26 Feb 2015

Amazing Wigeon recovery

A sad but amazing ringing recovery from the BTO. Just before Christmas we went canon netting Wigeon in N Wales - see here for a blog post of that day.

This was on the 21st of December and on Christmas day one of the male Wigeon was shot in Baie Des Veys, Carentan, Manche, France. A movement of 476 km SSE in 4 days. Quite why a French hunter was out shooting on Christmas day is a mystery to me but it is an incredibly quick recovery.

23 Feb 2015


I had the opportunity to ring some Whooper Swans in N Wales at the weekend with the SCAN ringing group. What a fabulous day out! The Swans had been attracted to a baited field and the idea was to catch and colour ring a sample. The project has been stop / start for awhile due to either poor weather or, initially, the Swans not finding the bait. Saturday all the planning came together and  I found myself up at 04.30 making sandwiches and flasks of tea ready for the drive into Snowdonia.

Things didn't look promising when I hit a 'weather bomb' on the A55. At one point there was 5 cm of hails stones covering both carriageways and the traffic slowed to 25 mph as trucks struggled on the slippery surface. Eventually it cleared and I made good progress to the designated pick-up point near Bangor where after meeting two more of the team we carried on to our destination.

Unfortunately when we arrived the Swans were in the wrong field. As they were shooting nearby they were a bit spooked and promptly departed towards the estuary.

I drove off in the Landrover looking for them without much success. After walking several miles along a private track I was just returning to the Landrover when  I saw a small party flying back towards the fields where we'd set the nets. These were followed by other small groups and luckily this time they settled in the baited field. They still weren't in the catching area though and there ensued a fairly stressful hour or so with me walking closer and closer to the birds to get them to walk closer to the nets but not fly off again. With Steve talking to me on the radio we eventually got birds in the safe catching area and Rachel was primed the firing box........

A few seconds later the canons were fired and we'd caught a small number of Whooper Swans. Once safely extracted from the nets they were put in sacks to keep them calm before processing.

Below: ringing team

Swans take special clip rings that can be closed with ordinary engineering pliers. They're relatively straight forward and easy to close but care has to be taken to ensure the clip can't come undone again.
See below:

Each Whooper was weighed, aged, wing length taken along with tarsus & bill length, colour ringed and sexed. Photo's were taken of each birds bill by Steve as these birds can also be identified by their individual bill patterns like Bewicks Swans.

Adults have completely black and yellow bills and the difference in the markings can be seen on the two photos below:

As well as having a lot of retained juvenile feathers juveniles have much paler bills.

Adults have much blacker soles to their feet with juveniles having pink speckles.

Below: Juvenile (2nd calendar year, Euring 5) Whooper showing extent of juvenile feathering on body and in wings.

As Whopper Swans migrate and stick together in family groups all the birds were released together to ensure the these family groups didn't get split up.

A fantastic but ultimately very tiring day and a real privilege to get close up to these magnificent birds. Getting home about 17.00 the first thing  I did was bung all my waterproofs into the washing machine as they were covered in an fruity combination of liquid Swan pooh, cow pooh and mud. The Landrover was also covered in such a layer of muck I could hardly see the wing mirrors through the side windows so that was also given a hosing down before I was able to grab a shower and sit down to a well deserved curry with Jan.

Hopefully our Swans will be returning in subsequent winters and possibly even seen on their breeding grounds. It would be interesting to see if these Welsh birds are from the Russian or Icelandic breeding populations.

17 Feb 2015

Turnstones & Purple Sandpipers

It was WeBs count again and luckily it dawned overcast and windless. Ideal conditions for checking what lurked on the sea off Hilbre.

As soon as I'd arrived it was evident there were a lot of birds on show as Great -crested Grebes seemed to be everywhere. In the end  I counted 209 in one sweep from Flint round to West Kirby. A pair of Eiders were a good sighting flying up the west side whilst a flock of 18 Scaup drifted in as the tide flooded. Best find was a Black-throated Diver that drifted distantly down the west side before flying towards Point of Ayr. Once again there were huge numbers of Common Scoter out towards the windfarm but despite scanning intensely I couldn't pick up ant Velvet Scoter. Unfortunately they are just to far out to be able to pick out anything unusual on the water but surely we must get a Surf Scoter out there soon.

Waders were around in good numbers with a winter high of 11 Purple Sandpipers roosting on their preferred ledges along the west side.

As the tide ebbed I stood at the north end and waited for the Turnstones to come back and feed. It appears their favourite food are the small barnacles encrusting the rocks and they probe away until they extract the morsel within.

Below: Turnstone with barnacle

Below: view through the old lifeboat station door looking south.

With little use during the winter period the Obs needs a good airing so I'd lit the wood burner again and opened all the windows. With the radiators hot it helps to dry place out as well as providing somewhere to warm up after 3 hours counting birds.

11 Feb 2015

Back ringing at Burton

Our usual winter ringing sessions at Burton were delayed post Christmas due to the poor weather. With the weather looking more favourable and with Barry's agreement, John arranged for us all to meet before dawn! It was a good turnout with trainees Helen, Jack & Scott being supervised by John and assisted by Colin & myself. Holly joined us later to get a taster session of what ringing was about.

We had a reasonable day with 129 birds processed including some interesting re-traps. One of which was a female Nuthatch first ringed in 2013, so of a known age, that appears to have missed moulting post breeding in 2014. It was a good lesson for all of us as without knowledge of when this bird was ringed it might easily have been recorded as a 2nd calender year bird. However, the amount of bleaching and wear on the feathers suggested they were much older than expected. Interestingly this bird was small when first ringed with a wing of 80 mm. Because of the wear the wing length now was only 79 mm. Svensson states females of the British subspecies caesia have a wing length of between 81 -87 mm. Maybe this was a runt bird and this somehow has affected its health in such away to stop it moulting? David Norman caught a similar bird in Cheshire back in 2003.

As you can see from the above photos the wings and tail are extremely faded and abraded - far more than would be expected if the bird had complete a post breeding moult in 2014 and far more than you'd even expect to see in a juvenile fledged in 2014.

We  don't catch Blackbirds at Barry's every session so catching 6 in one day was a bit of a surprise.
Adult male Blackbird in at least its 3rd calendar year (Euring 6).
 The photo below shows two female Blackbird wings. The one nearest the camera is easily aged as a 2nd calendar year bird (Euring 5) by the moult contrast in the greater coverts with the 5 outer ones being retained juvenile feathers.

Surprisingly few finches were caught but it was nice to catch a new male Bullfinch and several Greenfinches including this cracking adult male below.

Another good catch was this Wren. Commonly seen but seldom caught at this site.

We also caught a few of these:

Beautiful little birds and as adults and juveniles both undergo a full moult after fledging / breeding we couldn't age them beyond definitely not being born this year or Euring 4. I remember in the 70's when some research was done to see if eye ring colour could be used for ageing and we recorded this on all Long-tailed Tits caught only to find it changed from day to day!

A great day with 12 different species being handled which was good experience for everyone involved. Many thanks to Barry for letting us use his garden and take over his shed as a ringing hut.

8 Feb 2015

Yankee Doodle Dandee - American Wigeon

Although not a mega rarity these days American Wigeon are still quite rare although over the last few years they've been almost annual in Cheshire. Still, it was nice to catch up with this nice male at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB courtesy of some eagle eyed spotting by Colin Wells. Cheshire & Wirral's good run continues with the Laughing Gull at New Brighton, Snow Buntings nearby, this American Wigeon, a Long-eared Owl at the same site and the redhead Smew still hanging on at Newchurch.

5 Feb 2015

Laughing Gull - back for seconds!

Although happy to have seen the bird when it was first found on Tuesday I was a bit disappointed not to have had it on the pontoon and get some decent shots. Wit ha couple of hours before I needed to be at a meeting I went back to New Brighton this morning. I am so glad I did!

After spending about 40 minutes looking along the groyne from Fort Perch where the bird was seen Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon I walked up to join the other dozen or so hardy souls waiting further along by the pontoon. Chatting away to John Tubb I glanced through my binoculars back towards the groyne I picked out the Laughing Gull. Borrowing John's scope to make sure. Bingo! It was still here.

The gull was disappearing in and out of the groyne but at least it was here. My first call was to Chris who I'd promised to let know if it showed up. I also rang Liam Langley who was on his way from Oxford.

With the tide flooding the bird was moving further up the beach but then seemingly vanished into the groyne again. Walking back towards the Fort I was hoping to pick it up if it flew out the Merseyside of the groyne so we'd know where it was. No sign so I walked back to the Wirral side of the fort. It appeared again and for the next 30 minutes performed well as it paraded up and down the beach.

Chris and Liam both arrived and as Chris &  I were chatting the bird suddenly flew over our heads towards the Mersey. Everyone in our group headed that way but as I stood chatting to Chris it appeared back on the pontoon providing the photo opportunities I wanted.

With Snow Buntings just down the road and a supporting cast of Purple Sandpipers and a couple of Mediterranean Gulls at new Brighton this is the area to be in currently.