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.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Dutch Ringed Blackbird and Buzzard in 2010

Back on 11th December 2010 I caught a Dutch ringed adult female Blackbird at Manor Farm Country Park, and eleven months later, I have finally received news of its original capture. The bird was originally ringed on 7th February 2010 at Westkapelle, Walcheren, Zeeland, The Netherlands, NL18, 307 days previously. Its journey had covered 335 kilometres in a westerly direction, and since it was not captured again, I assume it must have continued on its journey and away from the cold weather that was covering the UK at the time. Whilst this control did not shed any new information on the movement of blackbirds across Europe, it was a notable capture for me, since it was the first foreign ringed bird I had captured at Manor Farm since I began ringing there in 1995.

Juvenile Common Buzzard 11th December 2010 Manor Farm Country Park

Interestingly, the 11th December 2010 proved to be a bit of a red letter day, since I also captured the first Common Buzzard for the site on that day.  Don't ask me how it managed it, but this bird forced its way into the bottom shelf of a 9m net and then wrapped itself up in it.

Juvenile Common Buzzard 11th December 2010 Manor Farm Country Park

I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite its large size, the bird was extremely docile and easy to handle. Ageing was also relatively straight forward, as this bird lacked the broad terminal band on the tail which adults show, and therefore was clearly a juvenile.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Wader Ringing at Farlington Marshes

Well with the weather set fair and the predicted strong south-easterly wind yet to materialize, we arranged to meet at Farlington Marshes for a nocturnal wader ringing session. Unfortunately, on arrival we were slightly dismayed to find that the strong breeze had indeed arrived, and therefore it was looking like the session would have to be called off. But having made the effort, we decided to walk down to the trapping area to check the wind down there. Surprisingly, in the shelter of the reeds the wind wasn't as bad so we decided to put up a net and see; four nets later we settled down at our ringing base to wait for high tide.

Initially things were slow, but it was not long before we started catching birds on the rising tide, with our first capture a Dunlin. It has been a while since I had last been wader ringing, and so I was a little concerned that I would not remember the ageing criteria for some of the species that we captured, so Dunlin was a nice easy start.

Juvenile Dunlin - Farlington Marshes

In adult winter plumage, the upper-parts are brownish-grey with white fringes to the coverts, whereas juvenile birds have blackish brown fringes with chestnut fringes to the coverts. 

Juvenile Dunlin - Farlington Marshes

This bird clearly exhibited chestnut fringes to the lesser coverts and tertials, and therefore was aged as a juvenile bird. In total 6 Dunlin were captured by the end of the session.

Juvenile Dunlin Coverts - Farlington Marshes

After a couple more Dunlin, our next capture was an adult Common Redshank. Common Redshank are aged in a similar way to Dunlin, with adult birds having grey brown, white fringed coverts whilst juveniles are a warm brown colour and extensively fringed buff. In addition, the deep red colouration of the legs and base of the bill are a useful feature, since juvenile birds are duller and paler in colouration.

Adult Redshank - Farlington Marshes

Our first Redshank proved to be an adult, in fact, all 11 birds captured, 8 new and 3 re-traps, proved to be adults. Apparently, it is quite normal to catch only adults birds during ringing sessions at the marsh, so I guess the question is where have all the juveniles gone? It is possible that juveniles winter elsewhere, or maybe it has not been a good breeding season for the species.

Adult Redshank - Farlington Marshes

The most surprising thing about this session was the number of Eurasian Curlew coming on to the lake. Unprecedented numbers of birds were circling over the lake before flying east and dropping down onto the stream. Surprisingly, we managed to catch 3 birds; the first time that has happened for many years. Adult birds are aged by the presence of noticeable rounded primaries, and grey brown centred coverts with pale edges. Juvenile birds have extensive bright buff edges to the coverts, with a distinct brown central mark. We captured 2 adults and 1 juvenile.

Adult Curlew - Farlington Marshes

Despite, the slightly breezy conditions we ended on a total of 20 birds, 3 Curlew, 11 Redshank and 6 Dunlin, but as we were leaving we noted over 100 Curlew and 11 Pied Avocet on the nearby stream. Maybe we will have to ring there next time.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Great Tit Bill Attachment

The British Trust for Ornithology have been asking volunteers taking part in their Garden Bird Watch to report birds with deformed bills, and some of those reported have been so bizarre that it is a wonder that the bird in question is still alive. During the course of the last year I have not encountered any such birds, but during a garden ringing session over the weekend I captured a Great Tit with an interesting adaptation on its bill!

Great Tit - November 2011

I initially watched this bird fly onto the peanut feeder, and after a brief attempt at feeding, it dropped onto the sunflower hearts and began to feed. It appeared to have no trouble feeding, and so I assume it must have become well and truly adapted to its attachment. As it flew off the feeder it dropped straight into my net, thereby allowing closer inspection.

Great Tit - November 2011

The seed was well wedged onto the upper mandible and so this individual was still able to feed, although clearly it was going to provide some limitations. The bird itself was an adult male, and was a good weight and in good body condition, so it must have become used to its adaptation.  

Seed Wedged on Great Tit Bill

Obviously, I could not rule out that this seed had only recently become wedged, although looking at the wear on the front of it and on the birds bill, it looked as if it had been present for a while. Trying to get the thing off proved to be a bit of an epic, and I resorted to using my ringing plies to tease it off since it was stuck hard.

Seed Wedged on Great Tit Bill

Having, set this bird free from its modified bill it flew off, I hope it hadn't got so used to having the seed stuck on the end of its bill that it's forgotten to feed with a normal bill!!!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

In Search of Tarka!

Today I thought that I would have a break from the norm and so decided to go in search of Otters. I had been told of a site on the River Stour in Dorset where Otters can be reliably seen and so decided to try my luck. I opted for a pre-dawn start in order to try to get to the site for the period that I imaged them to be more active, despite being told that they were incredibly confiding and could be easily seen at any time of the day. I have seen Otters on several occasions over the years, but most have been fleeting glimpses at dusk or dawn, although my most memorable encounter was when in the Canadian State of Ontario one winter. I was able to watch an adult and two cubs hunting along a frozen stretch of river whilst a Bald Eagle tried to catch them intriguing game of chess ensued, and of course the otters won!!

Anyway back to today. I arrived at the site to see a couple of wildlife photographers dressed from head to toe in camouflage gear waiting patiently by the river side. I politely inquired whether  they had seen the Otters, and from the grunted response I was able to ascertain that a brief sighting was all. So my options were to stand and wait with these guys, or wander further along the river to search for them.....I chose that latter. I had been told that the best places to watch from were the bridges that cross the river, so I walked from the one with the photographers west along the river. I reached the next bridge and met a couple of much more sociable joggers, who said that they had just been watching an Otter feeding just round the bend of the off I went.

Loch Ness Monster ..... or is it?

As I worked my way along the river I continually scanned the river, and it was not long before I found one, or was it? In the half light my first impression was that the Loch Ness Monster hadn't been found in Scotland because it was now prowling the depths of the River Stour in Dorset. I continued stealthily towards this monster and was soon provided with a more distinctive and clearer view of an Otter.

Otter - River Stour, Dorset, November 2011

Initially, I was slightly cautious, as I did not want to flush it before I had my camera ready, but I soon realised that this individual was quite comfortable with my presence, and for that matter all the dog walkers and cyclists that were continually going past.

Otter - River Stour, Dorset, November 2011

This individual was very aware of my presence and in fact seemed as interested in me as I was in it. When I first arrived, it was feeding in the middle of the river, but it was not long before it worked its way to my side of the river for a closer look.

Otter - River Stour, Dorset, November 2011

Adult male otters have an average weight of 10 kilograms, with females averaging 7 kilograms. This individual seemed to be fairly small, and therefore I suspect that it was a youngster.

Otter - River Stour, Dorset, November 2011

I spent over over a hour with this Otter, and had a lot of fun trying to predict where it would surface from a dive. It spent much of its time during this encounter feeding, and it was possible to follow by the presence of bubbles breaking the surface, usually surfacing about half a metre in front of the bubbles. I could not make out what it was feeding on, but it was happily crunching away on whatever it was, hopefully American Signal Crayfish!!

Otter - River Stour, Dorset, November 2011

After a very satisfying time, the thought of a nice cup coffee was becoming ever more tempting, and so I began to pack up my gear. The Otter seemed quite put out by this, and moved in towards the bank, as if tempting me to stay, and eventually was only about 10 metres from me, watching me intently.

Otter - River Stour, Dorset, November 2011
As I continued to pack up my kit, the Otter maybe realising that I was leaving, swam across to the other bank and climbed up into cover. It was so strange, but appeared that with no one left to perform to, this cheeky chap was heading off for a mid-morning snooze!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Titchfield Haven Bird Ringing - End of Season Update

Well, after what has been a pretty eventful ringing season at Titchfield Haven, it is time to say farewell to the ringing area until next year, and so it appears to be an opportune moment to update the bird ringing totals for the site.....and what a year it has been!!! A total of 5186, new birds were captured, beating our previous total of 4849 from 2002. Our total included 40 different species, with five breaking the previous highest annual totals for the site. Regular readers of this blog will already know which species have had a record year, but just to refresh your memories, they are Grasshopper Warbler, with 950 new birds, which is 487 more than last year and 381 more than our previous best of 569....amazing!!

Grasshopper Warbler - Titchfield Haven 2011

Sedge Warblers reached the dizzy heights of 1436 new birds, 558 more than last year and 168 new Common Whitethroats were captured, 105 more than last year. We thought that Garden Warbler numbers had peaked at 83, but on 29th October we captured an extremely late bird bringing our final total for the year to 84 new birds. This bird was very pale in colouration and lacked the gingery underwing coverts typical of the species, so maybe an individual of the eastern race Sylvia borin woodwardi, or maybe an intergrade of that race and the nominate.

Garden Warbler - Titchfield Haven 2011

Chiffchaff numbers continued to grow with 857 new birds captured, 486 more than last year and 408 more than our previous best of 449. A sixth species, Yellow-browed Warbler, equalled the previous annual best with one new bird!!

Chiffchaff - Titchfield Haven 2011

But whilst some species were doing very well, others appeared to be struggling, Eurasian Reed Warbler numbers were low with only 439 new birds, and Willow Warbler numbers down to only 128. Only two Lesser Whitethroats were captured and Spotted Flycatcher and Whinchat  were conspicuous by their absence.

Redwing - Titchfield Haven 2011 (B. S. Duffin)

But whilst most of our summer visitors have headed south for the winter, other species are arriving. On 29th October, over 60 Redwing were present in the ringing area, but only one bird managed to find its way into out nets. A Short-eared Owl circling high over the ringing area caused a brief bit of excitement, before it drifted off high east and a Eurasian Woodcock dropped into the ringing area to roost at dawn.

And so it will be back down to Manor Farm for the winter, and undoubtedly nets full of House Sparrows and winter thrushes....I hope!! 
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