Monday, 23 January 2012

Woodcocks after Dark - Manor Farm Country Park

Nipped down to Manor Farm Country Park this evening armed with a landing net on a three metre pole, a spot light and some E size bird rings just in case! The evening began cloudy, but before long the cloud had cleared, and it was crystal clear with no wind and the temperature rapidly dropping. Apparently these are not ideal conditions for catching Woodcocks, but we had made the effort to get here, so thought we would give it a go. The first field we looked in was empty other than a huddle of sheep, but in the next field instant we walked into the field two Woodcock immediately took flight, whilst the third sat tight. With the expertise of a seasoned expert Nigel had crept up to it and dropped the net over in no time.

Adult Woodcock - Manor Farm Country Park

I have flushed this species from the woods during daylight hours on many occasions, and have even seen them coming off the fields at dawn, but have never managed to catch it was about time!!

Adult Woodcock - Manor Farm Country Park

Birds can be aged by a number of features, juveniles show jagged and worn primary tips, rounded tips to the inner 3rd and 4th primaries, rounded alula and the lack of a pale terminal band to the tips of the primary coverts.

Adult Woodcock - Manor Farm Country Park
Whereas adults show very little wear to the primary tips, a broad and flattened tip to the inner 3rd and 4th primaries, pointed alula and usually a distinct pale terminal band to the primary coverts, as shown in the picture above.

As we continued our search we were joined by an extremely active Barn Owl circling overhead and screeching, whilst Little Owls fed on the in the sheep grazed pasture. We didn't find anymore Woodcocks but I will certainly be having another go in the future.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hampshire Patch Listing 2012

With the sole aim of getting me out and about locally I have decided to join in the fun and take part Hampshire Ornithological Society's patch list this year I have chosen a 5km x 5km square that includes some of my bird ringing sites, for example Botley Wood, Curbridge amd Manor Farm Country Park, so at least I will be able to add to my list whilst ringing. My highlights to date were a Red kite, Little Owl and Grey Wagtail on the 7th January and Blackcap on the 8th.

Any plans for bird ringing today were ruined by the arrival of yet more windy weather, so I opted to nip down to Curbridge to try and add a few more species to my patch list to date. The tide was just falling and so birds were starting to arrive on the inter-tidal when I got there. The first new bird for my patch was a Common Redshank, quickly followed two Oystercatchers and a Common Sandpiper.

Common Redshank - Curbridge

Three Little Egrets were roosting in the over hanging trees, floating down onto the mud as it became exposed, and a flock of 28 Eurasian Curlew dropped onto the mud, before climbing up onto the nearby pasture.

Little Egret - Curbridge

Little Grebe, Mute Swan, and Canada Goose were all new additions and a lone Great Black-backed Gull drifted overhead. The blustery conditions made looking for passerines extremely frustrating, but a very obliging Grey Wagtail was nice.

Grey wagtail - Curbridge

By the end of my visit I had added 9 new species tacking my patch list total to 62..... a pretty poor total but its still early days!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

As High as a Kite

I was fortunate to be working in West Berkshire last week and whilst there I had close up views of Red Kites as they passed overhead, presumably keeping an eye on what I was doing. I was primarily interested in flocks of wintering birds, but it was difficult to ignore these majestic birds as they drifted overhead.

Red Kite - West Berkshire

Once a rare sight, other than in mid Wales, it is now difficult to travel along the M3 or M40 corridors without seeing these kings of the air as they drift effortlessly overhead.

Red Kite - West Berkshire

Juvenile birds have pale buff brown underparts, whereas adult birds have deep rufous underparts, as illustrated in these images.

Red Kite - West Berkshire

The deeply forked tail, distinct light window on the underside of the primaries and rufous underparts separate this species from the closely related Black Kite.

Red Kite - West Berkshire

In addition five protruding primaries (at the wing tip), as opposed to six on a Black Kite, confirm the identity of this species. In total seven birds were drifting back and forth over the site, and including the individual I saw at Manor Farm the other day, that's a pretty good total for me in the first few days of a new year!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Spanish Sparrow in Hampshire

I am not usually one who chases around after unusual birds but when I was told of a Spanish Sparrow just along the road, and as it happened, sort of on the way to work, it seemed rude not to pay it it a flying visit. As far as I am aware this is the first record of this species in Hampshire, and if the rumours are correct, it has been present since early December 2011.

Male Spanish Sparrow - Hampshire

The bird is frequenting feeders in gardens on a local housing estate, and seemed very settled with the resident House Sparrows, suggesting it has been present for a while and I suspect that if it stays around we will be able to look forward to various hybrid types in years to come!! 

Male Spanish Sparrow - Hampshire

The bird was intermediate in plumage, in that it was not as dull as a winter plumage male but not yet in full summer plumage. The chestnut crown is still showing some pale fringing and the bold black fringing on the back and flanks is not a bold as in a summer plumage bird. 

The local residents were very concerned about large numbers of birders descending on their estate, but thanks to the efforts of a highly respected local birder, he was able to reassure them that if plans were put in place the visiting birders would not cause too much disturbance. Unfortunately, the negotiations meant a couple of days delay in the news being put out, and has led to this birder receiving abuse from other birders, well I would like to thank Simon for all his efforts in liaising with the residents and ensuring that the news got out!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Manor Farm Bird Ringing

Things have got off to a slow start this year bird ringing wise due to some extremely wet and windy weather conditions, and so birding has been the primary activity for me, when work has allowed. But this weekend the weather changed and so it was back down to Manor Farm Country Park. Unfortunately the ridiculously mild winter this year has meant that birds are pretty thin on the ground, and after two sessions, one Saturday afternoon and the other Sunday morning I managed the measly total of 29 birds of 10 species. As always there are highlights, and today they were 3 Bullfinch's, 2 Redwings, and a Song Thrush, whereas Saturday's highlight was a fly over Red Kite, rather than any captured birds.

First Year Blue Tit

Since I have discussed Bullfinch and Redwing in previous posts, and with not much else to mention, I thought I would run through aging Blue Tits. Blue Tits, and Great Tits for that matter, are relatively straight forward to age since their moult strategy follows that of the majority of European passerines, with adult birds having a complete moult after breeding whereas first year birds undergo a partial moult.

Wing of First Year Blue Tit Showing Contrast

The result of this moult strategy is a usually very obvious contrast between the alula and primary coverts, with the these feathers being a dull blue-green in colour as opposed to the bright blue greater coverts. Adult wings are uniform bright blue throughout.

Wing of First Year Blue Tit Showing Contrast

In addition, first year tail feathers are also a duller blue colouration, are more pointed, and by mid-winter they are often more abraded. Adult tail feathers are again brighter, more rounded and often have a distinct white edge at the tip. The image below illustrates this perfectly with a mixture of both adult and juvenile tail feathers, 1 adult feather is still growing, and the presence of this helps identify the others.

Tail of Blue Tit Showing Adult and Juvenile Feathers

The wing of one of the birds captured was so badly abraded that when it was released its flight was extremely weak and flappy. 

Abraded Wing of First year Blue Tit

Given that this bird is not due to moult until after the breeding season in July, and looking at the condition of the wing feathers, it is hard to image how this bird will be able to efficiently feed until it next moults.
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