28 Nov 2014

Pond Life.

Few shots during sunnier times of birds coming to drink at Barry's pond. Went to try and photograph a Grey Wagtail but sods law meant it didn't come down to the pond whilst  I was there. Plenty of Greenfinches and Gold finches though.

24 Nov 2014

Talking tertials

Saturday saw a 3.15 wake-up call as I was going across to Bangor to join the rest of the SCAN ringing team attempting to canon net Redshank & we had to meet up at 05.45 to set the nets in the dark! With high tide around 10.30 we didn't have the luxury of setting up in daylight!

We had the nets set pretty quickly and the majority of the team settled down in the hide for a long vigil as dawn broke and the tide rose. Once again luck was on our side and we made a good catch comprising 126 Redshank, 8 Dunlin & a single Curlew.

It was a good opportunity to look at ageing the Redshank something generally done by the state of the tertials. Juveniles (age code 3 born this year) generally have very worn tertials with the weaker white 'teeth' worn away so the edge resembles a bread knife blade -see below.

Very occasionally these can be so badly worn that very little white is visible at all. This can cause confusion making the bird look similar to an adult although other plumage / bare part characteristics can be used to determining the correct age. Juvenile Redshanks generally have paler legs than adults and are a yellowish orange.

Adult tertials shown on the bird below:

There is a racial separation based on size between populations of Redshank with birds from further north (Iceland & Scandinavia) being bigger than our British birds so measurements were taken to help determine the origins of these birds wintering in N Wales.

A number of juveniles were quite 'runty' and we caught one unfortunate bird that had a severe case of rickets - see below. A couple were very undersized and underweight and if we have a cold winter they'll be unlikely to survive.

A great session and we were finished and packed up by 12.00 - enough time for me to catch up on some sleep in the conservatory!

17 Nov 2014

Odd moults and poor quality feathers.

Ringing at Barry's always throws up something interesting due to the sheer number of birds we catch in his garden. Our most  recent session was Friday afternoon after a hastily rearranged meeting time due to torrential rain forecast first thing in the morning. It was a good session with 122 birds processed of which 90 were new and the rest re-traps. As usual the majority of birds were Blue & Great Tits but we had a good smattering of other species. Ringers in other parts of the country have been commenting on unusual moult in Blue Tits with birds having poor quality feathers and being infested with feather mites and lice. Whether this is as a result of poor weather during their moult  period or some other factor remains to be seen. I'm seeing this locally and sure enough we caught an adult Blue Tit at Barry's that had failed to moult its 4th & 9th primary even though it had replaced all the rest.

Some birds are moulting pretty late in the year and we caught this gorgeous adult male Bullfinch that was still growing its 6th secondary on each wing.

Bullfinches generally moult all their greater coverts during their post juvenile moult but retain the carpal covert. In juvenile birds this is edged  buff / brown whereas in adults it's white with possibly a hint of pink! This male was aged as an adult from the carpal covert which has a nice white fringe.
From memory I think this is the 8-9th Bullfinch we've trapped at this site in the last year and previously we hadn't caught any!

With autumn comes the annual raking of the leaves and with our lawn smothered I took the opportunity to spend some time tidying up whilst the weather was dry over the weekend. Of course it also gave me the opportunity to put some mist nets up in the garden.............

One of the 'highlights' was this unfortunate Great Tit that was 1st ringed as a juvenile in May this year. The feather quality is appalling and you can see the wear on the primaries already. How this bird will be able to fly if the wear gets worth I don't know. This bird is also very unusual in that it has retained the outermost juvenile greater covert. Great Tits very rarely do this although its quite often seen in Blue Tits.
This suggests the bird was under environmental 'stress' during both its fledging period and its post juvenile moult. Assuming the bird was hatched during April we had some pretty torrential rain that would have made the adults job of feeding the youngsters very hard. It looks as if there were fault bars in all the primaries and the feathers have broken / warn at this week point. The bird was otherwise healthy with a good fat score and weight. It'll be interesting to retrap it again over the winter to see how its fairing.

On a brighter note I retrapped a Goldfinch 1st ringed back in July as a recent fledgling. It has undergone a post juvenile moult and was sexed as a male. It's retained a fairly obvious juvenile greater covert. Its also obvious from this photo how the white bit of the feathers wear faster than the darker bits! This is a feature of white feathers  and can also be seen on the tail of Goldfinches.

Goldcrests have been a feature in my garden this year. Although not huge numbers there has been a significant increase in birds compared to previous years and I ringed another new bird this weekend as well as retrapping two individuals from previous weeks.

2011 - none, 2012 - 1, 20013 - none, 2014 - 4!

The nearest they breed to me is Stanney Woods about 3 km away as the bird flies so whether these are local birds or some of the huge number of Scandinavian migrants filtering across from the east coast remains to be seen.

10 Nov 2014

Poms & Barred Warblers

As is often the case it was two phone calls form Steve that formed the basis of two memorable birding experiences this weekend.

The first came Friday morning when he rang me to say Derek had rescued an injured Pomarine Skua on Hilbre which seemed to have a wing strain and couldn't fly properly. He was driving across in his Landrover to pick it up and Derek was keeping it overnight before handing it to the RSPCA if there was no improvement in its condition. I jumped at the chance of seeing one of these skua's close up - they're a description species in Cheshire and most of the time you just see a shape careening after a hapless gull or tern out at sea in stormy conditions. Breeding in N Russia they're a scarce but mostly annual visitor in small numbers with only a handful of records each year.

The bird appeared bright and feisty so we hope its just wing strain. I took the opportunity to take photo's showing some of the relevant identification features including undertail coverts, underwing pattern and bill colour. A beautiful bird and hopefully it will recover and be released off Hilbre to continue its southerly migration.
 Juvenile Pomarine Skua showing typical bi-coloured bill
 Upper tail coverts and tail with central projections

 Underwing pattern
Undertail coverts

I'd arranged to meet Steve at his house Sunday and drive across to Hilbre to undertake the regular WeBS count which also coincided with a Brent Goose survey. It was a beautiful day and we used the Landrover as a platform from which to count the Brent's as the tide was flooding.

 The eventual number was 95 and we got a very accurate count over the high tide when all the birds were loafing around on the sea. We also counted family groups and it was good to see a few juveniles still associating with their parents.

A seawatch counting numbers for the WeBS survey was very successful with good numbers of Red-throated Divers, Common Scoter and Great-crested Grebes numbering in the hundreds for each!

Passerines were well represented with flyover Skylarks whilst the bird feeders in the Obs garden attracted two Goldfinches.

The amount of red on the face of the bird above and the colour of the nasal hairs strongly suggest its a female.  There were a few unringed Robins around and a Song Thrush suggesting there had been a small movement of these species locally over the last few days.

The tide had fallen enough for us to leave the island by 15.15 and after dropping Steve off I headed home to wash the underside of the Landrover and get some food. Just as I'd finished at the jetwash Steve made his second memorable call.

'You might want to turn round and come back as Tony Bell's found a Barred Warbler in his garden'
Bugger. By now the light was beginning to fade and I had doubts that I'd get back to West Kirby before the bird went to roost. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. After all this was a Cheshire lifer for me. After a quick pit stop at home I was thundering back along the M53 and arrived at Tony's to find Steve, Degs, Steph, Andrea & Colin all watching the bird from Tony's kitchen as it pecked at an apple on the tree in his garden. I didn't take my camera as I didn't think it would be showing quite so well! Photo below by Steve Williams and nicked from his twitter feed.

Another photo below courtesy of Colin Jones:

Tony is a founder member of Hilbre Bird Observatory and many thanks to him for allowing us all into his kitchen to view this bird. Although not rare in a national sense and probably best described as scarce passage migrants they are commoner  on the east coast but pretty scarce on the west.

The significance of this Barred Warbler? It was my 300th species in Cheshire & Wirral. I started birding in the county when a student at Manchester University between 1979 -1982 and this year have added three new species to my County list: Barred Warbler, Night Heron and Little Bunting. Over the years I've also found one new County species myself which was the UK's 10th Iberian Chiffchaff and been present when another was found and caught on Hilbre - Red-flanked Bluetail!

4 Nov 2014

A pleasant weekend spent locally.

Friday afternoon and in warm autumn sunshine saw me sauntering down to Stanney Woods for a wander round to see if I could spot the Lesser-spotted Woodpecker now the leaves are coming off the trees. I didn't find the Lesser Spot but found something even better! Whilst wandering through the centre of the wood I heard a call I was instantly familiar with – as would be anyone who’d spent the autumns birding on Shetland. A YELLOW BROWED WARBLER! A first for Stanney and for the local area although relatively regular on the N Wirral coast. An excellent addition to the Stanney list. 

I watched the bird briefly high up in the canopy before it flew off with the tit flock it was associating with. Anything up in the canopy in Stanney is always difficult to see as the photo's above illustrate.

As well as the birds Stanney is a good place for fungi. There's lots of decaying wood on the ground left purposefully by the rangers to attract invertebrates and fungi. I think these are Sulphur Tuft's.
A measure of how warm it is was apparent when a Southern Hawker dragonfly was seen flying over one of the ponds in the woods – a real case of autumn waif meeting summer straggler.
The rest of the weekend was spent pottering around doing odd jobs but also doing some ringing in the garden and keeping an eye on the skies in case something interesting flew over. There have been a lot of Pinkfeet in the area recently and skeins have been regularly flying over the garden. 

Other visible migrants included Skylarks and Grey Wagtails as well as the expected Redwings. I didn't expect Whooper Swan though but one flew high heading SE on Sunday. Maybe to join the wintering flock on the Dee estuary? More unusual for the garden were three Mistle Thrushes that kept flying around making a racket.

Highlight of the ringing sessions were a Chiffchaff and a Nuthatch along with small numbers of Coal Tits and Goldcrests. Numbers really haven’t built up yet as the weathers been so mild.
Nuthatch under tail coverts.

It was nice to catch this young Blue Tit which was actually ringed in a next box in the garden in may this year and not seen since. It was one of a brood of 10  and the first one ringed!
Chaffinch numbers also seem to be increasing no doubt boosted by continental immigrants and this 1st winter female shows a good example of a juvenile type tail with generally pointed feathers and narrow central tail feathers. Several female birds had wing lengths around 82-83 mm suggesting they might be Scandinavian birds.

Finally my rescue of the two Kingfishers in an industrial unit at Sandycroft has been written up in the Autumn edition of Wirral Wildlife's newsletter. Click on the links: Kingfishers and my blog post here