Sunday, 11 September 2016

Looking for the palmations

When news broke last night (10th September) of a Semi-palmated Sandpiper on the south scrape at Titchfield Haven I was surprised that I hadn’t received a text from one of usual crew who circulate news, however it soon became apparent why not. There had been several reports throughout the course of the day of two Little Stints on the south scrape and one of those birds had evidently been re-identified from photos posted on the Hampshire Ornithological Society website as a Semi-p. I was planning to go ringing at the Haven in the morning so if it was still there I thought I would go and have a look. I don’t actually know how many Semi-p’s have now been recorded in Hampshire, but with the exception of one that I caught at Farlington Marshes in 1995 (then the second for the County) most have been in the west of the County at Pennington/Keyhaven. 

Adult Semi-palmated Sandpiper - Farlington Marshes 1995

There were clearly a few local birders who were a bit miffed at having overlooked this bird, but let’s face it they are tricky birds to ID and it is very easy to just take someones word that a bird is what it is and just enjoy it without really questioning its ID, I am sure most birders have done it, and will do so again. It is also quite easy to get hooked up on looking for obvious (or not so) features, such as black or pale legs on a Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler, or palmations between toes on a semi-p to separate it from Little Stint, rather than look at actual features, such as feather patterns or primary projections. But with some species there are only subtle differences and as such with limited experience they can be easily overlooked.

I was fortunate in that the bird was still present today and so after what turned out to be one on the busier ringing sessions of the season so far, the ringing team trudged over to the south scrape for a look. Initially the bird was preening on island I, but eventually it settled on the mud in the north-west corner of the scrape just in front of the hide and began to feed. I spent the first twenty minutes or so just grilling the bird, noting the short primary projection, the strongly streaked dark crown, which was sharply demarcated from the distinct supercilium, the dark ear coverts, the well defined and finely streaked side of the breast and short bill. 

Juvenile Semi-palmated Sandpiper - Titchfield Haven 2016

Juvenile Semi-palmated Sandpiper - Titchfield Haven 2016

Juvenile Semi-palmated Sandpiper - Titchfield Haven 2016

There was evidence of a slight ‘V’ on the mantel from some angles, but it was much reduced from that present on the accompanying Little Stint, and no evidence of the split supercilium, which again is usually evident on Little Stint. At times the bird was very close and yet despite my best efforts I could not make out the palmations.

For comparison a Little Stint - Farlington Marshes 2016 

As I eluded to above in many circumstances the palmations can be very difficult to see, so it is not really a feature worth looking for, unless circumstances allow. In the hand, like the bird at Farlington Marshes in 1995, they were very obvious (see below). 

Palmations of Adult Semi-palmated Sandpiper - Farlington Marshes 1995 
They were also obvious on a Western Sandpiper roosting on a rock in California that I saw in 2012. 

Western Sandpiper - California
Note the palmations and also the length and shape of the bill compared with the Semi-p

I have got one shot where it looks like a palmation is present, but with the bird feeding in soft mud they were generally difficult to make out.

Juvenile Semi-palmated Sandpiper - Titchfield Haven 2016. 
It appears just about possible to see one of the palmations on the birds left leg.

All in all it was a cracking morning with just shy of 150 birds ringed, including our first Firecrest of the autumn followed by a superb Semi-p with a Little Stint as a supporting cast.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Titchfield Haven Ringing Update - August 2016

I have recently had a few enquiries from birders asking how things have been going with the ringing at Titchfield Haven this year so I thought it was time for a blog update. Subscribers to Birdguides or Rare Bird Alert will no doubt have seen the images of the Aquatic Warbler that we ringed back on 13th August, and that has unquestionably been the highlight of our season to date. This individual was the 17th to be ringed at the Haven and the first since 2009, so it was long overdue. It is great to see a few others turning up on the south coast so you never know, we may even get another, let's hope so.

Juvenile Aquatic Warbler - Titchfield Haven August 2016
Juvenile Aquatic Warbler  - Titchfield Haven 2016

Our ringing totals this year for most species have been disappointing and as I write this post there have only been three mornings where we have caught more that 100 birds. This morning (2nd September) we did catch nearly 150 but the totals in the graph and table below only cover to the end of August, so I will post about that on another day. Typically we would be expecting to catch between 150 - 250 birds at this time of year, but the distinct lack of migrants passing through or over our ringing area has been alarming. The figures for the usual selection of species (below) covering 2010 - 2016 show the total for this year as being the second lowest. When you consider that for 2010 - 2015 the totals are to the 23rd August, whereas the 2016 total is to the 31st August, it is likely to be the second lowest by some way.

Selected species ringing totals 2010 - 2016
Selected species ringing totals 2010 - 2016

You can see from the figures that all of the species totals we have selected are below average as is the grand total, which includes all birds ringed. Interestingly though I have been catching excellent numbers of Goldfinch and Greenfinch in my garden, and the totals to date have already surpassed my best ever annual totals for those two species. We have been discussing the possible reasons for totals being so low and can only really conclude that poor weather during May and June may have reduced breeding success for migrant species, but that is just our opinion.

As yet we have been catching very few adult birds, therefore it is possible that many species are still breeding so there is still the chance that some species totals will pick up, but for Willow Warbler we are pretty much done and dusted, so it is looking like a dismal year for this species.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Penduline Tit - Titchfield Haven

Today was the first day for a while that I was at home and with some time to get out. I was keen to go birding somewhere, as it was too windy for ringing, and so decided to head down to the Haven, in the hope that one of the three Penduline Tits would still be around. I arrived at the West Hide to see birders gathered outside the door watching it perched in willows. Unfortunately as I approached it flew and so all I saw was its tail end heading away. I headed into the hide and began to scan the reedmace, initially there was no sign, but within five minutes it appeared and performed brilliantly for the half hour I stayed. 

There were three birds together when they were found, apparently a male and two females, but this male was the only one showing today. It was a cracking bird and the first I have seen in the County since 1991, when two birds were present at Farlington Marshes. 

Male Penduline Tit
Male Penduline Tit
Male Penduline Tit
Male Penduline Tit
Male Penduline Tit
Male Penduline Tit
Male Penduline Tit
Male Penduline Tit

Monday, 23 November 2015

Titchfield Haven - End of Season Update

The ringing season is now all but finished for us at the Haven, although there may be the odd session to target certain priority species. Overall it ended up being a pretty good season, which was not immediately apparent at the start of the season. A total of 3960 new birds were ringed of 38 species, a further 177 birds were retrapped or controlled, a handful of the resident species, several times.

The anticipated eastern mega turned out to be a Barred Warbler, which for many counties is a regular vagrant, but not for Hampshire, where it was the first ever ringed in the county. The total is a little misleading in that it shows two birds being caught, but that is due to it being retrapped two days after the original capture, fortunately for me. Other highlights include a Wryneck, our 3rd ever, Tree Pipit our 8th ever and our first ever Grey Wagtail for the site. It was surprising not to catch a Yellow-browed Warbler this year, given how many were recorded on the east coast, but the expected record total of Goldcrests did materialise. A total of 158 new birds were ringed, beating the previous best total by 49, a couple of controls were also trapped, so the actual total of birds not previously trapped at the Haven will be 160. Other new high totals included Lesser Redpoll, with 23 new birds ringed, and Blackcap with an amazing 973 new birds ringed, well above the 495 average.

I have previously posted about the selected species comparisons, so there is no need to cover that ground again in detail. So to summarise, the Grasshopper Warbler total remained low, with only 135 new birds ringed and well below the average of 264. The Sedge Warbler total also low at 799 new birds, again will below the average of 841. By contrast however, the Reed Warbler total was well above the 459 average; the Willow Warbler total was also above the 125 average. Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Cetti's Warbler and Robin totals were also all above average.

Our sixth year without an Aquatic Warbler is setting a very worrying trend.
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