Saturday, 29 October 2011

Garden Ringing and Leucistic Birds - 28th October 2011

Ringing activities on Friday 28th October were restricted to my garden due to car trouble, and having to hang around waiting for the garage to call. Even so I was still able to get my hands on 33 birds, although most of them were Blue Tits, so it wasn't a particularly pleasant experience!! Surprisingly, most of the birds captured were new juveniles, as opposed to retraps, which is the normal trend. Among the Blue Tits however there was a selection of little gems, the first of which was a female Nuthatch. Nuthatches are cracking birds and are one of my favourite groups, and I have been fortunate to catch many over the years. Unfortunately, despite juvenile birds only undergoing a partial post juvenile moult, there appear to be no valid plumage differences, and therefore you just have to enjoy their splendor.

Nuthatch - October 2011

Goldfinches used to be a common garden species for me, but recently the number of birds present in the area seems to have plummeted. So catching two in an afternoon ringing session was a notable feature. In contrast to Blue Tits, Goldfinches are a delight to handle....

Goldfinch - October 2011

                                       ....and in contrast to Nuthatches they can be aged and often sexed. An obvious feature as with most passerines is the shape of the tail feathers, juveniles have pointed tail feathers whereas adults have rounded ones.

Juvenile Goldfinch Tail - October 2011

It is also often possible to see a moult limit within the greater coverts on juvenile birds. Although it is not really possible to see in the picture below, this bird had two old juvenile greater coverts.
Goldfinch Wing - October 2011

Sexing birds is possible by the colouration of the nasal hairs, they are generally black in males and blackish or light grey in females. In addition, the red on the forehead extends behind the eye, as seen in the picture below.

Goldfinch Head - October 2011

A first year male Chaffinch was another little gem, but the most striking bird was a partially leucistic Great Tit. Overall this bird had a pale wash to it, but the tail was predominantly white and this made the bird look quite striking in flight.

Partial Leucistic Great Tit - October 2011
Partial Leucistic Great Tit - October 2011
Partial Leucistic Great Tit - October

I am not really sure what causes leucism in birds, but it will be interesting to see if this bird retains this lack of colour once it undergoes its post nuptial moult next year. I remember reading a BTO article about a leucistic Common Redpoll, which when retrapped after a moult  it had adopted normal colouration.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Crete, September 2011

After a hectic summer of work it was time to try to re-charge my batteries and so my wife and I settled on a trip to the Greek island of Crete. We have been to other Greek islands before, but this was our first trip here. We had no real plans other than to relax, soak up the sun, and sample the local beer and wine, but obviously being a birder I wasn't gong to go away without my bins and a camera!!

After our four hour flight from London Gatwick, we picked up our hire car at Heraklion Airport, and headed off to the village of Sissi, on the north-east coast, and our accommodation. We settled into our room and made a bee-line for the local harbour and a nice cold beer!! And this is the area that we spent most of our time, except for the odd excursion to a few local birding hotspots or sightseeing locations.

Migrating Purple Herons - Crete, September 2011

The harbour was generally quiet, except when the odd tour boat arrived from the surrounding villages; one pirate ship in particular blasted out the theme tune to 'Pirates of the Caribbean' as it entered the harbour. But this didn't stop the steady migration of birds overhead; in one hour five Purple Herons, 14 Little Egrets and 9 Steppe Buzzards had headed in a south-westerly direction.

Common Kingfisher - Crete, September 2011

During our visit we spent several hours wandering the local area, Common Kingfishers were very obvious as they fished in the harbour, whilst Barn and Red-rumped Swallows hunted overhead. The steady passage of Steppe Buzzards and Purple Herons continued, whilst Sardinian Warblers and Serin's were the most visible species in the bushes, with Blue Rock Thrush's singing from the nearby cliffs. Black-crowned Night-herons and a Barn Owl were occasional  fly overs at dusk.

Areas close to Sissi proved to be ideal for looking for resident and migrant birds. Crested Larks were present in good numbers...

Crested Lark - Crete, September 2011

                                           ....and Yellow Wagtails fed on the lawns of the local hotel. Based on the head pattern I am assuming that the Yellow Wagtails were of the race Motacilla flava beema or Sykes's Yellow Wagtail. This is based on the longer and wider supercilium, more prominent subocular stripe , and paler ear covert.

Yellow Wagtail - Crete, September 2011

Some individuals, however proved to be a little bit more difficult to assign to race. The individual below, being a female/juvenile type, lacked the strong facial patterns of the male above, but I am assuming that they were all of the same race.

Yellow Wagtail - Crete, September 2011

Other migrants which were seen daily during our trip were Red-backed Shrikes. Shrikes are always interesting species to see, but in Eastern Europe they are always worth further investigation just in case one turns out to be a Turkestan or Isabelline Shrike. Unfortunately all of the birds I encountered were Red-backed's, with both adults and juveniles encountered.

Juvenile Red-backed Shrike - Crete, September 2011

Adult Red-backed Shrike - Crete, September 2011

In stark contrast to birding in the UK, Spotted Flycatchers were the commonest migrant species in Crete, with at least 20 birds seen each day. During our ringing sessions at Titchfield Haven this year, we did not catch a single bird, and only saw one in the field, so it was nice to see good numbers of this species.

Spotted Flycatcher - Crete, September 2011

A confiding Hoopoe added a touch of glamour to our bird tally....

Hoopoe - Crete, September 2011
 .......whereas the resident House Sparrows added some home comfort, it won't be long before I am back at Manor Farm for another winter catching house sparrows.

House Sparrow - Crete, September 2011

With most of the inland pools dried up, it was not surprising that some birds had to resort to the  coast to feed. Common Kingfishers were seen on a daily basis along the coast...

Common Kingfisher - Crete, September 2011

.....and those Little Egrets that were not migrating, were fishing in shallow bays on the incoming tide. The individual below spent more time dodging the waves than feeding, and it was whilst it was dancing around that I noticed it was in primary moult.

Little Egret - Crete, September 2011

I am not familiar with the moult strategy of Little Egrets, but based on the fact that the wings are in moult and the black colouration of the legs, I think this bird is an adult.

A visit to Lassithi Plateau involved a long and winding drive, but it was worth the effort. Excellent views of Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle and a Red-throated Pipit were the highlights, with Cirl Bunting, Common Ravens and a large movement of Alpine Swifts, all welcome additions to the list. 

Crag Martin - Crete, September 2011

Whilst up on the plateau we visited Dikteon Andron Cave and were rewarded with excellent views of Crag Martins at the entrance. Several birds were circling at the entrance before landing on nearby rocks to rest. The birds pictured above have pale fringing to their flight feathers, and scaling on their mantles, indicating that they are juvenile birds.

Painted Lady - Crete, September 2011

There were a few butterfly species to be seen during our trip, and those that I could identify included Painted Lady, with large numbers of butterflies migrating, along with smaller numbers of Clouded Yellows. 

Lang's short-tailed Blue - Crete, September 2011

Lang's Short-tailed Blue was common on the flowering plants around the hotel...

Cretan Grayling - Crete, September 2011

                                                           ....and Cretan Grayling and Cardinal were present on the path upto Dikteon Andron Cave. Unfortunately the small blue butterflies did not hang around long enough for me to identify.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Titchfield Haven Ringing Update 21st/22nd October

After the excitement of last weekend we were slightly excited about the prospect of another good bird in the trapping area, but with the autumn migration nearly over, we were well aware that the chances were much reduced. Nonetheless we opened the nets on Friday 21st with cold, clear and still conditions, whilst the now usual passage of Eurasian Siskin's, Common Redpolls and occasional Bramblings passed overhead. It wasn't until we had closed our nets that we heard there was a Glossy Ibis at the top end of the reserve, and after a some searching of the reserve we eventually got some brief flight views.

The numbers of birds captured each session has reduced dramatically since the distant days of July, August and September, but there are still notable numbers to be had, and the 21st was the turn of Cetti's Warbler. In a previous post I reported how few we had captured, and that this was probably the result of two hard winters. But the number of birds captured has gradually increased, to the point where we caught six on the 21st, taking our total for the year to 31, which although not a record is more in line with our yearly average.

Cetti's Warbler - October 2011

Blackbird numbers too are also steadily increasing as birds arriving from the continent for the winter, swell the numbers present. Before this weekend we had only caught nine new birds, but our two days of ringing produced four new birds. 

Juvenile Blackbird - October 2011

Of the birds captured three were juvenile males and one was an adult female, but it was interesting to see the difference in bill colour between different individuals.

Juvenile Blackbird - October 2011

The birds were aged by the presence of retained juvenile flight feathers in the wing, that contrast with the moulted adult feathers.......

Wing of Juvenile Blackbird - October 2011

..............and by the presence of pointed tail feathers.

Tail of Juvenile Blackbird - October 2011

Song Thrush numbers have also started to increase, with two new birds captured this weekend and several birds recorded passing overhead. This might not seem like a particularly large increase in numbers, but since July we have only captured three birds. Both the new birds captured were juvenile, and as with the Blackbirds above, birds are aged by the presence of retained juvenile wing feathers, which in the case of Song Thrush there are distinctive thorns on the greater coverts.

Juvenile Song Thrush - October 2011

The image below shows a close up of the greater coverts, the inner two (left side) are adult, with the remainder (right side), showing distinctive thorns of juvenile greater coverts.

Greater Coverts of Song Thrush - October 2011

As with the Blackbirds above, junvenile tail feathers are more pointed and narrower than adult feathers.

Juvenile Song Thrush Tail - October 2011

Reed Buntings have also started to arrive in the ringing area, and this weekend we captured five new birds, two on Friday and three on Saturday.

Male Reed Bunting - October 2011

All of the birds captured were considered to be males due the extent of black on the crown feathers, some birds even showed an almost complete black head, as pictured below.

Male Reed Bunting - October 2011

Ageing is carried out by the amount of abrasion on the wing and tail feathers, with adult birds having very fresh plumage, whilst juvenile birds are more worn, in addition, juvenile tail feathers are more pointed.

Blackcap with Albino Primary Coverts

During our ringing activities we have captured varying degrees of albinism or leucism in birds, in particular Blackcaps and Grasshopper Warblers, and Saturday 22nd produced another such example. This male Blackcap was not as striking as the previous birds but had three primary coverts that were almost completely white.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Little Owls at Manor Farm, October 2011

With the rapidly shortening days and the subsequent dark evenings, I have decided not to become an inactive couch potato, and am going to spend the dark evenings in search of birds.......and whatever else might be on offer!! On Saturday 15th October we ventured out in search of waders, but unfortunately due to people letting fireworks off over the mudflats all of the waders present were flushed so we resorted to catching a ringing an adult Mute Swan.

Not deterred by our unsuccessful attempt at waders, we headed down to Manor Farm in search of Little Owls. There are few pairs around the farm so we thought we would get there early, before they emerged from there daytime roost.....and we was not to be disappointed. We decided to put up five nets in areas where we have watched Little Owls before, and as we put up the last net...there was a Little Owl watching us.

Adult Little Owl - Manor Farm October 2011

The bird sat there for a while before flying off over the adjacent building, around the back of it and straight into one of our nets.....instant success!!! In the UK the subspecies which occurs is Athene noctua vidalii, it has generally grey-brown upperparts and heavy longitudinal stripes on the underparts.

Adult Little Owl - Manor Farm October 2011

According to Baker (1993), juvenile birds can be aged by the presence of a white tip on the inner web of primary 10, and bold white spots on the crown. Well, we found the crown spot feature slightly subjective, but the lack of white on the inner web of primary 10 clearly aged this bird as an adult.

Primaries Showing Lack of with Spot on Inner Web of Primary 10

Ageing was confirmed by the fact that this bird was in wing moult. Again according to Baker, adults undergo a complete moult post breeding which starts as early as May and is completed by September through to early November. 

Wing of Little Owl showing Moult Limit in Secondaries - October 2011

Juvenile birds however undergo a partial post juvenile moult, which commences just after fledging and is confined to the head, body, lesser and medium coverts.

Wing of Second Little Owl - October 2011

We could hear a couple of Little Owls calling elsewhere on the site but it was not until we went to take our nets down that we caught our second. This bird was also an adult, since it lacked the white spot on the inner web of primary 10 and was again in primary moult.

Little Owl, Manor Farm - October 2011

Again, according to Baker it is possible to sex individuals on wing length, with adult males averaging 163mm, with a range of 158-169mm and adult females averaging 166mm, with a range of 161-173. Both our birds were probably females with wing lengths of 171 and 169, the latter bird appeared to have an old brood patch.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Yellow-browed at The Haven!!!

After the highs of yesterday, light south-easterlies and loads of eastern migrants arriving in the country, we opened our nets with dreams of having our share. The omens seemed good because as I left my house a black cat ran across the road in front of me!!!, which apparently brings good luck. And so it was to be as we didn't have long to wait for our dreams to be fulfilled. Just as I was getting to the end of the first net round, there in the net were 2 chiffchaffs and a single Yellow-browed warbler!!

Yellow-browed Warbler, Titchfield Haven - 15th October 2011

This cracking little bird, is the sixth to be seen at The Haven but only the second to be trapped and ringed there. I have only handled one before, and so quickly searched out my trusty Svensson guide in order to attempt to age it.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Titchfield Haven - 15th October 2011

Interestingly, according to Svensson adult birds undergo a summer complete moult, whereas juveniles undergo a summer partial, nonetheless there are no plumage differences recorded for ageing birds in the autumn.

Wing of Yellow-browed Warbler

The primaries were extremely fresh and tipped white, and were emarginated on the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th, but the tail feathers were pointed and slightly abraded. Abrasion on the tail feathers is indicative of a juvenile bird in many species, and it is my suspicion that this was the case with this bird...

Tail of Yellow-browed Warbler

......but in the absence of any other published literature on ageing the species we opted to leave the bird unaged but took loads of photos for future reference.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Titchfield Haven 15th October 2011

After release the bird was seen on a couple of occasions feeding in the sun drenched willows before disappearing. We continued with our session with nothing much else to report other than a few Goldcrests, the usual Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps and a handful of Robins. And then just as we had closed all the nets our attention was drawn to a pipit flying over uttering  loud, high pitched call. Having only recently seen the species we immediately identified the bird as a Red-throated Pipit, unfortunatley it continued in a westerly direction and we were unable to relocate it.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Titchfield Haven Ringing Update 14th October 2011

Well today was an interesting day, and it started with an early morning ringing session at Titchfield Haven. Although, when I say early morning, a 7am start was very civilised compared with the 4am starts of earlier in the season. Bird numbers have been lower over the last couple of weeks so despite only two ringers being present we opened all of the nets and waited with eager anticipation.

The first bird was somewhat of a surprise in the form of an unseasonably late Willow Warbler. It has been over a month since we last caught one but there was no mistaking its identity.

Juvenile Willow Warbler - October 2011

However given the late date of this bird we checked and double checked its identity, but it was just a Willow Warbler! Its wing measured 67mm, it was emarginated on only the 3rd, 4th and 5th primaries, and its wing point was formed by the 3rd and 4th primaries...this may well prove to be the last Willow Warbler record from Hampshire this year!

Juvenile Willow Warbler Showing Wing Formula

Other species captured included the usual Blackcaps and Robins, whilst Chiffchaffs continued to smash the previous annual total for the species, and by the end of today we have ringed 797 birds. Our previous highest total was recorded in 2000, when 449 birds were captured. Our annual total for Kingfishers stands at four, and today we recaptured one of those birds.

Juvenile Kingfisher

Cetti's Warbler numbers continued to struggle after two harsh winters, and the new bird captured today brought our total for the year to 25, 71 birds down on our record total....

Cetti's Warbler, Titchfield Haven October 2011

.....and a lone Treecreeper was only our second of the year and one of only 39 birds ringed at the site since 1973.

Treecreeper, Titchfield Haven October 2011

By the end of the session we had captured and ringed just short of 70 birds, a very respectable total given the time of year. 

Being the holder of a Natural England European Protected Species licence in respect to dormice, I offered to help out with ongoing survey work for the species, whilst training staff at the Haven. And so after finishing our ringing session we set about checking the dormouse boxes. Our first boxes were situated around out ringing site, and the first four boxes produced three nests, one of which had four animals, an adult female and three youngsters, in it.......instant success!!

Hazel Dormouse, Titchfield Haven 2011

We have found the species in the ringing area before, but were pleasantly surprised by the presence of four animals in one box.

Hazel Dormouse, Hampshire - October 2011

We then continued onto the next site, which is still managed by the same Hampshire County Council team. Last year we found several dormouse nests but no actual animals. This year however things were very different.......out of 30 boxes we found a total of five dormice in three different boxes...

Two Hazel Dormice, Hampshire 2011

                               ...... and five other boxes with nests indicating that the boxes had been used by dormice. So all in all a cracking day, and our best ever total of dormice at both sites, maybe they have had a good year too!!!!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...