Sunday, 27 January 2013

A Saturday Roost

Yesterday I had to make the precarious trip up to the Leyland/Croston area to pick up another consignment of bird seed to keep our feeding stations going - I'm pretty sure these birds eat better than I do! The roads were still pretty icy, a small hatchback stranded on the A59 heading into Aughton missing most of the front of the car didn't seem to serve as much warning for some of the boy racers out on the roads. There wasn't much to be seen in the way of birds on the trip although there was a considerable assemblage of corvids, the majority of which appeared to be Rooks between Rufford and Croston. I managed to make it back to Liverpool in one piece and in time to collect all of the gear and pick Charlie up, his first session in a while, heading to Scarisbrick to meet up with Dan, Nigel and Finn.

We had all of the nets up by 2:30 and took some time to have a little look around and despite our location within a mature woodland, we got some good birds including Woodcock, Peregrine, Buzzard, Teal and two Raven. The woods were relatively quiet early on with very few birds about and this was reflected in the early net rounds with a single Goldcrest, a Wren and a handfull of Robins amongst the early Chaffinches.

As we approached dusk, the Chaffinches started to come into the shelter, and relative, security of the woodland in numbers. Amongst the main catch was a single female Brambling, the third of the year and a couple of Blackbirds.

I didn't take many pictures due to how busy we were, but here is a couple of the team in action:



Goldcrest -   1
Wren -   1
Coal Tit -   1
Great Tit -   2
Brambling -   1
Robin -   3
Chaffinch -   46   (1)
Blackbird -   1   (1)

TOTAL:   56   (2)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Fareing well in the Field

It was another trip upto Kings Moss on Sunday as there wasn't much on at our other sites. The air temperature was a balmy one degree and a lot of the snow had already begun to thaw out. Me and Moxey were joined once again by Finn and Nigel to further their ringing experiences.

There wasn't a huge amount of activity on site at dawn except for a flock of Redpoll leaving a roost towards the pond and as I mentioned in Sundays post, a lot of birds have appeared to head to the abundance of food found in the urban areas or the shelter of the mature woodland.

The feeding regime in the field alongside the hedgerow is starting to pay off however, with Yellowhammer now starting to feed on the seed we're leaving out for them. We caught our first three Yellowhammer of the year, one of which was a retrap originally ringed in Feb 2012. Last year, the flock started to build up during the second half of January and our catch rate increased steadily during Feb/March - here's to hoping for something similar this year!

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) female

In addition to the Yellowhammers, we also caught our first Fieldfare of 2013, a bird that we don't often catch. Two birds were caught, both young birds and one each of male and female which provided a good opportunity to young Finn to see the differences between the sexes.

 Fieldfare - male on the left, female on the right.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

By 10am, the (unforecasted) sleet started to fall and we had to close the nets and pack away. As we were doing so, six Brambling flew into the feeding station to join some Reed Bunting and an increasing number of Chaffinch. It was a time to be philosophical, that's the way it goes sometimes and whilst I was slightly disappointed in the number of birds that we had caught, there is one young man who wasn't disappointed and you can read about Finn's session here.

You see Finn, I managed to get the whole way through the post without mentioning the hilarious moment when you stepped in the mud and left your wellie behind and had to spend the rest of the session with only one sock on........oh, I guess I didn't.

Robin -   (2)
Chaffinch -   8   (3)
Yellowhammer -   2   (1)
Blue Tit -   (1)
Great Tit -   (1)
Fieldfare -   2
Blackbird -   2   (4)

TOTAL:   14   (12)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sneaky Pica

On Saturday, me and Moxey headed out to Brook Vale for a short session on the reserve. At this time of year, we're going through the various seeds and nuts that we feed at our feeding station like they're going out of fashion. Most nights see me and Moxey at our respective feeding stations ensuring the birds have enough food which gives us a casual impression of how well each of the sites are doing.

We stuck with the usual nets and despite an early few thrushes, it was pretty a pretty disappointing session. Given our isolation within the urban sprawl of north Liverpool, the country park is usually an oasis for a wide variety of species, but at times such as these, many of the birds more commonly found on the reserve head into the urban environment where there is a greater abundance of artificial food and dense folliage in which to shelter.

 Despite the bleak outlook - the air temperature was above freezing!

The only birds that had seemed to increase in numbers on Rimrose this week were Redwing and the odd Fieldfare in addition to about twenty Redpoll. At least forty Redwing flew over during the morning, most of which came after we had closed the nets and we did a little bit of birding. Two Buzzards were knocking about on the playing fields, a single Sparrowhawk and a plethora of Magpies.

Redwing (Turdus illiacus)

Speaking of Magpies, the Magpies of Rimrose are crafty little begars, but in a 'head-the-ball' kind of way. Corvids and their associated bretheren are known for their intelligence, but the Magpies are rather thugish in their smartness. The Magpies have taken to flying into the feeders, with the grace of an elephant on ice skates, to knock the seed out onto the ground. It's quite funny to watch and it lead to us catching the first Magpie of the year, a juvenile.

Magpie (Pica pica)

We decided to call it a day by ten thirty, just as a sleety snow shower started to come in, finishing on only seven birds ringed.

Redwing -   3
Song Thrush -   1
Chaffinch -   1
Wren -   1   (1)
Magpie -   1
Goldcrest -   (1)
Blue Tit - (2)
Robin -   (2)
Dunnock -   (1)
Blackbird -   (2)

TOTAL:   7   (9)

Our quietest session for a while, but it was good to see that the Goldcrest was doing well, with a body mass of 5.1g and all other birds with average or above average body mass.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Faia Brava and ATN's Work for Conservation

Regular readers of this blog will remember that towards the end of August 2011, I took part in a ringing road trip as part of the Portuguese Migration Atlas. The ringing portion of the atlas was coordinated by APAA (Portuguese Ringers Association) and was designed to add supplementary data on birds that may have been present but not easily observed - species caught such as Reed Warbler were unexpected so far from wetlands and species such as Subalpine Warbler were expected, but not in such high volume.

Our road trip took in three sites, Faia Brava, Atenor and Vale de Senhora de Povoa and we ringed in excess of 700 birds, far exceeding our expectations and providing valuable data on the importance of these sites in the interior of Portugal for migrating birds. Moxey followed up with the September sessions- his account on Faia Brava can be found here and Atenor here.

Faia Brava is an amazing reserve, home to breeding pairs of Egyptian Vulture and Bonelli's Eagle amongst other things. I won't say too much other than to invite you to watch this short documentary about the reserve. You may recognise a few people in the opening five or six minutes.....amongst the moths and the birds!

FAIA BRAVA and the ATN's work for conservation from on Vimeo.

You can find out more about Faia Brava here and AidNature here.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Cracking Caberet!

On Sunday I headed out with Tineke and Canela to Kings Moss, we arrived well before dawn to get the nets up at both feeding stations. The conditions were much different to those of our last session (which you can read about here) with a good frost, a thin layer of cloud and only the slightest of breezes. Things looked promising, but there was a lack of bird sound that you would normally hear at dawn.

Desperate Dan ('Desperate' in the form of most Liverpool fans, still, at least he isn't Norwegian!), Finn and Nigel arrived just as we were getting the last net up and immediately told us that there were seven Lesser Redpoll in the net already! Things were on the up!

Seven Redpoll became sixteen by the time we completed the first net round and included three retraps, all of which were ringed by ourselves, two from the previous session and one from early December suggesting that this was a local flock that had been emptying the niger seed feeders. Also in the first net round were a single juvenile female Brambling and a Jay - much to Finn's excitement.

 Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret)

Finn was keen to see some Blackbirds in the hand and we managed six during the morning and proved more of a challenge when coming to handling the birds. Finn's enthusiasm was blatently apparent when he got to ring a Lesser Redpoll, a Blue Tit and a Jay - beaming doesn't really begin to describe it and you can read about the session from his perspective here.

Of the Jays, one was an adult and the other was a juvenile and following on from last weeks post about variation in adult Jays, I've included a photo showing the outermost greater covert.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius) - Juvenile. Seven bars of differing depth, irregular spacing that continues across the primary coverts.

Unfortunately we also caught two Chaffinches suffering from the papilloma virus, these birds were released immediately because it wouldn't be appropriate to ring these birds. Finn was telling me about a Chaffinch that he has feeding in his garden that has the same condition - for the most part, the birds seem to survive reasonably well. Last winter when we were catching a lot with this condition I was curious to the body condition of these birds and so I weighed a few - the birds seemed to be in good condition with average weights. These two Chaffinches however, represent the first cases of Chaffinch with papilloma since the spring and we really hope that they are the last.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) with evidence of the papilloma virus

By the time we started to pack away, things had really quietened down. A female Kestrel was a constant menace, perching above the feeding station, keeping some birds away. A Sparrowhawk also made a late appearance, a bird we are yet to ring at Kings Moss, despite having previously had two in the net. Yellowhammer numbers are yet to build up and Reed Buntings are well down on last year - a legacy of the previous breeding season.

Catkins out on the Hazel

Goldfinch -   4
Chaffinch -   12   (2)
Brambling -   1
Dunnock -   2   (1)
Lesser Redpoll -   14   (3)
Great Tit -   1
Blue Tit -   3   (6)
Greenfinch -   6   (1)
Blackbird -   2   (4)
Jay -   2
Robin -   (1)
L.T.Tit -   (3)
Bullfinch -   (1)

TOTAL:   47   (22)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Cooling Down

This morning me and Moxey were joined by James, who was coming out for his second session having previously visited us on Rimrose. It was pretty cool this morning but the overnight rain had kept the temperatures above freezing.....just! It was our first session at Crosby Hall for almost a month as we'd given it a 'rest' for a little while as we focused on other sites.

We used a total of five nets, two at the feeding station and three individual nets throughout the wood. There was clear evidence that there had been a shoot during the week - there were no pheasants apparent (not complaining about that!). The catch rate was relatively low this morning, with only thirty one birds being captured, however we did manage add our first Nuthatch's of the year and a further four Goldcrest.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) with feather mites - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Adult male Blackbird (Turdus merula) - the redish colouration in the beak an eye ring is common at Crosby Hall in December/January. We believe this is due to their tendency to feed on the berries from the Yew tree. 

I sometimes get asked from time to time about how we can tell the age and sex of different species. In the photograph below, you can see how we determine the sex of Goldcrests (Regulus regulus). The male is on the right and the female is on the left - we move the feathers on the crown to check for the presence of orange feathers that are only present in the male. During the breeding season, the male will sing to attract the female as well as 'puff up' his crown to make himself look as attractive as possible.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - Female (left) and male (right)

L.T.Tit -   3   (5)
Goldcrest -   4
Chaffinch -   2
Robin -   2   (1)
Great Tit -   1   (2)
Coal Tit -   1
Blue Tit -   4   (2)
Nuthatch -   2
Blackbird -   1   (1)

TOTAL:   20   (11)

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Variation in Adult Jays

Me and Moxey had a busy day on Saturday starting at Brook Vale in the morning, moving on to Scarisbrick in the afternoon for a roost session. Neither session was particularly productive in terms of the number of birds ringed, however there was quite a nice variation in species. I'm not going to give you a narrative of our session on Saturday, but instead focus on two birds that we caught at Brook Vale in the morning. Jays.

We don't catch many Jays each year, we only ringed four in 2012 and eight in 2011, so to catch two together is a significant proportion of the birds we are likely to ring this year. When we came to ring the birds, we took a little bit of time to compare the two birds with each other. We had aged both of the birds as adults based on the criteria that we were familiar with, namely looking at the barring on the outermost greater covert, consistency of barring on the primary coverts and the tail shape.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

After comparing both of the birds, we noticed that there was still a difference between the two birds, one of the birds demonstrated a ruffous-brown tip on the inner web of the outermost GC. The other bird didn't. So we decided to consult the one of the guides that we, as ringers, use to help us confirm the age of the birds that we catch by plumage characteristics - Identification Guide to European Passerines by Lars Svennson.

According to Svennson, birds with nine or less black bars on the outermost GC are likely to be first year birds whilst birds with ten or more are likely to be adult birds. As you can see from the following photo's of the two birds, one bird has ten (and a skinny eleventh) and the other has eleven bars.

Adult Jay with eleven bars on outermost GC

Adult Jay with ten clear bars on outermost GC

We also double checked the tail feather criteria by taking a measurement of the the width of the 5th tail feather at 40mm from the tip, both birds had 5th tail feathers in excess of 40mm once again indicating the birds were adults.

The very broad tail feathers of an adult Jay

Whilst this isn't a groundbreaking observation, it was interesting to see the variation between different adults of the same species and also demonstrates the importance of looking at a range of criteria when determining the age of a bird. I, for one, will be taking a much closer look at any subsequent Jays that we catch.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Wilde and Windy Start to 2013

Following my return from Holland on New Years Day, I had hoped to get out ringing the following day, but it was just as well we didn't venture out as we got a considerable amount of precipitation. And so it was Thursday before we could get out to Kings Moss to get 2013 off to a start and, despite the wind being stronger than was forecast, we decided to persevere and proceed with the session.

We were joined by Daniel early on followed by a youngster that goes by the name of Findlay, Findlay Wilde - the boy, the myth, the legend....and his dad Nigel. You can read about young Findlay's experience here.

The wind wasn't the only troublesome feature of the weather, the temperature not only left us pretty toasty, but it probably also contributed to the lower catch rate with birds preferring to opt for natural food sources rather than the tasty morsels that we had on offer. The lower catch did however, provide opportunities to spend a little more time explaining things to the youngsters, Finn, Dan and.......Moxey (he's only 31 - not many people know that).

The first bird to be ringed in 2013 was a Lesser Redpoll, one of two caught during the first net round in addition to a solitary Brambling. The rest of the catch was to be as expected, with lots of retraps and a few finches. There was only about twenty Chaffinches observed during the morning but they weren't that interested in the food on offer and there weren't that many Greenfinches or Goldfinches apparent.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)

There was one bird that Findlay expressed that he really, really, really (I could go on) wanted to see a Willow Tit because he had never seen one. It was only fitting that when we caught one, that this was the first bird that he would ring. For a young man of only ten years, he certainly knows his stuff, but we set him to work on ageing the retrap Blue Tits...

A Scouse Ringer and a Findlay, ringing his first Willow Tit

By the end of the session, the wind had dropped and it was a flat calm and then it began to drizzle....nothing new there then!

Lesser Redpoll -   2
Goldfinch -   2   (1)
Chaffinch -   4   (1)
Brambling -   1
Blue Tit -   3   (15)
Willow Tit -   1
Great Tit -   (3)
Robin -   (1)
L.T.Tit -   (1)
Greenfinch -   4   (1)
Blackbird -   2

TOTAL:   19   (23)

Thursday, 3 January 2013

2012 UK Review

And so 2012 has already passed us by and once more I shall compose a brief review of the year from the perspective of a Scouse Ringer and the very talented Moxey.

2012 will be remembered for a number of reasons:
  • Rain
  • Rain 
  • Rain
  • Record Swift catch
  • Poor breeding season
  • Yellowhammers and a year at Kings Moss
  • Winter Waxwings
  • Did I mention rain?
It has been confirmed that 2012 was only a days rainfall away from being the wettest year on record. The weather this year has significantly impacted our ringing totals, however not in the ways that most expect. The poor breeding season experienced by all this summer was demonstrated in a decrease in almost all of our summer visitor species, in particular the ground-nesting species such as Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler whilst despite a strong showing in the spring, the autumn catches of Blackcap were well below what we had expected based on the previous year. We had another poor breeding season for Barn Owls with high rates of cannibalism and a significant numbers of deserted nests. It wasn't all doom and gloom however as we did manage to ring three young Buzzards and wing-tagged them as part of a study being conducted by Steve Binney from the Merseyside RG.

First SWLRG wing-tagged Buzzard

Through the months of May and June, the cool and wet weather meant that we were unable to complete a lot of our scheduled weekend sessions on Rimrose Valley. This however, provided numerous opportunities to get out and capture Swifts, House Martins and Swallows - this meant that 2012, the fifteenth year of our Swift study, was our biggest in terms of the number of birds ringed. Me and Moxey are currently in the process of analysing that data set in the hope of looking deeper into the decline of Swifts in the UK.

Swift (Apus apus)

We completed our first full calendar year of ringing at Kings Moss, ringing in excess of 1300 birds including large numbers of finches as well as regionally-less common birds such as Yellowhammer and Willow Tit. We had a number of bumper sessions in the autumn with some big catches of Goldfinch and, in particular, Greenfinch as well as catching an exceptionally late Tree Pipit.

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

 Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

Goldcrests featured high in our totals this year, the majority of which were caught on passage during the autumn and caught across all of our sites but Hightown and Crosby Hall in particular. Hightown was the site of our first foreign control in a long time, a Sedge Warbler with a French ring, the ringing details of which have just come in.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)


The tail-end of 2012 saw a little bit of class arrive in SW Lancs with upto 200 Waxwings turning up in varying flock sizes from Formby to Everton Brow. We didn't have many opportunities to catch these erruptive winter visitors, but on two occasions we were able to attempt to catch in Formby and on both occasions we were successful, catching one individual (of four) and then four individuals (of eight). This brought the total ringed by SWLRG in our existence to seven.

Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)

There were many highlights this year, some of which are listed above, some in the UK, others in Portugal which I will discuss on another day, hence the 'UK' in the title. So to finish off, here's the top ten ringed (you can find the full ringing totals in the panel on the right hand side of the page:

1. Swift - 823
2. Blue Tit - 574
3. House Martin - 434
4. Greenfinch - 402
5. Chaffinch - 388
6. Swallow - 298
7. Goldfinch - 272
8. Blackcap - 252
9. Great Tit - 244
10. Goldcrest - 214

TOTAL: 5240