. A single Goldcrest was captured, a retrap originally ringed in early October. Most regular readers of this blog (I have been assured that there is some of you out there) will know that I am particularly fond of the Regulus species and this year has been quite productive from our point of view for Goldcrest.

This Goldcrest would have been the highlight of the days capture until I got a call, via Moxey, from Tony Duckells. Tony, along with Moxey are founding members of the SW Lancs Ringing Group and Tony is actively involved with the group at the Woodvale CES and as the groups Barn Owl Organiser. Tony called to say that there was a small group of Waxwings feeding on a pink pagoda bush in one of his neighbours gardens, just down the road from where we caught one of four a couple of weeks ago.

I quickly packed up, picked up Moxey (who was supposed to be shopping with The Mothership but admitted that he could 'do' a stint in the doghouse for some Waxwings - who wouldn't?) and hoofed it down the bypass to Formby. By the time that we arrive at Tony's, there was only eight birds in the mix, returning every fifteen minutes or so. There was also a collection of local birders and some other members of the group so we quickly popped up a 9m net, had a chat to the neighbours and waited.

Canela on Waxwing Watch

It didn't take long before the birds were back in the bush and four found their way into the net, two of which escaped before we could get to the net. We extracted these to be processed and whilst they were being ringed, we managed to catch another two, amounting to half of the birds that we were dealing with.

With a small audience, we ringed all four birds together and it was interesting to have a mixture of ages and sexes. In order to determine the ages and sexes of the birds, a number of criteria are taken into consideration including the extent of the yellow to the tail feathers and also the number of waxy tips.

Male Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

 Juvenile Female Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

Males can be distinguished from females by the black bib - males have a very defined edge to the bib whereas in females, it is more diffuse.

Female (left) and Male (right)

 Female - note the diffuse edging to the black bib

Male - note the well defined edge to the black bib

This now takes the SWLRG Waxwing grand total to eight, five of which have been ringed this year. As the winter progresses, food will become more scarce and further catching opportunities may present themselves - I've got my eye on a few spots. All in all, me and Moxey had a very productive weekend following the Tree Pipit caught on Saturday. 

To finish, I bought a new van last week. The first bird to take a dump on it was a Waxwing - not going to wash that off in a hurry!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

5000 up and a surprise Pipit!

Things didn't get off to the best of starts this morning. Despite an almost perfect forecast, when I woke up, there had been rainfall overnight and indeed, by the time I arrived at Moxey's, it was positively pissing it down - cue much slagging off of the Met Office. Nevertheless, being the optimists that we are (for optimist, also read Evertonian), we set off for Kings Moss and thankfully, by the time we came off the East Lancs Rd, the rain had ceased. We promptly got our nets up and stuck to the matter at hand.

Whilst we were setting the nets in the half-light, we heard both Brambling and Willow Tit - two species yet to be ringed by ourselves in this calendar year. There was also an abundance of Chaffinches roosting in the long hedge with a small flock of forty or so later observed feeding at the site I am feeding up for Yellowhammer/Reed Bunting and Chaffinch.

Willow Tit (Poecile montanus)

As we returned down the hill to collect the rest of the gear, the two of us stood in awe of what can only be described as a constant stream of Woodpigeon heading towards us from over Crank hill. Estimates between 10,000-15,000 from Moxey, but I'm convinced it was closer to 1 million!!! We were also joined by a flock of 40ish Linnet, feeding in the stubble field alongside the cattle field and two Grey Wagtails feeding around the compost heap.

Back at the nets, the first bird out was a first-year Willow Tit, closely followed by one of three Brambling. The first net round also yielded Bullfinch, most of the days Chaffinch and an assortment of tits. And this was how proceedings would continue for the rest of the morning, each net round bringing about thirty birds from the two feeding stations.

Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
 Brambling (Fringilla montefringilla)

Later on, with the last of the Brambling, we caught the first Yellowhammer for a while, taking our annual total to 66.

 Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

The surprise catch of the day however was a Tree Pipit. The only species of pipit I would have expected to catch at the time of year would be Meadow Pipit, but from the outset, it was clear this bird was not a pratensis. After taking measurements of the hind claw (7mm), inspecting the markings in the 4th, 5th and 6th tail feathers and looking at the wing formula, there were only two possibilities, Olive-backed (hodgsonii) and Tree (trivilais). Given the colouration of the bird and inspecting pictures of recently observed Olive-backed Pipits in both France and Portugal, we reached the conclusion that this was a (very) late Tree Pipit.

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

And so, by the end of the session, we had been very busy and totalling up, we were only three birds short of ringing an even one hundred. This means that we (me and Moxey) have ringed over 5,000 birds this calendar year and as a site, King Moss has already contributed more than 1,300 of these ringed birds.

Wren -   (1)
L.T.Tit -   1   (1)
Blue Tit -   25   (8)
Great Tit -   4   (4)
Willow Tit -   1
Chaffinch -   15   (1)
Goldfinch -   6
Lesser Redpoll -   3
Bullfinch -   1
Yellowhammer -   1
Brambling -   3
Robin -   (1)
Tree Pipit -   1
Greenfinch -   35   (6)
Blackbird -   1   (1)

TOTAL:   97   (23)