Sunday, 29 April 2012

Curbridge and my first young Blackbird of the year

The weather has been appalling this weekend with torrential rain and gale force winds throughout, which has completed flawed my plans to spend the weekend in search of Nightingales. Friday was the best day weather wise so I nipped down to Curbridge reserve before putting a net up in the garden.

The tide was low and therefore ideal for looking for waders, and I immediately located a single Whimbrel feeding at the mouth of the first creek. Two Common Sandpipers, fluttered along the waters edge away from me, landing on the other side of the estuary next to three Greenshanks and another Whimbrel. As I scanned down the estuary I noticed a flock of 17 more Whimbrel dropping out of the sky, bringing the total to 19, and two Oystercatchers were feeding on the inter-tidal.

Juvenile Blackbird

Returning home I decided to open the net in my garden and immediately caught a juvenile blackbird, which had only just fledged the nest. The wing and tail feathers had not fully grown...

Juvenile Blackbird
                                                                   .....but I was still able to sex the bird due to the black tail feathers, as opposed to brown in a female.

Partly Grown Juvenile Blackbird Tail

Other birds captured included three new Greenfinch's and a new Robin, but that was about it. 

I am off to Turkey tomorrow, leading an Ornitholiday's trip, to the the same region as last year, The Goksu Delta, Cukurbag, Biricek and Gaziantep, hopefully I will get some internet access during the trip, and if I do I will try to keep you posted.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Partial Leucistic Nuthatch

I have previously posted on this blog about abnormal plumage in birds, in particular leucism, and posted pictures of a few species with varying plumage patterns. Well this previous article prompted Nick and Teela Spratts to send me these pictures of a partially leucistic Eurasian Nuthatch that has been visiting their Oakhampton, Devon garden.

Leucistic Nuthatch - N & T Spratts

At first glance this bird looks very reminiscent of the subspecies Sitta europaea asiatica or  S.e. europaea that occur in Eastern Russia/Siberia or Fenno-Scandia/Western Russia, respectively. But the pictures show that this bird lacks the rust coloured vent and slate grey mantle of those subspecies.

Leucistic Nuthatch - N & T Spratts

Comparing this bird with a typically plumaged S. e. caesia (the British and Continental European race) which I have previously ringed shows the extent of the aberration in the plumage. The slate grey mantle and warm peach coloured underparts are lacking, although it is still possible to see patches of rust showing through on the vent, which may indicate that this bird is a male.

Normally Plumaged Nuthatch

Thanks to Nick and Teela for sending these pictures and allowing me to post them, it is an interesting looking bird but I think I prefer the normal plumaged one!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Bird on a Wire....and a post....

Not much to speak of bird ringing wise this weekend, a couple of sessions in the garden was about it, so I spent much of the time birding. Saturday morning started with an early morning stroll around Botley Wood in search of colour ringed Common Nightingales. It was another cold start, with a heavy overnight frost but this did not stop the Nightingales singing. There appeared to be two new territories this week, one of which was in a remnant piece of vegetation that National Grid have left in place around their re-cabling works. The bird was showing very well whilst singing, so much so that I was able to get a great view of its legs and its colour rings. The bird was first captured last May as a first year male, meaning it was hatched in 2010, in the same location where it was singing this weekend.....during my studies I have found this species to be extremely faithful to a territory. I have watched one bird sing from the same branch 4 years sign of my 8 year old bird yet though!

Yellowhammer on a Wire

After Botley Wood it was off to Old Winchester Hill in search of migrants, but I think it was too late in the day as not much going on. In fact, a flock of about 20 Yellowhammers was the most exciting thing. 

Years ago I used to catch quire a few Yellowhammers at Manor Farm Country Park, but in recent years they seem to have disappeared, which is such a shame.

The birds were feeding on a newly ploughed field, and occasionally flying up on to the boundary fence where they gave excellent views. One bird was eyeing up a passing fly that appeared to be putting its life into its own hands...

Female Yellowhammer eyeing up Fly

....despite several attempts it failed to catch it!

Male Yellowhammer

As I was watching the Yellowhammers I suddenly noticed two birds on a posts in the next field...a pair of Northern Wheatears were feeding within the nearby Vineyard. 

Northern Wheatear

At this time of year I would normally expect this species to be migrating, but this pair seemed very settled, and with the numerous rabbit burrows available I wouldn't be surprised if they were breeding.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Ageing Chiffchaffs in Spring

This weekend I re-trapped a Chiffchaff that I had originally captured at Botley Wood in April 2011, giving me the ideal opportunity to test my ageing skills on a spring bird. Published literature, including my trusty Svensson and Jenni and Winkler, suggest that it is possible to age spring birds due to the extent of wear on primary and tail feathers, and on the presence of contrast in the wing feathers. Although Svensson does warn that the flight feathers of the nominate subspecies Phylloscopus collybita collybita "on average appear to wear more" than those of the subspecies P.c. albietinus.

So armed with these facts, and knowing that this bird was ringed on 3rd April 2011, and therefore was definitely an adult bird, I set about my task. Svensson states that in spring adult birds have all wing feathers the same generation, the tips of the primary feathers still well kept and the tail feathers dark grey and glossy. In addition, the primary coverts are neatly edged greenish. In 2nd year birds though, there is often a contrast between moulted adult central tail feathers and rest of tail and both the tips of the primaries and tail feathers are worn. In addition there is sometimes a contrast between slightly duller and greyish greater coverts.

Adult Chiff Wing Feathers

The first thing to notice with this bird was the extent of wear on the tips of the primaries, particularly primaries four and five (the third and fourth from the top), and also the extent of bleaching where feathers have overlaid each other.

Tail of Adult Chiff Tail

The second thing to notice was the extent of wear at the tips of the tail, and interestingly the difference between the left and right side of the tail. The right side (top) is broad and rounded and in good condition, as would be expected in an adult, whereas the left side (lower) is more abraded, with the feathers appearing thinner and more pointed and browner, as would be expected with a 2nd year.

Greater Coverts of Adult Chiff

Finally, the greater coverts should appear uniform and all of the same generation in an adult bird, but interestingly the colouration of the fringing and the extent of wear on this bird seems to indicate two generations of feathers, although the ground colour of the each and their length, would tend to suggest that they are all the same age.

The moult strategy of adult Chiffchaffs is relatively straight forward, with a complete moult carried out post breeding, and a partial moult carried out on the wintering grounds, and yet the condition of the wing and tail feathers on this bird would tend to indicate a 2nd year bird. This bird could have lost half of its tail during migration or on its wintering grounds which would explain the difference there, but the extent of wear on the primaries seemed extensive for an adult bird. Svensson does warn that ageing on wear alone can be complicated due to the nominate race collybita returning from its wintering ground with more worn flight feathers, and I guess this bird is proof of that.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Barley Birds are Back Again!

I spent much of yesterday morning (13th April) walking around Botley Wood in search of the first Common Nightingale of the year without success, only to hear a report of one when I got home in the evening. I had planned to ring there this morning anyway so set off early and was greeted with not one, but three singing males. Enthused by their presence I set my nets in some usual positions, but also in locations where Nightingales were singing, and was rewarded with a retrap male on my first net round. This bird was originally ringed, and colour-ringed, as a first year male on 30th May 2009, therefore it was hatched in the summer of 2008, making it nearly four years old.

Adult male Common Nightingale originally ringed on 30th May 2009
as a first year male

Whilst walking around yesterday I heard the first Willow Warbler of the year, and today I caught one. The number of breeding birds at Botley Wood has crashed in recent years so it was nice to hear that at least one bird was back! Both adult and first year Willow Warblers undergo a complete moult on there wintering grounds and therefore it is not possible to age them in the spring, but given that this bird was singing and had a 68mm wing, it was sexed as a male.

Willow Warbler

Blackcaps have been singing at Botley Wood for a few weeks now, but I have struggled to catch any, today however I did catch a male. 

First Year Male Blackcap

This bird had extremely abraded primary and tail feathers, and still had brown fringed feathers on its forehead, thereby confirming it as a first year male bird.

First Year Male Blackcap

Just as I was packing up two local birders stopped for a chat and reported two more Common Nightingales and a Common Whitethroat further along the track from me. This would take the number of singing male Nightingales to at least five, so there must have been an arrival overnight. I walked along to where they had seen their birds and did hear one, but failed to see or hear the Whitethroat. I did find another Water Shrew under a sheet of aluminium though and a couple of Mandarin Ducks were flying around.

Looks like Spring may have finally arrived at Botley Wood!!!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Peregrines and Bats in Winchester

A pair of Peregrine Falcons made their home on the Police HQ in Winchester a couple of years ago and have been in residence ever since. Unfortunately, despite watching them mate, they have so far failed to rear any young. Today as I was leaving the office I heard their distinctive call, and looking up saw the two birds perched fairly close together on the top. The male bird was busy preening, whilst the female was tucking into one of the local feral pigeons....feathers were flying everywhere and it almost looked like it was snowing at one point.

Peregrine Falcons

I was not able to watch them for too long as was on my way to carry out a bat training session along the River Itchen. The weather was not ideal, and by the time we were about to start the temperature had dropped to 4 Celsius, although it was slightly warmed by a pair of Barn Swallows, that were circling overhead. The bat walk itself was fairly uneventful with only 4 bat registrations recorded, two single Soprano Pipistrelles and two single Daubenton's Bats...not bad I suppose given the cold weather conditions!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

An Easter break in Boscastle

I was looking forward to another weekend in North Cornwall, since it would hopefully give me the chance to catch up with some spring migrants and also the opportunity to walk the cliffs in search of Puffins. We set off early Friday morning and were crossing the northern tip of Bodmin Moor when a Sand Martin flew past in front of the car.....maybe a good omen!!

After a short break upon arrival in Boscastle I unpacked my camera gear and headed out onto The Stitches. There are strips of scrub at the eastern end and these usually act as a great migrant trap, with the fields being a great place to look for Northern Wheatears, larks and pipits. Two Barn Swallows dashing low across the fields were my first migrants, and a pair of Common Ravens were croaking overhead, twisting and turning as they tumbled from the sky. Other than a handful of singing Chiffchaffs and an occasional Blackcap, that was it migrant wise, although resident birds were in full song with Dunnocks and Chaffinch's being very vocal and prominent.

Male Dunnock

With not much happening on The Stitches I headed to the cliffs and a view of the sea. The cliffs were alive with auks, the most visible species being Razorbills on the land facing cliffs, with Guillemots being abundant on the seaward side. I spent a few minutes scanning the face of the nearest offshore island...Meachard, before turning my attention to the sea.

Razorbills on Meachard, off Boscastle
The odd passing Northern Gannet and the resident Herring Gulls were the most visible species, but a scan with my scope revealed a load more auks and around 30 European Shags on the water. Scanning west along the coast it was possible to see auks crammed on the ledges of two distant off shore rocks, Grower Rock and Short Island. I continued to scan and soon picked up two Puffins sat on the sea preening; after a while they took flight, circled briefly, before landing on the seaward side of the more distant rock, Short Island. I usually see Puffins on this rock and also another nearby one, that is just out of sight called Long Island, so it was good see them still there.

The rugged north Cornwall coastline, the two islands are
Grower Rock (nearer) and Short Island.

Another stroll around The Stitches yesterday (Saturday) morning, again produced very little in the way of migrants so I headed back to cliffs to scope the sea. The Northern Fulmars were settled down on the cliffs, with a few circling around on the wind, Herring gulls and Jackdaws were also paired up, but that was all.

With not much happening at sea I headed down Valency Valley, primarily to check up on the resident Dippers, but there seemed to be very little activity around the nest site. When birds are incubating there is often limited activity around the nest site, so lets hope that this is the case and not that the nest has been predated. I did see two further down the valley by the car park, but they were only fleeting flight views.

Fulmars, Boscastle

This morning I overslept and didn't head out until gone 10am, by which time most of the migration was probably over, assuming that is that there was any. There seemed to be more Chiffs and Blackcaps around and a single House Martin flew east, but again that was it. A rabbit was tucked into the vegetation around the field margin, so I thought seeing as it is Easter Sunday I would include a picture of it.

An Easter Day Bunny

A feeding flock of Herring Gulls, Gannets and Fulmars were just off shore, so I watched intently for a glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise or Common Dolphin, but it was not to be....hardly surprising as the sea was a bit choppy this morning. 

Grey Wagtail on the River Valency

With a lunch date planned with my wife and mother-in-law I headed down to the village centre; there were loads of people around but this did not deter a pair of Grey Wagtails that were busy nest building, oblivious to the hussle and bussle around them. 

Have to say I was slightly disappointed with my weekends birding and with heavy rain forecast tomorrow I don't think tomorrows birding is going to improve!!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Britain in Bloom

I seem to have been missing out on the spring bird migration down on the south coast of Britain, so thought I would post some images celebrating the spring flowers that have burst into bloom over the last few weeks. I have been spending the last few days wandering through woodlands rides and woodland edge habitats, and the warm spring sunshine has certainly brought out the best in our countryside.

Curbridge National Trust Nature Reserve is one of my regular haunts, and in spring the woodland floor is a carpet of Bluebells, our proper native ones, rather than those introduced Spanish things, which seem to be taking over!!

Bluebells, Curbridge

Bluebells, Curbridge

The Bluebells at Curbridge were not at their peak, but where they were lacking, Wood Anemones made up for them. Dense patches of anemones carpeted the floor opening their flowers to the morning sun in the hope of attracting the odd bumbling bee.

Wood Anemone

Occasional Greater Stitchwort flowers were scattered along the woodland rides....

Greater Stitchwort

                                                                          .......intermixed with the odd Red Dead-nettle.

Red Dead-nettle and Great Stitchwort

But by far the most abundant colour was yellow, with Lesser Celandine flowers carpeting the banks along the woodland edges....

Lesser Celandine

.....and where spring flowers gave way to scrub, Gorse bushes were covered in their bright yellow, coconut scented flowers.


There were a wealth of other species that I either did not photograph or were not yet in bloom, including Moschatel or Townhall Clock, so called because the flower head is cubed shaped with four of the flowers on the lateral faces....just like a townhall clock, Red Campion, Marsh Marigold and Germander Speedwell....Fantastic!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A mixed bag of bits and bobs...

Saturday 31st was a real mixed bag that started with a look thorough my moth trap and finished with a bit of bird ringing in the garden. It has been a few days since I was last able to run my moth trap, which unfortunately also coincided with the weather returning to a more seasonal cold and overcast type, which sadly the catch reflected. Only 22 moths of five species were captured, but that did included three Oak Beauty's and an Early Grey, the latter being the first for the year.

Oak Beauty
It was then off to Botley Wood for some bird ringing and hopefully the chance to catch some new arrivals....but alas that was not the case. In fact ringing was pretty poor with only four new birds captured, although one of those was a new Chiffchaff. 

Pollen Encrusted forehead of Chiffchaff

This bird was clearly a migrant that had wintered in warmer climes since it had pollen encrusted around its bill and on its forehead, and there isn't mush of that around in the UK in the winter. This bird had also lost half of its tail, presumably during migration since it was nearly half regrown. The old half of the tail, was not particularly heavily abraded, although some chips were present, and the feathers were broad and rounded, so based on my experience last week, I was included to age this bird as an adult. All of the wing feathers were of the same generation too, which tended to back that up.

Tail of Chiffchaff

A retrap Robin, was not a pretty site, since this bird too had lost a load of feathers, this time around its head, which apparently is usually a result of an infestation of feather mites or the bird being diseased...poor thing.

Balding Robin

This bird was originally captured as a first year bird in May 2011, so I knew that it was an adult bird which would have undergone a post breeding moult at the end of last summer. It was therefore interesting to see the presence of some pointed tail feathers mixed in with the adult ones. These feathers were fairly broad and all of the same generation, except for one which was still regrowing, therefore would have been replaced last autumn....I think this is another example of being cautious when ageing Robins.

Tail of Adult Robin

Whilst waiting by my car for the next net round I noticed the surface of the water in a ditch next to where I had parked rippling, and a strange white ball moving around rapidly under the water. So I sat for a while watching it before figuring out what was going on, a Water Shrew was running along under the overhang of the ditch, before darting into the water to hunt beneath its surface. With the water being so clear it was possible to watch it feed beneath the surface, which was amazing. It was possible to see that when beneath the surface the shrews whole body was enclosed within an air bubble, which is why it looked like a white ball! It was a strange beast that reminded me of a miniature Duck-billed Platypus beneath the surface. Unfortunately the shrew was moving so quickly there was no chance of a photo, but below is a picture of its ditch.

Water Shrew Ditch
With the ringing proving to be so poor it was time to close the nets and go for a stroll, Slow-worm's were slow and lethargic due to the lack of any sun to bask in.....


                      ..................and invertebrates were slow and approachable, which was ideal for grabbing a few pics for later identification. Eupeodes corollae (if I have id'd it correctly) is one of the commonest hoverfly species of open habitats and its numbers are often swelled by migration and/or mass emergence in late summer.

Eupeodes corollae

It was back home for the afternoon and after a bit of uncustomary DIY, I opened a net for the last few hours of daylight. Three new birds was all that was on offer, two Greenfinchs and an adult Wood Pigeon.

Scary Eyed Wood Pigeon

Wood Pigeons are pretty much at plague proportions around my area and are very unpopular with garden bird feeders due to the large amounts of food they consume. This individual was obviously not expecting my net to be open, and I think I was lucky not to end up with a big hole in my North Ron Super Fine!
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