26 Jul 2014

Probably the last few Swallows

I got permission this week to ring Swallows on another local farm. Although late in the season I hoped there might be a 2nd brood or two. I was right. One well nourished 2nd brood and another nest with eggs. The farm also has a good sized colony of House Martins & the farmer us keen for me to ring these as well!

I didn't need a ladder for these but stood on the back of an old sofa used by the farm dog! As soon as they heard me they started begging for food! 

18 Jul 2014

Swifts over the garden

The warm weather recently has resulted in huge numbers of flying ants locally and this has attracted the Black-headed Gulls and Swifts to feed over the garden. Some of the Swifts have been coming quite low so I stood on the lawn with the camera trying to get some decent shots as they zoomed overhead.

The first photo seems to show the bird has a bulging bolus of insects in its mouth as its throat is extended. I'm not sure if these are local birds or have come from further afield. They seemed to be hanging around unlike the large passage of 3-400+ birds that passed over earlier all heading in the same direction. Its frustrating trying to get flight shots as they're so quick! A fly over Raven was a bonus  but the real surprise was the Pipistrelle bat hunting in broad daylight around 5 pm. How did it know there was a hatch of ants?

The recent warm humid weather has led to a huge number of recently formed frogs exiting the local pond. At one point I counted over a hundred 2 cm long froglets  - I know this as the neighbours kids were collecting them in a bucket and moving them to the safety of an overgrown patch of nettles to stop the Magpies and Jackdaws eating them all.

I mentioned recently I'd bought a new macro lens. I haven't had much time to play with it but here's a couple of shots of a Common Poppy in the garden and an orchid in the conservatory. Its an awesome lens and as I get used to it I'll be using it to photograph insects.

16 Jul 2014

Sand Martins

I was lucky enough to join Richard, John & Mark this week on one of their evening visits to ring Sand Martins as part of a RAS (retrapping adults for survival) study on the River Lune.

It was a beautiful evening to spend  on the river bank with martins everywhere and the bonus of a fly through Hobby that grabbed one for supper before getting chased away by a screaming mob of agitated martins.

Common Sandpipers, Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Grey Wagtails also frequented the river sides and the surrounding pastures.
There are special guidelines for ringing Sand Martins at colonies and these are strictly adhered to. Two lines of nets were used and opened / closed alternately. I don't get to see these little birds close up very often  as they're usually only caught at colonies or at a roost site - neither of which we have on Hilbre! They are great little birds but pretty smelly after being in their burrows for the breeding season.

Some of the adults were controls from other sites and many females still had brood patches suggesting they were on 2nd or even 3rd broods for the year. Sand Martin ecology is interesting as once the juveniles disperse from their natal colony they visit other colonies and some of last nights retraps were from other colonies on the Lune.

Adults can be identified by their all brown feathering whilst juveniles have buff or rusty fringes to the tertials, coverts and rump.
 Juvenile (3J) Sand Martin with very rusty edges to tertiarys, coverts and rump
 Juvenile (3J) Sand Martin with paler edges to feathers.
Adult Sand Martin - uniform brown feathering although worn at this time of year.

After a couple of weeks fitting bigger rings to cormorants, auks, gulls, terns and Kittiwakes it was nice to get back to handling smaller stuff that doesn't bite or scratch! Sand Martin poo doesn't come out in quite the same quantities as with the seabirds.

Packing up just before 21.00 I was back home by 11.15. A great way to spend a warm summers evening.

13 Jul 2014

Kittiwakes and a Puffin.

The seasons last trip to Puffin Island took place last Saturday with the primary aim of catching and colour ringing adult Kittiwakes and ringing as many chicks as we could reach. Last year nearly all the nests failed - partly due to a Peregrine taking the chicks off the nests and partly because of poor weather. This year we hoped things had improved.

The team of 8 minus, Rachel & Steve who are away in Greenland, met at Beaumaris at 07.45 to take the StaRiDa Island Princess, skippered by Stan, across to Puffin Island where Jason met us in the tender in case we needed ferrying across. Luckily the high tide meant we could disembark the Princess directly on to the beach.

Stashing unwanted gear we set off across the island carrying ladders to enable us to reach some of the higher Kittiwake nests before starting work in the first area we could get access. All the adult Kittiwakes caught were colour ringed and several fitted with geolocators, data-loggers and /or  salinity measuring devices as part of Phil Collins' PhD research into Kittiwake behaviour. Adult Kittiwakes are one of the most beautiful gulls you'll see and in breeding plumage have red eye rings and bright yellow bills. 

Whilst one half of the team concentrated on catching adults the rest got on with ringing as many chicks as we could find. Sadly many nests have failed again this year and there was evidence of predation by the Peregrine Falcon again. Eventual totals were 16 adults ringed and 40 chicks - far better than last year but still not as productive as the colony was 3-4 years ago. Many nests were totally inaccessible and one ledge in particular seemed to be thriving with every nest containing 1-2 young. Hopefully all these will fledge.

 Kittiwakes eye view of the ringers in action.

No excuses for the number of photographs. Unlike other gull chicks Kittiwakes are impossibly cute and fluffy.

As well as the Kittiwakes our brief was to ring as many of the remaining Razorbill & Guillemot chicks as we could find as well as any remaining gulls and Shags. Ian excelled by catching one of the few Puffins we have caught.
 Guillemot chicks still on the breeding ledges.

For once I had time to use the DSLR  and spent some time during our lunch break getting some shots of the islands inhabitants.

 Business end of a Razorbill just daring me to try and catch it so it can take chunks out of my hands.

Just as we were due to leave the weather closed in and it started raining as we were ferried by Jason across to the StaRiDa  fishing boat for the journey home. This was the last visit the ringing team will make to Puffin Island this year although Phil Collins, Jon Green and the other researchers will continue until all the breeding birds have departed.

11 Jul 2014

Arctic Terns, The Skeries.

The Skerries are a small cluster of islets about 40 minutes boat journey from Holyhead, Anglesey. During the breeding season they're home to Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and one of the biggest colonies of Arctic Terns in the UK. This is wardened by the RSPB during the breeding season and the wardens live in the old lighthouse! No one is allowed to land on the Skerries unless they have permission. Tern colonies further north, along with other seabird colonies, have been having a rough time over the last few years with some Arctic tern colonies on Shetland failing to fledge a single young. The Skerries colony is growing so where are these birds coming from? Are they being recruited from the offspring fledged in previous years returning to breed or are they birds from failed colonies moving south?

Hopefully a new RAS (retrapping adults for survival) will help answer some of these questions and with the cooperation of the RSPB a ringing study has started with a sample of 50 adult birds being ringed with metal BTO rings on one leg and orange flags with a two letter code on the other.

Last time I visited the Skerries was in 2005 when a Sooty Tern arrived among the breeding colony. We chartered a fishing boat from Amlwch and although we were not allowed to land we were allowed to moor in the sheltered bay and had fantastic views of this rare visitor as it flew round our boat.

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited by Rachel & Steve to join them on a trip to ring a sample of 500 Arctic tern chicks. What an experience!

We took a boat from Holyhead harbour that was taking the food supplies across to the wardens and bringing off one of the relief wardens. It turned into a beautiful day with a slight swell. As we got closer to the islands rafts of Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills flew off the sea in front of us and terns filled the air.

Landing we had to be very careful where we stood as there were young birds and unhatched eggs everywhere. The boat was waiting for us so Steve quickly organised the ringing as we had 3 hours in which to ring 500 chicks!!!

Panoramic shot below:

 Adult Arctic Tern with orange flag on left leg.

Apologies for the crap shots using the iPhone - next time I'll take the proper camera!
Below is a short video giving you some idea what its like to be in the middle of an Arctic Tern colony!
All to soon our trip was over and we had to leave the island to the birds and the wardens to take the boat back to Holyhead. Gannets and Manx Shearwaters were seen on the trip home and a Black Guillemot in the harbour. Another great island experience. I seem to be making a habit of visiting small remote islands.

8 Jul 2014

Swallows and Catterick CES

A busy weekend last weekend for me! Bad weather Friday meant John & I had to revise our plans to revisit the farm where we study the Swallows and we eventually met up on Saturday morning. of the existing known nests there was one 2nd brood to small to ring and two birds on eggs.

Noticing a pair of birds entering through a broken window previously unproductive building we explored and I heard chicks calling from a ledge about 10 m off the ground that, in a previous year, had held a Blackbirds nest. A quick climb of the ladder and we found a Swallows nest within the old Blackbirds nest with three well grown young with one dead one found below.

In the same building we also discovered an old nest in the process of being repaired with wet mud around the rim. Whether this is a late new pair or a second brood we'll have to wait and see.
Sadly we also found another nest with a long dead Swallow lying on the ground beneath it and a nest of addled eggs. The bird was to far decomposed to work out what had happened but it possibly starved during a spell of cold wet weather we've had recently.

Every year since I started retraining for my ringing permit we've made the pilgrimage Foxglove Covert on Catterick Garrison to help wit halt least one of their CES days. This year it was just Scott & me who traveled Saturday evening ready for the 04.00 alarm call Sunday morning. its always nice to visit other ringing sites and Tony Crease and his team makes really welcome. Although not the busiest CES we've ever experienced Scott still got to handle two new species - Treecreeper and Marsh Tit and there was even a spare one of each for me to ring!

There was very few warblers around with only a handful of Chiffchaffs & Willow Warblers being caught, two Blackcaps and a single Garden Warbler. Apparently a wet spell in the middle of nesting wiped out a lot of these birds.

As well as the birds Foxglove Covert is teeming with other wildlife and the recent weather has been very conducive to both Spotted Orchids and Butterflies. Ringlets were everywhere and we even managed a few quick flight views of several Dark Green Fritillaries.

Although totals were down we were still kept busy and a total of 18 species being processed. Totals included an amazing 20 new Bullfinches and 40 new Chaffinches as well as a pair of retrap Reed Buntings.
With good company, sausage rolls, birthday cake and endless cups of tea it was a long 11 hour ringing marathon but well worth the journey.