29 Feb 2016

Siskins galore................

Wow. It's proving to be a god year for Siskins locally. I've now ringed 51 since the middle of January with a best day total of 24 new birds. I'm sure I could catch more if the weather had been better but wind and rain has limited my mist netting activities. To put this year into perspective I've only caught Siskins in one other year since 2011 and that was 2013 when I caught 20 birds.

The trees are alive with them early morning and they seem to arrive about an hour after sunrise, feed up and then go off to digest their food before hitting the feeders again. So far I've only re-trapped 3 birds.

Using the DuFeu formula that allows you to calculate the population of a species by logging the number of new recaptures (24) and the same day recaptures (1) the estimated population of Siskins using the garden to feed up before migrating north is an incredible 269 birds. At anyone time there is a flock of 20-30 in the trees surrounding the pond adjacent to the house and the noise is incredible.

Its been interesting to study the moult in these birds with many 2nd calendar year birds having undergone an extensive full post juvenile moult, having all new greater coverts and some having a limited post juvenile moult with no new greater coverts. Some have moult limits in their median coverts and some have moulted greater coverts and median coverts out of sequence:

 Above: 2nd calendar year Siskin (Euring 5) with all old juvenile greater coverts but showing a moult contrast (symmetrical in both wings!) in the median coverts. The median coverts have been moulted out of sequence.

Below: 2nd calendar year Siskin (Euring 5) showing moult contrast in greater (6 old) and median coverts (3 old).

As well as Siskins I've been catching a few other finches although Goldfinches are quite scarce. Its been nice to see a few more Chaffinches around and they're probably being attracted to the food source by following the Siskins.

This female (below) is a 2nd calendar year bird showing a moult contrast in the greater coverts and a typical juvenile type tail with worn and pointed tail feathers.

Its not all been about the birds though and I've been lucky enough to find a local colony of Bee orchids numbering 18 plants - the rosettes are just coming through. This is about 50 m from where there used to be a thriving colony a few years ago and in the same spot where I found a single flowering plant last year.

Its hard work keeping motivated to walk my local patch regularly this time of year. There are no new birds and being a predominantly improved pasture area with a few small ponds and copses there isn't a wide variety of birds to be found. The joys of an inland north patch!

22 Feb 2016

Hilbre WeBs count

An early morning tide meant getting over to Hilbre in the dark on a very windy morning. It did mean we had the island to ourselves though. As night dawned into day and we could begin to see more a count was made of the Brent geese flock strung out on the water just west of Middle Eye. A good total of 226 birds was counted. A walk around the island revealed a disappointing number of three Purple Sandpipers roosting in the tide gauge but this number was vastly improved upon when at least 9 were discovered in Niffy bay. With the three missing from the tide gauge it was assumed they'd joined these other birds.

After a traditional Hilbre fried breakfast attention turned to the gull roost on Middle Eye. Numbers were much lower than there have been usually but a star find was an adult Yellow-legged Gull that tried to roost but was chased off by other gulls.

Seawatching was difficult because of the swell and only a single Red-throated Diver was seen along with only two great-crested Grebes and around forty Common Scoter.

With the weather forecast to close in with heavy rain we decided to leave around midday and I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting watching Siskins on my garden feeders from the warmth of the conservatory.

The rain eventually eased off around 16.00 so I decided to walk the local 'patch' but headed out in a different direction than usual. Highlight was discovering a roost of at least 400 Jackdaws near Capenhurst railway station.

17 Feb 2016

More Redpolls & Siskins

Its been a bit of a finch fest in the garden recently with good numbers of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Siskins and Redpolls thronging the feeders. In between trips to Hilbre and the rain / wind I've managed a few hours ringing in the garden and caught a few of each species!

Two of the Redpolls were juvenile males (Euring 5) in their second calendar year and had retained juvenile greater coverts.

Note the contrast between the inner adult type greater coverts and the outer juvenile ones retained after the birds post juvenile moult last year. Some times its easier to see this contrast on the closed wing as on the bird below.

Having studied Biology at University evolution has always fascinated me and I can recall reading Charles Darwin's 'Theory of Evolution' and how he postulated his theories after studying the finches on the Galapagos Islands. The head shots of the finches above show they all have the same type of  seed-eating bill but are totally different to look at. Each is specialised in its own way and utililise different food resources in the wild. In my garden though they all go straight for the sunflower hearts.

Hopefully it'll be a big Siskin year and I'll catch a few more. I've only caught Siskins in one previous year since 2011 - 2013 when I caught a total of 20 birds.

13 Feb 2016

Penduline Tits - masked bandits of the reed mace.

Rare birds turn up in the most unusual places! The Horsbere flood aleviation pond at Brockworth Glocs is hardly the most enticing place  - directly alongside a busy dual carriageway and opposite a Premier Inn its a relatively new area where vegetation is still becoming established and bordered by a stream that looks suspiciously as if its had some uncontrolled storm drains emptying in to it! However, this site has hosted a pair of Penduline Tits or several weeks now and I decided to call in on the way to Somerset recently! I'm glad I did! Although not particularly rare these days they're still uncommon enough and most records are restricted to the south coast or East Anglia. Coincidentally a founding member of Hibre Brids Observatory was instrumental in finding the 1st for Britain way, way back and there have now been over 300 records.

The site is 5 minutes drive off the M5 and I gave myself an hour   -I didn't need it. After being missing for 3 hours I rocked up and they were on show immediately in bushes bordering the stream and making frequent forays back to the alleviation pond and its reed mace. The birds were calling constantly and even singing at one stage. Once i'd tuned in they were relatively easy to pick up on call even when hidden in the reed mace beds. Photographing them was more tricky as they tended to stay deep in the bushes and  when they did emerge the bright sunshine made exposure tricky and created lots of shadows. Still, I'm quite pleased with my efforts.

Saving my favourite and probably the best for last.......................

Its not possible to age these birds as, depending on whereabouts in their breeding range they'v come from, juveniles can undergo a complete post juvenile moult. 

They're super little birds and its been 11 years since I saw my last ones in the UK.

8 Feb 2016

Another Sparrowhawk

This male Sparrowhawk was caught in Barry's garden a couple of weeks ago and I managed to get it from the mist net before it got itself out as they are prone to doing! It was a nice bird for trainee Helen to ring and nice to compare it with 'my bird' I posted about earlier this year.

This bird had a really orange eye that can be associated with older birds. Except this bird was aged as a 7 or one hatched in 2014 so it really wasn't that old. It had two generations of tail feathers, with the older feathers being brown juvenile type,  making the ageing fairly straight forward.

David Norman has some good tips on ageing Sparrowhawks on his website and to be honest I'm not that clued up on them having only ever ringed 3!'adult'%20Sparrowhawks.htm

Eye colour is not very reliable in ageing Sparrowhawks as keen be seen from photos of my bird which was ringed as an adult in 2013 with a yellow eye - three years later the eye is the same colour ( I re-trapped it again on the 16th January) - whereas this recent younger bird has a very orange coloured eye.

Note also that the chestnut tinge to the breast isn't as bright as in my bird shown again below:

They really are beautiful birds and it s a real privilege to be able to see them close up. I think the male I get in the garden is one of a breeding pair that nest about 500 m away in a very large wooded and private garden. I see them displaying over this garden during the spring.

3 Feb 2016

Hilbre rockfall

There's been a massive rock fall at Hilbre. The undercut area of cliff adjacent to the landrover track has collapsed.

Luckily it hasn't blocked the access and it just shows the power of the sea  and the fragile nature of these sandstone islands.

I made a brief visit over the weekend to do some maintenance work on some fences we'd already made a start on previously and to start clearing some mist net lanes in preparation for the spring. Wit high winds birding was virtually impossible and after a couple of hours I gave up and came home.