Saturday, 31 December 2011

Farewell to 2011 and Turkish Memories

Well there it is, the end of 2011 and the end of my first year of blogging. It has been an interesting year for me which included record numbers of birds ringed at Titchfield Haven, and foreign trips to Crete, Portugal and Turkey; I hope you have enjoyed my posts. I had hoped to complete two more updates from the Turkey trip, but just ran out of time, and so I thought I would end the year with a few random pictures of that trip.

In summary, I was the co-guide on a trip to central and southern Turkey for Ornitholidays. The trip included stops in four main areas, some of which I have reported on previously. This post summarises the latter part of the trip where we birded around Birecik and Gaziantep, and a few places in between.

Bald Ibis - Birecik

Bald Ibis were very easy to see around Birecik, and at times were very confiding, whilst the scrub outside the Ibis centre sheltered migrants such as Barred and Garden Warbler.

Barred Warbler - Birecik

Great Reed Warblers were very vocal and surprisingly visible at Tabaklar Fishponds.....

Great Reed Warbler - Tabaklar Fish Ponds

                                                    ......and excellent views of Pied and White-throated Kingfishers were gained here and at Kirmitli Bird Paradise.

Pied Kingfisher - Kirmitli Bird Paradise

The reservoir at Nizip added a few new species to the trip list, with the most surprising being a flock of 8 Red-necked Phalarope......

Red-necked Phalarope - Nizip

                                   ..................and the nearby pistachio fields proved to be a popular feeding place for a large flock of Yellow-throated and Dead Sea Sparrows.

Yellow-throated Sparrow - Nizip

The scrubby valleys and olive groves on the outskirts of Gaziantep were a personal highlight for me since they provided out first views of White-throated Robin....and what a way to start, two cracking males!

White-throated Robin - Gaziantep
White-throated Robin - Gaziantep

Whilst watching the White-throated Robins, Long-legged Buzzards circled over head, and then settled on a cliff ledge above, where they were nesting. Cinereous Buntings, Olive-tree Warblers and both Western and Eastern Rock Nuthatches were also recorded.

Long-legged Buzzard - Gaziantep

Other species recorded in the valleys included Isabelline, Black-eared and Finch's Wheatears.....

Isabelline Wheatear - Gaziantep
                                                                .....and a trip specially in the form of Kurdish Wheatear.

Kurdish Wheatear - Gaziantep

The trip ended with a trip to the local park in the centre of Birecik where we were able to locate the much sought after Pallid Scops Owl.

Pallid Scops Owl - Birecik

And so that brings me to the end of my last post of 2011, a Happy New Year to all my readers and if you fancy meeting up in Turkey next year check out the Ornitholidays website as I hope to be guiding this trip again next year.

Monday, 26 December 2011

A Sparr in the Garden!

After being confined to the house for the usual Christmas day celebrations, I was itching to get out into the fresh air, so decided to put a net up in the garden. No sooner had I put it up and the resident Sparrowhawk decided to fly through the garden and straight into my net. I had been watching this bird over the last couple of days and assumed it to be the same bird as last winter, because it was following exactly the same route as that bird...however that proved not to be the case as that bird was an adult!

Male Sparrowhawk 

To the uninitiated catching a Sparrowhawk can be a very painful experience, it is not the sharp hooked bill that you need to be aware of, but the even sharper and extremely strong talons. I have been bloodied by Sparrowhawks on many occasions, but luckily not today.

Male Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks can be sexed by their size, since there is significant sexual size dimorphism in the species, with males being much smaller. Based on this birds small size and partly slate grey coloured mantle, wing and tail feathers, it was immediately evident that it was a male. In confirmation of this it had a wing length of 198mm, which is well short of the 222-256mm range usually expected in females. 

Wing of Sparrowhawk showing two generations of feathers

Aging male Sparrowhawks is generally quite straight forward, with first winter birds having dark brown upper parts that are fringed with chestnut and the underparts have bold heart shaped brown markings. The iris is grey-olive in colour. Second winter birds have a more adult type plumage, with mainly slate grey upper parts but occasional chestnut fringed feathers present and some retained juvenile tail feathers. In addition the iris is lemon to bright yellow, sometimes with an orange tinge.

Sparrowhawk tail showing mixture of adult and juvenile feathers

The retained juvenile feathers in the tail were very apparent on this bird and orange tinge to the iris (see pics above) confirmed this bird as a second calender year male (or age code 5).

Two new Robins this morning was interesting, as not had a new one in the garden for a while. 


Both birds were first winter birds, which was evident by the retention of four juvenile greater coverts (see below). These had large pale thorns at the tip, and there was an obvious break between the old juvenile feathers and where the new adult feathers started.

Wing showing retained juvenile greater coverts

One bird had also moulted two tail feathers and therefore it was possible to see the comparison between worn and pointed juvenile tail feathers and fresh and rounded adult feathers.

Tail showing moulted adult central tail feathers and retained juvenile feathers (the rest)

I have caught 11 different Robins in the garden this year, two of which were retraps from last year. This total is way down on last year when 23 different birds were captured, with 50% of those coming into the garden following the arrival of the extreme cold weather.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas from The Barley Bird-er

Waxwings in Romsey, Hampshire - December 2010

Seasons Greetings to all my readers, thank you for reading this blog, 
I hope you have enjoyed it over the last year!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Colour Ringed Turnstone - Bunny Meadows

Popped down to Bunny Meadows again the other day with the optimistic hope of catching some Turnstone with spring traps. Unfortunately, I had misjudged the height of the tide and most of the birds had already gone to roost. We did find one bird that was very confiding, which on closer inspection turned out to be colour ringed, so no point in catching this one!

Colour Ringed Turnstone

I contacted a mate who I know has colour ringed Turnstone in the past and it was indeed one of his birds. The bird was originally ringed at Weston Shore in Southampton on 15th March 2008,   3 years and 9 months previously. When captured it was aged as an adult so we will never know this birds true age, but it was nice to see that it was still wintering on Southampton Water, albeit 6 kilometres downstream. It would be nice to get some summer sightings to see where this bird is breeding.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

What a Cracker!!!

Opted for a lazy day today, and rather than ring at Manor Farm I decided to put a net up in the garden. A heavy overnight frost had frozen my furled nets so I had to start by taking down the frozen net and putting up a new one!!!

The feeders were full of the usual suspects, Blue and Great Tits, a Coal Tit and two Marsh Tits, but at 09:00 I noticed a small crest, with a very prominent white supercilium, in the net!!!


I knew immediately what it was, and having not captured one in the garden before I quickly rushed outside to get it....a cracking male Firecrest. I am sure that there will not be many who disagree when I say that this species is one of the best looking species in the British Isles, and beyond!!


The sharply pointed tail enabled me to age this bird as an immature, so a bird that was hatched this year.

Juvenile Tail of Firecrest

After release I was able to watch it feeding within willows at the bottom of the garden before heading off across the field behind to the denser scrub. What an amazing bird for a mid December ringing session in my garden!!!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Manor Farm Country Park Again...

With the predicted windy conditions not materialising, it was back to Manor Farm Country Park this morning for some more ringing. It was freezing and the heavy frost took its toll on my hands and feet, the latter still haven't warmed up this evening!!

We had a steady morning session which ended with 31 birds captured of which 13 were recaptures, most were fairly recent retraps, but two, a Dunnock and a Goldcrest were older.The Dunnock was ringed 2 years 298 days previously, but the notable one was the Goldcrest, which was ringed as an juvenile bird 3 years and 45 days previously. I have never previously retrapped a Goldcrest older than a year, so the age of this bird was quite a surprise. However, looking at data on the BTO website, it appears that the maximum recorded age for a Goldcrest is 4 years 10 months and 9 days, so our little chap has a little way to go yet!

Adult Male Goldcrest
Other species captured included five Blackbirds, three House Sparrows, a few Great Tits, Robins and Wrens. Another Linnet took our total for the year to 20 and this immaculately plumaged Blue Tit added to the cast.

Adult Blue Tit

There were hundreds of thrush's present, most of which were Fieldfare and Redwing, but the occasional Song Thrush was also recorded. We only captured one Song Thrush and two Redwing, despite our best efforts.

Immature Redwing

I was reading an article in the latest copy of BTO News about Redwing, which stated that the wintering population in most of Western Europe, including Britain, is the nominate race Turdus iliacus iliacus, with the race T.i.coburni, which breeds in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, wintering mainly in Ireland and northwest Iberia. However, there have been two ringing recoveries of this race in England, but it clearly is rare. So I started thinking how would I identify coburni if I caught one; the biometrics of the two races are virtually identical, although coburni does average slightly larger and the plumage overall is slightly darker, with heavier streaking on the throat and breast, and more extensive olive colouration across the flanks and under-tail coverts. 

Boldly Streaked Redwing

Looking at the two birds we captured today they both seemed to be boldly streaked on the  flanks and the under-tail coverts, but they lacked the bold streaking on the throat. Size wise they were both above average, with wing lengths of over 120mm, but given the variability in the species I think I am going to have to go to Iceland again and get my eye in before I am bold enough to claim one.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Bunny Meadows and Retrap Redshank

In my last post I mentioned the re-trap Common Redshank that was captured at Farlington Marshes during our ringing session, well here are the details. Bearing in mind that the National longevity record for this species in the UK is over 20 years, this bird was captured in August 2005 in another part of Langstone Harbour, so nothing spectacular there. But it was captured with 267 other Redshank and 26 Dunlin, and was an adult at the time, so unfortunately we will never know its true age!

With the rising tide combining with the setting sun, it seemed like an ideal time to search for waders back at Bunny Meadows. Black-headed Gulls were abundant and the wooden rails  were ideal resting locations, this adult winter individual proved to be particularly confiding.

Adult Winter Black-headed Gull

Ducks and waders were present in good numbers, with Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Eurasian Curlew, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Grey Plover and a single Red Knot present. But the most numerous species was Dunlin, with at least 500 birds present.
Dunlin Feeding on the Rising Tide

Birds were feeding on the rising tide, occasionally wheeling around before settling back on the mud, chattering and busily feeding before the last areas of mud disappeared.

Dunlin in Flight

As the sun continued to set and the tide continued to rise, the Dunlin became more tightly packed as they searched for the highest points and the most suitable roosting locations....

Dunlin Milling Around on the Rising Tide

............before finally settling down to roost.

Waders Settling Down to Roost in the Setting Sun

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Farlington Marsh Wader Ringing Again

After a couple of very wet and windy days which were looking at putting this weekends planned ringing session in doubt, the skies cleared, wind dropped and so it was off to Farlington Marshes for another wader ringing session. The forecast was for the temperature to drop below freezing, so we opted to set out nets on the stream and ring birds in the relative comfort of the shelter, and as it turned out it was a wise choice since there were very few birds on the main lake and it got very cold late on.

Our first bird was captured just as we were walking away having set the nets....a first winter Grey Plover. I cannot actually remember the last time I had handled this species, so we set about ageing it.

Juvenile Grey Plover

In the field it is very easy to age this species since gold spotting is present on juvenile/first winter feathers, and these are often present until mid winter. This bird was a classic first winter with gold spots present in the inner medium coverts, scapulars and throughout the mantle.

Gold Spotted Juvenile Feathers

In the autumn juvenile Grey Plovers can easily be misidentified as Golden Plovers due to the gold spotted plumage, but the presence of black axillaries on the underwing will confirm the species since these are lacking on Golden Plovers.

Grey Plover Underwing Showing Black Axillaries

We were very excited to have captured three Curlew on our previous ringing session as this is quite a rare event at the marsh, so to find another in the net on the first net round filled us with eager anticipation. But as it turned out this was the only Curlew of the night.

Juvenile Curlew
This bird proved to be a juvenile based on the presence of both adult and juvenile feathers within the wing, in addition the primaries were worn and pointed.

Juvenile Curlew Wing
Once again Dunlin proved to be the most numerous species with a 50/50 split of adults and first winters captured. The first winter birds were still relatively straight forward to age, due to the buff fringing to the flight feathers.

Juvenile Dunlin Wing

Whereas the adult birds lack the buff fringing, instead having brownish grey coverts with white fringing, although interestingly one of the adult birds captured had retained some summer plumage feathers within the mantle.

Adult (upper) and Juvenile (lower) Dunlin Wings

In total we captured 21 birds, which included single Grey Plover, Redshank and Curlew and 18 Dunlin. The Redshank was a retrap adult bird, whilst all the other birds were new. Given that the high tide was not a particularly high one, and therefore many islands in the harbour were not completely covered, we thought this was a very respectable result.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Manor Farm Bird Ringing Update

Due to a combination of a busy social calendar and some very windy weather, my ringing activities were restricted to Saturday morning only, and even then I had to close the nets early as the wind got up. Nonetheless, I still managed to capture 24 birds of 11 species, with four of them being retraps. The species list included Dunnock, Blackbird, Wren, Blue Tit, Robin, Wood Pigeon and Goldcrest, but the best birds were included within the large finch flock that was still present;  two Chaffinch's, 11 Linnets and a single Greenfinch.

Last weekend I mentioned that the large flock of finches, which included at least 80 linnets, was present at the site, and a well positioned single panel net managed to capture several birds; seven of which were linnets. Well the flock was still present and so I put the net up in the same place and captured a few more birds, 11 of which were linnets, although one of them was a retrap from last week.

Linnet - Manor Farm Country Park

The Linnet is described as being a slim, long-tailed bird with a short grey bill, brown mantle and back, buff white throat with indistinct dark spotting in the centre.

Wing of Linnet

The primary feathers are edged white and the rump and tail feathers are dark centred.

Rump of Linnet

During the summer months birds can be sexed by the presence of red on the forehead and breast, whereas first winter/female birds lack any red. During the autumn the red on males is generally concealed by buff fringes, but red feathers are at least usually present on the breast. Female birds lack any red on a streaked dark brown breast.

Male Linnet
Female Linnet

Adult Linnets undergo a complete moult post breeding, whereas juvenile birds only undergo a partial post juvenile moult. Therefore unmoulted feathers can be visible due to excessive wear, this is most noticeable in the tail feathers.

Juvenile Tail

The pointed and abraded tail feathers of a juvenile bird (above) can be easily separated from the fresh and rounded tail feathers of an adult bird (below).

Adult Tail
In two sessions I have captured 17 Linnets, which is the best year I have ever had at this site. Hopefully the flock will remain in the area and give me the chance to catch more this winter.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Haven Chiffchaff in Spain

This week I was contacted by Fernando Gavilan from Seville, Spain about a Chiffchaff that was originally ringed at Titchfield Haven on 14th October 2010 and was retrapped by him in Seville, Spain just 22 days later. The bird had travelled 1572km in just 22 days, the full details are below;

Ring Number: DPX 524 GBT - BTO LONDON
Species: Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 
Ringing Date: 14/10/2010 
GREAT BRITAIN - Coordinates 50.49N 01.15W

Species: Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 
Recovery Date: 05/11/2010 
Distance: 1572KM, 194 ° (SSW) 
Time: 22 days

The Google Earth Map of the Chiffchaff Journey from The Haven to Spain

Check out Fernando's blog as it appears that he has been having a very successful time catching foreign ringed birds of late!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Bird Ringing Back at Manor Farm

The weather forecast today looked excellent for bird ringing, so with activities at Titchfield Haven now concluded, it was back to Manor Farm Country Park. The session began pre-dawn to set the nets, and given the recent influx of Redwing, I decided to target this species. I could hear Redwing calling as we arrived, but as dawn broke the two most notable species were Eurasian Blackbird and Fieldfare, with at least 20 and 40 present, respectively. A mixed flock of finches, which consisted of 80+ Linnet, 20 Greenfinch and 10 Eurasian Goldfinch was also present.

Each net round produced an interesting selection of birds, and by the end we had captured 44 birds, of which 39 were new birds and five were retraps. The total included three Wrens, two Dunnocks, four each of Robin, Blue and Great Tit and single Pied Wagtail, Goldcrest, House Sparrow, Greenfinch and Bullfinch. 


Two Redwing were a nice reward for my efforts and the first of the autumn. Winter thrushes are such good looking birds with their black and yellow bills and colourful plumage. The underwing coverts and flanks of Redwing are not usually seen in the field but are striking in the hand.

Redwing Underwing

As luck would have it, one adult and one juvenile bird was captured today, thereby providing an excellent opportunity to show the differences in plumage. Adult birds undergo a summer complete moult, whereas juvenile undergo a partial moult, and therefore like many passerines it is possible to age birds in the autumn by the presence of retained juvenile feathers.

Juvenile Redwing Wing

In the case of juvenile Redwings, the combination of un-moulted pale tipped greater coverts and tertials and pointed tail feathers make identifying juveniles relatively straight forward.....

Juvenile Redwing Tail

Adult Redwing Wing

 ......with the virtually unmarked greater coverts and tertials and rounded tail feathers, easily identifying adult birds. But it is not always that straight forward!

Adult Redwing Tail

Eurasian Blackbird was the most common species captured, with six new birds and two retraps captured. One of the retraps was an adult bird which was originally captured on 23rd December 2005, 5 years 332 days previously, and it was aged as an adult then! This was the first retrap of this bird since its original capture. The other retrap was first captured in April 2010, and has been retrapped four times since its original capture.

Whilst doing the net rounds I noticed where the mixed flock of finches were feeding so quickly put up a line of three single shelf nets. The result was seven Linnets, two Goldfinch's, one Greenfinch and a couple of Dunnocks. 

Common Starling

Three surprise captures though were two Common Starlings and a Black-billed Magpie. The Starlings were both aged as juveniles, as was the Magpie.

Juvenile Black-billed Magpie

The Magpie was aged by the shape and extent of black on the first and second primaries; in juvenile birds the amount of black covers at least the outer third of the feather, as seen below.

Juvenile Black-billed Magpie Wing

By the end of the session we had captured 16 different species, which had made the morning very interesting, lets hope the rest of the winter is as varied.
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