28 Jan 2015

Hilbre WeBs count

After the previous days ringing I spent most of Sunday on Hilbre undertaking the regular high tide WeBs count. Fortunately the high tide was around 14.20 which meant  I could have a leisurely start to the day before heading off and arriving around 11.00!

It soon became obvious there was very little in the way of passerines on the island and a quick glance at the sea suggested that was also devoid of much avian life. Luckily there were plenty of waders of both the feathered and non feathered variety to keep me occupied. A trip up to the north end slipway resulted in 8 Purple Sandpipers among the Turnstones and Oystercatchers. A left leg ringed Rock Pipit was also present.  With the heligoland traps depressingly empty I headed back to the Obs to light the fire and get a brew.

Standing on the balcony I became aware of two people trying to wade across to Middle Eye from Hilbre.  They'd obviously miscalculated the tide and were now trying to get off. Unfortunately they didn't make it without both falling over and getting soaked. As I watched another couple appeared and tried the same thing. This couple fared slightly better but still got soaked! Unsure as to whether or not they could still get from Middle Eye back to West Kirby I rang Chris who got the coast guard to contact me. As  I was speaking to them the people on Middle made a 999 call  asking for help and the West Kirby inshore lifeboat was launched. It made two trips to take them back to West Kirby marine lake car park. A lesson learnt I think - people don't realise how quickly the tide around Hilbre races in and can cut you off.

Once this excitement was over I turned my attention to the WeBs count. There was very little on the sea with 2 Great-crested grebes, 2 Common Scoter, a single Red-throated Diver and the highlight in the form of 2 pairs of Goldeneye! The Brents were on the sea between Little Eye and West Kirby and allowed an accurate count of 223 birds.

Waders were roosting all around me. Niffy bay held a good number of Turnstones and a few Redshank with a single Purple Sandpiper on the 'steps' for good measure. One of the Turnstones was one of our colour ringed birds from 2010 whilst a Redshank bore a metal ring on its right leg so obviously wasn't one of ours as we ring on the left leg.

  Colour ringed Turnstone red over light green right leg. This bird will have a metal BTO ring on its left leg
Metal ringed Redshank - right leg.

Turnstone bathing.

The Purple Sandpipers weren't roosting in their usual place which was surprising but I eventually found 3 roosting on the west side cliffs.

A small flock of 23 Ringed Plovers roosted on top of the west side cliffs and there were a few Dunlin among them.
After a tour of the island trying to track down roosting waders I returned to the Obs to 'scope Middle Eye and check the roosting waders there. As usual Oystercatchers dominated but there was also a decent sized flock of Curlew and a few Knot present.

The distance is just a bit far to try and pick out any colour rings on the Oystercatchers which is a shame as it would be nice to confirm movement between N Wales and the Dee by picking out one of the SCAN colour ringed birds. One has been seen recently but the ring number couldn't be read

The only downside of a late tide is that  I had to drive off in the dark so didn't have the opportunity to photograph any waders feeding alongside the Landrover.

A great weekends birding - its just a shame I couldn't attend SCAN's Sunday canon netting session as they had another good catch!

26 Jan 2015

A calidrid swarm

The weekend started well with a walk round Stanney Woods Friday afternoon. The first time I'd been able to get out locally for ages. I'd hoped the recent cold weather might have resulted in a Woodcock movement as we'll often find them deep in the woods as they move ahead of the frozen ground. They're very elusive and way off the normal tracks. Sure enough I flushed two under the same holly bush deep in the wood where the ground is boggy and there's plenty of cover.

Saturday saw a planned SCAN canon netting attempt for the elusive Dunlin. Catches have been poor over the last couple of years. Not because Dunlin are scarce but because every time we do a recce and set the nets where they are expected to roost they decide to move elsewhere. Its been very frustrating.

The alarm was set for 06.00 to ensure I could get a good breakfast before meeting the rest of the team at the designated time of 08.15

This time the best laid plans of the ringing team finally hit pay dirt! Over 770 Dunlin and a smattering of Redshank were caught in one net. After extracting the birds and putting them in nice warm dark holding cages we took the opportunity to grab a sandwich and a drink before splitting the team into 3 - 2 processing teams. Each  aged each bird and measured wing length, total bill / head length and bill to feather length (this helps assign to race) and weight whilst the ringing team concentrated on putting the rings on the birds.  Among the birds were a number of retraps to provide useful data on site fidelity and survival rates. Although of no real scientific interest we caught 4 controls - 2 wearing Swedish ringing scheme rings and 2 with German.

Rachel checking the ring number before ageing and measuring wing.

Dunlin can be aged in winter by the retained juvenile wing coverts which have a creamy brown edge  - the bird below is a juvenile bird (2nd calendar year).
 Whilst this one with white fringing to the coverts is an adult so is in at least its 3rd Calendar year.

We also caught a couple of old retraps that hadn't been seen since the ringing date. One had been ringed in Bangor harbour in 2001. Its incredible to think how far this bird has flown in its lifetime.

The 'other' processing team relaxing after finishing processing nearly 800 birds.

What surprised me was how warm the little birds were. A proper little hand warmer. The legs and feet were noticeably cold though - like all wading birds Dunlin have the ability to restrict the blood supply to their feet to conserve energy in cold weather. Unfortunately ringers don't have that ability and there were a few people with cold feet due to leaking waders.

A great day and a well organised team! I got home starving hungry, filthy dirty and in desperate need of some sleep. Luckily Sunday gave me a bit of a lie in as  I couldn't make the Sunday ringing session due to a commitment to undertake the WeBs count on Hilbre over the high tide.

20 Jan 2015

A cold night on the marshes.

Despite the temperature being well below zero  I was sweating. A combination of numerous layers of warm weather clothing and keeping moving meant steam was coming off me and the vapour freezing as it hit the cold night air. Above me the night sky was full of stars. There are no street lights out here on the marsh and as we were trying to mist net waders over the high tide torches were not allowed. A heavy frost descended and glinted like diamonds in the star light -  almost a mirror of the sky above.

Orion, The Plough, Cassipoea, The Seven Sisters and Cirrus, the Dog Star, were all brilliantly visible.

The occasional Snipe and Redshank were flushed off the marsh as we set the mist nets high above the brackish water. The water was oily and even by 18.00 its state was changing from a liquid to a viscous oilyness as the temperature dropped and it began  to freeze over to attain its solid state.

Mad as we might seem we were in N Wales, forsaking a warm comfortable house for a night outside on one of the coldest nights forecast this winter. Our target was Dunlin.

Without artificial light your sensors are heightened. Every noise is amplified and features you'd never glance at during the day become recognisable landmarks enabling to find your way around. Your steps are stealthily cautious - not  to avoid disturbing anything but to make sure you don't trip over! Not being able to use a torch meant the birds are extracted by touch. Another sense heightened. Just as well seeing as I'd 'lost my reading glasses' (I thought they'd fallen out of my pocket but found them on my desk this morning).

As the tide flooded birds began to move and we started catching. A Ringed Plover first, followed by Dunlin and Redshank. Not as many as had been hoped for as the frozen marsh seemed to deter the birds from flying in and under such conditions they tend to stick to the tide line. It was enough for our small team though and gave me plenty of exercise taking the birds back to the processing station that had been set up about 5 minutes walk back along the beach. Here the birds were ringed, aged, biometrics taken and released to continue their nocturnal activities.

As it got later and the temperature got colder the water froze harder and we were cracking the ice as we waded through it to check the nets. Around 10 pm, when it became obvious that we weren't going to catch much more, we started packing up. I eventually got home at midnight. Tired, muddy, sweaty but happy.


15 Jan 2015

Garden ringing totals

Graphical representation of the ringing data from our garden over the last 3 years.
Interestingly I've had 4 controls - 2 Long-tailed Tits one of which had moved 5 km and the other 20 km, a Great Tit (15 km) and a Lesser Redpoll (18 km). I've had numerous local recoveries  - mostly killed by cats! The single male Sparrowhawk was photographed in a garden about 1.5 km away munching on a kill.

The Heron was a nice find one morning on a neighbours roof!

 Whilst the redhead Smew is the long staying bird at Newchurch Common.

its been a long time since a male Smew graced Cheshire and the last one I saw was January 2004 at Inner marsh Farm RSPB. We are long overdue another one. With redheads in recent years at Rostherne, Moore and Tatton Park it makes you wonder if its a returning bird as all the sites are pretty much within a 10 km radius.

8 Jan 2015

Post Christmas cheer.

Windy weather over the Christmas period wasn't exactly conducive to doing any mist netting in the garden and to be honest the mild weather meant there aren't many birds around - so far this winter period I've see none Redpoll in the garden and have yet to see a Siskin! A few days cold frosty weather brought an influx of Blackbirds into the garden and most days there were at least 6-8 feeding on spilt seed beneath the feeders. With the possibility these were continental immigrants I decided to try and catch a few and used walk in traps baited with cheese. I caught 8 in a 3 day period. To put this into perspective this equals the total for the best year since I've been ringing in the garden. I generally catch between 2 -4 per year!

Although I can't prove they were continental birds the long wing length and heavy weight suggests they were. As soon as the cold snap finished they were gone.

One day was calm enough to try and mist net but the Blackbirds avoided the nets. I was surprised to catch this beauty though as I hadn't even seen one in the garden or heard one in the nearby trees!

A 1st winter male Nuthatch aged by the general feather wear and a slight moult contrast in the lesser coverts.

Although we've no Redpolls or Siskins there are plenty of Goldfinches including this 1st winter Goldfinch showing a distinct moult contrast in the greater coverts with the outer ones being duller and buff tipped in contrast to the newer adult type inner ones.

Since I started ringing in the garden in 2014 the number of birds caught annually has increased along with the number of species. This could be due to a genuine increase in numbers as I've started feeding far more intensively or due to increased ringing activities (although I think my efforts have been fairly consistent. I'm going to analyse the data further to see if, for example, there's an increased recapture rate, suggesting feeding has improved survival rates.

The graph below shows number of birds and number of species plotted against year.

As would be expected Blue Tits are by far the commonest species ringed with Great Tit in 2nd place. Whats surprising is Goldfinch in 3rd place with Greenfinch in 4th. Given the Greenfinch has been hit badly by trichomonosis nationally this is a good sign.

1 Jan 2015

January 1st 2015 & some Bustards ruined my lie in!

We had a family outing to N Wales hiking the highest peak in the Clwydian Range in the snow planned New Years Eve and news the previous day of a Little Bustard seen in flight in Kent was forgotten as the icy conditions meant concentration on where you put your feet was more important than mulling over a missing Bustard. With Black Grouse, Crossbill & Raven to keep the birding side of my brain occupied I completely missed the message from RBA about a Little Bustard in Yorks. Poor reception had a lot to do with it and it was only when Al Orton rang me as we neared the top of Moel Famau that I began to get a bit twitchy. News that Frank & Groucho were on their way after fortuitously being side by side searching for a dodgy duck on a dodgy sand quarry was a tad depressing especially as it transpired this Bustard wasn't just a flyby and had been relocated! 

Al was going New Years Day for first light but with a family New Years Eve party planned at a local hotel planned I wasn't going to make it. Unless........ Finishing the hike and starting the descent a plan started formulating itself in my frozen brain. What if I went to the party and Al picked me up from home as I knew I wouldn't be safe driving to his place........

A few texts and a couple of calls later it was arranged and so it transpired I got in around 01.30 and got changed out of my posh threads and into my more regular scruffs and settled on the couch to try and grab a bit of rest. No chance! By 05.00 I was making a brew and preparing for the big day. The bird had appeared to roost in its favoured kale field and with Bustards being day migrants we were confident!

Malc had joined us from  a holiday in Anglesey so three of Cheshires finest set off at 05.30 am NEW YEARS DAY 😶 for the village of Fraisthorpe!

An uneventful journey followed during which I may or may not have nodded off or sobered up. Arriving at 08.00 and following instructions to park in the village we set off just as dawn was breaking for the 1 mile walk to the field to find several hundred birders already there. The bird was still there and thanks to Alex Jones letting me view through his scope I got on it straight away.

Finding a spot crouched down out of the wind I soon had my scope on it. Initially only a head was visible but as it got lighter the bird started moving a bit more and revealed more of itself. Unfortunately, even though I'd brought my iPhone adaptor I'd brought the wrong attachment for the scope. Cursing I tried to hold the phone against the eyepiece hoping to get a usable record shot.

It was great to see so many familiar faces from trips to Shetland. A great day out and we were home by 12.30.