22 Jun 2020

House Martins & Swallows.

Our neighbours get House Martins nesting in their eaves every year but we don't get any. I think the only suitable eaves we have face the wrong direction! This year there seems to be a few more House Martins around locally and with recent rain causing muddy puddles to form on the edge of the lane they've been coming in to collect beakfulls of mud to build their nests. Up to 20 have been zooming around then landing en-masse before flying off again.

Theyre feet and claws are amazing. The feathering covers the tarsus and feet whilst the claws are like little needles enabling them to cling to vertical wall surfaces.

Swallows seem to be having a good year as well and have taken advantage of the dry weather. I've ringed four broods on the farm I usually ring at so far in the last couple of weeks and all of the young seem to be well fed with good amounts of body fat. Hopefully the more recent thunder storms won't affect them too much. Some pairs have already fledged young and many will be starting 2nd broods.

 Above: recently fledged juvenile Swallow.
Below: a healthy brood of 5 chicks ringed in the nest.

Lovely birds & I really look forward to their arrival every spring.

16 Jun 2020

Lockdown Starlings

One of the features of the lockdown wildlife in our garden has been the recent presence of a small flock of Starlings including both adults and juveniles. We often get flocks of Starlings feeding on the adjacent farmland in the winter but they are rarely seen in our garden and I haven't ringed any until this last few weeks - I've now ringed 12. Not a huge number but from 0 to 12 in a few days suggests somethings going on locally.

We have seen a few more pairs around the village during our daily exercise but this is probably because we were walking the same route everyday rather than a genuine increase in breeding pairs. Jane reckons hers have had a good breeding season and there does seem to be a general increase in the number of juveniles about. I do wonder though if the recent dry spell has meant their usual grubs are harder to find and they've been visiting the garden in search of food.

Its bee na nice distraction and given me an opportunity to hone my Starling sexing skills. See here for a blog post from last year when we were catching good numbers in Jane's garden. This time of year the white spots have worn off by abrasion leaving the glossy plumage seen in the photos below. They can still be sexed on the eye ring in the iris though.

 Male Starling above. Female with eyering in iris below. This can be see nat an early age in juveniles and the photo below shows a juvenile female

 Above: adult male Starling. Beautiful glossy breeding plumage where white spots abraded off.
Female below. Slightly duller and a few remnants of white spots

When the local Starling flock builds up, in the winter, I'll be keeping my usual close eye on them for a Rosy Starling! 

11 Jun 2020

Rosy Starling in Cheshire.

I've often wondered why Cheshire doesn't seem to get many records of Rosy (also known asRose-coloured)Starling when they're almost annual in N Wales and Anglesey. Even Shetland and the Scilly's get more than their fair share of this irruptive species. From memory there have been less than 3-4 records and most have been in private gardens with news released after the birds had gone.

They breed in eastern Europe and irrupt across western Europe in response to food shortages. Since the middle of May there have been reports of flocks reaching Italy & southern France and in the last week or so individuals have been reaching the UK in small numbers.

Most of the birds I've seen are autumn juveniles and I can count on one hand the numbers of adults seen. One of the best was an adult male feeding on bird feeders in a front garden in Rhos-on-sea, N Wales. See here

Most Cheshire birders haven't seen one in the county and expectations were high that this could be our year. I fully expected the first one to be on the Wirral as Hoylake has good numbers and Rosy Starlings tend to get found in with flocks of Common Starlings.

Starlings of any persuasion are scarce near me apart from a few flocks in the winter. However, Sean O'Hara decided to go to Frodsham Marsh specifically to Frodsham Marsh to check out the large Starling Flock that had been recently building up and feeding around the Marsh Farm area and struck rose coloured gold with an adult Rosy Starling yesterday afternoon.

Mark tried ringing me with the news late afternoon but I was stuck under a 44 year old Landrover fitting a new speedo cable and trying to bleed the clutch so didn't get the call. The first I knew was when I'd finished making a mess of the towels in the utility room after wiping my oily hands and checked the phone.......

With thoughts of a mug of tea gone I quickly grabbed the camera and set off for the 20 minute drive to Frodsham. Malc was already watching the bird as it rested on the roof of a barn with the rest of the flock. Although distant it was easy enough to pick out and we watched the flock fly around a few times and settle on the roof before they all flew off and landed in pasture on the other side of the ship canal to feed. With the promise I'd only be gone an hour I left and got home just in time for dinner!

Anyway, a few record shots! Spot the pink blob.

 Photo below taken courtesy of @frodshambirder through his scope!

5 Jun 2020

Unusual garden Blackbird activity.

Since early March I've noticed an increase in the numbers of Blackbirds using our garden. This is unusual as you'd expect the resident breeding pair(s) to chase off intruders. Only two have been re-traps of birds previously ringed and only one has been a juvenile (3J). In fact I've only seen two juveniles in the garden all spring. The ringing data is shown below and as can be seen there is a high incidence of 6M birds. These are males aged in at least their 3rd calendar year. As I write this I know there is at least one more un-ringed bird that appears only to have one eye.


Other ringers have reported the same and it appears that the long hot dry spell may have caused a food shortage so local birds have given up breeding and coming into the garden to feed as I always feed throughout the summer and there is food available. Hopefully national ringing data will support this theory when its all collated. 

In addition we've had an influx of Starlings. Not many but when you ring 15 in a couple of weeks after not seeing any in the garden for the 3 years we've been here its significant. We are surrounded by improved pasture grazed by sheep and dairy cattle and the ground has been so dry theres probably not many grubs or worms they can find.

One 2nd calendar year male Blackbird (5M) had interesting plumage in that its underparts had brown tips giving it a scaly appearance.

It reminded me a bit of a stockamsel type first described at Heligoland bird observatory a few years ago to describe a bird that showed both male and female characteristics. A really ofd looking bird and I've seen a few 'continental' birds with silvery scaling on the underparts but never one brown like this.